A/N: TRIGGER WARNING: Attempted suicide.
When John was a little boy he loved the sea. There were many little boys in his class who dreamt of being astronauts or professional rugby players or rock stars, but John had wanted nothing more than to explore the dark depths of Poseidon's realm.
Granddad, well into his dotage by the time John was old enough to talk, would hold him in his lap and show him pictures of other seas in other places, recounting his days as a sailor with a wide grin. By the time he was four John knew the shores of Thailand, India, and Italy better than the Thames.
"Remember, Johnny," his Granddad would say. "The sea is a fickle mistress."
"Why?" he'd ask, swinging his little legs back and forth on the patio swing.
"If you love the sea, you can love no other. She'll not stand for it."
And love her he did. He loved every inch of her; the salt water, the sea weed, the dangerous and beautiful animals hidden within. He loved the blue-green waters churning with sea foam, the way they rippled hypnotically, drawing him in for hours at a time. He loved the wild tempests and whipping winds. He gave himself up to his love, spending many a summer say wrapped in her cool embrace. It wasn't uncommon for him to return from holiday three shades darker, the smell of the sea clinging to him like a second skin.
As an adult his love for it was not tempered. He spent many a night in Afghanistan remembering the lull of the waves against his legs and the way his feet would sink into the wet sand. He missed it. Even now, even with the addictive London smog coating his lungs, he longs for that first breath of salty sweet air.
And then he meets a man with eyes the color of the sea, that same wild blue-green of his first love, and a temper to match. Pale skin like moonlight glistening off dark rolling waters, just as fickle, even more temperamental, the man could be in a towering rage one moment, thrashing everything around him like boats caught in a storm, and then be calm and perfectly still the next. It is the most beautiful thing John had ever seen and he is in awe of the sheer force of nature that is Sherlock Holmes.
Then come the adventures, the running and the laughing, the scientists and the mad men, and somewhere in the middle he falls completely in love.
He thinks it's horrendous that Sherlock has never been to the sea. It boggles his mind, really. "Too much sand," his friend once said.
He decides, after all the madness and utter bullshit, that he deserves to pop off for a few days for a bit of vacation. Nothing too grand, but a bit of time away from the chaos and the phone calls and the non–stop looks …
So he saves his money, buys cheaper laundry soap and cuts back on nights out with Mike, waiting for just the right time.
He plans it all himself, renting a car and booking a cottage by the sea, checking and rechecking the schedule until his precise military mind was satisfied that nothing could go wrong. He ignores the unmarked envelope that appears in the mail. It's Mycroft, no doubt, trying to pawn off tickets to Bora Bora or something. Wanker.
He takes off from surgery, assuring Sarah that he'll be back in a week, kisses Mrs. Hudson goodbye, and hops in the car with Sherlock riding shotgun. They take the scenic route and John admires the way the hustle and bustle of the city gives way to rolling countryside, and then to flatland, and then, finally, to the sea.
The cottage is lovely, with little steps leading right down to the water, a kitchen full of food, and a single bedroom it's exactly what he wanted.
He leaves Sherlock in the living room and makes himself dinner. Sitting out on the patio swing he watches the waves and remembers his Granddad, long gone now, and the love they shared for moments like this; the quiet stillness that made the whole world seem alright. There should have been more days like this, he thinks.
He tidies up the kitchen, rinsing his plate and setting it out to dry, before taking Sherlock to the bedroom. He sleeps soundly next to him that night.
The next four days pass in much the same manner. He wakes up, eats breakfast, and walks down to the water, leaving Sherlock inside. He stays staring out at the water for hours, listening to the gulls caw and cackle above him. Despite summer being in full swing there are few people around. A woman and her dog jog past him every morning at exactly ten o' clock. He smiles at her and waves as she goes by. It's the only social interaction he gets.
On the sixth day there is a terrible storm. The sea turns dark and violent, spitting at him like a hissing cobra, and he decides that, yes, now is as good a time as any. There's no point in putting it off any longer. It wouldn't make it any easier.
He takes Sherlock outside, moving lightly down the steps and over the soggy sand, until they reach the water's edge and are drenched by sea spray. He stands there for a moment, holding the man he loves in his arms, blood rushing in his ears, and then he opens the container and lets the raging winds sweep his ashes out to the sea.
There is no body beneath the gravestone marked Sherlock Holmes. He's rather grateful for this. He had nightmares, terrible, awful nightmares, of Sherlock with his lovely blue eyes eaten out by worms, and those long slender hands rotted down to the bone.
He'd nearly stormed The Diogenes Club when he found out. It was Molly who'd let it slip – "The body was cremated." - and he'd called Mycroft, screaming his rage and sorrow into the phone, until the politician relented and asked John if he wished to have the safekeeping of Sherlock's ashes. He thought of all those nights he'd spend sleeping next to that grave, clawing at the dirt, wanting to craw inside the coffin with Sherlock and die, just die, and be done with it all.
He wanted to rip Mycroft's forked tongue clean out of his head, but he took the man's offer and Sherlock Holmes was once again a resident of 221B Baker Street.
Or he had been.
Now he was part of the sea and as the waters swelled around him John decides he likes the symmetry of it all. First and Last love, combined together, and now there was only one thing left to do before the curtains closed on the sad play of his life.
To be one with the sea. To be one with Sherlock.
They were one and the same now.
He wades out into the water, feeling it pull at his body like many hands, and smiles when the current takes him under.
He's in pain.
His throat is burning; he can taste the salt water in his mouth and feel the sting of it behind his eyelids. His whole body is waterlogged and he hurts.
If this was death, he's been lied to.
On the edge of his senses he hears the sea, the rain pounding against the cottage, and someone calling his name. The shouting persists, despite how desperately he wants to ignore it and fade away into the darkness at the edge of his mind, and is now accompanied by someone pounding on his chest like a war drum. "John!" Slam! Slam! Slam! "John!"
There is a mouth on his, warm and wet, forcing air into his lungs, and suddenly his diaphragm contracts and he's half vomiting/half coughing up a disgusting combination of sea water and the beans on toast he had for breakfast that morning.
"John! Open your eyes, John! Please!"
He opens them, eyelashes ripping apart, and the inside of the cottage swims before him. He's on the carpet in front of a roaring fire, completely naked, save for a heavy blanket swathed around him. He lets out a pained groan. This was most definitely not heaven.
A face swirls into view. Dark curls and sharp blue eyes, high cheekbones and a sharp cupids bow. Sherlock?
Oh, this might not be heaven, but whatever it was he would take it.
"John! Are you alright? Talk to me! John!"
"Sherlock…" his voice is hoarse and gritty; his tongue like sandpaper in his mouth.
"Oh, thank God! Thank God!" the apparition yanks him forward into a warm embrace, ignoring John's nudity in favor of holding on to him as one would hold on to a life raft. "What were you thinking?"
"You stupid -! You imbecile! Why would you do that, John? WHY?"
John clenches Sherlock's wet shirt in his hands and buries his face in his damp curls. "You died," he whispers. "I saw you die."
"It wasn't real. None of it was real," Sherlock lets out a sound that is suspiciously like a sob. "I thought you were gone. I thought – I thought…" he pulls John closer. "I saw you go under. I thought you were gone," he says.
"They lied to me, didn't they?" John asks. "Molly and Mycroft. They lied to me. They let me believe you were dead. They knew how much I loved you and they let me believe you were dead."
He dives forward and consumes John's mouth once again. "I'm sorry, John. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Sherlock says between kisses. "I love you, John. I'm sorry."
Slipping his hands under Sherlock's shirt John pulls it off over his head. His trousers and pants go next, tossed somewhere in the general vicinity of the couch, and John pulls him down on top of him.
They make love in front of the fire place, John hooking his legs over Sherlock's shoulders and gripping his forearms tightly, his breath leaving him in short bursts every time Sherlock thrusts his hips. It's hot and needy, with too much teeth and not enough preparation, but Sherlock is there and John doesn't care if this is a dream or the devil's work. He doesn't care at all.
He spends hours tracing the new scars covering Sherlock's body, pressing kisses to them and laving them with his tongue, as though he could taste the stories behind them if given enough time.
They make love a second time in the tiny bedroom, but this time it's slower, softer, and John trembles under Sherlock's hands when he covers John's body in tender kisses and strokes him to completion, whispering his name like a prayer.
This time he falls asleep next to the real Sherlock Holmes.
John wakes to sunlight streaming through the bedroom window and birds singing. The storm has passed, the beach is covered in drift wood, and the space next to him is empty. He stumbles into the kitchen in time to see Sherlock slipping his long arms into a leather coat.
"So it wasn't a dream," he says. "You're really here."
Sherlock spins around and stares at him. John knows he was going to sneak away and he wants to be angry, he still wants answers dammit, but he's flooded with sympathy when Sherlock drops his head in shame. "I can't stay," he says. "I should left when you woke up. It's not safe."
"Why? Just tell me why."
Sherlock pulls him into a tight embrace and buries his nose in John's hair. "Because I need to protect you," he says. "Because you deserve better."
"I'm not made of china," John murmurs against Sherlock's shirt. "I'll be the judge of what I deserve, you wanker."
A deep rumbling bubbles up from Sherlock's chest. Its laughter and it's the most beautiful thing John has heard in a very long time. He never wants to stop hearing it, but it fades into the soft morning light, leaving a gaping hole in his chest.
"How long will you be gone?" he asks.
"I don't know," his friend – Lover? Partner? What were they now? – says. "Months, years maybe. I can't promise you anything, John. I don't know how this is supposed to end."
"I'll wait. I'll be here," John says. "Every year, on this day, I'll be here. I'll wait for you. If it takes a hundred years, I'll wait for you." He's crying now. It's the ugly, gross sobbing of a man whose seen heaven and was unceremoniously tossed back to earth. "God, Sherlock. How am I supposed to survive this?"
Pulling back, Sherlock looks into his eyes, and holds his gaze. "When the current takes you under, when you feel like you're going to lose control and break down or give up, remember that I'm out there somewhere, fighting for you, fighting for us, and that I love you more than my own life."
John watches him disappear over the dunes.
When he returns home he places a jar on the mantle. Inside are shells and sand and dune grass, a reminder of what the sea brought back to him, and a promise of days to come.
He keeps his promise.
He returns to the same cottage on the same day every year and waits. The first year marks a joyous reunion filled with furtive kisses and long nights in each other's arms. They keep the drapes closed tight and Sherlock never leaves the cottage during the day, but he's there, he's alive, and it's more than John dared hope for.
It feels like a miracle.
The second year John finds himself alone. He watches the dunes, sick with worry, willing Sherlock to cross into the horizon at any moment. He doesn't, and John cries himself to sleep every night for…well. A very long time.
The third year Sherlock arrives bloody, beaten, bruised, and smiling. John decides that Victory/Reunion/I'm – Still – Angry – About – Last - Year sex is amazing as long as you keep it in the house and off the sand. The curtains are thrown wide open, they take trips to the grocer on the other side of the beach, and they lay on the beach, their smiles brighter than the summer sun.
Days pass, they're at the cottage far longer than they should be, and John's phone begins to ring incessantly. Messages from Sarah, Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade clutter his voice mail. He ignores them in favor of a skillful blowjob.
Mycroft calls him, two day later, and threatens to send a SWAT team after him if he doesn't respond within twenty-four hours.
Sherlock buries the phone in the sand and builds a castle on top of it.
When John was a little boy he loved the sea.
It was beautiful and terrifying but he loved it with all his heart.