“Do you want to talk about it?” I hear him ask.
Ah, he finally got around to it. When Sherlock told me we were getting away for the month I had obliged. Willingly, in fact. I couldn’t stay in that flat anymore and Sherlock’s childhood beach town seemed like the best option. Of course, he told me it was for a case, but the only client we’ve had in our two days here has been the newspaper boy with the disappearing bicycle. Scandalous.
“No, not really,” I reply without looking for his reaction.
We’ve just settled down on a bench overlooking the sea, and because some shit-head thought it a good idea to put a divider in the middle, there’s just a few inches that separates us. It just didn’t seem right to sit on opposite sides.
“It’s been fifteen days, John. I may not know much about emotions but I know what you should be feeling. What you are feeling.” He says it softly, so quiet that the white noise of the waves nearly drowns him out. I close my fist. He’s right, of course. He’s always right. And you’re the bloody doctor.
“What do you want me to say? You already know what happened.”
“Ah, yes. I know what happened. I know how it happened for me. But how did it happen for you, John Watson?” Now his voice is more drawn out, and if I dared to look there’d be a smirk painted on his thin lips.
I clench my fingers into a fist. The hand rests on the bench in the space between us, so I know that Sherlock noticed. “I got home one day after work and Mary was gone. My wife was gone and all that she left was a fucking note. And do you know where she put it, Sherlock?” I turn to look up at him and dare him to answer.
“She left it in the bloody crib, Sherlock. Our baby’s crib! The one I put together…”
“We,” he interjects, causing me to raise an eyebrow at his strange comment.
“What?” I ask, exasperated.
“We put the crib together. I was there too.”
I smile despite myself, remembering. Sherlock had come over after a particularly…nasty case involving a cosplayer and some rabid three-headed dog. Mary was in bed, so that had left the crib-building up to us. Well, Sherlock says “we” but he didn’t really do much to help. He mostly just sat cross-legged on the carpet analyzing the instructions before crumbling up the paper and shouting, “What it the bloody point of the French!”
We watch the sea for a bit, me lost in remembrance and him lost in…whatever Sherlock Holmes thinks about, I suppose. In and out, in and out the waves come and go. They stay just long enough that goodbye hurts, I reckon.
“Sherlock,” I start, staring down at the hand that separates us, “do you know what it’s like to lose someone?”
I hear him swallow before answering. “The only people I’ve lost have always come back. If you care about someone enough, they’re never truly gone.” Sherlock clears his throat, and when I look up I can see that his eyes were on my hand as well. “Statistically speaking, of course. There’s a rather high probability that she will come back in—”
“Statistically speaking,” I mutter as I tune out whatever long-winded explanation Sherlock got himself into. And still the sea taunts me with its kisses, forward and backward, up and away in a manner that seems so mathematical and thought out. Sherlock’s wrong, I realize. There’s no math that says someone will come back to you. Just math that says they’ll leave long enough to hurt.
We’re on the boardwalk today. No, not on a case (although Sherlock never figured this out, seeing as he’s dressed in his usual suit) just on a walk. After the April storm we had yesterday, I figured that Sherlock had to get out of the cottage. Twenty-four hours of non-stop deductions of Game of Thrones characters. It was awful.
“Sherlock, why don’t you get us something to eat,” I say, pointing at the hot-dog stand across from us. He nods, and I watch him walk away from me before sitting down at one of the red-plastic picnic tables. It’s a funny place, this town. Bright colors and happy people. I can hardly imagine the Holmes brothers spending their summers here. Just as the image of a sun-burned Sherlock pops into my head I hear his voice from across the boardwalk.
“What do I want on my dogs? What dogs?” Oh, god. “John?” he shouts, and now I can see him turn to look at me. The poor cashier looks absolutely mortified. “John, do we have any dogs?”
Grimacing, I cross my arms and make my way to the stand. “Hot-dogs, Sherlock. The girl wants to know what you want on our hot-dogs.” He gives me a puzzled look and I sigh. “Tomato sauce, mustard, relish?” When I glance over his shoulder I see the girl stifle a laugh behind her hand. Trying not to roll my eyes, I dig out my wallet, seeing as Sherlock hasn’t moved since I arrived. “Two mustards, then,” I say, handing the girl a wad of cash.
Once they’re ready I carry both our plates over to the table and set one down across from me. Wordlessly, Sherlock climbs onto the bench and peers down.
“What?” I ask, and the word comes out harsher than I intended. He ignores me, gingerly picking up the hot-dog and taking a bite. When he pulls it away there’s a smear of bright-yellow by the corner of his mouth. I watch as he drops it back down.
“What?” I repeat, crossing my arms above the table.
Sherlock gives me a strange look, and if I believed that he could be sad, I’d call it sadness. The burst of sun on his pale skin forces my eyes to stay on his mouth as he speaks. “I like it,” he says in a small voice.
Chuckling, I slide him my only napkin. “Good.”
He takes no notice and continues to stare at the nearly un-eaten dog. “Mycroft always said I had to get tomato sauce with my…hot-dogs. He said that every summer.”
“Well,” I say quietly, tearing my eyes away from the stain, “we’ll start a new tradition. Yellow mustard in April.” I point to corner of my own mouth, hoping he’ll take the hint.
“Why are you pointing to your face?” Sherlock asks, pulling together his brows.
I sigh and drop my hand with a smile. “Never mind. Just finish your food.”
Back on our usual spot today. I had wanted to take a jog around the beach this morning before I realized that Sherlock had followed me out. Knowing that he’d think it some elaborate scheme if I ran off without him, I had turned towards the bench instead. Now the sun’s coming up, so I put my arms up over my head and pull off my jumper.
“Aren’t you a bit warm, Sherlock?” I ask, patting my hair back into place. He’s wearing a suit-jacket, a navy one today. When he doesn’t respond I ball up my jumper and chuck it further along the bench. “There’s no clients at the beach, you know.”
Sherlock crosses his legs so that his angled knee nearly brushes against my own, but I don’t really mind. “Maybe so, but there’s always people.” He points to an elderly woman sat in a lounge chair a few meters down. “Do you see that woman, John? Tell me her story.”
Frowning, I try to take in every Sherlock-like detail. Nothing, I think. Just an old woman taking a morning snooze. “I don’t know, you tell me.” I turn to look and see the excitement in his eyes. Such juxtaposition to his rather long face.
“Look at her hair first, John. It’s always the hair. See how it’s still long despite her age? What kind of woman after sixty keeps it like that?”
After a few moments, I answer him slowly. “Someone…who can’t let go of her youth. So…she works with children, yeah?”
Sherlock nods in approval. “Now look at her clothing. She’s wearing long trousers and a jumper despite the warmth, so she works indoors where it’s cold. Notice her shoes, they’re the ones made for long periods spent standing. And see how there are stains below her knees and above her chest? The woman wears an apron.”
“So what, you’re saying she’s a waitress? No offense, mate, but no one hires elderly women to serve their food.”
A smile plays on Sherlock’s lips. “She runs an ice-cream truck, the one that passes the cottage every afternoon with the jingle you so despise. She started the business with her husband forty years ago, well, most likely her boyfriend at the time, and kept it going ever since.”
I stare at him with my mouth agape. “There’s no way you got all that,” I say in disbelief.
This time he has a full-fledged smirk. “She ran the truck every summer when I was a child. I even worked for her one summer as a teenager. Don’t ask Mycroft for pictures,” he adds frowning.
“So you cheated.”
“Background knowledge, John. You should draw on it sometimes, I reckon it’d suit you.”
I’m slightly taken aback by this, and my cheeks begin to flush. Must be the heat. “My family never went to the beach like yours.”
I can see Sherlock uncross his legs, but he doesn’t place a hand in the space between us. “Your sister?”
Swallowing, I give a curt nod. “Harry. We did go one summer, when she was sixteen and I was eleven.”
“And you never went back?”
It was like Sherlock knew just what to ask, when it came to me. He pretends not to understand people, but maybe that’s not what I am to him. I’m just John. I blink, clearing the thought away. “No. Our parents found her with a friend…”
“A friend?” he asks.
“She’s gay, Sherlock.”
“So not a friend, then,” he says in confirmation.
I sigh and run my fingers through my already mussed hair. “No, but that’s what our parents called her.” Sherlock stays quiet after that, and we both continue on in our silent deductions. Him of the people all around and me of…something else.
“I’m bored, John,” says the sullen voice beside me.
Like I haven’t heard that one before. “This is what we always do, Sherlock. We come out to our bench and we sit and we watch.”
“There’s no one out today,” Sherlock mutters, scowling. “Just the same children playing the same games. Do you want to know who’s going to win capture the flag today, John?”
“Margaret. Margaret always wins because the others are too stupid to strategize.”
Of course I already know this, but there’s no point in telling him to stop. “You shouldn’t call them stupid. They’re just children, for Christ’s sake!” When I look at him he averts his eyes. More calmly, I say, “I’m sure you weren’t a genius at age six.”
That got his attention. “At least I had thoughts.” A grin erupts across his face and I raise an eyebrow in question. “Come with me, John. I want to show you something.”
Sherlock jumps up and takes a few steps before checking that I’m following. “Alright,”
I mutter, standing up with a sullen look back at our bench. What a lovely morning I had planned doing absolutely nothing.
I follow Sherlock’s brisk pace down the beach until we arrive at the winding line of beach sheds—we pass them in a whirl of pastel pink and violet, cherry red and royal blue until he stops abruptly before one of the very last sheds, maybe 300 meters down the line.
“My family’s old shed,” he states, staring down at the little house with a tender smile. Sentiment.
“Out of all the colors, you painted it brown?” I ask, amused.
“My mother is a practical woman,” he says simply before bending down to work on the lock. The door swings open a few seconds later, and I back up to watch him stoop down and crawl inside. “Don’t worry, you’ll fit!” I hear his muffled voice call out. Rolling my eyes, I shrug off my light jacket and follow him inside.
It’s like a secret cave, I realize, taking in the small box. I sit beside Sherlock, who’s sitting cross-legged with his back to the right-hand wall. I’m peering around the dark shed when I hear Sherlock pull out his phone and illuminate the wall before us.
“Jesus, Sherlock,” I breathe out. In the bright light the wall is covered in colored chalk drawings—drawings of the ocean with wooden ships crashing through the curling waves. There’s chests of coins and wild flags in the wind and a distant land covered in spider-like plants set in the far corner. It is the drawing of a little boy’s adventure and it’s beautiful. My eyes are drawn to the largest ship with a name scrawled onto it’s yellow side, so smudged from the years that I have to squint to make it out. “The Redbeard,” I whisper, turning my face to the side.
Sherlock doesn’t look down at me, his eyes continuing to drink in his…childhood, I suppose. “I worked on it every summer while Mycroft swam in the sea. In here I wasn’t the weird younger brother. I was the great pirate Sherlock Holmes and I sailed a golden ship.”
My eyes travel the length of the ship before settling on the captain standing by the spinning wheel. I can make out the black curls spilling out from beneath his red hat and the crude spyglass in his outstretched hand. “Why is he alone?” I ask.
“The other boys stopped believing in pirates the same age that I began spending my afternoons pouring over books in the reference section,” he says quietly, playing with the hem of his jacket. “I was nine and pirates didn’t exist.”
I search his downcast face for the lost boy he’s telling me of. Pirates, consulting detectives, everyone has always told you they don’t exist. And yet that is who you were, that is who you became. Moving to my knees, I run my fingers against the shadowed seam in the wall until they close around something hard and cold. Lifting it up to the light, I see that it’s a stub of purple chalk the length of my thumbnail.
Careful as to not further smudge his ship, I draw in a stick figure beside the captain. He’s wearing a funny-looking jumper and has a crooked grin, but it’s the best I can do. “There,” I say firmly, settling back by Sherlock’s side. “Now the captain won’t sail alone.”
It’s four o’clock when I finally ease myself onto the couch with a mug of tea clasped in my hands. “Finally,” I mutter, kicking off my shoes. It’s pouring now, one of April storms that frequents this little town, and I watch as the window becomes blurrier and blurrier in the rain.
Just as I’m taking a sip, Sherlock comes banging into the room. “Sherlock!” I growl, setting my sloshing mug on the coffee table.
He ignores me and fumbles through our designated coat-closet. Well, it’s more of a ratty old arm-chair, but it’s the best we could do. “I’m going out,” he declares, pulling out his raincoat. His voice sounds breathless, and it’s a sound I know all too well.
Sighing, I cross my arms. “Sherlock,” I start slowly, “you can’t go out in weather like this. It’s the worst storm of the month.”
“I don’t care,” he spits out, fumbling for the snaps. “I solved it.” As he whips up the hood I can see the telling gleam in his eye.
“Solved what?” I call out as he heads for the door. “We haven’t had any cases!”
I watch, exasperated, as he yanks open the front door. “The disappearing bicycle, John! I solved it!” With a grin he shuts the door behind him, and as I run to the window a brilliant flash of lightning illuminates the scene with a crack of thunder soon to follow.
“Come on, Sherlock,” I spit out, raking a hand through my hair. I know that if I don’t follow him, I’m likely to get a call come morning. “Excuse me, but we have the body of a certain fucking detective here?” I mock in a high-pitched voice. He better apologize for this one. Grimacing, cursing, and barefoot, I run after Sherlock Holmes into the storm.
I’m miles down the beach before finding him. He’s nearly under the boardwalk; it’s the space where the sea breaks against the beams jutting out from the cliff, the space where the braver children dare each other to swim before the parents come stomping over with scowls plastered on their tanned faces. But today the waves pummel into the beams and tear at the wood, and their screams are lost in the raging storm.
When I approach I put my hands on my knees, breathing hard and wincing at the pain creeping up from my feet. Never run barefoot during a sea-storm , I note, cursing under my breath. After a few seconds I look up to see Sherlock gazing curiously back at me. I swear he’s almost amused.
“John?” he asks, glancing at something beyond the boardwalk before looking back. “Why are you running around the beach with no shoes?”
The question is so simple, so obvious, so like him, that I can’t help but laugh between my bursts of panting. “I—I came after you. You can’t just go running out here in a storm, Sherlock.”
Sherlock frowns. “You did.”
“Yes, well…” I trail off and close the distance between us. “I’m not going to let you out here alone.” I place my hand on his slick jacket and squeeze. “I’m not going to—”
The thunder reverberates through the beach and sends me stumbling forward, but I use Sherlock’s arm to keep me upright. “Let you get yourself killed,” I finish as the lightening cracks open the roaring sky. “We have to get back!” I plead, searching his eyes through the sheets of rain pummeling down.
He just shakes his head, sending water tumbling out from his curls. “I can’t, John!” His voice is almost at a shout now, and still it’s barely audible above the howling.
Grabbing his other arm, I force him to look down at me. “Who cares about the bloody bicycle! We have to get inside before—”
I whip my head towards the sky expecting lightening, but it’s one of the beams ripping through the whirling backdrop. “Now!” I shout—not caring if he protests, not caring who could see—and grab his hand pull him behind me.
Another beam erupts from the dock but there’s no time to look back. I yank him forward and we run. We run together and exhilarated, we run hand-in-hand through the storm, because I know that Sherlock needs this. And I need it too, I realize. And a storm isn’t so different from the villains we love so much.
“Not today, John,” Sherlock says as I plop down onto our bench. Our bench…when did I start calling it that? It’s the last day of April, our last day in Sherlock’s childhood.
I look up at him and watch, amused, as he bends down and proceeds to roll up the hem of his trousers. Laughing, I take in the sight of his pale legs and imagine Sherlock Holmes in shorts. Now that’s a sight. “What are you doing, Sherlock?” I ask, stifling a laugh.
Sherlock straightens and gives me a soft smile. “It’s our last day and you have yet to go in the sea.”
I look at the sea now. It’s calm today, a pale green with soft foam. “Isn’t it too cold?” I ask as I stand up.
“Only if you go in too far,” he replies, and I can feel his eyes on me as I roll up my trousers. “I can tell you all about the variability of ocean temperatures—”
“Not necessary, Sherlock,” I warn, giving him a look. “You’re not going to impress me with that.
As we walk down the pebbled beach, I look around and imagine what it was like for him, here, as a child. In a place that looks so lovely, a boy had grown up sad and alone with only his thoughts and dreams as a comfort. And he never did change, not really. I know he gets sad sometimes, when he thinks I’m not looking.
“It’s all right, John. It’s not so bad.” His soft voice tears me away from my thoughts, and I realize that I’m standing just inches from the tide. Foam rushes over Sherlock’s feet and then pulls away, willing him to go deeper.
Nodding and taking one last look over my shoulder, I join him in the sea. Shivers run up my spine and I want to protest but I can’t. I can’t take this away from him. Slowly we make our way further through the foam until the grains beneath my feet soften and the waves tease and laugh at our legs. “You’re right,” I saw, squinting at the man beside me. “It’s not so bad.”
Sherlock looks down at me and then out towards the horizon. “All the summers I spent here, and not once did I go in.”
I frown. “Mycroft?”
He shakes his head, black curls bouncing against his forehead. “No, it was my choice. One day I came out to the beach and I saw a woman crying in the waves. Every tear that fell was stolen by the sea, every silent secret and drop of pain that she had. The sea is better at deductions than even me, John. She knows every secret, every whisper, every dream. And I couldn’t bring myself to let that happen.”
“Sherlock,” I whisper, blinking back the stinging in my eyes.
“I need you with me, John. I need you.” His voice trails off, swept up by the waves that he feared so much as a child.
As we stand there, knee-deep in the April Sea, I reach beside me until our fingers intertwine above the gentle current. We are awash in untold secrets but this will not be one.