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Wrestled By The Sea

Chapter Text

John could taste the salt in the air as he slid out of the car after Mike. Clutching his cane tightly, he slowly navigated the sandy soil of Mike’s front yard. Mike himself was fumbling with the keys at the door, carefully not looking as John hobbed toward him. John was absurdly grateful for that gesture, however small  it was.

As he trudged across the yard he surveyed the area around him. Mike’s little cottage was one of three that stood along the rocky stretch of road. The houses were widely spaced, making their neighbours’ homes look like toy houses placed by a well ordered child. The sea was closer to the house than he expected, the rush and retreat of the waves muting the jingling of Mike’s keys and then each muttered curse as he tried to figure out which one fit the front door.

The house itself was a typical seaside cottage, small and homey, but Mike’s cottage had the advantage of a huge porch which extended from the back. Mike had put it in himself, something he’d proudly filled John in on during the drive over.

Mike finally wrestled the door open, the hinges squeaking in protest.

“The sea blast will do that,” Mike said cheerfully.

John smiled half heartedly as he stepped carefully over the lawn. Mike breezed passed him and back again, two suitcase tucked under his arms. John swallowed and eased his way up the stairs, trying not to let Mike’s perfectly useful legs rankle.

“Thanks for letting me room with you, Mike,” John said around the bile in his throat.

Mike smiled and followed John into the house, the last bag in his hand.

“Well, here it is,” Mike said, gesturing around. “Not much but the view is worth it.”

To illustrate his point, Mike crossed the room and yanked open the curtains, revealing huge windows that showed a scene pretty enough to be an oil painting. The porch stretched out before them, so far that John wondered if the back stairs would clear the tide when it was high.

The view was abjectly beautiful, with a perfect pale pool of blue sea and a kaleidoscope of sunset colours, but to John it held no delight . All he saw was terrain which  would be near impossible to manage with his cane, a sea he couldn’t swim in, and hordes of bathing suit clad people with perfect bodies who would make John feel even more broken than he was.

“It’s off season,” Mike continued, working open the door to the porch and letting in a blast of sea air . “So it’ll be nice and quiet for a few weeks.”

Well, at least that eliminated the sea-frolicking beauties from his list of worries. John gave another of his mild smiles then  hobbled into the living room and sank into one of chairs.

“Unpack after dinner?” Mike suggested. “I’ll knock up some sandwiches.”

“Thanks Mike,” John said with a little smile.

“Don’t ‘thanks Mike’ me. Get off your arse and come help!” Mike said with a laugh. “There’re stools in the kitchen.”

John grinned for the first time since they’d started out and got to his feet, the pain in his knee easing somewhat as he followed Mike into the kitchen.

***

That night John couldn’t sleep. It was unsurprising given his new surroundings and the dull throb in his leg. Getting to his feet, he grabbed his cane and heaved himself up. Shuffling to his dressing table he picked up the bottle of pain pills and weighed them in his hand. He’d had one with dinner, and technically wasn’t due for another till breakfast.

His knee trembled as he propped a hip against the edge of the table and popped open the bottle. Shaking two into his palm, he stared at them a moment, then downed them dry. Struggling into his robe he headed downstairs and out onto the porch. The wind was icy against his face, ruffling his hair and tasting of salt on his lips. The moon was smothered behind the clouds, making it nearly impossible for John to make out the waves lapping against the sides of the porch. John didn’t want to turn on the light, though. It would make him feel too exposed, too easy to spot in the darkness that surrounded the house.

Leaning against the bannister, John looked out into the night and enjoyed the breeze on his face. As he stared out into the darkness, the roar of the waves in his ears, a feeling began to grow deep in his gut. A feeling he hadn't had in ages. It was the same way he’d felt on nights when he was heading out into rain-drenched London with his friends. A sort of low lying anticipation in his stomach that swooped up and made his lips tingle and made him feel as if something exciting was coming. He’d had similar feelings in Afghanistan, but those were cloaked in dread. This was different...it was...happy.

The feeling disconcerted him. What could this sleepy little seaside town have that could possibly fulfill the swirling in his gut? Swallowing, John turned around and headed back inside. The pills would take effect soon and he didn’t want to be groggy when he had stairs to climb.

Behind him, almost hidden by the sound of the waves, there was a louder splash as something large dove beneath the surface of the water.

 

****

The next morning John awoke to the sound of Mike moving around in the kitchen. He groaned, checked the time, and scrubbed a hand over his face. With a sigh he slid out of bed. A quick stop in the bathroom and then he was thumping down the stairs and into the kitchen. Mike was bustling around, packing his lunch into a thermal pack. He smiled when he saw John.

“Morning John! How’d you sleep?”

“Alright,” John said, grabbing a mug for tea. “Off to the clinic?”

“Yup, so you’ll have to entertain yourself today,” Mike said with a smile.

John forced himself to smile back.

“The weather is supposed to be lovely. Try a walk?”

John sipped his tea and nodded, “The sea air couldn’t hurt.”

Mike grinned and picked up his suitcase, “Catch you later.”

“Thanks Mike,” John said, as the door shut.

He was all alone.

Brushing the thought away, he stood up headed back to his room. A shower then some telly sounded like a good plan.

An hour later found John clean and dead bored in front of Mike’s flatscreen. Sighing he clicked off the television and looked around. The house was tidy, so nothing for him to do there. He did need to unpack. Exhaling loudly, he shoved himself to his feet and headed for the stairs, pausing in the kitchen to grab the tiny radio Mike kept there.

His room sat right across the hall from Mike’s, with the two of them sharing a tiny bathroom at the end of the hall. John pushed open the white wooden door and trotted inside. The room was on the small side, but cozy, with pale wooden floors, a comfy double bed, and a large wardrobe that had been there since the house was built. John’s suitcase was set on the floor in front of a heavy wooden table that served as his desk. The view was amazing; nothing but sea, sky, and a section of the porch roof. If John opened his window (and still had two functioning legs) he’d be able to climb onto the porch roof and dive off into the sea if the desire struck him.

Throwing open the window, John took a deep gulp of sea air then set about trying to drag his suitcase onto his bed, while propping himself up so his leg wouldn’t fail. Finally, after much sweating and cursing, the suitcase was open on his bed and he was unearthing his clothes.

The tiny radio chirped in the background, playing a song John had loved before he was deployed. It made him feel weirdly nostalgic now, and stirred up that same feeling of anticipation that had plagued him last night. He thought about switching stations but found he didn’t want to. He wanted to bask in the feeling some more, to let it tingle at the tips of his fingers and toes.

The sun had crept higher by the time John was finished. He took a moment in front of the window, watching the waves, listening to the crash, hidden from view below him. To his utter surprise, he saw someone pop out of the water far in the distance. Squinting, John leaned out to see better. At this distance the person looked like nothing but a vaguely human shaped blur of colour The smudgy figure shook out their hair then dove under again. John blinked and looked around, waiting to see the figure surface.

Nothing happened.

John shrugged to himself and turned from the window. The person must have swam closer to shore before coming up. Leaving the window open he headed back downstairs, wondering if Mike would be willing to take him into town over the weekend to get some books.

***

The day crawled past in a boring haze of daytime telly, wandering aimlessly around the house, and generally wishing he’d asked Mike to take him into town with him. Giving up on the telly, he headed into the kitchen to whip something up for dinner. It was the least he could do for Mike. By the time the pasta and meat sauce was finished, Mike’s key was turning in the door and John was sick of being alone.

“Hey John. Something smells delicious!” Mike said, coming into the kitchen.

John smiled and flexed his fingers against his thigh, trying to tamp down the irrational anger crawling up his throat.

“How was work?”

“Dead boring, nothing but sniffles and coughs all day. You?”

“Just fine,” John said primly, forcing a polite smile onto his face.

Mike chuckled, “You’re ready to climb the walls aren’t you?”

John’s anger popped like a balloon and he gave Mike a sheepish smile. “You could say that, yes.”

Mike laughed again, “Why don’t you come into town with me tomorrow? You can explore while I work.”

John smiled, this was exactly why he’d accepted Mike’s offer to stay with him, the man was intuitive and seemed to know what John wanted before he even thought to ask.

“Thanks, Mike. Ready to eat?”

Mike smiled back and turned to grab the plates.

***

That night full of pasta and the wine MIke had opened, John couldn’t sleep. He sat up long after Mike had gone to bed, channel surfing, then finishing off the wine before finally deciding he should at least try to get to sleep on his own. He sighed and rolled over, watching the moon from his window as he lay in bed.

The sea was probably a sight to see now with such a clear night sky.

“Fuck it.”

Rolling out of bed John hurriedly dressed, dragged on his thickest coat, and headed down the stairs, across the living room, and out onto the porch. Fishing out his key, he wrestled open the porch door and stepped onto the narrow strip of beach that separated Mike’s house from the waves.

The beach was deserted and, just as he’s hoped, the moon supplied plenty of light for him to see his way. Smiling, John began slowly walking along the beach, struggling not to press his cane too deeply into the sand. The air was deliciously cool against his face, making him feel clean and fresh.

He was well away from Mike’s house and enjoying the solitude when he saw the man. He squinted, wondering if it was a trick of the light, but no. It was a man, pale in the moonlight, clutching a rock and panting hard as if he was in pain. The man turned and moonlight glinted off the bright red blood covering his side.

Before John knew what he was doing, he was running along the beach. When he got closer to the man, he could see that he was submerged up to his waist in the black water and his face was twisted with pain.

“I’m here to help, don’t worry!” John called, crouching down to untie his shoes. He’d need them dry if he had to run back to the house.

The man whipped around at the sound of his voice and snarled. An honest to god, animal-like snarl that made John freeze in the ankle deep water.

“It’s okay,” John said slowly, holding up his hands. “I’m a doctor. I’m just here to help.”

The man watched him warily with eyes so pale they looked like nothing more than pupil in a sea of white. John felt a shudder run down his back.

“Listen just let me help you out of the wat-

Before he could finish the man made another odd sound, almost like a smothered shriek, and curled further away. More blood spilled down his side and into the water.

“Stop! You’re going to hurt yourself more!”

The man dropped lower into the water, until nothing but those frightening eyes and dark hair was visible. John wondered how he could stand the salt water against his cuts.

“Let me see please? At least let me see where you’re hurt.”

The man regarded him silently for a long moment, the waves spraying them both with water. Just as John was about to try asking again, the man slowly eased his shoulders out of the water and turned around. John saw a long, deep scratch along the back of the man’s shoulder. Blood was leaking steadily from the wound, coating his skin.

“I’m just coming up behind you to see it closer,” John said quietly. “And I’m only  going to touch your shoulder, alright?”

The man said nothing. He simply kept looking at John over his shoulder with those unnerving eyes. As John waded in he realized the man floated  in the deeper water around the rock he’d been clinging to, allowing him to remain submerged up to his shoulders while only John’s calves were wet.

Reaching out, he gently took the man’s shoulder, wincing when he felt how cold the skin was.

“You’re freezing. We should really get you onto the shore.”

The man immediately pulled away and scuttled deeper into the water. His movements made John wonder if something was wrong with his legs.

“Okay, okay! Don’t swim, you’ll hurt yourself more. Listen, I live near here. Let me go home and get my kit. I can patch you up right here.”

And get my phone to call for help.

The man nodded eagerly, clearly wanting John gone.

“Alright, stay here and don’t doze off. Got it?”

The man nodded and John edged out of the water, backing away slowly.

When he’d retreated until the man was a little ways away, John turned and ran back along the beach toward the house. He needed his kit and he should wake  Mike up to come back with him.

As he dragged his kit out of  the wardrobe, he debated on telling Mike. The anticipation swirling in his gut, like rain poised to fall, told him not to. The man might bolt if he saw a stranger. He was already wary around John, who was barely less than a stranger himself.

Decision made, he headed back out of the house and down along the beach. The moon was bright and high in the sky. The rock came back into view, black and slick in the silver light, but it was deserted. There was no one in sight.

Standing stupidly on the sand, John looked around. His shoes were still there, slowly filling up with the tide  and he was positive this rock was the same one. But there was no strange man with spooky eyes.

“Hello!” John called out, hoping the man would pop out from behind the rock and prove he wasn’t losing it.

Nothing.

“HELLO!”

The wind hurled his words back at him, but no one appeared.

Sighing, John crouched down painfully and picked up his shoes. He slowly walked away, checking over his shoulder more often than he liked to admit. The empty beach seemed more sinister than scenic now, the blackness a hiding place for goulish wounded men. Halfway along the beach John’s foot caught on something buried thinly in the sand. Flinching in surprise, John kicked angrily at whatever it was, dislodging it with his toes.

It was his cane.

He’d run along the beach and taken the stairs to Mike’s house twice without it. The same cane he’d needed to take two proper steps with that very morning. John picked it up, his skin prickling nervously. Had a hallucination just cured his limp? Or was he so far gone that he was actually using his cane right at this moment while his mind tormented him.

Biting the inside of his cheek, John quietly made his way back to the house. He carefully put his kit away, then washed the sand off his feet and undressed. Wrapped up warm in his blankets, he stared blankly at the night sky. He kept his mind purposefully blank.

He was fine. Absolutely fine.

Rolling over and putting the window to his back, he buried his face in his pillow and sobbed.

Chapter Text

Feeling like only two hours had passed, John awoke  to Mike knocking on the bedroom door. He groaned softly and blinked hard. His eyes felt as if they were coated in sand.

“Come in,” he croaked, wondering why Mike was bothering to wake him up.

“I’m getting ready for work, if you want to come into town,” Mike said, sticking his head around the door.

Oh right, John had forgotten he’d wanted to go. After last night he wasn’t sure he wanted to leave his bed at all. Then again, he didn’t exactly want to be alone with his thoughts either.

“Yeah, I’m coming,” he said, swinging his legs out of bed and grabbing his cane.

Mike vanished down the hall as John stood up. The handle of his cane was rough with sand and bits of grit fell from the wood with each step John took. So he had gone for a walk last night. That part he could be sure really happened. It was the bit about strange snarling men that was fucking him over.

Sighing heavily, he trudged into the bathroom and began getting ready.

Twenty minutes later he was in the car with Mike heading towards town. The scenery was beautiful he had to admit, but his rough night wouldn’t let him focus. Soon Mike rounded a corner and the buildings of the little town came into view. John sat up straight in his seat and stretched.

“Reserved parking, very nice,” John told Mike, mustering up a smile as Mike pulled up in front of the clinic.

Mike grinned at him and winked, “It’s only the best when you’re with me, John.”

That startled an actual laugh from John and his warmth towards Mike grew.

“So I get off at four or so, but if you get bored at lunch time I can sneak away for a bit and drop you home.”

“I think I’ll be alright. You said there was a bookstore?”

“Yeah, just up the main road on the right. There’s a coffee shop around the corner that makes a decent cuppa, and the marina is over that way.” He pointed toward the left where John could just see the masts of several ships peeking over the tops of the buildings. “It’s a small town so don’t worry about getting lost.”

“I think I’ll manage,” John said, throwing open the car door.

“See you then,” Mike said and trotted through the door of the clinic, waving at John as he passed a window.

John waved back and began heading up the road; a book and a coffee sounded delightful.

The bookshop proved to a be a bright yellow store front tucked between a nail salon and a dry cleaners. John was debating whether to go in or follow the signs to the library, when the display in the window caught his eye.

Twelve books stood on little plastic holders in front of an iridescent backdrop, and each and every one was mermaid themed. There were two children’s books, what looked like the last installment of a young adult series, and even colouring books. But what caught John’s eye was the oversized book that took up most of the left corner of the display.

Our Unnatural History; Peoples of the Deep.

L.G. Lestrade

The title was superimposed over a picture of a beach, clearly taken a few decades ago. The shot they’d used made the hair on the back of John’s neck stand up. It was the same beach he’d ran across last night. He was certain of it. The same oddly shaped rock was there in the picture, just to the right of the title.

Swallowing, John pushed open the door and entered the shop. He didn’t know why the display made him feel so disturbed but he needed to see that book. A bell chimed as he entered the store and a young woman with purple hair smiled at him from behind the counter.

“Welcome to Carlota’s. I’m Carlota, can I help you?”

“Yeah-um- that book in the display, the ‘Unnatural history’. Can I see it?”

“Of course!”

The girl slipped out from behind the counter pulled the book from a low shelf. When she handed it to him it was heavier than he expected.

“Thank you,” John said, eyes on the cover. He swallowed as he noticed a pair of glowing eyes under the water’s surface near the rocks. Clearly they been added in after the picture was taken. Then again, after what happened to John last night, how could he be so sure?

The girl retreated back behind the counter as John tuned the book over with one hand. Propping his cane against a shelf, he walked over to a low couch tucked into a corner of the store and sat down. The spine of the book cracked as he opened it, the heavy glossed pages smooth under John’s fingers as he flipped to the table of contents. Whoever designed the book had had the pages printed to look aged, with a few ‘coffee stains’ and ‘ink spots’ thrown in to give it the look of an old journal.

As John ran his finger down the table of contents he began to feel a bit silly. Did he genuinely think the man he saw yesterday could be a merperson? He sighed softly and shut the book. He was being ridiculous. What he needed was a halfway decent spy novel and a  cup of overpriced coffee. Shutting the book, he made to stand up.

That’s when he saw it.

His cane was still neatly propped against a shelf halfway across the store. He’d just walked across uneven floorboards and sat down without any aid.

Swallowing, John wobbled across the  floor and grabbed his cane. He glanced down at the book in his hands and up at the girl behind the counter, who was busy with a spreadsheet of some sort. Licking his lips he walked over to the counter and smiled as she rung up the book.

Twenty minutes later John was seated with that overpriced coffee and his mermaid book in a cozy little coffee shop around the corner. The shop was nearly empty at this time of day so John was able to get a seat by the windows that made up the front wall of the building.

Taking a deep gulp of coffee, he flipped open the book and started reading. The first chapter was nothing but a history of the town. A few pages in, John skipped ahead to L.G.’s first supposed encounter with the ‘people of the deep’.

John was soon engrossed as he read the tale of L.G. getting washed overboard while he was on a tuna boat and being rescued by one the ‘deep people’, who’d taken him to an island. L.G. appeared to be both fascinated and horrified by the creature, noting it’s ‘inhumanly beautiful face’ and ‘long needle like teeth’.  John got so lost in it that his coffee was cold by the time he took another sip.

Straightening up, John rubbed a knuckle over his eyes and looked around. It had gone afternoon, the sun shining murkily from behind the clouds. He’d been reading for well over two hours! L.G. was still on the island and slowly beginning to trust the creature. It was a fantastic read for more than one reason. First, this L.G. was a very talented writer. Secondly, and more importantly, the story made John one hundred percent positive it had been a normal man on the beach, not some deep sea creature.

Here in the daytime warmth of the cafe, it felt truly ridiculous.

Standing up with a stretch, John shut the book and tucked it into his bag, a walk to the marina on his mind. Plus, there was supposed to be a pub near there that served good fare, according to Mike.

The clouds were growing heavier in the sky as the cafe door clanged shut behind him. A sharp, salted breeze blew along the road as John walked, L.G.’s stories swirling in his head. He could see why the town was a perfect setting for his tales; with the close-packed buildings, cobbled streets, and grey sky, it felt like a place shifty sailors and merfolk would hang about.

Soon the marina came into a view. Two dozen boats sat amongst old wooden piers, masts jutting up like some sort of weird forest. The sails flapped loudly in the breeze. A low pale green building sat on the shore nestled between  the rocks of the beach. John walked closer, wondering if it was a bait shop. When he saw the brass plate mounted above the door he froze for the second time that day.

G. Lestrade

Harbourmaster

The book in John’s bag suddenly seemed to weigh a thousand pounds and his gut tightened. Surely it couldn’t be the same Lestrade? The man would have to be well into his nineties if the book was to be believed. Cane barely touching the ground, John crossed the pier and pushed through the heavy wooden door.  

To his surprise, he walked into an actual bait shop. Racks of fishing poles filled the aisle before him, and baskets and coils of rope hung from the ceiling. John headed toward the counter at the end of the store, passing barrels of bait and a crate piled with outdated life vests. A small, elderly woman sat behind the counter reading a romance novel, and smiling to herself. The clunking of John’s cane made her look up as he crossed the room.

“Hello, dear,” she said with a smile. “How can I help you?”

John smiled his best and hooked his cane on the counter. “Is the harbormaster in?”

“Why, yes. Would you like to see him?”

“If he’s free.” As the words left his mouth John realized he didn’t know what the hell he was going to ask the man when he saw him.

Before he could tell the lady he’d changed his mind, she disappeared through a door behind the counter. John considered  just turning around and leaving, but couldn’t bring himself to do such a dickish thing.

“He’ll be with you in a moment, dear. What did you say your name was?”

“John Watson. I just moved here.”

“Lovely. I’m Martha Hudson. I run the bait shop.”

John shook her hand over the counter and smiled.

“You can send him in now, Mrs Hudson,” a deep voice called from the back room.

“Go on in,” Mrs Hudson said, nodding toward the door.

John thanked her and headed through the door, hoping he wasn’t about to embarrass himself spectacularly.

The harbourmaster turned out  to be a grey haired, lively looking man seated behind a cluttered desk. The single window in his office gave John a view of the docks and cast a blurry grey light through the room.

“Good morning. Mr Lestrade, was it?”

The man smiled and got to feet. “Yes, that’s me. And you are?”

“John Watson. I recently moved here.”

“How can help you, Mr. Watson?”

John swallowed the urge to correct the moniker. “Yes- um- Sorry to bother you but, I just wanted some information on a book.”

Something flickered over Lestrade’s face, but was gone in a moment.

“I read this book by L.G. Lestrade and I just wondered... if you knew the author?” John said, swallowing nervously.

“Yes I did,” Lestrade said, crossing his arms. “If you want an autograph, you’re out of luck I’m afraid. Dad died two years ago.”

Lestrade’s eyes were flinty and guarded in away that had John feeling like the biggest arsehole ever to exist. Why had he bothered to come here? He surely couldn’t ask this man if the stories in the book was true or not. Not unless he wanted to be thrown out on his arse. Besides, hadn’t the book convinced him there was no way he’d met a person of the deep? Still, there was something that felt off about the entire situation.

“I just admired the book, is all,” he continued. “I had hoped I could met him.”

Lestrade’s expression didn’t change, “Is that all, Mr Watson? I really am very busy.” If his voice was any colder John was sure the sea outside the window would turn to ice. John realized he was done, there was nothing else to say to Lestrade.

“I’m sorry I bothered you,” John said, getting to his feet and turning toward the door. “Your dad was a good writer. I enjoyed the book.”

With that he ducked through the door and headed out of the store, wondering why Lestrade would be so defensive over a fictional novel…

****

The night, after forcing down some dinner with Mike, John sat on the porch and watched the waves slap against the wall in front of him. The day had been shit. After embarrassing himself in front of the harbormaster, John had hobbled around town aimlessly until his leg was screaming in pain. He’d been forced to sit down on a questionably stained bench and ask Mike to pick him up there when his shift was over. Now here he sat, staring into the ocean and trying to count the pinpricks of ships’ lights in the distance.

Mike had gone up to bed ages ago. John cradled his teacup and leaned back in the old rocker, slowly rocking himself in time with the waves. He was half asleep when something slammed hard into the side of the porch. Something large.

John dropped his cup and sat  straight up, heart in his throat. The thud came again, higher up on the wall of the porch, as if something were trying to scale it. John pinched himself hard on the thigh, pain bloomed and he felt a strange sense of relief. Definitely awake this time.

The thud came again and John hurriedly got to his feet and peered over the side of the porch. Something curled under the water. John was only able to get the impression of a long tail before it vanished. He blinked hard and rubbed his eyes. The current the creature was making was moving to the other side of the porch. John hustled over and peeked cautiously over the side. A pale shape was just visible under the water. As John watched a pair of milk pale hands and arms slid out of the water. Dark hair followed, and then John was looking at the same man from last night. Squinting John struggled to see the rest of the man’s body below the water. All he could make out was something long and gently iridescent.

Certainly not a pair of legs.

John gasped and the man turned to face him, looking startled. Their eyes met for a breath before he dove back underwater.

“No! Wait!” John called, waving frantically at the water. He needed answers, damn it! “Come back!”

Everything seemed to pause and John contemplated diving into the water after the man. Yet before he could seriously consider it, the man’s head popped back up a little distance away, his gaze wary.

“I knew it,” John breathed. “I knew you were real.”

The man gave him odd look, and then he was swimming closer, those odd eyes fixed on John. The colour of his eyes was oddly fractured, like a stained glass window of an old church. John blinked at him a moment. The man moved like nothing human.

“What are you?” John whispered without thinking.

That earned him an eyeroll and a haughty toss of hair. To John’s own disbelief, he heard himself chuckle. The man’s ears, curiously long and pointed, pricked at the sound.

“What’s your name then?” John asked, licking his lips.

Silence.

The silence stretched on for so long John thought the man wouldn’t answer. Then a deep rumble of a voice that made John’s earlobes tingle said, “Sherlock. My name is Sherlock.”

His speech was careful, as if he wasn’t used to forming words. However his pronunciation was perfectly crisp.

John’s grin threatened to make his face crack.

“I’m John.”

Sherlock nodded and John cast about for something to say. He selected and discarded several bits of small talk (why the fuck would a merman want to small talk?) before deciding just to  be up front.

“Are you a merman?”

Sherlock laughed, a low sound that made John think of the jaguars he’d seen at the zoo. “Is that what they call us now?”

John opened his mouth to reply but the man continued.

“What are you ?”

“Me? Well, I’m human.”

No . I mean what is your occupation...I usually do not get a reaction like yours when I am seen.”

“Doctor. Army doctor. What sort of reaction do you normally get?”

Sherlock smirked. “Usually there is more screaming.”

John couldn’t help himself, he let out a bark of laughter and grinned at Sherlock. Sherlock looked equal parts amused and shocked at John’s smiling face before he smiled back, revealing his teeth.

In an instant John’s laughter died and he swallowed hard. Each tooth was a slender spike, a touch longer than a human’s tooth, and shone pearl white in the moonlight. John’s hands tightened on the railing as his hindbrain screamed at him to run from the predator in front of him.

Sherlock’s lips clamped over his teeth and his face turned to stone. He edged away and John was suddenly filled with panic.

“Don’t go!”

Sherlock froze and looked at him, then slowly bared his teeth. John held still, refusing to flinch as two rows of glistening fangs were bared to the light. He knew if he pulled back  Sherlock would be gone in an instant. Whatever showed on John’s face must have be enough. Sherlock relaxed and swam closer again. John felt his own shoulders relax in turn.

“Can I see your tail?” John asked without thinking.

Sherlock looked startled, then to John’s enormous surprise, he laughed. It was a bit disconcerting with the teeth, but the sound itself was a rich , pleasant rumble.

Sherlock opened his mouth to answer when suddenly, a light came  on upstairs. John jumped and Sherlock hissed as footsteps descended the stairs inside.

As Sherlock made to dive under the surface, John felt his throat tighten.

“Can I see you again?” he called, flicking his eyes been Sherlock and the porch door.

Sherlock stared at him a moment, before nodding. “Tomorrow, where we first met.”

There was a loud splash and he was gone.

Just then the door behind John creaked open, “Everything okay, John?”

John took one last look at the glossy surface of the water before turning around. “Yeah, I was just enjoying the ocean air. Was about to come in, actually.”

He smiled at Mike, relief coursing through him. Sherlock was real. It was all real and he wasn’t going insane.

“How about a cuppa?” he asked Mike with a grin.

“Sounds good!”

Still smiling John followed Mike into the house. Tomorrow he definitely had to see that tail.

Chapter Text

The next day John woke up happier than he had in ages. The view from his window sparkled, the sound of the sea soothed him, and he wasn’t insane. Rolling over in bed, he stretched and luxiarated in the feeling. His mind was sound, he wasn’t hallucinating, it was all real .

The thought made John pause. There were actually fucking merpeople in the ocean around Mike’s house, and John was going to rendezvous with one of them that very night. He swallowed at the memory of those teeth; no vegetarian had teeth like those. Shaking his head, John tugged on a jumper and headed downstairs. Monster teeth or not, John was going to meet Sherlock again. He had to. Plus, the man had given no indication he wanted to eat John...unless that was part of how mermen hunted.

Trotting down the stairs, his cane barely touching the floor, he found Mike in the kitchen eating breakfast.

“Morning, John. Coming in with me today?”

John thought a moment, then shook his head. “I think I’ll stay home today, finish my book.” and prep to meet a merman later.

“Alright then,” Mike said with a smile, taking another bite of toast. John hooked his cane on the counter and took a few hobbling steps to the sink to refill the kettle, then came back to sit next to Mike.

If the both of them smiled a little wider as they sipped their tea, well so be it.

 

***

Staying home turned out to be a mistake.

If the day had crawled when John was bored, it was nothing compared to when he was looking forward to something. He’d gone out onto the porch and sat until it started to rain, but no sign of Sherlock. It made sense, the man couldn’t risk being seen. He finally turned to L.G’s book, hoping to learn more about Sherlock before he met him. This time he couldn’t get lost in the story like before, his mind kept jumping to Sherlock and the possibilities of tonight.

Finally, after giving up and spending hours in front of the telly going numb, the front door clicked open and Mike entered, holding a fragrant bag of takeaway.  John scarfed down his dinner, barely listening to Mike, his eyes locked on the lowering sun out the window. He ignored half the news programme? as well, silently willing the sun to set faster, leg twitching impatiently. It wasn’t until Mike asked him for the third time if he was alright, that John forced himself to calm down. It wouldn’t do to make Mike suspicious and then vanish into the night.

Two hours later the sun had set, John had taken a bath to kill time, and it had finally become an acceptable time to tell Mike good night.

Up in his room, John changed into a warmer jumper and began tucking essentals into his messenger bag: a large torch he’d taken from the storage cupboard under the stairs, his medical kit, a bottle of water, and the tension bandage for his knee. He shut off the light and sat on his bed, waiting for Mike to go to bed.

Twenty minutes later he heard the tell-tale creak of the stairs, the shuffle of Mike’s footsteps in the hall, and then water splashing in the bathroom.

Unable to wait any longer John eased his door open, peeked down the corridor, then tiptoed toward the stairs. Feeling every inch the sneaky teenager, he hopped the creaky stair and crept across the livingroom and out the porch door. As he darted down the beach, John had no idea his cane was still sitting on his bedroom floor.

***

The wind tore at John’s clothes as he jogged down the beach, eyes glued to the rock in the distance. As he skidded to a halt before it, he scanned the sea desperately, hoping for a glimpse of Sherlock.

Just then, the water rippled and a head of brown hair emerged from the depths. John grinned as the rest of Sherlock’s torso came into view. Sherlock smiled back, and John felt so relieved to see him he didn’t even notice the sharp teeth.

“I’m glad you came.”

“Of course.”

John stepped closer,  bent down and tore off his shoes and then rolled up his jeans. He waded into the icy water as Sherlock watched.

“So I was wondering,” confronted by Sherlock in the flesh, John felt a bit at a loss. “Could I- would it be alright if I saw your tail?”

Sherlock chuckled and John smiled in relief.

“Well, if you must,” he said, amusement lacing his tone. He swam closer to shore, something large moving under the water behind him, and then a huge tail fin was waving at John.

John gaped a moment and took a step closer.

“Let me see more,” he said, eyes fixed on the thin membrane that made up the fin.

Sherlock grinned and crept even closer, rolling onto his back and heaving the entire length of his tail out of the water.

It was almost twice as long as the merman’s body, the scales shining rough and wet in the moonlight. As John stepped closer he could see there was a purple tinge to it that shifted and shimmered as Sherlock slowly swayed his tail  in the air. John stared, mesmerized, before reaching out and rubbing his hand gently over it, feeling hard muscle under leathery skin. It was amazing.

He was just about to tell Sherlock so  when without warning, the tail crashed back into the water, soaking John from head to foot. John stood frozen for a moment, and then Sherlock’s laughter cut through the night. John blinked at him as Sherlock lounged in the shallow water, laughing himself silly.

“You bastard!” John said around a laugh, kicking water at Sherlock.

“Ah yes, splash the merman, John. Very effective,” Sherlock drawled, still snickering.

John rolled his eyes and gave Sherlock’s tail a playful shove.

Their eyes locked, smiles still in place, and John felt his cheeks heat. Clearing his throat, John looked away and fumbled for something to say.

“So, um- you can breathe air and water?”

“Not entirely. If I stay out of the water for too long my throat starts to dry out, then closes up,” Sherlock said, dropping his head back and letting the tips of his hair drag through the water.

John let his eyes wander, taking in Sherlock’s flat stomach, cut chest, and strong arms. When he looked up again Sherlock was smirking at him, looking far too pleased with himself.

“What about you, John? Are you a strong swimmer?”

“The army turned me into one, yeah, but this seems to slow me down.”

Sherlock looked a little bewildered, “What?”

“My-

John looked around for his cane. Surely it couldn’t have been buried by the sand so quickly? Then it hit him- he’d left it back at the house. He’d come down along the beach and been standing there talking to Sherlock for at least twenty minutes without it. Once again, Sherlock had kept his leg steady.

The smile on John’s face doubled in size at the realization. He was standing.

“John?”

As if sensing the lack of a cane, John’s knee wobbled hard, then gave out. John crashed into the water, re-soaking? his already drenched body and landing hard on his arse.  

“John!”

There was a loud splash as Sherlock twisted himself around and grabbed John’s shoulders to steady him.

John barely noticed, staring at his leg in wonder. “I- I was standing.”

“Yes, you were.” Sherlock sounded very worried now.

“I haven’t stood like that in- since I came home,” his eyes snapped to Sherlock. “I haven’t stood on my own until I met you .”

Sherlock still looked concerned, his icy hands grasping John’s shoulders.

“Since the war, Sherlock. I’ve needed my cane to get around until I met you.” John said, uncaring that he was sitting in cold seawater and shivering.

“Well...well I’m glad to be of service, John.”

John laughed and cupped Sherlock’s elbows, marveling at the smoothness of the skin under his hands. It was odd. Sherlock’s skin was so cold he’d expected it to be hard, but it was just as pliable  as human skin.

Sherlock gave him his odd little close-mouthed smile and John’s chest warmed.

“You look like you’re trying to keep a frog in your mouth,” he said.

Sherlock’s face clouded over and John hurried to elaborate. “I don’t mind the teeth, honestly. Don’t worry about them.”

Sherlock cocked an eyebrow, “Really, John?”

John nodded, “Of course!”

Sherlock narrowed his eyes and let go of John’s shoulders. He leaned closer, sliding himself between John’s knees. He bared his teeth slowly, revealing each ivory needle to the moonlight.

“Are you sure John?” he asked, voice subsonic.

John rolled his eyes and flicked a handful of water at Sherlock, “Yes, you dramatic fish, I’m sure.”

Sherlock blinked a moment and then let out a bark of laughter. John smiled and reached toward the nearby rock to  pull himself to his feet. His knee shook constantly and John swore under his breath. Well, he couldn’t expect a permanent fix so quickly, but he’d stood, damn it!

Sherlock’s eyes were on John’s leg, watching the wobble beneath  his wet jeans.

“Will you be able to get back?”

John looked down the beach, towards Mike’s house in the distance. “Maybe if I rest a bit.”

“Here, let me help.”

With that, Sherlock tucked his tail under himself and pushed himself upright. He caught John under the arms and lifted him onto the rock, seating him high enough to keep his feet out of the water. John stared at him in amazement.

“You don’t think I swim all day without gaining some sort of muscle development, do you?” Sherlock said, smirking again.

John chuckled and shook his head, “You’re right.”

Sherlock sank back into the water, dunking his head and then shaking out his hair.

John wondered what the purpose of Sherlock’s hair was? Surely it didn’t keep him warm underwater. He couldn’t find a proper way to ask though, and searched for something else to say.

“Are there lots of merpeople?” he asked.

Sherlock’s face went blank for a moment. “No. No others.”

“In this area you mean?”

“No,” Sherlock’s face closed off, “I don’t.”

“You can’t be the only one. Surely there must be others?”

Sherlock looked up at him, the moonlight reflecting off his eyes and making him look totally alien.

“How can there be a ‘surely’ in this case? I’m a creature of fantasy John.”

“But-”

“You’re shivering. It’s best you go back.”

“But-”

“I can swim you to the porch of you’d like. You’re already soaked.”

“I-”

A look from Sherlock stopped John’s words in his tracks. He’d clearly stepped on some toes, well... fins in this case.

“I think I can walk,” he said, as Sherlock rose up again and hoisted  him down. His knee shook but held.

“Excellent, John.”

John bit his lip, uncertain how his next question would be received. “Can we meet again? Perhaps when it’s warmer?”

Sherlock cocked his head, clearly thinking about it. The silence stretched out and John began to worry. “I promise not to push it if you don’t want to talk about something.”

Sherlock’s shoulders loosened a bit. “Your friend leaves during the day. If you come onto your porch, I can take you to a hidden cove.”

John sighed in relief, “I’d like that.”

Sherlock gave him a little grin, “Well off you pop then, John. We can’t have you freezing to death.”

John smiled hesitantly and trotted off, favouring his good leg so he wouldn't fall. He could feel Sherlock’s eyes upon him, but when he turned around the merman was gone.

Chapter Text

The wind nipped at John’s skin as he pulled his t-shirt over his head. He’d seen Sherlock coming, the long arm waving at him from the horizon wasn’t exactly subtle, so he’d stepped onto the porch and stripped down to his swim trunks. He’d reluctantly packed them when he’d decided to move in with Mike, and now he was glad he had. He certainly didn’t want to go swimming in jeans.

Instead of creeping out of the water as he usually did, Sherlock shot out like a scaly rocket; thrusting his entire torso and half his tail out of the water and grabbing the banister of Mike’s porch.

“Hello, John,” he said demurely, propping his elbows on the stone and smiling as if he hadn’t just lept dramatically out of the water.

“Hello you,” John with a laugh.

He hurriedly glanced around the beach, but as usual, it was deserted. When he turned back to Sherlock, the mereman was eyeing him; his eyes focused on John’s chest. John fought against the urge to suck in his stomach. They all couldn’t be sculpted merpeople.

“Are you sure you won’t be cold?” Sherlock asked, eyes still on his chest.

“Not at all,” John said with a smile, maybe he wasn’t the only one struggling not to ogle.

“How’s your leg?”

“It’ll hold,” John said, tensing his knee slightly to stop the wobbling.

“Excellent!” Sherlock sank back into the water and looked at John expectantly, “Go on then.”

Taking a deep breath, John slid onto the banister and swung his legs over. His bare toes dangled a good four feet over the water. It might not seem like much, but with a bad knee it felt like diving off a cliff.

“The water’s deep enough, John,” Sherlock said. He hesitated a moment before adding quietly, “And I’m right here.”

Their eyes met, and John nodded once. Inhaling and holding it, he pushed off the stone railing and into the water. The water was sharp with cold. It surged over him, pricking at his skin and turning the world around him dark. John kicked upward and struggled against panic as his leg spasamed. A pale arm cut through the water and tugged John upward until his head broke the surface.

John sputtered, swearing at his leg and clinging to Sherlock. It was the cold making his muscles seize up, damn it.

“Hold on to me, John,” Sherlock said, “Slow your kicks.”

Nodding, John followed Sherlock’s instructions, keeping his eyes trained on Sherlock’s face to keep himself focused. It was his first time seeing Sherlock by daylight; the features that were usually drenched in shadow were right before him in the sunlight. Sherlock’s skin was still deathly pale, but his hair turned out to be chocolate instead of ink. The sun reflected prettily off a widow’s peak of purple scales that crowned Sherlock’s forehead, and his eyes seemed more blue than the creepy white he’d grown accustomed to. All in all he was lovelier in the daytime and that thought made John swallow hard. He and L.G might have more in common than he’d originally thought.

Tearing his thoughts away from Sherlock, John focused on his leg. Sherlock had his eyes trained on John’s limbs moving under water, his brow furrowed. John slowed his kicks and took deep slow breaths. Bit by bit the water around him warmed as his body adjusted, and while not fully stopping, the pain in his leg eased to a manageable level.

“It’s alright now, Sherlock,” John said, loosening his hold on Sherlock’s shoulder, but not letting go.

Sherlock gave him a small smile, “Ready then? It’s a bit of a swim to where I want to take you.”

John nodded, although his heart sank. He doubted his knee would hold up.

Something on his face must have shown his distress, for Sherlock was suddenly turning around and guiding John’s hands onto his shoulders.

“Humans are tediously slow swimmers. Just hold on to me and enjoy the ride.”

John opened his mouth to protest, but Sherlock had already lowered himself deeper into the water and took off.

He was fast .

John tightened his hold on Sherlock’s hard shoulders, rendered silent by the sheer speed they were moving at. Slowly, a smile bloomed over his face and his leg was forgotten. John opened his mouth and let out a whoop as they sped through the water. He caught a glimpse of Sherlock’s sharp smile as they picked up speed and headed toward a wave cresting before them. Sherlock’s tail bunched, then they were out of the water, cutting through the air and flying over the wave. John’s laugh echoed over the empty ocean as they splashed back down, spraying the air with glittering drops of water.

“Hold your breath John!” Sherlock called.

John barely had time to comply before they went under. Everything went silent as they dove below the waves. Sherlock slowed slightly and John opened his eyes and looked around. The water swirled above him as a wave crashed overhead and John could see rock formations with the strangest plants growing from them. A tiny school of fish swam by, giving Sherlock a wide berth as he passed. John stuck one arm out and let his fingers brush over the almost neon plants closest to him. The plants immediately sucked into themselves, pulling their waving tentacles away from John’s fingers.

His lungs had just started to burn, when Sherlock began propelling them upward. He picked up speed as he went and John clung tighter, figuring out what Sherlock was about to do.

The world of sound came back, chilled air hit him and they were airborne again. John’s laugh was more of a shriek than anything else. He hadn’t smiled so wide in years , even before his deployment.

“Enjoying yourself?” Sherlock called over his shoulder when they’d landed.

“You think?” John shouted in reply.

He yelped as Sherlock rolled over, dunking John and bringing him up sputtering. It did nothing to quell his smile though.

They swam on, jumping the large rolls of water and ducking under whenever Sherlock got too dry. Finally, a wide crescent of sand came into view.

“That’s where we’re headed,” Sherlock said, slowing as the water began to grow shallow. “My home, for lack of a better word.”

John nodded, eyes on Sherlock’s back as he entered the shallow water. The muscles were lean and cut, his shoulders broad. Water droplets slid along the contours of his muscles  and John was suddenly glad the water around them was on the cold side. The sand scraped at his knees and John gave Sherlock’s shoulders a squeeze of thanks, before he let go and slid into the shallow water.

The formation before him was nothing more than a barren sand deposit. John stood up and waded onto shore, taking in the total lack of vegetation and hard rock that warred with the sand to make up the beach.

“You live here?” John asked, unable to keep the skepticism from his voice.

“Technically I live in the network of caves below this, but since you need air, that’s not an option.”

John flopped onto the sand and stretched out, folding his arms behind his back. The waves ran gently over him, maintaining his temperature and preventing him from shivering. The sky was cloudy, and John hoped it didn’t start to rain soon. He didn’t want another visit with Sherlock cut short.

Sherlock pulled himself out of the water and next to John, the muscles of his his arms flexing as he dragged his tail out of the water.

“I can come back in, it’s no trouble,” John said quickly, sitting up.

“No, no. Humans shouldn’t stay in the saltwater for too long. There’s nothing to drink if you get thirsty.”

“Ah,” John said, and tried to ignore his immediate need for a drink.

“So,” he said lying back, “What does a merman do all day?”

Sherlock lay back and stretched, the end of his tail curling over itself as the muscles rippled. “Exactly what you see me doing now; I lounge, I hunt- for fish mind you, I’m not a cannibal- and  sometimes,” a slow smile spread over his face, “I swim to the docks and watch the sailors unload the ships.”

John laughed and Sherlock pouted in mock offence.

“All the nice mermen love a sailor, John,” he said slyly, which set John into another fit of giggles.

“I can just see it,” John said around his laughter, “You peeking out from behind a rock watching the poor sailors sweat in the sun.”

“Mmm, yes,” Sherlock purred, his eyes twinkling.

John laughed again and flicked some water at him.

“There you go again. Getting me wet just makes me more comfortable, John,” Sherlock scoffed.

“Does it now?”

Their eyes met and the moment stretched out. John’s smile slowly faded as his eyes flicked to Sherlock’s lips, down his to his strong chest, then back to his eyes. Sherlock was staring it him, eyes dark and every trace of mirth gone. John licked his lips and Sherlock’s eyes darkened. Just then there was a rush of water and a wave crashed over them, soaking John and killing the moment.

John sputtered, pushing his wet hair off his forehead. Sherlock, on the other hand, was luxuriating in the water. The muscles of his stomach flexed as he stretched his tail, almost preening as he was soaked. John swallowed and tore his eyes away, flopping back onto the sand instead.

Sherlock took him in and chuckled, then lay back on the sand himself.

A beat of silence passed as they lay next to each other, arms brushing and Sherlock’s fins sliding against John’s leg whenever the tide rippled around them.

“You were in the war,” Sherlock said, his voice cutting through the quiet.

“Yes,” John said. Under his head his left hand flexed in the sand.

“Were you stationed in Sudan?”

John’s brow furrowed, “No I was in Kabul, had a brief stint in Jalalabad, but it was mostly Kabul.”

Sherlock turned to him looking confused, “So the campaign expanded?”

John had the distinct feeling they were talking about two very different events. “What campaign?” he asked slowly, turning to face Sherlock.

“The Mahdist Revolt of course,” Sherlock said, his voice carefully even.

Thankfully, John’s O-level in history saved any more floundering. It also made him cringe at the thought of what he had to explain.

“That was over two hundred years ago, Sherlock. The war I fought in was completely- completely different.”

Sherlock stared at him a moment, blinking rapidly, and John prayed Sherlock wasn’t about to ask him for details. He really wasn’t in the mood to discuss it, nor did he think he could do the topic justice all by himself.

“Ah I see,” Sherlock said, looking troubled, “Well, it’s difficult to get my hands on a newspaper, especially since I tend to smudge the print.” He wiggled his wet fingers in the air and forced a laugh.

John smiled to make Sherlock comfortable more than anything else. Sherlock lay back and stared at the sky, his eyes disturbed. Silence descended, gulls floated high over head, and John struggled to find something to talk about that wouldn’t remind Sherlock of how out of touch he was.

“You said you live in caves below the island?” he asked, figuring Sherlock doing the talking would make the conversation easier to navigate.

Sherlock nodded, “It’s lovely really. One of the better places I’ve been.”

“How’d you even find it anyway?”

Sherlock raised his eyebrows.

“It’s just, the ocean is so massive, and this- this is tiny.”

“Would you like to see my real home then?” Sherlock grinned, “Can you hold your breath long enough?”

John stood up, “I’ll try. If I go limp, just drag me up and breathe some air into me.”

Sherlock laughed and began crawling toward the water, John almost offered to lift his tail, but the sight of the rippling muscles under scales stopped him. He wasn’t sure he could lift it at all. As he stared at Sherlock’s tail his mind drifted back to Sherlock’s face when he’d realized how wrong his knowledge of the war was

“Sherlock?”

The merman hummed in reply.

“How did you know about the Sudan Campaign?”

Sherlock paused from where he’d made it halfway into the deeper surf, “What?”

“The Mahdist war? How’d you know about it?”

“Oh,” Sherlock’s eyes shifted away, “I used to swim near the ships sometimes and- and I overheard the soldiers.” He blinked a moment, “Come along, John! I need to show you my caves before nightfall.”

Smiling, the thoughts of war falling away, John sprinted into the ocean after Sherlock.

***

Arms tight around Sherlock’s shoulders they slowly swam below the surface. The water was dark and getting icier every inch John descended. He pressed his lips together tighter, trying to trap as much air as possible and not think about just how much water was above them at that moment. Suddenly the dark shelf of rock that made up the tiny island vanished, opening up into a gaping cavern.

John’s eyes widened at the sheer blackness of the water before them. Sherlock must have had some sort of night vision if this was where he lived. John felt a thread of panic curl in his gut as blackness closed around them as Sherlock swam into the cave. To the left and right John could just make out patches of deeper darkness where the mouths of other caves opened up. The water was frigid now and John’s knee bagan to throb. He strained his eyes to see ahead, but there was nothing. It was as if he’d been dipped in ink. John shut his eyes, trying to will away the panic that itched at the back of his throat. His lungs burned and his leg juddered hard.

He wanted out.

Mashing his lips together, John gave Sherlock’s shoulders two hard squeezes and felt the merman go still below him. He borrowed his head between Sherlock’s shoulder blades, fear tight in his throat. Immediately, Sherlock turned around, his tail churning the water behind him as he propelled them out of the cave and into the marginally warm water beyond. John’s lungs were screaming as they began to ascend. He squeezed Sherlock again, panic thick in his chest.

Colours danced behind his eyelids as they cut upward and John’s panic grew as his body begged for air. He needed, he needed-

His head broke the surface and John gasped, sucking in mouthful after mouthful of air, tears blurring his vision. Sherlock’s arms were around his waist, holding him up in the water as John panted.

“John! John are you alright!”

John nodded, clinging to Sherlock shoulders for dear life. His lungs burned too much to speak.

“I’m so sorry, John. I didn’t think it would be too deep for you.”

“It wasn’t,” John wheezed, then broke off coughing again as his throat burned. “It-

“Shh, don’t talk,” Sherlock soothed, a hand stroking down John’s back. “Take deep, slow breathes.”

John did, struggling to control his breathing and embarrassment. Fucking icy water.

When the pain in his lungs had turned into a dull throb he sighed and let his legs go limp in the water. Sherlock could hold him up with ease. As he expected, Sherlock’s arms curled around his waist and held him up. It was a bit closer than strictly necessary, though John had absolutely no problem with that.

“It wasn’t the depth,” he said, voice rough, “It was the cold and- and it was pitch dark down there. It threw me off, is all.”

“Oh,” Sherlock looked troubled again. “My vision changed more than I thought,” he said so quietly John almost missed it.

“Changed how?” he asked, curiosity making him croak out the question.

Sherlock licked his lips, his eyes flicking to the side. “It adapted to suit my environment is all. Now let me take you back home.”

“Already?” John asked, feeling disappointed.

Sherlock grinned, absentmindedly squeezing John’s waist. “You’re probably dying of thirst right about now aren’t you?”

Well, Sherlock had a point.

“How about a night swim tomorrow, there’s glowing algae close to this area. Close to the surface, I promise you.”

John nodded, his throat burned too much to speak. Sherlock continued to hold him, his hand cradling  the back of John’s head for a moment, in an almost unconscious gesture. John leaned into the touch and let himself enjoy it. He felt absolutely exhausted.

“Hold on to me John, I’ll have you back in no time.”

With that Sherlock twisted in John’s arms, made sure his hold was secure and then began towing John back to Mike’s. His pace was slow enough that John knew he wasn’t the only one reluctant to go home alone.

 

***

When Mike came home he eyed John’s drying swim trunks with a smile.

“Had a good day then?” he asked, pouring himself a cup of the tea John had just brewed.

John nodded and smiled, sipping his tea slowly. It was his third cup and his throat was just beginning to get back to normal.

Mike took a sip and then headed up to change. It was a habit he had, taking two sips of tea then going off to do something else. John smiled and leaned back in his chair. He felt more relaxed than he had in ages.

“So I was thinking,” Mike said as he trotted back into the living room dressed in jeans and a jumper. “How about coming to the pub with me tonight?”

John took a gulp of tea and set his cup down, giving himself time to think. He was tired from the swimming and nearly drowning, then again he hadn’t seen people other than Mike since his trip to town.

“Sure, that sounds like fun,” John said smiling.

Mike grinned, “Great we’ll head out at seven.”

****

The pub was more full than John expected for a Thursday night. As they walked through the door, numerous people hailed Mike out and waved at him, offering to buy him a beer.

“Small town, we’re the only clinic,” Mike whispered in explanation, between saying hello to people.

They slowly made they way to a table commandeered by other members of clinic; two men and three women. One woman in particular was especially pretty, with long dark hair and warm brown skin.

“John, this is everyone. Everyone, John,” Mike said, pulling up two more chairs.

A wave of individual introductions followed as they sat down. One of the men, David, headed to the bar for another round.

“So, you’re the army doctor we’ve heard so much about,” Felisha said, propping a chin on her hand and smiling at John.

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“You know, Angela served as well,” David said, setting down their beers and nodding at the pretty dark haired woman John had noticed earlier.

Soon, John was swapping his best army stories with Angela, a cold pint in hand, and actually enjoying himself.

He was laughing at something David had said, when Felisha’s eyes focused on something over his shoulder.

“Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the harbourmaster.”

“Lestrade?” Angela said, trying to discreetly peak out of the corner of her eye.

John threw a  quick glance over his shoulder and saw Greg seating himself at the bar, alone and looking morose. Other people were throwing looks at him too. Clearly the harbour master coming in for a drink wasn’t the norm.

“So I take it he doesn’t come here often?” John whispered to Mike, as chatter around the table picked back up.

“No. He hardly goes anywhere besides his office actually. A bit of a recluse that one.”

“I would be too if my father did what his did,” David said, taking a swig from his drink.

“His father wrote that book, didn’t he? The People of the Deep?” John asked, seeing an opportunity.

“And made himself a laughing stock,” David said around a mouthful of chips.

“I don’t see why Greg should be embarrassed.” Angela said shaking her head, “After what happened to his father, trauma is expected.”

At John’s confused expression Felisha jumped in, “Greg’s father was a fisherman. One day he goes of with his crew and gets swept overboard. The whole town sent boats out trying to find him, the coastguard got involved, but no sign of him. They kept up searches for a month, before the coast guard pulled back. Greg’s mother is in pieces-

“Well of course she was, she thought he was dead!” Angela cut in, biting into a chip.

“And Greg has to drop out of school to take of her and find a job,” Falisha continued “He’d gotten into the police academy you know. Wanted to be a copper. Anyway, months later his dad just shows back up. Just like that; knocking on their front door. No one can believe it, but of course everyone’s happy for the family I mean, it’s rare for people lost at sea to just turn up, but-

“He came back wrong,” David cut in, as Felisha took a sip of her wine, “Started talking about how a merman rescued him and kept him on this island, bringing him fish and asking about history.”

A chill ran down John’s spine as he remembered all of Sherlock’s questions about war.

“At first,” David continued, not noticing John’s face, “People just thought it was the trauma. That he made up a merman in his head to keep himself sane wherever he was, but then he started getting violent. He’d start fights when people questioned him, or if they even hinted at not believing him. Got thrown out of here a few times well.”

“He punched his own son when Greg tried to get him to talk to a therapist.” Angela whispered, “After that Greg’s mum threw him out.”

“The dad, not Greg,” David verified.

“What happened then?” John asked, his mind whirling. If only the others knew he’d spent his entire afternoon swimming with the very creature they scoffed at.

“Leo- that’s the father- just started wandering around town. Talking to anyone he met about an expedition he was planning,” David swallowed his bite of food, “To find the fucking merman. Of course no one took him seriously, then one day he just disappeared. People thought he’d sailed off on his own. Then six months after that his book turned up in the bookstore.”

“What!” John said, sitting forward.

David nodded, voice low as he continued, “I heard this around town, but apparently he made it to London and found someone who took him seriously-

“Or saw a cash cow,” Angela cut in.

“-and then the book was published.”

“What happened to L.G then?” John asked, pulse racing. Maybe he could track the man down and talk to him. Get some answers.

“He’d cut all communication with his family. It broke Greg’s mother’s heart,” Feisha said, ignoring John’s question, “She left town a while after the book came out. Went to live with the daughter in Scotland.”

“What made Greg stay?”

Felisha shrugged, “Dunno, he’s not the most talkative type.”

John swallowed the dregs of his beer and sat back, his hands tight around his glass.

“I would’ve left. I wouldn’t want whispers following me around everywhere I go.’ David said, eyes still on Lestrade.

“I think he likes the familiarity,” Angela said softly, “At least here he doesn’t have to worry about people asking about his past. In a new place he’d have to explain everything, cause eventually people get suspicious if your past is under wraps. Here at least people know it’s off limits.”

Their eyes met and John gave her a small nod. He understood that perfectly; he never had to worry about Mike asking him about the thrills of army life.

The table fell silent as the story lay over them. John was itching find out if he could contact L.G himself, and he wanted to show Sherlock the book, to see what he thought of it.

“That’s not the worst of it,” Mike said, interrupting his brooding.

“No it’s not,” Felisha added with a sigh.

“Why? What happened?”

“He killed himself,” Mike said quietly, even though Greg was clear across the noisy pub.

John’s eyes widened.

“Yeah, he shot himself last year.”

“Fucking hell,” John whispered.

“I guess the trauma went deeper than anyone knew.”

Silence fell again as everyone digested the story. Now John understood why the Greg didn’t want to talk about the book or L.G.  

As John headed to the bar to buy the next round he flicked a glance at Greg. The man had his elbows on the bar and eyes glued to the football match on the television. Although he was distracted his eyes still looked sad.

John wondered what Greg would do if he found out the object of his father’s obsession actually existed.

***

Across town a sleek black car pulled up to a small rental cottage. A sharply dressed man slid out of the backseat and headed toward the woman standing by the door. He was flanked by two huge men who could be nothing other than bodyguards.

The woman’s eyes widened as she took them in, people didn’t dress like that to visit a seaside village.

“Good night, Sir,” she said smoothly, she was a professional after all, “Welcome to Hillside cottage!”

The man gave her a smile and nodded as yet another hulking figure began unloading the car.

“Can I have your name please? To check the reservation.”

“Of course,” he said, his voice soft. “It’s Jim, Jim Moriarty.”

Chapter Text

John floated on his back in the water, the sky above him was full of stars, but John was warm. The water lapped between his bare thighs, reminding John that he was naked in the water. There was a soft splash behind him, then strong arms wrapped around him and pulled him against a slick chest. John smiled and turned to face Sherlock.

“Hello you,” he said, wrapping his arms around Sherlock’s shoulders.

Sherlock grinned at him revealing perfectly normal, human teeth. John smiled and let his hands slide down Sherlock’s chest, feeling hard muscle under cool skin.

“John,” Sherlock whispered, his voice a low rumble. “I’ve missed you.”

“I haven’t gone anywhere,” John said, leaning in closer.

Sherlock’s face glowed pale and pearlescent in the moonlight. His eyes looked almost green and were gazing warmly art John as he pulled him even closer. Their bare torsos pressed together, nipples brushing ever so slightly. John sighed softly and curled a leg curl around Sherlock’s tail, enjoying the weight of it against his legs.

“Oh John, if only I could keep you.”

“You c-

John was interrupted by Sherlock wrapping a hand around the back of his head and kissing him. John was kissing back before he knew what he was doing, pressing even closer to Sherlock and tangling his hands in his hair.

Sherlock’s tongue met his own as the kiss deepened. One large hand crept over John’s chest, then long fingers were rubbing over his nipple, teasing it to hardness then pulling on it ever so delicately. John gasped and tugged at Sherlock’s hair. Sherlock let out a delicious moan and began kissing his way down John’s neck, blunt teeth scraping over wet skin. John panted up at the sky as Sherlock sucked bruises wherever he saw fit. Both hands teased and toyed with John’s nipples driving him totally mad. As Sherlock kissed over one hard nub John felt his cock twitch in the water. He hissed and reached for it, only to have Sherlock grasp his wrist and pin his hand to his side. He let out a moan of frustration, hips thrusting uselessly through the water he was somehow staying afloat in.

Sherlock gave him a wicked smile, then he was sinking under the water, pressing kisses over John’s belly and hips as he made his way lower.

John let out a strangled yelp as he felt lips wrap around his cock and swallow him deep. His hips jerked and his hands found Sherlock’s hair under the water. After a tap to his hip he started to thrust shallowly into Sherlock’s mouth, his own lips parted wide in pleasure. Sherlock’s tongue curled, pressed, then he was pulling off and-

John’s eyes snapped open and promptly scrunched back shut as sunlight blinded him. He blinked hard and rolled onto his back, then let out a giggle as the blanket tented over his lap. Jesus, what a dream. He swallowed hard and tried to shove all thoughts of amorous mermen from his mind. He was not going to have a wank while thinking of a merman. John Watson did not get horny across different species, absolutely not. No matter how attractive said merman was. No matter how pretty his lips or how sharp his cheekbones were. No matter how broad his shoulders or sculpted his stomach. No matter how his muscles rippled when he’d pulled John through the water as if he weighed nothing at all...

Sighing, John rolled his eyes at himself and reached for a tissue from the box on the side table.

***

Twenty minutes later, John headed downstairs feeling infinitely more relaxed. Mike was in the kitchen, eating a sandwich, already dressed for work.

“Hey John. Coming into town today?”

“Yeah, I wanted to check out the library.”

“Excellent,” Mike said with a smile.

Last night after they’d returned home from the pub John had made a plan, well sort of a plan. He needed to find out more about L.G. and this merman he’d claimed to meet. Tonight he had no intention of swimming with Sherlock. Instead he wanted to show him L.G’s book and get some answers.

John gulped down a cup of tea as Mike doubled checked his bag. Then they loaded into the car and were off.

The library was a huge, dusty building that felt as if a window hadn’t been open in at least a decade. After a brief chat with the librarian, John headed over to the computers crammed into a tiny room off the main library. The town had its own local paper and, thanks to an enthusiastic library assistant a few years ago, the archived newspapers had been digitized.

Thankfully the system was straightforward enough for John to follow: the newspapers were categorized by year, then into separate months. But as he stared at the list he realized he had no idea when L.G had gone missing, or even when he had died. He chewed on his lip a moment before fishing L.G’s book out of his bag and flipping it open to find the publication date. David had said the book was published six months after L.G had left town, but how long had that been after he’d gone missing?

Sighing, John scrubbed a hand over his face and clicked on the year the book had been published, he’d have to work his way backward from there.

An hour later and John only had a scant half page of notes. He hadn’t found the article about L.G’s disappearance yet. Knowing the year of publication was not much to go on when there was a paper for each day of the year. His back was cramping and his leg was twitching slightly. John hoped leaving his cane at home wasn’t a mistake. Cracking his neck, he hunched back over the computer and got back to scrolling.

Finally, finally, he came across the publication article. Rubbing his eyes, John leaned closer to the screen to see the scanned print. The article itself was short and stiff. Clearly whoever had written it had thought L.G was a arsehole, much the same way David had. There was no mention of his tales of mermaids or anything about his past. It wasn’t the print that interested John, however. It was the grainy photograph attached to the article. A woman and a man John assumed was L.G stood close together in front of a huge version of the book’s cover. LG. was a gaunt man and, although he was smiling in the picture, his eyes looked hollow. He was awkwardly clutching a copy of the novel  and looked like he wished he was anywhere else but there.

Behind them stood another man . It looked like he’d come into the photo by mistake. He was thin with overly large eyes, and was staring directly at L.G with sharp intent. John frowned as he took a screenshot of the page and sent it off to print. He tried to make out the caption below the photo to see who the woman was. Pulling the cap of his pen off with his teeth, he scrawled her name down and then went back to scrolling.

John’s eyes were burning and his head was slumped in his hand by the time he found the article about L.G’s death. He sat up and leaned in close again, squinting against the dazzle of the screen.

LOCAL WRITER FOUND DEAD IN LONDON FLAT.

Local fisherman turned writer L.G Lestrade was found dead in his apartment on Saturday night, officials report. Cause of death has been ruled as suicide from a single gunshot wound to the head.

Mr Lestrade, who left his family and the quiet life behind for the glamourous London writing scene, was the author of Peoples of the Deep, a novel he claimed to be a biography of his time spent on a deserted island after being washed overboard. The novel saw mediocre success upon release, and whatever little success it had paled in comparison to the effect it had on this small town.

“I just can’t believe it,” local bookshop owner Barbra Denning said. “When I got the shipment it felt so surreal. He was homeless here just a few months ago, and now I’m selling his book.”

“I think it’s in really poor taste,” former fisherman Ernee Gibson said. “I mean, after what he put his family through, to profit from that.”

Mrs. Lestrade, who recently moved to Scotland, could not be contacted. Her son, who still resides here as apprentice Harbourmaster, refused to comment.

The article ended there. John sat back in his chair and sighed. So much for helpful news articles. He took another screen shot of the article in case Sherlock wanted to see it. He scrolled through a few more articles half heartedly, then shoved his chair back and trotted over to the printer to collect his papers. Tucking them into his notebook, John closed down the archive, gave the librarian a wave, and headed out. He needed to talk to Sherlock as soon as possible. Questions were itching under his skin and he couldn’t wait until tonight to ask them.

Not feeling his leg at all he almost ran to the clinic. When the building came into view he forced himself to calm down. It wouldn’t do to worry Mike or make him think something was up. Muffling his panting breaths, he smiled at the nurse at the front desk and asked for Mike.

“Sorry, Sir. Dr. Stamford is out to lunch at the moment. Can I take a message?”

John blinked and looked at the clock on the wall behind the nurse. He’d been in the library for over four hours and hadn’t even noticed. He grit his teeth but kept a smile on his face.

“No, no. I’m a friend of his who’s staying with him. Can you tell me where he is?”

At John’s looked he grinned, “He usually has lunch at the Dancing Pony. I’ll give you directions.”

John’s smile was a bit more genuine this time. In London that information would have never been given out that easily.

Ten minutes later the Dancing Pony came into view. It was a tiny place, sandwiched between a boarded up business and a clothes shop. A bell jangled when John entered, and the delicious smell of roast beef hit him. It made him realize he hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning. As he trotted up to Mike’s table he realized he couldn’t very well ask Mike to borrow his car and then make him walk back to work.

“John!” Mike said happily. “What brings you here?”

“I was looking for you and the nurse at the counter said you were eating here-”

“Sit down, sit down,” Mike said, nodding to the chair across from him and picking up his fork and knife. “Why don’t you join me?”

John bit the inside of his cheek as he sat down and tried to figure out what to do. He hadn’t eaten since yesterday, but he wanted to get to him as quickly possible. Then again he thought, eyeing Mike’s plate, he had no idea how to contact Sherlock when he got home. Plus there was no real urgency behind his questions.

“Sure,” John said, smiling at Mike as a waiter approached.

****

“Listen Mike,” John said, as they waited for the bill. “Could I drop you back to work and borrow the car to drive home? I’ll come back to get you, of course.”

“Seen your fill of the town?” Mike said with a laugh.

John smiled, “It’s lovely, it’s just, you know-”

John’s words trailed off as he fumbled for an excuse.

“Oh, don’t worry, I get it,” Mike said, his smile morphing into a look of concern. “People can be a bit much at times, can’t they?”

John smiled sheepishly, feeling every inch an arse as he used Mike’s concern to get his way. “Thanks, Mike.”

John paid the bill using the last bit of his pension for the month, not that he cared. Mike was letting him room for free of course.

Hands tight on the wheel, he drove Mike back to work and promised to come back for him at four. Ten minutes later he was out of town and heading down the narrow road back to Mike’s house. The sea glinted through the window and John  wondered again how the hell he was going to get to Sherlock’s attention.

Finally, he was parking the car crookedly in the driveway and racing into the house. He didn’t know why he was in such in a rush, but something was pushing him toward house and wanted him to talk to Sherlock as soon as possible.

He tore his coat off and charged onto the porch, his bag dangling from one arm. The sea stretched out before him, taunting him with its empty expanse. Thinking of nothing else, John opened his mouth and shouted as loud as he could.

“Sherlock!”

Nothing. He leaned over the railing as far as he dared and shouted again.

“SHERLOCK!”

Nothing.

John sighed and gave it one more try, shouting so loudly his throat ached. He looked around eagerly, hoping against hope that it had worked.

***

Jim Moriarty hummed to himself as he he trotted down the lane to John Watson’s home. The smell of the sea soothed him and brought back only the pleasantest of memories. The house came into view, and Jim slowed, taking in the surroundings and making sure he wouldn’t be spotted. In the clear, he walked up to the front door and fished an envelope from his pocket.

From inside the house he could hear someone shouting Sherlock’s name. A smile tugged at his lips, his timing was perfect as usual. Smoothing the envelope neatly, he slid it into the letter box, giving the metal a happy pat. Turning away he heard the telltale splash of something large emerging from the water. His grin widened as he walked away from the house. Everything was falling perfectly into place.

***

“Hello John,” Sherlock said, grinning at him as he slid out of the water.

“You heard me,” John said happily. “Good, I have so much to show you!”

Sherlock’s brow furrowed and he leaned his elbows on the banister. “What’s got you so excited?”

John fished the book and printouts from his bag and then held the book out to Sherlock. “Look at this.”

Sherlock eyed the book and then his wet hands. “I might smudge-”

“Hold on.”

John raced into the kitchen and grabbed a tea towel, then hustled back to Sherlock. Taking the man’s hands he rubbed them dry quickly and then shoved the book into them. Sherlock smiled at him, eyes warm and bemused, then cracked open the book.

“What’s the matter John? Want me to read you a story?” he said with a chuckle.

“No, no it’s just- this book. It’s about a man who got washed overboard and was rescued by a merman. And I-”

“Oh really, John,” Sherlock scoffed. “You honestly don’t think every book with mermen is-”

His words trailed off when he saw the name on the cover.

“It can’t be,” Sherlock whispered, his eyes wide. He ripped the book open and began to read, his eyes flying back and forth over the pages.

“I thought it was you!” John said, grinning. “The details lined up too perfectly for it to be fiction. I mean the way he talks about your tail....”

Sherlock grumbled, turning a page, totally engrossed. John smiled and pulled up a rocker, sitting down to watch Sherlock read. He looked gorgeous in the sun, the crown of scales on his forehead glinting in the light, his eyes glowing as they took in L.G’s tale with the most adorable furrow between his brows as he concentrated. It brought to mind John’s dream from the morning and he felt himself blush.

“Honestly, the way he goes on and on about my tail,” Sherlock said, flicking the appendage. “It’s merely purple not ‘a variegated play of shimmering plum ’.”

John smiled. “Well, it’s very gorgeous,” he said, eyes on Sherlock’s face.

Sherlock looked at him, a lazy grin spreading over his features. “Do you think so, Doctor Watson?”

“Oh, I most certainly do,” John said, leaning closer.

The papers in his lap crinkled and John stopped short. If L.G and Sherlock were as close as the book said, then John had some terrible news for Sherlock. He swallowed and forced the smile to stay on his lips.

“Continue reading. He said more about it that I think you’ll find interesting.”

Sherlock gave him an odd look at the change of tone, but turned back to the book. John sat back in his chair and stared out at the sea, fiddling with the papers in his hands.

“Well, I certainly never did that!” Sherlock said, a while later, “We never “ cuddled”. In fact the man barely touched me.”

He shut the book and rolled his eyes. “Why the unnecessary romanticism? It would be a perfectly good story without it.”

“So you two weren’t close?” John asked, twisting the papers in his hands.

“I enjoyed his company, yes, but being away from other humans for so long took a took  toll on him. I did miss him after I returned him home though. It was...nice having someone to talk to.”

Sherlock looked at him, “It’s wonderful to have someone to talk to.”

John smiled and bit his lip, wanting to flirt and return Sherlock’s teasing, but he needed to tell him everything first.

“Ah, good. Listen Sherlock, there’s something else,” John smoothened the printed news articles out on his lap. “After L.G came back he had...difficulty adjusting. Well, um- he left here after a few months and-”

“He left! After going on and on about how much he missed his wife and children?” Sherlock seemed stunned.

“I guess he  really was away for too long,” John said.

“Possibly. I tried to help him, John.” Sherlock said. “I did, but he was interested in me and it was nice to have someone to talk to after so long…”

Sherlock trailed off and John ducked his head, it was now or never. “Listen Sherlock, there’s something else.”

Taking the coward’s way out, he set the article about L.G’s suicide in front of Sherlock. Sherlock looked at it  and then quickly up at John again.

“He shot himself?”

John nodded, “I’m sorry, Sherlock.”

Sherlock stared into the distance for a moment and John looked away, giving him what privacy he could.

“What’s that you have there?” Sherlock asked, turning to him and eyeing the other paper in his lap.

“Oh, here. It’s about the book publication.”

He handed it over and kept a close eye on Sherlock. His mouth was tight, but otherwise he seemed alright. John was still worried though. Sherlock’s voice was rougher than usual, a sure sign that he wasn’t as alright as he wanted John to believe.

Sherlock unfolded the article, took one look at the picture, and went stone still.

“What is it?” John asked, standing up.

The look on Sherlock’s face was frightening.

“Do you know who this man is?” Sherlock asked his voice almost a growl.

He turned to John, one sharp nail jabbing at the man standing behind L.G and the woman. The man who’d been photographed by accident.

“I don’t know,” John said, swallowing nervously, “A guest at the book premiere?”

“Have you seen him around town?” Sherlock asked, edging closer, the great length of his tail almost leaving the water completely.  The points of his teeth glinted in the sunlight.

“N-no,” John rasped, suddenly very aware he was within arms reach of a predator. “Who- do you know him?”

Sherlock twisted back to look at the photo, “Yes,” Sherlock hissed, sounding the most inhuman John had ever heard him. “After all this time, could it be…”

“Holy fuck!”

John’s head whipped around in the direction of the shout and his stomach dropped into his shoes. Mike stood in the porch doorway, his mouth agape and eyes locked onto Sherlock.

John turned wildly back to Sherlock. This couldn’t be happening!

“John!” Mike shouted, taking a staggering step into the porch.

“Everything is fine Mike really it’s-”

Mike let out a strangled sound as Sherlock’s entire body twitched and for one alarming moment John thought he was going to strike. Then he twisted sharply away and dove into the water, the article fluttering to the porch floor.

“Sherlock, wait!” John shouted, lunging for the railing.

“John, what the hell was that!” Mike sounded horse.

When John turned to face him, Mike’s face was an alarming shade of grey.

“Mike!” John rushed to him as Mike’s legs wobbled. The envelope in his hand fluttered to the ground as he collapsed.

John caught him just before Mike’s head hit the floor and eased him gently down.

“Mike!” John called, pressing a hand to his forehead and checking his pulse with the other.

It was racing, but steady. Mike was just shocked, it wasn’t a heart attack. He gave his wrist a squeeze and Mike’s eyes fluttered open.

“Mike, Mike, can you hear me?” John asked, voice as calm as he could make it.

MIke nodded and blinked hard.

“Take slow deep breaths for me, then I’ll help you up.”

“I know the drill,” Mike rasped with a weak smile. “John what was-”

“Shh, just breathe for me. I’ll explain everything once I get you inside.”

Mike nodded and began taking slow, even breaths per John’s orders. Listening to Mike’s breaths, John turned back to the sea, hoping against hope to see Sherlock spying on them. There was nothing though, just blank water as far as John could see.

***

“So, an actual merman?” Mike said, as John handed him a cup of tea. He was sitting on the armchair by the open window, the sea breeze ruffling his hair as he took a trembling sip.

John sat across from him watching Mike closely. His cheeks were pink but his hands still shook around the mug. John would have to get him to eat something as soon as possible.

“Well, what did you see?”

“I saw a man- well a thing- with a huge fucking tail and fucking fangs, John! What the hell was that?”

John cringed but there was nothing for it. Mike had seen everything.

“Yes,” he said taking a deep breath, “Sherlock is exactly what you think he is.”

“It has a name!”

John nodded, watching Mike’s face carefully. “Yeah, yeah he does.”

Mike stared at him then blew out a hard breath. “Okay, John, I think you need to start from the beginning.”

John sat back in the chair and gnawed on the inside of his cheek. He’d never considered telling anyone about Sherlock. He knew what would happen if word got out. Either everyone would think John was insane, or they’d believe him and capture Sherlock to experiment on him. But this was Mike. The Mike who’d taken John in when his own sister wouldn’t, the Mike who’d let John room for free, who’d talked to him, laughed with him, tired to help him make a life in this town.

Taking a deep breath, John leaned forward and began his story.

***

When he was done, Mike looked stunned.

“So you’ve been secretly meeting a merman for late night swims, he asks you about history, and he’s the one who rescued Leo Lestrade?”

John nodded. He’d told Mike everything, except of course his growing attraction to the merman they were talking about.

“Yeah, before we went to the pub that night? I’d gone off with him then, too.”

“Holy hell,” Mike said, sitting back, “To think there was a merman living here all along and I never knew.”

“And no one else can know,” John said, locking eyes with Mike.

Mike nodded not looking the least bit intimidated. “Of course, everyone will think we’re nutters anyway. Remember what happened to Leo.”

They sat in silence for a while as John gave Mike time to process.

“Is he always so...intense?” Mike asked eventually, “He looked ready to attack when I walked in.”

“No,” John said, “He’s usually quite charming actually. Sharp as a pin, inquisitive, adventurous.”

Mike grinned, “All that, eh?”

John rolled his eyes and ignored him. “I told him what happened to L.G and it upset him. Plus there was a man in the background of one of the pictures that set him off…hang on.

John headed to the porch. Luckily, the article from earlier hadn’t been blown into the sea. Instead it was stuck under the rocker, a torn corner fluttering in the wind. Close beside it lay an envelope. It was then John remembered Mike had been holding some mail when he’d discovered them. He scooped both papers up and returned to the living room.

“Here’s your mail,” John said, handing Mike the envelope, eyes on the picture that had upset Sherlock so much. The man in the background was totally unfamiliar.

“It’s for you, John,” Mike said, interrupting his thoughts.

He held out the envelope and John was surprised to see his name written on the creamy paper.

“Recognise the man in the background?” John asked, swapping the article for the envelope.

Mike peered at it as John slit open the letter.

“Nope, never seen him before. Is this what set off Sherlock?”

“Yeah, it was odd. I don’t think that man was in L.G’s book either.”

He slid a card out of the envelope and flipped it over. It was an old black and white photo, the edges crumbling with age. Two tall men stood in the sunlight in front of huge house. One was tall and thin, the other even taller, but portly.

“Mike,” John said, his voice shaking. “Look at this.”

Mike held out a hand for the picture, then stood up to look over John’s shoulder when John didn’t hand it over.

“Wait, isn’t that…

John nodded, heart in his throat. Everything suddenly made sense: Sherlock’s history questions, his speech, his resistance to talking about others like him. It all made sense.

There in the photograph was Sherlock, his grey eyes glaring at the camera, dressed in an old fashioned suit and standing proudly on two long, trouser clad legs.

Chapter Text

“What the hell John?” Mike said, still peering at the photo. “How is that possible?”

John could only shake his head as his stomach twisted and his mind spun. Clutching the photo so hard he creased it, he stormed onto the porch and shouted Sherlock’s name.

There was no answer.

The door creaked behind him and Mike stepped up next to him. “Does that really work?”

“It did today,” John said, before shouting Sherlock’s name again.

Mike looked at him a moment, then turned back to the ocean. “Sherlock!” he shouted, joining John.

They shouted until John went horse, but there was no sign of any merman in the darkening sea.

“It’s no use John. I don’t think we’ll see him again for the night,” Mike said, coughing.

“Yeah,” John frowned, “I don’t understand why this man agitated him so much. Who is he?”

Mike looked down at the photo he still held. “I’ve never seen him around town. What if he was a merman, too? I mean clearly it’s not permanent,” he said, gesturing the the human Sherlock in the photo.

“I have no idea...I need to talk to Sherlock!” John’s throat tightened at the thought of an angry Sherlock out on his own in the vast ocean. “SHERLOCK!”

His screamed so loud his voice broke.

“John! John calm down!” Mike said, eyes wide. “I know you’re shocked right now, but so am I, and he clearly isn’t coming back tonight.”

John swallowed and nodded morosely. He hoped Sherlock hadn’t just abandoned him forever.

“Now, how about some tea- actually how about something stronger? I think we both deserve it after everything that just happened.” Mike bumped him with his shoulder, but John couldn’t muster a smile.

“I think I’ll just head to bed, Mike. Thanks.”

Giving Mike a grin that felt like stretching plastic, he headed to his room.

***

The next day, John was out of bed early. He needed to find out who this person was, and their connection to Sherlock. He’d risen early enough that Mike was still asleep and the house was silent. Grabbing a glass of juice he headed onto the porch and looked around, peering desperately into the water for any sign of Sherlock. There was nothing, and John didn’t want to start screaming so early in the morning. Maybe Mike was right and Sherlock just needed time.

Sighing he trudged back inside and tried to figure out how to begin his search. The only way that came to mind would be to ask around town. He dreaded that option though; not only would it make him look suspicious, but he doubted the town’s people would want to answer a newcomer’s questions.

He was chewing on a tasteless piece of toast when Mike came downstairs, still in his pajamas.

“I managed to get a the day off,” he announced, making John look up in surprise. “I figured you’d need help tracking down the man in the photo.”

John felt a surge of warmth toward Mike as he watched him fix a bowl of cereal. “Any ideas? All I can figure is we go from door to door asking ‘have you seen this man’?”

Mike hummed and shook his head, “That’ll draw too much attention. I’m thinking we google Leo and see if we can find out who his friends were in London and try to figure it out from there. Maybe through the publicist.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” John said. Any lingering apprehension he had about Mike being in the know fell away.

“Of course not. Hate to tell you this, but I’m the brains and you’re the beauty, mate,” Mike said, winking at him.

John grinned, “You know, you’re taking this whole ‘my friend is friends with a mythical creature’ thing very well. Are you okay?”

Mike chewed and swallowed before he answered, “I hardly slept last night actually. I kept turning your story over and over in my head, and to be honest, if I hadn’t seen Sherlock in the flesh I’d have your arse in a CAT scan machine right now. But, I did see him...and after a night of thought...my mind’s settled on the fact that this is going to be one hell of an adventure.”

John licked his lips and took a gulp of juice, “Thanks, Mike. Really, thank you.”

Mike just smiled and shrugged, looking a touch awkward. “Yeah, don’t mention it.”

They sat in silence for a while, the scrape of Mike’s spoon over the bowl the only sound in the kitchen.

“I have my laptop so we won’t even have to go into to town for our search,” Mike said, taking the last bite of his cereal. “So shall we get started?”

John nodded and got up to wash the wares while Mike went to get his laptop.

***

They decided that John would look through L.G’s book and pull out any people he mentioned, then Mike would google them and see what hits he got.

They were looking up the identity of the harbourmaster at the time of Leo’s disappearance when John had a brain wave. As Mike searched, he flipped to the back of the book and found the acknowledgements. It wasn’t very long, just a few lines of text styled into a diamond that thanked all the obvious people. That all changed when John’s eyes hit the last line.

‘And a very special thank you to my friend Sherlock, without whom this book would not exist.’

“Mike look at this,” John held out the book.

Mike’s eyebrows shot up as he read. “Well shit. He leaves the merman nameless for the entire book, then stuffs it into the acknowledgements?”

John licked his lips. To think, if he’d read the entire book, yesterday’s mystery would have solved itself. He sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face.

“Any luck?”

“What was the publicist's name again? Maybe our mystery man will be her facebook friend.”

John spelt it for Mike then sat back. He couldn’t help but feel this was a waste of time. All he needed to do was talk to Sherlock and get some answers. Why had the merman fled like that? He turned to the picture they’d propped up on Mike’s laptop. Who was this person?

“If Sherlock would show his arse, we wouldn’t be hunting like this,” John said, the words out of his mouth before he could stop them.

Mike smiled sympathetically, eyes still on his laptop, “Tail, you mean if he showed his tail .”

He looked up, expression sly and John couldn’t help it, he burst into a fit of giggles. Mike joined in and soon they were snickering like a couple of loons.

“Well, the publicist has no security settings to speak of, but she also doesn’t have anyone who resembles this man on her friends list.”

Mike sighed, “Can you think of anyone else?”

John shook his head, “The only people left are people from town.”

“Gimme the names.” Mike cracked his knuckles and leaned over his laptop.

Twenty minutes later they had just as much as they had before. Nothing.

“So facebook was the wrong route.” John said. “Going door to door will just make us look like a couple of nutters, and the police are out because they’ll also think we’re a couple of nutters.”

Mike blew out a loud breath, “The only link we have is Sherlock.”

John felt something click, then felt like a huge idiot. “Mike can you google Sherlock. It’s an odd name, something might pop up.”

Mike nodded, the keys of his laptop clicking against the crashing of the waves outside. John stood up and went to the window. The sky had darkened with heavy clouds and the waves churned angrily, smashing against the sides of the porch, sending sprays of water up over the railing. John opened the window and wind swirled into the room, ruffling his hair and making the curtains flap.

“There’s a locksmith, two facebooks that don’t fit, and a Greek myth. No mermen,” Mike said, standing up and stretching.

“Thanks Mike,” John said, eyes still on the swirling sea.

“Don’t worry, John,” Mike said, coming up behind him, “He’ll be alright. What’s a little rain to a merman, hmm?” He clapped John on the shoulder and headed into the kitchen. “Maybe we can call the publicist?”

“That’ll be one strange call,” John said, “Hello, do you remember this man in the background of a photo you took years ago.”

Mike grinned, “I’ll leave you to do that then.”

John mustered a small smile and turned back to the window. On the horizon a curtain of rain came down blotting out the line between land and sea. John shivered as the wind took on a new chill. He couldn’t help but worry about Sherlock. He’d been so angry when he’d left and John didn’t know what an angry Sherlock would do. Yesterday was the first time he’d seen how truly inhuman Sherlock was. His eyes caught on the picture of human Sherlock propped up on the coffee table. Well that wasn’t quiet true, Sherlock had been human once, but what had happened. What had made him into what he was?

Sighing John slammed his hands down onto to window sill, making the glass rattle. He felt helpless and it pissed him off. He wanted to see Sherlock again damn it, to know what had happened to him, and what he could do to help him.

A cup of tea was set on the sill next to his shaking hands, then Mike sat back down on the couch. “How about some telly, hmm? To take our minds off things. We can talk to the pubilist tomorrow.”

John took a deep breath and turned to Mike. “I’m going to take a bath, you go ahead.”

Mike nodded and turned on the television as John rushed upstairs.

He shut the door behind him just as his throat closed up. Leaning against the wood he panted hard, fear clogging his throat. John was terrified he’d just lost Sherlock for he good. Something in his gut just told him that what he’d discovered went deeper than what he and Mike were theorizing. On top of it all Sherlock had been human. A human!

The air in his room suddenly started to feel stale, the bedspread smelling like too much hot fabric. Gasping he charged to the window and wrenched it open, letting the wet air in. Clutching the rusty frame he took deep breaths and tried to calm down. He needed to be patient. It had only been one day, he needed to give Sherlock time.

John looked out to sea, eyes on in the curtain of rain surging forward from the horizon. His mind filled with thoughts of Sherlock as it came closer and closer, the sound of rain on the sea like marbles falling onto wood. In moments the rain was hitting his face in an icy wash, drenching his hair and making his jumper stick to his shoulders. Blinking against the water, John made a decision.

Pulling the window shut he trudged over to his door and locked it, then began to strip. Grabbing his swim trunks from the drawer, he yanked them on, along with a white undershirt to give him a little protection against the cold. Taking a deep breath he hustled back to the window, threw it open and climbed onto the porch roof.

He shut the window behind him, he doubted he’d be coming back through there, and walked carefully to the edge of the roof, struggling not to slip. Peeking over, John swallowed at just how far down the sea was. There was no time to back down now, he was desperate to find Sherlock. He needed it.

Squaring his shoulders, he curled his toes over the guttering, inhaled deeply and jumped off the edge of the roof.

The length of the fall shocked him; he had time to feel his body cut through open air, then the sea closed over his head and he plunged far below the surface.

He gasped hard when he broke the surface and shivered. The water was glacial, which meant he didn’t have much time to find Sherlock before his leg started to seize up on him. Hoping Mike wouldn’t panic too much when he found out John was gone, he took his best guess at the the direction of Sherlock’s home and began to swim towards it.

He swam until Mike’s house looked like a toy perched on the edge of the water. His lungs felt like they were about to burst.  Trying to catch his breath, John began to tread water. The rain was relentless as it pounded down on his back and head, stinging his eyes and turning everything into a blur.

Thunder crashed and a huge roll of water loomed before him. John’s eyes widened in horror at the sheer size of the wave. He held his breath and dove below as it crashed where he’d been only moments before. John surfaced sputtering, but kept swimming ahead, the need to find Sherlock clouding everything else.

Another wave loomed and John ducked. He wasn’t quick enough this time.

The wave slammed into him, thrusting him underwater and spinning him around. John fought for calm as he struggled to swim to the surface. His head broke the water just in time for another wave to curl over him, huge and dark. Hundreds of pounds of water rammed into him, making John’s vision blur and his head snap back. John cried out, water flooding his mouth as he gagged with pain.

John’s body went into panic mode as he fought to right himself underwater. Had the surface always been that far above him? Head throbbing, he feebly tried to kick his way to the surface. Another waved crashed above him, churning up the water and spinning John around, blinding him. His limbs slowed, and his lungs flared with agony. He need air, but the surface seemed further and further away with every movement he made.

He tried desperately to keep his legs moving, but they’d turned to lead. Spots danced before his eyes and his chest exploded in pain. Just as his world began to darken, two strong arms hooked under his arms and pulled him upward. Water rushed around his head, then he was breaking the surface and his body was shuddering with gasps as he inhaled sweet, sweet air.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Sherlock shouted, holding John tightly to his chest.

“Sh-Sherlock?” John blinked hard, his head throbbed and his lungs were on fire.

“John you idiot! You nearly drowned!”

John blinked again and Sherlock’s face came into view. The merman was peering a him with concern covered by a thick veil of anger.

“What were you thinking?” Sherlock asked again, shaking John a little.

John sucked in another wheezing breath, clinging to Sherlock, his eyes streaming. “I was looking for you,” he managed to croak out.

Sherlock stared at him, face softening as some of the anger drained away.

A huge wave rose behind them and John whimpered, sliding closer to Sherlock. He couldn’t go under again, he couldn’t. Sherlock pulled him close and rolled as the wave crashed, shielding John with his body.

When they surfaced again, John was shaking.

“Let’s get you home,” Sherlock said, his voice gentle

John shook his head frantically, he’d come so far!

“I’ll talk to you there, John. I promise. Let’s just get you out of the water.”

John opened his mouth to argue, but it hurt too much. Instead he clung to Sherlock and let himself be towed home.

***

“What the fuck were you thinking, John?”

John peered blurrily ahead of them, clutching tightly to Sherlock. Mike was standing on the porch, gripping the railing and glaring at them. They were almost at the porch when Mike’s next words reached them.

“You jumped off the roof!”

Sherlock went still, and John peeked up at him, suddenly feeling foolish.

“You did what?” Sherlock hissed, eyes flinty.

John swallowed and regretted it instantly as his throat burned. He gagged and Sherlock hustled them towards the porch.

“They’re stairs around the side!” Mike called.

Soon John was being lifted to his feet by Mike, while still trying to cling to Sherlock.

“It’s okay John, I’ll come.”

He saw Mike’s eyebrows hit his hairline, and turned to Sherlock. “You’ll what!”

“I’ll come inside, it’s too cold outside for humans. I can always head to water when I get too dry.” At the look on Mike’s face Sherlock hesitated. “That is, if it’s okay with you?”

Mike sighed and shivered as a gust of wet wind hit them. “I suppose it’s alright.”

Sherlock smiled, keeping his lips carefully over his teeth and began to drag himself up the porch stairs.

Mike hustled John into the living room and set John on the floor before the fire.

“I’ll get you clean clothes and blankets.” Mike said, “Tell Sherlock not to come in until I roll up the rug.” He checked at the absurdity of that statement, before rushing upstairs. John stuck his arms out in front of the flames and took a grateful inhale of warm air.

There was the sound of wet rock dragging over wood and then Sherlock pulled himself awkwardly through the porch doors. At the same moment Mike came down the stairs, he stopped dead at the sight of Sherlock struggling across the floor, tail gleaming in the light, then shook his head and rushed to John.

“Take those wet things off, and you,” he turned to Sherlock, “Wait there a moment. You’ll drench the rug.”

He helped John off with his shirt, and threw a towel over his shoulders, rubbing him roughly and making John feel wonderfully warm. Mike left him to tend to his lower regions, as he shoved the coffee table out of the way and rolled up the rug.

“Come on in Sherlock,” Mike said, swallowing as Sherlock started to inch himself toward John, arm muscles bulging from the weight of his tail.

“N-need a hand?” Mike asked, making Sherlock and John turn to him.

He gestured to Sherlock’s tail, “It’s looks heavy.”

Sherlock nodded uncertainty, “It is when it’s out of water.”

“Right- well- um. John, get on the couch and wrap up. I’ll help Sherlock over to you.”

Sherlock and John shared a look, then nodded. John, dressed now in his warmest pajamas, carefully stood up and staggered to the couch, every limb aching. He sat down hard and watched the spectacle unfurling before him. Mike had trotted up to Sherlock and hefted his tail into his arms. He took tiny, shuffling steps forward as Sherlock crawled towards John.

Soon, new levels of absurdity found John curled on the couch wrapped in every blanket the flat held, with a huge fucking merman taking up most of the living room floor, leaking water everywhere. Sherlock’s tail was so long, his caudal fin banged the porch doors whenever he moved. He insisted on staying as close to John as possible and holding John’s hands.

“I’ll make tea,” Mike sighed, “It’ll help you warm up.”

He left and John turned to Sherlock. The merman was staring at him.

“Are you alright?” Sherlock asked.

John nodded and huddled under the pile of blankets.

“Why the hell did you jump off the roof, when there are perfectly serviceable stairs to the beach?” Sherlock’s voice was tense.

“It was just the roof of the porch, so it wasn’t too high.” John rasped.

Sherlock rolled his eyes and glared at him.

“And, I knew Mike would talk me out of it so-

“Damn right I would!” Mike called from the kitchen.

“You’re lucky I found you! You could have died John! Do you underst-

“You were human,” John cut in, suddenly tired of the argument.

Everything seemed to grind to a halt at his words.

Sherlock blinked, his face draining of colour. “How do you know that?” he asked, voice shaking.

John pointed to the coffee table that had been shoved out of the way. Sherlock twisted to look and let out a strangled sound at the sight of the picture.

“Where did you get that?” he asked, his voice calm, and eyes glowing with that other worldly light that frightened John.

“Someone left it in the mailbox. I don’t know who.”

Sherlock face darkened a low snarl leaking out from between his teeth. “I think I can take a guess. Do you have the envelope?”

“In a minute,” John said, “Who was the man in the picture that made you so angry? How were you human, what happened?”

“I’ll tell you once I inspect the envelope.”

John sighed and staggered to his feet. Exhaustion turned his body to lead and he sat back down. “Ask Mike,” he said, laying his head back.

He saw Sherlock look him over carefully, then he shouted for Mike.

Minutes later the envelope was in Sherlock’s freshly dried hands, and both photos had been set before him. John cradled his cup of tea and watched Sherlock look over the envelope. He held it towards the fire, tilting it this way and that, then tested the edge of the paper against his thumb nail.

“Whoever delivered this knew where you lived.”

Mike sat forward from his perch next to John, “How do you know that?”

Sherlock glanced at him then back to the envelop, “There’s no address on it. It was hand delivered.”

John and Mike exchanged a look, and a chill went down John’s spine. He was right, Sherlock’s story did go deeper than he and Mike thought.

“Well fuck,” he croaked out, breaking the strained silence. “Now who’s this?  He taped the book release photo with a toe.”

Sherlock swallowed and picked up the photo, glaring the the man in question.

“That, John, is the witch who transformed me into a monster.”

Chapter Text

“A witch?” John said, blinking at him.

Mike’s eyes were wide, his cup forgotten halfway to his mouth.

“Yes, a witch. James Moriarty, the witch who turned me into- into this , so I could enjoy the solitude I so craved.”

Mike and John exchanged a look. “Perhaps you should start at the beginning,” Mike said, as John reached out and tenderly took one of Sherlock’s hands.

Sherlock opened his mouth to begin his tale, then winced. “I’m getting too dry.”

John sat up, alarmed, “You can’t leave now!”

Sherlock bit his lip, “I don’t want to but..”

“Would wetting your tail help?” Mike cut in, sounding exasperated.

“Well um- yes.”

Mike disappeared into the kitchen and they heard him banging around, then the splashing sound of the tap.

“Here we go,” Mike said, holding up two huge jugs.

He began to slowly pour water  over the length of Sherlock’s tail. Sherlock let out a sigh and his back bowed as the water hit him. John felt himself blush at the blissful look on Sherlock’s face and turned to Mike instead, distracting himself.

John  cringed at the sight of the pools of water on the wood. “Mike, your floors.”

“John,” Mike said with a flat look, “there’s an actual fucking merman in my living room. A little water is the least of my concerns.”

Sherlock snorted a laugh and Mike grinned back at him.

“Thank you,” Sherlock said, as Mike headed to the couch.

Mike sank down next to John. “Now, what did this Moriarty do to you?”

Sherlock’s eyes dimmed and he pressed his lips together.

“Moriarty and I met when I was living in London. I’d been studying the new sciences at university, but it wasn’t holding my interested as I thought it would.”

“When was this?” John asked, looking from Sherlock, to the photo in his hands.

“The eighteen hundreds, early eighteen hundreds.”

Next to him, John heard Mike swallow hard.

Sherlock took a deep breath and turned to the flames behind the grate. “When my studies began to bore me, I turned to other methods of stimulation. That’s where I met Jim.”

“Other methods?” John asked, unable to help himself.

“Opium mostly, cocaine other times. You have to understand,” Sherlock said, taking in the horrified looks on John and Mike’s faces, “doctors back then didn’t understand the adverse effects as yet. They thought it was helpful .”

“So you met Moriarty in a crack den?” John asked.

Sherlock frowned, brow furrowed in confusion.

“He means an opium den,” Mike said. He shrugged when John shot him a baffled look.

“Ah, yes. Yes I did. He was intriguing, like no one else I had ever met. Certainly almost as smart as me.”

“And you trusted him? Just like that?” John couldn’t help the incredulousness that leaked into his voice.

Sherlock grimaced, “I was lonely. Times were different then, John. I couldn’t be myself.

John blinked at him for a moment, then drew in a quick breath as understanding took hold. He nodded for Sherlock to continue.

“I met Jim on and off for a while. He kept insisting I come see his work, but I was in no state to travel those times we met, because- well,” he cringed and peered up at John, “You know..”

John gave him a small smile and squeezed his hand to continue.

“Then,” Sherlock said on a breath, “my brother intervened, took me in, and I made sure I stopped self-medicating.”

John swallowed, oddly grateful to the no doubt long dead brother for helping Sherlock get clean. It made him shudder to think of a lonely, brilliant Sherlock curled up in filthy opium den.

“Is that your brother?” Mike asked, pointing to the man standing next to Sherlock in the photograph.

Sherlock nodded. “He took me to his home, locked me in, and let me rant and rave while I sweated through withdrawal. Then he helped me set up a flat and my new business.”

Sherlock beamed then, his whole face lighting up. “I became a consulting detective,” he said proudly.

Mike and John looked back at him with twin expressions of confusion.

Sherlock sighed, his shoulders slumping, “When the yard found themselves out of their depth, which was always, they came to me for help. I took private clients, too.”

“You helped Scotland Yard with cases in the 1800s?” John asked, leaning forward with interest.

Sherlock grinned, “Loads of them. The stories I could tell you John-”

A loud clap of thunder shook the house and John flinched.

“Perhaps another time,” Sherlock said with a frown.

“I’d all but forgotten about Jim until he turned up in my living room one day. You see, the times we’d met before I wasn’t in my right mind, so my memories were hazy at best. Jim was understanding,” Sherlock’s eyes turned flinty, “or so I thought.”

“He came to me because he’d read a monograph I’d written condemning believers of magic and encouraging critical thought over mysticism. Jim told me he could prove me wrong. I was intrigued, of course. Jim was very charming. So I listened and he- he showed me just how wrong I was….”

Sherlock trailed off and stared into space. “He painted the universe across my living room, he took us flying around London, he showed me the more- more intimate uses of magic,” Sherlock’s cheeks reddened and John didn't have to guess what those uses might have been. He also didn’t have to guess why the thought of them made jealousy twist in his gut.

“So magic is real?” Mike said, voice faint. “All of it?”

Sherlock nodded solemnly.

“I didn’t believe him all at once, of course. At first I thought he was drugging me, but what drug could be used so often without me noticing? How could the effects vanish as soon as he left?  I never ate anything he brought me. I kept myself alert for odd smells or any other method he could use to administer it. But once I’d eliminated all other possibilities, the only explanation left had to be the truth. Magic was real, and Jim Moriarty was a skilled user of it.”

“I was intrigued, more than intrigued. My entire world had been turned on its head. For years we explored magic and he taught me what he knew. I forgot my cases, I forgot my brother. I was solely Moriarty’s pet.” Sherlock shuddered, caught up in his memories, “Then- then he began to turn. It happened so slowly, and I was so dazzled by him that I didn’t notice the magic turning malicious until one night there was a woman, begging and pleading for my help as her skin melted off in an alley.”

John swallowed hard at the image his mind had created to go along with Sherlock’s story. Next to him Mike sat frozen, eyes wide.

“I rejected him then. I began ignoring him. I used what he taught me to avoid him and fix what I could of his mess. And that - that angered him.”

Sherlock fell silent, swallowing audibly. “I won’t bore you with all the details, but in the end, he caught me.”

John opened his mouth to say no detail of this story would be boring at all, but the look on Sherlock’s face stopped him. It seemed as if the tale was physically causing him pain. Without thinking, John lifted Sherlock’s hand to his lips and pressed a firm kiss to his knuckles. Sherlock turned toward him, face shocked. Their eyes met and Sherlock’s cheeks slowly pinkened. John could feel an answering heat on his own face. He smiled at him encouragingly and motioned for him to continue.

“I was studying the effects of certain magic on the tides and waves,” Sherlock continued, “when Jim surprised me. He told me since I craved solitude and enjoyed studying the ocean so much, he’d give me ample opportunity to do so. Then, before I could fight him off, everything went dark. When I woke up I was underwater, but I wasn’t drowning. I could feel how deep I was. I could- I could feel the movement of my gills, my tail.”

Sherlock let out a rueful laugh, “Everything became a bit blurred with panic after that. And that’s- that’s it. I’ve travelled the oceans ever since, on the very fringes of society. Alone.”

He turned to John with wet eyes , “I was alone for hundreds of years until you. Living in an underwater world of greens and blues, only learning of the world above through snippets from sailors and Leo. But you, you brought back the colour to my life, John.”

John swallowed a sob and clutched at Sherlock’s hands, every possible reply flying from his mind as he stared into those glistening eyes. He leaned forward, wanting to show Sherlock just how much he cared, when another bang of thunder shook the house. The lights went out, plunging them all into semi-darkness and effectively breaking the moment.

“What happened to Jim?” Mike asked softly, after a moment. “I mean, he obviously made himself im-immortal too, but why?”

Sherlock’s eyes became heavy lidded as he thought. The fire crackled softly in the gloom of the room. No one made a move to get candles or even to check the breaker box.

“To torment me.” Sherlock said finally. His tone brokered no argument. “He wants me to be alone, to have no one else if I won’t have him.”

“And now you’ve met me,” John said, feeling chilled. “Does that mean we can expect to see him soon?”

Sherlock didn’t say anything. He turned to John with such fear in his eyes that John’s knees hit the floor before he knew what was happening, and he wrapped his arms tightly around Sherlock. Sherlock pulled him closer still and tucked his face into John’s neck. His shaking was enough to tell John just how deeply his fear of Moriarty went.

***

Miles away Jim Moriarty was smiling. An orb of water floated an inch over his palm, showing his finest creation hugging some washed up army doctor. With a giggle Jim let the orb turn liquid, splashing over his hand. Now, his fun could really begin.

***

Mike tossed another log onto the fire causing the flames to sputter and hiss. “It looks like most of the town has no electricity,” Mike said. “I called Bev from the clinic.”

John nodded from his spot next to Sherlock. The merman was still curled against him, his tail   an S splayed across the living room floor, his head resting on John’s shoulder.

“So, this curse Moriarty put on you, can we break it?” John asked.

He felt Sherlock go rigid against him.

“I mean, there must be a way, right?”

Sherlock pulled away from him and glared at John, eyes narrowed, “Yes, of course, why didn’t I think of that?” he said. “Thank you for such great insight.”

“Sherlock!” John said, shocked at the sudden burst of anger.

“Of course I’ve tried to break the curse!” Sherlock continued. “It’s a bit difficult when you’re sea bound. And it’s so easy to gather supplies when the sight of you sends people into hysterics!”

John pressed his lips together into a hard line, “Well, that was before us, you great arse. I don’t see Mike or I running away in terror, so maybe you aren’t nearly as intimidating as you’d like to believe.”

Sherlock stared at John for a moment, then seemed to deflate, slumping against his shoulder again.

“Right. Now tell us how you think you can break it.”

Sherlock licked his lips and sat up. “It’s obviously an advanced metamorphosis spell. Those are complex and require lots of advanced planning. I’m not sure we’ll be able to find all we need in such a small town.”

“Just give us a list,” Mike said, sitting down with a notepad and pen.“We can probably order what we can’t find in town.”

“That could take months,” Sherlock groaned.

Mike smirked, “Not if Amazon’s two-day shipping has anything to say about it.”

Sherlock turned to John in bewilderment as Mike poised his pen to write.

***

Twenty minutes later, Sherlock had a brief explanation that ‘no, Mike didn’t mean the Amazon jungle’ and Mike had a long list of things they’d need to hopefully turn Sherlock back.

“This should cure my immortality as well,” Sherlock said, looking over the list.

Mike’s eyes went wide, “You won’t die why we change you back, will you?” he said. “I mean- all those centuries you lived won’t suddenly catch up with you?”

Sherlock shook his head, “No, my life will simply continue as if I’d never been altered…” Sherlock looked down for a moment, “physically at least.”

“Right, good.” Mike cleared his throat. “The crystals, sage, and copper bowls we’ll have to order. The herbs and other ingredients we can get in town I’m fairly certain.” His gaze darted between the two of them. “I’ll head up and do that now.”

“It’ll be fine, Sherlock,” John said, turning to him as Mike vanished up the stairs.

Sherlock stared blankly into the fire, “I hope you’re right John.” He turned his head toward John then. “There’s something else the spell needs, something I thought best shared in private.”

“What is it?” John asked, voice soft. He could tell from Sherlock’s tone that he wouldn’t like what he was about to hear.

“The blood of one who loves the afflicted,” Sherlock said, sounding as if he were quoting from a book.

“Ah,” John said, suddenly unable to meet Sherlock’s gaze. “How- how much blood would you need?”

Long, cool fingers tilted his chin up, forcing John to meet Sherlock’s eyes. The merman’s eyes flicked between his own, troubled. “Just a few drops.”

“Right, then.”

“Right.”

Their eyes locked and John licked his lips. Sherlock gaze dropped to his mouth, then moved up to his eyes. Slowly, the hand under John’s chin guided him forward. John went willingly, letting himself be lead to Sherlock’s lips. Sherlock paused for the briefest of moments, then their lips met.

John felt his shoulders loosen as he leaned into the kiss. Sherlock’s lips were cool, just like the rest of his body, and plush under John’s. Sherlock’s hand curled around the back of his head and drew John even closer, as he deepened the kiss. He licked his way into John’s mouth and John could taste the sea on Sherlock’s tongue. Sharp teeth grazed his lips and John shivered, goosebumps dancing across his skin at the promise of danger their kiss held. His arms wrapped around Sherlock’s muscular shoulders and he moaned softly.

Sherlock sighed, his body going slack against John as they kissed and kissed. John’s hands  got lost in Sherlock’s sea-tangled hair, and Sherlock's long fingers teased along the edge of John’s jumper, stroking the band of skin exposed at John’s lower back.

The sound of a door shutting upstairs had Sherlock ripping himself away from John. John blinked in surprise and then smiled softly.

“It’s just Mike,’ he said quietly, giving Sherlock a chaste peck on the lips. “It’s alright.”

He stole another kiss as footsteps sounded on the stairs, “And I’d be happy to give you my blood.”

He leaned against Sherlock as Mike entered the room. “Everything sorted?”

Mike looked between them and smiled, eyes twinkling, “Yep. The stuff will be here tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Mike. I’ll pay you back.”

“No need,” Mike said, winking. “I used your credit card.”

John laughed and to his delight, Sherlock joined in a moment later.

“We should head into town to get everything else,” John said, not wanting to move from his spot next to Sherlock.

Mike nodded, “Black outs are fairly common during storms, so the shops should still be open.”

No one made a move to get up.

John finally sighed and slowly stood. As much as he wanted to stay in Sherlock’s arms, needs must.

“I’ll stay close to the porch,” Sherlock said, turning over onto his belly and planting his arms under him in preparation to crawl back to the porch.

“Can’t you stay here?” John asked. Sherlock going back to sea felt dangerous somehow, as if Moriarty would scoop him right out of the water.

Sherlock shook his head, “I’ll get too dry, John. Don’t worry, I’ll stay close.”

John nodded grimly and moved to help Sherlock with his tail. Soon Sherlock was back in the water, and John and Mike were piled in the car, headed into town as John tried to smother his feeling of dread the entire way there.

***

The ride to town was eerie to say the least. The coastal road was lit by nothing more than Mike’s headlights and the weak half moon that hung high over the sea. The ocean itself was a black, churning mass to their right. John shivered at the thought of Sherlock waiting there for him, all alone.

The feeling he’d had the day he’d shown Sherlock the picture of Moriarty was back. That rushed, over anxious feeling, like if they didn’t take action immediately something terrible would happen. His leg bounced up and down impatiently as Mike turned down the main road into town, aiming for the grocery store to get the honey needed for the spell. John chuckled at the absurdity of that thought and huffed out a soft laugh.

Mike looked at him out of the corner of his eye, “Finally realized we’re shopping for magic stuff, hmm? Actual fucking magic stuff,” Mike said, laughing.

John snickered and drew in a deep breath He felt vaguely detached from his surroundings, the way he always did when the world felt like too much. Mike gave his shoulder a brief squeeze as they pulled into a parking spot.

“The grocery sells flowers too, so you grab the honey and I’ll see if they have roses,” John said, unbuckling his seatbelt.

Mike nodded, “There’s a flower shop the next road over where we can get the lavender and other stuff.” He shook his head and sighed, “My god this is weird.”

“Tell me about it.”

The emergency lights were on in the shop, and a tired looking clerk waved at them before returning to staring off into space. John headed straight toward the flowers bunched in green tubs by the cashier. Behind him he heard Mike walk down the condiment aisle. Ten minutes later he had chosen a dozen, slightly withered roses, and Mike had bought the biggest jar of honey the shop had to offer.

“We’ll also have to drive to the hardware store to get the rope before we can head home,” John said, walking quickly toward the flower shop.

Mike nodded and they hustled to get the lavender, then jogged back to the car. The drive to the hardware store was tense. Mike seemed just as anxious as John to return home.

Unlike the grocery, inside the hardware store it was as black as pitch. John swallowed, throat clicking noisily, and plunged after Mike into the store. An overly cheerful clerk manifested out of the dark, making both of them jump.

“Welcome to Dave’s! Sorry about the light. Can I help you?” the clerk said with an overly wide smile.

“Yeah, um, we need ten meters of rope please,” Mike said, scooting a tad closer to John.

John didn’t blame him. The clerk’s smile was downright creepy in the almost darkness.

“Sure thing! Wait right here and I’ll bring it to you. It’s too dark for customers to wander about.”

John nodded, more than happy not to stumble down the inky black aisles on his own. The clerk walked off, her movements oddly jerky, as if her joints were being tugged by strings. John tilted his head in puzzlement, but the woman was already out of sight. He turned to Mike who was staring after the clerk as well.

“She creep you out, too?”

“Jesus Christ, yeah,” Mike said turning to him. “Let’s get the rope and get back home. Things don’t feel...right... in town tonight.”

John nodded and squeezed his thumb firmly in his fist, feet planted wide. Mike shifted nervously next to him, peeking at his watch every so often.

Finally, finally, the clerk loomed out of the darkness, a coil of rope hooked over her shoulder.

“Here you go!” she said cheerfully.

John nodded and handed over the money, then backed out of the store, not wanting to turn his back on the woman. Mike followed close behind him, keys clutched tightly in his hand. Outside the store everything seemed to right itself and both men breathed a sigh of relief. John tossed the rope onto the backseat and was about to slip into the car next to Mike when a movement across the road caught his eye.

He looked up and everything seemed to screech to a halt. Standing across the street from him, clad in a suit so black it hurt to look at was Jim Moriarty.

Their eyes met and John felt himself go cold. The man radiated evil in a way John didn’t think was possible. The very air around him seemed to ripple with it.

“Mike,” he mumbled through numb lips, “ Mike .”

“What is it?” Mike asked, leaning over the center console to peer at John.

John could do nothing but point as Jim gave him an oily smile.

Mike twisted to look out the rear window and swore softly under his breath. Jim’s smile widened, then he lifted his hand in a jaunty wave. As he lowered his arm, his body withered in an inhuman manner, then melted away into smoke.

As he vanished, John snapped back to himself.

“We need to get home now ,” he said, voice raw as if he’d been shouting.

Mike nodded, threw the car into gear and sped down the street.

Back at house John was out of the car and halfway through the front door before Mike had even put it into park.

“Sherlock!” he shouted, bursting through the porch door and bending over the railing, his eyes frantically searching the sea. “Sherlock!”

He heard Mike’s footsteps behind him, then the other man joined him in his desperate shouting.

Just as John was about to dive into the water to search, the sea in front of them roiled and twisted. John exhaled in relief, waiting for Sherlock’s curls to emerge from the water.

Instead a sphere of water rose from the sea. John’s eyes blew wide and Mike let out a strangled sound next to him. John couldn’t look away. His eyes felt compelled to gaze upon the ball as it became clearer and clearer, until at last a colourful image could be seen within.

It was Sherlock.

The merman was tied to huge rock, his arms stretched out to the side and bound tight. John leaned closer and winced at the blood he saw dripping from the bindings at Sherlock’s wrists. Sherlock was writhing in his bonds, tail churning the water, as his head whipped from side to side. John’s rage grew when he saw the expression on Sherlock’s face- his eyes were clenched shut and his mouth was twisted as if he was trying not to scream.

John’s fists tightened around the railing. His merman was in grave pain and he was going to kill Jim fucking Moriarty.

Suddenly the picture changed, the image of Sherlock fading away to show a tiny cottage with the sea raging behind it. He heard Mike inhale sharply beside him and then the ball of water exploded outward, drenching them both and making John sputter.

“I know where that is,” Mike said, wiping water from his glasses. “It’s one of the guest cottages on the other side of town!”

John nodded grimly, “Let’s go then.”

Without waiting for a reply, he turned and strode off the porch, towards the front door. Jim Moriarty had been alive for hundreds of years, and John was going to show him just how lucky he was he hadn’t crossed John until now.

Chapter Text

Rain pounded against the windshield as Mike sped toward the cottage. John ground his teeth and struggled not to panic as he thought of Sherlock all alone and at the mercy of Jim Moriarty. He shifted his weight and felt the cool metal of his gun dig into his lower back. The weight of it reassured him, as did the stillness of his left hand. There were no tremors running through his fingers where they lay across his thighs, further proof of just how angry he was.

“How the hell,” Mike said as he rounded a corner sharply, “are we supposed to fight a witch ? I mean we can’t exactly just deck him, right? He might turn us into toads or some shit.”

John bit his lip and tried to marshal his anger long enough to come up with a plan a bit more intricate than ‘pull up and shoot Jim in the face.’

“Sherlock said metamorphosis spells take a lot of preplanning, so I don’t think being turned into toads is a major concern.”

“I’m pretty positive he can attack us with magic though. He melted off a woman’s skin, John,” Mike said, pulling onto the narrow road that led to the cliffs.

In the distance John could make out three tiny cottages grouped a short distance from the sheer drop down into the sea below. In the back seat the supplies they’d managed to get for the spell slid around with a clatter.

“Pull over,” John said suddenly, sitting up.

Mike slowed the car and stopped, pulling up the handbrake with a groan from the gears.

“I think our best bet is to catch Moriarty by surprise, incapacitate him, then get Sherlock out of there.” John said, turning to face Mike.

“He’s expecting us, John. He left that water orb on the porch on purpose. He wants you to come, and I think it’s to- it’s to...” Mike took a deep breath, “I think he means to kill you in front of Sherlock, as a way to hurt him.”

John bit his lip. He was just as sure as Mike that it was a trap, but what was he to do? He couldn’t leave Sherlock.

“Does Moriarty know about me?” Mike asked suddenly sitting up straight. “Because if he doesn’t, you can meet with him as if you want to negotiate and I can try to find Sherlock and break him out!”

John hesitated. While Mike’s plan had substance, the thought of leaving his friend to fend for himself made John feel vaguely ill. Then again, he couldn’t think of anything better on such short notice.

“All right,” he said slowly, “we can leave the car here. Give me a five minute head start, then follow. When you free Sherlock, call my mobile and I’ll try to evade Moriarty.”

Mike’s face suddenly fell. “You’ll be alone with him John. What if he-”

“It’ll be fine. You were right, he won’t kill me unless Sherlock can see,” John said, trying to make himself believe the words. “Let’s go.”

With that, John slipped out of the car into the icy rain and began heading toward the cottage. Mike stood by the car, looking grim as he watched John’s figure get smaller and smaller. As John reached the garden path to the cottage, three men emerged from within and surrounded him, grabbing his arms.

Mike swore and ducked behind the vehicle, peeking around it to keep John in sight. The skinny figure of Moriarty slid out of the cottage and Mike could practically feel the oily aura of the man, even though he was so far away. Moriarty approached and suddenly John doubled over as if in pain. Moriarty threw his head back with laughter and turned back toward the house, his henchmen dragging John behind him. Just before he ducked through the door, Moriarty’s head snapped around to face Mike. Mike gasped and crouched down behind the car. Surely he couldn’t be seen from so far?

Easing his head around the car again, the cottage garden was deserted. Mike swore a blue streak in his head at how stupid they had been. Panic had made them jump the gun and now John was in Moriarty’s slimy hands and Mike no clue what to do. Leaning against the trunk Mike struggled to cobble together a plan. He needed- he needed help .

A semblance of a plan now in mind, Mike grabbed the rope from the car and headed back up the road. At one point the road cut close enough to the shore that nothing but a low rock wall prevented it from flooding during high tide. Kicking off his soaked shoes, Mike hopped over the wall and began racing along the beach.

The cliffs rose higher and higher next to him and the narrow shore soon turned from sand to rock.The houses vanished from view as the rocky beach hugged close to the cliff face. In the orb Moriarty had left them Sherlock was half submerged in the water, which meant he should be somewhere around here. Moriarty would want Sherlock close to better taunt him with John, at least that’s what Mike’s reasoning told him.

Swallowing against the swell of rage he felt at the thought of John all alone with Moriarty, Mike ran faster. By his calculations Moriarty’s cottage should be almost right above him now. Before him the cliff jutted into the sea, cutting off the shore. Mike blinked through the rain as he watched the waves crash against the jagged rocks, spraying foam meters into the air. Anyone stupid enough to swim here would be turned into minced meat in a matter of moments.

There was only one thing to do.

Hoisting the rope higher onto his shoulder, Mike waded into the icy spray. He’d need to swim straight out to sea to avoid getting crushed against the rocks. With this grim thought in mind, Mike’s feet left the ocean floor and he started to swim. The sea around him felt warm, an odd contrast to the icy rain hitting his head and arms. Wishing he had taken off his coat, Mike struggled against the waves, his heart pounding in his chest.

He rounded the corner and nearly let out a whoop of joy. There, bound to the rocks, was Sherlock.

“Sherlock!” Mike bellowed, kicking harder to reach him.

Sherlock’s head lifted slowly as if he were too weak to hold it up, and his eyes widened as he spotted Mike.

The waves assisted Mike now, pushing him toward Sherlock. Mike was more than happy to let the ocean do the work for him, his arms burning as he reached for the merman. Finally he managed to grab onto a slippery shoulder. Sherlock stared at him at a loss for words as Mike clutched  the rocks next to him to steady himself.

Thick, thorny vines were wrapped around each wrist, lashing Sherlock to the jagged rock, leaving him at the mercy of the huge crashing waves.

“How do we get these off?” Mike bellowed, tugging at the vines. They seemed to tighten at his touch.

“Fuck I-”

Sherlock turned to look at him, eyes wide with horror. “Where’s John?” he cried over the roar of the waves.

Before Mike could answer, a monster wave rose before them and crashed over the rock they clung to. Mike dug his fingers into the rock, struggling to hold on. Next to him, Sherlock screamed as the water rammed his bound body into the sharp rocks. Blinking water out of his eyes, Mike could see blood streaking down the rock behind Sherlock. The merman arched in pain and Mike gasped at the state of his back; ribbons of skin had been torn away, leaving his flesh raw and bleeding against the rough stone.

“Where’s John?” Sherlock gasped, voice weak.

“He’s- Mor-Moriarty got him,” Mike said, reaching for the vines again and wishing he’d brought his knife from the glove compartment.

“What?” Sherlock’s voice was stronger now.

“I-”

Another wave crashed over them, cutting Mike off. Sherlock panted in pain as the water abated.

Suddenly, the vines around Sherlock’s wrists loosened, then withered away. The merman slid into the water and Mike gaped in shock. Sherlock emerged, his face set in pain. The salt in his wounds must have felt like fire ants biting his skin.

“Come on, Mike!” Sherlock called, raising a shaking arm. “We have to go before he-”

The sea under Sherlock heaved and Mike’s eyes widened. A net, seemingly made of smoke, rose from the water trapping Sherlock and hauling him out.  As Mike watched Sherlock struggle, a smokey tendril lashed out and wrapped around him, too. Mike screamed in horror as the thing dragged him into the water and yanked him up next to Sherlock. He was dumped unceremoniously into the net beside the merman, who immediately grabbed onto his shoulders.

‘What- what’s happening?” Mike said, voice high with panic as they swooped up the side of the cliff.

“We’re being taken to Moriarty.” Sherlock said grimly, tightening his hold on Mike. “I wouldn’t put it past him to drop you,” he said at Mike’s questioning look. “He’ll think it’s fun .”

Mike curled an arm around Sherlock, feeling distinctly queasy as the sea got further and further below them.

“Get ready,” Sherlock said, as they came to the cliff top. “We’re here.”

 

***

John swore as three men surrounded him in the garden. He squared his shoulders and forced himself to keep his eyes forward. The last thing he wanted to do was reveal Mike’s location. Two of the thugs grabbed his arms as Moriarty crept out of the house, a wide smile on his face.

“Oh, Johnny! Thank you so much for coming. I was just about to come get you myself!”

John scowled, but kept quiet, eyes open for an opportunity to attack.

Moriarty made a show of looking over John’s shoulder. “Where’s your little friend, hmm? Well, when I say little…” he said, his face twisted into a nasty smile.

John felt his face heat with anger, but kept determinedly silent. Still smiling, Jim walked toward him a weird glow emanating from his fist. Without any preamble Moriarty slammed his fist into John’s stomach. Pain exploded in his gut and John gasped as his skin burned. He doubled over, eyes watering, nothing but the rough hands on his arms holding him up.

“Bring him inside,” Jim said, snapping his fingers.

John stumbled along as he was hustled into the cottage. He forced himself to take slow deep breaths to ease the pain. In the cottage he was dumped on the floor of the living room. To his surprise Jim didn’t search him for weapons. Instead he strode into the other room, leaving John alone with his henchmen.

An odd blue light shone from the room Jim entered, making John’s skin crawl. He pressed a hand to his stomach, groaning in pain. In this state there was no way he could fire. Swallowing bile, he sat up and looked around the room. The men stood motionlessly behind him, eyes forward and never blinking. It was downright creepy how doll-like they seemed.

Slowly the pain started to abate, but John remained hunched over. Letting them think he was hurt and down for the count would give him an opportunity to strike.

Just then, Jim strode into the room, grinning widely.

“It’s time, boys! Our little friends ,” he threw John a nasty look, “will be here soon.”

He turned to the back door and John took his chance. He was on his feet in seconds, gun out and pivoting. With three shots the henchmen were on the ground, a bullet hole in each forehead. He swung around and aimed at Jim, finger on the trigger.

Jim grinned as John squeezed the trigger. A ball of light flashed against his chest and the bullet dropped harmlessly to the ground with a clatter.

“Nice try, Johnny. Now sit ,” he made a pushing motion with his hands and a rush of air shoved John onto a hard chair, “and wait ,” another motion and now thorny vines wrapped around John, tying him to the chair. One thick tendril covered his mouth, “Quietly. Our guest are here.”

With a snap of his fingers the back doors banged open, revealing Sherlock and Mike dangling over the cliff edge in an unnatural, translucent net. With a curl of his fingers, Moriarty summoned the net over to the grass and then snapped it out of existence. Sherlock and Mike dropped to the ground with a thud. Mike groaned and rolled onto his side. He was pale but looked no worse for the wear. Sherlock rolled over and John shuddered at the sight of his back. It was a bloody mess and even from this distance John could see bits of rock embedded in his skin. He struggled against his bonds, the thorns digging into his flesh. All he could think about was getting to Sherlock and helping him.

Moriarty grinned and lazily waved a hand. John’s chair flew forward, planting him a few feet away from Sherlock.

“Wouldn’t want you to miss the show!” he crowed.

Sherlock turned frantic eyes to John and crawled towards him, cringing in pain the entire time. Mike was at his side in an instant, trying to help him. Moriarty’s cackle made them all freeze.

“Just look at you, Sherlock! Crawling like a dog for someone like him. God, your transformation did more than I thought.”

“This is between you and I, Jim. Let them go.”

John shook his head frantically but neither of the wizards paid him any attention. Instead, Jim laughed again.

“Oh nice try, Sherlock. As if  they won’t go scurrying off to meddle some more as soon as I free them.”

Sherlock scowled and twisted to face Jim. “So what is it you want?”

Jim’s face went flat, his eyes two dead pools in his face, “Your sorrow.”

He turned to John then, who winced at the look in his eyes.

“Did you know I’m especially talented at memory altering spells, John?’ he said, eyes glinting. “I think a little modification is in order. How about instead of remembering the romance, you just remember a merman who almost mauled you to death? Of course, I’ll provide the needed injuries to back up those memories.”

Terror crawled up John’s throat. He looked over Jim’s shoulder at Sherlock, begging the merman with his eyes to help. Jim’s hands glowed with a sickly yellow light. Behind him, Sherlock struggled to sit up, Mike aiding him as best as he could. Jim raised his hands and aimed at John, his fists glowing brighter and brighter. John’s thoughts were blotted out with panic. The last thing he expected Jim to do was threan his mind. The magic coalesced into two spheres and John braced himself, screaming against the gag.

Just then there was the sound of something rushing through the air and Jim was knocked off his feet and thrown hard into the dirt.

Behind him, Sherlock leaned against Mike, his arms outstretched and purple spikes of light dancing around his fingertips.

As soon as Jim was down, Mike rushed towards John, half dragging Sherlock along. Jim groaned on the ground and began to push himself to his feet. Sherlock and Mike froze, and then Mike bolted for the house. Jim slowly got to his feet, blood pouring from his nose.

“Looks like you still remember what I taught you,” Jim said, spitting blood in Sherlock’s direction.

Sherlock raised his hands again, “ How about a refresher?”

Light spilled from his fingers, but Jim was quicker and used his own piss yellow magic to combat Sherlock’s power. Scowling, Sherlock stretched the purple lightning between his hands and launched it at Jim. The lightning cracked through the air like a bullwhip and struck Jim in the chest. Jim grunted and twisted his fingers in a complex pattern, hurling a snake shaped formation of smoke at the merman.

John was so engrossed by the battle that he nearly jumped a mile when a hand settled on his shoulder. It was Mike.

“Hold still,” Mike whispered and began sawing at John’s bonds with a huge kitchen knife. “Tell me if Jim notices us.”

John nodded, then sagged in relief as the gag fell away. A few minutes later his wrists and ankles were free. Sherlock met his eyes and nodded. He twirled his hands in an intricate motion and the purple glow of his magic spread up his arms and vibrated around him.

The very air seemed to change and thicken around them as Sherlock glowed brighter and brighter. With a shout, Sherlock slammed his hands onto the ground. The earth shook and streaks of light flew out from his hands toward Jim. They swirled and danced together, forming a pentagram on the grass, encircling both men. As the last blot in the pattern connected, the pengram glowed blindingly bright.

Jim screamed as the light engulfed him, lifted him off his feet, and flung him through the air.

“Your gun, John!” Sherlock roared, his arms glowing again.

John snapped back to himself and raced into the house, Mike hot on his heels. His gun was on the floor next to an upturned table.

“How’d Jim get you?” he asked Mike as he checked the number of bullets in the magazine.

“When I was trying to untie Sherlock, he conjured that net and pulled us out of the water.”

John froze and looked at Mike. “You found Sherlock?”

Mike nodded, “I figured he’d be close. So I went to the cliffs and found him tied to a rock at the base. It was a hell of a swim.”

Despite the battle raging outside John felt warmth suffuse his chest at Mike’s words. “Mike, you’re-

“Let’s save the warm fuzzies for later, eh?” Mike said. “We need to take care of Jim.”

John nodded, loaded the clip back into his gun and motioned for Mike to stay behind him.

Outside, Jim had Sherlock’s tail pinned down with the same net he’d trapped him with earlier. Sherlock was firing off spell after spell but Jim was holding his own, though his suit was singed and his smile wasn’t nearly as confident.

John raised his gun and aimed at Jim’s back. He caught Sherlock’s eye over Jim’s shoulder and the merman nodded, his fingers changing formation.

“I don’t think so!” Jim shouted.

He thrust his arm forward and caught Sherlock in the chest with a ball of energy. John screamed in horror as Sherlock crumpled, and rushed forward. Before he got far, watery chains whipped out of Jim’s hands and snagged Mike and John around the ankles. John gasped as they were dragged over the grass and dumped next to Sherlock.

“There, that’ll make it easier to aim.” Jim said with a wild laugh.

John ignored him and crawled toward Sherlock.

“Sherlock!” he cried, voice quaking as he turned the merman over, propping him up on his thighs.

Sherlock coughed and blinked at him. His eyes were blazing. One strong arm caught John’s shirt and hauled him close. “When I say shoot, shoot! No questions asked.”

John nodded and Sherlock released him and sat up, blood covered his back and his pointed teeth were bared at Jim. “Why don’t you try something actually effective? Or has all this time on earth turned you soft?”

Jim grinned, confidence back in place. “Lets see if this pleases you then.”

Jim tossed his head back, his hands curing into claws at his sides. As his power surged his mouth opened in a silent scream.

The earth began to shake under them, harder and harder until the trees around them were wavering. John tightened his hold on his gun, the scent of Sherlock’s blood fueling his anger.

“Remember, only when I say,” Sherlock murmured.

John nodded grimly.

“Um...are you two noticing this?” Mike asked, his voice tight with fear.

John looked over at him, only to see Mike staring pointedly at the ground. Following his gaze, John’s eyes widened. They were floating....it had happened so slowly and easily John hadn't even noticed. A hard energy field held them up, the same texture as the grass below... grass that was several feet below .

John’s finger tightened on the trigger. Sherlock’s hand immediately shot out, squeezing his arm hard. His hands were hot with what John could only assume was magical energy.

“Only when I say, John! Trust me!” The merman sounded desperate.

John slowly eased back on the trigger, eyes glued to Jim’s manic smile as the magic lifted him off the ground along with them.

When he turned back to Sherlock any words he’d had died on his tongue. Sherlock’s very skin was glowing, purple streaks of light rippling under his skin. His hair was a halo around his head, lightning zipping between tufts of hair. It was his eyes, however, that took John’s breath away and stayed his hand. Sherlock’s blue green gaze was now a shocking neon purple, filled with so much power it almost scared John.

“Trust me,” Sherlock said again, quietly.

John’s fear evaporated at Sherlock’s voice. Glowing with power or not, Sherlock was still Sherlock. The man John had fallen in love with. The thought calmed him and he shifted his stance, aiming at Jim again, finger steady on the trigger guard.

“I trust you, Sherlock. Tell me when.”

He could feel the power blooming through Sherlock, condensing around them and being molded to Sherlock’s will.

“I think it’s time you face the truth, Sherlock!” Jim called, his skin jaundiced with power. “I’m better than you! I’ve always been better, and when I’m through with Johnny and his little friend I’ll be all you have left! I’ll be the only one who knows of your existence. And I’ll make sure to dump you in the loneliest, coldest ocean I can find!”

Sherlock’s power tensed, and John could feel it take aim.

“You’ve overstepped yourself, Jim,” Sherlock said, voice subsonic, “and there’s only one thing I have to say to you!”

The power tightened the air around them. Sweat broke out on John’s forehead from the sheer force of it.

“Fuck. Off.” Sherlock said as he let his power loose. “Now, John!”

John pulled the trigger.

Time seemed to slow. Sherlock’s magic curled around the bullet, engulfing it, changing it. Jim’s eyes widened as the supercharged bullet sped toward him. He gathered his own magic and fired, but not quickly enough.

John’s modified bullet hit Jim square in the forehead, and the world exploded.

John fell out of the air, Sherlock and Mike landing next to him. John threw himself on top of Sherlock and hauled Mike close, trying to shield them both. The force of the blast threw them backward, rolling them over and over. John clung harder to the men on either side of him as they were tossed around.

Finally they came to a stop, still clinging to each other, only feet away from the edge of the cliff. John sat up slowly, Mike was on his back next to him, panting up at the sky with wet eyes. On his other side, Sherlock was taking deep breaths, his entire body shaking.

“Are you alright?” John asked, leaning over Sherlock and gently brushing the hair off his forehead.

“Tired,” Sherlock panted. “Kiss me, John.”

John smiled at him and leaned down, pressing his lips to Sherlock’s.

“Sherlock, John! Look!” Mike called, breaking the moment.

John looked up, Sherlock sitting up next to him. Mike was pointing to Jim’s body. The man lay on his back, his blank gaze turned to the sky. As they watched, cracks began to appear in Moriarty’s body, as if he was made out of old porcelain. The cracks widened and widened, until suddenly Moriarty’s body crumbled into dust. A sharp breeze swept over the cliff, scattering the dust and blowing it far and wide over the sea.

“Holy shit,” Mike said, his voice a whisper.

A strangled noise from Sherlock had John grabbed John’s attention.

“Sherlock!” John cried when he saw his merman.

A yellow tornado of light was wrapped around the caudal fin at the end of Sherlock’s tail. As John watched, it moved up his body, engulfing him.

“John!” Sherlock called, sounding scared.

John was at his side in an instant, pulling Sherlock into his arms.

“What’s happening!?”  

“I- I don’t know I-” Sherlock trailed off and clung to John.

“How-”

Sherlock kissed him, cutting John off.

“Just in case-” He gasped, “in case-”

A cry of pain cut off Sherlock’s words.

John looked wildly at Mike, holding Sherlock close as he shook. Mike was crouched at Sherlock’s shoulder, face pinched with worry.

The light was up to Sherlock’s shoulders now. It flamed at John’s sleeves, but didn’t seem to be doing him any harm. John shoved his hand into the glowing miasma and tried to pry it apart. It felt as if he’d stuck his hands into a vat of lava. He gasped in pain and ripped his hands away. The pain instantly stopped and his hands showed no sign of damage.

“No John, don’t!” Sherlock said as John reached for the light again, “Just let it happen,” his eyes were desperate as the light brushed his neck. “Just let it happen.”

“Sherlock!” John called, tears stinging his eyes, “Sherlock, I love you.”

Sherlock’s eyes widened, then a calmness seemed to spread over him. “John I lo-

His words were cut off as the light covered his head.

John looked up at Mike, tears dripping down his face. Mike reached for him as the light spun faster and faster around Sherlock’s body. He could feel the man withering below him.

Suddenly the light froze and Sherlock’s body went limp in John’s arms.

“Oh God, no,” John whispered, clutching Sherlock tighter.

The light slowly leaked away from his body, peeling back like a cocoon. Sherlock’s eyes were shut, his mouth slack. As the light seeped away from Sherlock’s hips John’s mouth fell open in shock. Long, pale thighs were slowly revealed, followed by knobby knees and slender calves.

“Holy fuck,” Mike hissed as the light dripped off Sherlock’s long feet and vanished.

“He’s breathing!” John said, tearing his eyes away from Sherlock’s legs and what lay between them.

“Sherlock,” he shook the man gently. “Sherlock, you need to wake up. You have to wake up and see what’s happened.”

John nearly cried in relief as Sherlock groaned and stirred in his arms. His eyelids fluttered and John pressed a kiss to his forehead. “Look Sherlock, look at yourself!”

Sherlock blinked and gave John a soft smile. “What?” he sounded out of it, but John was too happy to care. “My tail feels-”

Sherlock sat up with a gasp and stared down at his lower body. His feet shifted and Sherlock’s eyes widened.

“John! Oh God, John,” Sherlock said, bending first one leg then the other at the knee.

“It’s my- I’m-”

His words were cut off by a sob. Sherlock clamped a hand over his mouth, tears pooling in his eyes.

“I’m human,” he croaked, voice broken.

John hugged him hard. Sherlock buried his face in John’s shoulder and shook, sobs muffled by John’s rain soaked coat.  

“Sherlock,” Mike’s voice was gentle. “Here, you must be cold.” Mike held out his coat, a smile on his face.

Sherlock pulled away from John, wiping his eyes and smiled.

“Thank you, Mike.” he said, covering his groin with the coat.

Mike gave him a wink, then flopped onto the grass. “I can’t believe we did it.” He let out a whoop of joy, “We did it!”

John giggled, and soon Sherlock joined in, laughing through his tears. John pulled him close and brushed the tears from Sherlock’s cheeks. Their eyes met and Sherlock’s smile softened around perfectly human teeth. Leaning closer Sherlock pulled John into a kiss, holding him tight and tugging him down onto the grass. John laughed against Sherlock’s mouth, his chest light. Sherlock’s eyes searched his face, the lines around them relaxed and looking happier than John had ever seen him.

“I love you,” Sherlock said, his words whisper soft.

“I love you, too.”

They kissed again and John jumped a mile at the zap of sensation between their mouths.

“What was-”

“It would appear I still have my powers,” Sherlock said, holding up a hand. Purple darts of lightning flickered between his fingers. His smile practically glowed. John couldn’t resist kissing it off his face.

Sherlock kissed back until his shivering brought John to a stop.

“It would also appear I can now feel the cold again,” he said, teeth chattering.

John rubbed his arms and pulled Sherlock to his feet. He wobbled a little, steadied himself against John, and grinned as he wiggled his toes in the grass. He stood head and shoulders taller than John, which took the doctor by surprise. He hadn’t expected Sherlock to be this...big, nor was he expecting how much he’d like it.

Taking a tentative step forward, Sherlock squared his shoulders and walked in a slow circle around John, his smile widening with every step.

“It seems my legs are in perfect working order,” he said, joy lacing his words. He stuck out one foot and then the other in front himself, bending them every which way.

John was sure his smile was as wide as Mike’s.

“Let’s get you home, Sherlock,” Mike said, leading the way towards the front door.

John wrapped an arm around Sherlock’s waist and followed, enjoying the feeling of Sherlock’s arm around his shoulders and his thigh brushing John’s own with each step forward.

Chapter Text

The next morning John woke up alone. The spot next to him was cool and the blankets had been tucked around him. 

Last night everyone had been too tired to do much talking. They’d simply driven back to the cottage (with Sherlock staring out the windows in wonder) and fallen into bed. Sherlock had crawled in next to John with no questions asked, something John was certainly not complaining about, and they’d both fallen asleep almost instantly.

Now John looked wildly around the room, heart in his throat. Had Moriarty somehow come back and taken Sherlock away? John leaped out of bed and charged out the door. He was halfway down the stairs when voices from the living room brought him to a halt. 

“So yeah, just enter what you want to know in the search bar here, and it’ll bring up- give you answers,” Mike said.

There was the sound of hesitant key tapping then Sherlock let out a soft gap. “It’s so- so simple!”

Mike laughed, “Yeah. so anything in particular you want to know about?”

John peeked around the corner, not wanting to break the moment for some reason, and smiled. Sherlock was sat next to Mike on the living room couch, wrapped in John’s robe with Mike’s laptop on his knees.

“So it was legalized.” Sherlock said, eyes wide, “I never thought I’d see the day.”

“Now you have,” Mike said, and John could hear the smile in his voice. “Now you can enjoy it.”

Heart full, John headed upstairs to brush his teeth. Sherlock was in good hands.

As he brushed it suddenly occurred to him that Sherlock had nothing but a robe to wear. He’d need to run into town and get the man some clothes and basic living essentials. Come to think of it, he’d need to get a job if he wanted him and Sherlock to live here. His pension wasn’t enough and he didn’t want to take advantage of Mike’s generosity. Mind spinning he forced himself to take a deep breath and calm down. One thing at a time; first see how Sherlock was doing, second get him clothes. 

Still in his pajamas, he headed downstairs and found Sherlock engrossed in the laptop while Mike made tea in the kitchen.

“Morning Mike,” he called across the room. “Hey you,” he said, smiling and dropping a kiss to the top of Sherlock’s head.

Sherlock grinned at him and set the laptop aside. 

“Hello John.” he said, smiling wide, “Mike has been showing me the most amazing things this machine can do! I was worried about catching up with the world, but it’s going to be easier than I thought.”

“Yeah, Mike’s a good teacher.” John said winking at the man in the kitchen. The last time he’d felt this happy was before Afghanistan. “How are you feeling?” 

“Better. My legs aren’t weak at all and I still have my magic, though I need to practice to build up it’s strength.”

Sherlock stretched his arms out in front of him and spread his fingers. Tiny threads of lightning danced between the digits. John stared in fascination. Yesterday he’d been too preoccupied with Moriarty and saving Sherlock to really appreciate Sherlock’s magic. Now he could.

“Can I?” he asked, reaching for Sherlock’s hands.

Sherlock smirked at him, and gave John his hand. It was warm and dry, the total opposite to Merman Sherlock’s hands. Sherlock’s hand curled around John’s, covering it completely, his long fingers wrapping easily around John’s. The magic zipped gently against John’s palm. It didn’t hurt in the slightest, instead it left behind a tingling sensation that was almost like a gentle vibration against his skin.

“It tingles,” John said, holding Sherlock’s huge hand close to his face to stare at the lightning.

Sherlock gently disentangled his hand and trailed a finger down John’s cheek. The sensation was pleasant, very pleasant. Sherlock met his eyes and leaned in for a kiss. John happily responded and let out a tiny yelp as the magic zinged between their mouths. Sherlock pulled back and looked at John in a way he never had before. It was almost... playful, a word he would have never used to describe merman. Then again, being freed of a centuries long curse would probably make anyone feel playful.

“Here we are then,” Mike said, setting down a tray with three cups. “Sherlock wanted to try modern coffee.

“Thanks Mike,” John said, giving him a warm smile. 

Wherever he and Sherlock went, he hoped Mike was close. The thought was sudden and settled in his mind easily. Yes, he’d definitely like to keep Mike close.

They both watched as Sherlock lifted the mug to lips and took a tiny sip. His eyes widened and he took a larger gulp. 

“Mike, this is delicious! How’d you grind the beans so finely? There’s no grit at all!”

Mike shared a grin with John.

“No grinding required Sherlock. It comes ground and the percolator does the rest.”

Sherlock looked mystified and John chuckled, wrapping an arm around the man’s shoulders and giving him a squeeze. 

“There’s so much to see John!” Sherlock said, leaning against him. 

“Don’t worry, Sherlock. Just take it one thing at a time. Mike and I will help you.”

“I can’t wait to show you Netflix,” Mike said.

Sherlock looked mystified again, but John changed the topic before they could get side tracked. 

“First order of business; you need clothes.” 

Sherlock nodded looking vaguely excited. “Can we go into town today?”

“Well- um-” John felt like an arsehole, “I’m not sure if you can go Sherlock, since wearing a robe on the main road might get us unwanted attention.”

Sherlock’s face fell and John felt worse. He really wanted to take Sherlock out and let him see the world he’d missed out on for so long.

“Maybe we can cobble something together from our clothes?” Mike suggested. “The pants won’t be nearly long enough but I think it could work.”

John and Sherlock brightened. 

“And we can go to the clothes store first so you can just wear you new clothes for the rest of the trip,” John added, perking up.

“Right!” So it’s settled then!” Sherlock said, getting to his feet.

John and Mike followed him upstairs to see which pair of trousers would look the least ridiculous on Sherlock’s long legs.

 

***

Sherlock’s eyes roamed around the car entire drive over. He was quiet and his eyes were huge as he asked what the buttons did, open the drink holders and watched John raise and lower his backrest. John noticed he kept his back to the sea as much as possible. He’d have to ask him about that later.

“Automobiles were just becoming common when I was- was cursed,” Sherlock said suddenly, “I’d been looking into purchasing one myself.”

“Really? What were they like?” John asked.

“Well,they weren’t nearly as comfortable as this one and the ride wasn’t smooth at all. And the noise they made! People on the end of the street would hear you well before you rounded the corner.”

John and Mike laughed and peppered Sherlock with questions about his time as the car ate up the miles. Soon they were pulling up in front of one of the three small clothes stores in town.

“This one has the most variety,” Mike said as he pulled up the hand break.

They all trooped into the store and Sherlock looked around as if he was in a museum. 

“Pre-made clothes…” he said quietly. 

John stepped closer, “We’ll help you Sherlock, no worries.”

“Good morning! Can I help you?” a perky sales girl stood before them. Her eyes trailed down Sherlock’s body and the man went stiff beside John.

“No thank you, we’re just browsing,” Mike said pleasantly, herding them toward the jeans. 

“Just let me know if you need the fitting room!” the girl called, eyes tracing the line of Sherlock’s shoulders.

“Do you think she knows what I am John? She stared at me,” Sherlock whispered frantically, as they headed towards racks of trousers.

John stifled a laugh, “No Sherlock, I think she just thought you were handsome.”

Sherlock frowned and opened his mouth to ask something else when Mike interrupted. 

“So Sherlock, what’s your pleasure?” he gestured to the racks of jeans, dress pants and track pants around them. Sherlock’s brow furrowed and they got to work.

Thirty minutes later Sherlock was in the change room with several pairs of jeans, shirts and slacks. They’d hit a brief stumbling block as they tried to guess Sherlock’s sizes, but once they’d figured it out Sherlock had been in (slightly intimidated) glee. Now he was in the tiny little room and John was surprised at just how much he was anticipating see Sherlock in clothes, like any other ordinary human. Though in John’s eyes Sherlock would never be ordinary. 

“He didn’t look at the sea once on the drive over,” John said, the words out of his mouth before he even thought about it. 

Mike shifted the pajamas he was holding to his other arm and turned to John, “Can you blame him?”

“Of course not, it was his prison for centuries,” John said, “I’m just wondering how healthy living here will be for him.”

Mike’s face fell, “Oh.”

Before John could say anything else, the change room curtain slid open and Sherlock stood there. 

John’s mouth fell open.

“How does it look?” Sherlock asked, tugging the shirt straight, “I wish they sold waistcoats here. I’m used to more layers.”

Sherlock looked amazing. He was clad in a pair of grey trousers and a deep purple shirt. The cut of the outfit emphasised the narrow line of his waist and the broadness of his shoulders. As John watched, Sherlock pulled on a matching jacket, the movement making the fabric of the shirt stretch over his chest. John swallowed hard.

“You- you look. Wow.” 

Mike snickered next to him and John felt his face heat. 

“You look wonderful Sherlock.” John said, pulling himself together.

Sherlock smiled like the sun rising. 

“I think I have enough things,” he said, looking at the pile of clothes in John and Mike’s arms.

“Yep. You have sleep wear, two pairs of jeans, a couple shirts and two pairs of trousers besides those.” Mike said, ticking each thing off on his fingers. “It’s a start.”

“Next stop shoes I think, then the next shop over for underwear and other odds and ends,” John said to Mike, trying not to think of the fact that Sherlock was currently wearing a pair of his boxers.

Mike nodded and beckoned Sherlock forward.

“Wear that out,” John said, looking him over again, “It suits you very well.”

Mike chuckled again and John swatted him as they headed for the cashier. 

 

***

Sherlock swallowed as he took in the rows of underwear before him. Even a small town like this had a wide variety. John assumed it was to satisfy the droves of fishermen who passed through, not that that was relevant right now. For now John needed to focus on helping Sherlock. 

“How about these?” Sherlock asked, holding up a pack of boxers. 

“Those might be too loose under the trousers you bought,” John said, as the memory of Sherlock in a pair of wonderfully cut jeans swam thought his mind. “You should go for something tighter.” 

He would not blush. He would not blush. He was a grown man. 

“Right yes,” Sherlock turned back to the racks. “You would have laughed yourself silly over the drawers of my time,” he said with a chuckle. “You could probably make three pairs of these from one pair!”

John grinned as Sherlock held up another pack, “How about these?”

John’s grin promptly fell off his face. The pair Sherlock held was tight, oh yes they were. John also happened to know Sherlock was built very much like the model on the packaging, which did nothing to help his current state of arousal.

“Yes those- those are fine. Good actually, very good.”

Thank God Mike had wandered off to browse on his own. He would never let John live this down. 

Sherlock smiled at him and dropped two packs of the briefs into his basket. A nervous look crossed his face then and he flicked his eyes from side to side.

“I’d very much like to kiss you John, and from what I’ve learned so far that would be acceptable to do...wouldn’t it?” 

The expression on Sherlock’s face nearly broke John’s heart. He looked equal parts hopeful and distressed, as if it was too good to be true that he could kiss who he wanted in the semi privacy of the underwear racks.

“Of course Sherlock, of course it’s alright.”

Sherlock smiled, and bit his lip. His eyes flicked around again, ensuring the coast was clear then he leaned down and gave John a quick peck on the lips. John smiled and wrapped a hand gently around the back of Sherlock’s neck and pulled him back for a more lingering kiss, perfectly appropriate for a semi-deserted store. Sherlock looked elated. 

“Should we find Mike and get you some shoes?” John asked, hand lingering on the back of Sherlock’s neck.

Sherlock nodded happily, “Oh yes!”

***

Back at home Sherlock was gleeful as he unpacked and hung up his purchases. Although John’s wallet was considerably lighter, he couldn’t be bothered as he watched Sherlock stroke his hands reverently over every piece of clothing. The only thing they hadn’t gotten was a waistcoat (no store in town sold any), and a watch (John’s wallet couldn’t swing it). Beside that the trip had been a rousing success. 

“I haven’t worn clothes in centuries John,” he said as he hung up a shirt. “I forgot how warm it is, and how much I missed it.”

John got off of the bed he’d been lounging on and moved to the window, “We can get you all the clothes you want Sherlock,” he said. 

He stretched and walked to the window, pushing the window wide to catch the sea breeze. Behind him, Sherlock inhaled sharply and John jumped a mile as the man stormed over, reached passed him and slammed the window shut. He yanked the curtains closed and let out a huff. Jaw tight, he returned to unpacking, treating the clothes with more force than necessary. 

“I’m sick of the ocean,” he said, voice low. “I’m sick of the smell, the sound, the sight of it. So I’d like the curtains shut if you don’t mind.”

John nodded, stunned, “Yeah, of course, Sherlock, it’s fine.” 

He watched Sherlock shut the closet, staring at his reflection in the long mirror bolted to the door. His legs in particular. As John watched he tired to formulate the best way to bridge the topic of leaving town with Sherlock. His hesitance came from the fact that he didn’t know how he’d afford it, or how’d he help Sherlock adjust to a bigger city. Also, if it was possible to convince Mike to move with them.

He opened his mouth to hedge the topic when Mikes’ voice cut them off. “Dinner’s ready!”

Feeling oddly relieved, John took Sherlock’s hand and headed downstairs.

***

Dinner was quiet, Sherlock seemed plaintive, John was pondering his London problem and Mike seemed tired.

Swallowing a carrot, John decided to bite the bullet. 

“So I was thinking, Sherlock, how would you feel about moving to London?”

Everyone stopped eating.

“London…” Sherlock said wistfully.

“We won’t be able to right away though.” John hurried to clarify, “I’ll need to find a job and save up some money, but I think you’d like London.”

“I loved London,” Sherlock said, eyes full of hope.

“It won’t be the same,” Mike said quietly, eyes on his plate as he pushed his food morosely around.

“You know Mike,” John said quickly, hoping this next bit would go over well. “Splitting the rent would make it easier.”

Mike blinked at him, then continued to push his food around. “I’m sure you’ll find someone.”

Sherlock smiled and John smothered a laugh.

“I don’t need to Mike. Not unless you don’t want to come. You’ve always wanted to live in London.”

Mike’s head shot up, and he grinned. “You want me to live with you two?”

“Of course we do!” John said at the same time Sherlock said, “You saved my life Mike, of course we do!”

Mike’s grin widened. “I can look for clinics in London. What about you John? A&E always needs people.”

The idea appealed to John, it would be more exciting than clinic work. It would keep him on his toes. He and Mike began chatting about different jobs they could look into, what tended to pay more, what had more benefits. Both were unaware of the smile slipping off Sherlock’s face as the discussion got more and more complex. They both jumped when Sherlock stood up, his chair scraping loudly over the wooden floor. He stalked into the kitchen and there was bang as he dumped his dishes in the sink.

Mike raised his eyebrows at John, who shrugged as he got to his feet to see what was bothering Sherlock.

The detective was in the kitchen, hands planted wide on the counter, his head limp between his shoulders. 

“Sherlock?” John said quietly, “What’s wrong?”

Sherlock mumbled something that John couldn’t hear. He walked over to him, rubbing a hand between Sherlock’s shoulder blades and leaning close to hear him.

“I have no autonomy John. I realized it today. I’m like a child, I- I don’t understand this new world. I don’t understand most of what you and Mike talk about. I can’t work. I watch clips of news I can’t follow on a machine I don’t understand while I struggle to comprehend how those images on the screen move, how they’re captured and transmitted. I don’t understand anything !”

He slammed his hands onto the counter and took a ragged breath.

“Sherlock hey, it’s okay. You’ll learn! Look at how much fun you had shopping for new clothes. That’s what it’ll be like, new exciting experiences all the time. You’re brilliant, and Mike and I are more than willing to help you.”

“I just feel so...so infantile.”

“It’ll pass, once you learn it’ll pass.”

Sherlock finally looked up at him, his eyes wet.

“It’ll be alright,” John said pulling Sherlock into a hug, “You’ll learn and then who knows, maybe you can become a detective again.”

“Maybe,” Sherlock mumbled, his voice muffled against John’s shoulder, “Maybe.”

John held him until Sherlock stopped shaking. “Now, how about we go in the living room and relax, have some tea, hum?”

Sherlock gave him a watery smile and nodded.

***

The evening went smoothly after that. Sherlock still seemed a bit tense, but when Mike put on a documentary about the victorian era, he calmed down a bit, and actually seemed interested after the first half hour. Well, if interested meant he ripped apart the documentary, pointing out each incorrect fact and wrong assumption. Soon, Mike and John were in stitches of laughter and Sherlock even cracked a smile. 

By the time the end credits were rolling Sherlock had relaxed fully, cuddling  close to John on the sofa and Mike was nodding in his chair. Yawning, he gently shook Mike’s shoulder and sent him off to bed. Turning to Sherlock, he held out a hand. 

“Let’s go to bed, Sherlock.”

At the top of the stairs, Sherlock pulled John to a stop. Before John could ask him what the matter was Sherlock’s lips were against his, kissing him hard.  When he pulled back John could only blink at him, mouth soft.

“I may not understand a lot of things, but there is still one important thing I remember how to do,” Sherlock said with a sly smile. All his anger from dinner seemed to be gone completely.

John smiled back, “Why don’t you show me just what you do remember.”

Sherlock’s smile widened and he held up one hand, delicate stands of magic threading between his fingers. “Just you wait John Watson.”

With that, he pounced.

Before John knew what was happening they were through his bedroom door and he was being pushed toward the bed. 

“Sherlock, the door,” John gasped between kisses. 

Without taking his lips off John’s, Sherlock snapped his fingers and the door gently swung shut. A spark of purple magic danced around the lock and it clicked into place. 

Sherlock’s hands cradled John’s face as he backed him toward the bed, while something tugged at the button of John’s jeans. As Sherlock’s lips trailed to John’s neck, John looked down and saw purple darts of magic loosening and unzipping his pants. A particularly talented suck to his neck had John forgetting all about his jeans and focusing on the press and drag of Sherlock’s mouth again his skin.

His knees hit the bed and the two of them crashed onto it, John’s head on the pillows and six feet of magician pressed against him. Sherlock hands threaded through John’s hair as his magic undid John’s shirt and spread it wide. John reached for Sherlock own shirt, wanting to return the favour, but Sherlock knocked his hands away and began kissing down John’s chest.

Lips kissed over his nipple and John gasped and arched, his hands tightening on Sherlock’s shoulders. A large hand settled over the other nipple, tugging at it and John smothered a moan behind his teeth. 

Then Sherlock’s magic came into play.

The magic danced between Sherlock fingertips, and across John’s nipple. It felt like a warm vibrator was being pressed against him and John’s moans went up in pitch as the sensation intensified. Sherlock chuckled and looked up at him, eyes dancing.

“Feels good John?” he asked, working his hand over the other nipple and making John whine. 

“Y-you think?” John gasped, squirming under Sherlock.

Sherlock smirked and slid his hands down John’s bare sides. The sensation on his chest didn’t stop as Sherlock’s hands slid away. John swallowed hard as he realized Sherlock could have multiple parts of his body tingling so deliciously at the same time. 

Sherlock’s hands tugged his jeans and underwear the rest of the way off, leaving John bear before the other man. 

“Very nice, John,” Sherlock purred, dragging one finger down the length of John’s cock.

John hissed and wiggled, gazing up at Sherlock. A fully dressed Sherlock.

“Take it off,” he said, tugging at Sherlock’s jacket, “Take all of it off.”

Sherlock stood up and John whined at the loss of contact, but was promptly distracted as Sherlock began to undress without using his hands. He stood before John, eyes glittering as tendrils of magic tugged smoothly at his clothes, making it look as if unseen hands were undressing him.

John licked his lips as Sherlock’s pants were tugged slowly down his legs, revealing his long hard cock.

“Get over here,” John said, sitting up and reaching for Sherlock.

Sherlock’s eyes darkened and the sensation at John’s nipples intensified, making him double over as it morphed into something new. God help him, it felt as if two pairs of plump lips were sucking at his nipples, licking over them and biting . With a moan he reached for his cock. Sherlock was on him in an instant, pinning John to the bed and kissing him desperately.

Their cock’s slid together, making both men shudder. 

“God Sherlock!” 

Sherlock nipped at John’s neck and pinned his hands to the pillow.

“Just let me-”

“Shh, John. Let me take care of you.”

Just then, a thread of magic licked against John’s thigh, making him jump. Sherlock grinned down at him and John swallowed as the magic began to move with great intent. It slid over his arse cheek, then between them, lapping over John’s hole like a vibrating tongue. John’s moan was almost inhuman. 

“Alright John?” Sherlock asked cupping John’s face in his hands.

John nodded weakly, hips rocking as the phantom tongue swirled around his hole.  He gulped as it began to prod at the opening. The sensations were, well, sensational and John thought his loss of vocabulary was utterly justified as the buzzing probe of magic slid into him.

His howl of pleasure was smothered by Sherlock’s tongue and his fingers dug into Sherlock’s broad shoulders.

“God y-yes,” John panted, eyes clenched shut.

Sherlock scraped his teeth down John’s neck as the magic thrust in and out of him, stretching him out. The shape of it kept changing, keeping John on edge and Sherlock’s smirk firmly in place.

After uncountable moments of bliss, the magic thinned out. John opened his mouth to protest, until the feeling of Sherlock’s cock against his opening had his eyes snapping open.

“Okay?” Sherlock asked, stilling against him. 

“Fuck me, Sherlock,” John said, and pulled him down for a blistering kiss. 

Sherlock growled against his mouth and pushed into him in one hard, smooth thrust. John’s eyes rolled back, his hands fisted in Sherlock’s hair. Suddenly, Sherlock’s magic wrapped around his cock and John shouted as that delicious tingling sensation returned. Sherlock pulled out slowly, his own eyes falling shut, then slid back in.

John curled his legs around Sherlock’s hips, encouraging him to go faster, their sweat slick skin sliding against each other. Sherlock sped up, until his hips were snapping against John’s the magic around his cock multiplying each sensation by a thousand.

“Fuck!” John shouted as Sherlock hit his prostate. “Right there, right there!”

Sherlock set his teeth against John’s neck. Suddenly, John’s hands were pulled off Sherlock’s shoulders and pinned to the bed by strands of warm magic. Sherlock spread John’s thighs wide around his own and bucked into him.

John shivered hard, heat pooling in his groin. Sherlock was a picture above him, head thrown back, and all those long lean muscles bunching and stretching spectacularly. 

His fingers tightened into fists and then his eyes were rolling back and his hips were thrusting madly as his orgasm took hold. Three sharp thrusts later and Sherlock was following him, shouting John’s name and grinding hard into him.

The magic dissipated and Sherlock collapsed onto John, a wide, lazy smile on his face. John chuckled and wrapped his arms around Sherlock’s sweaty body. 

“God, that was spectacular,” Sherlock said, giving John a squeeze.

John laughed tiredly, “I think you’ve broken me.”

He laughed harder as Sherlock preened in his arms.

“We should probably clean up,” John said a moment later as Sherlock appeared to be settling down to sleep.

Sherlock hummed and snapped his fingers. Suddenly their skin was sweat and come free, hell John even smelled like soap.

“Handy,” he said, rolling onto his side and taking Sherlock with him. 

“Just you wait till you can see what else I can do.”

John laughed again and stretched, settling against Sherlock for the night, content flowing through his veins for the first time in years.

“I love you, John,” Sherlock said, his voice soft in the dark.

John’s chest felt warm and full. He was almost frighteningly happy.

“I love you too, Sherlock.”

***

The next morning John woke up with warm arms around him and a long body pressed against his back. He and Sherlock were still naked under the sheets. He sighed and curled closer to Sherlock, enjoying the warmth. It had been ages since he woke up in the arms of someone, and even longer since it had been someone he had even liked.

Sherlock shifted behind him and pulled him closer. 

“I was thinking John,” he rumbled, making John jump. He’d thought the man was still asleep. “About what I can do when we go to London.”

“Yeah? What did you have in mind?” John said, rolling over to face the other man.

“I was thinking,” Sherlock shifted and draped his thigh over John’s, “That I could be a consultant to people who’ve been the victim of magic. Find the cause, help solve the problem.”

“Do you think there’s a market for that?” John said.

“There is actually, I did some research while you were asleep. I had to dig for a few hours but I found a erm- what’s it called,” he hesitated for a moment, “Ah yes! A thread that turned out to be legitimate. I chatted with some people on the website and yes I do think my help is needed. They were woefully uninformed John.”

“Look at you,” John grinned, “and you thought adjusting would be a problem,” John said, brushing his thumbs lightly over Sherlock’s nipples. 

Sherlock smiled at him and kissed him. 

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” John continued when they parted.

Sherlock’s smile turned sly. He rolled onto his back, pulling John on top of him and squeezing his arse. 

“I think you’ll like my next idea even better,” Sherlock said, kissing him again.

He snapped his fingers and John jumped as he was suddenly lubed and stretched. Sherlock pulled John closer and pushed into him in one long thrust. John groaned and sat up in Sherlock’s lap, but Sherlock didn’t let him get far. He pulled John back on top of him and kissed him deeply, slowly rocking into John’s body. 

Unlike last night, everything was slow and smoldering. They kept kissing and kissing, hands roaming and hips rocking together. 

Sherlock’s hand wrapped wet and slick around John’s cock and began stroking. John’s breath hitched and his hands shook where they lay against Sherlock’s chest. His orgasm took him slowly, coursing through him in molten waves. 

He lay sweating and panting against Sherlock, limbs tingling pleasantly with aftershocks. Sherlock thrust into him, feet planted on the mattress. John took a nipple into his mouth and sucked, pinching the other one between his fingers. Sherlock gasped, then he was coming in him with a groan of John’s name.

Sherlock stroked his hips and sides and gently pulled John off. Another snap and John was clean and warm against his...his Sherlock.

“I could get used to that,” he said, head pillowed on Sherlock’s chest. “Not having to fumble for something to clean up with, or waking up sticky.”

Sherlock chuckled, “Glad to be of service.”

They grinned at each other, until Sherlock’s stomach growled.

“Ah I think that means it’s time for breakfast,” John said, sitting up and looking around for his pajamas. 

Sherlock followed suit, stretching in a thoroughly distracting way as he got off the bed.

“I think we owe Mike breakfast with the racket we made last night,” John said with a giggle. 

Sherlock went pale and John couldn’t help but laugh at his horrified expression. “Don’t worry Sherlock. The most he’ll do is tease...endlessly.”

Sherlock blushed and John couldn’t help but go over a kiss him.

Mike’s grin was just as shit eating as John expected it would be, but with Sherlock next him, hand warm on John’s thigh, he couldn’t be arsed to care.

 

Epilogue- one year later

John shut the door of 221b behind him, his coat open over his scrubs. He called a hello to Mike  down the stairs to 221C, and grinned when he heard a distant hello back. 

The A&E had been hell today, the way it always was during the summer holidays, what with teenagers and their boredom leading to stupid decisions. Despite the rush and bustle, John had thoroughly enjoyed himself. He relished in the adrenaline, the need to be quick on his feet, helping others. It made the stagnation of his life before he went to Mike’s feel like a distant, unpleasant dream.

Now, he’d finally woken up.

Peeling his coat off, he unlocked the door to the living room and hung it up on the coat rack that stood just inside the door. Voices drifted down from upstairs from the second useless bedroom that Sherlock used as a consulting room. 

John shut the door and locked it behind him. It was a rule they had, that both doors to their flat had to remain locked. At first it had been to prevent clients from  wandering into their private space, but after a man with unstable, newly discovered powers had blown out the living room windows, the locked doors had become a firm rule.

Setting out two cups and clicking on the kettle, John looked at the apparatus laid out over the kitchen island. A copper coloured bowl filled with crushed herbs was bubbling over a bunsen burner. A translucent dome of Sherlock’s purple magic covered the entire experiment, keeping it contained . He was always fire cautious, his Sherlock.

Tea made, John headed back to 221C, where he found Mike sprawled over the couch. A bowl of crisps was propped on his stomach and he seemed to be planted for the weekend.

“Thanks,” Mike said, taking a cup and making room for John. “Sherlock still busy?”

“Yeah, the client’s still here.”

“I saw her when she came, poor thing. Someone gave her horns ,” Mike said, shaking his head. 

John tsked in disappointment. He’d gotten used to such occurrences since Sherlock’s business had bloomed.

“How’d she hide them on the way over here?” John asked, taking a crisp form Mike.

“With a top hat.”

“Clever.”

Mike grunted in reply as the commercials ended and his show came back on. They watched in comfortable silence, sharing a snack and drinking their tea, until footsteps came down the stairs.

“I’m all done for today,” Sherlock said tiredly, kicking off his shoes and stretching.

He flopped onto the end of the couch and gave John a smile and a kiss hello.

“Fixed her horns then?” Mike asked.

Sherlock nodded and grinned, “that was an interesting one. Whoever cursed her layered several spells on top of each other. It was like a magic puzzle box.”

“I’m sure you loved that,” John said, lifting Sherlock’s arm over his shoulders and cuddling into his side.

“Obviously John,” Sherlock said, pressing a kiss to John’s hair.

“Thai for dinner?”

Mike and Sherlock made noises of agreement, eyes on the telly. Introducing Sherlock to television had been an adventure, especially when he’d discovered reality tv. Now the man felt perfectly comfortable with technology. Except alexa, he’d told John he could use his magic and get the same results, but John suspected his refusal had been solely based on the fact that the device creeped Sherlock out. 

The three of them had settled nicely into London; Mike had found a job at a clinic, John took to the A&E and Sherlock had found loads of people who’d come across the wrong side of magic and needed his help. Sometimes that help extended to Mike and John, which made for exciting dashes across London and forays into the magic underbelly of the city. 

John curled closer to Sherlock and smiled as the man absently ran his hand up and down John’s bicep, his cheek pressed to the top of John’s head. Next to him, Mike stretched and began to tell a funny story about one of his co-workers, which soon had he and Sherlock snickering.

It was a weird life, an exciting life, a surreal life. But, as he sat between the love of his life and his best friend for the first time in a long time, John was completely and totally happy. 

The End.