A Great Light
Genre: Angst, Romance, AUish
Disclaimer: Own nothing.
It is unseasonably warm for the first day of the new year when it begins. The tub has been stoppered and filled with bone-cold water. The toiletry bottles that line it, John's utilitarian plastic and Sherlock's brushed-glass both, have been emptied, and refilled with tap water. In the kitchen, pots, pans, mugs and kettle cover all the counters, filled each to the brim as well.
John feels haggard, hung-over, sweaty, but he knows better than to act too hastily. He walks into the living room, his face arranged to convey annoyance and confusion.
Sherlock reads these emotions without even seeing them. His eyes are resolutely trained on a book about, from the photo on the cover, the reaches of the cosmos.
"Don't touch the water," Sherlock says, airily enough, but there's a hard thread through the words and, desperate though he is for a shower, John obeys.
As always, Sherlock had turned out to be strides ahead of the rest of the world. By the time the news is out and all hell has indelicately broken out, they have already stocked their kitchen and several bookshelves with cans of beans and corn, tins of tomatoes and soup. Sherlock insists there can be no tea, which John bitterly thinks would be absolutely typical.
The Guardian and The Times stop printing after two days; perhaps unsurprisingly, The Telegraph lasts six. The electricity cuts across the city after a week and a half; by that point, even the looters are losing steam. There is broken glass everywhere. Most windows have been boarded shut; most boarded windows have been vandalised with agonised, poetic phrases. Some people have put up photographs. Some have put up flowers.
There is a radiance in the sky that is not coming from the sun, growing brighter every day. Eveningfall comes later and later everyday. Building with this new light is that unseasonable heat, initially autumnal and pleasant, but soon uncomfortable. Most of the Londoners who remain, the ones who haven't yet chosen to leave before the inevitable end, stop going outside. Those who do, to find or family or from because of a gnawing, growing madness that has spread across the city like plague, soon find their skin blistering, bubbling, peeling off in clean papery sheets.
It is the 18th of January. Sherlock is at the kitchen table. He has not pored over academic papers or digested books whole or paced, muttering wildly while connections and calculations flit dizzyingly in front of his eyes. He has not collected samples from the shrivelling plants
outside. He has not touched his microscope. This is not a puzzle, he knows, that he can solve.
John comes in, and sits with him. He smiles amiably, and opens the newspaper. It is more than a week old, obviously, and he's read it through many times. It's a thin edition, horribly edited and formatted strangely, but he reads it every morning. Even now, some habits die hard.
Today, unexpectedly, Sherlock interrupts his reading. "I knew at the pool,"bhe says, deep voice even-keeled but not as casual as he had planned.
"Knew..." John prompts, a question, folding the paper onto the table and turning himself slightly towards his flatmate.
"Not when you grabbed him," Sherlock continues, unhelpfully, "and not when I saw all the sights trained on you and I thought for a moment I was going to lose you completely."
Sherlock watches as John's mouth tightens slightly and a crease appears between his brows, and is quickly smoothed away.
Good, he thinks.
"When I looked at you, right before," he continues. His pace is off, too rushed, but he tells himself it's likely too late in the game to be much bothered, "and you nodded; When it was clear, without saying anything, that we both knew the next step. That's when I knew, John."
He eyes John steadily. Figure it out now, too, he thinks.
That crease touches between his brows again, deeper than before, but then suddenly John's eyes brighten, and his eyebrows climb. His mouth opens slightly, but it's several seconds before he manages to say "Oh," and several more before he breathes a second, less steady, "oh."
Good, Sherlock thinks again, more deliriously.
"Perhaps it would be more amatory of me to say that I knew straight away, on first sight. That I was overwhelmed and pined and longed but even now I couldn't stand to be cloying or saccharine or, most of all, dishonest. I didn't know immediately; I knew at the pool, and I've felt it, for a long while now, as strongly, ever since."
John's fingers have moved silently across the table and are pushing against Sherlock's. His face is open, amazed. His tongue darts out, and is quickly tucked away. He exhales something related to a laugh, and shakes his head. Their fingers tent against each other, then fall into an easy pile.
"When did you know?" Sherlock asks, unnervously.
"Immediately," says John, and his smile shows bright teeth, laugh lines, creases beside lovely, shining eyes. "I knew immediately."
He isn't lying. Sherlock would be able to tell.
The heat increases steadily, until they have to be careful to store their water in the cooler areas under cupboards, in the microwave or in the closed, dark washroom lest it begin to evaporate.
Sherlock lasts longer than John by a full two days before he is also shucking pressed shirts and charcoal trousers in favour of light t-shirts (John's), loose pyjama bottoms, his dressing gown. Sherlock continues to shave fastidiously, but John lets himself grow scruff about his jaw and temples. Sherlock's cuticles are trim, and his nails immaculate; John's trace red down the bend of Sherlock's spine.
The few hours they spend near the windows changes their skin quickly. John darkens beautifully and evenly, freckles spreading fascinating constellations across his shoulders and throwing the puckered, shining
pink of his scar into sharp relief. Sherlock, predictably, burns where he is most angular. His cheeks are smudged with twin steaks of vivid ruddiness. Dried skin cracks a spiderweb over his nose.
They feel no need to be self-conscious about themselves or each other. They touch often, when they feel like it. Their lips feel the changing texture of the other's flesh as it warms and burns. Their tongues taste sweat from the ever-hollowing areas near clavicle, shoulder blade, tenth rib, navel.
There is no surface in the flat they have not loved each other on.
"Immediately," John sometimes whispers into Sherlock's temple, tasting sweat and unwashed hair.
"I know," Sherlock says back.
Sherlock also knows - they both know - that their landlady, downstairs, has not moved for days.
They know that there can be only one reason that Sherlock's brother hasn't found a way to send word, hasn't found a way to come by in the flesh. From their window they can see where John's sister's part of town was ravaged utterly by fire and the wild violence of utter human grief. They fill these tender, stinging parts
of their hearts with the pressing of bodies to bodies, of bodies to walls, of mouths to ears, of mouths to mouths.
One day, very early, feet tangled together and with the over-worn cotton of John's bedclothes, Sherlock says "I wish that I had told you sooner."
"Yes," John agrees, simply, and they do not dwell on it.
There are always bodies in the street, and they have died of either exposure or suicide. Some of them came outside to spare housemates the sight of their last agonised seconds. Others were corpses already, dragged barely outside by somebody who had to promptly retreat indoors when the heat began to sear their flesh.
There are carcases of animals everywhere. Crooked-winged birds who simply stopped mid-flight, rats with tails bent like punctuation. Pets: Dogs, cats, a heart-breaking, broken rabbit.
They disappear very quickly, not quite decomposing so much as dissolving into air as the relentless heat bears down.
All the plants are dead, browned, disappeared.
Sherlock takes no samples. He catalogues the spread of sinew below taut flesh, the deepening lines around mouth and eyes. He holds tight to the small, thrilling ways the structures of his heart, stomach and inner-thighs react to the ways he is touched, and the things he is whispered.
The mornings blend with the evenings. The evenings bleed into next mornings.
"It's a very good thing that it all ends today," says Sherlock brightly, as he steals into the kitchen, "as we've run out of water."
All ends today. John feels a tight fist of fear clench tight around his heart, and he allows the pressure to hold there for a beat, for two, before letting it dissolve.
"Yes," John agrees, and smiles. "Good thing."
It is the 16th of February. The heat feels worse, much worse, than late August, with a broken air conditioner. They will spend it in pants and vests, shoeless.
Without speaking as to why, they both gravitate towards objects of sentiment throughout the day. Sherlock seems compulsively drawn to certain books, manila folders, scraps of paper tucked here and there. His fingers skirt the skull on the mantle countless times.
Both, unembarrassed, look at photographs they've not looked at in years. They show them to each other. John has far more than Sherlock.
John feels the sting, for the first time, of the lost electricity. There are some records he would very much like to hear.
They fall into sweaty, bright tangles everywhere soft at random intervals: the bed upstairs, the armchair, the bed downstairs, the sofa. They ignore their thirst, and then they forget about it.
They sit close in the living room. John says, voice splintered and dry, warmer than the outside force that tans his skin and crack his lips, "I'd like to hear you play,"
"Yes," says Sherlock. His eyes are drooping languidly. His hair is damp, clinging gently to his fine, glistening brow. "I'd like to play for you."
He plays loudly, and certainly. Notes hold, shiver achingly, tumble into each other, merge, explode. John is breathless, rapt. Sherlock is tall and elegant, back arched, lips bowed. He plays for a long time. The flat is filled to bursting with the trembling of his strings. When he stops, he stays poised like a statue for several long moments, breathing deeply, his eyelashes fluttering against each other.
"That was beautiful," says John gently, when the bow is lifted, when the hand holding it drops very near his shoulder, "Thank you." His hand reaches, and touches the tendon he had watched straining under Sherlock's delicate wrist. His fingers skirt, and they touch Sherlock's steady pulse.
"I wrote it," Sherlock replies, and what happens to his mouth is more complicated than a smile.
His fingers linger on the polished wood of the instrument familiarly as they pack it tidily away.
Though the hours pass, the brightness and heat stays. It should be sundown when John moves quietly across the living room and squares himself in front of the window. He stares.
"Sherlock," he says. "Look."
The comfortable feeling of Sherlock in his space blooms a soft tingling at the nape of John's neck. They look, together, outside.
The impossible brightness casts their shadows long on the cracked hardwood behind them.
When it comes, moments from now, the force of it will fill them until they simultaneously burst into million million atoms, a cloud of intermingled star-stuff, small enough to breathe in all at once.
There will be no lungs to breathe their atoms in.
The exaggerated lengths of their silhouettes will be burned onto the floor, two figures merged completely where their sides pressed, one a head taller than the other.
The sky is brilliant, and the light is morning-coloured, warm, orange and lovely. The heat of it scorches through the window, but casts such a lovely glow over Sherlock's skin that for a wild, tilting moment John is reminded of early, lazy Sundays.
It looks as though a firework, impossibly massive, is slowly breaking over the London sky. The throbbing orange glow is shocked through with streaks of starburst white and pale-yellow, arcing lazily down towards the mostly-empty husks of highrises, of banks, of town-houses, of tube-stations, of corner-stores, of teashops.
Of Angelo's, the Met, that museum, that pool.
Where the white, falling light touches things burst into flame, and the heat of London burning ripples and distorts the sky through the Baker Street windowpane.
It is exquisitely beautiful; John's body aches with the beauty of it. He knows how silly it would be to aver how unlike anything he's ever seen it is, so he holds his words and stares silent, mystified, agape.
Minutes, and then, finally, he breathes, "Wow," and means it.
"Yes," Sherlock agrees, immediately. He has not been looking out the window. He has been looking at John.
Their hands seek and find each other. They press the pads of their fingertips together, apply pressure to knuckles and joints, sweep digits against fine hairs, before their fingers twine tight and settle. They take their time to clasp hands because they have it. All the time in the world, John thinks, wryly.
The heat through the window radiates through their clasped palms.
Their pulses thrum.
Buildings are crumbling steadily; no foundations can hold, and the rumble of destruction is bone-deep, constant. The window chatters like cold teeth.
"Alright," John says, and it is half a question. His tone is even, but wondering.
"Alright," says Sherlock, who hasn't looked away. It is not a question at all.