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Title: This Man's Heart - Chapter 18
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: None.
Pairing: Sherlock/John.
Word count: 2350
Summary: In the latter part of the 19th century, a peculiar solitary man and an ex-army doctor disfigured at war live in a small village, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. When they first meet, they have no idea their lives are about to change forever and, over the months, they will form an unusual friendship, discover more about each other and themselves, and maybe fall a little in love along the way.
Disclaimer: See first chapter.

Back to the first chapter
Previous chapter


Chapter 18

The upcoming wedding created a lot of excitement, everyone knew about it and couldn’t stop talking about it. The word most used was ‘convenient’. From an outsider’s point of view, the union was convenient; Sherlock was putting an end to the rumours about him and John Watson, while Molly was ensuring she wouldn’t be alone and moneyless once her parents were dead. It had taken several weeks, but Martha and Gregory had finally accepted Sherlock’s engagement. He obviously hadn’t forgotten about his friend, but he didn’t seem as miserable anymore, and for them, that was the most important. They didn’t suspect that Sherlock’s wasn’t doing better at all (quite the opposite actually), and that he was merely refusing to feel anything in order not to feel pain.

Sherlock wanted to wear the same suit he had worn at Gregory’s wedding, but his aunt heard none of it and had one specially made by Mrs. Westwood. The fitting was blissfully boring; Aunt Martha and Molly kept bringing different fabrics up to Sherlock face to see how well they looked against his skin. They discussed tie colours while Mrs. Westwood measured him, and eventually everything turned to a soft numbing buzzing noise in Sherlock’s mind, and his lips curled slightly upwards.

Two weeks into March, while Gregory was tending the store, a package arrived for Sherlock. He took it with him and decided to take it all the way to Sailboat Bay. It was a large parcel, quite heavy and square shaped. Gregory had shaken it slightly, but couldn’t guess what was inside. The expeditor hadn’t left any hints on the brown wrapping, he – or she – had only written Sherlock’s name in a nice and elegant handwriting.

Sherlock opened it while Gregory was still there. He knew who it was from as soon as he saw the handwriting, and he tore off the wrapping almost violently. Inside, there were books: Stories or Fairy Tales from Bygone Eras, One Thousand and One Nights, Notre-Dame of Paris, The Young American Girl and Other Maritime Tales, and obviously, The Three Musketeers. Sherlock picked up the last book, lovingly caressed its leather cover, turned the pages, and smelled them. Two pieces of paper fell from the pages; the first one was the other half of their first conversation, the paper that had been slipped under a door of the manor. The other one only had a few words written on it.

I forgive you.

“This is fantastic news!” Gregory exclaimed.

“I suppose it is,” Sherlock replied absent-mindedly, still stroking the leather bounding the pages together.

“What do you mean, you suppose? It’s wonderful! You can be friends again and turn the page. You can explore forests, islands, and bays again. With a chaperon, of course, or Molly’s father will kill you, but you two are fine.”

Sherlock shook his head and Gregory squinted, trying to see what the problem was.

“If it’s because you think Molly will disapprove, I’ll make sure Sarah talks to her, I’ll tell her what to say.”

Gregory couldn’t understand his friend’s uncertainty, from his point of view the situation was simple: Sherlock missed his meetings with John, John was forgiving him, the meetings would resume, and Sherlock would lose his permanently vacant expression. When Sherlock didn’t react, he pushed the matter further.

“Don’t you want to see him again?” he asked in a careful, yet disbelieving tone, and Sherlock looked at him as if he had recited a string of profanities.

“Don’t be daft, of course I would like to see him again, and it’s nothing as futile as proprieties that will keep me away. You didn’t see his face when he told me to leave; I destroyed him. I am not putting myself in a position which could result in him being hurt again.”

You are hurt, doesn’t it count?” Gregory asked, and Sherlock just shook his head.

Sherlock threw himself into the books as one throws itself in a river, unaware of where the current was taking him. The books were filled with stories of magic, horror, love, treason, genies, monsters, catastrophes, and enchantments. Without John, he would never have guessed such a world existed, built only with paper and words.

With April came an unusually sudden spring, the ice field smashed with an end of the world noise, and two days later, water was running free. The maritime pilots all agreed that you didn’t see such a sudden change in seasons more than once every twenty years. For three consecutive Sundays, the priest announced the wedding bans, and on the last Sunday, Gregory was foolishly tempted to get up and declare that Sherlock couldn’t get married, that he was carrying a secret that was eating him up from inside. Fortunately – or perhaps unfortunately – he stayed still, and as always, there weren’t any objections.

Two days before the wedding, a dreadful storm beat up the region; a highly unusual winter jolt in early May. Tree branches were cut off, cedar posts flew off, and no man – no matter how strong – could walk straight. The icy wind deviated everyone from his or her trajectory, it was breaking, folding, and crushing in an attempt to assert its power, establish its law. Then, the sky was split open in a loud crackling of cold and hail. The wind got even stronger; an unsatisfied and raging creature determined to destroy everything in its wake. Sherlock lay in his bed with the skull; he couldn’t sleep. The wind was whistling between the house’s beams, making the shingles creak and the windows shake. With every howling of the wind, he thought he could hear John moaning as if he were being crushed by an immense sorrow. He knew he was being unreasonable, that the moans were all the wind’s doing, but with every new groan he felt his entrails twisting painfully. When he finally fell asleep, the sun was rising.

The next night was even worse. Not because of the weather, the sky had cleared during the day, but because of the dream from which he woke up screaming and with his heart pounding. He had dreamed that John was curled up on the ground of the Fairy Cave. There were tiny black letters and eider feathers floating all around him.

With restless eyes and his whole body shaken by a fever, John was dying.

Martha had heard Sherlock scream as he had woken up, but something told her to stay put and not interfere. As she heard him get out of bed and leave the house, she had the strange feeling a new page of history was being written, and she didn’t want to change its course. She closed her eyes and prayed that whatever Sherlock had gone out for, he would find.

The moon was still high, and the sea was buried under an extraordinary fog blanket that hid the small islands and the bays. Sherlock knew that somewhere among the meadows, pine trees, and spruces, John was dying. He didn’t know how he knew it, but he had never been so sure of anything in his life. He ran to the shore, got in his boat for the first time in many months, and he started rowing, the fog instantly swallowing him. He knew his friend was in danger, and he was prepared to do anything in his power to save him.

It was not an easy crossing; there weren’t any landmarks, and the horizon had disappeared behind a fog so milky and thick he kept hitting invisible obstacles. Nonetheless, he rowed as fast as he could, all his dedication and willpower were directed towards his goal. His oars were hitting the water in muffled pangs, and as he made his way towards West Birches Bay, his fervour slowly turned into anger. He was angry with Harry for ruining his and John’s first kiss, for misinterpreting his intentions, and for paralyzing him with her hateful words.

But mostly, he was angry with himself.

For months, he had accepted the flight of his happiness. Crushed by guilt and shame, he had lost all joy, had believed the small voice in his head telling him he deserved what had happened to him and the resulting pain. He was guilty of closing his eyes when faced with John’s ravaged features, guilty of the love he had inspired, and guilty of breaking John’s heart. Staying away from John had been excruciatingly painful, but it was for the best, for John’s protection.

Perhaps it was the warm blowing of the wind, the cries of the gulls, or the scrap of light in the hazy sky, but despite his anger, his anguish, and the horrible memory of the dream, Sherlock felt something growing inside him, something sweet and wonderful. With each pounding of the oars on the water, he felt some of the heavy weight inside his chest being lifted. He felt better than he had felt since he had gotten out of the library. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what the feeling was, and he couldn’t name it, but he basked in it while rowing faster than if his life had depended on it. It was John’s life that was at stake, and it was infinitely more precious.

When his boat finally hit the shore, he was almost overwhelmed with memories of John. He could almost see the flapping scarf tied to the tree on West Birches Bay and the bird of prey perched on John’s arm, and hear the wings of the cormorant as it finally took flight, the joyful cries of the playing seals, and the bouncing dolphins. He needed to find John, but he didn’t know where to look for him, so he decided to start with the island where John had once felt comfortable enough to remove his mask.

The hut on Lover’s Island was empty, and John’s mask wasn’t on the table. Despite his promise never to come back here without John, Sherlock wasn’t ashamed to be there; the joy blooming inside his chest assured him that he had all the rights. He didn’t lose any time on the island once he realized his friend wasn’t there; he went back to West Birches Bay and was about to choose the path going to the Fairy Cave when he saw a silhouette approaching. Suddenly, he could barely breathe.

It was Harry Watson, standing among tall herbs and surrounded by fog while seemingly waiting for him. He walked up to the woman who had petrified him with only the power of her words, rendering him speechless and vulnerable. He stood in front of her, so tall he towered over her, and he challenged her with burning eyes. He wasn’t shaking, he wasn’t petrified, and the certainty inhabiting him had rendered him invincible.

“I have been waiting for you for a long time, I almost sent someone to get you,” Harry said as she hurried towards the manor, Sherlock following.

He was writing a new book, a story so beautiful it would one day belong on the shelves in John’s library. He was about to see John for the first time in months, and his heart was beating extremely fast in his chest. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and what he wanted to say, and knowing that made him feel better than he had since he had left John’s library.

He loved John. What a brilliant discovery.

Upon entering the manor, he turned to face Harry. “You were wrong,” he said, “I love your brother, with or without mask. I want him with me, always. Alive.”

He had almost been asphyxiated by this secret, almost been swallowed by the tumult of sensations. All it took was the realisation that he loved John, and everything fell back into place. There was no more confusion, no more anger, and no more sadness. He didn’t feel guilty anymore, and there were no traces of the shame Harry had inspired in him. He loved John, had loved him for a while, but hadn’t recognized the feeling. John had loved him for who he was, he had never tried changing him, but he had made him better nonetheless by showing him the world through his eyes. He wanted to do the same for John, he wanted to love him for who he was, to make him feel better, and never to leave his side. He crossed the maze of corridors and doors until he reached the small library, and after taking one deep breath, he opened the door.

John was curled up on the cushions in his library, clutching Sherlock’s great grey coat to his chest. Sweat was sticking to his hair and temples; it was dampening his forehead and hemming the edges of the leather mask. Sherlock closed the door behind the two of them and kneeled beside his friend. He took one of John’s hands in his, the same hand John had used to press Sherlock’s palm against the books, the hand he had stroked Sherlock’s hair with, the hand that had caressed his neck. Slowly, Sherlock brought that hand to his lips and kissed the palm. John’s fingers were incredibly cold, and suddenly, Sherlock was terrified.

He leaned in closer to John’s face, looked into his immense eyes, and dove into them, looking for a twinkle, a spark, any evidence that would have told him his friend was aware of his presence. John’s eyes had never looked so extinct, a gritty sound was escaping his lungs, his damp shirt was sticking to his chest, and the fabric of his trousers was plastered to his thighs.

Sherlock wanted to speak, but words got stuck in his throat, choking him. A wave of panic rushed over him, but he took a few deep breaths, refusing to let himself be swallowed by the feeling. With a delicate hand, he pushed John’s shoulder back until he was lying flat on his back. Then, gently, he caressed the fine leather of the mask and slid his fingers through John’s hair until he could untie the cords of the mask. With tenderness he didn’t know he possessed, he let the leather slide to the floor, revealing John’s ravaged face.

Without haste, without fear, he explored every fold, every crater, every scratch, and every bite. He did it again and again, his fingers growing more confident as they slid over John’s cheeks, stopped for a while on the corner of his mouth before moving to his nose. Once again, he searched the eyes of the man he loved so much, and it seemed there was a very small trembling glimmer in one of his blue eyes. Sherlock’s lips replaced his fingers, and he kissed every particle of flesh and every horrible scar.

“I love you,” Sherlock whispered in his deep rumbling voice. “I love you, and I will never leave you again. We will come up with other treasure hunts, and travel together in all the books of the world. I want your dreams to become my dreams, I want….”

He was scared to continue. John should have moved by now, he should have grabbed his hand or kissed him back, that’s what the heroes of John’s stories did. He had read about it in The Young American Girl and Other Maritime Tales: Once Belle had declared her love for The Beast, he had come back to her. John should have done the same thing, there had to be a reason why he had included this story in the package he had sent. Sherlock refused to see his desires fail.

“I want you to love me,” he whispered directly into his friend’s ear, “with your eyes, your lips, your hands…. With your whole body.”

There was only silence. It felt as if the passionate lovers, the kings, the goblins, and the mermaids living in the books were waiting with Sherlock, watching this story unfurl.

“I love you,” John suddenly murmured so quietly Sherlock almost missed it, and his eyelids shuttered closed, crushed by the weight of a formidable fatigue.

His face was as pale as a winter moon; it was too late. Sherlock understood that John had let himself die of sorrow; he barely had enough strength to breathe. The glimmer in his eyes had been an illusion. He was leaving him. Sherlock felt a surge of sadness crash through his body, and, for a long moment, he didn’t move, eyeing his friend intently until suddenly, like the herons driven by a secret signal, he stood up and hurried out.

He had known a young, healthy, and strong man. To waste away so much, he had probably followed the example of the female eiders stuck in their nests. However, John had taught him how to save the birds that were too weak to run back to the water.

John Watson would live. It wasn’t too late. Sherlock would fight for him. For both of them.

Next chapter 

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Ellie L.

December 2012

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