Summary: Sherlock has never learned to swim.
Length: Approximately 17,800 words
Rating: Pg13-R (for traumatic experiences more than anything, no sex and a minimum of cursing)
Genre: Gen, Angst, hurt/comfort
Warnings: Character death (not Sherlock or John but still a bit more traumatic than a random character on a random crime scene).
Holmesian 'verse: BBC Sherlock, spoilers for series 1, particularly ep. 3
Disclaimer: I do not own and am not affiliated with the BBC Sherlock series. I am making no money from this.
Author's Note: This story actually started off based upon this Sherlockbbc_fic prompt: …which I can't find, but involved a scene of John teaching Sherlock to swim. Which made me think up reasons why Sherlock wouldn't already know, which spawned a much darker and angstier version of such a story than the prompter was probably looking for.
When Sherlock Holmes was seven years old he had a cousin who was nine. He called his cousin Rupert because that was his name. Rupert called him an assortment of names, of which Shirley was probably the kindest and Warlock the cleverest and after that it descended into nastier but unoriginal name-calling because Rupert thought Sherlock to be an annoying little know-it-all freak who refused to call him Ripper like the other boys. Theirs was not a fond relationship.
Then one day during the summer holidays Rupert came to visit and Mycroft did not. Sherlock did not think this a fair trade, no matter what his mother said about how nice it was for him to have a boy his own age. In the first place, Rupert was not his own age, he was two years older, which to a child created an insurmountable barrier and placed Sherlock firmly below his cousin in childhood hierarchy, a fact which caused resentment on both sides when Sherlock refused to acknowledge it. In the second place Rupert was dull and boring, being interested in sports and very little else. He had no interest in looking at things, or learning about anything, and the one experiment Sherlock had ever caught him at conducting involved finding out if a cat really would land on its feet if dropped from the top of a building.
"That's wrong," Sherlock had told him firmly, hands on his hips as they both stood on the small balcony, Rupert still holding the cat in a threatening position.
"I thought you liked experiments," Rupert answered, sounding sincerely confused. Sherlock had often heard him use just that tone talking to adults about how whatever latest catastrophe was an accident, not his fault. It sounded real, but it wasn't.
"It's a wrong experiment," Sherlock answered, "Put her down."
"I saw what you did to those frogs," Rupert answered, "Why is this any different?" He made a slight motion as though he intended to drop the cat right then and there, and Sherlock jumped half a step forward, hand outstretched even though he knew he'd never catch her in time. He pulled back his hands and took a pose that mimicked Mycroft whenever his brother was explaining something to him.
"Because frogs are different," he answered, though in a tone nothing like Mycroft's because it trembled slightly, "They are nobody's and were dead and you can help creatures if you know why they die and the cat is ours, and Mummy likes the cat, and you don't break things people like, because that is wrong!" And the cat was warm and soft and purred, and the thought of the cat being broken sent a funny feeling through his chest that he didn't like at all.
"But don't you want to know?" Rupert asked. And the worst part was that Sherlock did want to know. But he wanted to know without the cat being broken. And when Mycroft caught them out there Rupert tried to insist that he was only joking and he wasn't really going to do it, he just wanted to scare Sherlock. Sherlock didn't believe him. Mycroft said if he caught Rupert at it again he would toss him from the balcony and see if he landed on his feet, and that he hadn't done his proper research if he thought this was high enough for the experiment to be successful. He showed Sherlock to the right books.
And his mum thought Rupert for Mycroft was a fair trade.
All the same, for about the first week Sherlock managed to stay out of Rupert's way and Rupert had no interest in Sherlock. But then came the day when there were no other boys to play with and kicking a ball by oneself becomes a bit dull and most any other sport or game really needed another player to even begin to be interesting and Rupert decided that his cousin would do in the place of anyone else.
Sherlock, in the meantime, was entirely used to playing by himself and was occupying his time being entranced by a spider web. Rupert found him staring at it.
"What are you looking at, Freak?" Rupert asked by way of greeting.
"I don't want to play football," Sherlock answered, without looking.
"No one asked you to," Rupert said back, even though he had been fully intending to drag him away for just that. They stood there in silence for a few seconds more, until Rupert became annoyed and grabbed a stick. He swiped it through the web.
"No!" Sherlock yelled at him, turning his eyes upon him in an intense glare.
"Don't stare at me, Warlock," Rupert said, discomfited in spite of himself until he remembered that he was older and bigger. "And anyway. I don't want to play football. Come on, we're going to play a game."
"I don't want to," Sherlock answered, his glare not wavering. Rupert glared right back, clinching his fists, and Sherlock's eyes darted briefly towards the stick still held in his hand. Slowly, Rupert relaxed, a mean smile appearing on his face.
"Are you scared, Shirley Girly?" Rupert laughed.
"No," Sherlock answered, in a way that sounded like he really wasn't, and Rupert found himself feeling angry again. Sherlock should be scared. Rupert was bigger than him and older than him, and Sherlock should be begging to get to play with him and he should think Rupert might hit him with the stick.
"Well you should be then, because we're going to play a game. It's called stick race. We can go around the garden and back again. And if I beat you I get to hit you with a stick."
"And if I win, do I hit you with a stick?" Sherlock demanded.
"I suppose," he answered with a bit of a laugh, but after a seconds consideration he added, "But only where I tell you to. And if I hit you, you can't go crying to mummy that I beat you up."
"It sounds like a stupid game," Sherlock answered.
"Yeah, well, you better play or you'll lose, and then I get to hit you." Sherlock considered this. His eyes got a faraway look as though he were doing maths in his head.
"All right. To the pear tree and back again?"
"You have to touch the pear tree, no cutting," Rupert warned, and then all in one breath, "Mark, set, go!" And he took off running, barely thinking to drop the stick. He heard a scuffle behind him as Sherlock started. Rupert wasn't worried though; his legs were longer and he was the one always playing outdoor games. There was no way a little bookworm freak would beat him.
Rupert's assessment of Sherlock, however was not entirely accurate. For one, despite the fact that Rupert had never seen him at it, Sherlock did not completely detest sports and games. He simply detested playing them with most other children. Hide and go seek was one of his favorite activities, in fact, when played with Mycroft. And this race was not entirely left to who was fleetest of foot, but also to who could plot the shortest path across the garden. So Sherlock pictured in his mind, both the usual rout and every shortcut he could find.
'Hole in the hedge obvious, tricky, crawling slows you down and shirt often gets caught…go around, choose flowerbeds over trees, less to dodge, pond…rocks in middle but can't swim, risky, go around, stump, run on fence over plants instead of around, risk of hurt minimal but if a fall could lead to losing, to tree, back on fence, swing towards pond, flowers, hedge and back.'
Rupert was in the lead, and his thought process more or less went 'run fast in a straight line for the pear tree' and he dove into the hole under the hedge. Crawling under took up time, but so did Sherlock's going around, but Sherlock was caught up and running fast while Rupert stumbled to his feet. Rupert took off again, through the trees, weaving and dodging while Sherlock took the less direct but more or less straight path around. They both went around the pond. Rupert knew how to swim but he didn't really want to risk falling in and losing the race. Then they came to a veritable jungle of plants which looked as though they hadn't been tended to for years. There was no straight path through. The pear tree was right in the middle of them at the back, against the metal fence. Rupert made straight for it, getting his ankles caught at every step. Sherlock ran away in seemingly the wrong direction entirely. Rupert was halfway to the pear tree when he saw Sherlock, balancing deftly on the fence and moving swiftly towards the goal. Sherlock touched the tree.
Turning around on the fence was fairly easy with a tree to hold onto and Sherlock went back the way he came, balanced on the narrow beam. By the time Rupert was able to lean over and touch it, Sherlock was halfway back along the fence. Rupert almost considered copying his cousin, using the tree to get up, but he didn't trust his balance to do half as well, and he couldn't bear his cousin seeing him being worse at something sports-like than him. So he turned and tripped his way back. Sherlock had a firm lead.
Rupert's legs were still longer, but his breath was coming in gasps and his face was growing red with exertion and Sherlock was still in the lead. Sherlock went around the pond. Rupert saw his chance. He took the path right down the middle, stone to stone to stone. He was catching up. They very nearly reached the path again at the same time. Very nearly because as Rupert reached the second to last stone, he found it slicker than expected. He slipped. His head hit the stone with a resounding crack and he was in the water.
If Sherlock had been too much in the lead he might not have even noticed. But he had had his eye on his cousin, wondering if the stones had given him too far of an advantage or if Sherlock could stay ahead. He saw him fall, heard the crack, and then Rupert had vanished into the water.
He stumbled to a halt, his brain running several directions at once. Part of him could see clearly funerals and blood, part of him could imagine the water covering him, another telling him to move, scream, get help, go to the water. Another, slightly treacherous part of him was still occupied by the race and wondering if this meant he had won. He felt as though he were the one drowning as the world intruded, the paths through the garden mixed up with the memory of Rupert's disappearing body and the sound of heads hitting stone and the way the clouds cast shadows across the pond and the way the green in plants had parted for the body and the bird that twittered in that tree over there which said there was a predator nearby, probably a snake or a cat.
His breath still heaving, Sherlock moved to the water. Rupert hadn't come up. He wasn't swimming, even though he knew how to swim. Sherlock knew there was something to be deducted by this, something about the sound his head had made, but his brain couldn't shake the bird's song or the feeling that something was trying to break free in his chest and making it hard to breathe.
It was bad that Rupert wasn't swimming. Sherlock thought that if he were older or bigger, he would be supposed to swim after him. He couldn't swim. So he lay down on his stomach and looked into the water, and looked, and his brain remembered how Rupert fell and told him where a body would be if it had fallen and not begun to swim and he plunged his hand in and found something solid all tangled in green. He pulled, hard, and his cousin was there and his head lolled wetly and he didn't seem to breathe.
The bird was too loud to hear anyone breathing, and the body was solid and unmoving no matter how he pulled, and Rupert had to get better so he could know that Sherlock won the race and then Sherlock would get to hit him with a stick, only Sherlock wouldn't hit him hard at all, just a tap, and breaking people was so much worse than breaking cats.
There was shouting. Stronger hands than his pulled the body away. There was more shouting, but it didn't make sense, which was odd because everything always made sense, even the big words that he might have to look up later or ask Mycroft about, only Mycroft wasn't there because he wasn't coming home, and was this what drowning felt like? Like he couldn't breathe and the birds screamed and big people moved around and shouted and shoved him aside like he was invisible and cold, so so cold, while cousins still didn't breathe and had their lips turn blue and silent. Sometimes looking at things and learning about things and knowing things was too, too much, even for a scientist. So Sherlock let it all go away.
One week after the funeral, Sherlock stopped talking for two years.
Twenty-five years afterwards, Sherlock drowned for the second time.