cypress_fic: (Wheat Field with Cypresses - Van Gogh)
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Title: This Thing All Things Devours (4/15)
Pairing: Sherlock/John
Rating: Explicit
Word Count: 7,700 for this part
Genre: AU/fusion, science fiction, action, romance

Summary:

(In Time AU) In 2169, time is money—literally. Humans are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, when the numbers on their arm start counting down from one year. When that time is up, they die. The only way to get more time is to earn it, borrow it, or steal it.

John Watson lives day-to-day in the crowded slums of Zone 13. He never imagined living any differently—until he meets the practically-immortal Sherlock, and helps him on a case to track a local time-thief...




That night, John dreamt that he was standing in a 19th century sitting room.  It didn’t look anything like his flat, yet it felt like home.  He looked up and saw Sherlock lying on a sofa, wearing John’s pyjamas and a Victorian dressing gown.  When their eyes met, Sherlock smiled at him.


The scene suddenly changed, and this time, John was running down an alleyway in a London that seemed a hundred years old.  His feet pounded painfully against the hard pavement, but he kept going because he could hear Sherlock’s voice in the distance.  Every time he thought he was coming to a dead end, the wall in front of him disappeared.  He didn’t stop running.


The scene changed again, and this time he couldn't tell where or when he was.  He couldn't see anything but Sherlock in front of him—naked and warm and kissing him.  They were so wrapped up in each other that John wasn't sure where his body ended and Sherlock's began.  Everything seemed to be the colour of Sherlock's skin, and everything tasted like his mouth.  Everything smelled like his hair and his breath and his sweat.  It was real and vivid, but it didn’t last.  John felt himself slipping away just as dream-Sherlock opened his eyes to look at him.


---


They were both awake, lying on their sides.  Sherlock was behind him, and his foot had somehow become trapped between John’s ankles.  He was lying close—John could feel Sherlock’s breath against his neck.  John felt warm and at peace, though the final dream had left him with a longing that almost hurt to carry in his chest.


They lay in bed for a few moments, completely still, each knowing the other was awake.  They could hear the crying of a baby on the floor above them, and the gentle hum of John’s computer in the corner of the room.  Sherlock shifted a bit closer, and John closed his eyes.


“How did you get it?” Sherlock asked, his voice rough from sleep.


At first John was confused, but then he felt Sherlock’s fingertips on his shoulder.  The scar covered most of John’s back, and Sherlock traced its shape through John’s t-shirt.


“An explosion,” John said.  “During the war.  A clickbomb malfunctioned, and...well that’s mostly from the burn.  But you can see where I was struck with a bit of shrapnel.”  Sherlock traced over the textured line that was all that was left of the chunk of metal that had embedded itself in John’s shoulder.


“You can look,” John said, quietly.


After a moment’s hesitation, Sherlock pulled up the edge of John’s t-shirt until most of his back was exposed.  John felt the warmth of Sherlock’s fingertips before they even touched him.  They brushed over desensitized snarls, and fell into dips of still-tender skin.  They didn’t hold back.


“Did malfunctions happen often?” Sherlock asked.


“No.  They’re very rare.”  John felt Sherlock trace the scar all the way down to the small of his back.  He sighed.  “It was a freak accident, really.  You probably read about it in the tabloids.”


“I don’t waste precious battery life on tabloids.”


John smiled.  “Well, the story was there for about a day.  More fuel for the anti-bot protesters.”


“Why did it malfunction?”


“At first they thought it was hacked.  But it was really just a bug in the system.  Very unusual.  I was just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”


Sherlock’s fingers stopped over John’s spine.  He pulled the shirt back down and smoothed wrinkles out of the fabric.


“You're lying.”


John fell silent and didn’t respond, not knowing what to say.  Sherlock shifted closer, then reached to pull John’s hand.  John rolled over so that they faced one another, and Sherlock pressed John’s palm to the scar on his stomach, under his shirt.  John’s heartbeat raced.  Sherlock was looking at him, but John was reluctant to make eye contact.  He stared down at his hand on Sherlock’s skin.


“We were driving home from my violin recital when another car crashed into us.  Both of my parents died.”


“I’m sorry,” John whispered.  Sherlock released his hand.  John allowed his fingers to linger for just another moment before pulling away.


“Mycroft has been stiflingly overprotective ever since.”


“He cares about you," John said.  He lowered his eyes and looked down at their feet, hidden under the blankets.  "I know how he feels."


Sherlock didn't speak.  John considered looking up, but he didn't trust himself to keep from doing something impulsive.  He studied a small hole in Sherlock’s t-shirt instead.


After a moment of silence, Sherlock slipped his hand into John’s and squeezed it lightly, then sat up and left the bedroom without saying a word.


---


John made a big breakfast and forced Sherlock to eat, claiming that they would need the energy in case they ended up chasing down Walters.


"I dreamt I was running down an alley last night," he said.


Sherlock’s response was a sarcastic drawl.  "You have prophetic dreams now?"


John thought about the other dreams he had had that night, and shrugged, looking back down at the eggs he was cooking.  They ate while sitting at the island again, each on opposite sides.  John abhorred the thought of going back to the way things had been—eating alone while reading the news on his tablet, only the sound of the telly for company.  Having breakfast with Sherlock was a comfort.


"I don't want to go after him in the daylight," Sherlock said, abruptly, his mouth full of toast.  “He'll want the cover of darkness.  I say we leave at 19:00, just to be safe.”


“And until then?”


“Until then, we plan.  You like planning, don't you?”  Sherlock smirked and stole a strawberry from John's plate.


"You know," said John.  "One of the reasons behind making you your own plate was to prevent you from stealing off mine."


Sherlock looked him in the eye and bit off the end of the strawberry.

---


After breakfast, Sherlock pulled out the SD card that John had found at Walters's flat.  John sat down next to him, and they loaded it into the computer.  Just like on Sherlock's phone, all that came up were video games.


“Why would this be in his flat?” John asked.  “Are you sure there aren’t any hidden files?  Correspondences or bank blueprints or...”


Sherlock clicked a few buttons and bit his lip, frowning at the computer screen.  “Nothing,” he said.  “This genuinely looks like a child's collection of video games."


John leaned back and watched Sherlock's eyes flicker across the screen.


"Here," said Sherlock, pointing.  "It's a child's initials on those high score records.  'Stella' is her first name.  Age six."


"Who is she?" John asked.  "Was there any 'Stella' listed in your evidence?  Family, maybe?"


Sherlock shook his head.  "No.  He doesn't have any family.  He lives alone."  He clicked through a few menus, but couldn't find anything else.


---



An hour before they intended to leave, John suggested that Sherlock get in contact with the Timekeepers.


"If you don't want them to be with us, then they should at least be waiting somewhere nearby," John said.  "We can't possibly hold Walters while they come all the way from Zone 4."


Sherlock seemed reluctant, but John badgered him until he agreed.  Sherlock had the phone number of Elena Dimmock, the Timekeeper who had taken the lead on the case, and he paced the room nervously as he waited for her to pick up.  John gave him a thumbs-up in encouragement.


Dimmock answered, and Sherlock barely got in two sentences before his face fell.  From what John heard from the one-sided conversation, the woman didn't have much faith in Sherlock at all.  John began to wonder if she had ever seen him work.


"I don't care—that's completely irrelevant!  I am thirty-three years old, I’m not under my brother's rule!"


John hadn’t expected so much resistance.  Sherlock paced across the room in agitation, and John felt guilty for suggesting the call.


Sherlock stopped suddenly in front of the window, and gazed out, turned away from John as he spoke.


"I'm not high," he spat.  "I am in complete control of myself and if you would listen to me for a moment you would realize—I don't care what happened with Gregson!  This is not the same as what happened with Gregson!"


He started rubbing at his elbow again.  When the motion became aggressive, John stood up from the sofa and walked over to him, putting a hand on Sherlock's back.  Sherlock startled.


“Forget them,” John said, speaking softly so that his voice couldn’t be heard by the woman on the other line.  “We can do this ourselves."


John could hear Dimmock yelling over the phone.  He caught the words "dangerous," "liability," and "not happening again."  He tugged Sherlock's arm.


"Come on," he said.  "We'll call again once we've caught him."


Sherlock's eyes flickered over John's face, and he nodded.  He hung up without saying goodbye.


“She’ll be eating her words by the end of the night,” said John.  “We’re going to get Walters.  We’re going to stop him, and we’re going to show the Timekeepers what you can do.  I promise you that.”


John squeezed Sherlock’s shoulder in reassurance as Sherlock stared out the window, his eyes distant.


---



That night was unusually warm and clear.  The stars came out as the sun began to set, and the sky turned a vibrant shade of tangerine before it began to darken completely.  John was pleased to find that this area of the city had less air pollution than his own, allowing the moon to be completely visible overhead.


They waited in an alleyway next to Walters’s building.  John paced restlessly while Sherlock kept an eye on the window, watching the silhouette behind the curtain.  John was standing at the end of the alley, making sure no one was paying too much attention to them, when Sherlock suddenly tensed.


"Did you see that?" he asked.  "His shadow.  He's getting ready to leave."


"How can you—"  John was interrupted when Sherlock jumped down from a skip and ran to the end of the alley, peering around the corner.  John stood behind him and jerked Sherlock backwards when he heard the click of the door opening.


"Careful," John hissed, pulling him back a few steps.  "We don't exactly have a cover story for why we're hiding out in an alleyway next to his flat."


They both froze when Walters came down the front steps and started on the pavement towards them.


John looked at Sherlock with alarm.  He was trying not to panic when Sherlock wrapped an arm around his waist and shoved him against the wall in an impromptu embrace.  Sherlock turned his head in towards John, his mouth by John's ear.


"We do now," he murmured.


John lifted his arms and awkwardly clung to the edges of Sherlock's coat.  Sherlock kissed his temple as Walters's footsteps grew louder, passed the opening of the alleyway, and kept going down the street.  John let out a sigh of relief.  Sherlock kissed his temple again, and didn't move.


"He's gone," John said, quietly.


Sherlock hummed.  "So he is."  He pulled back and walked away to peer around the corner of the alley again.  John cleared his throat.


"Do you think he saw us?" he asked.  "It'll be a bit hard to follow him if he recognises us."


"He won't," Sherlock muttered, still watching Walters as he continued down the street.  "He didn't see our faces, and it's dark enough that he wouldn't have noticed any identifying details.”


John looked around Sherlock's shoulder, to where Walters had just turned onto a side-street.  Sherlock stepped out of the alleyway and started to follow.


"Come on," he said.


Keeping a good distance away, and trying to blend into crowds whenever possible, they trailed Walters as he walked through the centre of town, crossing into the eastern section of Zone 13, near the coast.  John could smell saltwater in the air.  A stray gull perched on a building overhead.


"Where do you think he's going?" John asked.  Sherlock shrugged.


Ahead of them, Walters stopped in the middle of the pavement and pulled his phone from his pocket.  He answered a call, walking for a few slow paces before coming to a stop again and ducking under the awning of a closed grocer's to talk. Sherlock pulled John into the entryway of a restaurant before they were seen.  He plucked a menu from a stack by the door and scrolled quickly through the list of entrees, pretending to read.


"You think the capsules are in that bag he's carrying?" John asked.


Sherlock nodded.  "But I think he only has one capsule, now.  He probably combined all the time he's stolen into one.  Easier to carry, and now he won't have to walk around with his own damning evidence."


Walters was still on the phone.  Sherlock sighed and put down the menu, then pulled his own phone out of his pocket.  He took a few discreet pictures of Walters, zoomed in as much as he could.


"What are you doing with those?" John asked.


"Sending them to Dimmock."


John grinned.  "Good idea."


He caught the faintest hint of a smile just before Sherlock turned away.  Sherlock sent the texts, and was rewarded a moment later when his phone beeped.


"What's it say?" John asked.


"She's on her way.  They’re in Zone 11 right now, on another case.  But they’ll be here."


John gave Sherlock a congratulatory pat on the back, then peeked down the street again as Sherlock typed a reply.


"Um, Sherlock," he said.  "Walters is gone."


"What?"  Sherlock burst out the door of the restaurant, nearly running into a man with a young infant in a pushchair.  John stopped to hold the door open for them as Sherlock started walking quickly down the street, turning to look down every possible turn.


"Sherlock!" John called.  He ran to catch up.  Sherlock stopped walking and took out his phone again.  He brought up a map and zoomed in to where they were located.  He flicked the map from side to side, studying it for only a moment before closing it again.


"I know where he is," he said.


John followed as Sherlock took shortcuts down abandoned streets, leading them to a shadowed dead-end road.  There was a pub nestled at the end, its blinking neon sign reading "The Turning Cog."


“He’s there, I know he is.”  Sherlock headed straight for the pub without hesitating.


John jogged to catch up.  “Are you just going to burst in on them like that?  What if they’re armed?  What if he recognises you from The Hand?”


Sherlock paused a few steps from the door.  He took off his distinctive coat and scarf, rolled them into a ball, then shoved them behind a decorative keg.


John shook his head.  "You still look posh."


Sherlock rolled his eyes and took off his jacket, shoving it behind the keg with his other clothes.  He untucked his shirt and mussed his hair.  With a simple switch of posture and facial expression, his personality shifted  into something casual and non-threatening.  He looked to John for approval, giving a dazzling, carefree smile, and looking like an entirely different person.


"Impressive," John muttered.


"Do I need to take off anything else?" Sherlock asked, looking John over from head to toe.  When he batted his eyelashes for effect, John snorted and pushed him forward.


"Okay, you've made your point.”


Sherlock flashed his much-more-characteristic smirk before tapping the touchpad on the door.


The Cog was much smaller than the Hand, and not only because it lacked a back room.  The bar took up most of the space on the left-hand wall.  Behind it, the bartender was filling a pint glass for a woman with blonde hair done up in a loose bun.  They both looked up when the door opened.  The woman carried her drink back to a table in the far corner, where another woman was waiting for her.  They sat close together, their eyes following Sherlock and John.


Walters was sitting at a table on the right-hand side of the room, and he wasn’t alone.  He was embracing a gaunt woman in a purple cotton dress.  A young girl clung to his leg, and a pre-teen boy watched from the opposite side of the table, his arms crossed.  John felt his stomach drop.


Sherlock sauntered to the bar as if he hadn’t seen them.  He smiled widely and falsely at the bartender and ordered them both drinks, then leaned against the counter and casually looked around the room, his eyes never lingering on one thing for too long.


"I thought you said he didn't have any family," hissed John.  Sherlock's eyes flickered over to the little girl, and he looked doubtful for a moment before shrugging.


"There was no marriage certificate in his file," he said.  "Nor birth certificates for any children.  They've obviously been in hiding."


“We can’t do it like this,” whispered John.  “I don’t want him to be arrested in front of his children.”


“Sentiment,” Sherlock muttered.  The bartender slid two glasses across the bar, and Sherlock took a long sip.  He wiped the corners of his mouth with one hand.


“This is unusual,” he said.  “I was certain that Walters would be spending that time tonight.”


John looked at Sherlock, but motioned towards Walters's table with a nudge of his head.  “He still has the bag with him.  Maybe he’s meeting with his dealer afterward.”


Sherlock frowned.  John glanced surreptitiously over at Walters’s table.  Walters’s eyes flickered around the room every few moments, but he began to relax in the presence of his family.  They spoke in low tones, the parents and son leaning in towards each other, the little girl kicking her feet under the table, too young to care about the conversation.  When she became bored of everyone talking without her, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a handheld video game.  She flicked it on with relish and curled her legs up on the bench to play.  Walters smiled at her, and asked her a question.  She grinned and showed him the screen, and he reached across the table to grip her shoulder, proudly.


"That's Stella," John whispered.


Sherlock nodded, silently.


“I don’t think he’s buying anything with that stolen time.”  John turned to face Sherlock, starting to feel sick.  “I think he’s giving it to his family.”


Sherlock raised an eyebrow.  “Why go to the trouble?” he asked.  “The children are under 25.  He can’t give it to them.”


“They still have to eat.  They need food, water, electricity.  Look at their clothes, look how skinny they all are.”  Sherlock frowned, and John realized the thought had never even occurred to him.


“You can’t possibly be surprised,” John said.  “You must have seen cases like this before.”


Sherlock shrugged.  “The only cases I’ve followed have been in Zone 4.  The first was a drug addict, the second stole art, not time.  The rest were just thrillseekers.”  He fell silent, looking embarrassed.


John glanced over at Walters, who was sliding closer to his wife on the bench.  They shared a brief kiss, then clasped wrists to exchange time.  They leaned in and pressed their foreheads together, whispering to each other.  John felt as though he were intruding, and turned away.


“What do you mean ‘thrillseekers?’” he asked.


“They enjoyed the rush.  There isn’t much excitement in Zone 4.”


“What the fuck—you can afford to do anything!”


Sherlock sighed and swirled a finger around the rim of his glass.


“We buy fast cars, but no one drives them." he said.  "We only play sports that won’t cause bodily harm.  We go on vacation to simulated beaches so we won't drown.  We don’t travel and we don’t take risks.”


John stared at him, blankly.  “Why?”


“Because risks get you killed.”


John was quiet.


“We spend time on possessions.  Appearances.  Nothing risky, and nothing foolish.”  Sherlock leaned forward, resting his crossed arms on the bar.  “That is the life I’m running from,” he said.  “That is the life I’m trying to escape with my detective work.”


He looked up at John, and John shook his head, at a loss.  "No wonder your brother worries about you."


Sherlock shrugged.  His phone gave a text alert, and when he read it, he bit his lip.


“They’re almost here,” he said.  "Half an hour away."


“Fuck.”  John looked over at Walters, having already made up his mind.  He stood from the bar.


"John," Sherlock put a hand on his elbow, but didn't try to hold him back.


"Not for this,” John muttered.  Sherlock's hand fell from his arm, and John walked over to Walters.


As soon as their eyes met, Walters was on alert.  He whispered to his wife, and she glanced over at their children, her hand tightening into a fist on the table.  Walters stood, blocking John's view of his family.


John raised a hand in a peaceful gesture.


“Listen,” he said, not entirely sure how to explain himself.  “You need to leave.  There’s a group of Timekeepers on their way here to arrest you for theft."


"Who are you?" Walters asked, his voice stern.


"John Watson.  And this is Sherlock."  John gestured behind him, where Sherlock was standing a few steps away.  "Sherlock's a detective.  We were—he was tracking you down, but—"


"Sherlock?"  Walters peered past John, and his eyes suddenly lit with recognition.  "You're that bloke from the pub!"


Sherlock nodded, but didn't say anything.


Walters sneered.  “That’s just like you people.  Come all the way to the slums to stop a man from taking time away from immortals?”


Sherlock was just opening his mouth to argue when John interrupted.


"In his defence, he thought you were using it to buy drugs," he said.  "Plus, you stole so much that it was hard not to notice."


"That wasn’t entirely my fault,” Walters muttered.


Sherlock arched a sarcastic eyebrow.  “Was it an accident?”


Walters took a step forward, and John shifted subconsciously into a defensive position.


“Alright,” said Walters.  “Yeah, I stole.  I have debts.  I borrowed from some people, and...”  He trailed off, and his wife put a hand on his back in comfort.


“You borrowed from Minutemen,” John said.


Walters nodded with a grimace.  “Didn’t have much choice.  I only borrowed two years, but I couldn’t pay it back as quickly as they wanted me to, and they convinced me to accept an alternative arrangement.”  He glanced toward the door, nervously.


“They forced your hand,” said Sherlock.  “They threatened to hurt your family if you didn’t cooperate.  You’ve taken far more than you need, yet your children are still dressed in rags.”


John elbowed him in the ribs.


“Like I said,” Walters muttered, looking at his children again.  “I didn’t have much choice.”


The pub was quiet.  John glanced around the room to find that the bartender and the two women in the corner were barely subtle about their eavesdropping.


Sherlock’s phone beeped, and he looked down to read the incoming text.


“They’re close.”


Walters’s eyes widened.  He turned back to his wife, who nodded at him, then he looked down at his children with a pained expression.


"Dad has to leave again," he said.  "You kids go with your mum, and we'll see each other the next time I can—"


"Wait."  Sherlock stepped forward, rolling up one sleeve so that his wrist was exposed.  "Take some of my time, and go with them.  Get out of this zone."


Walters's eyes widened.  "Are you—"


Sherlock rolled his eyes.  “You're a sad excuse for a thief.  If you keep stealing, you're just going to get caught again."  He reached for Walters’s bag, but Walters pulled it away, instinctively.  "I can give you enough to pay for rent for a year or so.  If you find a job, you can start making your own way."


Walters stared at Sherlock in disbelief.  John couldn't blame him.  He had probably never been offered so much time in his life.


"What's the catch?" Walters asked.


Sherlock frowned.  "Stop wasting my time with pointless cases."  Despite his cold tone of voice, John could tell that Sherlock was nervous.  He was fiddling with his phone in one hand and playing with the glove on his other.


“Why are you doing this?" asked Walters's wife, her eyes flickering between Sherlock and her husband.


"I have more than enough to spare," Sherlock muttered.


Walters glanced at his children, who were watching him with wide eyes.  His gaze flickered over their patched and worn clothes.  He set his jaw and held his hand out to Sherlock.


Sherlock paused.  "I don't—"  His phone gave another text alert.  He pulled it from his pocket, and John glanced over to read the screen.  It was from Dimmock.


“Five minutes,” John muttered.


"Mate, are you doing this or not?" Walters asked.


Sherlock still hesitated.  "Do you have a capsule?"


"Sherlock,” John urged.  “There's no time, just take his wrist."


He ran to the window and looked out.  There weren't any cars in sight, and he couldn't see their headlights.  He turned back to the room, where Sherlock was rooting through Walters's bag.  "What are you doing?"


"I don't do wrist contact."


"For god's sake, he's not going to rob you, just take the man's wrist."


Sherlock had already pulled a capsule from the bag.  John rolled his eyes and looked back out the window, wondering why Sherlock was so paranoid.


When Sherlock handed the capsule back to Walters, Walters gaped.  He shoved it back into his bag.


"Thank you," he gasped.  “I don't—I don't know what to say.  I don't know how to express—"


"Yes, yes.”  Sherlock looked towards the windows.  “They’ll be here any minute."


Walters grabbed his wife's hand to help her out of the bench.  The children scrambled to their mother, clearly knowing what to do in such a situation.  The bartender, who until now had been watching the proceedings quietly but with great interest, finally spoke up.


"Go out the back door," he said.  “It leads to an alley that'll take you to 21st Street.  You can catch a bus from there to the train station."


Walters nodded and hustled his family towards the back of the room, where the bartender led them to the door.  He glanced back once and nodded, stiffly, before disappearing.


John gave a deep sigh of relief.  The two women at the corner table were staring at them both, slack-jawed.  Sherlock looked over at them and rolled his eyes with disdain.  One long finger tapped nervously at the edge of his phone.  John noticed, and spoke up.


"That was a good thing you did," he said, his voice soft.  "You just saved their lives.  You know that, right?"


Sherlock shrugged and avoided eye contact.


John smiled.  “You’re pretty amazing."


Sherlock swallowed and pursed his lips.  John wanted to reach out and touch him, but held back.  He cleared his throat.


"So um, what are we going to tell the Timekeepers when they get here?" he asked.


Sherlock thought for a moment, looking around the room as if it would reveal an answer.  “We’ll tell them that Walters got away,” he said.  “We’ll say that he came here to buy drugs with the stolen time, and that when we approached him, we were attacked.”


John was hesitant.  “Attacked?" he asked.  "Are they really going to believe that?”


“They will if we have witnesses.”  Sherlock looked at the bartender, who had just stepped back into the room.  He nodded, vigorously.


“Aye, tell me what to say and I’ll say it, mate.  You have my word.”


The two women sitting in the corner nodded in agreement.


Sherlock took a deep breath, then straightened his posture.  “I need you to punch me in the face.”


John just stood there, staring.  “I’m sorry, what?”


“You heard me.”  Sherlock turned his head and gestured to his cheek.  “Punch me in the face.”


“Sherlock—”


“Do you want us to both get arrested for helping a criminal escape?”


“No, but—”


“Do you want my reputation to be completely destroyed, so that I’m never allowed to be on a case ever again?”


John groaned and rubbed at his temples.  He knew they needed to look convincing, but he wasn’t particularly looking forward to this.  He had almost worked himself up to it when Sherlock got to him first, slinging an arm around John’s waist and tackling him to the floor.


“What the—Sherlock!”  He fell to the ground with Sherlock on top of him, then immediately pushed Sherlock off, swinging a fist at him, but careful not to use too much force.  Sherlock was trying not to laugh.  He pushed John to the floor and scrambled backwards, trying to stand up.  John clutched Sherlock’s knees and pulled until Sherlock toppled back to the ground, falling forward.  He grabbed at John as he fell.


John wasn’t sure who was doing what anymore.  All he knew was that they were struggling and tumbling, and suddenly Sherlock was flat on his back, and John was sitting over his hips.  Sherlock was laughing, his smile bigger and more genuine than John had ever seen it.


John tried to catch Sherlock’s flailing arms, finally succeeding by lacing their fingers together.  He pinned Sherlock's hands to the floor above his head.  He took a laughing breath, but when he met Sherlock’s eyes, they both became very still, and Sherlock’s smile melted away.  It could have been the light, but John swore that Sherlock’s pupils had expanded.


Without a warning, Sherlock lunged up and flipped them both so that he sat on top of John in a reverse of their previous position.


“I think you’ll find that I can hold my own against you,” he said.  He spoke in a deep whisper reserved only for John.  John swallowed, feeling Sherlock’s breath against his face.  He remembered that they were in a pub, and that there were three other people in the room.  He could see the bartender looking down at them with one raised eyebrow.


Sherlock seemed to remember where they were as soon as John broke his gaze.  He sat back on his heels, standing up and offering John his hand as if nothing had happened.  John took it, and stood.


“I think that will do,” Sherlock said, looking down at his dishevelled clothing.  John gave a firm nod, trying not to notice that another button had come undone on Sherlock's shirt.  He looked over to the corner to see that the two women were whispering to each other with suppressed laughter.


A bright light pierced the room, accompanied by the squeal of car tires.  John squinted against the glare.


“Good timing," he muttered.
---


The Timekeepers interrogated them for nearly half an hour.  Sherlock repeated their story over and over—Walters was meeting with a drug dealer, and when John thoughtlessly approached them, they attacked.  Both criminals ran out of the building just before things got too out-of-hand.


Sherlock was an excellent liar, and Dimmock seemed to be swallowing the story.  She took a few notes, then walked off to verify things with the bartender.


"How long do you think they'll keep us like this?" John asked.


Sherlock watched Dimmock from across the room.  John saw a hint of worry in his eyes, but it quickly disappeared.


"Sherlock?"


Sherlock's attention snapped back, and he shook his head.


"We're leaving," he said.  He stalked towards the exit without any explanation.  Dimmock glanced up at him as he left.


"Holmes!" she called.  "Don't go any further than those cars outside.  Your brother asked me to drive you home."


Sherlock waved a hand behind him in acknowledgement, but John knew that he had no intention of listening.


When the door slid closed behind them, Sherlock pulled his clothing from behind the keg at the entryway and got dressed quickly.  He walked to the edge of the pavement, then stopped without warning.  John almost walked into him.


"Sherlock?"


Sherlock took John by the hand and laughed—a low, soft sound that came from deep inside his chest.  John's heart rate instantly doubled.


"We're running," said Sherlock.  He tugged John's hand, pulling him off the kerb.  They reached the end of the street just as the door of the pub opened, and a Timekeeper realized that they had escaped.  Sherlock led them onto the busy main road, and they slipped into the crowd easily.  John held tightly to Sherlock's hand.  When he turned and saw the Timekeeper following them, he pulled Sherlock down a densely packed sidestreet.


"This way," he said.


They ran through the neon-lit city, taking shortcuts through alleyways and buildings.  John wasn’t sure anymore where he was taking them.  At first, he had just been trying to escape the Timekeeper, but as they got farther and farther away, it became less about hiding and more about running.  They were no longer being followed, and every time they slowed down, they became very aware of their clasped hands.


Finally, John slowed to a stop.  They were in a neighbourhood that he was familiar with, having visited friends there when he was a child.  In the centre of a nearby roundabout was a large fountain, its statue covered in mildew.  John reached down into the water, scooping some into his hands and splashing it on his face.  He took deep breaths, his heart pounding.


"Where are we?" Sherlock asked, watching him closely.  John looked up in time to see Sherlock's eyes follow a drip of water down his neck.  He felt his skin prickle with anticipation.


"Nowhere near my flat," he said, holding eye contact with Sherlock.  "I know the way home, but...”  He looked down into the fountain.  A gull overhead let out a rasping screech.  "Have you ever seen the ocean?" he asked.  "The real ocean?"


Sherlock shook his head.  "No.  Zone 4 isn't coastal."


John smiled.  "I want to show it to you before you—"  He bit his lip, trying not to think of the rest of his sentence.


Sherlock took his hand again, stroking his thumb over John's.


"Lead the way."
---

The night was dark and still, the moon a bright sliver in the sky.  A cool breeze drifted off the water, causing the grass and reeds to gently sway.  John led Sherlock down a thin metal platform that stopped abruptly at the opening of the beach.  He hopped off the end, feeling the softness of the sand beneath his shoes.  He was still holding Sherlock’s hand.  When Sherlock hesitated at the end of the platform, John tugged him forward.


“Where are we?” asked Sherlock.


John smiled.  “The ocean.”


Sherlock let go of John’s hand to kneel down to the ground and pick up a fistful of sand.  He sifted through the pale bits of rock with his thumb, poking at the tiny slivers of mica and quartz that shined among grains of plastic.


“It’s low tide,” said John.  He led the way down to the shoreline, Sherlock following slowly, as if in a trance.  All the energy from earlier seemed to have dulled, and he took each step very carefully, and with great purpose.


“You okay?” asked John.  Sherlock just looked at him, a hint of sadness in his expression, and nodded.


John stopped a few steps away from the water, but Sherlock walked right up to it, his shoes sinking into the wet sand.  A weak wave came up to lap at his feet, but he didn't move back.  White foam clung to his soles.  John put his hand to Sherlock’s elbow and tugged him away.


"Let's go to the sand dunes,” he said, his voice soft and quiet.  He tugged once more before Sherlock followed.


They walked towards the grassy dunes that surrounded the beach.  The crashing of the waves grew more and more distant, until they were far enough away that it was only a dull, soothing hum in the background.  John led them to a small inlet with an unobscured view of the ocean.  He took off his jacket and sat down on it awkwardly as Sherlock settled next to him.  They were quiet for a few long minutes.  John fiddled with a crab shell in one hand.


“So you’re headed back tomorrow?” he asked.  He didn’t look up, but saw Sherlock nod out of the corner of his eye.  “You have to go so soon?”


“Mycroft is expecting me.  I refuse to go with Dimmock, but if I don’t go back on my own, then Mycroft will come for me himself.  That would be undesirable.”


John bit his lip.  “Alright.”  He tossed the crab shell into a thatch of grass.  Sherlock watched the movement of his arm carefully.


“How can you stand it?” he asked.  At first, John wasn’t sure what he was talking about.  Then, Sherlock reached over and took John’s arm.  His sleeve had pulled up, exposing the ticking seconds of his time.  Sherlock pushed the sleeve up to John’s elbow and traced over his numbers: 20 hours, 23 minutes, 8...7...6 seconds.


John shrugged with his opposite shoulder and shifted closer so that his arm was more comfortable in Sherlock’s grip.  “Same way you can, I suppose,” he said.  His knee knocked against Sherlock’s thigh.  Sherlock’s fingers continued to graze over his skin.


Sherlock shook his head. “It’s not the same.  I don’t even look at my arm, most days.  I don’t need to.  But you—what happens when you look down and realize you have five minutes left, and no way of getting more?”


“There’s always a way to get more.”


“What happens if there isn’t?”


“Then I run out.”


Sherlock was very quiet and still.  The waves suddenly seemed loud, crashing against the shore in a repetitive rhythm.


“Sherlock,” John said.  “You have to understand, it’s a way of life for—”


Sherlock cupped the side of John’s face in his hand, and John stopped speaking.


Sherlock’s eyes were wide and urgent.  He brushed his thumb just millimetres from John’s mouth.  John leaned slightly into Sherlock’s palm, his heart almost vibrating his body with each beat.  Sherlock didn’t kiss him.  When Sherlock’s grip tightened on his forearm, John leaned in closer.


Sherlock gave an almost-imperceptible gasp just before their lips met.  It made John smile, which made their first kiss toothy and awkward.  John broke away shortly and tried to catch Sherlock’s eyes, which were hidden beneath lowered lashes.  Sherlock was still holding onto John’s arm.  He pulled John closer until John slid his arm under Sherlock’s coat, wrapped it around his waist, and leaned in again.


Their second kiss was longer.  Sherlock’s lips were soft and dry, and they moved as if they weren’t sure what they were doing.  John took control, and Sherlock seemed perfectly willing to let him.  John’s fingers traced tiny circles over Sherlock’s back.  The fabric of his shirt was frustrating.  John wanted nothing more than to feel the skin underneath.


Their lips parted with a soft smack.


“Been hoping that would happen,” John said, quietly.


Sherlock stared at him, a light flush beginning to darken his cheeks.  His hands were fisted in John’s sleeves.


“Did you know I was checking you out, that first night at the pub?” John asked.  Sherlock shook his head, and breathed out a laugh.  “Hmm,” John hummed.  “And you call yourself a detective.”


Sherlock’s hands slid just a bit higher, to John’s biceps.  His eyes flickered over John’s mouth, and he licked his lips.  John’s heart started to race.


Sherlock kissed as if he were experimenting.  He kissed only John’s top lip, then only his bottom.  John nudged his lips open, and slipped his tongue into Sherlock’s mouth.  Sherlock let out a soft whimper, and tried to lean in closer.


John ran his hands up and down Sherlock’s back, tracing his spine and smoothing over his shoulder blades.  In contrast, Sherlock’s hands stayed still.  His fingers clenched and unclenched on John’s arms.  He held himself stiffly.


John put one hand on Sherlock’s chest and eased him down until Sherlock was on his back in the sand.  His curls trapped bits of mica that glinted in the moonlight.  He drew his knees up halfway, grinding his shoes into the sand.


John undid a button on Sherlock’s shirt, and Sherlock took a sharp breath.  His face was pink, his lips parted, and his eyes wide.  His brow was slightly furrowed, but he gave John a small smile when their eyes met.  John leaned down again to kiss him.


“You already look ravished,” he said, teasingly.  Sherlock huffed a nervous laugh.


John unbuttoned the rest of Sherlock’s shirt and let the edges fall to either side of his chest.  Sherlock’s breaths were coming so quickly that John wondered if he was taking in enough oxygen.  He could feel Sherlock’s heartbeat pound wildly under his skin.  He leaned in to kiss Sherlock’s throat, and Sherlock exhaled against his hair.


John had to part his legs and adjust to make himself more comfortable.  Sherlock’s left hand was on John’s hip—his arm resting on John’s thigh.  His right hand was by his side; the heel of his palm dug into the sand, absent-mindedly.  As John’s touch drifted up and down his bare skin, Sherlock wriggled his hips, the sand shifting into tiny mounds around him.


John pressed a kiss to the centre of Sherlock’s chest, then reached down with one arm to put a hand on his leg.  He brushed the underside of Sherlock’s knee, then slowly slid his hand upwards.


He kissed Sherlock’s chest again.  His hand was high on Sherlock’s thigh when Sherlock tensed.  John paused and lifted his head.  Sherlock’s heartbeat was rapid, his breaths ragged.  His fingers on John’s hip were trembling, and he was looking at John with wide, glassy eyes.  John smiled at him gently, and removed his hand from Sherlock’s thigh.


“What is it?” Sherlock asked.


John laid down next to him and laced their fingers together, resting their hands over Sherlock’s chest.


“Nothing,” he said.  “It’s just that I don’t want us to get sand in strange places.  Not very comfortable.”


Sherlock looked sceptical, so John kissed him to make him forget it.


“Are you sure you have to leave?” he asked, when they parted.


Sherlock leaned in to kiss again, his breathing now more regular, and his heartbeat still fast, but under control.  He squeezed John’s hand, tightly.


“I want you to touch my wrist,” he said.


John smiled and frowned at the same time, confused.  “What?” he asked.


Sherlock was covering his nervousness with an expression of fierce determination.  “My wrist,” he repeated.  “Please.”


“Why?”


“Besides Mycroft, no one ever has before.  I want to know what it feels like.  With you.”


Sherlock looked down at his numbered arm, and John suddenly realized why Sherlock had insisted on using a capsule with Walters.  He tried to imagine not having that type of trust with anyone—a life in which no one had ever exchanged time with him via wrist contact.  He had never considered that it was possible to live like that.


John nodded, and Sherlock laid his left arm in the sand between them.  John rolled up Sherlock’s sleeve and ran a hand down his glove.  He leaned in to kiss Sherlock softly, then turned his arm over.  Sherlock’s numbers were revealed one by one as John slid the glove off.  They were flickering—a sign of arousal.  John trailed his fingers over the green digits, then turned Sherlock’s arm over again.  The nakedness of his pale skin made him look vulnerable.  His wrist was completely exposed.


John put his palm on Sherlock’s elbow and trailed it slowly up his arm.  Sherlock’s fingers were still slightly trembling, but John pretended not to notice.  When his palm rested over the inside of Sherlock’s wrist, he looked up.  Sherlock was staring at their hands, his eyes wide.


John swallowed and pulled his hand away, then held it out as if asking for a handshake.  They clasped wrists, holding onto each other tightly.  When John lifted his head to kiss Sherlock, grains of sand stuck to his cheek.


John was thoroughly distracted by the way Sherlock nibbled at his lips.  His attention was called back when he felt a familiar nudge in his mind.  Sherlock was trying to exchange time with him.  He pulled away from Sherlock's mouth.


"No," he whispered.  "I don't want it."


"I want to give it to you," said Sherlock.


"Well I'm not taking it.  It's yours."


Sherlock stared at John as if he didn't quite understand, then gripped John's wrist tighter and kissed him again.  John loosened his grip and ran his fingers lightly over the inside of Sherlock's wrist in a repetitive, hypnotic motion.


They fell asleep in the sand after kissing until their lips felt bruised.  John spread out his jacket for their heads, and Sherlock draped his coat over their bodies.  Sherlock slept without his glove, his sleeve rolled up.  Their naked arms rested in the sand between them.


---


John woke up to the cry of a gull overhead.   He immediately felt cold, and when he opened his eyes, he realized why.  Sherlock was gone.


John sat up, instantly alert.  He looked around, down at the shore, and back into the dunes.  The tide had crept closer in the night.  The reeds were still swaying in the wind.  There was no sign of Sherlock.


The sun was just beginning to rise from behind a haze of grey clouds.  John rubbed his arms for warmth.  He looked down to check his numbers, and caught his breath—a year had been added to his time.  He pressed his fingers to his wrist as if he could feel the ghost of Sherlock’s presence.  He closed his eyes, briefly.

A chilly wind blew out from over the water, causing John to shiver.  He pulled on his jacket, and put his hands in his pockets.  There, he found something else—a small piece of synthpaper, folded into quarters.  He held it his palm and stared at the note.


Meet me back here in one year.  SH


John gazed around the beach once more, as if he would find Sherlock walking away, but it was completely empty.  He was alone.

---
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