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fic: The Water's Edge

Title: The Water's Edge
Author: fengirl88
Fandom: BBC Sherlock
Pairing/Characters: Sarah/Harry, John/Lestrade, Sherlock/John, OCs
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: none
Wordcount: 2932
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine.
Summary: “There's a reason Harry's relationships don't last,” John had said. “I'm sorry, Sarah”.
A/N: Final instalment of the Trouble With Harry series. This fic is for kalypso_v, who started it all with the request for Harry/Sarah that resulted in Water, back in March 2011. I didn't know that fic was going to become the start of a series; heartfelt thanks to everyone who has encouraged me in the long process of writing this, and to carolyn_claire and ginbitch for betaing this fic and so enabling me to finish the series at last.

The series ends, as it began, with Sarah's story, but this fic also suggests what happens after Mutual Society.




The Oasis Centre pool's quiet, this time of night: it's why Sarah comes here now, in the last hour before closing. This time on a Monday night it's women only, too, so she doesn't have to deal with some prat determinedly cutting across her path. Seriously, what is it with these men? Can't bear to see a woman exercising her strength, or enjoying herself independent of them.

She needs this, after a day like today. Pushing the tension out through her aching muscles, feeling the pressure of work fall away a little more with each successive length. Focusing on the movement of arms and legs, the rhythm of water and breathing. Trying to think of nothing. God knows she's got plenty not to think about.

*~*~*~

How long did it take her to work out what a mistake she'd made? She thinks of Cassie at the surgery, talking about a friend of hers: She knew she'd married the wrong guy before she'd finished unpacking her boxes. Took her another year and a half to get out of there, though.

At least she's not living with Harry any more, though she's not free yet. There's a waiting period before she can even apply to dissolve the civil partnership, never mind how long the courts will take after that. She doesn't think Harry will fight it, though she might just to spite Sarah, or to punish her for not being the imaginary perfect wife Harry'd thought she was getting.

“There's a reason Harry's relationships don't last,” John had said. “I'm sorry, Sarah”.

She hadn't expected to find herself telling him about her and Harry, though she knew he'd have to know sooner or later. But then, one Saturday morning, she'd run into him in Camden High Street with the grey-haired policeman he'd brought to her wedding, looking so comfortable and domestic it was obvious they were a couple.

He wasn't with Sherlock any more, then. Not that surprising – nobody could put up with Sherlock's particular brand of craziness indefinitely. But she knew, better than anyone, how madly in love he'd been: couldn't help knowing it, even when she didn't want to. She'd seen the way he looked at Sherlock in the hospital, as if no-one else existed, and to lose that...

“John,” she said, touching his arm gently. “I didn't know about you and Sherlock. I'm sorry.”

Probably not the most tactful thing to say in front of the other man, who was looking at John with a mixture of affection and protectiveness that made her throat feel tight. At least he's got someone to care for him now.

John took a step backwards, looking startled, then more uncomfortable than she'd ever seen him.

“I – what?” he said. “Oh. Um. I haven't – we haven't split up, if that's what you're thinking.”

“You haven't?”

She felt cold inside, sick with the dawning realization of what that meant.

“Um,” John said again, flushing bright red to the tips of his ears. “It's complicated.”

“Oh, I'll just bet it is,” she said. She knew she'd gone pale with rage, your Medusa look Harry called it, though Sarah always felt she was the one being turned to stone.

“Look, Sarah, it's not –”

Not what you're thinking? She'd heard that from a Watson before, more than once. Her stomach knotted, disgust and anger twisting together.

“Does Sherlock know about this?”

Ironic that she should find herself taking Sherlock's part, given how he'd treated her, but she couldn't help it.

“Yes, he does,” John said. “It was his idea.”

“I don't believe you,” she said, coldly furious. “I don't believe this. Seriously, what is wrong with your family?”

“How long have you got?” John asked, wincing.

It was a joke, but not a joke; she could see the other man weighing up the situation, working out whether to leave them together.

“I'll take this lot home, shall I?” he said, gesturing at the shopping-bags. “Give the two of you a chance to talk.” He gave John's arm a squeeze and said “See you later.”

“Yeah,” John said. “Thanks, Greg.”

If she hadn't been there, she thought, he'd have kissed that man goodbye. No, if she hadn't been there they wouldn't have had to say goodbye at all –

“Are you OK?” John said. “You're not, are you? Sarah, what is it?”

“What do you think?”

That was unfair: she'd seen his head jerk back, as if he'd been slapped.

“Right,” he said. “Sorry. I'm probably not the best person to – um. Do you want to get a cup of coffee?”

They'd sat in Camden Bar and Kitchen, and she'd told him more than she meant, though still not everything. Some things she doesn't think she'll ever tell anyone: the accusing thoughts that fill her mind when she wakes at 4 a.m. The overwhelming shame at what she brought on herself...

“Does Sherlock really not mind about you and Greg?” She couldn't imagine that, though she'd stopped thinking he was lying to her.

“I don't know,” John said. “He says not, and he seems OK with it. I think he'd say if he wasn't.”

Sherlock hardly seemed the type to suffer in silence, so maybe John was right.

“And you?” It felt weird to be asking, but he'd said he wanted to tell her about it.

“It's – I don't know,” he said. “It's not always easy, but it's worth it.”

She'd been too wrapped up in her own misery to think about how he was, but it was true that he'd seemed happier these last months. More comfortable in his own skin.

And yes, he was the last person she should be talking to about her and Harry. But she had to talk to someone, and she couldn't talk to her friends, or her family...

*~*~*~

She pushes herself harder, one more length, maybe two, though the fatigue is almost overwhelming now. Something feels different, wrong, but she's not sure what; she swims to the side and holds on, puts her hand up to her throat in that gesture that's become second nature –

It's not there.

The necklace Harry bought her in Crete, the first time they went there, on honeymoon last year. She didn't take it off with her wedding-ring, though she tells herself she ought to. The faint white line on her ring finger makes her stomach twist every time she looks at it, the not quite faded tan of this year's trip to Crete a bitter reminder that you can't step into the same river twice.

She'd hoped it might fix things, but it was a mistake to go back. The waitress at the café who kept passing a bit too close to their table this time, always with a smile and a word for Harry.

“She's just being friendly,” Harry had said. “Bloody hell, Sarah, you see it everywhere. I thought we were trying to make a new start.”

She'd blamed herself, and apologised, but afterwards she'd wondered if she was right all along.

She didn't know if Harry was actually unfaithful, or just a compulsive flirt; after a certain point it stopped mattering. More and more she felt herself being drained, losing hope and energy as she watched Harry exercising her charms on one pretty girl after another. Each one younger than the last. Each one making Sarah feel older and more tired and unattractive, till she wasn't even surprised any more that Harry seemed to have lost interest in sex with her. She'd caught her reflection in the mirror, haggard and dark-eyed, and thought I wouldn't want to shag you either.

That was the day she'd decided to treat herself to a proper lunch-hour, not just a sandwich from the shop on the corner. Going into the new French place over the road and seeing Harry sitting across the table from yet another pretty young thing with a bottle of wine between them. Too preoccupied to notice Sarah stumbling out of the café and back to the surgery to lock herself in her room and shake and cry.

“Oh, for fuck's sake!” Harry yelled at her that evening. “If I was having an affair with the woman, do you think I'd be that stupid, meeting her on your doorstep?”

“I don't know,” she'd said, still cold with rage and shock. She wouldn't put it past Harry to have chosen the place for exactly that reason.

And by the time you get to thinking like that about your spouse, the marriage really is on the rocks, whether she's having an affair or not.

“Fine,” Harry snapped, “if that's the way you want it you can fuck off. Go back to screwing men. Always knew you were just a tourist.”

She'd felt like saying So why did you ask me to marry you?, but she knew it was pointless. As pointless as wondering what had possessed her to say yes.

People talk about being swept off your feet without thinking what that's really like. It all happened so fast she couldn't get her breath, couldn't pace herself, much less think clearly about what it meant to tie her life to this woman. High on all that fantastic sex and the giddy rush of being loved, desired, wooed with such determination; being told over and over again that she was beautiful, she was wonderful, she was the one. However much she'd told herself to keep her head, she wasn't proof against Harry's onslaught. And by the time she came to her senses, it was too late.

*~*~*~

Shouldn't have swum in it, shouldn't still be wearing it, it's her own stupid fault, like everything else...

She climbs out of the pool and goes over to the nice woman lifeguard.

“I think I've lost my necklace,” she says.

“Oh dear,” the woman says. “What does it look like?”

“It's a plain gold chain,” Sarah says, and realizes to her horror that she's about to cry.

“I'm sure we can find it,” the woman says. “Here, I'll have a look for you.”

She strips to her bathing-suit and dives in, a smooth easy movement that Sarah watches with admiration and a trace of envy. She's never been good at diving, or putting her head under water, come to that, even with her eyes shut.

The woman swims underwater for longer than Sarah would have thought possible, then surfaces gasping.

“Not there,” she says. “I'll try further over,” and disappears beneath the surface again.

Sarah watches her, hearing the echo of a song in her head from one of those late-night TV-watching sessions waiting for Harry to come home from wherever she was. BBC2, kd lang on Later, singing about love in the past tasting sweet like cherries in the summer heat... Take me back to the water's edge, hold me under for the longest human breath. So much yearning, and what was the point of it all?

Leave it, she feels like saying to the lifeguard. Leave the necklace for whatever the Oasis pool has instead of mermaids. Or Rhinemaidens. There's no point in hanging on to something that reminds her of the happy times with Harry. It's like the torture of hope – it just makes things worse.

“I don't want to make you late,” she says apologetically, after the woman's come up empty-handed a fifth time. “It must be nearly closing time.”

She ought to be getting home herself. Back to the flat she never got round to selling, as if a part of her knew that she and Harry wouldn't last.

“One more try,” the lifeguard says. “Why don't you get changed, and I'll bring it to you if I find it.”

*~*~*~

There's another woman in the showers, and she's naked. Sarah catches her breath: so beautiful, the lines of this woman's back and shoulders, curve of buttocks and thigh as she bends to pick up her discarded swimming costume.

Stop staring at her, you fool. Sarah turns away, flushing hot with shame, and lets the hot water cascade over her, streaming down her face. She could stand here for hours and never feel it was enough; nothing's going to wash away the sense of failure that clings to her, more lingering than chlorine on her skin.

She hears the other woman leaving, but doesn't turn to look. Harry was wrong about her being just a tourist. But she still doesn't feel OK about staring at strange women, particularly naked ones. Even if this one was gorgeous.

Gorgeous, and hauntingly familiar. Sarah really must be knackered if she's started having déjà vu...

“Got it!”

She opens her eyes, startled, to see the lifeguard triumphantly brandishing her lost necklace.

“Oh,” Sarah says shakily. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“Your friend spotted it,” the woman says.

“My friend?”

“Yes, she came back for another look after she'd got dressed,” the woman says.

“The woman who was here?” Sarah says, dazed. “She's not my friend, I've –” never seen her before, she's about to say, but she changes it to “I don't know her.”

“Oh,” the lifeguard says, surprised. “Well, she seemed to know you.”

Was she a patient? Sarah wonders. That would be embarrassing – probably more so for the other woman than for her.

She didn't look the type to be embarrassed, though. She looked like –

“Oh, my god,” Sarah says, her knees nearly giving way.

“She said she'd wait for you outside,” the woman says. “Are you OK? D'you want me to call a cab?”

“I'm fine,” Sarah says, though her legs feel like cotton-wool and her heart is racing. “I – thank you, I think I'd better get dressed.”

“OK,” the woman says. “Give me a shout if you need help, though.”

Cursing her clumsy fingers and the moment of madness when she'd thought a blouse with this many buttons would be a good thing to wear today, Sarah gets dressed, still shaking.

It can't be her, not after all these years.

But in her mind she's back at the water's edge, watching a woman who makes her think of a nymph, no, a goddess, water streaming from her body as she stands naked and laughing in the river.

*~*~*~

It's cool outside now, and Sarah pulls her jacket close around her, shivering. A figure steps out of the shadows and into the light from the streetlamp. Twenty years don't pass without leaving their mark, and she wears her hair differently now, but it's definitely her.

“Hello, Laura,” Sarah says, sounding calmer than she feels.

“Sarah Sawyer,” Laura says, as if she can't quite believe it. “You look great. How are you?”

How the fuck is she supposed to answer that one, Sarah wonders, even as You look great makes something uncurl in her chest.

“I'm – OK, I guess.”

It's not quite true, but it'll do to be going on with.

“I thought it was you in the pool,” Laura says, “but I wasn't sure. Didn't have my contact lenses in. Then I thought I'd wait till you were dressed to say hello.”

She smiles, and Sarah feels herself blushing at the memory of that summer afternoon.

“How's – your brother?” Sarah asks, because for an awful moment she can't actually remember Simon's name. And yes, it's twenty years ago, and they didn't last for much more than that summer, but forgetting your ex-boyfriend's name when you're talking to his sister is still embarrassing.

“He's fine,” Laura says. “Married with 2.4 children, well, two, anyway, living half an hour from our parents.”

“And you?” Sarah says.

“I'm fine too,” Laura says, with a grin. “Living closer to the family than I used to – I was in the States for a long time. Still keeping my distance, though. And not married with 2.4 children, despite my mother's best efforts.”

That could mean anything, or nothing; Sarah's not sure.

“My great-aunt said I'm not the marrying kind,” Laura says wryly. “How about you?”

Sarah winces. “I was married,” she says. “Well, technically I still am, but it was a mistake.”

“Ah,” Laura says, looking at Sarah's left hand. “I'm sorry. That's rough.”

“Yes,” Sarah says, and for a moment she can't say anything else.

“The lifeguard was worried about your necklace,” Laura says, as the silence threatens to become uncomfortable.

“Harry – my ex – gave it to me,” Sarah says. “It's the only present of hers I kept.”

Laura grimaces; she'd obviously meant to change the subject, not prolong it. She doesn't seem surprised to learn that Harry's female, which is odd, or maybe it isn't.

“Good to have it back, then,” she says, her tone carefully neutral.

She looks at Sarah as if she's about to say something else, but she doesn't.

Sarah fishes the necklace out of her coat pocket and looks at the golden coil lying in her hand, glinting under the streetlamp. “I think the clasp's broken.”

“Looks that way,” Laura says, “but it shouldn't be hard to fix.”

“No,” Sarah says.

The chain feels heavier off than it ever did on, or perhaps she'd just got used to the weight of it. Sarah tucks it safely away in her handbag and zips the inner compartment shut. She'll get the clasp fixed, because it's no good to anyone like this; but maybe it's time she stopped wearing the necklace.

“So,” Laura says, “what's been happening with you?”

Sarah draws a deep breath. “It's a long story,” she says, as lightly as she can manage.

“Good,” Laura says, with a smile that makes her feel slightly dizzy. “I like long stories. Come and have a drink and tell me all about it.”


***

Title from k.d. lang, The Water's Edge.

I'm very grateful to the following for beta wisdom, cheerleading and important conversations about the overall direction of the series: carolyn_claire, ginbitch, kalypso_v, kate_lear, 2ndskin and thimpressionist.



Also posted at http://fengirl88.dreamwidth.org/95597.html with comment count unavailable comments.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
fengirl88
Nov. 8th, 2012 09:53 am (UTC)
thank you - and thank you so much for your beta help with this one! I did want everyone to be happy(ish), and am relieved that it has finally happened. *beams*
thesmallhobbit
Nov. 8th, 2012 08:39 am (UTC)
This is lovely - and well worth waiting for.

I can really feel for Sarah and the variety of emotions she has been going through. Very glad that she's met Laura again. It must have been very hard for Sarah to watch Harry with other girls/women and realise that she had been caught up the way they are now being caught.

And obviously I'm delighted that John and Greg are together, even if the relationship is rather Sherlock-complicated and that both are happy.
fengirl88
Nov. 8th, 2012 09:55 am (UTC)
thank you very much - it has been a long wait, my goodness...

I had the idea months ago of Sarah meeting Laura, and have been wanting to get them together ever since!

and yes, I wanted John and Greg to be together, whatever the complications, and wanted them to be happy. *mops brow*
rusty_armour
Nov. 13th, 2012 01:10 am (UTC)
Sorry I'm just getting around to reading and commenting, though this was so worth the wait! :-) I think what I admire most about this story is how wonderfully you portray Sarah and her heartbreak. I found it touching that she was instantly concerned about Sherlock when she discovered that John and Lestrade were in a relationship. It's almost as if she feels a bond with him because she was betrayed too. I really like the symbolism of the necklace as it seems to work on so many levels. I love the fact that it's Laura who finds the necklace -- almost as if she were meant to if it meant finding Sarah as well. I found it funny and ironic Sarah used to date Laura's brother. I hope this time the pattern works in her favour. ;-)
fengirl88
Nov. 13th, 2012 09:46 am (UTC)
thank you very much! I'm glad you enjoyed the fic and Sarah's portrayal in particular. I had always thought that she identifies with Sherlock as someone else who (she assumes) has been treated badly by a Watson sibling - but it was carolyn_claire who suggested that her first response might be a mistaken empathy for John. very glad you liked the necklace as well - I was pleased when I realized all the things that could happen around that. *grins*

I am so glad to have this finished at last, and I think the future for Sarah is a much brighter one. when I thought of her meeting Laura again it seemed right - that Harry has been a kind of necessary stage or detour for where she needs to get to.

Edited at 2012-11-13 09:48 am (UTC)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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