Guys, guys... I'm done. I've finished this thing. I've finished it and am so proud you all stuck with me through till the end. So thank you, one and all, for all of your support. It means the literal world to me. Give yourself a pat on the back. Go on, do it!
Thank you so very much!
For those of you interested, I already have a short one-shot sequel type thing all planned out. The working title currently is "Bunches Of Lavender And Kelp" and shouldn't be more than one or two chapters long, more like an epilogue with a short story thrown in for giggles. I'm not sure when I'll have it up, but I've already started it, so hopefully it won't take too awfully long. But watch out for it in upcoming weeks!
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Chapter Twenty-Seven: Victory At Sea
Sherlock didn't make it out of those caves, not really.
Sure, Mycroft, Harry, Lestrade, and a majority of their combined forces had all eventually found him after a few hours of searching and their own individual assignments. Moriarty's men hadn't taken care of themselves, and before they could secure the perimeter, they had to make sure everyone was secure and really safe. It had taken longer than they had though, due to the extensive patterns the caves and rocks provided, not to mention all the individual caves and rooms they afforded.
And by the time they'd found him, it had been too late. Sherlock was still kneeling in the water just at the edge of the incline where he and Sesheena had drug John's cooling body some time before. He was still covered in water-thinned blood (his, Moriarty's, and John's own ichor fluids), starring off into the dark waters that the incline quickly led into without blinking, without really seeing. Mycroft had later explained to him -told really- that he had gone into shock due to his numerous wounds, that the blood loss had impacted his health more due to his immersion in the salty waters, but everyone else saw it for what it really was. Saw it as Sherlock's soul breaking, shattering, dying. His body, though hurt and ailing, still able to support him like it always had before.
But it wasn't.
Sherlock barely spoke after the rescue, which wasn't all that uncommon for him, yet still strange. He was usually so passionate about subjects he'd invested himself into, but now when he talked -if he talked at all- it was only a few small words or sounds that didn't classify as words at all. He did not look anyone in the eye, did not participate in any conversations, regardless of the topics chosen. Mrs. Hudson was taking it hard, and had taken to talking to him with despite his oppressive silence while bringing him tea and other tidbits of food. She would chatter away about all sorts of things, most of which were ship's gossip or spun tales from her youth, sipping her tea while she watched Sherlock ignore his own. While he ignored everyone and everything, even Harry, a mentor figure he'd had for quite a few years now, when the elderly man boarded Mycroft's ship to sit with the wayward younger Captain.
Lestrade had begun to visit him more often as well, despite how hard it was wearing on him. He kept up in his ship's duties despite not actually having a ship of their own to run, and would take notes as he always had before reporting everything back to his Captain. From there he'd move from topic to topic, trying to draw the man out and failing. When Lestrade would leave, Tiny Tim would sneak up onto the upper decks where Sherlock was most often found and continue to watch over the ailing man in silence. Tim would perch himself along the side of the chair, hands tucked around Sherlock's leg or just behind it, and watch the sea while leaning on his Captain, offering whatever support he could. On the good days, Sherlock would rest his hand atop Tiny Tim's head, but those days were few and far between.
And despite all of their combined efforts, Sherlock continued to drift further and further away from them, retreating into himself mentally and staying there for longer and longer periods of time. Mycroft could tell by the way his eyes were -eyes familiar from their childhood- that they were losing him more and more each day. That soon, not even his body would remain in their tender care. But he refused to put his last living blood relative, his grieving brother, under guard, despite the risks it invoked. And yet, Mycroft knew that the day was coming where he would be the only remaining Holmes left. He knew that despite all the care and effort he might put into his younger brother, that it would not be enough. Mycroft was resigned to losing the last of his family then, and the pain was clear on his face for all looking at him to see. It was only a matter of time.
It was why he and Harry had agreed and then offered Lestrade his own ship, his own chance at being a Captain, his own man, with his own crew. Mycroft had been attempting to provide for Sherlock's remaining, loyal crew in the only way that he knew how. But Lestrade had declined the generous offer, and no amount of counciling would get him to budge off his firm decision. The loyalty to his captain was astounding, yes, but painful in the most intimate of ways. Captain Holmes Senior knew Lestrade would be forced to change his mind and see reason when Sherlock finally faded enough to end things. Like he had said before, it would only be a manner of time. And in the end, Commander Lestrade would become Captain Lestrade, a pirate captain worthy of high esteem and fear in his own right.
Soon, Sherlock was beginning to mend more and more, and within a month of leaving the Mermaid Isles, Sherlock could get out of bed all on his own and move about freely without constant assistance or supervision. And he did, at all hours of the day and night, to go out and sit above deck and stare out onto the sea. Often, he was found upon the padded chair his brother had produced for him while he'd first been allowed back out of bed and onto the deck of the ship, the chair having moved to the aft of the great boat so that he could watch their trailing wake. He remained out of the way, mostly, and out of sight often, hiding from the world in the high backed chair and the comfort of his own mind. Mycroft was personally convinced that Sherlock spent his time on the beach of his own Mind Palace, reliving happier times with John and his crew before Moriarty had robbed him of them. If the sick little man hadn't already been dead, Mycroft would have taken pleasure in killing him again and again, if only for Sherlock's sake.
A few days after the first month free of Moriarty's presence, Harry decided that it was time their little battle armada be broken up and returned to whence it came. He gathered up his men and a few of Sherlock's loose crew and set off for the horizon, the twin ships disappearing onto the faint line of the sky quickly. It left Mycroft and Lestrade alone in their efforts of tend to ship and crew, as well as Sherlock, but they both often found time with which to visit him. Sometimes they were alone in their visits, each one more personal than the last, but sometimes they came together, a tray of tea to split between the three of them. Their company never seemed to phase him though, and as time passed by, Sherlock even stopped touching the cup before him as a courtesy, his now frail and much-thinned hands shaking whenever they moved further than his lap.
Sherlock was wasting away more so now than ever before.
His once lithe and graceful body was now frail and rapidly thinning, weight he couldn't afford to lose dropping from him faster and faster the longer time drug on. Mycroft suspected that if Sherlock were to be stripped of his shirt and coat, that his pale skin would be disjointed and marred by the knobby ends of his bones where they stuck out beneath it. A walking skeleton beneath a thin layer of skin, barely alive, barely there. Sherlock hadn't been eating much anymore, not anymore than absolutely necessary, and it was showing more and more each day. Mycroft knew that it wouldn't be long now, and deep down, he felt that it was his fault. His responsibility slipping through his fingers like so many countless others.
Night fall was always soft this time of year, shimmering into place as the sun slowly sunk behind the line on the far horizon, casting the world in shadows. The top of Mycroft's ship was one of the last points that the sun always touched in the evenings, and Sherlock would sit facing the ocean until the very last tendrils of warming light receded from the silky surface of the ocean. Then he would wait for half an hour to an hour before retreating back down bellow deck to the confines of Mycroft's cabin, one they shared. But not tonight. Tonight it would be different. Tonight it would be The Night.
Sherlock had to wait till the watch change, in order to enact his plan.
Lestrade had gone to bed earlier that evening due to a rather nasty sunburn he'd acquired from falling asleep while sitting with Sherlock and Mycroft in the sun that afternoon. He'd politely excused himself before limping off to below deck with the rest of the crew, limping slightly the whole way there. And Mycroft was doing his evening ship rundown with Anthea, meaning he would not be back to quarters until much later due to his habitual perfection. He usually met Sherlock back in their quarters around a half hour after Sherlock himself returned, which meant that Mycroft would not come looking for him until quite a while after he would be gone. So when it came time for watch change, Sherlock was ready.
"Goodnight Cap'n Holmes." One of Mycroft's watchmen said pleasantly as he tipped his head at Sherlock before walking around the top deck and then back down the stairs, pausing only to call back over his shoulder once. "Have a pleasant one, Sir."
It would be at least fifteen minutes until the replacement came on deck, and even longer than that before they came up to check on him. They drug their feet on the way up the deck stairs to chat and trade gossip, sometimes about him, other times about other members of the crew, before resuming their duties. Sherlock had been mentally timing them for the past few days now, laying in wait. Finally, all his careful planning and work was going to come to fruition.
At the sound of feet hitting the stairs traveling downwards, Sherlock stood up.
It was harder now than it had been at the beginning of the week, or even the day before, but his determination was stronger than his body would ever be. Getting up on the railing of the ship, however, was a challenge in and of itself. But the struggle was worth and as Sherlock stood on the upper deck's railing overlooking the back of the ship and the ocean below him, he thought of John. He thought of all the good times he had with his crew and the loyal Merman, he thought of the adventures they had together, and he thought of his failure when it came to saving John from his monsters.
So he would join John within the ocean in the end.
"In the sea, all that glitters is gold." He recited calmly into the evening breeze, the stars just beginning to come out and twinkle in the skies above. "So into the sea I go. Home, home, blow the man down."
His plummet into the sea was met with a few feet of sea warmed water before the cooler depths punched up and laced angry fingers around him, pulling him down into the darkened depths. He'd purposefully picked right after sundown specifically for the watch change, but also so that there would be no sun above him, no direction to him as he sunk beneath the depths, no way someone would be able to see him as the boat made its way in the opposite direction of his jump. No one would see him if they were too look over the ship now, but he knew that it wouldn't happen. He would be lost to the sea as he had planned to be. Lost and safe at the bottom of the ocean with John.
Sherlock gasped for breath and a rush of bubbles escaped from his mouth, his breath robbed from him by the salty taste of sea. Water rushed into his lungs in its place, cold and just as cloying as all his nightmares had ever been. With the exception of John's decaying hands being absent, this was just like his reoccurring nightmare. A slow death beneath the waves just like he deserved. Sherlock gasped for air once more, taking in another mouthful of water, and pinched his eyes closed as tight as he could. He didn't want to stare into the dark during his final moments on the mortal plane.
His brain was screaming at him almost as hard as his lungs were now, demanding an effort to find the surface of the water, to find air that they so desperately needed. But he knew without fail that he could never reach the surface on his own, because he couldn't swim at full health, let alone now that he had been wasting away for weeks. He had made sure that it would end here. He'd made sure.
The darkness crept in and Sherlock tried to relax.
Weightless in the surf, it wouldn't be long now, his limbs heavy and numb, his lungs burning but it was as if it were happening far away now. Down a dark tunnel...or a cave.
Hands, suddenly there were hands around his torso, gripping tightly into his shirt and coat, pulling him up and out of the deep dark, towards what he thought was the surface but he couldn't be sure. Soon the hands were firmly around him, and his head was pressed to the collar of his would-be-rescuer, the front of his body to the front of their body, hands wrapped all the way about him and squeezing tight. He couldn't feel legs kicking near his, but that hardly meant anything in his oxygen deprived state. But whoever it was, was saving him...was totally ruining everything. Sherlock wanted to fight...Sherlock needed to fight. Was there only the two of them? Had someone jumped overboard after him without alerting his brother first? Who in their right mind would be dumb enough to do that?
Together, they broke the surface, and Sherlock sucked in as much air as his lungs could hold while still choking on salty water. He coughed and choked momentarily before he spit out a majority of the water in his mouth, gagging and vomiting up a bit of the water he'd managed to swallow in his deep sea diving. Whoever was holding him was most likely regretting it now that they had his puke over their shoulders and most likely down their back and in their hair. Served them right for saving him, he thought snidely, ruefully, desperately. He had been so close... So close.
"Sherlock, you great bloody idiot!" The voice to whoever saved him sounded vaguely familiar, but for the life of him he couldn't place it. Strange, Sherlock could always place voices with their faces. "What the Hell were you thinking, flinging yourself into the ocean like that? You know you can't swim."
Sherlock snorted but didn't answer.
"You were trying to end it, weren't you? Stupid, you're so stupid sometimes." The voice continued on like he could really understand what was going on. Like he cared. "You couldn't just go on with life, could you. Humans, you're all so silly sometimes. So carelessly stupid with yourselves."
Humans? What did that have to do with...
"John?" Sherlock croaked out as he whipped himself backwards, his voice hoarse from weeks of disuse and several mouthfuls of salt water. "John, tell me that is you?"
Had he died then? Was John sent him to guide him into the beyond, to whatever came next or after what was human life spans? Because that was the only reason why John should be floating in the waters before him, with him, supporting him from going down once more. And on top of that, talking. Actually talking. Everyone knew that John could not speak, not like men could, not in any known human speech.
"Of course it is me, Sherlock. Who else would save you from drowning yourself?" John smiled a bit, the careful and timid quirk of his lips that Sherlock was so utterly familiar with that it nearly struck him down. "Certainly not your brother. Or any of the rest of your foolish crew. And don't think I won't be having words with them about this. Careless is what it is."
"John, am I dead?" Sherlock asked carefully, his eyes seeking John's own bright blue ones. The familiar twinkle was causing Sherlock's heart to seize in his chest. "Is this the After?"
"What are you talking about, Sherlock? Of course you're not dead, I just saved you!" The Merman frowned before really taking a good look at Sherlock, head cocking to one side as his face softened. "This is about the fact that I'm here and talking, isn't it? Humans cannot do this. Cannot Come Back. That is why you are so surprised."
"No, we can't..."
"You're wondering how, then? I know you. Always curious." John smiled again, flipping his tail beneath the surface of the water propelling them back towards the ship moving slowly in the distance. "But I can't really explain it. The languages of humans don't have the right words. I don't know how to explain them in the new language. Ones that don't have magic like we do. Magic of the Sea."
And suddenly it didn't matter how he'd done it, just that he'd done it. John had come back to him, had tracked him down, followed him from the Mermaid Isle. John had come back. Sherlock seized forward suddenly, enveloping John in a very tight hug, nearly dunking them both in the process. But he didn't care, this was John, his John, and neither of them were dead some how, and they were here... They were here. Together. Alive.
And Sherlock had never felt happier.
"Take it easy, Sherlock. You're going to hurt yourself before we get back to your boat." John started easily moving them back through the water, the movements easy and pain free. "And unlike me, you are still not well. You are not whole like you should be. Sasheena said you would be, but you're not. I do not understand."
"No, John. No I'm not." Sherlock didn't loosen his grip on John even a fraction, convinced that if he were to let go John would fall into a million pieces in his arms again. "I didn't think I ever would be again. Not without you."
"Will you teach me to swim, John?" Sherlock interrupted suddenly, head picked up and starring John in the eyes with feverish intent. "Will you teach me to keep myself afloat? I never wish to drown in the ocean by myself again."
"So you don't sink like your boat did?" John grinned, showing off his sharpened teeth after a few moments worth of pause. "Of course, Sherlock. I will teach you to swim."
"Insulting one's ship is worse than insulting his mother, you know." Sherlock said concisely, an attempt at sternness that failed. His grin matched the one breaking its way across John's face now. "Not acceptable from one of my crew. I'm sorry, but I'll have to punish you. An example for the rest of my crew."
"One of your crew, huh? I like the sound of that."