Inspired by Trains from Porcupine Tree.
The train moves slowly through the country, leaving it scarred by metal and smoke and sound. Sherlock loves it. He loves the sound the most- the staccato imposing a steady pattern in his thoughts, smooth yet steady, rigorous yet creating a wholly different world. The world outside the windowpane is nothing particularly entertaining, only green fields and steep hills, yet he loses himself in absent contemplation, if only for a few moments. He opens the window and tests the temperature of the air with his hand, followed by his head which he forgets about until Mummy reminds him where he is, and that he should close the window because Mycroft is still having a cold.
They reach his grandparents' mansion, and the earth becomes uncomfortably stable again. Sherlock feels disappointed. The train ride is always the best part of every summer.
The house is an imposing Victorian construct that would scream sobriety and cold comfort, if anything of its appearance transmitted something else but quiet, crafted restraint.
Usually, Sherlock loses his patience in the first day.
'Bored,' he announces, plopping himself down on a royal chair. The chair is uncomfortable. He gets up, taking a seat on Mycroft's knees and sending his book face-down on the floor.
'Sherlock!' Mycroft shoves him back and picks up the book. Sherlock is only short of landing on his back, and his brother's sharp look tells him that he wouldn't have minded, not at all.
'Haven't you heard me? Bored!' he restates with more emphasis, but Mycroft is already back to reading.
'There is nothing to do in this house. Why do they insist on bringing us here?' Sherlock starts pacing through the room, searching for a distraction.
'Family tradition, I suppose,' Mycroft replies, and his lips curl into a malicious smile. 'Not that you would know.'
'I don't care, ' Sherlock spits out.
'Indeed, ' Mycroft answers on a sickly sweet tone.
Sherlock finally decides on a medium-sized porcelain statue of a plump angel with his arms crossed. He picks it up and throws it at Mycroft. He runs out of the room, but he can still hear his brother's huffed breath of relief and his revolted call. Sherlock smiles. It's what he deserves for soon being old enough not to be forced to come here every summer, anyway.
He walks through the fields under the summer sun and it's tedious- at least if there were some mountains, secret passages or forests that he could explore, summer days would be less torturous, but there aren't. There are just fields and a river and Sherlock learned them all by the end of the first summer- every sweep of a hill, every turn of the road, every name of every plant and tree and bird and their characteristics. The river and its winding, the dams where children gathered to bathe and play, the trees that he could climb to see the plains unfolding at his feet, confronting his mental map with the concrete relief to find, without lack of satisfaction, that they were the same.
Sometimes, he finds small animals and brings them back home, to the attic. One time, Mycroft found him taking a lizard apart and even though he'd feigned disgust, Sherlock had known that he was interested. They started doing dissections together and, unlike most things that include Mycroft, this felt… nice, as if they fit together well, like two different sides of a coin.
Today, though, he is not in the mood. He walks in the fading sun, air cooled down by the approach of sunset. The train has left him feeling oddly calm, and even though his mind is far from being silent, his thoughts are tamer than usual.
He spots the deserted wooden house hidden behind a hill. The river is not far. He'd first found it by accident, during one of his usual walks. It consists of a single room with enough space for a bed, a desk and some empty shelves. The furniture is hand-crafted, probably by the owner himself. Considering the dust layer covering the rough wood, it had been deserted for at least one year, and no stranger had bothered to go inside after.
It's because people lack curiosity. People are only interested in their own dull lives.
Sherlock doesn't like people, and he is interested in everything.
(Everything that is not straight roads, confining lines, known locations. Everything that is worth it.)
The owner- middle-aged, seeking a quiet life, but obviously not quiet enough to completely cut himself off from civilization, hence the chosen location. Most probably male, since women hardly dedicated themselves to such a steep life. Sherlock had scowled- not enough data. Extensive research needed. The bed was worn out, frequently used. Not an occasional residence, but a permanent one. No objects left behind. No intention to return.
He found little to do there, and eventually stopped going altogether. He would make his dissections there sometimes, but the attic was a far more risky and thus interesting place for such activities. In the end, he resumed to only visiting the deserted house at the beginning of every summer, to see if anything had changed.
Today, the front door is slightly open. He enters, making as little noise as possible.
There is someone sitting at the desk, facing the window that opens towards the sunset. A young boy. Short. Blond-haired. Too absorbed in what he's doing to notice that someone else is there.
Sherlock steps forward and leans over his shoulder to find the object of his attention- a sheet of paper filled with pencil sketches- and the boy jumps.
'What are you doing here?' he asks, turning the paper face down with alarmed speed.
`Exploring,' Sherlock replies naturally.
The boy watches him with unsettled, yet intent eyes. Most probably, he is trying to decide if he can trust the unexpected stranger.
'Sherlock,' the stranger says, extending a hand.
'John,' the boy replies, but his shoulders don't relax.
John is about Sherlock's age and he doesn't seem very interesting, but he is looking at Sherlock with curious eyes and he apparently has something to hide, which might do just fine for a short-term mystery.
`What are you drawing?'
The boy shifts on his feet, not knowing where to look.
`I.. It's none of your business,' he decides, chin pointed upward and voice trying to sound secure, so Sherlock just takes the paper before John can protect it and holds it high in his hand, so the shorter boy can't reach it.
This must look funny from the outside, Sherlock thinks.
'Give it back!' John demands and is gracefully ignored.
Sherlock looks at the sketches. They are- they're quite good, actually. Several drawings of human limbs fill the white page, either in section or as seen from the exterior, in resting position or caught in motion. The anatomy is surprisingly good, though not perfect.
`The brachialis you draw is not in a natural position. It looks different when your elbow is flexed,' he murmurs, pointing out the faulty drawing. 'Work on that.'
The boy steps back, watching him with a mixture of amazement and disbelief. Sherlock feels somewhat flattered.
Usually, he only gets the disbelief.
'Okay. Fine. I can do that,' he finally says, biting back his confusion. 'Who are you?'
'I live nearby,' he answers. Obvious. 'You don't live far from here either, judging by the mud on your shoes. You come from a middle class family. Your mother trims your hair herself. You keep your hands at your back, so you're used to taking orders, but your eyes say passive-aggressive. Your family doesn't approve of your interest in art, so you come here to draw. What they don't know is that you don't want to become an artist, but a doctor. Interesting. Why don't you tell them?'
The boy watches him in awe, as if he wouldn't believe the words coming from his mouth. He is looking at Sherlock as if he was something unearthly, but there is nothing unkind in his eyes.
Sherlock would feel flattered, but he is not sure he knows how to.
'How do you know these things?'
'I observe,' he replies, shrugging his shoulders.
'That was amazing,' John says, and Sherlock blinks.
Sherlock finds out that John's father wants him to become a soldier.
John doesn't find out much about Sherlock because Sherlock doesn't allow it, but John's gaze always lingers on his features more than necessary. It's not an inquiring look. Sherlock rather feels that he is being looked at by a collector. He thinks that he likes it.
John learns how to make dissections and even though he is slower than Mycroft, he's very perceptive.
Sherlock learns how to draw. Better.
They spend most of their summer together, and when Mycroft is asking him where he is going, Sherlock feels embarrassingly proud for having acquired a secret, and with it, possibly a friend.
'I want to draw you,' John tells him one day, while they are both sitting on the river shore. Sherlock scowls.
John doesn't answer.
When they get back, Sherlock moves the desk so it faces the room, while John watches him in disbelief. Sherlock sits on the bed.
'Go on, then,' he says, gesturing towards the chair.
'Go on what?' the boy asks, perplexed.
John shifts on his feet, looking down.
'I, um… I meant without your clothes on.'
Of course. He should have figured.
He undresses without looking at John, thinking nothing of it, and waits. His mind is a comfortable blank.
For a long while, the room is silent, except for the familiar scrape of pencil on paper. Sherlock feels like he is out of time, and it's wonderful.
After Sherlock returns to London, they don't speak until the following summer. It's a silent agreement, a vow made to preserve warm summer days as files in a collection album, unstained by the dun colours of real life.
When they meet again, the house is physically unchanged, but it feels strange. It feels like a home.
John has been learning from a friend and his drawings have gotten better. Sherlock looks at himself and sees a beauty that he doesn't recognize in the mirror- all of John's portraits are precision and grace.
'I've never seen someone like you before,' John says, and Sherlock feels like he wants to believe him.
His life is splintered in summers and not-summers, and the rhythmic noise of the train is the crossing line between real life and something entirely different, something that he would like to steal and hide in his pocket as a cure for bad days.
He doesn't know how much of it is growing up with open eyes to the moments that make life great, and how much of it is John, but he does have a hunch about it.
John gives him drawings. At home, he keeps them in a cupboard that he never opens.
John keeps drawing him and Sherlock is surprised to always find a new interest in his eyes, sparks of admiration at his every feature. An artist's admiration for something that he could never recreate himself; a doctor's clinical fascination at human anatomy. Something more. Friendship; trust. Joy, humanity. A closeness that Sherlock always finds endearing, and that he always welcomes, like cool water in arid deserts, like words to a man who spent a little too much time alone.
As summers pass, the spark in John's eyes shapes into something else entirely. Sherlock finds himself thinking again, and the once silent moments of pencil-on-paper lose their calm and become unbearable. The air turns thicker. In those moments, they rarely look in each other's eyes anymore.
They are old enough to notice, but young enough to pretend it's not there. John stops asking Sherlock to pose for him, and Sherlock doesn't mention it again.
He still doesn't open the cupboard.
A summer later, John kisses him hard, eyes lit and one hand possessively on the back of his neck, as if he had been waiting to do it for ages.
Sherlock realizes that he, at least, had.
John pulls back and looks at him. He looks turned on and adoring and ashamed at the same time, and Sherlock wonders how could he have ever considered him ordinary.
He pulls him back into a kiss, biting his lip. They get each other off clumsily; neither lasts long, but it's new and fascinating and it makes his blood hum in approval. Everything ignites and falls into place. John moves his hands over Sherlock's body and Sherlock understands how it feels to be alive.
'John,' he says, and that moment is everything.
'Do you believe that there is a purpose to all of this?' Sherlock asks while they are lying down, faces towards the sky.
'What, this?' John gestures towards them, and Sherlock frowns.
'Not purpose. Order. I think the world is beautifully crafted, a mechanism where every part plays its role. I suppose you could call it purpose, thought that's not really what it comes down to, is it?'
'Hm. I've always craved a purpose.'
'Hence the distractions.'
'Yes. But they don't work.'
'Did you expect them to? Stop thinking of a finality. Be a part of this.'
John kisses him, and Sherlock feels like he really is.
The following year, the house isn't there anymore. There is a construction site- someone bought the terrain and a mansion is being built instead. Sherlock thinks of the house's previous owner. He thinks of him and John, and memory is bitter when it has nothing to rely on in the concrete.
He goes to John's house and instead of John, he finds a young couple picking cherries together. They laugh. Sherlock feels betrayed. Hateful.
He feels empty, as if someone has demolished a part of himself and ran away with it, leaving him sharp and clueless in the bitter company of his increasingly troubled mind.
John should have been here; he needs John.
Where did he go?
He feels stupid for not taking a cellphone number, an address, anything, but again, the two of them were never like that.
Summer is a kingdom and they are not allowed to take any souvenirs when they leave, except that Sherlock has more than he can count.
Not enough for a lifetime.
The train ride home is uneventful and dull, and it means nothing anymore.
Eventually, he stops visiting altogether.
He grows up.
Things happen. He goes to Uni, he gets high on information and cocaine and sheltered lust, and he only thinks of John when he is at his lowest, as a memory of sorts, a chance never concretized, a particle suspended in quantum state, always hanging in possibility.
He starts looking for danger, if only it could relieve the excruciating boredom, the routine of breathing , the monotony of staying alive.
When Lestrade lets him work with the police, he is forced to pick himself together again. Something is finally happening.
John enters St. Bart's with tired features and a limp in his leg. When he sees Sherlock, he freezes.
He doesn't believe in fortune or in faith, but he remembers words about how the world works in perfect order, always identical with itself, always falling into place. After many years, he feels like he found something that he wasn't even looking for. A long-lost friend and lover that he forgot how to miss, because they were always part of him. A phantom limb. A childhood memory. The voice inside his head, the moments of eerie quiet before the storm.
John smiles and, just like in that first day when they met, the world stops being a stranger.