a little bbc sherlock story for birthday/xmas for shichan!!
john was eight (or “nearly nine,” he’d tell anyone who asked) when he found the bottle with the message inside. It was during a family trip to the seaside, one of those magical moments that every child longs for, a memory that he should treasure forever. but all memories fade, get lost, get jumbled and rewritten, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t remember the message anymore.
there is an emptiness inside him. it aches in his heart, his head, his fingers and toes. it cripples him. it tries to destroy him.
he might just let it.
sometimes he catches mary watching him, her mouth half-open like she wants to say something (and he knows, she wants to say it, to ask about him, but she never does). it’s always after nights when he can’t sleep, when he demands his eyes to close, when he holds his breath, longing for the bliss of unconsciousness when he can’t be eaten away by the emptiness inside.
it happens less often, but when it does, it’s overwhelming. it’s like he’s forgetting how to swim. it’s like he’s drowning.
in his dreams, he’s nearly nine and at the seaside with his family. he wanders down the beach, looking for sea glass to add to his mother’s collection, when he sees it. there’s the bottle, trapped between a rock and the wet sand, the tide threatening to bury both in a few minutes.
he starts to call out to henry but changes his mind. this can be his own private secret. he breaks the bottle on the rock and takes out the message, careful to avoid the sharp edges of the broken glass.
he unrolls the paper.
he opens his eyes.
it’s the same every time.
until one time, it’s not the same.
one time, there’s someone else there on the beach, someone who doesn’t belong, someone who doesn’t look quite right in a deerstalker and blue scarf at the beach. something is wrong.
the bottle is there. the message is waiting. but he can’t read it.
mary is shaking him awake, eyes wide with concern.
“john, you were talking in your sleep,” she whispers, rubbing his forearm like she does when he’s upset. “something about a message from-“
she doesn’t say his name. she doesn’t have to. john closes his eyes.
john opens his eyes.
he sits up, panting like he’s just run a marathon. he can’t stop his fingers from shaking - his whole body, really, is trembling from head to foot, because he’s seen the message.
i’m coming home, it says. don’t give up on me.
he’s gone over it a hundred times in his head, exactly what he’s going to say. he’s prepared to be socked, to have the door shut in his face, to be arrested as an imposter. he’s prepared to be turned away. he’s prepared to have been forgotten.
the door opens and he is standing there with the expression of one about to be hit by a train.
“john-” and it’s enough, it’s real, john is shaking his head but saying yes, even if it’s not out loud.
“i didn’t give up,” john says, looking as though he might faint and explode silmultaneously. “i never gave up on you.”
and john’s arms are around him, and sherlock is home.