John was standing in the middle of a beach. It was empty in both directions, except for footsteps in the sand. Sherlock ignored those in favour of John.
"John?" he whispered.
John ignored his question.
"Do you know what this is Sherlock?"
Sherlock frowned. "A beach?"
John nodded. "More or less. But it's not just a beach. Look at the footprints."
Sighing, Sherlock followed John over to the water's edge.
"You see those ones over there?" John asked, pointing to the left.
Sherlock nodded. Those ones were much smaller, and even further down it looked like there were only smears in the sand.
"They're the beginning."
Sherlock nodded, wondering what exactly that meant.
"Come on," he said, heading to the right.
Sherlock followed him, noting that his feet, although bare, were not leaving any footprints in the wet sand.
Of course, that was hardly the most pressing thing at the moment.
"This is childhood," John continued, gesturing at the footprints as they grew. "And adolescence. Young adulthood..."
He trailed off when he came to the outline of a whole body.
John didn't say anything about it. "This was After," he said, gesturing to the footprints after the outline.
Sherlock noted the addition of a small circle next to the footprints. A cane mark.
"This is you," he said. "This is your life, your beginning, your childhood, your adolescence. That's where you got shot," he added, pointing to the outline of the body.
John shrugged. "Yeah. But that's not really important."
They walked further down the beach together.
Sherlock didn't mention how the footprints grew closer to the water, how they were fainter, the occasional wave smoothing out the indents. Perhaps it would eventually look like they were never there.
But then, just as it seemed the footprints were veering into the water, they changed directions suddenly. And Sherlock knew why.
"Those are mine, aren't they?"
A second set of footprints came alongside of John's, almost out of nowhere, but now that Sherlock know where they came from, he could trail them back, not along the shore, but heading towards the cliff in the distance.
"We all start in different places," John said solemnly.
John's footprints along the shore became deeper, more sure of themselves, and the cane indent disappeared with the addition of Sherlock's footprints alongside him.
They walked like that for a while, and Sherlock could tell this was a nice part of the beach, where waves seemed to not crash, but ease in, where the water was clearer, and there were no sharp shells sticking out of the sand.
"That was where you died," said John, pointing to a spot where the second set of footprints in the sand suddenly disappeared.
The beach wasn't as nice after that.
They walked for a few moments before John spoke again.
"And that's where you came back."
Where the second set reemerged, coming from the cliffs again, there were signs of a struggle in the sand.
Like one of the men had grabbed the other, shoved them, punched them, hugged them.
"I hadn't really died," Sherlock told him.
John sighed. "I know that now. But then..." he shook his head. "It was hard."
Sherlock looked back down the beach at the solitary set of footprints. They weren't as well defined, almost like John had shuffled his feet, not able to force them off the sand high enough.
"I'm sorry," he said, and it was sincere. "I didn't realize."
John raised an eyebrow. "You didn't realize?"
Sherlock corrected himself hastily. "I knew that it would affect you. I just didn't consider the... depth of your emotions. And mine," he admitted. "I'd done fine before you, so I assumed it would be the same after." He shook his head. "I was wrong."
He looked out at the water. "I supposed I'd gotten used to a different view. A different landscape." He looked back towards the cliffs, knowing that it must hurt John to look at them, considering his death.
"They're over there you know," John said suddenly. "Your footprints. After I knew... I went to the point where you disappeared from beside me, and they were there. You disappeared from me, but you made your way back."
"I didn't know... I saw you veering towards the water, right before I came along." It pained him to say what could have happened. So he didn't. He couldn't.
He examined John's face for a reaction, but there was none.
"I'm sorry," he said again.
John nodded. "I know. And, it shouldn't matter, because look." He gestured to the beach ahead of them, the shore disappearing into the horizon.
The footsteps seemed to stay together, no more disappearing, not more struggle, no more veering towards the water.
"It's not just a beach," John murmured in Sherlock's ear before stepping back. "It's our beach. Do you want to see where it goes?"
He smiled, and held his hand out for Sherlock to grab on to.
Yes. He very much did.