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fic: Human For A While (Parts 1-5 of 9)

Title: Human For A While
Author: fengirl88
Fandom: BBC Sherlock; fairytale AU
Pairing
: John/Selkie!Sherlock
Rating: NC-17
Warnings
: None.
Wordcount
: 12375
Disclaimer
: They're still not mine.
Summary
: Written for this anonymous prompt on sherlockbbcfic: John comes home from a trip to the seaside with a pale-eyed young man in tow. Sherlock is tall, brilliant, and strangely sad, and seems incapable of leaving John's side. One day John brings a seal skin to Harry's house and makes her promise to hide it, and that she will never, ever tell Sherlock where it is.
A/N: Thanks to blooms84 and kalypso_v for their encouragement and suggestions, to the OP for the wonderful prompt, and to everyone who commented at the meme.

Human For A While

Part One: Harry


John was a total wreck when he came home from Afghanistan: shoulder useless, hand shaking, a limp his therapist said was psychosomatic, if you wanted to listen to that sort of bullshit. Staggering along on an Army pension, no way he could stay in London permanently on that sort of money, but would he take anything from Harry? Would he buggery. Except the phone, and she was pretty sure he'd only accepted that because of Clara. Always thought he had an eye for Clara, though he denied it. His gaydar really was nonexistent, poor sap.

“Keep in touch,” Harry had said, pressing the phone into his hand. He'd said he would, but she knew he wouldn't. When she'd tried to kiss him goodbye, he'd flinched away, then looked guilty because he'd hurt her. Fucking typical on both counts. She'd needed another drink after all that. Never could stand the smell of hospitals.

She knew he'd got some grotty bedsit, probably just sitting there staring at the walls and going quietly crazy. You just can't help some people. Knew he'd still got the gun, too, but she wouldn't let herself think about that. Other people have lives as well, you know.

When the letter came from their great-uncle's solicitors, it seemed like a godsend. Get John out of the way for a bit, make him feel he's doing something useful, he always liked that. She got on the phone right away.

“What do you want, Harry?”

“And hello to you too,” she said tartly. “Look, John, Hector's died and the solicitor wants us to go and sort out his stuff. I can't go, I'm all tied up at work. Do you think you could–”

“OK,” he'd said, not even letting her finish. Must be more desperate than she thought. “Where do I have to go?”

“They said you can fly to Aberdeen and then hire a car; I'll pay for that – no, look, don't argue, you can pay me out of the estate when it's settled, OK? It's about half an hour's drive from there, on the coast.”

“Just as well it's July,” John said.

She remembered that freezing Christmas in Fife with Hector just after their father died. It wasn't like John to refer to their childhood, however obliquely.

“Yes, just as well,” she'd said, and they'd talked practicalities, got the rest of the call over as quickly as possible.

She hadn't expected John to tell her how it went, certainly hadn't expected to see him so soon after he got back. She was in the middle of packing up Clara's books – why the fuck anyone needed that many books she'd never know – when the doorbell rang. It looked like John through the glass, but there was someone else with him, tall thin figure with dark hair.

“Harry, this is Sherlock,” John said.

Fucking hell, she thought, knowing she was staring and she really shouldn't be. If she'd had a straight bone in her body she'd have been all over this man. A face almost too weird for beauty: hair as black as coal, ash-pale skin, knife-sharp cheekbones, strange light sea-coloured eyes, and that mouth – dear God, that mouth... Where the fuck had John picked this one up, and what on earth did he see in John?

Jumping to conclusions, Clara would have said, but you'd only got to look at the body language: the way this man stood just too close for casualness. The expression in his eyes when he looked at John, as if he wanted to melt into him...

Jesus, H, ask them in, why don't you, don't just stand here gawping and channelling Mills and Boon.

“Come in,” she said. “How was Collieston?”

John looked up at Sherlock, blushed, for fuck's sake, then looked away again and cleared his throat. “Fine,” he said, “good. It was all fine.”

Your luck's changing, mate, Harry thought.

She had no idea how much.

“Hector left us the house, Harry,” John said shakily. “It's a mess, but structurally sound. And the money – did you know he was that well off?”

“No,” Harry said. Good news for John, though; at least it would cushion things till he found a job, though presumably probate would take a while.

“I've found a flat to rent,” John said. “Mike Stamford knows someone who's just moving out, and Sherlock and I are going to share it.”

Too good to be true, Harry thought uneasily, but what was the point in saying that? John might look concussed, but he also looked happier than she'd seen him in years, and she wasn't going to rain on his parade.

They talked paperwork and house prices, Sherlock still gazing silently at John. Harry was almost starting to wonder if he could speak, but as the two of them were leaving he turned and said “You'll be wanting John's new address; it's 221b Baker Street.”

Deep voice, musical, with a sort of growl in it. Probably a smoker, Harry thought.

She didn't see much of them over the next few weeks, but whenever she did it was always the same: Sherlock apparently completely wrapped up in John, and John looking exhilarated but also uneasy. She remembered that look in the mirror from her own first gay relationship, no surprise there – but she didn't understand what was going on with Sherlock. Obviously crazy about John, couldn't take his eyes off him; but with a sense of sadness coming from him, so powerful she could almost touch it. Harry wondered if he was ill and not saying – it'd be just like John's luck to fall for someone who was utterly gorgeous and devoted to him and then lose him to some awful disease.

No use worrying about that. Might never happen, and she'd got other things to think about. Selling the bloody marital home, for a start.

She was making lists for the removal men when John turned up. Alone, which was surprising – she hadn't seen him on his own since he came back from Scotland. Carrying a bundle of something wrapped up in an old green velvet curtain.

“I need you to hide this for me,” he said abruptly.

“Oh Christ, John, you do pick your moments. I'm trying to move house, if you hadn't noticed.”

“I know,” he said. “I thought that might help to – camouflage it.”

She stared at him and at the bundle. What the fuck was he up to now?

“Promise me you'll never tell anyone,” he said. “And especially not Sherlock.”

“Jesus, John, what is this?”

“It's his,” he said. “He mustn't find it. Promise me.”

She lifted a corner of the velvet, touched the smooth pelt that lay heavy in his arms.

Sealskin.

She stared at him.

“You have got to be fucking joking.”

But he wasn't, that was clear.

She'd heard the stories often enough from Hector. Used to know the Great Silkie ballad by heart. Never imagined for a moment any of the stories could be true.

“I love him,” John said desperately. “I can't let him go.”

“Oh God, John.”

She wanted to hug him, but he wouldn't want that, and the sight of that crazy bundle in his arms made her feel sick, thinking of what must surely follow.

What they both knew about the ballads and the stories, what everyone knows: the love between a selkie and a human always ends badly.





Part Two: John


Even in July, Hector’s house oozed damp and cold. The rooms had that unmistakable smell, too long unaired. Wardrobes bulged at the seams with musty clothes, piles of yellowing newspapers and unexpected grim stores of food tins and packets long past their sell-by date. (John remembered his mother twenty years ago, going through the Fife larder like a small blonde tornado as Hector protested: “They just make that date nonsense up so they can sell more. Put it back, Jean, it’s perfectly fine.” “It is not fine, Hector, it’s fermenting.”)

He scrubbed the kitchen floor and work surfaces with industrial quantities of disinfectant – at least he’d be able to walk across the room without sticking at every step, and throw together something to eat. The conservatory was freezing cold, but smelt less bad than the bedrooms, so he set up camp there, blessing the instinct that had made him pack his sleeping-bag. He wolfed down the doorstop sandwiches he’d made and sat staring out at the harbour, drinking his tea.

The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in Northeast Scotland, he thought, grinning wryly. He wriggled into the sleeping-bag still wearing everything but his boots, and wishing he’d brought a woolly hat. Wondered how long ago Hector had stopped even trying to look after himself. Still, when you’re 96 you can do what you like, at least if you haven’t got kids to interfere and put you in a home.

Was this what his life would be like, if he survived long enough?

Shut up and go to sleep, Watson, for fuck’s sake.

For once, he didn’t dream of Afghanistan, but of a storm at sea, a boat poised on the edge of a whirlpool, held in place by fraying ropes. Something from an old black-and-white film he’d once seen.

He woke at 4 a.m., sweating buckets and with a raging thirst. Drank some water and fell heavily asleep again, waking to find it was gone nine already.

Late morning, and he was still sitting on the clifftop behind the house, staring mindlessly at the puffins wheeling and skittering through the air. He knew he ought to go indoors, do some more cleaning, but the thought of those moth-eaten garments and slippery eiderdowns made him feel itchy all over.

For a moment he’d thought it was a man swimming down there, and then he realized it was a seal. Grey seal, from the size of it. The sight gave him an odd feeling inside, a lift of the heart, Hector would have called it. So beautiful, solitary and strong, this sleek dark creature raising its head now to stare at him.

It’s not really staring at you, he told himself. Just an optical illusion. But it felt real, for a moment – and then the seal disappeared into the waves. John strained to catch another glimpse of it, but it was gone.

Better go back and face the house anyway.

The rest of the day was spent throwing things into binbags, till John was aching all over and covered in dust and cobwebs. The cranky boiler grudgingly produced enough water for a bath and a hairwash, and with clean clothes on he didn’t feel so bad. He made himself dinner – pasta and tomato sauce, pretty basic but the hot food was comforting – and then settled down to read himself to sleep with one of Hector’s books.

In retrospect, reading about how Slains Castle had inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula probably wasn’t such a good idea just before bed. He tried to scream but couldn’t make a sound; he woke up shaking and whimpering. Put the light on, needing to see for himself that he wasn’t really covered in blood. Felt his neck: no wound there. Just his mind playing tricks on him again. Fuck it.


He didn’t know what made him decide to go down to the sea in the dark, lie down on the slipway with his head hanging over the side, for all the world as if he wanted to get washed away. He’d had enough, that was all. Nothing worked. Nothing was any good. He felt the tears run down his face, couldn't even be bothered to feel ashamed of it any more, lying here crying stupidly into the sea.

A strange sort of howling from further along the beach made him scramble to his feet and peer into the darkness. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, then rubbed them, not believing what he saw.

What kind of idiot would go skinny-dipping in the middle of the night off the coast of Scotland?

A bloody gorgeous one, apparently. He'd seen more than his fair share of naked male bodies – that went with the job – but never a man as beautiful as this.

Maybe it was just the moonlight; but the way the man’s skin shone made John catch his breath, made him want to stretch out a hand and touch. He was close enough now, close enough to feel the heat coming from the other man’s body, the warmth of his breath as he leaned closer still, their faces almost touching.

I’m dreaming, aren't I? I’m still fast asleep on that bloody sofa and any minute now he’s going to turn into another sodding vampire

The kiss was like falling through clear water with the sun in it, dizzy and plummeting. His hands clutched and scrabbled, tangling in dark curls as he pressed into the embrace. Must be a dream but the body in his arms was so warm, warm and dry, how was that possible? The man’s lips and tongue teased and caressed, making him moan with longing.

But he didn’t do this, he’d never –

“Shh,” the man said. “It’s all right.”

Hands, sure and strong, stroking John’s hair and his neck, running down his spine, holding him together and he needed something to hold him together because kissing this man was going to shatter him into a million tiny pieces and he’d be lost forever. He was drowning in it, gasping for breath, sinking into the depths, clinging on to this man like his only hope of rescue, his legs buckling under him, the strength of those hands holding him up as he shuddered and cried out, shaken to his bones.

The hands relaxed their grip and John pulled back from the kiss, feeling the chill of the night air as pleasure ebbed, leaving him sticky and ashamed.

“Sorry,” he muttered, hardly daring to open his eyes.

“Are you?” the man said. “I’m not. I don't think you should be either.”

The intimacy of that voice in his ear made his hair stand on end. Pressure of lips on his neck, a lingering kiss just light enough not to leave a mark. There’d be no trace in the morning to prove he hadn't dreamt the whole thing.

“You’ll see me again, though,” the man said, as if he could hear John’s thoughts. “Once it starts it can't be undone, and it's started now.”

“What – how –”

“The usual way, of course,” the man said. “Look it up, if you can’t remember. Go back to bed.”

John stared at the pale figure walking away along the beach till he couldn't see it any more. Then he stumbled back to the house in a daze and collapsed on the sofa, tumbling into sleep as if sandbagged. He had no more dreams, or none that he remembered.





Part Three: Sherlock


He'd seduced men before, of course; summer after summer, ever since he was old enough. Easy, when you know how, and it passed the time. He never saw them again, never wanted to. But this man was different.

Some relation of the dead man's, he'd thought, seeing the car pull up in front of the house. Not a son or a grandson, though. The old man didn't seem the type to breed.

As the land-dwellers said, It takes one to know one.

When he'd looked up from the water to see the man on the clifftop, watching him, the shock of recognition was so strong he'd had to turn away, plunge deep under the water. This one's mine. He was shaking with excitement, impatient to begin.

It had always been a game, before. He wasn't quite sure it would be this time.

That night, the man's sadness called to him so powerfully that he could hardly wait for the summons to finish, rushing from the water and shedding his skin before the last tear dropped into the sea. He couldn't resist a whoop of triumph. I knew it!

Skilful kisses and touches, polished moves in a familiar dance. The words were new, though; something more than the litany of curses and pleas wrung from his partners in the height of passion. He shouldn't have said what he did, shouldn't have spoken at all. But the thrill of feeling this man coming undone just from his kiss made him reckless.

Feeling desire after the act was new, too. The taste of the man's skin was still in his mouth, the scent of him still in his nostrils. It wasn't enough. He wanted skin against skin; wanted to lie with him all night, luxurious and slow, to tease and play till they were both spent and panting. He wanted to lick the sweat from every inch of him, to clean him with his tongue, swallow every drop of the precious fluid he'd seemed so ashamed of spilling. The memory of that choked cry made Sherlock clench inside with pleasure: he wanted to hear it again, and more, louder and unashamed this time. Wanted to possess this man completely, melt into him, wrap him close and tight around himself like a second skin.

He was careful, going back, and lucky; nobody saw him. He'd never felt the need to hide his conquests before, but he didn't want anyone to know about this one. Not yet, anyway. His mother would fret and his brother, pompous ass, would say the rules were there for a reason.

“Rules are boring,” Sherlock muttered defiantly. Boring, and irrelevant.

All the stories were of human men and Selkie women, human women and Selkie men. And children, always children. That was when the trouble started. Everyone knew that. What he did, what he'd just done, wasn't in the rules at all, but he couldn't get them to see it. If she knew where he'd been, his mother would ask him to promise he wouldn't go back. He didn't like saying no to her, but nothing in the world was going to keep him away from this man.


When he swam out the next morning the man was sitting on the clifftop again, staring into space. Sherlock wanted to go to him there and then but he couldn't: too risky to shed his skin in broad daylight, so close to other people. All he could do was gaze up at the man, showing off his strength and grace as he dived and surfaced: see me, notice me, look how beautiful I am. He knew he shouldn't, but the smile that lit up the man's tired face was worth it. He stayed as long as he dared, then dragged himself reluctantly away to wait for nightfall.

Past the longest day now, but it felt as if the darkness would never come.


“I thought I'd dreamt you,” the man said, sounding half-dazed still.

The same stretch of sand, darker tonight because of the clouds across the moon.

“I told you you'd see me again,” Sherlock said, trying to sound casual though his heart was hammering. “Should I leave a mark on you this time so you know I'm real?”

A sharp intake of breath. “Christ. I should not want that. I want that.”

Sherlock wanted it too, wanted it so much it made him dizzy. Put a mark on you, indelible, mine. He moved closer, till they were almost touching but not quite, savouring the ache of anticipation now it was almost over.

“We can't do this here,” the man said, glancing over his shoulder at the lights of the village. “It's not safe.”

Last night he'd been too far gone to care. Sherlock wanted to make him feel like that again, reckless with desire.

“I like it here in the open,” he said, reaching out to stroke the man's neck.

The pulse fluttered under his fingers.

Ohh. Oh God,” the man said shakily. “I don't even know your name.”

Don't give him a name, you must never tell them your name

“Sherlock.”

Sherlock. I – my name is John.”

“John.”

The name felt good in his mouth. Heavy. He said it again, tasting it. John made a soft desperate noise and kissed him.

Good, so good, the kiss, and different from when he kissed John, not sure how, it didn't matter, this, just this, no, he wanted more, he wanted

John was pulling him towards the house, saying “So beautiful, Christ, you're so beautiful, please come with me, please.”

Stronger than he looked, and Sherlock liked that, liked it too much for his own good.

“I can't –”

The oldest taboo: you don't cross the threshold. He knew he mustn't, but John's grip felt so good it made him weak. He felt drugged, half-asleep, knowing he was walking into danger but he couldn't stop himself.

“Lie down with me, please, I want you to, I want you so much,” John said. “Fuck.

Hands fumbling with buttons, shoelaces, fastenings – Sherlock silently cursed the stupidity of humans' coverings – and finally, finally the relief of naked skin beautiful and warm against his own. John's scent making him dizzy with pleasure – just pheromones, he told himself, but that didn't explain the feeling, so strong he felt he was shouting it aloud. I've found my mate.

He'd thought it would never happen to him. Thought he'd die unmated and he wouldn't care, it was better that way. Why would you stay with someone once you'd got what you wanted? But he couldn't imagine ever wanting John less fiercely than he wanted him right this minute. Mine. Now. Always.

The makeshift bed was cramped and narrow, but it didn't matter; he'd never felt anything as good as this.

John's sex, thicker than his own and fully hard, beautifully heavy in his hand as if it had been made for it. His own aching arousal matching John's, the slippery wetness of their pre-come slicking Sherlock's palm as he tightened his fist around them both. Moving the ring of his hand, slow, then faster, harder, like that, yes, please, so good, too much, more. John's hand closing around his, pressing his fingers tighter, squeezing, now, right now. John tensed and cried out, coming hard, making a glorious mess of their joined hands and his own stomach and chest. John's hand was still clasping his fist and Sherlock went on thrusting into it, till he couldn't hold out any longer against the pleasure of that tight hot slide, couldn't breathe, shaken and helpless, coming apart in John's grasp, his mind emptied of everything but John's name.


He was floating, suspended, heavy and weightless at the same time, so awash with pleasure he couldn't move. His blood felt thick and slow, and he could hardly open his eyes.

“Hello,” John said, sounding pleased and shy. “Are you awake again, then?”

John's hands stroking his back felt so good that for a moment he wanted nothing more than to abandon himself to the bliss of that touch. But the sounds of the birds outside and the colour of the sky made his stomach knot with panic. How long had he been asleep? He tried to sit up, and found he was dizzy.

“Careful,” John said. “You don't have to go, do you?”

I don't want to go. But he couldn't leave it any longer: it would be light soon, and the risk of someone finding his skin was too great.

“I must,” he said, pulling away from John's embrace.

Oh, but not touching John any more was agony, like having a strip of his flesh torn from him. The pain scared him. All the stories of captivity and suffering seemed to be pressing in on him till he couldn't breathe, everything screaming at him to get out of here, now.

“Will you – will I see you again?” John asked, sounding so lost and unsure that it made Sherlock's chest hurt.

Tell him no and walk away. Walk out of this trap and don't come back, if you value your life.

“Yes,” he said. “I promise you will.”




Part Four: John


Finding the photograph changed everything.

He'd been trying to sort Hector's books into boxes – the ones he wanted to keep and the ones for the Oxfam shop. Tucked away behind a clutch of classic detective stories he'd decided to take for comfort reading was another volume of Scottish folktales, not one he'd seen before. Hector's name on the flyleaf and his notes in the margins looked firmer and clearer than John remembered. Written long ago, obviously.

The dust made him sneeze, and he banged the book shut to shake it off. A loose page dropped out of it and landed on the floor. Fuck. Torn it. As he bent to pick it up he realized it wasn't part of the book at all, but a separate black-and-white photograph. Slightly blurred, but it took his breath away.

What the hell was Hector doing with a picture of Sherlock?

Was it Sherlock, though? It was uncannily like him, but looking at it again, John wasn't quite sure. He peered closer at the pencilled figures in the corner: xii.viii.46.

There was writing on the back of the photograph, too. A quotation, but he didn't know where from:

“Summoned by tears, and held in woe.”

Underneath, so small and faint he could hardly read it, was another line of writing.

My lost love, now and forever.

John sat down heavily on the sofa and stared at the picture. Hector had written that about this man. In 1946. Jesus.

He couldn't imagine what it must have been like, being gay back then.

Never thought of Hector as having any kind of sex life. Well, you don't, do you, when you're a kid? Hector was already an old man, and it was easy to assume he'd never been interested in that sort of thing.

So strange to think of that part of Hector's life, hidden away all these years in a book of fairytales. He wondered what Hector would have thought if he'd known about him and Sherlock. But if Hector hadn't died he'd never have met Sherlock. The thought was like a physical pain, doubling him up.

A memory from more than twenty years ago came back to him, his A-level summer. Waiting for results and tormenting himself with worry – what would he do if he didn't get into university, if he couldn't become a doctor – and Hector comforting him:

“My mother always used to say What's for ye will no go by ye. If it's meant to happen, it'll happen somehow.”

He should have kept in touch more, he knew, but he'd been too caught up in his own life. And now Hector was dead and his death had brought John a gift he'd never imagined.

He turned the pages guiltily, trying not to think about it.

“The Goodman of Wastness”. One of Hector's favourites. He hadn't read that for years. There was a cross in the margin next to the selkie woman's parting words, when she'd found her skin again:

“Goodman of Wastness, farewell to ye!
I liked ye well, ye were good to me,
But I love better my man of the sea.”

In the gap between the stories, Hector had scrawled a few words and another date:

His fate was harder. iii.ix.46

John wondered what it meant. Must be something to do with the man in the picture. He'd probably never know – whatever that relationship was, it must have been a secret one. God knows what Harry would say if he told her about this. Or about him and Sherlock, come to that.

Night seemed a long time away. Too many hours to spend daydreaming and remembering and longing to be naked with Sherlock in his arms again.

John groaned and buried his face in the sofa cushions, giving up the battle with exhaustion.

Must show Sherlock that picture, he thought, as his eyelids began to droop.




“Where did you get that?” Sherlock's voice was harsh.

“It was in one of Hector's books,” John said. “I thought at first it was you, till I saw the date. Do you know who it is?”

“It's my grandfather.” Sherlock looked as if he might be about to be sick. “I never knew him. But I've seen – other images of him.”

“There's a quotation on the back, but I don't know what it means,” John said, showing him.

Sherlock gave a cry and dropped to his knees, burying his face in his hands.

“Sherlock. Sherlock, please, what is it?” John knelt beside him and put a tentative hand on his shoulder.

“Not here,” Sherlock moaned, “it wasn't here, I'd have known.”

“What wasn't?” John asked. His stomach was knotted with dread.

“There's – a feeling you get in the places where it's happened,” Sherlock said. “It gets into the walls.”

“What are you talking about?”

Sherlock raised his head and stared at John, as if he couldn't believe anyone could be so stupid.

“Captivity,” he spat. “Your kind imprisoning mine.”

That couldn't really mean what John thought it meant, could it? He wondered if he was going mad, or if Sherlock was. Maybe they both were.

Hector's voice echoed in John's head: If a woman wanted to call a Selkie to her, she must cry seven tears into the sea.

“Summoned by tears,” he said, wonderingly.

Finally,” Sherlock said, his voice tight with rage.

“Are you saying Hector – did that to your grandfather?”

“He called him!” Sherlock burst out. “Called him and kept him. Trapped him.”

And lost him, John thought, the way I'm going to lose you now.

He remembered his despair that night on the slipway, lying there crying into the sea –

“I called you, didn't I?” he said, stricken. “That's what you meant about the usual way.”

Sherlock said, so quiet John could hardly hear him, “I wanted you to. The first time I saw you –”

“Wasn't that the first time?”

Sherlock's face flushed, and John had a sudden image of the seal in the water, that lithe strong dark body he'd watched diving and surfacing, showing off, day after day.

“Oh, this is crazy,” he said helplessly.

“It was the only way I could see you,” Sherlock said. “I couldn't come here in the light.”

“I wanted to see you too,” John said. “Every hour of every day.”

Sherlock groaned and hauled him close for a long desperate kiss, pressing against him as if he wanted to break through the wall of John's skin and disappear inside him. John tasted blood, his own or Sherlock's, he wasn't sure. He clung to Sherlock with all his strength, letting his weight pull both of them to the floor.

No finesse to it this time: they clutched and grabbed at each other, needy, frantic, trying to blot out what had happened. Sherlock was all bones, bruising and hard, slamming against him as John groaned and gasped for breath. He gripped tighter as Sherlock thrust, though his knee was hurting and his shoulder was screaming in protest.

Words kept forming in his mind: the last time, it can't be the last time, I can't bear it, if I have to give you up I'll die... He buried his face in Sherlock's neck, crying out and coming apart, shaken by the force of it.

Sherlock's movements grew more urgent, till he stilled, going taut all over, and came with a long wailing cry, clasping John so tight he thought his ribs would break. He kissed John's eyes, wet and stinging with salt and sweat, and held him as if he'd never let him go. Neither of them spoke for a long time.

John lay breathing Sherlock in, trying to lock the memory of his scent, his skin, away where he couldn't lose it, but knowing it was useless. It would fade from his mind, like the sound of Sherlock's voice, like the contours of his face, like the feel of Sherlock's body against his. It would come too soon, the time when he couldn't remember Sherlock any more, not properly. And then there'd be no point in anything any more.

“Don't you dare think like that,” Sherlock said, in a growl that made John's hair stand on end.

How did he know?

“Oh come on, it's obvious,” Sherlock said impatiently. “It's written all over you.”

“If you know,” John said, “then you know why.”

“You don't understand, do you?” Sherlock said, sounding as if it was being forced out of him. “I can't be parted from you either.”

John felt weak with relief, then caught off balance by a sudden wave of anger.

“So when were you going to tell me what you really are? Or weren't you?”

“You wouldn't have believed me, would you?” Sherlock said unsteadily. “You'd have thought I was mad, or making things up.”

“Maybe,” John said, knowing it was true.

“We'll find a way,” Sherlock said. “We have to. Not here, but somewhere.”

He pushed his hands into John's hair and drew him close again.

They were gentler this time, careful and tender, vividly aware of each other's fragility. Slow, deep kisses and prolonged caresses; an act of reassurance, an unspoken promise, till the hunger overtook them again, pushing them out of themselves.

What the word meant: Ecstasy. Standing outside the self. The hidden meaning inside the skin of all those myths, those stories of transformation.

But the skin of this story was also the truth, and the truth was a hard one. What everyone knew: what all the stories and ballads told you. The love between a selkie and a human never had a happy ending.

Had never had one yet.

Who were they, to think they could change the rules?




Part Five: Sherlock


Too many watchers, so close to home: he'd always known he couldn't escape their surveillance forever. His luck had run out at last; the storm broke over his head.

His brother tried to order him not to go back there again, which was frankly absurd. As if Sherlock was going to do what he said.

When that didn't work, he claimed Sherlock had broken the rules in going to John in the first place. Said there was no record of a summoning.

“Then your records are wrong,” Sherlock snapped. Trust Mycroft to make a mess of things.

His mother was just as upset and angry as he'd feared: “This man's family nearly destroyed yours, Sherlock; don't you care about that at all?”

Always talking about the history. Why did everyone behave as if the only things that could happen were the ones that had happened before?

If Mycroft's records were anything to go by, history couldn't be trusted anyway. Probably all of it was equally distorted: centuries of carelessness, prejudice and assumptions.

And if the history was wrong, maybe the rules were too. Maybe there was a way to escape them. Or rewrite them.

There had to be a way. Not here, but somewhere.




When Sherlock impulsively said he'd go with him to London, John looked so happy it took his breath away, then kissed Sherlock as if he was trying to crush the life out of him.

After that it was too late to back out, even if he'd wanted to.

A long way from the sea, and the thought of that made Sherlock breathless in a different way, feeling imagined walls closing in on him. He tried to tell himself the distance would help; too close and he'd be constantly drawn back.

Maybe they'd be safe in the city. Plenty of places they could hide.

He knew his way around London by now; the city had been his refuge from the breeding-grounds in autumn and winter, year after year. Escaping the monotonous cycle of courtship and reproduction, the weight of expectation that dragged him down. His family's obsession with lineage and heredity, the duty of perpetuating your kind. He didn't want any part of it.

He liked the anonymity of crowds: wave after wave of people passing through the city and none of them his. There were watchers here, too, but the security cameras seemed blessedly impersonal.

The disguise he wore made it easy to slip away from these strangers, even from those who thought they knew him. Better than a cloak of invisibility: they saw a drug addict and never looked beyond the label. If he wasn't around, they just assumed he was out of his skull somewhere, or maybe trying to get clean.

The city's mysteries and riddles pleased him, suited him. He'd explored its hidden alleyways and secret places, tracing forgotten paths and boundaries long since blurred to near-invisibility. Buried streets and lost rivers, read about but seldom or never seen.

There were other mysteries there, too, if you knew where to look or how to invite them. Puzzles and games for a mind that rebelled at stagnation. Too easy to satisfy him for long, but he always hoped for something better, harder, a challenge to test him to the limits, an opponent worthy of him.

He'd played in that world alone, and always on his own terms. It felt strange, revisiting it now with someone by his side.



He wanted to be with John, more than anything in the world. Wanted the daylight hours as well as the dark, wanted people to look at him and envy him. He's with me. What he knew already was enough to make anyone proud to call this man their own: loyal and brave, a healer and a warrior. A man who had seen the world, but who looked at Sherlock as if he was the most amazing thing that had ever been since before the world was made. It was intoxicating, that look. He wanted to make it happen again and again, in bed and out of it. Wanted it to burn into him, till he was imprinted with John's gaze, an invisible legend stamped on his skin like the marks of John's mouth and his hands.

But John was working, and the hours passed too slowly when he was away. Sherlock had never lived like this in the city before, day after day without respite. Even this far south, the long summer days made him feel stretched out beyond bearing, longing to disappear beneath the waves.



The first time Sherlock bolted, he was gone forty-eight hours. John didn't need to tell him he'd counted every one of them; it was written all over him.

Seeing John like that, bleached with pain and exhaustion, hurt him in ways he couldn't explain. He'd never felt like that before. But then he'd never felt those other things before either. The intensity of passion that lifted him so far outside himself he was scared he'd never get back again. The longing that felt like a string tied tight around his heart and pulling, pulling right through his body and out of it, all the way to John's. As strong as the pull of being too long away from the sea, the one that forced him to run, not stopping to tell John where or why or even to say he was going.

“You can't do this to me,” John said. His fists were clenched by his side; Sherlock could feel the tamped-down violence coming off him in waves.

“I'm sorry,” he said, the word still unfamiliar in his mouth.

“Christ, Sherlock, I thought you were dead. Do you have any idea what that was like?”

A flash of it, yes, but his mind wouldn't hold the thought, too big, too overwhelming, making him feel he was falling apart.

“Promise me you won't disappear again,” John said fiercely.

He couldn't promise. He tried to explain, but it was no good. John didn't understand why he couldn't risk making a promise he knew he wouldn't be able to keep.

They took these things more lightly, Sherlock thought. Even if you ended up breaking a promise, they still expected you to make it. Like marriage. The promise itself was a necessary sign, and the failure to make it was an injury.

This quarrel was much worse than the one about the old man. It burnt till there was nothing left but ash, till Sherlock was almost ready to beg for forgiveness. He'd never begged for anything in his life, but he couldn't bear John's cold anger, his withdrawal into silence.


Get out of here, the voices urged him. Run while you still can.


He'd bolted again, a second time and a third, struggling to resist till he couldn't hold out any longer, desperate with longing and fear. And each time it was worse: the agony of being apart from John, even for a single night, and the bitterness and anger between them when he returned.

He couldn't talk about where he'd been, or why he had to go. The words stuck in his throat: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you, I never mean to hurt you but I keep doing it and I'll always keep doing it and this is why they said it wouldn't work, I can't stay and I can't go and I'm being torn in two.


The fourth time, scrabbling in disbelief and panic, he found the hiding-place empty.

John had been there before him. The skin was gone.


Parts 6-9 )

Also posted at http://fengirl88.dreamwidth.org/49890.html with comments.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
ginbitch
Jul. 23rd, 2011 05:28 pm (UTC)
SQUEEEEE!!!!

You posted! I have been drooling over this on the kink meme! It's _gorgeous_!!!

Memming like fury!

<3
fengirl88
Jul. 23rd, 2011 08:03 pm (UTC)
*squees back*

thank you so much! it makes me very happy that you like this. I think I still have a big stupid grin on my face from discovering you'd been reading it on the meme...
siousxiesue
Aug. 15th, 2012 02:30 pm (UTC)
Wow, just wow. I've honestly never read an AU before because they never appealed, but this! Love it, heartbreaking and real and ever so moreish!
fengirl88
Aug. 15th, 2012 10:50 pm (UTC)
thank you very much - I read quite a lot of AUs in XMFC, though I couldn't imagine at first why anyone would want to write or read one. I'm more resistant to them in Sherlock, and it was a challenge to make this one work, but I fell in love with the prompt and could not resist writing it.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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