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At the End of Language

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Stanley has never really liked the summer. Heat makes him irritable and he doesn’t like his irritable self, or the way he fades in humidity, energy not so much sapped as concentrated in the pit of his stomach, ripe for an explosion. Then there are the summer thunderstorms, beautiful in a way that makes him enormously and complicatedly sad.

But this summer isn’t bad. Sherlock’s there, and he’s getting better at being friends with her. Normal, non-stalkerish friends. Langdale and Tabitha and Kitty are there as well, and Tabitha has an honest-to-god apartment with air conditioning and she lets the rest of them come over and bask in the cool air. Stanley likes the ground, and that’s where he spends most of this summer, on the soft carpet of Tabitha’s living room watching TV with Langdale’s arm draped around his shoulders (not something he would have thought, last May, he would ever find comfortable, much less comfort ing ) or lying on the cool tiles of communal kitchen on his floor of the dorms, trying to find some reprieve from the heat. Sherlock regularly finds him there at odd hours and regularly joins him, propping her head on one folded arm and quizzing him on different types of cigarette ash or recognizing the brand of a shoe by the print it leaves in dirt.

One night, though, she lies next to him in silence for a moment before asking, “Hopkins, are you and Langdale dating?”

The question takes him by surprise and makes him unexpectedly nervous. “Uh,” he says. “I’m not really sure? Tabitha thinks we are. I think Jamie thinks we are. I dunno, we keep not talking about it. And like, that’s not his fault, it’s my fault too, because I kind of would like to talk about it but I’m not sure what I would say and I think it would kind of depend on what he said and --”

“Hopkins.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s perfectly alright, I was just wondering if you were planning on arriving at a point.”

“I just mean that I’m not sure and it’s kind of hard to figure out.”

Sherlock sighs grandly. “I never did understand that. How people who are quite close and discuss a great many things are often unable to accurately label their relationships. I believe it to be a sign of the inadequacy and quite possibly the total irrelevance of the way we talk about how we interact with one another.”

“Also it’s just awkward.”

“That I truly cannot understand.”

Stanley laughs a little -- a small, stifled sound. “So how would you label your relationship with Jamie?”

Sherlock looks at him, frowning. “You know perfectly well I have no interest in dating anyone.”

Stanley rolls his eyes. “That’s not what I meant.”

Sherlock looks back up at the ceiling. “She’s a friend. A very dear friend.” There’s silence for a moment and then Sherlock says, “I did say our word are inadequate.”

“No kidding,” Stanley says softly. He has been working diligently at making Sherlock and Jamie’s friendship something that isn’t painful to him. He knows it shouldn’t be but moving from knowing to understanding to feeling is hard and takes time. It’s easier now that he has other good friends, now that she isn’t the sole focus of his universe. It’s easier now that he knows how great Jamie is. But still it’s there, a hurt like summer thunderstorms that he can’t articulate, and probably wouldn’t if he could. Stanley hates things he doesn’t know how to talk about.

“And you are too, you know. A dear friend.”

Stanley lights up. “Really?”

“Especially once you stopped being so entirely focused on me and apologized. I value greatly the help you have given me on my cases. And --” She pauses for a moment, gathering her words. “With the exception of truly malicious people, my hope is that all people are safe and happy. It’s part of why I’m a detective. Part of it of course is that I have a natural aptitude and wish to use my skills. I need stimulation for my mind and a way to keep from becoming unbearably bored. But I also wish to keep all people out of danger. Over the course of my friendship with Jamie I have become more invested in the wellbeing of those around me, including those with whom I have no personal connection. But I believe it wasn’t until I met you that I recognized the difference between working for the wellbeing of all and actually being happy to see another person happy. The latter, for me at least, is a mark of true friendship. I have been deeply gladdened to see the change in you over the past six months.”

Stanley doesn’t know what to say. He is absolutely not going to cry.

“That required altogether too many words to explain,” Sherlock says.

“No,” Stanley says with a slight sniff. “I think that was pretty good.” He laughs. “Besides, like I’m ever going to criticize someone for talking too much, I’m the king of talking too much.”

“I meant only that the idea should be possible to express more concisely.”

“Yeah, well, maybe not at three in the morning when it’s still somehow 80 degrees.”

“Maybe not.”

They lie in silence and Stanley feels better. He keeps being taken by surprise at how better it’s possible to feel. “Anyway,” he says. “Thanks.”

“Don’t be sappy.”

“Oh my god,” Stanley says, laughing. “I literally just said thanks.”

Sherlock gives him a look, and then sighs. “I should probably go back to bed. Jamie has been pestering me about going to my classes and I have one starting in five hours.”

“Have you been skipping classes? Aren’t you like already a year behind? I feel like that means that you should probably go to your classes.”

Sherlock stands. “Yes, Hopkins, but my classes are profoundly boring and there’s really only so much you can take. I’ll see you sometime tomorrow, I expect.”

“See you,” Stanley says, watching her go back down the hall to her room. He closes his eyes and thinks this might turn out to be the first truly good summer of his life.