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Granules, Grumbles and Gruntles

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“John! John!” shouted a baritone voice from the bedroom as the door slammed shut. John rolled his eyes; he had only just finished washing his hands in the bathroom and was about to splash some water over his face to wake himself up.

“Why are you taking so long? Hurry up, there’s only so much daylight left!” Sherlock groused.

“For fuck’s sake,” John muttered, and opened the door to face both the joy and bane of his existence.  

“Good, you’re done. Let’s go,” Sherlock said, throwing a duffle at John’s chest and making for the door of their hotel room. John lingered.

“Sherlock, why can’t we just change here? It won’t take that long,” he pleaded. “And we’ve got to put on sunscreen, too. Especially you,” he added.

Sherlock let out an impatient huff.

“First it’ll be changing into swimsuits, which you’ll take forever over, then it’ll be sunscreen, then you’ll insist that we should eat something, and before you know it, it’ll be dark and everything on the beach will shut down. I’m not taking that risk,” Sherlock said.

John knew when he was beaten. It was a familiar sensation and he wished that they had arrived at Woolacombe sooner in the day. Instead, they had been faced with backed-up traffic all the way out of London and a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere. John had never heard Sherlock use such colourful metaphors before and had been secretly pleased that this time it had been Sherlock shouting abuse at a machine.

But there had been three murders in a row, and after spending hours at each crime scene, and more hours at the Yard pouring over the victims’ possessions, Sherlock had finally identified a tenuous connection between them all in the form of sand and photographs of the seashore, all seemingly taken from the same vantage point.

At the beach.

Where there was sand.

And sun.

And bathing suits.

John Watson didn’t think much of the beach, which is to say he didn’t think of it at all. He had spent several holidays with his family at the seashore and a number of unfortunate experiences coloured his view of it rather early on. His disenchantment had begun with the brackish taste of seawater, continued with the entrapment of both legs in cold sea monster tentacles (seaweed), and culminated with the blistering sting of a jellyfish. And that was just the first day.

After that, John discovered that spending time at the beach involved most if not all of the following: the smell of fish, oily sun lotion, jagged driftwood, sharp shells underfoot and sticky ice cream. Even the sheer joy of swimming was overshadowed by the constant fear of unseen fauna and flora, the backwards-sneezing sensation of briny water jumping into one’s nose and the ever-present sand, stirred up by the waves. John knew all about sand and the best ways to deal with it; his years in the Afghan desert had left him with a healthy appreciation for battle fatigues and protective clothing.

Swimsuits, on the other hand, seemed to be a near-perfect vehicle for collecting sand in order to deposit it on or in the body’s tenderest areas.

So it was with a heavy heart indeed that John followed Sherlock from the hotel, and his spirits sank lower with every step.

Sherlock had already run past him with his bag, kicking up sand behind him with his Italian leather shoes. John darkly hoped that they would be ruined by the terrain, but he doubted it. Sherlock’s clothing was quite often immune from the stains that plagued more ordinary mortals, such as petrol, sulfuric acid and blood.

John strode with as much dignity as he could muster over to the nearest changing tent. After closing the flap and tying it securely, he shucked off his shoes and pulled his shirt over his head. With resignation, he finally unzipped the duffle and reached for his trunks.

Which were not there.

John frowned and fumbled around again, encountering only smooth material. Frustrated, he upended the bag onto the sand, and his heart sank at what he saw. At what little of it there was to see.

Lying innocently on the ground were a pair of navy swim briefs. They were well cut. They were well made. They were tiny.

John turned the bag upside down above him and was smacked on the head by another length of dark fabric. He joyfully plucked it up, delighted that he had found his bathing suit at last, when he realized that it was a swim shirt. Again, it was well made, with shiny black fabric.

“John, what are you doing?” asked a deep voice from outside the tent.

Of course.

“Sherlock,” John began, and then stopped.

“Well? Come on, there are several views I need to investigate.”

John cleared his throat. “Um, there seems to be a problem with the...erm, wardrobe, here. I thought you packed the...beachwear?” his voice rose hopefully on the last word.

“Of course I did!” Sherlock sounded affronted. “You were off at the store worrying about sun lotion or some such stupid thing.”

“So…” John began, gritting his teeth and staring up at the ceiling of the changing tent. “Where. are. my. swim. trunks? The ones I had from New Zealand?”

“Ohhh!” said Sherlock brightly. “Well, when you came back you tossed your swim bag in the closet. And…” he continued in a voice laden with slightly more trepidation. “When you were in Dublin again, there was an incident with a bit of a fire in the kitchen…”

John put his head in his hands. He already knew the answer and was heartily wondering why he had bothered asking in the first place.

“..but I was able to smother it and save the sitting room, so really, it was alright,” Sherlock finished hurriedly. “I replaced your suit, John. What’s the matter with it?”

“It’s...Sherlock, this suit is for someone very fit. Someone with a,” John said feebly. He thought he might as well be talking to the wind for as much impact as that statement would have on Sherlock.

“Yes…” Sherlock answered slowly, stretching out the ‘s.’ “Problem?” he asked, and John could picture the tilted head and rapidly blinking eyes. He sighed to himself. Once again, not Sherlock’s area. Clearly, John thought, he had just gone shopping for them both at some designer store and picked something to suit their measurements. He’d probably offended half of London in the process and been forced to buy the most expensive items in the shop to placate the owners.

“No, Sherlock,” answered John. “There’s no problem,” he said, almost to himself as he held the micro-brief up in the air.

He pushed open the tent flap, holding his duffle in one hand. John took a deep breath and scanned the area, catching sight of many happy, scantily clad tourists. There was no Sherlock in sight, but it was only a matter of time. John pulled his shoulders back and thrust his bare chest forward, then stepped out from the changing tent.

He had forgone the swim shirt. John figured that if he were going with the tiniest of briefs and displaying his bits for all the world, there was no point in trying to cover the rest of his body - it would be rather like closing the barn door after the bull had already gotten out. He wasn't too concerned about exposing his scars, either. He'd been shot doing his duty for Queen and country, so the citizens of the Commonwealth could bloody well deal with the sight of his wrecked shoulder.

But John knew there was no shirt in the world that would prevent the sands of Devon from invading his nether region, which was even now swaddled in tight spandex. Every time he felt the suit shift and re-cling it was a dark promise of things to come; no doubt the suit would admit any grains it encountered and never let them free.

He had gone about twenty paces, not close enough to the water for the sand to become tightly packed, when he heard Sherlock calling his name from behind. He turned, trying to keep his balance, but when he saw his friend, his legs gave up completely and he crashed to the ground.

Sand was soft, you could say that for it. The grains were insidious, though, and they got everywhere. John tried to focus on the sand in his toes rather than on the sight of his friend’s chest

glorious skin

which was completely bare

marble white

Thoughtfully, Sherlock was pulling John up by his upper arm

god, those thighs

and steadying him, with two hands placed on his shoulders.

is that a ‘v’ down from his belly?!

“John,” Sherlock asked. “Are you alright? Is your leg paining you?”

John was speechless, trying to look everywhere and nowhere,

especially not at him, not down there! no, look up

and he focused on Sherlock’s lips

no, not there, either, not safe!

but he couldn’t quite concentrate, so he placed a hand over his forehead, feigning sun sensitivity. Closing his eyes, he admonished himself harshly, the thoughts in his head alternately pulling him together and apart.

Get over it, Watson, it’s been years, you can do this, you know the man is practically a eunuch

except he’s definitely got all his parts

anyway, Watson, it’s Sherlock, just Sherlock

and what parts they are!

and it’s Sherlock who got your trunks smoked out or on fire, whatever, and Sherlock who leaves hair in the drain trap and you’re on a beach with him

yes, in those low cut pants remember the colour of that shirt the way his chest

and you’re wearing tiny navy briefs, Watson, and you’ve got a bloody job to do.

John pulled his hand from his head and stared out at the sea, breathing heavily. He shifted away from Sherlock and brushed sand off of his own thighs. Straightening, he turned to Sherlock and focused his eyes on his hairline. Safe.

“Sorry about that,” John said. “Just a bit wrung out after that drive. What’s next?” he asked, trying to direct Sherlock’s attention back to the case. He couldn’t tell what Sherlock might be looking at - his eyes weren’t visible behind all that smoked glass, and John regretted not purchasing any sunglasses of his own.

“First, we’ll orient to the view of the cameraman,” Sherlock explained. “All the photographs seem to have been taken from the same spot.”

John nodded.

“Ah,” Sherlock noted. “We should also probably use some of this,” he said, holding up the industrial-sized spray can of sunscreen that John had purchased.

John nodded again and internally steeled himself. “Yeah, I’ll get your back if you get mine. You should probably go first - you’re so pale your cheeks are already starting to burn,” John observed.

Sherlock’s lips gave a barely-discernable twitch forward, and he opened the spray can.

John fidgeted uneasily on the rough towel he had placed beneath himself. They had quickly identified the location where the victims must have stood as they snapped their photographs, a mere ten paces away from a beachside bar. Sherlock had ordered John to withdraw and pick out a spot for their belongings, while he shouldered up to the bar on the pretense of ordering drinks.

John watched him from his patch of sand, uncomfortably absorbing what seemed like every bit of grit washed up from the Atlantic. The sunblock had only served to make his skin greasy, thus attracting and enticing granules of sand, which quite obligingly tried to crawl into every one of his pores.

But Sherlock certainly drew the eye. John forgot all about his troubles and his own state of attire as he contemplated Sherlock's. The man had his back to John, so he could stare unabashedly at him for the first time in several months. Sherlock was baring so much skin that he could best be described as an alabaster Salute to the Male Form. Earlier, it had taken John all of his determination not to issue a salute of his own as they walked down the dunes.

John licked his lips as he admired the line of Sherlock's spine, which flowed flawlessly down into his briefs. He wasn't skinny, not like he had been when he came home from the hospital, but he still had a lean appearance. John bit his lip. Stretched over that spare figure were nicely defined muscles - not bulky and contrived, but clearly the result of frequent and strenuous use. He reminded John of a Renaissance sculpture, one of the obviously splendid, pointedly male statues, except he was not quite as naked.

Sherlock's white skin appeared nearly pearlescent as he stood halfway in the sunlight, looking about him and taking some drinks from the bartender. He shifted onto one foot, and John's breath caught in his throat as he watched a glute tighten. There was no denying now that Sherlock's arse was one of the best John had ever seen, male or female, and it seemed utterly unfair that although so much of it was revealed, the tight plum-coloured swimsuit stretched tantalizingly across his most secret areas. God, where had Sherlock even found that colour? John nearly always found an excuse to leave the room when Sherlock wore that shirt, and those briefs were ten times tighter.

John groaned as his friend turned around, walking toward him, and the sunlight perfectly highlighted his genitalia.

This is the story of how I died, John thought, and in a fit of frustration, he grabbed some sand and rubbed it roughly over his calves. He turned his mind to the anger he still felt about the tight briefs he had been forced to wear - Sherlock's fault again - although he had apparently been mindful enough to purchase the shirt for John. Sherlock's reaction to his appearance had been hidden from John, the result of the sunglasses.

A blue drink in a transparent plastic cup was thrust into John's field of vision, and he took it before it upended into his lap, though that might not have been an entirely bad thing. The cup was already sweating, and the swell of crushed ice was cheerfully crowned with an umbrella stabbed through a cherry.

"Er, what is this?" John asked skeptically. Fruity alcoholic beverages were not their style - he and Sherlock usually opted for bourbon, but John supposed that wasn't really standard beach fare.

"It's called a Blue Bikini," Sherlock said, raising an eyebrow. He looked down at John, smiling faintly, before he gracefully fell to his knees on the towel.

"Uh-huh," John said. He raised it to his lips, and after the first sip he nearly sprayed it across Sherlock’s face.

“Holy shit, that’s strong!” he exclaimed.

Sherlock blinked rapidly and licked his lips after a swallow of his own. In a slightly higher voice than usual, he said, “It’s rather sweet, too.”

John took another drink and let out a weak cough. “Not bad, though, once you get used to it," he said.

"It has its merits," Sherlock conceded.

John leaned toward him conspiratorially and asked, "So, what's going on?"

Sherlock looked around and lowered his mouth to John's ear. "It's obvious that our suspect works at that bar. There are signs that he has plenty of opportunities to engage with his victims. It's likely he keeps a permanent residence here but has an exceptionally safe site from which to operate in London, perhaps a family member's home."

"Do you know why he's killing them?" John asked. He heard Sherlock lick his lips and, for a brief moment, thought that they rested against the shell of his ear. He felt like he was going mad.

"I'm not fully sure yet," said Sherlock. "The style of the killings is different from victim to victim, so it's possible that his thought patterns are scattered. Perhaps it's not about harming or mutilating them, but more about silencing them."

"But silencing them about what? Is there something dirty going on at that bar?"

Sherlock inhaled quickly and the hair on John's ear stood at attention. "That's what we're here to find out," he replied. "There’s a shift change at half-past five, so we'll wait until then and see who shows up. We might as well look like we're enjoying ourselves," he withdrew, smirking. He began chuckling to himself.

"Something you find amusing?" John said lightly.

Sherlock continued laughing. He looked out at the water, and smiling, said, "I was thinking of when I was a child. Mummy helped me bury Mycroft in the sand and he complained so much that she let him have three puddings at dinner."

John snorted. "I imagine that was a sight," he said.

"Oh, yes," said Sherlock dreamily. "He went right to sleep that night and didn't talk for twelve hours. It was lovely."

Sherlock swiveled his head over to John, who could tell from the creases of his face that he had a plan. Many of Sherlock's plans involved some misuse of John's own person. John recalled the time when Sherlock presented him with a cup of tea shortly before he was about to retire upstairs, and even though he had known Sherlock had tampered with it, he'd drunk it anyway. Sure enough, when he awoke the next morning, it had been Thursday instead of Wednesday, and John was thankful that at least he hadn't been scheduled at the clinic. In silent retaliation, John had binned everything he found in the refrigerator and the tallest shelf of the kitchen cupboard, where Sherlock had secretly been storing volatile chemicals. Neither he nor Sherlock ever spoke of this.

When it came to Sherlock, somehow John just couldn't resist finding out what he was going to do, even if it was unsavoury or dangerous. Especially if it were dangerous.

"John," said Sherlock tentatively, reaching for his bag, "would you consider..."

"Yes?" John asked, picturing Sherlock giving him a glimpse of his own Sig Sauer from the depths of the pack, sunlight glinting off its handle. It wouldn't be the first time the sneaky bugger had pilfered it from his room.

"Would you consider letting me bury you in the sand?" When Sherlock saw John's head jerk sharply upward, Sherlock rushed out the rest of his explanation, "that way I could keep my face turned toward the bar without arousing suspicion."

John sat in stunned silence for nearly ten seconds before blurting, "What? You mean, you cover my body with sand?"

"Yes, just as I said," Sherlock waved a hand carelessly in the air. "It will give me a plausible reason to look away from the ocean." He finished his digging into his bag and produced a small plastic shovel with a bright green handle. John could not begin to fathom where he had obtained it.

"Sherlock, I...look, isn't there something else we could do? It'd be ridiculous for me to be stuck in the sand, especially when you get up and run off after the criminal without me like you always do. That'll leave me here buried until the tide comes in and I drown."

Sherlock's brow furrowed and he laid a hand on John's arm. His skin tingled under those warm fingers and John felt himself weakening.

"We're just here to look, and besides, it'll be just as discreet to unbury you. It's not as though he's going to garrotte someone in broad daylight. And," Sherlock paused, licking his lips, "you know I wouldn't leave you behind." He met John's eyes, and there was a deep hurt welling up behind that hawk-like gaze. "I won't leave you ever again, I mean it," he said softly.

John desperately hoped that Sherlock didn't feel the shudder that passed through his body at the sound of those words in that voice. He knew there was no point in resisting, that whether or not Sherlock was manipulating him, he couldn't deny the effect those words had on him.

"Why the hell not, then," John said. "Go on, but if you forget about me, I'm putting sand in your socks forever."

It wasn't nearly as bad as he'd feared. John had helped Sherlock dig a shallow hole, and it had actually been quite cool when he'd lain down in it. The sand was damper deeper down, and it seemed more exfoliating and less like it was trying to scratch off his remaining epidermis.

Sherlock finally took the Blue Bikini away from him as he prepared to finish covering John's chest and his arm. As a sort of penance, Sherlock had given over his beverage to John and he now felt pleasantly numbed, lying in the beach and watching those gleaming white arms float above him. He closed his eyes for a bit and let Sherlock cover him.

When he felt a final satisfied pat underneath his chin, he opened his eyes to see Sherlock grinning down at him. By moving a pinky finger, John could tell that he wasn't buried impossibly deep, but that it would take some effort to break free. He'd probably have to swing his arms about and then scoop away the sand over his chest. Sherlock patted his hands over the top of the sand covering John's body, and John could feel the motion down through the grains. A hand playfully slapped the area over his shoulder, then John felt two thuds over his knees. He let out a laugh.

"Git," he said affectionately. "Why isn't it you in the sand again? You worried it might muck up all that gorgeous skin or something?"

It took some moments for John's brain to catch up with his mind. Shit, John finally thought. He'd just as much as confessed to being in love with Sherlock. Which he was. Wasn't. Shit.

But Sherlock just smiled at him, and John saw a gentle expression on his face that he'd only ever seen before when Sherlock thought he was alone. And John knew from experience (the muffled shouts for him while he was in the bathroom, asleep, or on the phone were a giveaway) just how often Sherlock thought that John was in his presence. Sherlock thumped his hands over the sand above John's hands, and then moved them down. Tapping down and over the middle of his legs...

"Sherlock...what?!" John gasped, not wanting to move but startled nearly out of his skin.

"I did lie to you John, just a little bit. I know you were worried about me manipulating you earlier, but I simply omitted some details. There is a shift change at five-thirty, but today the same staff are just working overtime."

Sherlock swung his face up above John's, bare centimeters above him. Several dark curls hung carelessly over his face, and that luscious pink mouth with its heart-shaped upper lip parted ever so slightly.

"But I have you now, John Watson, right where I want you," Sherlock said in a low tone. "If I was ever going to tell you without you ducking your way out of it, for fear of 'ruining' anything, I knew that I had to pin you down."

John could feel his heart pounding rapidly, and he feared it might beat its way out of his chest entirely. But he had to know.

"Tell me...tell me what, Sherlock? Tell me..."

Soft lips, cool sand and the relentless crashing of the waves. All that was on his skin aside from the sand was Sherlock, only Sherlock, and John met those lips with his own and held them.

Sometime later, which felt like a long time but couldn't possibly have been because the sun was still in the sky, John began pushing a fist upwards through the sand.

"You'd damn well better help me up now. I'm in deep peril of sand getting into places it was never meant to be," he growled at Sherlock.

He rumbled a laugh and swept his hands over John's chest to dig him out. When his titters subsided, he cast a heated glance over John's revealed body from beneath his lashes. "I certainly wouldn't want that. I've rather been planning on admiring you in that suit under less abrasive circumstances."

He pulled John up from his bed on the beach and John shook himself vigorously. He cautiously ran a hand up Sherlock's arm and to the back of his neck. Sherlock smiled again and bent down to brush his lips against John's. They pulled away from each other and John took his hand, looking up at him speculatively.

"You know, Sherlock, I feel exactly the same way about you. Would you care to join me in a shower back at the hotel, while we get all this sand off?"

Sherlock nodded, then leaned into John again and pressed a peck onto his cheek. He stilled for a moment, then slowly trailed his hot, moist lips up to John's ear. "That won't be the only thing getting off," he whispered.