Title: Water is another matter
Author: cathedral carver
Prompt(s) used: Sherlock/John: Air conditioner broken, heat wave, lost clothing, skinny dipping
Rating: T
Word count: 3,700
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me.
Notes/Acknowledgments: Thanks and love, as always, to csinut214.

Summary: He thinks it's in trouble, his poor heart.

Written for the 2011 Summer of Sherlock Sherlockmas.

...

Water is another matter,
has no direction but its own bright grace,
runs through all imaginable colors,
takes limpid lessons
from stone,
and in those functionings plays out
the unrealized ambitions of the foam.

~Pablo Neruda

...

The air conditioner is broken. Again. It's dripping water, steadily, onto the floor. John's only just now roused himself to put a pot under it, to catch the drops as they fall. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Unnaturally loud in the small, still, horridly hot flat. The sound is rhythmic, hypnotic, as is the sight of Sherlock's chest as it rises and falls beneath the thin cotton of his damp T-shirt. He's sprawled on the couch. John's sprawled in the chair. There's not a breath of air in the room but their own. John watches Sherlock's chest rise, fall, rise, fall, rise— His eyes are closed and his mouth slightly parted and—

But, wait. We need to go back, first. Water and Sherlock's chest and his mouth and, well: That is now.

First is then.

...

February

cold, dark, wet

John chases Sherlock around in dim streetlight for days, it seems, through cold and wind and little sleep, but it's the sleet that finally does him in. They stand close together, panting, freezing water dripping from hair strands and nose tips, and there, in that moment under refracted light and shared breaths, John sees that Sherlock has never looked more alive, or more beautiful, though he can barely register the meaning of that word, and all its unspoken implications, cheeks red and lips curved in a slight smile, before he also realizes he's never been colder. Ever. He literally cannot feel his fingers, and pretty soon he won't be able to feel his feet, and pretty soon after that, he'll fall right over, helpless, twitching, an insect on the pavement.

So.

"Think I'm done," he gasps through numb lips.

"Done?" Sherlock is shocked, of course. "We've only just begun!" He straightens, claps his hands delightedly. Delightedly.

"Sherlock," John tries again. He's having trouble with consonants. With coherent sounds in general. His tongue is cold. And it's inside his mouth. "I'm actually, really serious this time." This time, because he's said (threatened) this course of action before, and Sherlock knows it. "I'm going home."

"Home?" Sherlock looks almost comically puzzled, as if John had said I'm going deep-sea diving.

"Yes, Sherlock. I can't—"

But something has caught Sherlock's eye and he's already turned in a black swish and is running, running, far away and fast, leaving John alone and shivering and somehow even colder than before.

...

John manages to make his way to the flat, up the stairs, out of his drenched clothing and into his bed. As he clutches all the blankets to him, pushes himself down into the mattress and wishes he'd thought to put the kettle on, he hears the door open and slam shut. Sherlock. He has followed surprisingly quickly. John doesn't know what this means. He hears Sherlock call his name, but finds himself physically unable to reply.

Sherlock bangs into the room, damp and towering, his face gleeful and glowing in the aftermath of the chase, the quest, the conquer.

"Got him, John!" he crows, and as he gesticulates, droplets of water fly off and arc about the room, land on John's face. "And wait until you hear what happened after I—"

He's speaking too quickly and the words are all jumbled up in John's head and his teeth are chattering so hard he's sure all of London hears. Sherlock must fucking hear. He does, apparently, because he finally stops talking long enough to approach the bed, to lean down, to peer at John:

"John." Sherlock's voice holds a tone John's heard before, but never tires of: Concern. Care. Tinged, as always, with curiosity. "You're not just cold. You're—"

"Sick," John mumbles. Then, "Tea." Then, "Please."

"Of course," he says. His voice is so loud. It makes John's head hurt. He flies from the room as quickly as he entered and John tracks his noisy progress from his own room (changing clothes) to the kitchen (tea) to the loo (paracetamol?), but then the shaking and fever overtakes him and he drifts away on a wide, red sea filled with crazy, angled lights, too bright, noises too loud, drifts away on black rolling water lit by flashes of lightning and pockmarked by drops of flying rain.

...

When he resurfaces, tea is on the bedside table and Sherlock's lips are on his forehead.

"What…are you doing?" John asks. Sherlock pulls back, just enough to murmur:

"It's how Nanny always took our temperatures. Said it was more accurate, you see. The human lips possess—"

"Do it again," John interrupts, his voice raspy, and when Sherlock leans back in, his mouth is curled in a small smile.

...

I am on fire.

There are cool hands on John's face — blessed, cool hands! — long, cool fingers along his neck, brushing over his brow.

I am onfire.

"Make it stop," he says — pleads? — to which a voice — strained and tense — replies:

"I'm trying. I'm trying."

Then: "I'm sorry." (John).

"For what?" Sherlock is curious. Amused. There is a long pause. "I wish it was me, instead."

This makes John laugh, out loud, which in turn makes him wince. "You? You're the worst bloody patient in the world."

"True. But, if it was me, youwould know what to do."

Pause. Oh. "You're doing fine."

"Bollocks."

Pause.

"I don't have a clue." He sounds…defeated. Now, John's heart hurts, along with every other part of his body.

"Just…stay with me. Talk to me."

Pause.

"What about?" Sherlock likes this idea. John can tell.

"Anything. Anything at all. I just…like the sound of your voice." Which is completely, utterly, feverishly, embarrassingly true.

Very long pause, followed by a throat clearing.

"Very well, then. You may have wondered about the latest experiment to take over the kitchen, but if you're worried about the jars of urine, you needn't, because they're not mine, but perhaps I won't tell you where they came from, not just now, anyway—"

And he talks and talks and talks in the small, dark and rather stale room, his wondrous voice rising and falling, whirling in John's head until there is nothing else, nothing else in the whole world at all, no fever, no pain, and it's all just a huge, still blue pond of Sherlock's magnificent, glorious, voice, and John opens his arms wide and lets himself plunge head first into it.

...

John throws the covers off. He's immediately freezing. He pulls them back up and begins to sweat, profusely. Off. Cold. On. Hot. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Spiders, deserts, miles and miles of sand, glimmering beneath the sun. He's back in the desert, surrounded by white-hot sand. He's eating sand, handfuls of sand, shoveling burning sand into his mouth with both hands.

"Thirsty," he mumbles. He feels a hand beneath his neck, feels a glass rim bump against his lips and teeth. Water.

Water.

"Thank you…for doing this," he says. His voice is slurred.

"Well, I do feel responsible," Sherlock says.

"You should."

"Partially," Sherlock clarifies, with a look he's not used to: Indignation mixed with…worry. He looks worried. About John. John finds this immensely soothing. Sherlock moves to stand and John panics, worried about returning to the desert, alone, with all that sand.

"Sit with me awhile?"

Sherlock stops, nods, colour in his cheeks. He settles himself beside the bed, crossing his legs. John slides his hand across the sheet (white sea, wide white sea), palm up, boneless creature, but mobile, alive. Sherlock stares at it for a moment as if it's a foreign object in a foreign landscape and he doesn't understand the protocol. Then, he reaches out and takes it at last, laying his own palm across John's, lining up fingers for a brief moment and then entwining, clasping. John exhales and marvels that, for the moment, nothing hurts.

...

Sherlock is texting.

"What are you doing?" John asks. His head feels disconnected from his body. His mouth is not his own.

"Mycroft says to put you in a cool bath."

"Mycroft?" John's confused. More than usual, even. "You told him I was sick?"

Pause.

"No."

John sighs. It hurts his chest, so he doesn't do it again. "Don't want a bloody bath. Don't want to move."

"You may be outvoted in this matter."

Apparently he is, because suddenly Sherlock is pulling him up, up out of the bed and before he can remember he's naked, Sherlock has thrown a blanket over him, and he's moving him, one arm around his waist, the other across his chest, cool hand pressed flat against the skin beneath his collarbone.

It's such a long, long way to the bathtub, and John's body is on fire and the fire is burning him alive from the inside and he's quite convinced he'll expire long before he gets there.

"Been…nice knowing you," John says, or he thinks he does. Is it in his head? He doesn't know anymore. His voice is so far away from his mouth, and his head.

"Don't talk rubbish," Sherlock snaps, his hands twitching against John's hot, hot skin.

"Ouch," John mumbles. "Stop pinching me."

"Oh for—" Sherlock sighs, exasperated.

"You're trying to kill me."

"Quite the opposite, actually." He pauses. "Get in."

"Make me." Petulant.

"John. Please." He actually sounds pained, and not a little panicked, and removes the blanket from around John's shoulders, and immediately, as the air touches his skin, he begins to shiver. Gooseflesh erupts. He steps into the tub and sits, shaking almost violently, his forehead resting against his knees.

Sherlock cups his hands, splashes water along John's arms, up his back, even into his hair. It's awful. It's wonderful. Agony and ecstasy. If he does die now, he'll die happy, at least.

"This is the worst thing you've ever done to me," John lies.

"Really?" Sherlock sounds intrigued. "What about the time I—"

"Ever."

Sherlock sighs.

"I hate you," John lies again.

This time Sherlock doesn't respond.

Then John's wrapped in a towel and back in his bed and miraculously, he feels better, at least for now.

Sherlock folds himself into the chair beside the bed.

"Still hate me?" He is teasing, but something about his voice makes John look again. He turns on his side, blinks slowly once, twice.

"Not possible."

Sherlock smiles.

"That's a relief."

"Besides, now you've seen me naked. I'm at your mercy."

He makes a sound John can't identify.

"Go to sleep, John."

"Yeah. Sleep." He pauses. "You, too."

"In a bit."

"Liar."

...

In the final dream, just before the fever breaks at last, Sherlock speaks in tongues, his head resting beside John's, his mouth near his ear. No, not tongues, John realizes, but a language he's not completely familiar with. Not completely. Words, forming a phrase, murmured over and over, until its meaning is ingrained in his delirious thoughts.

...

John awakes in white calm, still and cool. Sherlock is there, in his chair, reading a book, but watching him from the corner of his eye.

"Morning," Sherlock says, smiling.

John tests his voice. "I had the most…unusual dreams."

Sherlock quirks a brow. "Did you?"

"Yeah. All sorts of weird things."

"Do tell."

"Deserts. Spiders. Sand. You. You speaking another language. Odd."

Sherlock sighs, closes his book.

"John…you were hallucinating. Your fever-addled brain was playing tricks on you."

"In part," John agrees.

Sherlock sniffs and darts a glance at John, and something about the slant of his eyes tells him something. Sherlock shifts. "You need to eat, and you're probably dehydrated—"

"Je t'aime…too," John whispers, and Sherlock's head snaps up, his eyes narrowing.

"What?"

"What? Am I saying it wrong?" He's sure he's not, but then again French never was his strong point.

Sherlock stares for a beat too long, swallows audibly, then clears his throat. "You said it perfectly fine."

John sighs and smiles. Then: "Tired."

"Fever does that," Sherlock says. He's still staring, but John's already drifting again, and this time the water is cool and calm, with no waves in sight.

...

A violin brings John back next time. He listens for a moment before opening his eyes.

"Oh," he breathes. "It's you." Of course it is. John looks at him. Sherlock stops, mid-note, brow furrowed.

"Is it bothering you? I can stop." He looks unaccountably nervous. John swallows, with effort.

"No. Don't. Please."

Sherlock nods and continues, the quivery longing filling the room, filling John's head, driving out the last of the sickness.

"It's healing me," he says, smiling. "If you stop, I just might die."

"Then, I'll never, ever stop," Sherlock replies.

"All right."

"Ever."

"Hmm."

"Never."

So, he keeps playing, and, even now, months later, John can still hear it.

...

April

cold, wet, chlorine

For weeks, John chases Sherlock, who's chasing down stolen people and forged paintings and Moriarty and then it's not snipers or bombs, but pool-water that almost does them in.

John drowns in his dreams for weeks after, choking on wet smoke and ash, fingers scrabbling madly for someone who isn't there. His intermittent tremours have been replaced by intermittent panic attacks, which strike at the most inopportune moments. One day, Mrs. Hudson comes across him in the front hall, head down, clutching his knees, heart knocking, sucking in great, shuddering breaths.

"Almost died," he murmurs by way of explanation, and poor Mrs. Hudson, who is really quite fond of them, clucks her tongue and sighs, rests her fingers on his head briefly.

"Don't know what I would have done if I'd lost either of you," she says. Then, she says, "Or, if either of you had lost the other."

John takes one more breath. "In my dreams I do," he says, and feels her hand on his hair again.

Mrs. Hudson sighs.

"Oh dear."

...

August

hot, dark, wet

John chases Sherlock around in a blinding, blazing heat wave for days, not really paying full attention to whatever the hell it is the detective's after because it's so bloody hot all he can focus on is the constant stream of sweat that pours from his body, but it's not the threat of heatstroke, but water that finally does them in.

Water.

The air conditioner is broken. Again. It's dripping water, steadily, onto the floor. John's only just now roused himself to put a pot under it, to catch the drops as they fall. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Unnaturally loud in the small, still, horridly hot flat. The sound is rhythmic, hypnotic, as is sight of Sherlock's chest as it rises and falls beneath the thin skin of his damp T-shirt. He's sprawled on the couch. John's sprawled in the chair. There's not a breath of air but their own. John watches Sherlock's chest rise, fall, rise. His eyes are closed and his mouth slightly parted and—

This is not how it's supposed to go.

He's rarely seen Sherlock break a sweat, not even running down alleys for hours on end. Even panting and all but doubled over, his skin flushed, he still looks cool to the touch, not that John's ever touched it. His skin. Not like that, at least.

"Hot," John mutters, from his spot on the chair.

"What?"

"Hot. Bloody hot."

"Yes. Marvelous deduction."

Sherlock takes several long, deep breaths.

His eyes open with a sharp snap.

"Ah," he murmurs.

"What?"

He sits, long legs over the side of the couch. He stands, strides to the door, finds shoes.

"Follow me," he says and, because he's Sherlock, and because John's John, he doesn't even bother to ask where.

As John follows him, willingly, eyes fastened on the back of Sherlock's neck and thinking very hard about what the back of his neck might taste like if he pressed his lips to it, he realizes he's digging a dangerous hole. Of course, it's not the hole itself that is dangerous. It's what he might find at the bottom.

...

The cab ride doesn't last long. John stares out the window, but doesn't pay attention to the passing scenery. He doesn't pay attention to anything but the fact that Sherlock is sitting next to him and their thighs are almost touching and it's so very, horribly hot.

When they stop, he just keeps following Sherlock, like he always does, and it's not until they've walked for a bit and they come to a complete stop, that he looks around, really looks at where Sherlock's brought them this time.

It's a pond. A pond. And it's still and quiet and dark and no one is around but for them. And it's so fucking hot. John's shirt has become part of him, an extra layer of skin that he needs to shed. They stand at the water's edge. John has no idea what they're doing.

"I'm going in," Sherlock announces and John closes his eyes, briefly, bites his tongue while he ponders what to say. Will it matter? No. But that's what he's here for, yes? To matter. To…make a difference.

"In."

"Yes."

"In…the water."

"Yes."

Even in the sweltering heat Sherlock looks mostly cool and composed, hands on his hips, surveying the quiet scene in front of him. He toes off his shoes, undoes his trousers, slides them down. He's not wearing underwear.

Oh.

"Sherlock—"

John stands a safe distance away, watching as his flatmate undresses entirely under the pale moonlight, removing his shirt in one fluid motion and letting it fall at his long, pale feet. It was just on him. And, now it's not. And, now he's completely naked.

Oh.

He wades in, deeper and deeper, past his knees, up to his hips. The water ripples around his skin. John is mesmerized, paralysed.

"Sherlock—" John's throat is dry. He has no idea how to finish this sentence. Sherlock speaks without turning around.

"Join me?"

"…pardon?"

"I said—"

"I heard you."

"So?" He's up to his waist now. John is miserable. And electrified.

"What kind of workisthis, exactly?" He asks helplessly as he pushes his shoes off.

"Isn't."

"Pardon?"

"Not work-related."

"Really?"

"Really."

John pauses.

"John?" Sherlock asks again. He is actually waiting for John, expecting some sort of reply. It's so hot.

Fuck it.

He pulls off his shirt, shoves his pants, everythingdown, down over his bare feet, walks on numb legs. He wades in and when it's deep enough, he swims. The water feels like skin against his. It feels glorious. He dives beneath, revels in the sensation of water filling his ears (can't hear a thing but his own pulse, his own heartbeat, rush of water). He kicks and strokes and when he breaks the surface, he's right in front of Sherlock.

"Better?" Sherlock says.

"God, yes."

Sherlock is standing, he realizes, while John is treading water around him. Typical.

"So…" John gasps. "This is just…it's not…"

"What?" Sherlock's eyes are dark. John can't read them.

"…an experiment?"

Sherlock shrugs. "Didn't say that."

"You said it wasn't…"

"Work-related." Sherlock's hands are moving beneath the water. John can feel his fingertips brush against his stomach. "There are all sorts of experiments, John."

"Ah."

More movement, surer this time, hands grasping John, holding his hips, pulling him closer, through water until John's pressed up against him.

Oh.

Water is everywhere, all around them, and he can no longer see the shore. He can't see anythingexcept them, and water, and Sherlock and their hands and mouths and nothing else.

John collapses against him, but Sherlock's holding him up. John can feel the other man's breath, shallow and ragged, against his cheek and neck, hot breath against his cool skin. Sherlock grasps John, and John grasps Sherlock, with unsteady, slippery hands, sliding sliding sliding slidingagainst one another until John finally goes taut and gasps and falls forward, and Sherlock shudders and tightens his grip around John in a spasm of release, then lets go and falls back into water, face upturned toward the sky.

"Sherlock?"

Sherlock's floating away from him, into deeper water. John watches for a moment, mesmerized, then follows, swimming towards him. It's quiet except for the sound of small splashes. Soon, they're both treading water. Sherlock rights himself, watches John with a dark, unreadable expression.

"All right?" Sherlock says quietly. He almost sounds unsure. John moves closer, closer, until he can move up and kiss Sherlock, wet lips, wet skin on skin, the long, wet expanse of his body bumping against his, feet tangling beneath. John kisses him and kisses him and treads water at the same time, losing his breath, listening to Sherlock's little gasps, because he's tiring, too. Maybe they're drowning for real this time. Wouldn't that be something? But, it would be all right, really, to go like this, here, now.

John's tired. Tired, too, of swimming. He pulls back and lets himself sink.

...

It's very, very dark beneath the water, even with his eyes wide open. Hard to tell whether he's falling up or down in the wet dark, and the sensation is both exhilarating and terrifying.

He falls and falls and it's very dark and very blessedly cool after all the heat and—

Then, Sherlock's yanking him up, thrashing, pulling, swimming towards the shore, pulling John by one arm. John can feel the water churning around Sherlock's thrashing legs, his impossibly long legs, can hear the grunts of exertion. When it's no longer deep enough to swim, they fall onto sand, gasping for air. John lies flat on his back, chest heaving. After several seconds Sherlock is gripping his shoulders, pinning him, hissing into his face.

"You…god. Christ."

"What?"

"You...you went under the surface and…I couldn't see—"

He's making odd gasping noises and his face is against John's neck, his fingers curled into his skin so hard it hurts, and it's only then John realizes Sherlock's almost crying.

"Sherlock—"

"Shut up shut up shut up—"

"I'm sorry—"

"Fuck—"

He's kissing John's face, but these are different kisses from before, not sensual, tender. Theseare frantic and frightened.

"What were you thinking?"

John wasn't, actually. Sherlock's fingers hurt. John wants to tell him, but instead he speaks in tongues:

"Je t'aime."

"What?"

"You heard me. Je t'aime, je t'aime, je t'aime—" John's babbling.

"John."

"Sherlock—" He need to make him understand.

"I love you, too," Sherlock says, almost angrily.

Oh.

Sherlock pulls John against him. Water and skin and sand between them. Then Sherlock falls back, chest hitching.

And it's all right. All of it is all right.

The earth, the water.

Sometimes John likes it like this.

He looks up at the sky. It's huge.

He hears Sherlock breathe again, a gasp and a sigh.

And, sometimes, that's all it takes.

Sherlock reaches over and grasps John's hand, squeezes it so hard. John's heart flares. He thinks it's in trouble, his poor heart. No, no. That happened long ago. He's only just now accepted it.

Oh dear.

...

-30-