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Names Get Carved (in the Red Oak Tree)

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He stands on the edge.

It's something he thinks about often: How their positions are mirrored. Sherlock on a rooftop, and John here, alive and kicking, standing on the edge of... Whatever this is. It isn't his sanity in question; that had flown far away before he had even met Sherlock Holmes.

Maybe a better comparison would be the string of life, or whatever the Greeks called that golden strand, woven as a man's life and snipped into worthlessness when it was over.

He likes the edge comparison a little more. It seems more fitting.

His mother had once told him a story about the afterlife when they were children. That at the space between alive and dead, they would walk to the top of a great hill, and then they would descend to the great tree at the bottom of the other side before passing into heaven.

It is a glorious oak tree, she had said. Shaped like a mushroom, with sweeping, long branches as long as the tree is tall. There are names carved into the bark of every person who had reached it: the gateway into everlasting happiness. There they would make a choice: stay on Earth for another life, or discover the wonder of mystery ahead. And each time a new soul passed it, it would turn gloriously red for days to celebrate, and all of heaven would rejoice.

He dismissed it as utter crap. The world is too cruel for something so beautiful to exist.

A sweating, heavily-breathing body wrapped around his. His hands resting in damp curls.

In spite of himself and his barely-there faith...

'Will you wait for me at the red oak tree?' he whispers.

'Mm?' Sherlock mumbles.

'Nothing,' John says, pulling him closer to his warm chest. 'Sentimental rubbish.'

They have a case in Wales. Sherlock is softer, here; more rounded at the corners. His eyes are far away.

It's a double murder. Dead easy to solve (It was the father-in-law, look at the shoeprint on her neck, I guarantee it matches his), which leaves them three extra days to wander the countryside (and three extra days for Sherlock to terrorise the locals). On the second day, Sherlock abruptly stands from his untouched plate at lunch and drags John off to the car, haphazardly dropping money on the table as they depart.

'We're going to Barafundle Bay,' he says once he's behind the wheel. John gives him that look that means he doesn't know the inside of Sherlock's head. 'You'll see,' is all he says in answer.

John does see, once they've parked and hiked a short distance to the most beautiful beach he has ever seen.

Pristine sands and turquoise waters. The bay is ringed in gently waving pine trees and dark grey bluffs. It's as close to the opposite of London as possible, he realises; it's remote, clean, quiet, and sunny.

The word paradise comes to mind.

'Sherlock,' he says breathlessly.

The detective has shed his coat for the trek to the sea, and stands beside John in a suit and that purple-red shirt John admires so much. He says nothing, eyes still galaxies away. Instead, a small smile, nothing of which John has ever seen on his face before, twitches at his lips.

He bounds off down the rest of the way like an excited puppy, and John can't help but follow.

He walks the streets of London like there's a second person beside him. There's a significant difference between that and walking like you're alone, he thinks.

He can't bring himself to stop.

'I used to come here,' Sherlock says.

They're sitting on the sand, shoes and socks nestled neatly next to John's hip. Sherlock has his head tilted to the sky, like the sunlight hitting his alabaster skin is ambrosia. His jacket is off, and his sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, exposing more pale skin to the light of day.

John has voiced his concern over sunburning. Sherlock has resolutely ignored him.

'A long time ago,' Sherlock elaborates. 'It was my favourite place in the world.'

'Really?' John asks, swivelling to face him.

'I suppose it's unexpected, coming from me,' Sherlock allows, 'but yes. Like I said: It was a long time ago.'


Sherlock opens his eyes. They are the exact same colour as the water, John thinks. A swirl of muted greens and vibrant blues, highlighted by golden sunlight.

'My friends took me here, a few times,' he continues, and John sits upright in response. The shock on his face must show, because Sherlock rolls those ocean-coloured irises and settles back onto his elbows.

'Don't look so surprised,' Sherlock says defensively. 'I had what fits the definition of friends, once. Again; a long time ago.'

Something in the sudden vulnerability of Sherlock's expression makes John bite back his questions.

Somehow, John ends up in a pub. He thinks about texting Greg and asking to get fantastically drunk together, but he quickly decides he's not yet ready for something like that. Instead, he takes his pint to the back corner to look miserable.

He learned a long time ago that drinking himself senseless will never make him truly forget, and that's the goal of this whole endeavour, isn't it?

He watches three men enter through the front door, smiling with strained expressions. Their conversation is different, their words melodious and lilting. Welsh, he realises. Old friends, too, by their comfortable postures around each other, but not nearly as close as they used to be.

John shakes his head and tilts his drink to his mouth. Damned deductions rubbing off on him.

He drinks and listens as their expressions ease and their words grow louder, punctuated by bubbling laughter and snorts of disbelief.

'To James Griffith,' one of them says, lifting his glass. 'The most outrageously philosophical, sick, white Oprah to walk the planet. Happy birthday, you mad bastard!'

'To James!' the other two echo, and they clumsily clink their glasses together.

Only then does John realise the person they were laughing about moments before is a dead man.

Something about that makes him get up without his half-empty drink and leave far too much money on the table as he leaves.

John has never seen Sherlock like this. He would have expected him to turn up his nose at the idea of relaxing on a beach in the sunlight. A waste of time, he'd call it. Boring. At the very least, John expects him to sniff around at the sand and come back with some dangerous sea creature to experiment upon.

But he just sits there, gazing into the water with something resembling longing.

John makes the impulsive decision to strip and jog into the water. He sighs as the coolness slips over him like silk, swirling in dark curls of shadow as the ground drops out from under him the further he swims.

He sees Sherlock hesitate on the beach. Then the detective rolls up his trouser legs and wades out into the water, standing so the sea laps longingly at his calves.

He watches Sherlock until the tall figure returns to the beach, unbuttoning his shirt and dropping it to the sand as he goes.

It starts after a case.

High on adrenaline, panting heavily from chasing and being chased, with cuts to disinfect and powder burns to rub out on fingers, Sherlock and John come back riding a wave of euphoria.

Or, maybe, that's how it ends.

They stumble into the hallways of 221 giggling like schoolboys. Leaning on each other for support and laughing inappropriately at the prospect of their own demises, the detective and his doctor suddenly go from drunk on the case to drunk on each other.

He's not really sure how it happens. One moment, he's hugging his sides to keep himself from shaking apart with laughter, and the next, he has his hands on Sherlock's lapels, dragging him down and pressing their lips together.

Sherlock's face is blank, and John is suddenly wondering what the hell he's done with something resembling horror.

Then Sherlock is pushing back messily, kissing him with desperation and hunger and all John can think is God, we're idiots.

Somehow, they make it upstairs. They stagger through the kitchen and tumble onto Sherlock's bed in a tangle of fumbling limbs and flying clothing.

The door shuts behind them with a quiet click.

He sometimes stands at the railing of bridges and wonders what it would feel like to climb up and sway on the edge. Fifty-fifty chance–let gravity and the winds choose whether he falls in the right direction.

The thing is, he doesn't really know which way he would rather fall.

'I will wait for you,' Sherlock says. John looks up from the paper in his hands to see Sherlock hovering in the doorframe, hands in his pockets.

'Wait?' he asks, confused.

'There,' Sherlock says unhelpfully. 'Stupid concept, really, completely irrational with no scientific proof, but if it does actually turn out to be true... I'll wait for you there.'

John gives him that 'what the hell are you talking about' look, and Sherlock just shrugs and flounces off.

They float on the surface of the water, listening to the sound of the soft waves crashing on the resisting beach.

'I can see what you mean,' John says, smiling up at the sky. 'It's nice, here.'

'Mm,' Sherlock hums.

'What I don't understand is why you like it so much,' John continues. He sneaks a glance at Sherlock, who is still passively gazing upward. 'Thought you'd get bored with something so quiet.'

'Seems I'm still capable of surprising you,' Sherlock says lowly. 'Good.'

John snorts. Sherlock chuckles in response. John thinks it sounds like bells.

John goes up onto that rooftop and stands on the ledge, looking down at the pavement. It has long since been scrubbed clean, but he can't help musing that there are still traces left, lodged into tiny cracks where they trickled through.

He thinks, so that's what he saw, as he peers down at the little people, walking over the spot as if nothing had ever happened there.

What would they do if they remembered? Would they even care that a great man died on that very stretch of concrete?

Would they care if two different stains of violent crimson seeped into the crevices?

In the end, he's too cowardly to step forward.

If ever John had decided to look up 'James Griffith, Wales,' he might have come up with a few Facebook pages about a brave young man's gradual loss of a battle with terminal cancer.

Maybe he would have read the small note saying that James had died surrounded by his best friends in his favourite place in the world: a little bay in southwestern Wales.

Maybe he would have stumbled upon a picture of James, 29, smiling into a camera rather convincingly. Emaciated with illness, but still recognisable. Hollowed cheeks accenting cheekbones even further. Chapped but full Cupid's bow lips.

But unfamiliar, heavy sorrow resting behind his laughing ocean-coloured eyes.

Maybe he might have made the connection between the date of James's death and the day he first met Sherlock Holmes.

Maybe things would have ended differently.

The Buddhists call it Nirvana. That point where one becomes so completely happy that they no longer have cause to be reborn.

Sometimes people aren't completely reborn, though. If a life is cut too short, maybe they get a second chance to start where they left off. Maybe those who die young aren't so tragic, after all.

It's not a decision, for them. You stay if you have not found Nirvana, and you move on if you have.

We all have a choice, John thinks, disagreeing. Stay, or go.

John likes it best on those nights when he entwines his fingers with Sherlock's as they sink down into the mattress. He can kiss down that beautiful stretch of white skin that is Sherlock's neck, lick at the salty liquid that beads at his jaw and collarbones, and nuzzle into the warmth of his detective's chest when he pulls those delicious sounds from his mouth. It's always heat and want and need, but sometimes, he can't help but want to hold Sherlock there for hours until he begs John to get on with it.

John's not that cruel.

Sherlock, though...

It happens by accident.

At least, he thinks it's an accident. What he can't know is that the thing that kills him is not the alcohol (and yet, how ashamed he would be if he had gone down Harry's path in the end?), but the sniper bullet that crashes through the window and embeds itself in the centre of his chest.

Maybe it was the alcohol, though. If he had his wits about him, he might have seen the flash of movement in the window opposite and taken cover in time.

'Ya'aburnee,' he whispers into Sherlock's hair. It comes out choked and strained, barely a sound at all, but the sharp intake of breath from the man in his arms lets him know that Sherlock has heard.

Not, I love you.


You bury me.

One foreign word to describe what John feels: that he hopes he dies before Sherlock, because he won't be able to bear living without him.

'John,' Sherlock says. It's uttered like a prayer, and Sherlock's eyes are wide and blue, blue like the waves close to the shore. John knows Sherlock understands.

'I know,' John assures. 'I know.'

He thinks that someone screams his name. Something like thunder rings in his ears again, furiously bouncing off of the inside of his skull. The sound of a bolt of silk hitting the ground follows, and he feels it next to him, the object that fell. Something warm and sticky runs into his palm.

He can't help but feel relief when the pain in his chest starts to fade. In his addled state of mind, he thinks it's the heartbreak finally beginning to recede.

Once, John Watson cried, 'Please, God, let me live.' He wasn't quite ready to go, then.

'Thank you,' is what he thinks this time.

'I can't help but picture myself as dust, dancing in the flicker light,' Sherlock muses once they're back on shore. It's dark, and John has built a fire on the sands. They watch the flames curl and dance before them. 'Millions of atoms of... constant... being.'

'Alright, Aristotle, calm down,' John says, smiling.

Sherlock shakes his head. 'Look what this place has done to me. I'm losing my reason.'

Deep orange, golden yellow, and bright red dance in the reflection of his eyes. Fire in the water, John thinks. Impossible, and yet, there it is.

'I wouldn't want to be by myself, though,' Sherlock says. 'Maybe once. But not anymore.'

Their eyes meet in perfect understanding. John thinks that's the most beautiful thing anyone's ever said to him.

John opens his eyes.

'My God,' he whispers, looking around. 'Mum was right.'

The drive back from Barafundle Bay is quiet. Quiet is different than silence, though: Quiet buzzes with unsaid words and meaningful glances. Quiet is filled with sighs of contentment and noises of boredom and sounds of restlessness.

John decides that they'll go back, someday. He's never seen Sherlock so calm and peaceful, before.

As Greg said once, sometimes it's good to get London out of your lungs.

He knows what he has to do.

The climb up the hill is the most difficult endeavour he has ever made. Years of injury and depression and anger seem to crash down on him all at once, and with each step, it manifests itself into something bigger, darker, and stronger. Needles jab into every place where he's ever been cut. Fever wracks his body just as furiously as it did the first time. Every step up brings another bullet searing through his shoulder and, though he doesn't realise it (he's numb to the pain, there) his chest.

Maybe if he were a weaker man, the climb would easily fell him. He doesn't realise that this is his judgement period, because though John Watson is a good person, he has his fair share of sins: Lives he has snuffed out, with blood dripping down his hands like water under a shower head.

He knows what waits for him at the top, though. Can see the dark silhouette standing like a statue; a blot of ink against an azure sky.

So John fights and claws his way up the hill.

Each step makes it harder to breathe. Every movement burns.

He keeps going.

John Watson reaches the end of the climb in less than an hour, but it feels like years have gone by.

He staggers. His knees, covered in layers of scrapes, threaten to give out under him.

Maybe I'll just rest for a moment, he thinks wearily.

He doesn't know that resting means failure.

A hand suddenly snakes out to grab his forearm. He bites back a cry of pain at the gesture, where it rests upon raw contusions and cuts. It pulls him forward, up those last few steps, and suddenly, it's like someone has thrown a cool bucket of water over him, washing away the agony of pain.

He looks up.

John Watson sees Sherlock Holmes's face for the first time in two years.

Retrouvailles, the French call it. The blissful, explosive happiness of meeting again after a long time.

The air blows thickly through the hollow reeds around their feet. John rustles them a little bit more as he steps forward and wraps his arms around Sherlock. Sherlock, who is whole and unbroken, unlike the crimson-ochre-painted image burned onto the underside of his eyelids.

'I waited,' Sherlock murmurs into John's hair. He voice is velvet, smooth and dark and soft. 'I promised that I would.'

At the base of a great hill stands a great oak tree. On it are carved the names of all have passed it and all those who turned back the way they came, the consonants and vowels etched by the silver knife resting at the trunk.

Engraved into the base of the first branch are two familiar names. They have been written over many, many times to the point where, if the were ever to grow over it, the letters would be embedded forever.

Sherlock Holmes & John Watson, it says. The dates beneath match.

An aged Gregory Lestrade will see it, one day, when he has made it up the hill and back down the other side. He will run his hands over the grooves and smile, because even in death, John and Sherlock are one whole.

He will hope that John had known that Sherlock had, impossibly, fallen the same day as him. He will hope that John will have realised the fingers so close to his in his moment of passing were those of the man who loved him most.

John and Sherlock pass the oak tree. The tree trembles for a moment before it turns red, waving burgundy and dark scarlet leaves at their proud, content figures.

Sherlock's scarf is wrapped around John's neck. John's hand curls in the pocket of Sherlock's Belstaff coat.

Somewhere, the Metropolitan police of the Serious Crimes division are sitting around a table in a pub, raising a toast to the Detective and his Blogger.

In a little bay in Wales, three friends are celebrating the 34th anniversary of the birth of the five-years-deceased James Kimberly Griffith.

Sometimes, people get second chances at where they left off.

The sparks in every fire seem to dance a little more beautifully that night.

Names get carved in the red oak tree

Of the ones who stay and the ones who leave

I will wait for you there with these cindered bones

So follow me, follow me down