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Faster than Thought

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It’s just after sundown, and the clouds are losing their lemon softness above the slate waters of the lake.

John finds Sherlock sitting on the driftwood fence that delineates the line between the hotel’s grounds and the beginning of the beach of round lake stones. Sherlock’s holding a smooth flat stone, so different from the rounder, bulkier ones, and paler, too.

“Going to take a shot?”

“Hm?” Sherlock turns his shoulders and head, but his eyes are transfixed on the choppy waters of the lake, excited by the wind.

“Ever skipped stones?” John clarifies.

“As a child.” Sherlock passes the stone over to John.

“I used to be brilliant at this,” John says, turning the pale grey offering over and over in his hands.

“All yours,” Sherlock huffs, standing and beginning the trek to the beach. John clambers over the fence and follows, slipping and sliding on the tumble of rocks.

At the water’s edge, they both pause. The moon is slightly more noticeable now the sun has left, and also the wind, with its icy fingers tugging at their coats, their scarves, their hair. It feels like they are alone, desolate on the beach, despite the proximity of the hotel.

John lets his fingers, wrist, arm, shoulder, back, legs remember, and he curves away, and then towards the lake, tossing the stone out edgewise with a spin and flick –

Seven skips. John grins up at Sherlock, who has a slight upturn on his lips, but in a moment it’s gone, replaced by something wistful. “Hey,” John begins softly, but Sherlock interrupts him:

“Those kids – that fire.” He gestures at a distant beach bonfire, something slapdash thrown together by some kids – couples, friends, just uni kids on break.

“Yeah?”

“They’re on break,” Sherlock confirms, stuffing his hands in his pocket, and beginning to walk the edge of the lake, watching his footsteps appear and disappear, “from Rowan – we passed it on our way up – one pre-med, two business, and at least one undecided. Came for the weekend. Last chance before exams. A little bit of fun to carry through the next two weeks.”

John would have expected that last bit to come out harsher than it did. “Sherlock –”

“Did you ever have anything like that?”

For once, John doesn’t need an explanation. “No,” he says with a shake of his head. “Growing up on the estates…well. When I got into Uni, there wasn’t any time for that.” He nods at the bonfire, which is now a bit closer, a bit brighter.

“And then the army,” Sherlock murmurs.

“And then the army,” John agrees. “You?”

Sherlock huffs a breath, hunches his shoulders against the wind as it swoops in with renewed vigor. “There were invitations, offers… but never a reason to accept any of them.” He shakes his curls clear of his face, looking up again to stare at the beach party defying the wind and the chill.

John feels a pang in his chest, just a brief clench of his heart. He feels, for just a moment, the intense loneliness that must have hounded Sherlock during his time surrounded by peers who never managed to be peers at all. John had at least had mates, and while he didn’t have a socially wondrous time of it, he could kick a ball or crack a joke or nick some beers once in a while and forget being poor and fatherless-for-the-most-part and bone crushingly tired of his mother’s drinking…

John sighs and looks up at Sherlock, whose narrow gaze is locked on the doings of the group by the fire, no doubt pinpointing who’s slept with whose ex and is now trying to deny it by dancing with someone else… He shakes his head and smiles.

“What?” Sherlock asks, not tearing his eyes away.

“Sometimes I catch myself thinking like you do – or the way you must do…none of it true I’m sure, but just spinning little worlds about people and details.” He laughs a little – at himself for thinking that way and for telling Sherlock. “It’s… calming? I don’t know…”

“But I do.” Sherlock finally looks down at John.

John blinks and recalls the sheer number of times he’d walked into 221B and found Sherlock having a long discussion with him, convinced John should have been paying closer attention.

“You know,” John says finally, “what happened today wasn’t your fault.”

“John –”

“No, listen to me. You’re the cleverest person I’ve ever met – brilliant most of the time – but even you couldn’t have prevented today. Not even Mycroft.”

“It’s my job to be…faster than ordinary people.”

John looks out at the lake, the thrashing ink of it, lit at one end by the orange smudge of fire and smoke and laughter. “I,” he begins, then clears his throat. “The bullet that got me –”

And now he has Sherlock’s rapt attention.

“It would have been a headshot. But I twitched. Something made me jerk up – some reflex, I don’t know. Point is,” he exhales harshly, “point is, if I’d thought about it, I would’ve been dead.” He turns to face Sherlock. “Some things happen faster than thought, Sherlock.”

“Three victims, John. Two of them children.”

John nods, grim. “I know.” He wonders when the age of a victim became a factor beyond data. He reaches out and squeezes Sherlock’s forearm, right by the elbow. “I’m not saying you should forget it, or delete it, but you should also remember that you did everything you could.”

Sherlock is quiet for a long time. “Distance is harder to maintain,” he says at last. “Lately.”

John smiles just a little. He feels something unfurl in his chest, and he slides his fingers down and grips Sherlock’s hand tight. “It’s not the kindest chemical equation.”

“No.” The reply is soft, almost buried by the gusts of icy cold tossing the waves.

The wind blasts into their faces and John shudders. He bumps Sherlock with his shoulder. “C’mon. Let’s go back inside.”

Somewhere along the retracing of their footsteps, they forget to let go.