A slow pulse in the afternoon. The depths of green dark and deep are broken by the curl of lace, and patient slip of living, molten glass. The swell above, wind tossed and ancient. The hush below, pregnant and layered.
Bodies shift. Circles bloom. Silken gliding medusa tentacles stretching touching. Glimmer silver into the hemisphere of night. The ancient dance. Sperm travel into the endless. From maw to maw, a spiral path home to the cauldron shell of jelly womb. To percolate. To entwine and become. To burst forth, tarry on the ground, the floor of the mother, the sea.
Tangled with the bottom, she looks a plant, our young medusa, our jelly. A polyp. Anchored in place. Translucent. Mindless. Swaying with countless peers in the tug and pull of the endless tide. To capture what comes. To sample the threads of life and drifting seed that fate steers her way. To linger in between. To hold the space for what one was and what many will come to be.
Then, a bump. A burr. A knotted thread in the line of being. The polyp she spins a wheel. One star, another. They layer, one upon another. Brown, purple, blue, translucent slice of life. How could this thin peel become a pulsing, coursing medusa? How can the moon, with her breath and stroke, be caught below, starlight congealed?
But somehow, they do. A stack of tiny, proto moon jellies form on the aunty midwife polyp. Expand and grow and one day burst away from their tether. A pile, like puppies erupting, wild and wheeling. Eyeless and silent, sensing the light, their prey, the cold all in one. And eat, and grow and touch and shudder muted in the coursing mother sea.
Pulsing, they grow. A sliver of star becomes a puff of sea grace. A tumbling reaching hand of strands grasp an errant egg, pull it inward. Again, again, again. The sea becomes their hunting grounds.The flutter of gentle spokes spell death. The quarry falls to layer life on, and bring them onward.
At last, a wheeling squadron of jellies poke and bump. Spinning, urged by the changing light and warmth. They merge with a drifting battalion of marshmallow moons. Soft floating wing as far as the eye can see. The siren song of distant seas calls them home. And they follow.
John was still chuckling as he put one arm around Sherlock. Beneath his hip, the blanket slid deeper into the sand. Splayed at an awkward angle across the plaid, his bare foot stuck into the cool layers. The familiar feel was colored by memories and the flavor of nightmare that haunted him still. But in this moment, no hint of the past tugged his awareness away. The solidity of the man beside him and a year on in this new life anchored him.
He slung his calf over the taller man’s leg, hooking their knees together. John looked down at his love, head in his hand, wounded shoulder supporting his weight. He knew he wouldn't last in this position for long, but he savored the moments that physio and therapy had bought him. Paid for with a new patience for the limits of his own form, somehow loaned to him by the single most impulsive person he knew.
A sense memory unfurled in his brain. The phantom scent of the balm Sherlock stroked on his wounded hands that first day they spent together. The many long warm sessions of massage since then that had helped his gnarled fibers relax and stretch. He rubbed his long-since healed hand on Sherlock's belly. Gently luxuriating in the play of flesh beneath the soft cotton, and in the richness of life that had followed the fitful start of their relationship.
When John spoke, it was with a lilt of affectionate humor in his voice. “This far enough away from your brother now, love?”
Sherlock huffed in response and rolled his eyes. The look in them still distant, his mouth a harsh line interrupted by teeth worrying that lush lower lip. John leaned down to steal a kiss and capture his lover’s attention. A moment’s care brought a puff of breath released, fluttering eyelids and a softening of lip and jaw. “John,” Sherlock whispered into his mouth.
A year on and the spell Sherlock’s touch still spun made John wonder at the truth of it all. Shifting his body to relieve his shoulder, his lower hand snaked around Sherlock’s neck. He came to rest leaning on the man’s slim chest. Running a hand up Sherlock's bicep, John arched his neck. Lazily planting a string of kisses down that cheek to the line of dark curls. He bit lightly at Sherlock’s ear, smiling to himself as he felt the warm body shudder beneath him. “John,” Sherlock moaned, louder now.
Laughter and a large splash broke their moment. A group of young figures, skinny and nameless in the dark, waded into the shadowy water. Their footsteps slowing into a shamble as the water grew deeper. This section of the cove was untended, some length away from the tidy beach. Here a squelching muck caught at their feet, bogging down their breathless excitement.
John looked up bemused, recalling a nighttime swim in his youth. Sherlock’s mind leapt more quickly to assess the children’s peril.
“John! The jellies, they are swimming to the jellies!”
A lightning strike of adrenaline pulsed through the ex-soldier. He scrambled to his feet, grabbing at his sandals and pulling Sherlock up behind him. They hurled themselves at the water’s edge, just in time to see the group meet the line where the seamless inky water became dappled with spots of light. Ghostly blue tumbling and floating beyond. The night illumined by a galaxy of submerged silver-teal stars. Piers limned by bobbing lanterns of gold. John and Sherlock called out, but their words were drowned by the splashing of their footsteps in the deepening flow.
Two of the youngsters came closest to the edge of jellyfish. One drawing back, the other urging on. A hand reaching out. John called, “No!” But then a cry of pain rang out, and the slight bodies froze. Three began to scuttle away from the drifting, pulsing stars beneath the water. The one who was stung stilled, clutching their hand. The fluttering watery beings began to surround the youngster, who yelped, panicked and hurting.
From the beach beyond, a call went out. Figures reclining or leaning against the rail pointed across the jelly-spangled cove. A few muffled voices called names. Feet pounded across the ground. Phones lit.
John reached the stranded child first, staggering through the thigh-high water. His arms wheeled as he stopped his forward momentum. He felt Sherlock’s hands on his shoulders, stabilizing him. The child whined in fear, holding their hurt hand to their chest. Encircled now entirely by the glowing beings.
The men shared a glance. Sherlock pointed with his chin and John nodded affirmation. They shifted and switched places, the taller man edging as close as he dared to the ring of jellies. The short solid soldier followed and grasped his beloved firmly by the waist. Anchoring his hands to the fine leather belt there, its smooth black surface mottled and ruined by the brackish water.
Sherlock reached, arching his back and stretching his arms to their utmost, out to the youngster. Close enough now to discern details, they recognized the postmaster’s eldest daughter. Her blue-dyed hair cropped close, a single gold stud in her ear reflecting the unearthly light of the jellies. She sobbed quietly, but reached to them with her good arm. A cry pealed out from her again as she stepped into another of the floating creatures.
“Stay still!” John called. Sherlock grasped her beneath the shoulders and pulled upwards as straight as he could. John braced his feet, holding tight and shifting all his weight back and down to allow his partner to lift her without falling forwards himself. Then they were all free of the cloud of jellies, and the two men floundered back to the shore, each helping carry the tween.
A group of adults hovered at the water’s edge. John’s captain’s voice rang out. Calling for space, calling for clean water, a blanket, first aid. Sherlock asked if an ambulance had been summoned and conferred with a panicked parent, keeping him at some small space from John who treated the young patient. Another parent, this one calm and attentive, sat by the side of the girl under John’s care. Holding her hand and speaking soothingly. Several adults lectured the two other shamefaced youths. Those had who lingered to see how their friend might be helped receiving the lecture the absent third likely deserved most richly.
Sherlock recognized familiar voices. Lestrade from one direction, Molly from another, converging on him asking what should be done. Watching the tweens, their families and consulting his memory, he deduced for them the circumstances of the events: “It was a dare, an unrequited crush, a three-way tangle caused by--oh, hm. Perhaps you should direct the ambulance closer, Lestrade? Molly, I think we have quite enough help at present, could you let gawkers know we have it in hand?”
An hour on found the group by the northern tip of the cove dispersing. The excitement had shaken many out of the spell of the glow. The sound of voices disappearing in the distance and the occasional closing of a car door broke the still of the night. John and Sherlock stood in a circle with their friends. Warm mugs of tea in their hands, having been conjured out of the night air by Mrs Hudson’s swift dispatch of Billy.
John hugged more tightly the blanket he’d been bundled into. The chill of the night and the post adrenal drop brought back a throbbing to his shoulder, worse than he’d felt in many a month. Sherlock, by his side, tried to reject his own blanket a third time, only to have it replaced yet again by Mrs Hudson’s loving, insistent hands. But at John’s shudder, diamond bright eyes took in the hunched look of his beloved’s frame. Sherlock shifted closer to John, unfolding his blanket to drape around both their shoulders. John leaned into the warmth of his lover’s body. A deep sigh settled out much of the stress that had been seeping into him unnoticed.
“How was she, John?” Kate sidled up to Molly, taking her arm. The slim brunette snuggled closer to the red-haired woman.
“Oh, she looked fine to me. I think I was able to get all the stingers out. They took her over to hospital for observation. If she has an allergic reaction it can be quite dangerous.” Sherlock’s arm tightened briefly around his waist. “There were no signs of it I could see. But I encouraged the parents to be cautious.” He took a sip of tea, then rested his head on Sherlock’s shoulder. “Is this common?”
Mrs Hudson said, “Never. I’m not sure what got into them. They should know better.”
John frowned. “None of them are new to town, they must have known it was dangerous. What possessed them?”
Sherlock cleared his throat. “I believe it was a dare that got out of hand.”
John looked about to ask for more details, but stopped at the slight shake of the head Sherlock gave him. Instead the doctor launched into a tale of skinny dipping in the reservoir near his secondary school, which involved an enthusiastic German shepherd and an explanation of the dangers of climbing pine trees while naked. John enjoyed the laughter of his friends as well as the pleased and grateful glance his lover shot him for changing the subject.
John and Sherlock spent some quiet time beside the shifting cove after the ambulance left and the drama ended. The glowing jellies were undisturbed. They’d surely seen this untold times, John reflected. Humans stumbling in where they weren’t wanted and didn’t belong. We seem to do that best of all, don’t we?
He pressed his shoulder fondly into Sherlock’s side. The beekeeper’s gaze arced up and warmed as he looked at John, but the connection was brief. Sherlock’s eyes looked out to the distance again. The man’s dark mood from earlier resurfacing.
John rotated his shoulder and neck as he wondered whether to push or to let him share as he would. One thing at a time.
“Sherlock, what was going on with the kids? Why didn’t you want us to talk about it?”
“As I said, a dare, John.”
John raised an eyebrow. “Sounds pretty innocent.”
“Hm. Yes, but the reasons for the dare were..romantically motivated, I think.”
John grinned, remembering his own heartfelt plunges into sentiment at that age. “Still pretty understandable.”
Sherlock shifted to lean on his side against the rail and look over at John beside him. The chill loss of his warmth sent a shiver through the doctor. Sherlock narrowed his eyes and said, “Yes, but not necessarily expected. I think not everyone’s orientations have as yet been disclosed.”
John whistled, then hummed in pleasure as Sherlock closed the distance between them and pulled him close with an arm wrapped around his shoulders.
Nuzzling into his lover, John said, “That explains it, then. Between peers and parents and tempers high because of the stings, the last thing anybody needed was to be outed in the middle of that mess.”
They stood a while lost in thought. The lap of the water entraining their breaths. The waltz of the jellies entrancing their eyes.
"Is all forgiven now?" John asked, feeling calm retake his partner’s body and taking a chance that the deeper issues they’d skirted all evening could be broached at last.
Slack sinews pulled tense. “No. But we won’t see Mycroft again for months so there’s that.”
“What did he say?”
“It doesn’t matter. He’s an idiot.” But the warm arm pulled away. Sherlock leaned heavily against the rail. Bit his lower lip.
“Love,” John said quietly. Sherlock didn’t look at him. John went on, “What is it?”
Sherlock turned abruptly, his elbows now balanced on the rail behind him. John gazed at his dark silhouette. The unearthly light of the jellies gave him a broken, shifting halo.
Sherlock spoke so quietly John almost missed his answer.
“It’s been a year.”
“Yes, I recall.” John smiled at the memory of ardent toasts at their recent celebration, and the ensuing taste of tart wine on lips and tongues. He studied Sherlock’s face, searching for a sign. “Has something changed?” Tension bloomed in John’s stomach.
“Mycroft saw fit to remind me that I’d never had a relationship last this long without something going terribly wrong.”
John’s shoulders slumped in relief. “Is that all?”
“All?” Sherlock snapped, “Isn’t that enough?” He frowned and put his face in his hands. “I’m sorry, John. It’s bringing back bad memories.”
John took Sherlock’s hands in his and moved them to frame John’s face instead. “Whoever you’re thinking of is not me. Whatever they said to you, it’s not true.”
Sherlock stroked John’s cheek, but he said, “You don’t know that.”
“Yes, I do.” Silver green eyes stared into John’s inquiringly.
John kissed Sherlock lightly, then said, “Because I can see how much it hurt you.” Sherlock sighed. “And made you believe that no one would want to be with you.”
The vulnerable look in Sherlock’s eyes made John burn. He pulled Sherlock close. Cradled his dark head. A fury took him, stilling lips that yearned to kiss away those fears.
John shook his head. He buried his face in Sherlock’s neck. Sherlock stroked his hair.
The storm of feelings passed and John’s body loosened against his lover again. Taking a deep breath, he straightened up and looked Sherlock in the eye, watching for his responses.
“I am living proof that they were wrong.” A raised eyebrow, from Sherlock. John went on, “Because I do. Love you. I want to be with you.” Now a small smile. “And one year is not too long for a relationship to be healthy. For someone to treat you right. It’s not nearly enough. Not at all.” The smile expanded. Light eyes half-lidded fondly. John’s determination grew. “And I don’t care if it’s your brother, or your subconscious, or a parade of your exes from here to Northumberland, saying this shite, but they have got to come through me. And I’m just not having it.” Sherlock tried to hide a shy glow. “Someone has got to be the first person to be good to you longer than that, and it sure isn’t going to be anyone else if I have anything to say about it.” Sherlock laughed aloud, and John peppered kisses across his face, intermingling praise with each, “You are mine. And beautiful. Brilliant. Caring. Incredibly sexy…”
“Don’t forget ‘gives mind-blowing head,’” Sherlock added cheekily, despite his crimson face and wry grin.
“See? Genius,” said John. “Shall we make a list for Mycroft to tell him how wrong he was, starting with that item?”
The night breeze murmured through the leaves. The blurry rumble of the cove was broken by the occasional slap of a wave against the shore. John and Sherlock were the last to remain on the beach. Finally they stilled their laughter with eyes bright, full of one another, and thoughts full of joys yet to come.
They walked home together, hand in hand. The jellies danced on, tumbling slowly beneath the wheeling sky.