Chapter 1: Prologue
The first 10 chapters are now Brit-picked! And mostly Betad (still have some things to correct)! I am reposting the original chapters to reflect the edits.
THANK YOU to the amazing Misanthropyray for Britpicking chapters 1-10 and as always to the awesome Evildrem for Britpicking chapters 11-13! Both are in for the next 2-3 chapters! My cup overflows with editing and I am joyous! As always, mistakes are my own fault!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock leaned against the counter at the pub, took a sip of his Brandy and studied his soon to be client Mr. Carlisle. He sat at a table by himself in the corner nursing a scotch and soda, a willowy man in a well-worn navy suit, unremarkable aside from a vivid shock of red hair.
John took a sip of his beer and asked, “So why are you shadowing that guy?”
Sherlock’s face broke into a wide grin. “You noticed!”
“I may not be a genius of deduction, but I’m not an idiot. You ask me if I want to see the game, and if that’s not bizarre enough, you take us by taxi to a pub thirty minutes from our flat. You haven’t complained about being bored since we’ve gotten here, even though I know you have no interest in rugby and delete information about the teams whenever someone explains it to you. So this must be a case.” John’s lips turned downward in a minimal frown. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s simply reconnaissance. Nothing dangerous.”
“And what secrets have you reconnoitred from our lonely office-worker?”
“Mr. Carlisle’s self employed. His business is failing, a common side effect of getting involved with scam artists. His lover, the same man who set him up with this real estate investment scheme--you can see the brochures sticking out of the top of his bag--isn’t answering his texts and hasn’t for at least 24 hours. That’s apparent by the way he keeps checking his phone. If he’d received an actual message, he’d have flip the phone open for more than one to two seconds at a time.”
“How do you know Mr. Carlisle’s lover’s a man?”
“Well, he’s only had eyes for you since we sat down.”
“You're not unattractive, John. Your body shows a regular habit of physical conditioning, which has given you a well muscled physique, though your clothing choices do not as a rule emphasize this.”
John drummed his index finger on the bar. “Not everyone can afford perfectly tailored suits.”
“It's not a criticism. Your military service and your chosen career in medicine favour a preference for a free range of motion which is practical and that is good. Your features, while not classically handsome are certainly regular, and Mrs. Hudson cannot be more complimentary in regards to your eyes. So it’s really not--”
“Sherlock, I recognize the possibility that someone might find me attractive.” John took an unnecessary breath. The twitching of his left foot against the stool showed agitation, and his voice was too calm when he asked, “The question I’m asking is why do you think *this man* finds me attractive?”
“Basic observation. Mr. Carlisle shows a marked increase in fidgeting, patting of the hair, moistening of the lips and the like, whenever you appear to glance in his direction. You can test it if you like.”
John inclined his head towards the man, a light smile gracing his lips. Mrs. Hudson also had many positive words to say about John’s smile, with which, in spite of the general vagueness of her observations, Sherlock basically agreed. Mr. Carlisle licked his lips again, thumbs rubbing a circle in the condensation on his glass. After a few seconds, he dropped his gaze.
“You’re uncanny.” It wasn’t as good as brilliant, but John’s smile had softened so Sherlock knew he was amused.
“Go flirt with him,” Sherlock suggested.
“We won’t be able to present this to Lestrade without a complainant, which Mr. Carlisle won’t do on his own because he will be too embarrassed by how thoroughly duped he was by a man he thought he loved. That is the way with these cases. But if you can gain his sympathy, even to a small degree, that will make the road easier when I present him with the evidence.”
“His sympathy could be gained without flirting. Even a few of your crocodile tears would do the trick.”
“It will be more effective coming from you.”
John’s eyes widened. “Wait! You knew I was his type when you brought me here. That’s why you didn’t tell me this was a case.”
“I understand you’re heterosexual, John. Just think of it as a simple ice-breaker. Or saving a life, if you’d prefer. The criminal in question does occasionally kill his marks and steal their identities.”
“So you thought you’d just spring this on me and then try and guilt me into acceptance.”
“Bullshit. You’re just selfish and lazy.”
“I have a diagnosis from a licensed psychiatrist.”
“I’m sure you do.” But instead of continuing the argument as expected, John grinned. It was the mischievous grin that occasionally surfaced after he and Sherlock had chased down the guilty party but before the police arrived, and the restrained suspect was spurting out obscenities mixed with questions like “who are you lunatics?” and John would sometimes respond, “I’m just his blogger,” while the suspect struggled in John’s arms.
But this was hardly that situation, which made John’s expression surprising. Sherlock had an ambivalent relationship with surprises. They sometimes lead to fascinating things like decapitations, frozen fingers via post, or chocolate biscuits. Sometimes they showed a flaw in his deductive reasoning. The latter he did not like.
As the bartender passed, John asked, “What’s the guy at the corner table having?” He inclined his head to Carlisle.
“Scotch and soda.”
“I could have told you that,” Sherlock said with mild affront.
John put a couple of notes on the table. “Give him another on me.” He turned to Sherlock. “Once I sit down with him, stick around for few minutes and then head back to the flat, okay? I need him to see we’re not involved, but it’s going to be uncomfortable if you do your usual routine of studying the both of us like a decomposition study.”
“So you’re going to do it?”
“Saving a life, yada, yada.”
The scotch and soda was delivered. Carlisle looked over at John, his face flushed. John tipped his glass to the other man and took a sip. Carlisle returned the gesture. “See you back at the flat.” John picked up his beer and started towards Carlisle. Words were exchanged, and within minutes they were sitting, heads bent together, fingers almost touching across the tabletop. Carlisle said something, and inclined his head towards Sherlock. John shook his head and they both laughed.
Sherlock forced a smile and took a sip of his drink. John was far too comfortable at flirting with men not to have tried it before. More than once. Which meant in spite of the fact that Sherlock only seen John pursue women, he was clearly bisexual. Sherlock had suspected such on their first stakeout at Angelo's, but John’s relentless pursuit of women indicated strong heterosexuality. Even the pornography on John’s laptop featured only heterosexual couples. What had happened to John to lead to his rejecting one half of his sexuality? The thought bothered Sherlock more than it ought to have.
Sherlock absently finished his drink, left the bar and took a taxi back to Baker Street. There he immediately took three nicotine patches and lay back on the sofa to think.
His observations went as followed:
1.In spite of his efforts, John was clearly unsuccessful in regards to women. Even his co-worker Sarah, who had been the most practical of the lot, had objected to being nearly killed on three of their four dates, her hospital visit to John after the pool incident being the one outlier. The rest of John’s potential girlfriends been unsuitable and Sherlock had applied minimal energy to making John aware of this through various covert means.
2.John had interest in men, though he had avoided expressing this for an as yet unknown reason.
3.John considered Sherlock to be selfish and lazy. (The latter being especially bothersome. Sherlock worked himself to exhaustion on important matters, like cases)
Sherlock’s thoughts were interrupted by the scrape of a key in the downstairs lock and John stomping up the seventeen steps to the flat. He dropped a piece of notepaper on Sherlock’s stomach. “That’s Carlisle’s number. I hope you’re satisfied.”
“Is he your type?”
“You’re bisexual, that much has become clear. Was it a trauma that caused you to eschew men?”
“This is none of your business.”
“You shouldn’t allow one bad experience to mar your opinion of an entire gender.”
“It wasn’t one bad experience.”
The insight came to Sherlock in a cascading series of deductions, the thrill of which had him leaping up from the sofa. “I’ve got it John! It’s brilliant!”
John took a step back. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re hopeless with women, that is apparent. And since you are interested in pursuing a relationship, men really are your only viable option.”
“No need for sarcasm. I am a genius of observation, and as my flatmate and investigative partner, I have devoted a great deal of time to observing you. This makes me the ideal person to find you the perfect man.”
“It will be the single most altruistic thing I’ve ever done!”
“This is a terrible idea.”
John’s lips parted in an expression of shock. “You said please?”
“John, you are my flatmate and a critical component to my investigative process. As a result, your emotional well-being is important to me. Let me try.”
“Say please again.”
It was uncomfortable, but sacrifices had to be made. In spite of Sherlock’s acknowledged deficiencies in the emotional spectrum, John’s happiness was important to him. “Please let me prove to you that I’m not just selfish and lazy.”
“I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this.”
“It will be brilliant.”
Sherlock spread his arms with a grin, the nicotine was shaking through his skin. “Your first date will be on Friday, is that acceptable?”
John covered his face in his hands. “God help me.”
Chapter 2: Date #1
Wherein John has his first date with Dr. Olvistar.
Unfortunately, Lestrade did not offer a case in time to distract Sherlock from planning John’s Friday night date. Sherlock even went so far as to have a suit tailored for his flatmate. He must have done the measurements by eye, but it fit perfectly of course: trousers snug but not binding, jacket allowing full range of motion while emphasizing the broadness of John's shoulders, and the button down shirt was a cream coloured silk that gave his skin an almost golden undertone.
“Much more flattering than the jumpers,” Sherlock said, giving John the once over when he entered the living room. “You should more often dress in a way that emphasizes your many positive physical attributes.”
“Thanks, I think. So who is this doctor you've set me up with?”
“Dr. Olvistar has done extensive work in facial reconstruction with children, especially in the developing world. It’s something of a passion for him. He was featured in a documentary on the Discovery Health network. I’ve called up the Youtube footage of it on your laptop browser.” Sherlock handed over the laptop. Of course, the changed password had provided no barrier for the Consulting Detective, though how he’d deduced ‘sushialacarte’ was beyond John.
As the interview loaded, John said, “I thought you had no use for popular television.”
“Dr. G: Medical Examiner, while unfortunate in that much of the autopsy footage has been redacted, is still interesting to an extent.”
“Is that what you’ll be doing while I’m out?”
“I won’t be putting bullet holes in the wall, if that’s what you mean. There’s a larvae study in my bedroom that’s just about due, and Molly sent over some toes. So just relax and have a wonderful time!”
Watching the interview, John had some doubts, but he didn’t want to let his flatmate down. Besides, Sherlock was the expert in deduction. Who was to say he couldn’t make a better decision for John than he could for himself? It wasn’t like John’s recent dates had been a stunning string of successes.
Sherlock had gone to some trouble in regards to the location, booking an intimate table the Promenade at the Dorchester--a five star establishment as long as Nelson’s Column--with the meal comped as well as unlimited drinks. John had arrived just as the Jazz Duo were taking up their instruments for the evening.
Dr. Olvistar was attractive, though in an overly refined way that was much more apparent in person. John quickly realized this was due to an overindulgence in plastic surgery, Dr. Olvistar’s specialty. Whatever interest Olvistar had in the children of the developing world apparently ended when the television cameras turned off--something John, if not Sherlock in all of his genius, had pretty much deduced from watching the footage of the Discovery Health interview. John mentioned the burn victim from the interview whose face Dr. Olvistar had helped reconstruct, which led to four minutes of the doctor’s awkward demurring, an eternity that made John nostalgic for Sherlock’s overweening arrogance. At least that was honest and generally justified.
The date had taken an even sharper decline when Olvistar suggested John have his nose redone. Three times. Even so, John managed to choke down half of his steak and two glasses of wine. Olvistar had insisted on red wine of a thirty-year-old vintage John was pretty sure his date had mispronounced. Finally, in desperation, John faked an emergency page from his work claiming he had to return at once to help with a crisis.
"Does this happen to you often?" Olvistar had asked, his nose wrinkling lightly as though he'd smelled something rancid.
"Practically every night. Assaults. Stabbings. Occasional autopsy. I was lucky to get away for this long." John had said, pulling the napkin from his lap balling it up beside his plate. Thankfully Dr. Olvistar had been incurious enough about his date to ask where John actually worked, so John didn't have to try and explain what a GP Locum was doing on call for A&E.
“That is very inconvenient.”
“It’s a calling. I’m sure you understand. Stay as long as you like. Drinks are on the house,” John said, and fled.
Considering how abysmally this ‘date’ had gone, hopefully this offered was enough data to convince Sherlock that his talents lay in solving murders and not matchmaking. John wasn’t sure if he could handle another of his flatmate’s experiments in humanity.
Chapter 3: Interlude 1
Date #1, the aftermath.
When John arrived back at the flat, Sherlock was on the armchair where John had left him, typing away on John's laptop.
Sherlock looked up and his shoulders slumped. “It didn’t go well,” he said.
John took off his coat and put it on the hook. “If I wanted a new nose, Dr. Olvistar has a number of ideas.”
"He suggested plastic surgery!” Sherlock jumped up from the chair. John’s heart nearly stopped as his laptop started to drop, but thankfully his flatmate’s reflexes greatly exceeded his matchmaking ability; Sherlock’s fingers curled around the machine, catching it before it hit the floor.
“Laptop. Table.” John pointed. “Now!”
Sherlock averted his gaze, his pale cheeks flushing, and placed the laptop carefully on the end-table. “You can do much better,” he said. “There’s certainly nothing wrong with your nose.”
“Next time? I thought the results of this made it clear there would be no next time.”
“I admit, I was dazzled by Dr. Olvistar’s C.V., and clearly his acting skills surpass mine considering his performance for that program, but we can’t give up yet.” Sherlock steepled his fingers in front of his lips, tapping them gently. “There are, as a wise man once said, more fish in the sea.”
“Sherlock, I’d sworn off of men before you began this farce. Don’t take it personally.”
“I don’t take anything personally. Sociopath, remember.”
John didn’t buy that, but he wasn’t prepared to begin the argument again. Not now. “Give it up.”
“John, you have accused me of being selfish and lazy. The least you can do is offer me another chance to prove that I am personally interested in your welfare and willing to expend the necessary energy to see to your happiness.”
“I’m not unhappy now.”
“But you are not wholly fulfilled.” Sherlock stood, crossed the room and took John’s hands. Sherlock’s fingers were trembling, but his sleeve covered his forearm so John couldn’t discern if it was the result of nicotine overload or some deep, albeit strange, emotional response. “Please John, give me another chance.”
“You’re saying ‘please’ again?”
“The maintenance of our working relationship is very important to me.”
God, but it was almost sweet, the way Sherlock’s blue eyes glistened as he asked the question. Disturbing, but sweet. Sherlock didn’t wear cologne or use scented soaps or aftershave; he said it distracted his sense of smell. But standing so close, Sherlock’s scent encompassed, a mix of peroxide, gunpowder, formaldehyde, underlying that something sharp and compelling that was only him. The warmth of Sherlock fingers, the intensity of his gaze, the slight parting of his lips, it was a whirlwind that was somehow arousing.
Embarrassed, John pulled his hands from his flatmate’s grip. There were mistakes and MISTAKES and taking up with the self avowed sociopath who shared his flat, who was married to his work, who found most people more interesting in parts than whole, who in spite of all of this was John’s truest and best link to sanity, that was a mistake of Homeric proportions. Besides, nothing said “I’m not interested” like devoting the full weight of your attention to setting up your flatmate with another man.
“John, are you okay?” Sherlock asked.
“Fine.” It was all of this mess of reviving John’s bisexuality that had him confused. And Sherlock was trying so hard to be a good friend. Wasn’t enduring another of these dates worth it if it put him that much more in touch with his humanity? How much worse could a second date be? My God, he was actually going to do it. John said, “I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this again, but if you’re going to do this, pick someone you know at least. And not an enemy. I mean it.”
“Perhaps an acquaintance from University?”
“Sebastian Wilkes is a cretin. If you even think about setting me up with him I will dump all of your experiments in the oven on high.”
Sherlock looked slightly hurt. “You’re far too good for Sebastian, obviously. Hmmm... Someone I know...” He tapped as his thigh for a couple of seconds and then gave John a blinding grin. “Brilliant John! I know just the man. Victor will be ecstatic to make your acquaintance.”
“Victor Trevor. My first true case. He was, perhaps, the closest person to a friend I had at University.” Sherlock’s eyes got a faraway look “We have maintained congenial relations since that time.”
“Indeed. He inherited a great deal of money when his father died, but even so he devotes himself to working with disadvantaged youth as a teacher and mentor.”
“How many television specials has he featured in?”
“Oh no, Victor has no use for fame. And he is invariably free when I phone, which indicates in spite of his work, he has an abundance of time, an excellent attribute in a potential mate. You are not scheduled to be at the hospital on Wednesday. How about we pencil in your next date for seven?”
“And if there’s a case?”
“Well of course that takes priority. Victor will understand. Another critical criterion in a potential boyfriend, is it not?”
“Wednesday.” John sighed. Was it wrong of him to be wishing for a nice, complicated double homicide? Soon he’d have to start telling people he was a sociopath himself.
Chapter 4: Date #2
Wherein John has a date with Victor Trevor, not the skull.
No matter how effusively Sherlock rambled about Victor's virtues over the course of the next four days, John did not have high hopes for their date. A part of it was the difficulty in acquiring a photograph or any real information about the man. A Google search brought up hundreds of possible hits, and though John had lived with Sherlock for close to six months and by means of self preservation had learned his habits and moods frighteningly well, John still didn't know such basic information like what University Sherlock had attended, what subject he had read, or when he'd graduated.
When John asked, Sherlock's response had been predictably abstruse, "Consider it an exercise in deduction, John. I'm sure if you apply your mental abilities you will have little trouble unravelling the mystery." Which was Sherlock's way of saying he didn't want John to know. John considered texting Mycroft, but getting an answer wasn't worth the hassle of a clandestine warehouse rendezvous, so he decided against it.
At least Sherlock's current project had kept him entertained enough that he was only complaining about being bored once every two minutes instead of every thirty seconds. It didn't forestall Sherlock's after midnight violin jam sessions, which as Wednesday approached became more and more discordant.
As 1AM approached on Tuesday, John gripped his fingers testily around the neck of the Stradivarius, effectively silencing it. "If you expect me to stay awake through my 'date' tomorrow, then you'd best cut this out for tonight."
Sherlock looked up as though in a daze. "Oh, of course."
"What were you thinking about?"
"Not enough data yet to be worth discussing," Sherlock lowered the violin gently into the case, his long fingers hesitating on the strings before closing it. "Sleep well."
The next evening, not only was a new suit laid out on John's bed, but there was also an unopened bottle of cologne beside it with a sticky note affixed in Sherlock's near-illegible handwriting: "Victor's favourite scent."
John assumed green was Victor's favourite colour as well, considering the forest green silk shirt that accompanied his new slate grey suit. John dressed, feeling more like a doll than a man. The bit with the cologne was just too strange, so he left it unopened.
When John entered the common room, Sherlock leaned forward on the recliner, navy dressing gown pooled around him, eyes narrowed in appraisal. "Yes, the green's a much better colour for you than the brown, it brings out your eyes, and the cut of the jacket compliments your build. First impressions really do make the impression, John. You really don't consider these things at all when clothes shopping, do you?"
John was struck with the horrifying vision of returning to the flat to find all of his comfortable, lived in clothing replaced with immaculately tailored suits and casual-wear. Not that he minded what he had dubbed these "two pay cheque costumes," but they were hardly appropriate for midnight sprints after thugs or even the general splatter of blood, snot and piss that came from a rotation at the GP surgery. Best to head this off now. John firmly met Sherlock's gaze and in the same no nonsense tone he'd adopted with belligerent officers who tried to drag themselves back into the field with partially healed bone fractures said,
"Sherlock, I like my jumpers. And the rest of my clothes. They're comfortable and mine. I will not be happy if for any reason I can't find them, do you understand me?"
"I wasn't criticizing."
"As long as we understand each other."
Sherlock didn't acknowledge it verbally, but his gaze dropped first. "It took me some work to dig this out," he said, pulling a photograph from the right hand pocket of his robe. "I am not fond of photographs of myself, but Victor's father insisted." He walked it over to John and held it out.
John took it carefully by the corner. The photo was of Sherlock and another young man, muscular with thick brown hair and a strong tan, both in swimming trunks, ankle deep in what looked like a lake. Seeing the two side-by-side highlighted their differences. They were standing quite close. Victor, the shorter of the two by almost two heads, had his arm loosely around Sherlock's waist, while Sherlock's was draped over the other boy's shoulder. Sherlock sported his usual smile almost smirk. Clearly his eating habits hadn't changed since his college years. The Sherlock in this photo was whipcord thin, all height and muscle, though he'd apparently gotten enough sun to acquire some colour, and a hint of sunburn dusted his shoulders.
"I trust you will recognise Victor having viewed this," Sherlock said, and made a grab for photograph.
John stepped back, pulling the offending photo to his chest. "Give me a minute. I have to observe at normal speeds. Boring, I know." Victor had a swarthy complexion and a stocky build, the blue of his eyes was more vibrant but less piercing than Sherlock's pale gaze. In the photo, Victor leaned into Sherlock's embrace, grin radiant, face partially angled towards his college friend.
"You do find Victor attractive, don't you?" Sherlock asked. "He drew quite a bit of attention when we went out together."
"You two make a striking pair."
Sherlock put his hands in the pockets of his robe. "It's settled then."
"Do you think Victor still has feelings for you?"
"Feelings, how do you mean?"
"Is he still in love with you?"
Sherlock burst out laughing. "That's patently ridiculous," he choked out between chortles. "Victor?"
"He seems rather taken with you in this picture."
"Oh, that's just Victor. He's my very opposite in most respects, full of spirit, over-brimming with affection, and constant in his energy, not at all prone to the same peaks and depressions that mark my character."
"I don't see what that has to do with being in love with you."
"I have known Victor for years. I think if he had any deeper emotions, I should certainly have deduced them, and even if not, he's had ample opportunity to relay his state of mind in that time. Victor has had a multitude of lovers since University. His last relationship was for two years I believe, though that ended a few months ago, so he should be ready to, as they say, enter the field again."
"So he's agreed to this."
"Of course. He had very positive comments about your blog."
"When did you give him my blog address?" John couldn't help but feel cheated. Sherlock's college acquaintance had warranted full disclosure of John's blog, but Sherlock couldn't be bothered even to show John a photograph of his date until ten minutes before he had to leave?
"Oh, I put a link on my website months ago."
"I thought you hated it!"
"I never said I hated it. I said I find it overly sentimental; I don't appreciate your assumptions about my ignorance; and you sometimes neglect to include certain important details in regards to the deductive process-I have a list of additions if you'd like to revise at some point-but your blog is a laudable attempt and in the interest of completeness, I decided it was important to include on my links page."
John wasn't sure whether to be flattered or annoyed. "Well, thank you, I guess."
"No need. I would hate to neglect my blogger," Sherlock said, "Now hurry up. You'll be late."
"You'll be okay? No plans to blow up something while I'm gone?"
"Mycroft paid for the new microwave, didn't he?"
"Skin samples and fermentation. And yes, I will label the bottle clearly and put it well away from the beverages."
"Well then, I guess I'm off." John took his coat from the hook and, feeling like a thief, quickly shoved the photograph into his coat pocket.
"Have a wonderful time," John heard as the locked the door behind him.
Khan's Restaurant was significantly less imposing than the Promenade, decorated in rich reds and yellows with traditional Indian and Pakistani art along the walls. When John entered, the smell of curry and garlic, coriander, masala, chutney, coconut rice, and the subtle sweet of baking naan reminded him forcibly that lunch had been five hours ago, a sandwich that Sherlock had eaten half of all the while complaining that egg-salad was boring and why did his body impose on him the inefficiency of eating daily anyway. The restaurant had a smattering of patrons. Victor had taken a corner table. In the centre sat a plate of papadum: a crispy flat-bread speckled with pepper, as well as two wine glasses, and bottle of red, opened to breathe.
Victor had changed little from the photograph in John's pocket. His shoulders were perhaps a bit broader, his skin, still swarthy but not so tan, his hair, still thick at the top but now receding a bit at the temples. As John crossed the room, he gave a Victor a wave. Victor returned the gesture, but his smile was stiff.
"Victor," John said, extending his hand, "Sherlock speaks very highly of you."
Victor took John's hand and shook it. "So you're the new flatmate."
Victor's hands were broad and muscular and his grip firmer than strictly necessary, but you didn't last long as a surgeon with weak hands, especially not on the war-front, so John returned the grip in exact measure. "I'm John. It's good to meet you."
"Indeed. Please sit. " Victor began pouring the wine and some of the tension left his face. "Petrus, 1990. My father was quite fond of the vintage."
John didn't know much about wine, and his grammar school French didn't elucidate him much about the Pomerol region, but he could guess from browning of the label's edges, the striking red of the lettering and classically intricate design work that this wine was probably quite expensive. "Impressive," John said, an appropriately vague compliment. Combat reflexes compelled him to wait until Victor was finished pouring and had pushed in the chair to sit before John seated himself.
Victor swirled the wine in his cup, sniffed it and held it to his lips, taking an infinitesimal sip. "Quite robust," he said.
John followed suit, nodding briefly. "Very nice." In truth, it tasted a little sharp, but John freely admitted he was no wine connoisseur. He took a Papadum and broke it into quarters before taking a bite of the crispy flat-bread "So, Sherlock told me you two met in university?"
"Yes. On our daily walk across the green, my dog took quite an interest Sherlock's ankle and tried to remove a chunk of it. I accompanied Sherlock to the hospital, and offered him what aid I could during his convalescence. He was very generous and did not even suggest filing suit. At the time I was a bit shy, and Sherlock's brilliance was so forthright as to seem abrasive, so we both had similar difficulty acquiring friends. By the time Sherlock's wound was healed, he and I had become quite inseparable." Victor smiled, and his face got that vacant look of someone lost in a pleasant memory. "Father was so excited when I brought Sherlock with me to the estate for summer break." Victor's gaze fell to his wine and he took another sip.
"Sherlock mentioned your father had passed. I'm very sorry."
Victor's fingers tightened on the stem of his glass. "Father had a weak heart and was vulnerable to shocks."
An awkward silence followed. Thankfully John was spared breaking it when the owner approached with a broad grin. "Mr. Trevor, Dr. Watson, my name is Aban." He was a tall, chubby man of Southeast Asian colouring with thick salt and pepper hair falling straight to his ears. He wore black slacks and a white-button down shirt with the sleeveless rolled up to his elbows, revealing thick, hairy arms. "Any friends of Mr. Holmes are friends of mine. Your meal tonight is on the house. Please, order anything you like."
"Thank you," John said.
"Yes, thank you," Victor echoed unenthusiastically. He placed the glass on the table in front of him.
"Shall we start you two off with some samosa and chana puri?" Aban asked.
"That sounds wonderful," John said. He opened the menu. "What do you recommend for our meal?"
Aban rattled off a list of specials with detailed explanations, and then pointed out three of his favorites. Victor offered minimal input, so John wound up doing the bulk of the ordering himself. After they settled on vegetable curry for Victor and tikka masala with garlic naan and a side of Chutney for himself, John asked, "Do you like Lassis?"
"That's okay," Victor said.
"Mango Lassi for me," John said, and since Victor was determined to continue along in rock-like silence, looked at Aban and said, "I can't tell you how much we appreciate this."
"It's nothing," Aban said. "Three years ago, my identity was stolen and my restaurant's name got mixed up in a money laundering scheme. If it wasn't for Sherlock, I would have lost this place."
Victor's head tilted and he gave a soft smile. "Yes, that is Sherlock to the heart. He's one of the most truly remarkable individuals I've ever met."
The naked adoration in Victor's face made John's face heat and he took a deep gulp of his wine. God but he hated being right. Was this how Sherlock felt all of the time?
After Aban had left, Victor said, "Sherlock really wants us to get along, doesn't he?"
"It's become a bit of an obsession for him." John bit into the second quarter of his Paddling. "Sherlock has had nothing but compliments about you all week."
Victor took a deep breath, releasing it through his nose. "The two of you seem well suited, "
"As flatmates." John's upper lip itched and he ran the side of his index finger over it. "Sherlock was in need of a flatmate, and living alone on a veteran's pension was becoming a problem for me as well."
"And you accompany him on cases," Victor said, his gaze focused somewhere behind John's left shoulder.
John resisted the urge to look behind him. "Yes."
"I'm sure it's very exciting. I didn't know he was taking on a partner. I wish he'd called me."
"It was a spur of the moment thing. Sherlock needed someone with medical training for a case."
"Yes, your Study in Pink. I read it." And thoroughly disapproved, judging by Victor's tone. "I offered Sherlock a set of rooms on my father's estate years ago, but he declined."
"I'm sure it wasn't personal. Listen, I don't know what Sherlock told you about what's going on tonight but-"
"Oh, he said he wanted me to have dinner with his friend and that he was confident we would hit it off."
"Right, I'm glad we're on the same page here."
"I thought I could handle this." Victor blinked rapidly, and his shoulders shook. "My therapist said I needed to deal with the unresolved issues of my past."
"That's good advice." John took another gulp of his wine. "My therapist told me the same thing, when I came back." Though John's method for dealing with those issues-risking his life to help a genius madman hunt down criminals-was probably outside her list of approved treatments.
"And now he has a blogger," Victor said it with the same resigned tone a jilted lover might say, "and now he has a wife."
John spotted Adan coming towards them with a tray of food. "Oh good, there's our appetizers." He breathed relief through his teeth. If this date got much worse, John would have to feign another crisis call from his imaginary position in A&E.
Aban balanced the tray on the edge of the table. "Gentlemen, your first course." He put a bowl of chana, chickpeas a rich red sauce that smelled of coriander, between them, a second plate of fat, golden samosa, and two empty plates. "I made these with my own hands. Please enjoy."
"Thank you," John said. His appetite was also all but gone, but he didn't want to insult his host so he also took a Samosa and began spooning chana onto his plate.
"Is the paddamun too spicy?"Adan asked. "You look flushed."
John's face was hot, his mouth dry. He finished off his wine and took another bite of the crispy flat-bread "It's perfect." Bollocks but this even more awkward than the last date. How could Sherlock have missed Victor's very obvious attachment? Affection? Near decade obsession? Maybe Sherlock was performing some kind of experiment? If so, it was out of character; Sherlock was often acerbic and generally had the emotional intelligence of a sugar high two-year-old, but he was not intentionally cruel.
Aban refilled both glasses of wine with a broad smile."Dr. Watson, your lassi will be out shortly," he said, and started briskly back towards the kitchen.
"Nathan wanted a deeper commitment, the ring and everything, and I tried, but I couldn't...not with things...so I had to end it."
Victor leaned towards John, elbows on the table. His pupils were wide; the bright blue of his irises a vibrant halo of emotion. "Do you know how it is, when you meet someone and you know there's a connection, that this person is in some way essential, and imagining your life without him is like living under a sky without stars?"
And it was the same cold, exposed feeling as in Afghanistan when a street was too quiet, or the gazes of a civilian rested too long, and John knew that if a certain set of conditions, unknown and therefore unpreventable, were met, then things would spiral relentlessly out of control. Most often they didn't, but it was the potential, not the outcome, that thickened the air and made time slow. John acknowledged the cases, spinning in the whirlwind of Sherlock's deductions, running step in step with the man through the London battlefield, these things had become essential threads to the fabric of John's civilian life. But he was not stupid enough to mistake admiration, fascination, or even affection for love. It was too easy to lose yourself in love, and Sherlock's friendship was consuming enough. In truth, John was grateful for his flatmate's persistent and obvious disinterest.
John said, "Sherlock and I, we're not...he's married to his work."
"Yes, he was always saying things like that. The first time we made love, he told me it was a part of an experiment regarding physiological response."
"Did you ever tell Sherlock how felt about him?"
"Oh, he knew. Sherlock always knows. He could instantly tell if a professor was having an affair by looking at her shoes, or what whether a student had cheated on his final by how he held his pencil. I'm sure you've seen it hundreds of times. Besides nobody could make love like that without-"
John held out his hand. "Enough."
John took another drink. There wasn't enough wine in the bottle to get through this date. There wasn't enough wine in the universe.
Victor said, "I gave Sherlock the skull, for our one month. He named it in my honor. Once the term started up again though, he was so busy, and then my father..."
And John was itching, his face, his back, his arms. His lips swelled and the inside of his mouth constricted. He looked down at his hands. A bright red rash was running wildfire over his skin.
Victor's eyes grew wide. "John?"
"I'm having an allergic reaction," John said. What could have set him off? He'd sometimes break into a rash if he ate raw strawberries, but nothing like this.
"Allergic reaction?" Victor wrung his hands, and his gaze flitted to the bottle of wine. "You have allergies?"
"Not to wine, not unless you spiked it with Bisacodyl." John laughed.
"An over the counter laxative," John explained. "My mum gave it to me once as a kid, bloody near killed me. Spent the night in the hospital."
Victor's face drained of colour. "Oh my God."
The room began to spin. John's throat tightened. "Anaphylaxis," he managed to choke out. "Epinephrine." His vision narrowed.
"Call an ambulance!" Victor screamed.
John heard someone else shout, "Lay him down and get his collar open," and then he blacked out.
Chapter 5: Interlude 2a
This is the first of three scenes that make the interlude between Dates 2 and 3. (so long as the story writes the way I think it's going to). The first turned out to be a good deal longer than I expected, which is why I've decided to post each section as it's own chapter instead of lumping them together with scene breaks. The scenes are going to alternate POV between Sherlock and John. The current section is in Sherlock's POV.
I promise there will be an exciting hospital confrontation upcoming in the next section (2b). Hopefully this update entertains as well in spite of being relatively low-key.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock Holmes leaned over his kitchen table, slicing a forearm of defrosted skin into thin strips. Once the cutting was finished, he'd immerse each strip into one of ten petri dishes filled with varying amounts of ethanol and check the skin's absorption over the course of the evening. The results of this experiment would wrap up the last of the cold cases Lestrade had sent over on Tuesday, an ill disguised apology for nearly a month without an even a moderately interesting crime. Sherlock had already solved the case, of course- the sister had killed her sibling when she discovered they were both having sex with the same man- but without evidence deductions alone were circumstantial, so best to be thorough. Either that or sit in the armchair and brood, which as unceasingly dull; even putting bullet holes in the wall had lost its rustic charm.
But even while Sherlock's hands worked, his mind wandered. He imagined John and Victor deep in conversation over curry, laughing at a shared joke, heads leaned together, fingertips touching. The sparkle of victory inherent in being right, something Sherlock had revelled in since childhood, was absent from the image, and the lack of triumph or even satisfaction made him feel a little hollow.
And then there was John's patently ridiculous inference from Sherlock's photograph with Victor in University. Had Victor had been in love with Sherlock? Impossible. Undoubtedly John had drawn his assumption from an inaccurate observation in combination with a critical lack of data, but even after an hour of reflection, Sherlock couldn't identify the data on which John had made his assumption. That bothered him to the point he was ready to apply a nicotine patch or two to the problem, but not until after he'd finished setting up his experiment. In spite of John's accusations, Sherlock was neither selfish nor lazy.
Sherlock's thought was interrupted by a knock on his door. "Sherlock dear, are you in there?"
Sherlock considered ignoring Mrs. Hudson, but the woman had a master key, and the weak tap of her knock as well as the light thump of something wooden against the door indicated she was carrying a tray, possibly with biscuits and even a fruit based beverage.
"One minute," Sherlock said. He rifled around in the cupboard and grabbed a roll of cling film to cover the petri dishes. The skin samples went back into the refrigerator Mrs. Hudson rarely objected verbally to human bits scattered around the flat, but Sherlock found their interactions went more smoothly when she wasn't casting nervous glances at his latest experiments and threatening to raise the rent.
When Sherlock opened the door, Mrs. Hudson was holding a tray with a large metal jug with condensation clinging to the outside, two heavy glasses, and a plate of fresh baked biscuits. "Not your housekeeper, love," she said. "Just thought you could use some cheering." Sherlock stepped aside and let her bustle into the flat. Her gaze flitted over the stacks of books and papers that were Sherlock's wont. She placed the tray on the cleared spot on the table and took two thick glasses, flipping them right side up and pouring a rich red liquid: cranberry juice, by the smell, and spiked with gin. Holding one of the glasses out she asked, "How are you holding up?"
Well, that was inexplicable. Sherlock wasn't often confused, and he didn't like it. He took a sip of the drink. "I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?"
"Oh, Sherlock." Mrs Hudson clasped a firm palm on his free shoulder. "I ran into John on his way out. He was dressed rather smartly, and when I asked he told me he was headed out on a date. When you boys are going out, you always leave together, but here you are, alone. What happened? Did John break things off with you?"
"Break things off..." Ahh, so this line of questioning was just a result of Mrs. Hudson's persistent belief that Sherlock and John were in a sexual relationship. Sherlock said. "The date was my idea."
"Why on Earth?" Mrs. Hudson lifted her comforting hand from his shoulder, balled it into a fist and slugged him in the arm. Hard.
Luckily she'd telegraphed the movement well in advance, so Sherlock was able to reign in his reflexes so he merely shifted his weight to absorb the impact rather than stepping aside and counterattacking. The blow still hit with reasonable force, and Sherlock knew he'd have a bruise in the morning. "Ouch," he said, mildly offended. "What was that for?'
"You're a damn fool, Sherlock," his landlady said. "And the two of you were getting along so beautifully. I must admit, until John moved in here, I'd just about given up hope on you."
"John and I do not have a sexual relationship," Sherlock explained.
"Why ever not? The man clearly has feelings for you. If I was a betting woman, and you know I don't hold with the horse races," though she made a fine killing in Poker, as Sherlock had observed on more than one occasion, "I'd have said John was showing all the signs of being in love."
What was it with everyone and love?
Sherlock's Blackberry beeped out the opening bars of the Star Wars Imperial March, the only entertaining thing in the entire two hour assault on physics called a movie that John had forced Sherlock to sit through a month ago. Upon seeing the film, he'd immediately changed Mycroft's ringtone. Sherlock's archenemy (Sherlock refused to call Mycroft his brother, not even in his head-too banal, archenemy at least had a ring to it) would once again be harassing Sherlock with yet another boring conundrum for queen and country.
"Shouldn't you answer that? It could be that Detective Investigator with a nice case for the two of you."
"It's not Lestrade," Sherlock said. "On what evidence are you basing your conclusion about John's affections?"
"Well first, he's still living with you. No offense dear, but that's not an easy thing, what with your experiments, the agonizing sounds you manage to coax out of that beautiful violin in the night's wee hours, and when you get bored, which is most of the time, well Dear Lord, you may as well put the man up for sainthood. Didn't your last flatmate evict you? And how many others had you gone through before him? Though I suppose John's experience in Afghanistan helped inoculate him to some extent."
"Living with me can't be comparable to the front lines of Afghanistan."
Mrs. Hudson raised an eyebrow. "In the time since the poor man's moved in, he's come back with three good shiners after chasing "your harebrained behind," his words, down some dark alley; he was tagged by a car two months ago and limped for a week on his good leg; he's been shot at twice, kidnapped once and caught in the radius of an explosion that damn near dropped a building on him."
"I rescued him from Moriarty," Sherlock had been trying for his usual cold detachment, but his voice came out sounding more sullen. "I can't be responsible for Moriarty being a madman. John knows that."
"Don't get cross with me Sherlock."
Sherlock's cell chimed Mycroft's ringtone again.
Sherlock ignored it. He said, "John can quit anytime he wants." And he would, if the danger palled, cases lost their charm, if Sherlock's brilliance failed, leaving nothing between them but his flaws. The thought of standing over a dead body, and John not being there, squeezed in the back of Sherlock's throat like a rock, making it hard to breathe. Sherlock took a sip of the fruit drink. The gin burned. "John needs the adrenaline. The danger. It's what cured his leg. In this, I've always been a means rather than an end."
"You've got it bad." Mrs. Hudson held out a biscuit. "Eat. You're so thin, I bruised my fist on your bones."
Sherlock reluctantly took the biscuit. It was still warm and smelled of melted chocolate and cinnamon. He bit into the corner. The shock of sugar, salt and fat would clog his mental pathways, making his reasoning sluggish, but he wasn't on a case. Not thinking, in fact, would be a relief. What he wouldn't give for some cocaine. The craving never really went away, but he couldn't risk Lestrade cutting him out of the Yard if he got caught using. Bad enough he couldn't bring himself to flush it.
Mrs. Hudson said, "John has stars in his eyes when he looks at you, that's for certain. He's always complimenting you."
"He does like my deductions." Sherlock's face heated, and he couldn't help but smile.
Sherlock's phone began singing Beethoven's fifth. Victor? Sherlock's dropped the biscuit on the counter and ran to the couch, fishing in the cushions where he'd last seen his phone. Why would Victor call now unless there had been an emergency? Sherlock's first thought was Moriarty. Since the police hadn't found a body in the wreckage of the pool, Sherlock could not assume his nemesis was dead. Quite the opposite in fact. Had Moriarty kidnapped John again? It didn't seem like his style to repeat himself, then again, he prided himself on unpredictability and re peating himself would certainly be unexpected, if also uninspired.
Sherlock's hands were damp when he pulled out the phone, and it slipped through his fingers, dropping onto the afghan. He picked it up and hit the call button. Holding the phone up to his ear was always strange. He said, "Sherlock Holmes."
"Sherlock, I'm so sorry." Victor's voice was thick, and it was apparent he'd been crying.
"Data." Sherlock's maintained a flat tone; it was either that or start screaming. "What happened?"
"John's had to go to the hospital."
"How was John injured?" Sherlock couldn't stand to ask the follow up question, "Is he dead?" A future without John would be...unpleasant, and certainly detrimental to Sherlock's work (though he couldn't precisely quantify why and found the deduction to be somehow lacking for all it had the weight of solidity).
"It was an-" Victor hesitated, "John had an allergic reaction. He's stable, and he should wake up soon. They're keeping him overnight though."
Relief ran the tension from Sherlock, leaving him lightheaded and shaking under his skin. "Which hospital?"
"The Royal London. Room 379."
Sherlock ended the call, shoved the Blackberry into the pocket of his dressing gown and started towards the door. "I have to go to go." he said to Mrs. Hudson.
Mrs. Hudson intercepted him between the recliner and the door, jamming her index finger into his chest. "Not in that dressing gown, you don't. How badly was John hurt?"
"Allergic reaction. He's stable." Sherlock looked down at himself. He was indeed in his dressing gown, the right sleeve was damp where some of the ethanol had spilled on his arm, and crumbs were scattered over his chest. "Yes, you're right. I should change."
Wasting even that much time before verifying John physical condition for himself was uncomfortable, but Victor had assured Sherlock that John was stable; taking an extra five minutes to make himself presentable shouldn't make that much of a difference.
Sherlock walked to his bedroom. As his mind began to catch up with the physical distress of his immediate reaction to the news (Sherlock refused to call it emotion, he was a diagnosed sociopath and thus freed of those sorts of distractions), he found himself troubled by this 'allergic reaction'. John's only food allergy, a mild one, was to strawberries, an unlikely addition to a first course (the amount of time John had been gone and the fact that included an ambulance and admission to A&E negated the possibility of John having made it far enough into his meal to have eaten dessert) at an Indian restaurant. Certainly, a person could develop an allergy to anything as life progressed, but Sherlock and John ate Indian almost as much as they ate Italian; John would have been aware of any developing reactions and diligent in his management of them.
So this was unusual. As a rule, Sherlock preferred the unusual, but not when it involved his flatmate being hospitalized.
Sherlock absently laid a suit out on the bed, shed his dressing gown and put on his clothes. Victor's apology when Sherlock had picked up, and Victor's hesitance before stating the nature of the problem was also unsettling. What had Victor been trying to hide?
Even though it was difficult to believe that his university companion had decided to poison his flatmate, that didn't negate the possibility. He needed data. It was a critical error to theorize without data, but as he pulled on his socks, the possibilities spun futilely in his mind. Moriarty had paid Victor to poison John? Victor had poisoned John for some reason known only to himself, perhaps in a bid to protect his inheritance from someone who had been blackmailing his father? The second made less sense than the first, what business did someone blackmailing Victor have with near murdering Sherlock's flatmate? Perhaps Victor was simply overwrought? It wasn't out of keeping with his personality.
When Sherlock re-entered the common room three minutes later, Mrs. Hudson was still there. She held a paper bag in her right hand. "So let's get going. What hospital is your man at?" Mrs. Hudson held out the biscuits. "He'll find that hospital food tiring soon enough."
Sherlock snatched the bag from her hand. "We don't know what he's allergic to."
"I am going to forgive your rudeness because you are clearly distraught," Mrs. Hudson said and preceded him down the seventeen stairs to the ground floor. It was raining. Mrs. Hudson opened her umbrella and wordlessly handed it to Sherlock to hold over them both. They stood, straight and silent at the corner, as three cabs passed, already full. Sherlock was prepared to throw himself in front of the fourth, occupied or not, when a black limousine pulled up in front of them.
The door opened, and Mycroft's assistant-Sherlock still hadn't deduced her name which troubled him insanely-said without glancing up from her Blackberry. "Get in."
"I don't have time for Mycroft's foolishness right now. John is-"
"In the hospital, and if you bothered to open your brother-"
"My employer's text messages, you'd know he sends his regrets that he is unfortunately involved with some issues in Parliament, but is giving you the use of the car in his stead."
"Excellent." Mrs. Hudson got in the limousine, taking a seat next to Mycroft's assistant. She leaned in to the younger woman and resting her fingers on the woman's shoulder asked, "Sherlock won't tell me. Are Sherlock and his brother quite similar?"
"Not at all," Sherlock said. It galled him to accept Mycroft's help even for something so simple as a ride, galled him further to be grateful for it, but standing on the corner hoping for a cab was even more reprehensible. Besides, if John's condition had been caused deliberately, it behooved Sherlock to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. He followed Mrs. Hudson into the limousine and seated himself across from the two women. The door shut automatically behind him. Mycroft and his gadgets.
As the limousine pulled into traffic, the brunette said, "Relax, Sherlock." Her Blackberry beeped and her lips turned down in a vague frown. "Mycroft knows you well enough not to expect something so catholic as an expression of gratitude, but he will probably ask for a favour later on."
Sherlock crossed his legs and pressed steepled fingers to his lips. He lacked data, but his thoughts came in spite of this. Disjointed. Illogical. Meaningless. Sherlock blinked rapidly in an attempt to clear his hard drive. Outside the limousine's tinted window, London drowned.
Don't own the series. Also, any Brit-picking would be super awesome as I'm from the States and am basically abusing the internet to do my best to get details right :) I happily make edits based on nitpicks, so feel free!
Chapter 6: Interlude 2b
Wherein confrontations happen at the hospital, an casualties occur :)
John regained consciousness in the ambulance. His rapid heartbeat, the beeping, the cold, the edgy anxiety of the adrenaline he assumed by the throbbing in his right thigh had been administered recently, all for a moment made him believe he was back in Afghanistan. An oxygen mask covered his mouth and nose. He tried to move but his limbs didn't respond.
"BP's coming up. 100 over 55. Dr. Watson? Can you hear me? You had an anaphylactic reaction."
John opened his mouth. "I know." His voice came out somewhere between a croak and a wheeze.
"Don't try to talk. The tracheal swelling is coming down, but your airway is still partially obstructed. You're very lucky one of the patrons at the restaurant had an Anapen or we would certainly have had to intubate. We're taking you to the Royal London. You're going to be fine."
John closed his eyes and let himself drift. His left arm twinged from where they had inserted the IV (always inconvenient as he was left handed) and his hand tremor was also back. Apparently being shot with adrenaline and then rushed to the hospital after being overdosed on laxatives was not the correct type of life or death situation to keep his psychosomatic wounds in check. This was conclusively the worst date of his life. Had Sherlock's old flame really spiked his wine with laxatives? Even the guys on the university rugby team, some of whom had pretty bizarre senses of humour (John knew, he'd been one of them) hadn't been inspired to this level of inanity.
To think, he'd been feeling bad for Victor Trevor. Thankfully Sherlock had been too emotionally oblivious to have formed any deep attachment his old university flame.
John must have lost consciousness or fallen asleep again because he had no memory of passing through A&E when he woke in the hospital room.
The bed had his back inclined on a 45 degree angle. John opened his eyes, and Victor Trevor's face swam in front of him.
"John?" Victor was close, too close. The proximity in combination with the adrenaline spiking through John's system kicked in his combat reflexes, and he sat straight up, grabbing Victor by the collar and yanking him down. There was a dull crunch, and Victor grunted, flailing his arms and trying to back away. Victor's blood ran down John's forehead into his eyes, making them sting and tear up, but he held on as Victor tipped backwards. John's IV ripped free, as well as the wires between his chest tabs and EKG, and both men crashed to the floor in a tangle of hospital sheets. Victor hit with a loud thump and he groaned.
Either through good luck or courtesy, they had put John on the side of the room farthest from the door and drawn the curtain between his and the other bed. The lack of screaming from the other bed, or insistent chime of the nurse's call button indicated the roommate was either absent or unconscious. Probably for the best. John straddled Victor's hips, fingers squeezing Victor's throat. "What the hell are you doing?"
Victor struggled, nose skewed to the right and bleeding. He opened his mouth and gave a strained gasp. John forced himself to lower his grip so the other man could speak. Victor said, "I swear I didn't know! I wasn't trying to hurt you." His voice had the high pitched whistle that convinced John he'd broken the other man's nose.
John couldn't bring himself to feel at all guilty. "What are you, twelve?"
God but John was weak, shaking again, and blood tickled down his left arm. His palms on Victor's collarbone was the only thing keeping him upright, but rage kept his voice strong. "Me shitting out my guts until dawn was not going to make Sherlock fall in love with you again. Or did someone pay you to get me out of the way for the night?" It was a testament to how long John had been living with Sherlock that the second seemed a valid theory.
"No! You have to believe me." Victor sobbed. "It was petty, I know. I just thought...I couldn't stand the thought of you two being together right after we-"
"You're a fucking idiot." John coughed and his vision went white.
"I know." Victor squirmed. "I called Sherlock. He's on his way. You can tell him I was responsible. I know it might cost our friendship-"
"Get out." In a profound act of willpower, John swung his body to the left so that his hands rested on the floor.
"Okay, okay." Victor scooted out from under him. "Can I help you up?"
"No." John closed his eyes and tried to get the shaking under control.
"I'll call for the nurse." There was a grunt and swish of fabric, but no footsteps. A moment later, Victor said hesitantly. "I know I have no right to ask..."
"You don't." The bleeding at his IV injection site had slowed, and John pressed the fabric of his hospital robe against the wound to stop it completely.
Someone knocked briskly on the wall outside John's half of the room and a female voice asked with exaggerated cheer, "Dr. Watson, are you decent? We need to fix the leads on your EKG, and-"
"Give me two minutes. If I start arresting, I'll hit the call button."
"Please, two minutes. I'm fine."
She laughed, a more genuine sound than her hearty cheer. "Two minutes."
John pushed himself so that his back rested against the side of the hospital bed and opened his eyes.
Victor stood between the bed and the curtain. He stared at the floor, and wringing the fingers of his left hand in his right.
John said, "One question. Then I never see you again."
"That's okay, I mean..." Victor backed away, his shoulder pushing into the curtain, warping the fabric.
"Ask," John ordered. "Now."
"Wha-what did you do to make him choose you?"
"Nothing." John would have laughed if it wouldn't have hurt so much. If it wouldn't have led to hysteria. "Sherlock and I are not together."
Victor's head shot up. "But-"
"Let me make this plain." John kept his voice low, and Victor tilted his head as though straining to listen, but did not move closer. "Sherlock are not having sex. We are not preparing to make a happy announcement. Your first clue should have been the fact that he set me up on a date with you." John took a breath. It didn't calm him. "But, since you clearly have trouble understanding or accepting the blatantly, blindingly obvious truth, allow me to break it down for you: you need to move the fuck on.
"I'm the closest thing Sherlock has to a friend, which means he steals my food, borrows my laptop without asking, sends me text-messages at all hours of the day and night, drags me out to crime scenes so he can call me an idiot, never does the food shopping, leaves body parts all over the flat, and insists that I'm unreasonable when I complain about any of this. That's Sherlock's friendship. Sherlock's love would eat you alive.
"But before you deliberately accidentally tried to kill me, you said there is a man out there who, for some reason known only to a higher power, wanted to marry you. I suggest you track this man down and beg him on your knees to take you back. Because even if Sherlock was capable or interested in something as banal as romantic love, you are not and will never be the one."
Victor shrank into himself, trembling like a leaf at the cusp of winter. His fingers laced together straight out and stiff, and he blinked tears.
Behind him, the curtain was pulled wide. Sherlock stood on the other side, clutching a plastic bag in his free hand. Next to him and a step behind stood Mrs. Hudson.
"Good Lord!" she exclaimed.
John threw his arm up onto the side of the bed. His breathing was rapid, and it took all of his strength to pull himself up. "I'm fine," he said.
"Don't be silly, Dear." Mrs. Hudson ran towards him, slipping her arm around his waist. "Sit down." She guided him to sit on the edge of the bed and hit the nurse call button.
Sherlock remained where he was. He looked over John, and the same terrified, pained vulnerability flashed over his features as at the pool when he'd stripped Moriarty's bomb from John's body and kicked it away. Then his expression hardened as he turned his gaze towards Victor. "What did you do?"
"It was a misunderstanding," John said.
Sherlock stared at Victor with the same dead-eyed focus he reserved for decomposing flesh. "Is this your fault?"
John said, "Victor didn't mean anything. It was an accident." He didn't believe Sherlock was a sociopath, but Sherlock did, and John couldn't predict what would happen when Sherlock's rage at being deceived by someone he's considered a friend collided with his illusion of detachment.
Sherlock walked towards Victor in long, deliberate strides, until he had backed Victor against the window.
John said, "Sherlock, I'm asking you to leave this alone," and tried to stand.
"Stay put, John," Sherlock said. He placed his palms on either side of Victor against the window glass, effectively trapping him, and leaned in to the other man's ear. The plastic bag in his right hand crinkled with the motion. Sherlock's lips moved.
Victor's eyes widened. His mouth opened and he trembled. "Don't," he said, grabbing at Sherlock's coat. "Please don't."
"Coat," Sherlock said.
Victor released the fabric like it had burned. "I'm sorry."
"Not yet," Sherlock said and stepped aside. "I believe your business here is finished."
"Yes..." Victor wiped his hands on his trousers. "Umm...I have to go." He took a step towards the door, then ran into the curtain, clawing at it twice before he managed to finish pulling it aside. "Excuse me," he said, narrowly avoiding tackling the nurse as he fled.
"Dr. Watson?" the nurse said, and gave a start as she got a good look at him. "You told me you were fine."
"I am," John said, swinging his bare feet back onto the bed. "My vein is blown though. You're going to have to redo the IV. Right arm is better anyway." He let his eyes fall shut, feeling strangely calm. Comfortable. Safe. It was probably the adrenaline wearing off, but he didn't mind.
"Well, perhaps it would be best if I left you two boys alone." Mrs. Hudson said, patting John on the arm. "And Sherlock, do stop gripping those biscuits with such fervour. They're no good as crumbs."
It was so remarkably normal that John couldn't help but smile. He let his eyes fall shut. At least after this, he had every good reason to refuse Sherlock should he consider subjecting John to another date.
When John woke again, someone was holding his left hand. It was a light embrace, too light for his sister, too warm, too dry, fingers thin and calloused at the pads. John opened his eyes. The blinds were closed, but pinstripe lines of sunlight filtered through. Sherlock had pulled the two visitor's chairs so that they rested parallel to the bed, opposite each other. Sherlock faced John, his long legs resting on the other chair so that his calves threaded through the narrow gap between the seat back and the seat cushion. His coat hung over the back of the chair on which he sat. On his lap rested a stack of folders. He had the uppermost open, flipping with his index finger through the pages.
Though John hadn't moved and Sherlock's gaze remained focused on his work, by some cue John assumed would become obvious if he had his flatmate walk him through the convoluted explanation, Sherlock said, "You're awake."
"You're holding my hand."
"It's supposed to be comforting." Sherlock looked up. "Are you comforted?"
"Uhhh...yes, quite," John said. Generally when Sherlock faked an emotion, he wasn't nearly so awkward about it, so John knew the gesture was genuine. "Thank you."
"That's good then." Sherlock nodded.
John expected Sherlock to remove his hand at this point; he wasn't much on touching or displays that indicated emotion, but Sherlock was apparently comfortable enough to remain as he was, and John was warmed enough by the act of caring not to threaten it by forcing too much attention. Instead, he asked, "What time is it? When did you get in?"
"I stayed the night."
"Really?" John bit off the second half that exclamation, 'but weren't you bored to death?'
After Moriarty's pool and bomb stunt, Sherlock had been the one who sustained more critical injuries, including some rather nasty second degree burns across his left side and lower back. John had sat with Sherlock, bringing a borrowed stack of recent pathology journals from Molly and cold cases from Lestrade in a bid to keep Sherlock from driving himself and the hospital staff insane until he healed enough to be discharged. John had never expected Sherlock to reciprocate, and truthfully prior to this moment would have assumed any attempt would press Sherlock's attention span beyond breaking. Had he really sat at John's bedside all night, holding his hand? It strained credulity.
"Staying was a practical decision," Sherlock said. "Moriarty is not my only enemy, and your current medical condition puts you in a weakened state. Not that I'm disparaging your fighting abilities which are impressive."
John's face heated. Without the training, the combat experience, even if he was able to keep up with his flatmate, John would certainly be of no use to Sherlock. But John worried when his training overthrew his mind. There was something about it that made him, in those moments, not quite human, and one day it might lead him to do something unforgivable. John rubbed his forehead and said, "Victor caught me by surprise."
"Yes, well, he will have less time to be concerned with harassing you when Gloria Scott Financial divests him of all of his worldly possessions."
"Oh God, Sherlock, cut the man some slack! Victor had the misfortune to fall for you in University, and while he was too stupid to recognize his crush wasn't reciprocated for close to ten years, I think he's suffered enough."
Sherlock looked down at the file on his lap, his right thumb poised at the corner of one of the papers as though preparing to flip the page. "Is what you said true?"
"That he fell for you?" John laughed. "Like a sack of rocks."
"That I am incapable of romantic love." Sherlock's tone was even, and he had a light tilt to his head as though expressing only a mild curiosity, but the very stillness of it all made John aware that he had somehow stumbled onto very fragile ground.
Of course Sherlock had overheard at least some of John's little discussion with Victor. A man who regularly hacked John's laptop and email (John didn't have conclusive evidence of the latter, but it was a fair assumption) would have no qualms about eavesdropping. And if there was one thing that Sherlock hated, besides being wrong, it was to be found somehow lacking.
Sherlock said, "Your hesitance in responding indicates you are attempting to phrase things in a manner that you assume will spare my emotions. I assure you it's unnecessary."
Sherlock denied the existence of his emotions when he found them troublesome, so John had to choose his words very, very carefully. "Sherlock, you're a brilliant, incredibly good looking, and in your own," at points terrifying, "way a caring man."
"None of this is answering my question."
"Have you ever had any interest in pursuing a romantic entanglement?"
"I'm married to my work."
"Exactly." John squeezed his flatmate's hand. "I wouldn't presume to tell anyone what you are actually capable of. Your deductions alone continually amaze me."
"Thank you," Sherlock said, but his body remained rigidly in place.
"I mean it. But with your current focus on your work, it is difficult to imagine you plying some handsome bloke with flowers and chocolates. I mean, outside of a case." Hell, even Victor had been an experiment. Or at least phrased as such. "It's fine."
Someone knocked on the wall next to John's open door. "Dr. Watson?"
"Good, you're awake. I'm Carl. I'll be your day nurse." Carl bustled in, a tall blond with full lips and a nose a touch too wide. He walked to the whiteboard and erased Mary's name, writing in his own. "Let's see about getting you some breakfast, and we're going to have to check your pressure and do a peak flow test for your breathing." He pointed to the tube in the left pocket of his tunic. "Pam told me your boyfriend was rather insistent that we let you sleep."
"Boyfriend?" Again? John glanced at Sherlock. "We're just flatmates."
"My mistake," Carl said in a bland tone. His gaze flitted to Sherlock and John's clasped hands and the corners of his mouth twitched.
Sherlock stood. He walked to Carl and faced him. He looked down at the man's shoes and then proceeded to do a slow visual sweep upwards. Then Sherlock walked in a slow circle around Carl, studying him with the same focused attention usually reserved for the dead.
"Are you okay?" Carl asked, wiping his palms on his trousers.
"Give me your hand." Sherlock said.
John's first inclination was to put the sheet over his head and pretend that his flatmate wasn't doing his best to frighten the hell out of his day nurse, but if Sherlock had noticed something suspect (and if anyone would, it would be Sherlock) then it would be better to let him gather information and then wait for his conclusions on the subject. "Do you mind, Carl?" John asked. "I know Sherlock can be a bit odd."
Carl shrugged and held out his hand.
Sherlock squinted at the fingernails. "Other side," he said. and after observing the palm took a step back.
"So I passed," Carl said with a weak chuckle.
"As far as I am able to determine, he is what he appears," Sherlock said.
That was unusually succinct for Sherlock. He hadn't even touched on Carl's family life or what he'd had for breakfast, let alone reveal any 'obvious' secrets or misdeeds that would send the nurse either fleeing the hospital or trying to foist John off on some unlucky subordinate. For Sherlock, it was a remarkable display of self discipline, and John was tempted to thank him, but figuring out the best way to thank his flatmate for not being an ass without being insulting was a bit more than his tired brain could handle.
Carl said, "I'd say something about people never being what they appear, but I'm afraid that might get me a strip search."
"As a rule you can deduce little more about a person if they are naked rather than clothed." Sherlock turned on his heel and walked back to John's bed.
"Well, then," Carl said, walking to the foot of John's bed and taking the chart. "So, Dr. Watson, how do you feel about eggs and sausage?"
John felt hospital sausage could be listed as a form of torture. "Is there a vegetarian option?"
"Oh, you're vegetarian?" Carl pulled a pen from his trouser pocket. "They didn't list it on your chart."
"John's vegetarian," Sherlock said, "in hospitals, at weddings, and on aeroplanes."
"Sherlock!" Any assumptions about his flatmate not being an ass were clearly preemptive.
"It's okay," Carl said with a wink. "We'll have them double up on the eggs and potatoes and nobody has to know." He scribbled something into John's chart and placed it back in the bin, then walked to John's side, opposite of where Sherlock had camped, and held out the tube. "Take a deep breath and blow out."
John put the mouthpiece between his lips and did the full ten iterations for the test. By the end, he was winded and his chest hurt. "Pain's about a six out of ten," he said.
"That's a little lower than the norm," Carl said. "It'll take a day or two for the inflammation to go down completely, so I'd save the sprinting and weightlifting for next week."
That meant no chance of a case for at least two days. A phantom stab ran through John's leg and he smothered a wince.
"John?" Sherlock rested his fingertips on the back of John's hand.
As if in response to John's thoughts, Sherlock's coat pocket vibrated.
"Looking good," Carl said. "Breakfast should be up in about a half hour, give or take. If you need anything, just tap the button. I'll be in and out." He put the breathing tube in his pocket and added, "And there's no ban on using your mobile in the patient rooms, just in case you were wondering."
"Thank you," John said, knowing full well his flatmate wouldn't.
Carl gave a wave that vaguely mirrored a salute and left. Like the night nurse, he'd left the curtain open, and the neighbouring room was unoccupied. John had a feeling this had less to do with a lack of patients and more with whatever intimidation techniques Sherlock had practiced on the night staff. On the bright side, Sherlock's antics had secured John what most would consider impossible, a night of uninterrupted rest in a hospital.
"So Moriarty's alive?" It was a possibility as the police hadn't found a body, though a remote one. Unlike Sherlock, who John had tackled into the pool, Moriarty should have born the full brunt of the explosion.
"Well, I think so." Sherlock averted his gaze, first down to his lap, then out the window. "Maybe. I don't know."
No chain of reasoning? No theories about how Moriarty might have escaped? John was grateful Sherlock wasn't looking because it gave him time to gather his jaw up up from between his collarbones.
"You need more data?" John ventured.
"I suppose." Sherlock's coat vibrated again.
"Aren't you going to get that?" John asked.
On the wall opposite the foot of John's bed hung a clock. It read 7:45. "This early? It has to be a murder."
"I can't help him."
"You should at least look at the text before you decide it's too boring."
"No, I mean, I can't. Not with things as they are."
Was Sherlock referring to John? God no. The only thing more frightening than a bored Sherlock taking up residence at John's bedside was a bored Sherlock rejecting a case to take up residence at John's bedside out of (an admittedly well placed) sense of guilt. John didn't think the hospital staff could take it, and he certainly couldn't. "If somebody's been murdered, The Yard needs you more than I do."
"Not if my methods are in question."
"Until recently, I've assumed my average 4-5% rate of error was due to an inability for even the most rigorous methodology to compensate fully for the effects of entropy, but in regards to my attempting to assure your romantic happiness, it's become apparant that there are critical faults in my reasoning. Until I am assured that I have rectified these errors or at least determined how to compensate for them, I am of no use as a Consulting Detective."
"Are you saying that because you've set me up on two bad dates that you can no longer solve murders? Because that's ridiculous."
"I'm saying that I don't know!" Sherlock squeezed his hands into fists. "I've been acquainted with Victor since University, and yet I had no understanding of his psychosis. The evidence was there. I did not see it. What else have I overlooked?" When Sherlock looked up again, his face had the rigid fragility of an eggshell.
Sure, Sherlock's arrogance, his total disregard for that which did not benefit his self-appointed mission, they could be infuriating, but they also defined him. John would happily tolerate a dozen heads in the refrigerator or a hundred eyeballs in the sink rather than have his friend become a shadow of himself. "How often did you actually communicate with Victor?" Asking without really knowing the answer was a risk, but John couldn't leave his flatmate lost like this.
"Since he met Nathan, perhaps once or twice yearly via telephone. And occasional texts."
John breathed an internal sigh of relief. He'd been hoping since he'd never heard of Victor prior to this dating mess that his and Sherlock's current relationship had been at best tangential. John said, "So, not often."
"How does this matter?"
"In that time, had you turned your active attention to deducing Victor's state of mind?"
"Not since our...time together at his father's estate."
"Then that settles it. I'm sure if you'd turned your full skills of deduction onto Victor, you would have easily discovered his problem." Probably. Maybe not, but John had absolute confidence that if his flatmate was standing over Victor's corpse, he'd have no problems deducing the important matters like the identity of the killer, and John focused on that certainty as he spoke.
"And Dr. Olvistar?"
"You're making a general argument using a sample size of two. If there's a flaw in your reasoning, it's discounting years of investigative work in favour of that."
"You're suggesting I increase my pool of data? But John, with what Victor did to you, I can't in good conscience allow you to take that risk."
"Victor wasn't trying to kill me. He was just trying to give me the shits."
"John." The breathless hope in Sherlock's eyes was almost painful. "You'd do this for me? Again?"
John wiped his palm over his forehead, trying to clear the headache he knew would soon be forming. Had he just agreed to have Sherlock set him up on another date? Had he just asked for it?
Sherlock jumped to his feet. Hands clasped behind his back, he started to pace. "Next time, I promise, I will get it right. You will be so happy! It will be perfect."
Heaven help Sherlock if and when it didn't turn out so well. "Finding love is a cumulative process," John said. "Why don't you go solve Lestrade's murder first?"
"Isn't that ill-advised, considering I haven't fully assessed my methodology?"
"Why don't you just go and present Lestrade with your preliminary deductions. He can do his own investigation from there."
"John, you really are brilliant!" Sherlock ran to the chair and fished in his coat pocket for his Blackberry. He opened it, tapped at the keyboard with his thumbs, nodded twice, grimaced once and then said. "Obvious it wasn't a random housebreaking. I mean, well, it seems obvious."
"Just present what you see to Lestrade as a preliminary theory. And try not to call him an idiot when you do it, considering."
"Lestrade is the least stupid of the lot." Sherlock put on his coat. "I'll be back."
"And no food for the next date. And nobody you've ever had sex with."
"I promise." Sherlock took off at a near run, leaving the pile of files on the chair. John leaned back on his pillow and closed his eyes. If he survived the next date, he might live long enough for Lestrade to thank him. John didn't acknowledge how empty the room had become in Sherlock's absence.
I've had some lovely Brit-picking on this story and I am currently editing the earlier parts. If you notice anything from this chapter onwards (or earlier too) that doesn't ring true, please let me know!
Chapter 8: Date #3
Apologies for the slow update. This was in part due to the fact I had to do a fair amount of internet research in order to figure out where things were in regards to all of the London locations our heroes are visiting in this chapter, and in part because while I'm about 400 miles away from the earthquake/tsunami devastation here in northeastern Japan, my family and friends from the States didn't quite get this and so I had to spend much of the weekend reassuring people that I was alive, fine, and had no reason to flee the country.
Even so, it is an ongoing tragedy for the country that has welcomed me and made me at home in so many ways for the past year. If you have not had a chance to make a donation, and are so inclined, here is a link for the American Red Cross fund (http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_main). There are many other organizations who are also working to make a difference in this crisis. (I've been donating to local organizations, but that's because I live here.) Also, if you prefer to give through the means of fanfic, there is a lj community help_japan (http://community.livejournal.com/help_japan/) that is having an ongoing auction to benefit earthquake relief. (i.e.: you can offer to write a fic/do a vid or fanart or fill a prompt or the like and people 'pay' for it through donations to charitable organizations to aid Japan's earthquake/tsunami survivors).
It took two weeks for Sherlock to bring up the subject of John’s next date. In that time Lestrade had thanked John fifteen times for “whatever magic” he’d worked on his flatmate, who not only accepted every case without complaint, but also managed to visit four crime scenes without insulting anyone except Anderson, and even him only twice.
The day of John’s release, his day nurse Carl had also given his mobile number to John. “Just friends,” Carl had said. “Even if I swung that way, I don’t date patients, as I told your Sherlock when he cornered me in the cafeteria. Listen, if you need someone to talk to, should he cross the line, it’s not a sign of weakness if--”
“Sherlock’s harmless. Well, mostly harmless.”
To John’s delight, Carl had appeared to get the reference and laughed. “Well, in any case.” He’d folded up the slip of paper and placed it in the front pocket of John’s overnight bag.
Sherlock broached the subject of John’s third date when John returned to the flat from the health center by way of an hour at the gym. He was too tired to cook so he’d picked up takeaway Chinese for two; Sherlock was between cases and would thus eat whatever was put in front of him as long as John pretended not to notice.
Sherlock leaned back in his recliner in his classic thinking pose. He sat up as John entered. “Excellent, you are back in physical form.”
“Get the trays,” John ordered, and as the kitchen counter was covered with various experiments and papers, leaned the bag of takeaway beside the counter on the floor. Third cupboard was dishes only, he’d managed to convince Sherlock, so he was able to grab a pair of plates without risking a cascade of petri dishes, bone fragments or something worse. Within minutes, John and Sherlock were set up in the living room, trays on their knees, spooning out fried rice, shrimp with lobster sauce, and pepper chicken.
Between bites, Sherlock said, “I’ve determined, John, what you need is a man who will appreciate you for your body.”
John froze. A bit of pepper chicken got caught in his throat, and he coughed.
Sherlock leaned over the armrest of the recliner and smacked his flatmate hard on the back. “Are you aspirating?”
“No,” John managed. It wasn’t the first time Sherlock had rendered him speechless or even the most memorable, though it was certainly in his top three. Still, the lingering sense of dread in regards to his upcoming date reignited in full force. “Do you really think pure lust a strong foundation on which to build a relationship?” John asked.
“Certainly not. But in attempting to base formulate my deductions in regards to dating, I neglected to include a very important variable of mutual physical attraction. While it is baffling to me that any man would fail to find you physically attractive, one must control for the possibility. As such, I have interviewed several subjects and narrowed the pool down to three options.” Sherlock leaned over the other side of the chair and pulled out a file folder. “When you are finished eating, I will show you the photos. Please tell me which you find the most appealing.”
“You know, there are internet services that do this.”
“I should think my personally assessing each one should have greater efficacy than an algorithm that only takes into account superficial traits.” A bit of the ‘you’re an idiot’ tone had crept into Sherlock’s voice, which John found simultaneously refreshing and annoying. Realistically, he could only have expected Sherlock’s humility to hold out so long in the face of years of habitual arrogance.
“So you personally interviewed each of them?”
“I questioned twenty four bisexual and homosexual males ages 28 to 39 with whom I’ve had interactions with over the course the past five years, of course taking into account the data gathered from the previous two unsuccessful trials and your stated requests.”
“Nice to see this is all being handled scientifically,” John said, doing his best to smother a grin. He hadn’t agreed to another round of torture...date...just so he could destroy Sherlock’s confidence again before they even got out of the gate. “So, let me see them.”
“Are you sure,” Sherlock inclined his head towards John’s half finished plate of food. “We can wait until you have finished eating.”
John moved his tray to the end-table. “Let’s just do it now.” In any sense, his appetite was waning.
“I’m so glad!” Sherlock put his tray on the floor beside him and jumped to his feet. He sat down cross-legged in front of John with a file folder on his lap. “I will first show you each photo individually. Multiple studies have determined that witnesses are more likely to accurately identify a suspect if they compare each photograph to their own remembered impressions without simultaneously comparing the photographs to each other. It is unfortunate that many investigative bodies ignore this, leading to wrongful convictions and sometimes deaths.”
“And this applies to choosing a date?”
“Certainly. I don’t want you to merely pick the best of the lot. I want you to choose based on your own ideals. If none of these subjects are acceptable, I will simply widen my interview pool.”
And Sherlock would keep at it too, until he’d interrogated every potentially gay man in Great Britain. John briefly entertained the notion of letting Sherlock do it, thus putting off the date indefinitely, but avoidance only gave things time to spiral out of control; he’d learned this both in medical school and the army.
“Okay, show me the first one,” John said.
“This is Alphonse.” Sherlock opened the file and handed over an A4 sized, posed, full-body photograph. Alphonse was blond and built like one of the covers of John’s mum’s romance novels. He wore a dark blue jacket chosen to accent his eyes, and an off white button down shirt open to midway down his hairless chest. His pectorals showed an obsessive devotion to weight training. John imagine the two of them out at a restaurant, or taking a brisk walk in the park and decided he fulfilled his monthly quota of inadequacy trying to follow Sherlock’s thought process while standing over a corpse.
“Well...” John ventured, not wanting to reject his flat-mate's hard work in a way that seemed callous or dismissive.
“Please refrain from verbal comments until you have assessed all three photographs.” Sherlock pulled a pen and a pad out of the pocket of his robe and handed it to John. “You are welcome to take notes on your impressions, however, if you feel it might be helpful. Unfortunately, we cannot fully compensate for primacy and recency effect, but do endeavor not to reject the second subject out of hand.”
“I won’t,” John said, balancing the notepad on his right thigh. He wouldn’t need it.
Sherlock held out his hand. John gave him back the first photograph and accepted the second. “Mark,” Sherlock said. Mark was also muscular, with a toffee skin tone, full lips and large eyes the color of dark chocolate. He was wearing black with a vivid aqua shirt, only the topmost button undone. A significant step up from the first, John decided, though why every one of Sherlock’s picks had to look like he’d stepped out of a men’s fashion magazine was beyond John.
“Good. Next.” Sherlock said. There was a vague bite in his tone, like when John, in his second week on Baker’s street, had unwittingly removed the foil wrap from a package of fingers in the crisper, exposing them to light and thus invalidating whatever results Sherlock had been hoping to attain from them.
John passed the second picture back to his flatmate. No signs of annoyance showed in Sherlock’s face, which made John doubt his initial impression, especially considering that, unlike with the fingers, there wasn’t any reason for the sudden change of attitude.
“Christopher,” Sherlock said, handing over the third photograph. Another model. It was sort of flattering, in a roundabout way. Christopher was more slightly built than the other two, with messy black hair falling just below his ears, light blue eyes and sharp bone structure. Yes, attractive. John was rarely aroused by photographs, but this one sent a faint stirring through his groin. It also made John uncomfortable; there was a familiarity to the man, like the lyrics of a song whose name he couldn’t place. When he handed the picture back to Sherlock he couldn’t miss the resemblance: though there was no way to judge relative height, if Sherlock actually ate regularly and made a regular habit of seeing the sun, him and Christopher could be brothers.
“Number 2,” John said.
“Interesting.” Sherlock tilted his head and his brow furrowed. “You showed a greater physical response to number three. Your pupils showed a 20% increase in dilation and blood flow increased to your cheeks and lips.”
Wonderful. Even if the science supported the theory that John had some underlying attraction to his flatmate, it amounted to nothing. John doubted Sherlock, who viewed his body purely as transport, had even noticed the resemblance. He had certainly never shown any signs of reciprocal interest, and Victor served as a cautionary tale on the brutal stupidity involved in falling for someone who did not or could not return the emotion. Nor would John try to somehow eradicate his desire for his flatmate through some proxy. That would be a disservice to Christopher, disrespectful of Sherlock, and a delusion of self. “Mark,” John said. “What’s the next step?”
Sherlock nodded and closed the file. “Well, since you have made the stipulation that you’d prefer food not be involved for your next date, it seemed to me outside activities would be the best way to stir romantic interest. You have Saturday off. Do you think you’ll be up for a little light walking in the next three days?”
“Should be fine,” John said. In truth, while Sherlock had involved himself in every murder that had crossed Lestrade’s desk the past two weeks, they hadn’t really seen much action. No midnight or even midday pursuits of suspects, no fishing through rubbish bins for overlooked evidence, not even much by way of witness interviews. “Boring,” Sherlock would have said, dismissing these cases before stepping foot on the crime scene had he not been vigorously reassessing his methodology. While John much preferred Sherlock reassessing his methods to Sherlock moping around the flat, broadcasting his ennui in dramatic flourishes, violin screeching and occasional explosions, John did miss the action of an at least moderately interesting case. “I could use the exercise,” he added. He should just be grateful that his leg hadn’t started up again.
It wasn’t a suit laid out on John’s bed this time, but instead navy trousers with matching blazer, an off-white long sleeved t-shirt with the logo of a Swiss watch company, high-end black sneakers and a rather snappy gray scarf. A week ago, Sherlock had also given John a fitted, dark grey peacoat that, he admitted in the privacy of his own room, made him look awfully smart. When this date tanked, John hoped the coat wouldn’t go the way of the last two outfits, which had vanished from the flat and were probably now gracing the backs of some lucky homeless men in Sherlock’s informant network.
John was supposed to meet Mark at 6:15 in front of the London Bridge City Pier where they would take a brief ferry ride to the Millennium Pier followed by a private “Cupid Capsule” on the London Eye. It was a bit touristy, and John didn’t want to know how much Sherlock had spent to rent the capsule or if the payment was coming off of the month’s heating bill; Sherlock was clearly treating John’s love life as a case and nothing was sacred when it came to cases.
As John stood by the door to the flat and buttoned his new coat, Sherlock ran over and pushed an envelope into the pocket. “Your tickets,” he said, leaning over John and adjusting his scarf. “This will be the one, I’m certain of it. I have controlled for all foreseeable variables.”
Sherlock was dressed in black suit trousers and a white button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He smelled of soap and his hair was damp. The movements of his fingers were all business as he pulled at John’s collar with a low “hmm...” but John’s face grew warm. A part of him wanted to look up into his flat-mate's eyes and see if their lips would meet. It was the same idiotic part that had whispered for John to join the army when he discovered his last boyfriend in bed with their mechanic, and William, the shit, still naked from the waist down, had accused John of being too bland. The same voice that told him William was a better choice than Patrick, who at least didn’t steal John’s credit cards and run up extravagant bills to line their apartment with modern art.
Victor, John reminded himself and took a step back. “I can see you’re doing your best,” he said. And as long as he managed to get through this date without being hospitalized, it would have to be an improvement over the last one. Nothing the fact his flatmate was in his version of street clothes, John asked, “So are you heading to Saint Barts?”
“I have some errands to run.”
John raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t worry, barring a case, we will have plenty of time to debrief after your date.” Sherlock walked back to the recliner. Hung over the back was an opaque dry cleaning bag the size of a suit jacket. “Do enjoy yourself.”
“Thank you.” John pushed his hands awkwardly into the pockets of his new jacket. The envelope folded under the fingers of his left hand. “Listen, I really appreciate the work you’re putting into this.” If not the results. “I know you have other more important things you could be doing--”
“You are an integral part of my work.” Sherlock turned the dry cleaning bag around so it was facing him and unzipped it. “There’s nothing more important.”
More important than John, or more important than Sherlock’s work? The angle Sherlock was standing at partially obscured his face, making it difficult to read his expression, but of course he’d meant his work. Why would John think otherwise? Sherlock’s obsession with John’s love life was making John lose touch with all common sense. Did Sherlock have this effect on everyone? Maybe Victor had been normal once. Well, if not normal, than at least not the wreck of a human being that John had met two weeks ago. When Donovan had warned John at that first crime scene that Sherlock was dangerous, this couldn’t have been what she meant.
John couldn’t help but laugh at himself. Lord, but he was overthinking this. He’s survived Afghanistan; he could certainly weather Sherlock Holmes. “I’ll see you later,” John said with a jaunty wave to Sherlock’s back and left the flat.
When John arrived at the London Bridge pier, Mark was leaning against the metal railing to the left of the entrance. He wore jeans, a black jacket with a light sheen to it, and sunglasses. Maybe there was something to Sherlock’s studies on how comparing photographs affected ones judgment. John had been unconsciously thinking of Mark as Number 2, second to Number 3. Judging Mark on his own merits, he was what John’s mum would have termed “a looker.” He had the solid grace of regular isometrics, wide, muscular hands with blunt nails, and a light quirk in the corners of full mouth that indicated humor. A pair of teenage girls stood within throwing distance to Mark’s left. One glanced at him, her skin flushing along the cheeks as she whispered something to her friend.
Mark waved, and John restrained the urge to adjust his coat again. He wasn’t one to be uncomfortable with his looks, or even to think about them too much, but even with the enhancement of Sherlock’s fashion selection, John knew himself to be at best understated. According to Sherlock’s dossier, Mark had studied violin at the Royal Academy of Music, performed for a year with the English Chamber Orchestra, and was now a photo model for men’s magazines. It was flattering that Sherlock had decided that with a clothing makeover that John was somehow in league with an orchestra musician turned male model, and John wondered what method Sherlock had employed in order to determine the three final choices’ attraction to him. Did it even matter? As long as the man didn’t put John in the hospital or suggest he needed plastic surgery, he was counting the evening as a success.
John forced a smile and waved back. Maybe if him and Mark struck up a friendship, they could go on a couple more ‘dates’ to a pub or a game or something until Sherlock felt his confidence in himself restored. After an interesting case or two, Sherlock’s attention would surely be distracted enough from John’s love life for him and Mark to quietly end their ‘romance’ without the threat of future matchmaking attempts. Cheered by that thought, John quickened his pace.
“John Watson, right?” Mark extended his hand with a grin. It had the polished warmth of a film star. “Professor Holmes was right. You are cute.”
John took his date’s hand. The grip was firm, the skin smooth and soft. “Professor?” John tried to imagine Sherlock actually teaching a class without it ending in tears or bloodshed and failed. “Is that some kind of nickname?”
“That’s what we called him when he substituted for Professor Armstrong.” Mark leaned back and rested his elbows on the railing. “It was only after they arrested Professor Binit that we found out Holmes had been working undercover, if that’s what it was. The DI who spoke to our class never really explained why Professor Holmes had handcuffed Professor Binit to the men’s toilet next to the main conservatory.” Mark quirked an eyebrow at John. “Professor Holmes mentioned you two were flatmates. Is he really with the police?”
“Consulting Detective,” John said. “It’s like a PI only the police call him when they get stuck.”
“Whatever it is, he’s wasted there. He could have first billings at the orchestra of his choice.”
John doubted Mark would agree with that statement if he had to listen to Sherlock’s ‘I’m thinking’ creations at three o’clock in the morning. “How long did you have Sherlock as a Professor?”
“Two weeks. On the first day he threw down Movement One of Mendelssohn concerto and told us each to perform it cold. He didn’t let the first three students get through more than five notes before he tossed them out, detailing for each how many times over the course of the previous five days they had foregone practicing to either drink or have sex. I don’t think any of us made it longer than a minute. Not even Beth, and she was a prodigy. After that Professor Holmes gave us five equations and told us to come back when we had figured where we had gone wrong. It was like a movie, only more horrible.”
John nodded. “Is that what made you quit music?”
“Oh no! That didn’t come until after I graduated and my Mum took ill. Modeling brings in the money, but I still play. I stuck it out with the Professor though. It took me most of the night to figure out where he was going with the first equation, and then waited in front of his office for his entire listed office hours to ask him about the others. He didn’t show, but one of the TAs said he’d seen Holmes in one of the practice rooms, so I searched around until I found him. He had his back to the door and was playing the most stunning Tchaikovsky I’d ever heard. I couldn’t breathe. Then he cut it off with a squeal like a dying cat and said ‘Mark Morstan, what do you think you have learned from the first equation?’ He hadn’t even turned around.”
“And did it help you?”
“The equations were mostly bollocks,” Mark said, removing his sunglasses and sliding them into a soft case in his left coat pocket. “If music was all math, then they’d just have computers do it. But aside from the constant berating and the fact Professor Holmes had to explain in excruciating detail how he knew everything about me at any given moment, he was the best music instructor I’ve ever had. In the end, only me and Beth were left. A couple of days before the arrest, Professor Holmes told me that I wasn’t completely hopeless. I still count it as one of highest professional compliments I’ve ever received.”
“You’re not in love with him, are you?” John blurted out.
Mark burst out laughing. “Professor Holmes! Even if I did date musicians, that takes a special kind of crazy. But I admit, I did want to get a look at the man he spoke of so highly. He said you served in Afghanistan?”
“Three years. Medical.”
“Mum always said it was good to land yourself a doctor.” The smile faded from his his face. “My sister Mary is in Kandahar now. It’s a rough business.”
“I’m sorry.” The loud horn of an incoming ship sounded. Mark waved towards the staircase leading down to the pier. “Well, we do have a boat to catch. Can you believe I’ve never actually ridden The Eye?”
“Me neither,” John admitted. “I thought about it when they put it up, taking a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, but, life just...well...”
“We’re not tourists.”
They fell into step. John pulled the envelope from his pocket, pulling out the two ferry tickets out and putting the rest away.
“At least let me get us some snacks on the other side,” Mark said. “I’m not in the habit of having my dates pay for everything.”
“Don’t worry. It’s all on Sherlock,” John said. A line of people waited along the side of the pier, and they stopped at the end of it.
Mark asked, “The Professor’s really invested in this, isn’t he?”
The line began to move. Mark said, “Listen, if I’ve stepped into the middle of something...”
“There’s nothing to step in the middle of. Sherlock gets into these loops. Last month it was all about falsifying DNA evidence. This month it’s matchmaking. He’s better with murder.”
Mark leaned in; unlike Sherlock, Mark was only slightly taller than John and so barely had to incline his head downwards in order to speak in John’s ear, “I don’t think the Professor’s doing so badly this time.”
Mark’s cinnamon musk scent mingled with the salt tang of the river. No undercurrent of dangerous chemicals or blood. Not that John found the lack a problem. Still, his stomach was a twisted knot of fear and something akin to guilt. They reached the gate. Grateful, John handed the tickets over. “Let’s go to the top,” John said. “Might give us some space.”
They found a spot on the upper deck, sandwiched between two sets of tourists: a family of four with very strong North American accents, and a group of twenty-something women in Hijab speaking rapidly in Farsi. John had picked up some basic phrases in Afghanistan, and though he could only pick out a word or two of what they were saying, the melody of the language in combination with crisp chill of the wind off the river made John feel exposed.
“Are you alright?” Mark asked.
“Fine,” John said. He leaned his forearms on the railing, resisting the urge his back. If Sherlock had posed as Mark’s Professor, it was possible Mark was young, possibly only in his early twenties. Legal yes, but the potential power differential could be responsible for John’s earlier feelings of guilt. “When did you and Sherlock meet?”
“Are we going to talk about Professor Holmes all night?”
“I’m sorry.” Blogging aside, was John really that obsessed with his flatmate? Memories of Victor breathlessly talking of how he’d dumped his lover for a figment of his own imagination settled like a cold rag over John’s skin. “I just wanted to find out how old you are.”
“Old enough,” Mark said.
“I’m thirty three.”
“Twenty seven,” Mark said. “Is that acceptable, Dr. Watson?”
John looked up with a smile. “Quite.”
“Good.” Mark laid his palm on John’s forearm. “You’re a hard man to read.”
The meeting of their flesh was too warm. John restrained the urge to pull away. “Most people describe me as bland.”
“Only people who know bollocks about music.” Mark folded his right arm to his body and leaned in towards John, close enough to be an invitation but not a demand. “You’re a Sibelius concerto. A surface precision like sunlight off glass, but with dark movements beneath, and a touch of romance.”
Floored, John had never been complimented so thoroughly by any man, by any person, he said, “But you barely know me.”
“I admit, Professor Holmes chose the piece, the violin of course, but the interpretation was mine.”
Sherlock had described him a violin concerto? That was just too strange. John ran his tongue over his lips. “I’m...not good at this.” Actually, he was generally quite good at this, but the situation had him unbalanced.
“Just relax. You’re way too tense.”
“You’re right.” John’s years in Afghanistan had taught him how to compartmentalize. This was triage. You couldn’t effectively help the patient if you let yourself get distracted by the screams, cries and occasional gunfire around you. The key was to tune out the noise. Focus on the body. Heal what you could, leave the rest to the Almighty or entropy, or whatever powers in which you believed. Mark seemed like a decent enough guy. Maybe the third time was a charm. If so, it served neither John’s nor Sherlock’s goals to let the background noise of John's life destroy the possibilities of this date without even giving Mark a chance. “It’s been a rough week,” John said, willing his shoulders to relax.
“Do you work in A&E?”
“I currently substitute at a GP Surgery. Jabs, scabs and sniffles for the most part. And a ridiculous amount of fluids testing. It pays the bills.” Barely. When he could keep a position.
“Must be a relaxing in comparison to the service.”
“If it wasn’t for the cases--” No, John was not going to bring Sherlock back into this conversation. “It’s fine.”
“Sometimes I help Sherlock out with his investigations. Examining the body and the suchlike.”
“Don’t the police have doctors on hand for that?”
Now John was tense again. “It’s complicated. Mostly Sherlock brings me along for the audience.” And to watch his back. And to negotiate most issues of payment. And for the company, maybe. “Most people find him a little off-putting. But I don't want to talk about Sherlock.”
Mark smiled and rubbed his thumb in a circular motion over where it rested on John’s forearm. “So, what drew you to medicine?”
“Couldn’t play guitar,” John said with practiced carelessness. It generally forestalled the next question, ‘what made you decide to join the service?’ which came with its knot of emotion and reasoning he preferred not to think about too heavily, especially not with a man he’d only just met.
Mark laughed at the joke, and the subject turned to the banal: sports, the weather, the Prime Minister’s last address. John had even begun to enjoy himself by the time the ship docked in front of the London Eye. Despite being the largest Ferris Wheel in Europe, the London Eye had an ethereal quality, capsules oblong soap bubbles rotating along their arc of steel and cable.
John checked the tickets. “We have twenty minutes until our capsule boards.”
“Let’s get hotdogs,” Mark suggested. “There’s something sexy about a man eating a hotdog.”
John coughed. “A little violent, don’t you think?”
“Cut me some slack.” Mark shrugged. “It’s a bit cold yet for ice lollies.”
John laughed. “Maybe we should find out where we board first, and see where we need to stand in line.”
“I thought these private ones let you skip the line.”
“Maybe.” John shrugged. “But we don’t want to miss our turn.”
“True. Well, afterwards we can have a proper dinner.”
“Good idea,” John said. It wasn’t an agreement, though it should have been.
Mark slipped his arm around John’s, linking them at the elbow. “Think we’ll get to see the sunset from the top?”
John was certain Sherlock had timed their tickets for exactly that purpose. “It’s a good possibility.”
It took about five minutes to position themselves correctly in the queue, and then another ten minutes of waiting until they were called up to the descending capsule. The man who took their tickets explained, “Our private capsules are required to have a minimum of three people on board, so we have provided a waiter for your convenience. Our staff is quite discrete. Your attendant will be Mr. Sigerson.” He waved them towards the capsule. The automatic doors slid open and a crowd exited, a couple with two pudgy children, a group of boys in school uniforms chattering far too rapid French for John to understand, a couple holding hands, another man with a child on his shoulders, and three women in nightclub wear.
“Watch your step,” the attendant said, and waved them into the slow moving capsule. John and Mark hopped the gap, the doors shut behind them, and the capsule began its slow ascent.
The capsule itself was almost entirely glass, excepting the metal base and strips of support metal that ran in intervals like ribbon around the shell. Inside was comfortably large with a circular padded bench in the center. Between the benches and the door stood Sherlock Holmes in a gray trousers and a short sleeved, sky blue shirt, holding a bottle of champagne and two glasses. “John, Mark, I trust you have both established a positive rapport?”
John pressed two fingers between his eyes. “Sherlock, what in the bloody hell are you doing here?”
“Observing in person seemed the most efficient way to assess the success or failure of my methodology. Besides, I certainly couldn't leave you two in a confined space alone, not after what happened with Victor.”
“Who's Victor?” Mark asked. He took a confused step away from John, so the three of them stood in a long triangle with Sherlock at the pinnacle.
“An unsuccessful trial,” Sherlock said, holding out the two glasses. “There is a champagne toast included in the package, as well as a serving of strawberries, which considering John's allergy and stipulation of no food, was unacceptable.”
“No food?” Mark's brow furrowed, and he ran his palm over his hair. “But didn't we agree to have dinner?”
“Did you?” Sherlock smiled. “Oh, that is promising.” He pushed a glass into John's hand. Reluctantly, John took it, holding the stem between his thumb and index finger. Sherlock handed the other glass to Mark. “Don't worry, I acquired this bottle from Angelo's stores and I used my portable kit to test a sample. It is completely safe.”
“Do people often try to poison you?” Mark asked.
“It was a misunderstanding,” John explained. “Sherlock, what did I tell you about you accompanying me on my dates?”
“He's done this before?” Mark looked horrified.
“That was a case,” Sherlock said, “and Sarah liked me. Besides, if I hadn't rescued her, she'd surely have been impaled by that arrow.”
“A misunderstanding,” Sherlock rested the mouth of the bottle on the edge of John's glass and poured. “Mark?” Sherlock asked when he was finished. Mark held his glass out and Sherlock filled it. Sherlock said, “Now you two have fun. If you look to the west you'll be able to see the sun as it sets over the Thames. Somewhere between 80 and 100 bodies are recovered from the Thames yearly. Eighty percent are attributed to suicide, though I believe that statistic is inaccu--”
“Sherlock.” John said.
“Yes, I suppose that's not very romantic, though there are occasional lover's pacts--”
“Of course. I will avail myself of the opposite window. John, Mark, I thank you for this opportunity and I hope that my presence does not interfere with your growing accord.”
“Right,” Mark said, taking a large gulp of his champagne.
“Shall I refill your glass?”
“Give me the bottle,” Mark said. Sherlock handed it over and Mark glanced up at the ceiling. “Tell me this isn't one of those crap telly programs with the hidden cameras.”
“Is that a common phenomenon?” Sherlock asked.
“It's not,” John said, which was the only saving grace of the date. That and he still hadn't been hospitalized. Focus on the positive. “Come on, Mark. Let's take a look at the view.” John suggested. It was either that or murder his flatmate.
They walked to the window and stared out over the Thames.
Mark stood close to John, so that their shoulders almost touched. “Do you think he's watching us now?” he whispered.
“Yes,” John didn't bother whispering. He knew how good his flat-mate's hearing was.
Mark said, “You're remarkably calm about this.”
“It could be worse.”
“I don't want to know.”
John nodded. That did make things easier. “Sherlock doesn't mean any harm,” he felt compelled to add. “He genuinely wants things to work out. That's why he's taking such a personal interest.” It was almost sweet, in a sociopathic...no, Sherlockian way.
“You realize that's insane.”
“Quite.” John raised his champagne glass in a mock toast, and Mark started to laugh.
They clinked glasses. John touched the champagne to his lips. If him and Mark could keep up the illusion of light conversation, maybe some friendly touching, hopefully Sherlock would observe enough to feel confident again his methodology and quit setting John up on dates. Not that Mark was a bad guy. In a different reality, John could see him and Mark actually hitting it off. Sherlock really was getting better at this. John tried very hard not to feel disappointed. Victor, he reminded himself yet again, cupping the base of the glass in his left hand. If Mark's interest survived the next half hour with Sherlock, then John needed to go for it. Period.
“The sunset really is stunning,” Mark said.
John turned his attention back to the river. In the deepening orange, city lights began to flicker to life. “There's Saint Paul's Cathedral. And the Houses of Parliament.”
John looked over at him. “Yes.”
Mark leaned closer to John and rested his fingertips on John's cheek. His fingertips were soft, his brown eyes mostly pupil. He said, “Kiss me.”
“What?” John's gaze darted towards where Sherlock had been. Sherlock was out of/ John's line of vision, but there, of course, watching. “I can't. Not, I mean, we're right in front of him.”
“It was Professor Holmes's idea.” Mark threaded a hand behind John's head, weaving fingers into John's hair, and whispered in his ear. “Let's give him what he wants.”
“No...I mean--” John stuttered. “Why?”
The corners of Mark's mouth quirked upwards. “I'm betting any man who can put up with having Professor Holmes as a flatmate must be the perfect boyfriend.”
If John kissed Mark now, then Sherlock would have undeniable evidence that his deductions had succeeded. Pathetic, John thought, that his first thought was for Sherlock's well-being. John's stomach twisted. He liked Mark. It could even work out. They'd watch movies (with no acidic deductions about the actor's personal lives), go to the pub (with no obligatory surveillance for a case), go running (with no the promise of restraint and arrest at the end), and all sundry of ordinary things. And when this irrational crush John had developed for his flatmate faded, John and Sherlock would still have the cases. Shared insanity, a bond stronger than love. It was the perfect solution.
Outside the capsule, London's city lights blended into twilight and the Thames into shadow. John closed his eyes.
There was a brief touch of warmth as his and Mark's lips met, and then a horrible screech sounded from just behind John, reverberating off the walls of the capsule. John jumped, his eyes flew open, and he turned towards the noise.
Less than three paces behind John stood Sherlock with his violin held awkwardly to his chin. He dropped the bow hand to his side. “I was trying to set a mood,” he said. Skin flushed, he ducked his head down, giving the illusion of hiding behind his hair. “The bow slipped.”
“Slipped?” Mark asked.
“I've needed to have it replaced,” Sherlock said. His body was angled so his leg wholly blocked the bow from view. “I apologize.” He took a step back. “As you were.”
“I don't believe this,” Mark said, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“This is going much better than the last date,” John said, stealing a glance at Sherlock. “He's really trying.”
“He could try less.”
“The perpetuation of John's future happiness is an outcome that of course deserves maximal effort,” Sherlock said. “I would think as his potential boyfriend, you should understand this.” His gaze abstracted again. “Perhaps I miscalculated in regards to this subject.”
Would another subject mean another date? God no. “Mark's fine. We're doing fine,” John said. “Just fine, right Mark?”
“If by fine, you mean your crazy flatmate arranged, paid for, and then sabotaged our date, then yes, things are going swimmingly.”
“The success of this trial is critical to my work,” Sherlock said. “Why would I sabotage it? That's wholly absurd.”
“This is wholly absurd.” Mark spread his hands, palm up, and shook his head. “I don't know why you would sabotage it. Maybe you're a freak who has to be in control of everything and everyone around you? Or maybe you're in love with him, though that's frankly more disturbing.”
John stepped between his flatmate and his date, facing Mark. “Sherlock's not a freak.”
“And I'm certainly not in love with John,” Sherlock said.
The flat declaration of fact was a needle in John's gut, draining him of a hope he had been desperately trying to ignore. Of course Sherlock didn't love him. It wasn't like the man had done anything to lead John to believe he did. Still, the finality of it numbed his stomach, tightened his chest and awakened the imagined wound in his leg. John tried to compartmentalize the pain as his leg threatened to buckle beneath him. Had it been love and not adrenaline that had fooled his body into believing he was well?
“Are you okay?” Mark grabbed John by the shoulders.
John's left hand clenched, and it was all he could do not to throw his date against the capsule's curved glass wall. “Don't touch me.”
Mark released his grip and took a step back. “Sorry,” he said, and John heard fear in his voice.
Sherlock started to pace a short circuit between John and the window, the rapid thud of his footsteps a fun-house mirror of his thinking through a case. “I can't stay here. It's just too loud. There has to be a call switch. The noise, it's always so boring and the creaking and humming of this thing is more annoying than Anderson's attempts to think, and--”
“Sherlock, stop it.”
Three paces from John, Sherlock froze. “John, your leg!”
“It's not.” Sherlock closed the space between them and took John's hands. “I've hurt you.”
“I did it to myself.” John looked up into his flat-mate's eyes. They glistened as tears ran down his cheeks. This was a trick Sherlock performed on demand, though why he'd chosen to do it now, John could hardly fathom.
Sherlock said, “You understand it's impossible for me to be in love with you.”
“I know that,” John said. Like draining an abscess, the pain came sharp in the beginning, the burning of toxins leaving the body, but only when the puss was gone could the wound heal.
“I am incapable of romantic love, you said it yourself.”
“Then please,” Sherlock opened his right hand and lifted it to John's face, “stop crying.”
The doors to the capsule slid open, and the same cheerful attendant who had directed John and Mark in said, “Thank you for riding the London Eye. Be careful not to leave any belongings as you disembark.”
“Thank God!” Mark said, and made a beeline for the exit.
John pulled his hand from Sherlock's and took a step towards the door. “I need some space,” John said, and left.
The memory of Sherlock's tear-stained fingers lingered as John entered Waterloo station, but he walked alone.
Chapter 9: Interlude 3a
We're winding to a close here! One more interlude and the final date, and possibly an epilogue. This update took a long time because I accidentally wrote most of what will be the next scene first, but it kept stalling out because I needed the information from this scene in order to finish the other one. So hopefully the next chapter/scene will be a much faster update. (if I keep that version, these interludes are much easier to write when Sherlock and John are together)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
And John was leaving. He limped from the capsule, passing through the doors his shoulders a parody of a soldier's march, his form distorted by the curve of the glass as he skirted the incoming queue.
“Wait!” Sherlock wanted to shout, but he had hurt John and (as Sherlock had determined by means of imprecise personal assessment and was thus inclined to dismiss it) hurting John was worse a broken finger, a broken leg, worse than six weeks without a case, worse than fever, worse than burns, worse even than withdrawal, the shaking, the mood swings, his body's imposition of simulated emotion in pursuit of a chemical response. Sherlock wanted John like the cocaine he couldn't flush, wanted to breathe him, wanted to press their bodies together until the limit of the space between them approached zero, wanted to touch his flatmate as Sherlock had touched his fourteen sexual partners (experiments?) in University, to learn what music the other man made, but knowing himself incapable of love—and John deserved love, that much was obvious—Sherlock swallowed the word down. He gripped the neck of his violin, strings cutting into his palm until John's form lost itself in the mess of insignificant bodies.
Sherlock was off balance. It was the most benign way to describe the pressure inside his chest, the agitation in his gut, his eyes still leaking without cause or intention. He'd been disturbed like this before. When his father had left (nine years old—deleted, but fragments of data always remained). When Mycroft had been hit by a car and put into a coma (an intentional, ill advised attempt by a rival to do away with competition, and Lucas Wallingsford had paid). When Mummy was diagnosed with colon cancer (caught early, in remission for five years). But in each of these instances, the initial shock had been easily transformed into rage, appropriate to his Sociopathology. Logical and thus safe.
The next swarm of tourists entered, their chatter echoing off the capsule walls like the popcorn John made when he imposed pop culture on his flatmate through films of varying quality. A couple, blunt nosed man and svelte woman in evening clothes, neither in height reaching Sherlock's shoulder, approached. Sherlock quickly wiped the water from his cheeks and set his expression to one of bland disinterest. The man smelled of sex awkwardly covered by Old Spice. He said, “So I heard there's champagne on this boat.”
“I don't work here,” Sherlock said.
“You're in the uniform and wearing a name tag, Mr. Sigerson.”
The walls of the capsule were too close; the flickering night pressed in. “A misunderstanding,” Sherlock said, “like the lipstick on your left earlobe, which is a bit too pink to suit your companion's skin tone.”
The man clapped his fingers over his ear.
“William?” the woman asked. “What is he talking about?”
The look of dawning betrayal on the woman's face reminded Sherlock of John's tears, and Sherlock backed away. “Excuse me.”
Sherlock's violin case was by the entrance. He grabbed it, skirting the last of the incoming tourists to hop out the doors before they closed.
“Mr. Sigerson!” the ticket taker said, grabbing at Sherlock's wrist. “Your break isn't for another forty minutes.”
“Mr. Sigerson is a figment,” Sherlock said and twisted his wrist towards the other man's thumb with a hard yank, freeing himself. “Idiots,” he muttered as he filed in with the exit queue. Soon he was at the base of the Eye, overlooking the Millennium Pier.
Sherlock walked to the railing and looked out onto the Thames. The air had taken on a distinct chill, and in the interest of verisimilitude, Sherlock had left his coat in the flat, so he shoved his fists into his pockets and watched the water. What he needed was work. Experiments were too meditative, but a case would clear his mind. He flipped open his Blackberry, willing there to be a message. Nothing.
There was no help for it, Sherlock thought, calling up Lestrade's contact information.
Where are you? - SH
For two minutes, Sherlock watched the light of an incoming ferry flicker over the Thames. His gaze skirted left and right, a faint thought in his mind that someone might attempt to give their friend or lover a push.
Lestrade? Call if convenient. - SH
Another minute passed.
If inconvenient, respond anyway. - SH
Sherlock recited the parts of the human skeleton from the distal phalanges to the cranium before he tried again.
This is a matter of some importance. - SH
If it had been a weekday, Sherlock simply would have stopped by the Yard with an estimated seventy percent chance the DI would be working late. But it was Saturday, and not the scheduled weekend when Lestrade's children would be visiting, which meant that Sherlock would have to spend unnecessary time deducing which pub Lestrade had chosen to hide himself in this evening. On the off chance he wasn't asleep in his flat.
I will send one text per minute until you stop ignoring me. - SH
While I sit in the buff on your living room couch with my bare feet on your new coffee table. -SH
Thirty seconds later, Sherlock's phone began to ring. Sherlock hit the call button. “Sherlock Holmes.”
“What in the bloody hell is so important?” Lestrade asked. Instead of the telly or the dull drone of a bar crowd punctuated by screaming cheers, a snatch of Bach's Concerto #2 sounded through the phone as well as the click of silver on china.
“Are you on a date?” Sherlock asked, frankly amazed.
“Please tell me you're not standing over a dead body.”
“I wasn't aware you held the same prejudices in regards to me as your incompetent flunkies.”
“My team, Sherlock. They're my team.” Lestrade sighed. “And I didn't say you'd bloody killed anyone.”
“Then what's going on?”
“I...” If only Lestrade had been reasonable and simply answered his texts. Saying out loud that Sherlock had interrupted his associate's date in order to beg for meaningful work seemed so banal. And asking for advice was even more demeaning, though not being a sociopath (it was Antisocial Personality Disorder these days, but Sherlock preferred his original diagnosis. He was not disordered, just differently efficient, and sometimes it was so much work,) Lestrade might be able to offer insight. Sherlock needed insight. Simplification. Emotions were not his area, and it wasn't like he could ask John. What was John doing now? Who was he with? Was he injured? Unlikely. John saved his blind leaps into danger for when they were together, their special bond, more powerful than love and other such trivialities, but John had not seemed very aware of his surroundings when he left, and Moriarty's body had not been recovered from the wreckage of the pool. The possibility haunted.
“Sherlock, are you alright?”
“I...had hoped I might ask for your perspective in regards to...a personal project. But perhaps I...miscalculated--”
“Where are you?”
“In front of the London Eye.”
“The bloody Eye—stay where you are. Don't move. Don't do anything stupid, do you understand me? Where's Watson?”
“I don't know.”
“Should I call for an ambulance?”
“I have suffered no physical harm.”
“Well, good. Just stay put. I mean it.” A muttered curse, and Lestrade hung up.
Sherlock sank to the ground, and raising the Stradivarius to his chin, began to play. Mindful of Lestrade's insistence that Sherlock remain in place, and not wanting to think, Sherlock adhered to melody. The harried nature of his thoughts recalled Flight of the Bumblebee, and the precision of it required his total focus, so he ran through the piece twice before his bow drifted to Tchaikovsky, then parts of Achron's Hebrews in its measured darkness, sections of Rachmaninoff's Vocalize, its grief refusing to purge Sherlock his own, and then Sibelius.
From the first wavering note, Sherlock realized he'd made a mistake, but the piece's purity, its rise and fall like water, the frenzied intervals as the darkness built beneath, it compelled. Sherlock closed his eyes, ignoring the murmur of the crowd that had gathered, their rustling, their whispers, their flavored glosses and flower scents, their aftershaves, body odor and lingering cigarettes. Sherlock played the light, imagining its reflection John's blond-brown hair, the flush of his skin at the end of a chase, his laughter, his habit of squeezing off the teabags before complaining there was no milk. Sherlock played the darkness, the vest of Semtex across John's chest, his sheets twisting in stifled screams as outside John's room, Sherlock sat, back against the door, whispering Mozart through his strings until the nightmares passed. When Sibelius's first movement cascaded to its frenetic end, Sherlock cut the bow in a final, abrupt note. He was shaking. He let the violin fall to his lap and wiped his face with his sleeve as the voyeurs around him cheered.
“Sigerson! Bravo!” A rain of coins fell at Sherlock's feet. “Encore!”
Three people pointed video cameras at him. Another smattering had their mobiles open, lenses held out in his direction. For a moment Sherlock wanted to flay his audience open, throw money on their laid-bare guts, take photographs and call it art. “How can you stand yourselves,” Sherlock said. “It must be so banal to inhabit your own small minds.”
Lestrade stood at the front of the crowd. He held out his badge. “Okay, show's over. Move along.”
Grumbling, the group began to disperse. Sherlock averted his gaze from the onlookers, placed the violin in its case and secured the clasps.
Lestrade rested light fingertips on Sherlock's shoulder. “Let's go.”
Sherlock slung the strap of his violin case over his shoulder and they fell into step. Lestrade had the grace not to say anything else until they had left the bright lights of the pier and were walking in relative darkness, paralleling the Thames. “So, what is this personal project?”
“How do you stop...” Sherlock picked his words carefully; he didn't want to betray his flatmate's emotional imbalance. Idiocy, most people would say. Only a fool would fall in love with Sherlock Holmes. “How does one stop a person from being in love?”
Lestrade coughed. “Umm...”
“I understand this is wholly unprofessional.”
“You're not in love with me, are you?”
“Of course not.” Sherlock glanced at Lestrade. His shoulders were tense, and he looked decidedly uncomfortable, but passing under a streetlight, his skin showed no signs of increased blood flow that might indicate arousal. “Where would you get such a ridiculous idea?”
“Thank God.” Lestrade ran a hand through his hair.
“Wouldn't know it to see you play that thing.”
“Music is a test of mathematical intuition and physical coordination. And of course the quality of the instrument.” Sherlock averted his gaze to the water. “I use it to focus my thoughts.”
“Who were you thinking of on that last one?”
Who? Lestrade's deduction, could Sherlock call it a deduction or was it just a lucky guess? A sentimental shot in the dark? Lestrade displayed no obvious signs of discomfort: raised shoulders, neck touching, lip biting, hand massaging, or turning of the torso away. Perhaps Sherlock had underestimated the man. If so, it was good he'd consulted Lestrade on this matter, as much as having to ask for help galled. “Can you answer my question or not?”
“It's not that easy,” Lestrade said. “Are you sure the feeling is unrequited?”
“Then the best thing is time. And distance, you know, to get some perspective.”
Send John away? The stretch of days that followed, weeks, possibly months, muffled, dark, boring. Worse than boredom. It was terrifying. Sherlock needed John. His work would suffer. “How far?” Sherlock asked, “How long?”
“I don't bloody know. It depends on the person. Some people bounce back quickly, others need more space. Love isn't a formula, where you can change the variables and expect some predictable result.”
“I don't know what you want.”
“I want things to go back to normal.” The wavering in Sherlock's voice disgusted him. “I can't stand this hurting. I can't think.” He lengthened his stride in an unacknowledged bid for escape. Pathetic.
“Sherlock.” Lestrade grabbed Sherlock's sleeve. “Wait!”
Sherlock slowed. Lestrade gave his arm a tug and they both walked to the river. The cool air had turned to cold and goosebumps's ran over Sherlock's skin. Leaning his forearms on the stone railing, Sherlock asked, “If I can't think, what am I?”
Lestrade stood close enough that their shoulders touched. “You've got it bad.”
“I don't understand.”
“Have you even asked him how he feels?”
“It's patently obvious.”
“No offense Sherlock, and you've told me this yourself, emotions really aren't your area.”
“You think I might be in error?” But the signs were all there. Physiological. Calculable. “I find that difficult to believe.”
“And even if he doesn't, John wouldn't deliberately try to hurt you.”
“How did you know this was about John?”
Lestrade gave a light snort. “I'm not a complete idiot.”
“You're the best of a moronic lot.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
Sherlock rubbed his thumb on this opposite palm. “I would not be asking for your perspective in this if I didn't hold you in high regard.”
“So that's a compliment then?”
Lestrade laughed. “Then trust me on this one. It'll be better to get things out in the open. At least tell him how you feel.”
“What?” Lestrade stiffened. “When?”
“On the Eye.”
Lestrade put his left hand on Sherlock's shoulder and squeezed gently. The touch was almost too much to bear. “My God, Sherlock, I'm so sorry.”
“It was my doing.”
“You can't help how you feel.”
“Certainly you can.” Sherlock rubbed the back of his neck. “Though I suppose it is more difficult for people who do not have a firm command of their mind. One must make allowances.”
“That's utter bullshit.” Lestrade's grip on Sherlock's shoulder tightened. “God, I thought Watson would have at least had the grace to let you down easier. Wanker just ran off, you said. I never would have pegged John Watson for a coward.”
Sherlock's shoulders stiffened and his right hand tightened into an almost fist. He stepped away from Lestrade and faced him. “John is not a coward.”
“What did he say when he left?”
“He needed space.”
Lestrade muttered a string of curses.
Sherlock said, “It's as you suggested, I suppose John thought some distance would help, although I'm still not precisely sure as to why. I simply need for him to stop loving me.”
Lestrade coughed. “Wait?” His brow furrowed. “You're not in love with John Watson?”
“I am not capable of that depth of emotion. John found this revelation upsetting.”
Lestrade pressed his palm to his forehead and slowly shook his head. “And you took John to the London Eye to tell him that you were not in love with him?”
“I arranged for John to accompany a date on the London Eye so that John could reclaim his bisexuality,” Sherlock explained. “And I joined them for the latter part in order to reassess my investigative methods, considering that I've miscalculated now a total of three times in regards to finding John the perfect match.”
“So...” Lestrade ran his index finger over his bottom lip. “You've been setting your flatmate John Watson up on dates with other men?”
“Exactly. Good of you to catch on.”
“Do you work at being this dense?” Sherlock sighed. “John is a good man. He is attractive, loyal, kind, patient, brave, daring, funny, and not at all boring. He deserves someone who can love him fully. Someone who is not selfish or emotionally withdrawn, someone who does not annoy him by leaving body parts in the refrigerator or corrosive acids in the kitchen, someone who does not affront his intelligence or writing prowess, someone who respects his personal space, although I don't see what's so upsetting about one man having a conversation with another in the shower, someone who takes part in domestic trivialities like Hoovering or shopping for food, traits which can all be acceptably lacking in a flatmate but--”
Lestrade held up his hand. “Stop.”
“I think I understand.”
“Good. What is your solution?”
Lestrade extended his index finger. “You find John Watson more physically appealing than any other person currently in your life, yes or no?”
“Yes, of course.”
“You find excuses to be close to him.”
Sherlock's face heated. “We're flatmates.”
“And you clearly value his happiness above your own.”
“I am incapable of such altruism, but yes, I value John's well-being a great deal. He has become integral to my work.”
“You feel more alive around him than when you are alone.”
“That is hardly quantifiable.”
“Yes or no?”
Images recalled from Sherlock's hard drive: John's flushed cheeks as he threw his back against the wall on the thirteenth step up to 221B, palms on his knees, the sheen of sweat on his neck, his flushed cheeks and the brightness of his eyes as they laughed, John laughed, sometimes smacking at Sherlock's chest as though the joy of the situation required some connection, however fleeting, between them. John wresting his laptop from Sherlock's grip, the press of John's fingers, the rock steadiness of his hands. Sherlock had taken to borrowing the machine even when his own was closer, just for that moment of struggle, that closeness. Pineapple chicken. John's surgical precision with chopsticks. The careful way he folded his napkin over his lap to catch sauce that nineteen times out of twenty never dripped. John's crap telly, his ridiculous films, his conditioner, the shaving cream, a knock-off brand that Sherlock had emptied and refilled with his own, softening John's skin and reducing the incidence of cuts, John's off-key singing in the shower. It was all so banal, but not.
Did John make him feel alive? Certainly not. Sherlock always felt alive, the interminable boredom of every moment. The flush of a case, the compulsion of chemistry or mystery, the boxing, the violin, the cocaine, the adrenaline, it all only provided temporary relief. John was more than that. Not a mere accompaniment to breathing. Something else.
“No,” Sherlock said, “Alive is common. John is...special.”
“Good enough,” Lestrade said, ticking off the count with his fourth finger. “Can you imagine a future without him?”
“Yes.” Sherlock could. Clearly: an endless white corridor that grew progressively smaller. “It would be the same as now, only...” colorless, empty, dull. “Less.”
“Solved,” Lestrade said. “You're in love.”
“You've got every symptom. I've been there enough to know it.”
“Your evidence is anecdotal.”
“Ask anyone.” Lestrade started to laugh. “Hell, mournful violin solos are even on the list, though most normal people just listen to them.”
“Take John out on a date, and see what happens. That's my solution,” Lestrade said, “I bet you 100 quid you two work things out. Two hundred quid.” Lestrade extended his hand. “Let's shake on it.”
Sherlock asked, “How can I be in love?”
“How can anyone?” Lestrade gave Sherlock a hearty clap on the back. “Relax. If the man can live with you, being your boyfriend should be no trouble at all.”
Disclaimer: Still don't own the Sherlock Holmes and Co. Just playing with the characters for a while!
Chapter 10: Interlude 3b
Wherein confrontations are had and truths are reached.
This chapter blew up on me! (I think in the good way) It was a slow update (apologies for that), partially because I went on vacation and then got food poisoning (if you want to read the fic that was the result of that experience, check out "Purge" under my stories. It's a John/Harry sibling bonding story with vomit). As to this chapter, it kept growing and growing. I'd expected Mycroft to make an appearance and had weeks ago written a short scene between him and John which I assumed would fit in at this point, but things went a different and I think much better way. But I guess we'll never know :) As always, I hope this chapter continues to satisfy and entertain.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John didn't know how long he rode the train. Stops were called. The doors opened and closed. People entered and left. Eventually the spiking pain in John's leg settled to a dull throb, and he could hear again. He didn't blame Sherlock. John was furious at himself for allowing things to get so far out of hand. He wasn't a teenager, to have his world undone at the loss of an imagined love. In comparison to watching your mate, five paces in front of you, have his arm blown from his shoulder, a broken heart barely registered. In comparison to pulling the shrapnel of a roadside bomb from a child's abdomen only to have her die a day later from a ruptured spleen, an unrequited attraction counted as nothing. When John reached the end of the line, he got off the train, he crossed over to the other platform and started back.
John was tempted to try Harry's solution, find a pub and drink until he couldn't remember his own name. But damned if he was going to let this ruin him any more than it already had. So what, John thought, if Sherlock wasn't in love with him? None of this was news. What he needed, John decided, was a night off. A coffee with a friend. Possibly a movie. Something outside the scope of Sherlock's London battlefield with its brilliance and compelling danger. Someone unconnected to Sherlock bloody Holmes.
It was a testament to how pathetic John's life had become, how wrapped up in his flatmate's world he'd allowed himself to descend, that the only person John could think of who fit the criterion besides his alcoholic sister (and he wasn't desperate enough for company yet to brave that minefield) was Carl, his day nurse from two weeks past. A virtual stranger. John had transferred Carl's number to his mobile when he'd cleared out the overnight bag a week ago, not that he'd ever expected to speak to the man again. Now John flipped through his contacts—half of them he didn't recognize which meant that Sherlock must have added them to his phone—and pressed call on Carl's name.
John almost hung up when Carl answered.
"Hello?" Carl said. An uneven hum of background chatter sounded through the connection.
"You're busy. I'm sorry," John said. Of course Carl had plans on a Saturday night. Most normal people did. "I can call back another time."
"Wait! Who is this?"
"John Watson. We met at The Royal London a couple of weeks ago." God, but this was awkward. "I was a patient."
"Yes, of course. Dr. Watson, how are you doing?"
John said, "I'm fine, I mean, no physical aftereffects."
Carl laughed. "We all know doctor's make the worst patients, so I'm going to reserve judgment on that until I've seen you in person."
"Carl?" A woman, her voice sounded distant through the mobile's mic, "Is that the hospital? They're not calling you in again, are they?"
"It's fine, Miho."
"I'm sorry." John said. "This is a bad time."
Carl said, "Why don't you join us?"
"It's opening night of Miho's gallery exhibition. We'll be here until 10:00. Madison House. Do you have a pen to write this down?"
"I'll remember it."
"Okay," Carl relayed the address. "We're on the first floor. Can you make it?"
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
"As long as you don't mind my crazy friends."
"You've met Sherlock."
Carl laughed. "Fair enough. So I'll see you tonight?"
John calculated the amount of time it would take to get from where he was to the gallery via subway. "Give me a half hour. And thanks."
Subway connections were good, and while John didn't have a mental GPS of London updating constantly in his head like his flatmate, he still managed to find the Madison House without trouble. The exhibit was only one room, albeit a large one, with wide arching windows, a bricked in fireplace on the right wall and a counter in the far left corner extending a small square to the room's center. It wasn't Modern Art, thank goodness, John had gotten his fill of "it's a pink and blue square cut by a yellow squiggle and titled 'Subway'" with Patrick. Instead, the exhibit was a collection of masks, some brightly colored with bead-work, sequins and feathers, others more subdued, muted colors contrasting abnormal features, exaggerated lips, mismatched eyes, noses flat, hooked, upturned, flat, some made of goards, others beaks, others still in lumps of pastel clay. Most were hung in frames on the walls, though some were affixed to near transparent mannequins, their spindly arms and legs posed with varying degrees of dramatic flourish.
There were still a fair number of people in the place, though the gallery had been open for a couple of hours according to the flier in the front window. John took a program from the end table by the front door: Miho Yoshimura: Identity. It took John a few seconds to spot Carl. He leaned his elbow on the counter and chatted with a stocky Asian woman, her hair bleached blonde done up in elaborate curls with streaks of bright pink that reminded John of his and Sherlock's first case. John's stomach clenched.
Carl flicked his hands in a dramatic gesture and the woman laughed. John hung back, letting his gaze drift over the masks, unsure if an interruption would be welcome until Carl caught John's gaze and waved him over. John skirted a group of three middle-aged Asian women chattering rapidly about one of the paintings in a mixture of English and another language—possibly Japanese, though he couldn't be sure. Halfway there, a man with a tray handed John a glass of white wine. John hesitated before touching the liquid to his lips.
As John approached the pair, Carl exclaimed. "Dr. Watson!"
"Please, call me John. I can't thank you enough for inviting me."
"Just make sure to sign your name on the guest register," Carl said. "The more people come to Miho's opening," he waved a hand at the woman, "the better for her future shows, though of course it's better if you buy something."
"I've only had a chance to glance over your work but it's really interesting." John had attended enough gallery showings with Patrick to understand the basic jargon, this helped by the fact that he actually liked Miho's showing. "I like how you're using a variety of cultural influences. Are those Japanese?" He asked, pointing to a trio of framed masks on the wall behind her. The one in the center was the largest, pale with wide amber eyes, an open-mouthed toothy grin and curled horns rising from its forehead. On either side were equally as pale, though their cheeks and lips were roughed and eyes narrow slits that did not reveal irises.
"Noh," Miho said. "It took two years to make the set using traditional methods. They're not for sale."
"Which is a shame," Carl said. "She's had a number of offers."
"John is it?" Miho asked.
"Yes." John extended his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Likewise." Miho took his hand, raised it to her lips and gave it a quick peck, leaving a smudge of arresting pink. Her trousers were a matching leather, and she wore a white button down shirt under a black velvet jacket that hung to her mid-thigh, flared at the waist with gold brocade trim along the hem and sleeves.
"Down girl," Carl said. "He's gay."
"I'm bi," John said. "Not that it matters. My luck with men and women is equally as horrid."
Miho raised an artfully arched eyebrow. "I see."
John gave her a measured look. She had a strong jawline and blunt features, giving her a slightly masculine appearance at odds with the lush curve of her hips and breasts. John wanted so badly to want her. He ran his tongue over his lips. Had Sherlock ruined him for women too? John said, "People often find me dull."
Carl choked on a laugh. "You broke a man's nose from your hospital bed. I can't imagine you're that boring."
Of course, his night nurse had made the entire incident the floor's gossip. John said, "That was an accident."
"That's what the man said when he ran into Shannon, literally, on his way to the elevator. Kept apologizing again and again and repeating that he wasn't going to press charges. They had to promise to admit him anonymously in order to get him to go down to A&E and have the bone set. Everyone was talking about it."
"Victor genuinely caught me off guard."
Carl said, "Remind me never to throw you a surprise party."
Miho burst out laughing and smacked Carl on the upper arm. Carl winced.
John forced a smile. Maybe he'd been better off riding the trains all night. He mimed a sip of his wine.
"John's as patient as they come." Carl said, "I don't know what Victor did, but he earned what he got, I'm sure of that."
"High compliment, coming from Carl," Miho said. "I haven't seen you at any other recent showings. What brought you out tonight?"
"My date left me at loose ends."
"Stood up?" Miho tilted her head, and a curl bobbed over her forehead.
"I wish." The memory of Sherlock's confession, his fingers glistening with John's tears made John's breath catch in his throat. "It's complicated."
"I'm listening," Miho said.
"My flatmate is an ass."
Miho said, "Dating a flatmate's never a good idea."
"No shit." John fiddled with his glass. "Luckily, the chances of that happening with Sherlock are about the same as me, personally, finding life on the moon."
"You two seemed pretty close in the hospital," Carl said. "Hell, Kathy put you two up for our cutest couple of the week when she went in to check your vitals and found Sherlock balanced on the edge of your bed stroking your hair."
First hand holding, now hair stroking? What internet sites had Sherlock been googling? Probably something about nerve stimulation and blood flow. At least he'd kept his bedside experiments on John benign. John asked, "When was this?"
"Oh, you were asleep," Carl reached on the counter behind him and picked up a mostly empty glass of wine. "And you should have heard how he terrorized the night staff. They finally gave in and let him take the pressures himself. Seems he's certified."
"As a nurse?"
"Nurse's aide. He's in the system. I didn't even know Oxford offered a course."
John doubted Oxford did, but he wouldn't put a little data manipulation past Mycroft, in the unlikely instance Sherlock asked his brother for such a favor. Which meant Sherlock had indebted himself to Mycroft of all people on John's behalf for something so trivial as allowing his flatmate to get a night of uninterrupted rest. It was sweet. Except Sherlock didn't do sweet, not without a good reason. "He must have been feeling guilty," John mused.
Carl raised an eyebrow. "Guilty? Of what?"
"Sherlock thought it was his fault that he didn't deduce Victor would try to poison me," John said.
"Poison you!" Miho's eyes widened. "Good job, breaking that bastard's nose. Are you pressing charges?"
"It was an accident."
"Why didn't you mention this to your doctor?" Carl asked. "The A&E staff were mystified as to how you might have been exposed to Bisacodyl."
"I didn't want to blow things out of proportion. Sherlock was upset enough," John said. "And it wasn't his fault. I mean, I could guess from the photograph that Victor had been in love with Sherlock—Sherlock had no idea and even laughed at me when I suggested it, which is odd because he can usually tell what you had for breakfast by how you tie your shoes, but even so it'd been ten years. Sherlock and Victor barely talked. And in Victor's defense, he had no idea I was allergic."
Miho's thumb ran circles around the base of her champagne glass. "So this guy wasn't trying to poison you with whatever drug that was you said?"
"Just a laxative. Victor somehow got it into his head that Sherlock and I were lovers, even though Sherlock was the one who arranged for Victor and I to go out on the date, stupid git, and Victor felt an all-nighter in the loo would be an appropriate revenge."
"That's..." Miho blinked, her lips parting slightly as she drew the last word out. "Insane."
"I know. Sherlock has a way with people," John laughed. The sound had a bitter edge. "He drives most of them crazy."
"But not you?" Miho asked.
"Oh, I'm not immune." From the first night, darting between cars, leaping rooftops in the wake of a self proclaimed sociopath who in his madness, in his brilliance, had somehow convinced John to cure himself of his self induced wounds, John had been drawn inextricably into Sherlock's orbit. Into the orbit of a man who did not have a care for the origins of the gravity that he embodied. A man who delighted in the mystery of murder. A man for whom John had killed, in cold blood, not even a week into their acquaintanceship. Caught in Sherlock's bubble of madness, John's nightmares paled, and his life gained purpose. Excitement. John was addicted to it, as sure as his sister to the booze, and while the side effects might yield some small improvement to the world - a child saved, a conman condemned, a murderer behind bars or dead (twice by John's hand, and a third, without blinking, should he have his shot at Moriarty) - John was not foolish enough to believe that this was the reason he had tied himself to Sherlock Holmes.
"I need him," John said, "the insanity. Sherlock's always ten steps ahead of everyone. The our first case, the dead woman in pink, he not only deduced that she had been murdered by her own hand, but also where she lived, her career, her adultery, and all in less than three minutes. And then we were on this stakeout, and this cab, and then running..." John's heart beat with the memory, the strength of his legs pumping beneath him. "Five stories up, and Sherlock jumped between rooftops without a second thought. He made it so effortless, and I followed, and it was great and terrifying and wonderful. But it's not just the cases." Though they were a high, like sex with a stranger, or putting a gun in your mouth and promising you'd pull the trigger only if the next song the radio played was Stairway to Heaven. "I guess I was already a little crazy, I mean, I volunteered to invade Afghanistan." He laughed, expecting the other two to share his joke, but they just stared. "Sherlock's insanity compliments mine. I'm alive with him in a way I wasn't even in the war. It's the only thing that keeps me functional," if not sane. "I just..." John pressed his lips together and ran his tongue over them. "I just try not to be stupid enough to expect more from Sherlock than what he's able to give."
"Are you sure," Miho took John's hand and squeezed it gently, "I mean, have you told him how you feel?"
"Any feelings I might have are not reciprocated. He was very plain in regards to that this evening."
Carl laid his palm on John's shoulder. "That's rough, man."
"You can't force someone to feel something they don't," John said. "Sherlock is my closest friend, and I think I'm his as well. Considering he claimed not to have any when we met, that means something. I'd rather have that than some imagined romance."
"Miho and I have been friends since primary school," Carl said. "We tried dating once-"
"And we damned near killed each other." Miho laughed. "Carl's too nice, and I'm too much of a drama queen."
A smile quirked across John's lips. "I can see how that would be a problem." Some of the tension John began, not to dissipate, but at least not seem so crushing. "Hell, I can't even imagine Sherlock and I on a date. We're both bollocks at smalltalk. If we went to a restaurant, after five minutes Sherlock would deduce the life stories of everyone in the place and then he'd get bored, and by the time the meal came I'd have to have it wrapped to keep myself and half the staff from killing him." John laughed, not so much at the silliness of it, but because it was all so normal. "And God forbid Sherlock chose the place, we'd end up picnicking at a body farm, or some museum of natural oddities, and at some point Lestrade would text and before I knew it we'd be chasing off after some serial murderer with a passion for sawing limbs, and Sherlock would clap his hands with delight and say it's Christmas all over again."
And when it was over and they were standing side by side, palms on knees, breathless in some alley, Sherlock would make some sardonic comment about John's blog, and John would grab his flatmate by the collar and press their mouths together for a moment of blissful, blessed silence. Would Sherlock be tentative at first, his tongue exploring in hesitant movements, or would he be as confident and thorough as he was in all things he deemed important? Or some combination of both?
If Victor was any indication, confident and thorough was the most likely outcome. Sherlock did not abide incompetence in himself. As thoroughly as he was with any mystery, he'd deduce John's reactions, manipulate and enhance them, reduce John to his component parts, and perhaps in Sherlock's own detached way even appreciate John's reciprocal efforts, allow himself to be distracted for a time (a long time, John hoped; unlike his flatmate John knew himself to be better with the living than the dead), and would be incredible. Until Sherlock tired of the whole affair. That too was a given. Their friendship was based almost entirely on shared living space and murder. The fact that Sherlock didn't want more was a blessing because John was not the sort who loved by halves, and the war had damaged him. He would do better not to allow Sherlock close enough to destroy him, because without Sherlock, John doubted he'd be able to rebuild himself again.
"It would be agonizing," John said, and his eyes burned. He finished off the wine. "I'm sorry. I've had a pisser of a day, but I shouldn't be inflicting it on you." He put the glass on the counter. "Maybe I should get going."
"Stay," Miho said. "Please."
"Seconded." Carl waved one of the servers over. "I can't in good conscience send a patient off in your condition. The cure, it seems to me, is good company and copious amounts of alcohol."
"White?" the server, a short woman in a suit jacket and loose purple tie,asked, holding up a half full bottle.
"Yes please," John said, and the other two nodded.
When the server had refilled all three glasses, John said, "It'll be fine once Sherlock gets this matchmaking bug out of his system. He's really much better with murder." John sighed. "Sometimes you just need a night off, you know? Though God knows what trouble he's getting himself into now."
In John's pocket, his mobile began to vibrate.
"Sherlock's an adult. He managed to look after himself before he met you," Carl said.
"Barely," John muttered. He pulled out his phone and flipped it open.
Come back to the flat. -SH
John lowered his head and rubbed his middle finger and thumb over his eyebrows. Before he could even get the phone closed, it buzzed again.
I need you. Critically important. – SH
"Is that your flatmate?" Carl asked, peering over his shoulder. "Critically important?"
"That's just Sherlock being dramatic. If it was a case, he'd have sent an address." John sighed. "He's probably lost the remote to the telly, either that or Mrs. Hudson hid the skull again. I haven't seen it around lately."
"Well, I hope you're not going to bow to that kind of manipulation." Miho glanced at her watch. "We have a half hour until the show closes. Let me mingle some, then we can all go bowling."
"Always cheers me up," Miho said.
"I can't," John said. "He'll just keep at it all night."
"That's why your mobile has a silent setting."
"And Lord knows what the living room's going to look like when I get back."
John's mobile buzzed again.
I realize my actions may have caused you some distress. – SH
"What's that one say?" Miho asked.
John said, "I think he's trying to apologize."
"Lousy job of it," Carl said. "Apologies generally include the words 'I'm sorry'."
"Sherlock's no good at politeness."
Carl gave a snort. "He could learn. He's a genius, isn't that what you said?"
"I don't mind."
"It doesn't seem like you mind much."
"Carl!" Miho slugged him in the shoulder. "You're not helping."
"Ouch! I'm sorry." Carl rubbed his palm where he'd been hit. "It just reminds me of Aubrianna. I couldn't be an hour out of her sight for an hour without her texting, constantly, even when I was at work, and then I found out she was going through my phone when I wasn't looking, convinced I was having an affair. I can't believe we made it three months."
"I remember," Miho said. "I bought the breakup ice cream and movie."
"The Blues Brothers." Carl smiled.
"It's a classic."
"That year in the States ruined you."
Miho raised her wine and she and Carl clinked glasses.
John envied them. Aside from Sherlock, John wasn't really close to anyone in London. His time in Afghanistan had put up a barrier between him and his previous friends, most of whom had moved to other cities, or started families, or become so buried in their careers that they simply didn't have space outside of them. And after moving into the flat, John had been so busy living in Sherlock's world, he'd stopped making the effort.
His mobile buzzed again.
Please respond. -SH
Miho held out her hand. "Let me hold onto the phone for you John."
"I should go," John said.
"You told us you needed a night off. I'd say you deserve a week, but a night's a good start." John opened his mouth to protest, but Miho barreled on, "Listen, I'll check your texts periodically. If your flatmate sends an address or says something about jumping out of a window or into the Thames, I can give the mobile right back to you. How's that?"
"Miho used to do this for me too," Carl cut in. "She's good for it."
"It's the only way I got to see Carl without it being a double date. That woman actually stalked us to an exhibition. When I spotted her, she tried to pass it off as a coincidence, but she didn't even know we were looking at folk crafts and kept rambling on about archeology."
"At least she didn't almost get you shot to death with a giant arrow," John muttered.
Where are you? -SH
"You're absolutely right," John said. "Let me just send him something so he doesn't think I'm dead." John typed out, "Remote is under the pile of case files to the right of the sofa. With friends, be in later," adding, "-JW," as had become his habit after Sherlock had lectured him on the importance of being able to quickly identify the origin of a text without having to be dependent on the phone number of origin. (Data, John. Haven't we discussed this before?) When John was finished, he flipped the mobile shut and placed it into Miho's palm. It vibrated.
Miho opened the phone glanced at the message. "More of the same. And something about making tea."
"We're out of milk." John said, "Thank you for doing this. You don't even know me."
"But I want to." Miho grinned. "I'll be back. Don't you dare leave."
John's guts twisted as Miho wandered off. Soon she was involved in an animated conversation with another group. What if the texts were about something important? John's leg began to throb, and he massaged it with his knuckles. This thing with Sherlock, it had moved past the realm of the odd into the unhealthy. The pain was a sign of healing, John told himself, and willed it to be true.
"I'm really sorry I dumped all of this on the two of you," John said.
"You apologize too much," Carl said. "Come on. You've hardly seen any of the exhibit."
They spent the next half hour sipping wine and discussing art. Carl was able to offer some humorous tidbit or story to go with every piece with none of the pretentiousness that John remembered from Patrick's art circle. John was a bit light headed when they announced the gallery was closing. They waited by the door, nibbling on the remains of a cracker and cheese tray as Miho said her goodbyes.
"How'd you do?" Carl asked when Miho returned.
"Well enough to cover our first round of bowling," Miho said with a wide grin.
When Miho returned his mobile, two hours and four games later, John had 119 new messages. Miho said, "I thought my teenage cousins were good at texting. His fingers have to be killing him."
"He's used to it," John said, skimming through the texts. Most were of the 'where are you?' vein with increasing capitalization and exclamation points, as well as various comments about the tea kettle, John's clothing, his physical fitness (well above average), and even his shaving foam (the pound brand worked just as well as Sherlock's expensive version and even smelled the same, John knew because he'd 'borrowed' some from his flatmate the last time his own can ran dry). John slowed his reading after almost missing one particularly terrifying promise to clean up the kitchen counter.
Why do you persist in ignoring my texts? -SH
We're out of milk. -SH
Mrs. Hudson gave us some nondairy creamer. -SH
And orange shortbreads. -SH
Lestrade has offered an interesting hypothesis as to our mutual problem. -SH
To test it, I will need your assistance. -SH
I called the surgery twice. You're not there. -SH
Sarah's on a date. -SH
She's not nearly as understanding about interruptions as she used to be. -SH
The adult human skeleton has 206 bones. -SH
I suppose you already knew that. -SH
Mike Stamford is at a conference in Cardiff. He insists you have not contacted him. – SH
Your sister is on vacation with her Clara. She told me to stop texting. -SH
How does one define a fluttery feeling in the heart? -SH
All of these websites are unconscionably vague. -SH
A trained medical perspective would be helpful. -SH
Ischaemic heart disease is the leading cause of death in London Males, ages 34-54. -SH
I miss your voice. -SH
What are you doing now? -SH
Sibelius again. I am throwing the violin in the rubbish bin. -SH
I made more tea. -SH
Telly is even more boring without you. -SH
How much space do you need? -SH
This is my third nicotine patch. -SH
Lestrade's hypothesis may require a fourth to parse. -SH
Please be careful. -SH
If you were to die of a myocardial infarction or through other means, I think I would lose my ability to function. -SH
I can't focus. -SH
Nicotine isn't helping. -SH
Would you be disappointed if I tried something stronger? -SH
Yes, you certainly would. -SH
Well what with the heart palpitations it is not a good idea anyway. -SH
Your tea is grown cold. -SH
Perhaps you are ignoring me because I don't compliment you enough? -SH
You aren't nearly as idiotic as most people. -SH
And you are an excellent doctor. -SH
You have a very expressive face. -SH
Mrs. Hudson supports my assertion that your smile is significantly more appealing than the average. -SH
That was the last. John shook his head and shoved the phone into the left pocket of his trousers. "You read all of these? I can't thank you enough."
"Anytime," Miho said. "Your flatmate's an odd one. Do you have heart disease in your family?"
"My mum has high blood pressure," John said. "But it's controlled with medication. My pressure is fine, and I keep in shape."
Carl pulled up his sleeve and glanced at his watch. "Tubes have stopped. I live about ten minutes from here on foot. Did you want to crash on my sofa tonight?"
John's mobile vibrated again. "I can't," John said. "I can only imagine what Sherlock's done to the flat already." Or how many homeless people would be wasting their time trying to hunt John down over the course of the night if he didn't return. Besides, further avoidance would be cowardice. Now that he'd had some time to put things in perspective, it would better to face things head on if he wanted to maintain his friendship with Sherlock Holmes. "Don't worry about it," John said. "I'll walk to the station and take a cab."
"You're not walking alone," Miho said.
John said, "I can handle myself." If someone tried to mug him, John thought wistfully, at least he'd get to work off some excess stress. And maybe have a legitimate reason to avoid this confrontation with his flatmate. "It's no problem."
"It's practically on our way," Carl said. It didn't take a genius to deduce the man was stretching the truth, but unlike Sherlock, John had some understanding of tact so he resigned himself to the company and simply said, "Thank you."
During the five minute walk, John's phone vibrated four more times. To John's relief, a pair of black cabs waited at the taxi rank.
John turned to his two companions. "Thank you both so much. You have no idea how much I needed this."
"We'll do it again," Miho said, throwing her arms around John in a tight hug. Her breasts pressed into him and there was a faint cinnamon scent to her hair. "And listen, if you ever need a nice rebound-"
"You're too wonderful to waste on a rebound," John said.
"Why are the good men always taken?" Miho sighed. "Or gay?"
"Hey!" Carl tilted his head, his brows lowering.
"You don't count," Miho said, stepping back from John. "You're like my brother."
Carl said, "You sure know how to make a guy feel sexy."
John laughed. He and Carl shook hands. John waved at the pair as they left, then took the first cab. He was fortunate he'd visited the ATM before the date with Mark, assuming from the evidence of Sherlock's previous matchmaking attempts that he might need money to leave quickly, bail himself out of prison or something even worse. John watched the cabbie for a few minutes to make sure that they were heading in the proper direction and that the man, slightly built with dark reddish-brown skin and a picture of his wife in Sari with three children pasted on the dashboard, showed no obvious homicidal tendencies. Then John checked the last batch of texts.
I find every part of you to be attractive to varying degrees, though this is merely an uncorroborated opinion unsupported by data and thus meaningless. -SH
Are you planning to move out? -SH
You are the only flatmate for me. -SH
I understand you're angry, just please, don't leave. -SH
Was it drama or genuine distress? Impossible to tell with Sherlock over text. Difficult at times to even tell in person, the man was such a fantastic actor. John typed,. I went bowling Sherlock. That doesn't mean I'm moving out. -JW
And yes, I am on my way back to the flat. In a cab now.
Six seconds later. JOHN! -SH
You forgot to sign your last text. -SH
I told you I would set up the signature function in your mobile. -SH
You text on this mobile more than I do. -JW
An astute observation. Lestrade believes I'm in love with you. What are your thoughts?-SH
John's hand froze and the mobile dropped, bouncing off his lap and to land with a light thump between his feet. It vibrated again. Stunned, John just let it go. Had Lestrade been drunk? Could he be drunk enough? How in the bloody hell had him and Sherlock gotten into that conversation anyway? John could just imagine Sherlock calling up his buddy Lestrade for advice on his love life. And then they sat on his sofa, polished their nails and talked about corpses. Right. Maybe it was the sheer ridiculousness of the image, or maybe it was just the wine and stress, but John started to giggle, then laugh. The mobile buzzed twice more with incoming texts. He laughed until his stomach was ached and his eyes had tears. This entire day had been so farcical, he couldn't be sure if he was dreaming or awake. The mobile buzzed again.
"Are you a figment of my imagination?" John asked the cabbie.
"Sir?" The cabbie asked, shifting in his seat. "You seem a bit unwell. Is something wrong?"
"I'm fine," John said.
He wiped his eyes and leaned over to pick up the phone.
In order to test this hypothesis, will you accompany me to a restaurant or appropriate venue as my date? -SH
Unless there is a murder, of course. -SH
You are not scheduled to work on Wednesday night, correct? -SH
"Baker Street, 221B," the cabbie said, slowing in front of the building.
I'm here. How about we talk about this at the flat? -JW
John tipped the cabbie well before putting the phone back in his trousers and stepping onto the curb. The seventeen steps up to the flat passed too quickly. His leg barely registered a twinge. The door was unlocked. Sherlock lay on the sofa, legs outstretched, calves on the opposite armrest, his fingers steepled to his lips as though deep in thought. He was still in his street clothes, and five mugs of tea were lined up in a semi-circle in front of the sofa. His violin case had been tossed on the end table. John's laptop was miraculously closed.
"Sherlock?" John said, taking a step towards the other man. "Are you okay?"
Sherlock kept his gaze focused on a vague point in front of him. His face was a mask reflecting nothing, but his voice had a slight tremor when he said, "Will you go on a date with me?"
"Are you sure?"
"I understand this is a foolish idea."
"You really talked with Lestrade about...?"
"He...umm...this evening's concerns came up in the process of work related matters."
"Do you believe him?"
"I think it is unlikely that I am capable of such an emotion, but..." Sherlock laced his fingers, clasping his hands, for a moment an image of grace. "I'd like to test this hypothesis. I know I don't deserve such regard, considering all that has happened." He blinked, biting his bottom lip.
John walked over to his flatmate and balanced on the edge of the sofa beside him. He placed his hand on Sherlock's head and stroked his flatmate's hair. "If we do this," John said. "It can't be an experiment."
"But, how will we know that we've achieved a working theory without challenging it rigorously?"
"This isn't science, Sherlock. Sure, we can just relax and see what happens. And nothing may. But if we spend all of our time trying to disprove the possibility of our love, then it will never grow."
"I can't just drift, John."
"Science requires a skeptical mind to root out what is false so that in the shape of the negative space one can deduce some understand of facts and how they fit together. Love requires faith, an irrational belief in a truth that must then be created. So it can't be an experiment. I'll only accept a sincere attempt." John was reluctant to remove his hand. Certainly he had fanticized about sexual acts with Sherlock, imagined Sherlock's face as he came, but never had John's mind constructed this sort of quiet intimacy, the smoothness of Sherlock's dark curls, the faint quiver of his lips, his half lidded eyes. But John couldn't allow himself to become accustomed to such things, not knowing Sherlock's true feelings or his commitment to the future he'd suggested. John stood. "That's my one condition," he said. "Think about it."
Sherlock whirled around on the sofa so quickly John had to jump back to keep from getting kicked. One of the mugs tipped over and a thin stream of tea pooled across the floor. "But you'll do it, if this condition is met?"
"Agreed." Sherlock smiled, and the expression was so devoid of sarcasm, of mischief, of plotting, of anything beyond joy that for a moment John literally could not breathe.
After a couple of seconds, John managed, "Wednesday?"
Sherlock jumped to his feet and closing the space between them, took John's left hand in his right. John looked up to meet his eyes, and Sherlock slumped his shoulders, angling his head down so that they almost touched. For a moment, they breathed each other. John closed his eyes, running his tongue between his lips. Sherlock's thumb caressed a small circle in John's palm. Then Sherlock lowered his lips to John's ear. Their cheeks touched, and Sherlock's stubble scraped John's skin. Sherlock's breath, warm and scented of tea and orange, tickled as he whispered, "Everything will be perfect."
Then Sherlock released John's hand and stepped away. "There's work to do," Sherlock said, rubbing the back of his neck with an air of tension and mania. "I will have to rework this entire process. And research."
"Research what?" John took a step towards his flatmate, and Sherlock took an equal step back, a bizarre parody of a lover's waltz.
"We will do this properly," Sherlock said.
"Improper is fine." Brilliant. Wonderful. "No problem."
"It's late," Sherlock said, and he gave John a stiff bow. "Goodnight."
Before John could move, Sherlock had side stepped him, and in long strides cleared the hallway to his room and shut the door.
Next chapter will be the final date. Oh, the humanity of it all.
Disclaimers: Still don't own Sherlock BBC. Just having fun with the characters for my own personal amusement and hopefully the amusement and entertainment of others. My characters (who are becoming multitude) are mine though.
Chapter 11: Date 4 : Part 1 (Prelude)
Wherein our final date kicks off with much hotness.
Notes: Okay, so when I sat down and figured out everything Sherlock had planned for this date, it became rapidly apparent that it all wouldn't fit into one chapter. (Unless said chapter was 15,000-20,000 words long, I'm guessing) So this is the first of I don't know how many chapters of the final date. I guess none of us wanted this to end.
As always, thank you to all of my readers and reviewers. Without you, I'd probably have drifted away from this story in my usual writer ADD. But knowing that so many of you are excited about this story and wanting to read more has kept me plugging along at this, even at points where it seems like things aren't going to move at all. You are ridiculously awesome! Much love!
Disclaimer: Still don't own the BBC Sherlock series. Still not making any money at this. Just having fun.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When John stumbled into the kitchen the morning after he agreed to his date with Sherlock, the room was clean. Not rush tidied, with experiments shoved into the refrigerator or into random cabinets as often happened when Mrs. Hudson visited, no, it had been everything short of remodeled. The floor gleamed. The kitchen table even had a cloth, off white with flowered embroidery and yellowing slightly at the edges. In the center stood a teal vase with two daisies providing a bizarre accent of cheerful color. The window had curtains for godsakes (they looked about as old as the tablecloth), and the reflection of the sunlight off of the counter was blinding. John ran his tongue over his teeth, his mouth sweet with remnant toothpaste.
"Sherlock?" he ventured.
John stepped tentatively over the threshold, his slippers (you only had to step into a pile of fallen pig guts once before you learned value of slippers in 221B) squeaking on the freshly mopped floor. Even the bloodstains under the counter had been scrubbed clean. There was no helping the circular depression to the right of the stove where hydrochloric acid had gone astray when Sherlock had a revelation about a cold case while pouring it, but even that had been covered over by a plastic placemat in tasteful beige.
John set the kettle to boil before attempting the refrigerator. The shelves had also been scoured, and while on the second shelf there were two dated Tupperware containers marked 'fingers' and 'liver' (look up technical term), the mug with the floating eyes had been removed, along with the yogurt covered stomach. The last had been on the counter until it had begun to smell, at which point John had insisted it go either in the refrigerator or out with the rubbish.
Three unopened cartons of milk sat in the door: whole, two percent, a caramel flavored cream. John took the two percent and made himself a bowl of cereal. On top of the refrigerator sat a bowl of fruit. John took a knife from the drawer and a banana, slicing it over his breakfast. When the kettle whistled, he poured himself a cup of tea with a liberal pouring of milk. The kitchen table was too surreal, and he couldn't remember eating a meal on it anyway, so he took his breakfast to the living room instead. It had also been tidied, the usual whirlwind of papers and books neatly stacked under the coffee table, atop it a book of Ansel Adams photographs.
John turned on the telly and ate on the sofa. It smelled faintly of pine. Had Sherlock stayed up all night cleaning? John's face warmed at the thought. He didn't expect it to last (and wasn't sure if he wanted it to) but the gesture was sweet, ridiculously so. John ate slowly, assuming his flatmate would burst in at any moment, having deduced when John would be awake and open to giving some bit of praise. Like two months ago when Sherlock had hoovered after spilling a tray of fingernails all over the carpet. Sherlock had strategically leaned the vacuum between the living room and the kitchen, and when John, hair still damp from his morning shower, didn't immediately remark on his cleaning efforts, Sherlock had walked to the machine and began wrapping the cord around the hooks on the side as though he'd just remembered at that moment to pack it away.
"You even got the corners," John had remarked, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Looks nice."
"It was mind numbingly dull," Sherlock had said, turning his face towards the vacuum not quite rapidly enough for John to miss the smile that lighted his lips. "I'm amazed at the simplicity of people that they would manage this on a monthly or even weekly basis."
A week later, John had still been pulling fingernail bits from the carpet fibers.
John finished his cereal, and drank the last of the milk from the bowl. No sign of Sherlock. Did the washing up. Still no Sherlock..
John checked his phone for texts. Nothing new. He scrolled back through the run of texts from the previous evening, mostly to convince himself that he had not dreamed up the previous night.
Lestrade thinks I'm in love with you...
What had happened? This was too strange. John wanted Sherlock to be there, sulking on the couch, cursing the mundanity of the world.
At 7:45 John dressed for work. Before leaving, he sent Sherlock a text.
Did you clean the kitchen? -JW
Sherlock responded as John was entering the tube. Was it acceptable? -SH
It was very impressive. -JW
Good. Can't talk. Case. -SH
John closed his phone. Sherlock hadn't even tried to ask John along? Of course, Sherlock knew his flatmate had work today, but John's work schedule had never prevented Sherlock from asking, no badgering, before. Sandwiched on the Underground between a man in a sharp black suit who chattered incessantly on his mobile and a pair of whispering secondary school girls, John gripped the bar and tried not to feel hurt. If Sherlock had decided that asking his flatmate out on a date warranted giving John some ordinary human consideration, what was not to like?
For the next three days, John barely saw his flatmate. When John was going out Sherlock was dashing in, and John returned to the flat just in time to catch Sherlock rushing out. He wasn't hostile or even cold; if anything he was manic, his features flushed, his hair mussed, and when he looked at John his smile was somewhere between mischievous and wondering, as though John presented some delightful puzzle worth studying, but only from a distance. They didn't touch. On the one occasion John managed to get close enough, Sherlock had sidestepped in a movement that would have made John's rugby coach proud, said, "Must run!" and practically sprinted down the stairs and out of the flat.
They did text.
Are you still imposing that stipulation about food? -SH
Not unless you're intending to poison me like your crazy ex. -JW
Victor is not my ex. -SH
You slept with him for three months and then he took you home to meet his father. He's your ex. -JW
He meant nothing. Less than nothing. -SH
It's okay if you felt something for him. I'd be surprised if you didn't. -JW
Because you're a human being. -JW
In the technical sense. -SH
In every sense. -JW
Three hours later.
What are your thoughts on quail? -SH
Quail is fine. -JW
Won't kill me. -JW
I love Italian. -JW
You prefer sunrises to sunsets. -SH
Generally. Why are you asking? -JW
I was verifying a theory. -SH
The next morning, there was a red rose on the kitchen table. Beneath it was an envelope. John opened it. Inside was a gift certificate for a massage parlor and an appointment card for Tuesday evening at seven.
Thank you for the gift card. -JW
Side effect of a case. Thought your might enjoy it. -SH
Will you be joining me? -JW
Busy. Why is embezzlement always so deadly dull?-SH
I could join you. They say pain shared is halved. -JW
That is physiologically impossible. Besides, you have work. -SH
Not until ten. -JW
There's no body. -SH
I don't mind. -JW
Can't talk. -SH
And that afternoon.
Why haven't you unpacked your high school yearbook? -SH
Didn't we have a talk about you going through my things? -JW
You never mentioned you played clarinet. – SH
So there's something about me you haven't deduced. -JW
I clearly haven't put enough attention to the problem. -SH
Clarinet was my third choice, after drums and electric guitar. -JW
You look as though you enjoyed it. -SH
I like classical. How do you think I've put up with you for this long? -JW
Most people don't. -JH
Guess I'm not most people. -JW
That evening, while John was boiling water for pasta.
Wouldn't you notice if your child stole over two hundred thousand pounds from you? -SH
Still working on the embezzlement? -JW
Among other things. I don't have time for these hysterics. -SH
Have you eaten today? -JW
I'm putting my leftover pasta in the fridge. Eat it. I don't want you passing out in the street. -JW
I won't pass out. -SH
An hour later.
These people are idiots. I mean, more idiotic than the usual brand of idiot. I think they are lowering Britain's average IQ by a whole point. At least. -SH
Why don't you take a break? Come back to the flat for dinner. -JW
Not yet. -SH
I really appreciate the effort, but Wednesday doesn't have to be perfect. We could just go to Angelo's. -JW
How is that a departure from our norm? -SH
I don't want a departure from our norm. Though I do appreciate you getting rid of the stomach. -JW
You've changed your mind then, about the date. -SH
It's perfectly understandable. You don't have to concern yourself with hurting my feelings. I will still value you as a flatmate and investigative partner. – SH
Have you changed your mind? -JW
Then what's the problem? -JW
Are you finished with the embezzlement? -JW
Of course. -SH
Will I see you today? -JW
I have some loose ends to tie up. -SH
I miss my best friend. -JW
Then you should call him. Or perhaps her? -SH
That's you, you blockhead! -JW
I can't believe you didn't know that. -JW
I thought we were colleagues. That's what you told Sebastian. -SH
That was right after you added a hunk of decomposing flesh with maggots to the milk and didn't tell me. I was this close to putting the spoon in my mouth before I saw the damn things wiggling in my cornflakes. And when I dumped the whole thing on your head you threw a tantrum because I'd 'ruined your data.' Then you hid my laptop. If it wasn't for Mrs. Hudson threatening to evict you, I'd never have found it. -JW
I pointed the skull right at it. -SH
My point is, I wasn't feeling very friendlike at that time. -JW
And I apologized. -SH
You defragged my hard drive, upgraded my RAM and updated my virus protection software. I don't remember any actual words like "I'm sorry." -JW
I should think the improvements would have meant more to you than some pithy statement of remorse. -SH
Sometimes words matter. -JW
Yes of course, for example: Watch out! or Fire! or He has a gun! -SH
Or I love you. -JW
So now you're avoiding me on text too. -JW
Please don't. -SH
Don't what? -JW
If I am incapable of reciprocation, it will make things difficult. You will be hurt and likely need more space. I'm not certain for how long, but without regular infusions of adrenaline your limp will return, and you may become suicidal again. That is unacceptable. -SH
No offense Sherlock, but I'm not going to kill myself if you decide you're not in love with me. -JW
You need the work as much as I do. -SH
That doesn't make me suicidal. -JW
Then why did you keep the gun? -SH
Sentimental value. -JW
You keep it in perfect repair and always loaded, yet never in reach when you're sleeping. -SH
And when you pick it up, in the flat, you angle the barrel towards yourself first. It's a slight thing, but telling. You had a ritual, and though you strive to avoid it, the habit remains. -SH
I have no secrets from you at all, do I? -JW
Oh yes, you didn't know that fifteen years ago I played the clarinet. -JW
You confuse me constantly. -SH
I find that hard to believe. -JW
I don't know how you can be so good, yet not. You care, even for people you don't like. It's irrational, sentimental and greatly reduces your ability to think, and that should make you tired and dull, but it doesn't. -SH
That thing you did, on our first case, without hesitation, and yet after, you were still good, and I don't understand why. I want to kill a man for you, but I know the action would add a darkness to me that you are somehow able to avoid, and you would think it was more than a bit not good. And I don't know why the thought of disappointing you causes me physiological distress: agitation, heart palpitations, sweating, and I don't understand why when touching you, I exhibit the same symptoms but instead of finding them distasteful, I want them. -SH
I don't understand how you make everyone like you. I have made extensive study of human behavior, and put my best efforts to mimicking it when it serves my ends, but it's not something I can maintain. Somehow, you manage it without effort. -SH
You are hopeless at all but the most banal of reasoning, and yet you ask the right questions. Always. You help me think. I don't understand why I need you. I don't understand why you laugh at my jokes when others avert their gazes and look afraid. I don't understand why you smile when you see me, knowing me for everything I am. I don't understand why seeing you in the morning, with your hair still damp from the shower, is sweeter than cocaine and more exciting than a disemboweled corpse. -SH
I don't understand how, in spite of my deficiencies, you make me want to love you. -SH
John stared at the phone. A large part of him had still believed that Lestrade was exaggerating or projecting onto Sherlock a level of attachment that his flatmate simply didn't feel. 'People see but they don't observe', that was Sherlock's constant complaint. He was right. How had John lived with this man, fought and bled with him and yet somehow missed this? For all Sherlock's childlike sulks and tantrums, his seeming inability to manage the most mundane tasks, the manic focus of the man made it difficult to imagine him anything but confident. Arrogant. But this fragility? Honesty? Date be damned. John wanted to hold Sherlock, press kisses to his temples, to learn him and be learned until they had erased the uncertainty, the imagined secrets, the awkwardness, the hesitation, until there was nothing between them but themselves, and whether they called it friendship, love, or nothing at all, it didn't matter.
Come back to the flat. -JW
You have work in an hour. -SH
Bollocks for work. -JW
I am not yet finished the preparations for tomorrow. -SH
Bollocks for tomorrow. -JW
I know you admire me for my intellect. Is my confusion that off-putting? -SH
Off-putting? That was the single most brilliant series of things any person has ever said about me. -JW
So it was good? -SH
Incredible. Amazing. Unbelievably hot. I want you here. Now. -JW
Will that lead to sexual activity? -SH
God I hope so. -JW
Then I will see you tomorrow. -SH
Are you...not interested in sex? -JW
I find the act to be enjoyable as well as a good exercise in deduction as one must only work with physical cues. -SH
Then what's the problem? -JW
It is best to wait until after our first date, otherwise our haste might cause difficulties should we chose to pursue a deeper relationship. -SH
Sherlock, neither of us is inexperienced. And we live together. I've seen you naked, or at least close enough for it not to make any difference. We've been blown up together for godsakes. I think we can handle this. -JW
Please, allow me to court you properly. -SH
When did his flatmate decide to start living in some Regency Romance novel? John sighed. Only because you're my best friend –JW
And don't take too long about it. -JW
I've never been one for impulse control. -SH
Thank God. -JW
That evening at the massage parlor barely relaxed John at all, and by the time he laid down on his bed and turned out the light, John realized he had not been so thoroughly nervous and excited before a date since Secondary school when with a dog eared love letter in hand, he'd asked Sandy King to the school dance. That had petered out amiably, though the same could not be said for the high school affair with Andrew under the bleachers, who had grown cold and cruel at the slightest hint that they might be discovered. In the end, Andrew had even taken a slug at John, a favor for which John had returned a split lip, a broken pair of glasses and a shiner that took a week to fade.
John's attraction to men had always run stronger than with women, and the corresponding relationships had spiraled equally out of control. John chalked it up to a sort of one-sided poor taste. The definition of insanity, as he'd been told multiple times at a self improvement seminar Harry had dragged him to after her first attempt at sobriety, was to repeat the same action with the expectation of a different result. Better to focus his attention on women. A sensible, sane decision that had, like so many of the other sensible, sane things of his life, been wholly washed away in the wake of Sherlock Holmes.
In comparison to Sherlock, the others, women and men alike, were transparent threads of some long forgotten dream. Life with Sherlock was fast, bright, terrible, wonderful, dangerous, consuming and a bit unreal. With Sherlock, John laughed down to his guts and life was too interesting to contain his doubts. Sherlock risked his life with the surety of a man who was almost always right. He never accepted the almost, but John did. It kept him sharp. The risks they took were astonishing; surviving them rebirth. Loving Sherlock would be a form of a form of voluntary immolation. Even so, John wanted it.
'I've truly gone mad' was John's last thought as he drifted to sleep.
Four and a half hours later, John's room was filled with music. It was violin, which meant Sherlock had finally returned to the flat. John rubbed his eyes. Unlike the usual mix of music and noise that Sherlock usually played in the wee hours, this was steady, beautiful and close. Very close. John sat bolt upright, his gaze glancing first at the alarm clock, 4:23a.m. and then at the shadowy figure beside his bed.
The music cut mid-note, "Excellent, you're awake," Sherlock said, "Do you mind if I turn on a light?"
John said. "Whose dead?"
"A fair number of people I assume. In London alone there are approximately 250 deaths daily," Sherlock said, "Five percent of those are murders, though interesting murders are far-"
"Case! Is there a case?"
"Oh no. At least, I've received no text. But time is short. Our coach will be here in an hour and I assume you will wish to bathe and partake of some of the fruit and pastries in the kitchen. The bakery had some lovely apple turnovers. You like apple turnovers and banana products. I bought bananas. And would you prefer Darjeeling or Earl Grey? I've also laid laid out some day wear for the initial activities of our date."
"This is our date?"
"Starting 4:30 in the morning?"
"Technically 5:45, and while I am aware it isn't wholly appropriate for me to be in your room at this time, I assure you I have no ill intentions and my respect for you is unparalleled."
"Now it seemed to me that you were satisfied with your outwear from last week, namely the coat and scarf, though if you'd prefer something different, I can unpack the other coat from the evening wear."
"Evening wear?" John ran his hand through his hair, massaging his temples with his fingers. "What all are we doing today?"
"I can't tell you that! It will ruin the surprise."
"Well..." John ran his tongue over his lips. "I'm really...uhh...touched..."
There was a rustle of fabric and Sherlock knelt at John's bedside. Sherlock's features were shadowy in the glow of the digital alarm. In his right hand appeared to be a flower. Sherlock brushed the petals over John's lips. "In thy face I see honor, truth and loyalty."
"Umm...okay." Sherlock smelled fresh scrubbed and expensive and John was torn between a desire to turn on the light and look at his flatmate and an equal shyness at how his newly wakened appearance would be in comparison.
Sherlock placed the flower in John's hand. "Well, I'll leave you to your morning ablutions." He jumped to his feet and moved in long strides to the door.
Sherlock paused. "Yes?"
"You're not going back into hiding for breakfast, right?"
"Hiding? Don't be daft."
Whatever script Sherlock was following for the day, John wished he'd been given a copy. Still it was...entirely unexpected. And thrilling, in its oddness. "You're really quite amazing," John said.
Another rustle of cloth, and John didn't have to imagine the mix of puffed yet somehow childlike delight that Sherlock generally displayed upon receiving a genuine compliment. Sherlock asked, "Was it Earl Grey or Darjeeling?"
"Either is fine."
"Darjeeling," Sherlock said. The door shut with a light click.
When John turned on the light, he was holding a red carnation.
John showered in record time, changing into yet another perfectly tailored outfit with barely a flinch. The trousers were black this time, and the long sleeved t-shirt a soft cotton that smelled new but felt well broken in. Perfect. John ran the comb through his hair and checked himself in the mirror. The combination was simple but not at all plain. John grabbed the carnation, wishing he kept the laptop in his room so he could look up the meaning. He suspected it had one, and that Sherlock knew it, having likely learned it from a case.
In the center of the kitchen table, two candles flickered behind a tray heaped high with pastries. Sherlock stood awkwardly next to it a perfectly pressed suit with shirt and slacks, not greatly different from his usual street wear, except the shirt was clearly silk and the suit itself appeared brand new. In the right front pocket was a sky blue handkerchief that exactly matched the color of John's shirt.
"Your tea," Sherlock said, handing John an off white china saucer with a steaming cup of tea. "I used the proper kettle and added three sugars and a tablespoon of milk as is your general preference."
"Thank you," John blew on top of the tea to cool it, "So, how have you been?"
"That's good. This is really very nice."
Sherlock grinned. "Only the beginning." He pulled a chair out from the table. "Sit down. We have approximately twenty minutes to relax."
John walked to the table and put his tea down before sitting, suspecting that Sherlock might want to push his chair in, which the other man did. John took a plate, another of the china dishes that John hadn't even been aware existed in the flat (and like the tablecloth, John suspected they came from one of Sherlock's relatives, likely deceased) and snagged one of the apple turnovers.
Sherlock walked to the other side of the table, looked at the free chair, then walked back to the kitchen, returning with a china teapot and another cup and saucer set and placing them both on the table.
"Sit down," John said. "And eat something. I can't possibly work through all of these pastries."
"We can give the remainder to Mycroft," Sherlock said, seating himself on the other side of the table. He took a plate and pastry and crossing his long legs at the ankles, raised the tea to his lips. Over the glass, he studied John.
"So you had the embezzlement case," John ventured. "What else?"
"Nothing of interest." Sherlock's gaze remained steady. "Even Anderson could have worked through to the solutions to most of them, albeit it over a far longer stretch of time and with diagrams."
"Did they pay you at least?"
"I got what I needed."
"That's good," John said and took a bite of the turnover. The pastry seemed to melt on his tongue, and John closed his eyes for a moment in appreciation.
When he opened them, Sherlock was smiling. "You have a special fondness for vanilla extract in bakery products, so I made certain that they added a fair amount. I am glad you find it acceptable."
"Acceptable? You are a master of understatement." John ripped a piece of the pastry off, walked to Sherlock's side of the table, and held the pastry to Sherlock's lips. "Try it."
Sherlock's eyes widened. "What are you doing?"
"Fairly obvious, isn't it?"
Sherlock took the pastry delicately between his teeth. John pushed it with his finger until the tip of it was between Sherlock's lips. Sherlock lifted his chin and opened his teeth, letting the pastry fall in. His tongue caressed John's finger, briefly sucking, and then releasing it. "Perfect," Sherlock said.
"Yes." John lifted the dark curls on Sherlock's forehead, running his thumb along Sherlock's hairline.
Sherlock's breath caught, a tiny sound that made John lean closer, wanting to taste his flatmate's tongue. Sherlock's cheeks were flushed. His lower lip quivered. Hip balanced on the edge of the table, John kissed Sherlock. It was almost chaste at first, lips closed, the heat of their connection making John shiver with want. John parted his lips, letting his tongue tease at Sherlock's until the kiss deepened, and Sherlock's hand was at the back of John's head, pulling him closer. The table lurched. John put his palms on Sherlock's shoulders, steadying himself. Their tongues met, caressing. John was half hard, straining in his trousers; the tablecloth slid as he shifted his weight to straddle his flatmate.
"John," Sherlock breathed. He pushed the chair back to allow John more space, his feet knocking into the table leg.
"Fucking brilliant," John said.
Sherlock stiffened. "Stop."
"Now? Jesus bloody-"
"The candles!" John turned in the chair. Behind him, the pastries were a merry blaze, sending licks of flame across the tablecloth. John jumped to his feet, glancing first at counter beside the stove and then below it for the fire extinguisher. Gone. "Sherlock, where's the fire extinguisher?"
"In the bedroom with the Bunsen Burner."
"Go get it!" John ran to the sofa, grabbed the afghan, ran back and began beating at the flames. The tablecloth was fully on fire now, the thin fabric curling and raining ash. The fire alarm went off, filling the air with shrill beeping.
John had managed to quell the bulk of the flames when Sherlock returned with the extinguisher.
"Get back," Sherlock said.
John jumped away, dropping the afghan as Sherlock unleashed a stream of white foam. When the fire was out, Sherlock sat the fire extinguisher on the floor.
There was a heavy pounding at the door. "Boys! One of you open this door right now!" Mrs. Hudson said. "Sherlock, is this another one of your experiments?"
"Fine, it's all fine!" John said. "We put out the fire."
"Sherlock, didn't we have this talk about flammable experiments before sunrise?"
"It was just a tipped candle. No experiments," John said. "Why don't you go back to sleep, Mrs. Hudson."
"Damages are coming out of your rent," Mrs. Hudson said. "I hope the married ones knew better than to call the fire department this time." The sound of receding footsteps and a muttered, "Need an herbal soother."
Sherlock grabbed John's hands, looking first at the tops and then flipping them. "You shouldn't have done that. Are you in pain?"
John's hands stung a little, and the fingertips were a bit red. "Barely first degree," he estimated. "It's fine."
Sherlock's blackberry beeped. "That's our coach," he said. "I'll cancel it. You should wash your hands. And burn ointment, you need burn ointment."
"Doctor, remember," John said. "I can handle this. Go see to our transportation."
"Someone promised me a perfect date."
"I've hardly succeeded in that regard."
"Are you kidding?" John grinned. "We've barely started and this is already the most exciting date I've ever had in my life."
"Is that good?"
"Brilliant." John pushed Sherlock towards the door. "Now let me wash the soot off of my face and I'll meet you downstairs."
About 70% of what happened in this chapter came as a complete surprise to me. That is one of the major joys of writing.
Chapter 12: Date 4: Part 2
First and foremost, I want to thank Evildrem (http://archiveofourown.org/users/Evildrem/pseuds/Evildrem), my awesome Brit Picker and bonus general editor who gave this a once over and fixed up my American English, as well as details about schools and other things that I didn't understand coming from a non-British/USA base. Evildrem also gave me some wonderful ideas for additions to the chapter which have made this significantly better. Any errors in this piece are of course all mine.
I also want to thank everyone who has kept reading and leaving me so many wonderful comments! With this chapter especially, there were solid points where I was really unsure if it was going to get anywhere, and knowing that so many wonderful people were genuinely excited to read the next section really helped me stay on focus. I know I haven't gotten back to all of you individually; you should hear from me in the next day or two, but I wanted to let you know how glad I am to hear from you all, that you are continuing to enjoy reading this, and I hope this next chapter continues to entertain. (and that the length makes up for the incredibly slow update time. Hopefully next chapter will be faster!)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When John stepped out onto Baker Street, a limousine was parked at the curb, its headlights the only points of life on the otherwise sleepy street. The back door of the limousine was held open by a tall man in a black suit with salt and pepper hair. On the other side of the gap stood Sherlock. When he saw John, his hand rose in a wave, then he dropped it, rubbing his palm on his trousers and then glancing at his watch.
John crossed the pavement to the car, and the man holding the door said, "Dr. Watson, my name is Nicolas Hartley and I will be your driver for today."
John quickly checked the man for the telltale bulge of a hidden firearm. His stance was stiff, but not military, and the very tightness of his shoulders and legs made it unlikely he'd had any hand to hand training. "Mr. Hartley," John said, giving the older man a nod which he returned.
Sherlock took John's left hand lifted it to kiss his knuckles. "You look incredible."
"Thank you," John said, desperately not looking at the driver. He'd certainly seen weirder things. John was tempted to ask if the car was a loan from Mycroft (which he hoped it was because heaven knew how Sherlock was paying for this) but Sherlock was so sensitive in regards to his brother and John had no desire to endanger Sherlock's equanimity by sending him into a sulk. Bad enough with the fire.
"Please," Sherlock said, beckoning inside with a graceful movement of his hand. "Make yourself comfortable."
Inside was big enough for six with a skylight, flat-screen television and a minibar. The television was off, but a pleasant instrumental piece played through the speakers. John felt like he should be able to place it, but he couldn't quite, and the experience reminded him oddly of food shopping.
Sherlock seated himself across from John and the limousine began to move. It was spacious enough that Sherlock could extend his legs almost full out if he pushed his feet under the opposite seat. "May I interest you in something to drink?" Sherlock asked, gesturing towards the minibar. "There is a full stock of alcohol."
"A bit early for me," John said with a smile. "Anything with caffeine?"
"Well," Sherlock opened the bin and shuffled through the drinks. "Two colas and an iced latte in a bottle."
"Either is fine." Now that the danger had passed and John had, excepting his hair, escaped the smell of smoke, John's appetite was returning with interest. "And maybe if they have some peanuts or crisps or something?"
"Food. Of course, you need food." Sherlock glanced at his watch. "I suppose we could stop at a convenience store or for some form of drive through?"
"Nothing to eat at our first event?"
"I hadn't planned for the fire."
John laughed. "It's good to know you can't deduce everything."
"I've never claimed to have had that ability." Sherlock tapped his index finger on his thigh. "Deduction is a science, and even with the most rigorous methodology, lack of data leads to unforeseen or overlooked variables which in turn leads to error, especially in regards to future projections, which frankly become quite tenuous outside of a very limited set of conditions and time scale. Even so, I am wildly more successful than the vast majority who frankly lack the attention or wit to manage even the most basic observations."
John couldn't help but smile. "Good to see you're back to yourself."
"Back to myself?"
"The past few weeks, you know, with your reassessing." John chose his words carefully. "It seemed like you had lost a bit of your confidence."
"Lack of data."
"I'm still—" Sherlock tapped his index finger against his lips. "Before the fire, in the flat, that was good."
"More than a bit." What with the fire and the rush to leave, John really hadn't had time to think, but that had been their first kiss. His cheeks heated. He wanted another one. Or hundred. "I'd say it was in my top five."
"Five? Is that all?"
No point in inflating his flatmate's ego too much, besides offering room for improvement might on some level stave off Sherlock's inevitable boredom. "Pretty good for a first time," John said.
Sherlock's mouth tightened. "Pretty good."
It was all John could do not to burst out laughing at Sherlock's look of affront. John ran his tongue over his lips. "I have every confidence we will grow better with practice."
Before John could blink, Sherlock had closed the distance between them, his legs skewed at awkward angles as in the limited space of the chair he folded his lanky form over John and grasped the back of his neck, pushing their lips together. Sherlock tasted of apple and vanilla. His parted John's lips, the electric tickle of their touch passing through John's mouth, down through his chest and his stomach to curl at the base of his groin. Sherlock's scent, his aftershave, the touch of soap, of smoke, it filled John, and he wanted to be closer, but the arc of Sherlock's body prevented that. When they stopped to breathe, John said, "Sit down," and pushed Sherlock to the right so that they were side by side. Sherlock stared, pupils wide, lips red and moist, the top button of his shirt undone, his collar askew.
"My God, you're hot," John said.
Sherlock touched his palm to his cheek. "I do feel a bit warm."
John laughed. "Sexy, you blockhead." He threw his left leg over Sherlock's and pulled himself closer. "I don't think I've done this since I was seventeen."
Sherlock blinked. "Snogging?"
"Making out in the back of a car."
"I've never...my experiments took place mainly in University."
"First time for everything. And this is way better than a hatchback." John ran his fingertip along the edge of Sherlock's ear. Sherlock breathed in sharply through his nose. "Knew it," John said. "What with the violin and your incredible hearing."
"Excellent deduction," Sherlock said in a shaky voice.
John leaned into Sherlock's neck and nibbled gently at his other ear. Sherlock moaned. Grabbing at John's waist, Sherlock slid his hand under John's shirt. Sherlock's fingers were hot; his nails grazed over John's skin, encouraging John still closer. For the rest of the ride they explored each other. Sherlock's tongue on John's neck rendered him temporarily speechless. When John's nail grazed Sherlock's nipple, he made a tiny sound in the back of his throat that made John want to circle it with his tongue. John fumbled one-handed with the buttons, but Sherlock pushed him back against the chair, and still gripping his wrist brought their mouths together for another mind blowing kiss. By the time they came up for breath, John was harder than he could ever remember being in his life.
"Fuck, I don't know how I'm going to be able to walk after this," John said.
"What?" Sherlock blinked, touching his fingers to his still wet lips.
John had managed to undo the bottom two buttons of Sherlock's shirt, and it it hung open exposing his belly and a part of his left side. Peeking from the edge of his shirt was misshapen arc of a purpling bruise. Sherlock grabbed at the sides of his shirt, closing it.
"What happened?" John asked, putting his hands on top of Sherlock's to still the motion. "Why didn't you tell me you were injured?"
"It's nothing," Sherlock said.
"Let me see it."
"The idiot who stole over 200,000 pounds from his father took a swing at me. My wound was negligible. His was not."
With all of the acrobatics they had been involved in, John doubted that Sherlock could have hidden a serious injury, but his flatmate could be very good at ignoring pain when inclined. John gently tugged the shirt from his flatmate's grip. "Please."
Sherlock didn't say anything, but his fingers relaxed when John lifted the shirt and gently pressed around the bruise, glancing at Sherlock's abdomen for signs of tensing that might indicate pain. Whoever had delivered the blow had done so with a fair amount of power; the bruise was a good size, extending in a distorted circle from the bottom of Sherlock's ribcage to just below the height of his solar plexus.
"Take a deep breath," John said.
"Yes, doctor." Sherlock said with a sardonic smile. When he had breathed deeply through his nose three times without tensing or wincing, John lowered Sherlock's shirt.
"Looks superficial," John said.
The limousine slowed, the music stopped and Mr. Hartley's voice cut in over the speaker. "Gentleman, we are approaching our first destination."
Sherlock straightened his shirt and buttoned it. The sky had darkened again. Sherlock ran his hand over his hair. "This will be a bit close," he said. "I should have allowed for more time."
"No one could have predicted that fire," John said.
Sherlock pursed his lips. "Perhaps."
The limousine door opened and Sherlock stepped out first. Somehow, he managed to look, not quite put together, but as though whatever disarray his appearance might present was simply irrelevant. John followed. His concern for his flatmate had at least reduced the obvious signs of his own arousal, for which John was grateful considering the snug fit of his trousers, though he wondered how he was going to make it through the day if the two of them got much more alone time in the back of the limo.
They were parked in a lot overlooking a park. In the wide clearing below the lot, a partially inflated hot air balloon spread across the ground, feeding a stream of fire feeding it from the basket beneath. Four people ran around the balloon, presumably inflating it and performing checks. Three portable floodlights lit the area. The balloon canvas was yellow and white with green block letters that read "Brynne's Ballooning."
"We're going up in a hot air balloon?" John asked.
"Yes!" Sherlock grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the clearing. "It will be fantastic! I did this once before, when I was a child, and the experience was so thoroughly delightful that I haven't had inclination to delete it." Sherlock's face was in profile, but his smile had a softness to it that was at odds with his usual sarcasm. Through a gap in the trees to John's left, London glittered.
John smiled. "How old were you?"
Sherlock at eight with his mop of curly hair, bounding around, poking into everything while asking hundreds of questions, it must have been a miracle they'd gotten the balloon launched. John said, "I bet you were a terror."
"Mummy tried to put Mycroft on me, but I slipped away from him when we were boarding. Mycroft's never been much for moving if he doesn't have to." Sherlock's grin had a similar triumph to it as when he solved a case. " It was, overall, not at all boring."
"I'm glad you're sharing this with me," John said, running his thumb along the meat of Sherlock's palm.
"Yes," Sherlock said, "As I have distilled from my recent research, the revelation of unsolicited information of a personal or sentimental nature fulfills the third of the seven criteria of a successful date."
"Oh." Of course Sherlock had done research, Of course he'd broken it down to a checklist. "Seven criteria ?" John ventured.
"Debatably eight," Sherlock said. "We have already managed Number Six, a shared meal, and Number Three, expression of mutual sexual attraction, so it's safe to say things are going fairly well, barring the fire." Sherlock pointed to a portly man approaching from the balloon. He gave a vigorous wave and started towards them. Sherlock said, "Good! You will be very satisfied with Mr. Thomas Brynne. He was the man who originally took us up—though at that time he it was Heltzing's Ballooning and he was just an employee. Narrowing down Mr. Brynne's location offered a mild challenge what with that I was only aware of his given name, but I had every confidence he would still be involved in the trade and likely at this point have achieved his dream of owning his own balloon."
"Wait, you only met him that once?"
"It was our last outing before my father took the posting in Germany."
Only Sherlock Holmes would consider tracking down a man he'd met once almost twenty five years ago when he was eight to be a 'mild challenge.' "You're amazing,"
"I said we would do this properly," Sherlock said with frightening earnestness.
"So how long did you live in Germany?" John asked.
Sherlock's expression hardened and his voice grew very flat. "We stayed in London."
John squeezed Sherlock's hand. "That must have been difficult,"
"Spare me your pity," Sherlock said with exaggerated sarcasm. "Any emotionality I might have experienced in regards to the subject has been thoroughly deleted."
Before John could construct a proper response, Sherlock had pulled his hand away and lengthened his stride towards the approaching balloonist. Sherlock said in a tone that was a touch too contrite, "Mr. Brynne, I'm so sorry we're late. We had some trouble at the flat."
"You have nothing to apologize for, Mr. Holmes. There's still plenty of time to get airborne, so don't concern yourself at all." Thomas Brynne wore work boots, blue jeans and a button down shirt with sleeves rolled up over his elbows, his expression a huge grin. At least fifty years looked like they'd been directly etched into his face, and judging by the fanning out of the lines from his smile, the majority had amused him greatly. They shook hands, and then the balloonist turned to John, extending his hand. His hands and arms were well msucled and visible tendons ran from his forarms. . "And this must be your mate, Dr. Watson is it?"
"Yes," John said. "Mr. Brynne?"
"Just call me Tom. It's a pleasure to meet you sir," he said, enfolding John's hand in his own. His grip was firm without overpowering. Tom glanced at the sky. "We'd best get moving if we expect to make the sunrise," he said, waving them towards the balloon. "A friend of Mr. Holmes is like family to me. I admit when he waltzed into my home out of the blue with this story of having flown with me when he was a child, I almost called the police. But then he reorganized my entire accounting system, did something with the propane valve that made it 20% more efficient, got those Venture Balloon guys audited, and then to ice the cake when he absolutely saved my youngest when he exposed her no good fiance for the money sucking womanizer he was. Thank God we hadn't put the down payment yet on the Hall. I'd never liked the guy, but I didn't have any evidence to base my argument on and you know how it is with kids." He drew his hand into a fist and smacked it in his other palm. "That sonofabitch had two other wives, one in France and the other in Belgium, if you can believe it."
"Yes, I can," John said. "My flatmate's quite brilliant at figuring out this sort of thing."
"Thank you, John," Sherlock said, with clipped enunciation. It was a fairly straightforward series of deductions, though I admit I hadn't expected anything even that interesting when I took on Mr. Brynne's case." Sherlock said. "An oversight on my part."
"Well before the nice DI came and took that jackass away, I slugged him hard enough to break his jaw and my daughter got in a few good hits herself. Suffice it to say his dick will be remembering her steel toed boot for the next week at least, and good riddance." Tom spat on the ground. "I offered Mr. Holmes a healthy commission for his help, but he wouldn't accept any payment beyond today's ride. Said his flatmate had never been in a hot air balloon before and he wanted to make it special, and that he had fond memories of our previous excursion. It's my honor to be taking the two of you out personally. My son, nephew and the twins are going over the final checks now. They'll be following in the truck."
The balloon righted itself as they walked, held in place by four rope tethers staked to the ground. While John had never flown in a hot air balloon before, flying beneath a massive sack of heated gas held a certain edge that excited him. Or maybe it had been that brief look of unfiltered delight in his flatmate's gray-blue eyes.
As they approached a squat brick building on their left, the sky brightened, taking on the milky twilight of false dawn. Tom said, "If anyone needs the toilet, best be using it now. It's either there or in a bottle mid-flight. First floor, through the door and then turn left and down the hall." A tall, ginger man waved at Tom from the base of the rising balloon."Oh, let me find out what's got Morty's knickers in a twist this time. Do you two mind just walking down when you're done and then I'll introduce you to the crew. We have about a half hour until sunrise, and we'll want to be airborne soon. Flight should be about three hours."
"Sounds good," John said.
It was pitch black when the door shut behind them, and John was grateful.
"Sherlock," John said, "You do realize how blindingly amazing you are."
"You do say such things with stunning regularity."
"It's not pity to care."
"I would find it troubling..." Sherlock paused, and there was a rustling of fabric. "If you were to think less of me."
"When I was twelve, my parents were killed in a car accident. For the next month, I set the alarm in my digital watch for 5AM every morning and cried. I never told them, and I haven't told my therapist."
"John," Sherlock cupped John's jaw, brushing a thumb over John's cheek. "I-"
"It's not pity, that's all I'm saying. Now don't we have a balloon to catch?" John tapped at the wall for the light switch.
"Here," Sherlock said. His fingers grazed John's knuckles as he moved unerringly towards the switch. When the light came on, Sherlock was leaning over John with a hungry look in his eyes. He rested the side of his thumb at John's hairline, just above his brow. John lifted his chin and they were kissing again. It was a thorough kiss, not at all rushed, and when they parted to breathe John was panting like he'd taken the last minute at a flat run.
"I..." Sherlock blinked and took a step back, turning on the flat of his right foot. "This way."
John made a futile attempt to smooth his hair with his hand and followed, half running to catch up. There were two stalls and two urinals. By unspoken agreement, they each took a stall. Sherlock had begun to wash his hands when John took the neighboring sink. He kept his gaze focused on the process, in his head singing through the "Happy Birthday" song twice as he scrubbed his hands, a habit he'd picked up as a part of his surgical preparation. Sherlock finished before John was halfway through the first verse. John turned off the sink and shook the water from his hands, then bumped his hip against the door to open it.
Sherlock leaned against the wall on the other side. "I'm always tempted to hand you a pair of gloves."
John shrugged. "I know it's ridiculous." And on some days, when the stream of casualties seemed unending, John hated the words "Happy Birthday." Even now, the song reminded him of suturing until his hands cramped. And loss.
"Stop it," Sherlock said, his eyes narrowed.
John rubbed his palms on his trousers. "Stop what?"
"Your pupils have shrunk and you've become tense in the shoulders," Sherlock said. "Abort whatever thoughts you are involved in or I'll have to kiss you again."
John laughed. "That's not much of a threat."
"It's a distraction. And a rather effective one. How would you rate our last snog using your previous scale?"
"Good Lord Sherlock!" John shook his head. "It's not a competition."
"Of course it is."
"And what's the prize?"
Sherlock stared. "Isn't it obvious?"
Embarrassed, John averted his gaze. Prize? A wounded once surgeon with a crapped out arm and sometimes leg? Of course, this came from the same man who found dipping frozen fingers in flesh eating mold to be a delightful post-dinner activity. John said, "We should go. Tom's waiting."
They started towards the exit. Sherlock walked close enough so that his upper arm periodically brushed against John's shoulder. "You far transcend my previous experience," Sherlock held the door open for John. "In regards to the snogging. Though I admit as a rule I have generally found it distasteful."
"You don't have to kiss me if you don't like it."
Sherlock said in a low voice. "I like it."
When they reached the basket, the balloon was fully inflated and straining against its tethers. Tom was involved in a low voiced conversation with the middle aged man with salt and ginger hair from earlier. "...I gave my word," Tom said. "You wo—oh good, Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, you're here. This is my cousin Morty."
The ginger haired man said, "Morning, Mr. Holmes. That was some thing you did with my aunt's fiance."
Sherlock said, "He was vacuous and self centered while only possessing one dubious point of creativity."
"I'm just glad he got what was coming."
"Not yet, but he will," Sherlock said.
Tom asked, "Morty, where's my son?"
"In the truck getting an update on the weather. Winds could be a bit tricky for the planned landing site," Morty glanced down at his hands. "I could ride up with you."
Tom sniffed the air. "Shouldn't be a problem." He yelled up towards the basket. "Em! Matt! Come out and say hi to our guests!"
A preteen boy and girl, both slightly built blonds with hazel eyes, scrambled down a rope ladder from the basket. They wore navy coveralls with an embroidered hot air balloon over their hearts. The girl had a jacket tied around her waist. She had a couple of inches on her brother; the crest of her close cropped curls crested halfway between John's elbow and shoulder. looked up at Sherlock, her cheeks flushed and she pushed her hands into the pockets of her paint stained trousers, averting her gaze to her trainers. "I'm Emma, but everyone calls me Em. It's nice to meet you."
"Matt," the boy said. "Weather service is calling for a pickup in wind after ten. We'll still be able to get our ride in, won't we?"
"Your ride?" John asked.
"I promised the grands if they helped out I'd take them up once you two had wrapped up." Tom said.
"We did everything on the checklist and even helped Dad and Uncle Morty with the inflating," Matt elbowed his sister. "Right Em?"
"Yes," Em ground her heel into the grass. Her gaze darted to Sherlock and then back to her shoes. "Everything is ready to go."
"I need talk to my son about the forecast," Tom said. "Are you okay here?"
"We're good." Morty turned to the twins, "I'm going with your Grandpa Tom chat with your father. Be mindful of the propane."
"We've been flying since we were walking," Em said with a snort. "We're not going to set ourselves on fire."
"Or drive Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson too crazy," Tom said.
"Sure thing, Grandpa Tom," Matt said.
Tom shook his head as he walked briskly back towards the building. When he had gotten a fair distance, Matt said, "Dad bought doughnuts .Jam, custard or chocolate. Do you want one? He won't mind if we share."
"That is very kind of you," Sherlock said. "John is rather hungry."
"I'll get the box," Matt said and scrambled back up the ladder.
After about five seconds of awkward silence, Em took a step towards Sherlock, "Excuse me, Mr. Holmes?"
"Grandpa Tom mentioned you did work with Scotland Yard?"
"Occasionally. I'm a Consulting Detective."
"Is that like CSI on the telly?"
"Hardly," Sherlock said with a sniff. "The analysis as depicted in that show is slow and inefficient. Any idiot can take days and dozens of unnecessary tests to inch their way tangentially to the most obvious conclusion, not to mention the ridiculous number of DNA tests that somehow magically are returned within days as opposed to the weeks or months they would generally require from any reputable laboratory."
Em's shoulders slumped. "Oh."
"Don't worry, Em," John cut in. "Sherlock's like this with just about every television show and most movies. You should have seen him on Bond night."
"I still hold that the shoe phone was not feasible, though it was a brilliant idea in comparison to the radioactive lint which could be done away with in a strong dryer cycle. I can certainly see the benefit of the cigarette projectile launcher however, although I don't understand why you won't allow me to attempt to construct a prototype in the flat. I think with some adjustment the components would be-"
"No means no. The walls have seen enough abuse."
"I wouldn't be aiming." Sherlock's voice rose in the exact same pitch as a bargaining toddler.
The hint of a smile tugged at Em's lips. "You're funny."
"A riot." Sherlock said dryly.
The real point of interest was how John's flatmate, who avoided popular culture like it threatened him with plague, had managed to expose himself to CSI. John said, "It was for a case, wasn't it? CSI?"
"A woman found naked and mangled in a shopping cart with a hole in her cheek. Anderson, of all people, made the connection." Sherlock's nose wrinkled. "After that I forced myself to work through the entire series. Fortunately for most episodes I didn't have to go much beyond the opening sequence in order to determine the murderer and his or her methods. The show does present some interesting setups, often making use of information drawn from historical cases, so it's not a total loss. In regards to investigation, however, what I do is much better," Sherlock said with his usual confidence bordering on arrogance.
Matt shouted from the basket. "Dad ate all the custard, but we've still got chocolate and jam! What do you want?"
"Jam is fine," John said, "Sherlock?"
Sherlock gave a dismissive wave. "Not hungry."
"So you're a Consulting Detective, right?" Em said, "What does a Consulting Detective do?"
"Solve cases, of course. When Scotland Yard get in over their heads, which is most of the time, they call me, and if it's not mind numbingly dull, I solve it using observation and deduction. Anyone ought be capable of this, though the vast majority of people, either through lack of intelligence or interest choose not to. For example, had the police listened to me in regards to the Carl Powers case, which they in their incompetence deemed a suicide with no regard for Mr. Powers' missing shoes, his killer would likely have been found well before twenty years had passed."
"Twenty years?" Em's eyes widened. "How old are you?"
"Thirty two," Sherlock said. "When the incident happened, I wrote to the Detective Inspector cited in the article about Mr. Powers' missing shoes, and then later attempted to investigate the scene myself, but they ejected me from the premises."
"Twenty years ago, so then you were twelve?"
Em rocked on her heels and said with an excited grin. "I'll be twelve next month!"
"Me too!" Matt threw his leg over the side of the basket, holding two doughnuts over his head in his left hand. Using his other hand to hold the rungs, he began a slow descent. "On the 21st. We're twins."
"Yes, fraternal, and for some inexplicable reason your mother dressed you in identical outfits until you reached schooling age, a habit you have maintained insofar as colour and style choice is concerned."
Em glanced at her coveralls and started laughing. "It's a uniform silly!"
"I was referring to your trainers," Sherlock said in an icy tone. "Both are green with a checkered yellow design, but Matt's show greater wear and staining, which could imply a more active lifestyle, but your uniforms are equivalently scuffed and stained, so it is more likely that you Em purchased yours two or three weeks after your brother, either as an unconscious impulse or through a conscious decision."
"You really figured all of that out from our shoes?" Matt asked.
"Observation and deduction," Sherlock said. "Matt, you'd do better not to squeeze those doughnuts so tightly. You're losing jam."
"Really? Sorry." Matt hopped from the third rung to the ground, ran to John and handed him a sugar covered doughnut with bits of jam oozing out the holes on the sides.
"Thank you," John said, taking a bite. The rush of sugar and fat refreshed him and he smiled. "This is great." He held the doughnut out to Sherlock. "Did you want some?"
Sherlock turned his head and his eyes unfocused. "Inappropriate, unfortunately," he said with a faint exhalation through his teeth.
"Mr. Holmes?" Em asked. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Clearly you are quite capable," Sherlock said. "Considering the quantity you have pressed upon me to this point."
"Ouch!" Matt said with a laugh. "He told you."
"Shut up!" Emily took a deep breath and tilted her head upwards to meet Sherlock's gaze. "If I want to become a Consulting Detective, what do I have to do?"
Sherlock grinned. "Now that is an excellent question! In regards to studies, a firm grounding in the sciences is good." Sherlock ticked the points off on his fingers. "Also, make sure to read extensively on investigative procedures, criminal case studies and profiles as often what appears to be novel is merely the rehashing of an older crime, city geography, pathology, and at least some basic knowledge of code-breaking and lock-picking is really quite essential."
"Wow!" Em said. "You know all of that?"
"And you can pick locks!" Matt cut in, still chewing. His hands were smeared with jam and a smudge of chocolate stained his nose.
"Essential for gathering evidence."
"Isn't that against the law?" Matt asked.
"Not for a Consulting Detective." Sherlock tapped steepled fingers against his lips. "Though it is advisable not to be caught in the process."
"Cool!" Matt rocked forward on his toes. "I want to be a Consulting Detective!"
"Me too!" Em said with quieter though no less intense enthusiasm.
Tom approached over the dewy grass, holding a walkie-talkie in his left hand. It was pitch black at this point, broken only by the floodlights shining up on the balloon and the headlights from the limousine and another vehicle, likely the truck.
Tom clipped the walkie-talkie to his belt. "Are you guys talking off Mr. Holmes and Watson's ears?"
"That is physically impossible," Sherlock muttered.
Em laughed into her palm.
"Not at all," Matt said. "Mr. Holmes was just telling us about his work. He can pick locks."
"A skill he only uses in police related matters," John cut in.
"Yes, and it's not illegal if you're a Consulting Detective," Matt said. "Isn't that brilliant?"
"Fascinating," Tom said. "Now get onto the truck. Your Dad's waiting for you with the team."
"Can we go with you and Mr. Holmes?" Matt asked.
"Matthew," Tom said with a warning in his tone. "Haven't I warned you about pushing yourself on the customers? I promised we'd have a ride when Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson were finished."
"Please, Grandpa Tom" Em said. "We're not bothering him. It's for my education. I'm going to be a Consulting Detective when I grow up."
"I thought you were going to be one of those CSI ladies. Didn't we get you that Chemistry set last Christmas? With the centrifuge."
"CSIs are slow and inefficient," Em said. "Being a Consulting Detective is better."
"Exactly right." Sherlock said, all arrogance. "And home Chemistry will be quite useful until you can gain access to a lab. Have you made up a batch of luminol yet?"
"Yes! That was my science fair project for this year. I made it to Second Place in the County. "
"You'll do better next time," Sherlock said. Em's face froze as Sherlock barreled on. "Were you able to make any improvements to the process?"
"Umm...well..." Em bit her bottom lip. "I just wanted to know how to make it. My teacher said it was a good project, and in our wholeclass only me and Tommy Berthel went on to the County finals."
"That's really excellent," John cut in, before Sherlock's professional assessment made the girl cry. "None of my projects ever made it that far."
"They disqualified me from the inter-House competition for not affixing my findings to a board." Sherlock gave a disdainful sniff. "As though presenting the chemical equations and mathematical proofs were not adequate without providing unnecessary dramatization. It was insulting. After that I declined to participate." Sherlock tilted his chin downwards, as though looking down his nose in remembered affront. "That said, gaining some background in making ones own investigative materials is eminently sensible. I assume you've also worked through the two variations of Marsh's test for arsenic?"
"No." Em ran her hand through her hair. "I mean, not yet."
"Groundbreaking to the field of forensics. You can find the instructions in the December 1934 issue of Popular Science. It's a rather delicate process, so make certain to use only chemically pure zinc to prepare the hydrogen. Afterward though you will need to add a drop of copper solution-" Sherlock tilted his head. "John, why don't we take Mr. Matt and Miss Em with us?"
"Really!" Matt's face lit in a wide smile. "Mr. Holmes, you're the best."
Tom waved his hands in front of his face. "Oh no, we coul—'
John ran his tongue over his lips. While this conversation had been going remarkably well, the thought of being trapped in a basket however many miles above the ground with two children and Sherlock (who would be more trouble than the two of them combined times ten) did not bode well. "Sherlock...are you..." John glanced at Tom. "My flatmate maybe doesn't always-" get along with children? With human beings? "I mean..."
"Of course, Dr. Watson," Tom said, "You are in no way obligated to mind my grand-kids, especially considering the good turn that Mr. Holmes has done our family."
"Nonsense, "Sherlock said with too warm a smile. "It's important that I display a generalized concern for the welfare of others, especially small animals and children. And yours have appropriate interests. This is perfect." He emphasized the point with a dramatic spreading of his fingers in front of his eyes. "Besides, John is great with children. He's absolutely brilliant after a kidnapping. Victims open right up to him. Not to mention child witnesses, who can be rubbish for data." Sherlock hesitated, and then added. "Because of very comprehensible issues of emotional distress."
Issues that sent Sherlock running in the other direction as fast as his long legs could carry him, which was why he preferred to observe these sorts of questionings from a distance, preferably behind a pane of one-way glass, as he'd told John more than once. With sarcasm. John wondered what number of the seven, possibly eightcriteria on Sherlock's checklist this was fulfilling, and if they would all survive it. But he certainly wasn't going to dash the anticipation and hope in Tom's grandchildren's eyes. John gave his flatmate one last chance at an out. "As long as you're sure."
"I am not one for making assertions without reasonable certainty," Sherlock said. He inclined his head towards Tom. "Please, allow your grandchildren to escort us. It would be an honor."
"Great!" Matt said, running up the ladder.
"Thank you, Mr. Holmes," Em said and followed.
"I also can't thank you enough for this," Tom said, clapping Sherlock and then John on the shoulder. "That girl is mad for all of that CSI stuff. When D.I. Dimmock came and spoke at her school last month, it was all she could talk about for days."
Sherlock said, "Dimmock's an idi-"
"Sherlock." John put a firm hand on Sherlock's forearm. "The sun's going to rise any minute."
"We must go," Sherlock said, vaulting towards the ladder. John shoved the last of his doughnut into his mouth and followed.
They were aloft just as the sun touched the horizon. They ascended in a roar of propane, and Tom mumbled to himself about wind speed and direction. John buttoned his coat. Below spread the checkerboard of fields and suburban housing. When they had reached what Tom deemed an appropriate height, he shut off the flame and they were floating. It was silent. The freedom and majesty of it stole John's voice and for a time he just stared as the sky painted itself in purple, green, orange and then gold before settling into a clear, piercing blue broken only by a pair of fluffy clouds.
"That was incredible," John said, glancing up at his flatmate.
Sherlock leaned his elbow against the side of the basket, his gaze on John. "
"Of course. I knew you would like it."
Matt asked, "Can do the toast now, Grandpa Tom?"
"We're at a good altitude, sun is risen. Absolutely. Sparkling grape for the three of us," ," Tom said. "And get the champagne out of the icebox you're sitting on for these two young men."
Em doled out the glasses, proper crystal, and after Matt the champagne bottle to his grandfather, twisted the cap off of the other bottle with an exaggerated grunt of effort. Tom stood at the edge of the basket and angling the bottle well away from the balloon itself, popped the cork. When the glasses were filled, Tom lifted his glass and said, "To soft winds and gentle landings."
All five clinked glasses and drank.
Tom said, "We have an hour or so to London proper, provided the winds do what they ought. Let me check in with Morty about the weather," he added, picking up the CB walkie-talkie at his feet and relaying his readings and their general direction to his cousin and son in the truck.
John walked back to the basket's edge and Sherlock followed.
"It's really like we're floating," John said. "I almost can't believe it."
"That was my initial reaction as well," Sherlock said. "Though the physics is perfectly logical."
Soft winds, gentle landings, it seemed the opposite of their lives. John grinned and caught Sherlock's gaze. "To flying." John raised his glass.
Sherlock tapped their glasses together. "And company." He glanced over his right shoulder.
Em and Matt approached, Matt holding a half eaten chocolate doughnut in his right hand. He asked, "Mr. Holmes, can we talk to you?"
Em giggled. "He told you."
Matt asked, "Can you show me how to hot-wire a car?"
"Why?" Sherlock asked. "You can't learn much more from the contents of a vehicle when moving rather than still."
"I mean as a part of your work with the police. Like if you suddenly need to do a high speed chase."
Sherlock raised his fingers in a steeple against his lips. "An interesting point."
Oh God! And John had been worried about Sherlock's influence on the kids. John had serious doubts his flatmate actually knew how to drive as the man traveled exclusively by foot and taxi, not that it would preclude him from learning how to illegally procure and operate a vehicle if he thought it would benefit his work.
"We're much faster on foot," John explained in an attempt to forestall the inevitable late night consult with whatever friendly neighborhood car thief Sherlock certainly had in his acquaintance. "Sherlock has practically memorized every street in London, and he always knows where there's construction or other traffic slowdowns, so even if they do have a car we can catch up or sometimes beat them to wherever they're going."
Em tilted her head. "Are you a Consulting Detective too?"
John laughed. "No, I'm just along for the ride." And the adrenaline. And to keep his flatmate from killing himself out of curiosity, overzealousness, hypoglycemia or sheer genius stupidity.
"He's my blogger," Sherlock said. "I couldn't do without him."
"It's not that big a deal," John said, glancing out at the sprawling London skyline. "An hour away are we? When do you think we'll be close enough to see Big Ben?"
"There." Sherlock pointed.
John and the twins squinted towards the place he indicated.
"Where?" Matt asked. "I don't see it."
"Of course not," Sherlock said. "But that's where it is."
The hour passed quickly. They flew over roads and homes, the silence of their travel broken by the hiss of the propane tank and the occasional barking dog or cheerful shout from below. Em and Matt ventured some more questions which Sherlock answered in accurate, agonizing detail. John managed to keep the conversation from descending into anything too graphic or likely to incite tears, to which Tom gave him multiple nods and the occasionally mouthed 'thank you.' About twenty minutes in, Tom rifled through his duffel, took out a vial of pills and swallowed two dry. He patted his stomach and then gave John the thumbs up before saying something into the walkie-talkie.
Mostly John watched Sherlock. The cool air brought a flush to his face, and he spoke rapidly, punctuating his examples with precise hand movements that bubbled, sizzled and at points exploded in dramatic flourishes of outstretched fingers. His enthusiasm was compelling (and sexy as hell) but it was between questions when Sherlock glanced at John with an almost smile, some mingled concoction: one part shy, one part smug, with a hint of want, that made it difficult to breathe.
As they passed over Barnes, Sherlock pointed towards a clump of buildings near the Hammersmith Bridge. "There, John, do you remember, that's where that street magician scared his old army mate to death."
"How do you scare someone to death?" Em asked.
"Almost always implies an underlying heart condition," John said. "Colonel Barclay wasn't it? At first they thought it was the wife, but then you deduced there had to be a third person and we tracked down Barclay's mate, the one with the Hep. C and the mongoose?" That had lead John and Sherlock a merry chase, though the 'murder' itself was ultimately deemed accidental.
"Precisely," Sherlock said with a bright grin. "The energy with which you jumped that fence was remarkable."
"And unnecessary. Why didn't you tell me the gate was unlocked?"
"You seemed rather intent on it. Besides, physical exertion is healthy," Sherlock said. "That was an enjoyable time, wasn't it?"
"I guess." John had actually found it rather sad. "I mean, it was a nice change to run someone down who wasn't trying to kill us."
"And after that we stopped at that Kebab place and you ate those two sandwiches."
John had eaten one, the other migrating in bits and bites to his flatmate who had intermingled complaints about the inconvenience of his body's demands with an enthusiastic recap of his deductive process. The memory made John smile. "That was tasty. We should go back there sometime."
"We certainly shall."
"Isn't that Hyde Park?" Matt asked, pointing towards the ragged rectangle of green and brown to the west.
"Yes, I can't tell you how many suspects we've had to chase through there in the past months," Sherlock said. His elbow brushed John's arm. "They are some very invigorating memories don't you agree?"
"It's been fun."
"I'm glad we have such a wealth of shared experiences to inspire mutual sentiment."
Mutual sentiment? Was this Number Six? Number Five, or maybe the elusive eighth criterion?
"But, this way!"Sherlock grabbed John's wrist pulled him along a quarter of the way around the edge of the basket. Sherlock he pointed again. "It's a bit difficult to make out, but that's where the code in that ritual lead us to that clever cellar and the body of the delightfully intelligent butler Mr. Brunton. Though why you titled it 'The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual' I'll never understand. 'The Musgrave Ritual' alone would have more than sufficed."
"That's one of my most popular entries," John defended himself. Leave it to Sherlock to discount the most interesting part. "They'd buried King Charles I's original gold crown. Didn't the Queen offer you a knighthood for that one?"
"You've met the Queen!" Matt exclaimed at the same time his sister asked, "How did you figure out the code?"
"Well, it was really quite simple," Sherlock began with a flick of his fingers, once again holding the twins in rapt attention.
The winds picked up as they approached Charing Cross, and Tom muttered to himself, checking his altimeter and squinting at the horizon before firing brief bursts of propane.
"And at that point I deduced the location of the-" Sherlock stopped dead tapping his index finger to his lips said, "John, you may wish to have a brief chat with our pilot."
"Of course now. Don't be obtuse," Sherlock said. "This is your area. It might be best to begin with a neutral topic such as our projected landing point."
"What's going on?" Em asked.
Damned if John knew, but he could take a hint. John said, "I'll find out."
"Good." Sherlock said, drawing his hand around in a circle. The children followed the movement and Sherlock's face took on animation again as he said, "Now, while most codes are rather simple, this one was intriguing in that..."
John crossed the basket to Tom's side and asked, "How are we doing?"
"We're a bit off course and the kids got caught in a traffic snarl, but they know our general direction and should have no problem meeting us at the landing point." Tom smacked his tongue in his mouth with a pained expression. "Shouldn't have had that doughnut though before takeoff. The antacids aren't even touching it." A sheen of sweat shone on his face.
"Are you prone to indigestion?" John asked, looking him over. Tom's breathing was shallower and more rapid than it had been on the ground; his face was pale; and he had a bluish hint to his lips.
"Sometimes," Tom said, "The doctor gave me a prescription. It usually does the trick."
John was careful to keep his tone neutral. "Do you have a history of heart disease?"
"Angina, but haven't had an attack in over six months, not since I started watching my diet and they adjusted my medication."
"Is your prescription on you?"
"The pills that go under the tongue?" Tom said. Wrinkles gathered in the the center of his forehead, a sure sign of increasing discomfort. "Pills are in my bag, but that angina is some terrible pain. This is nothing like that."
A calm came over John; the constant soreness in his shoulder receded and his hands became very still. "Use one," he said, "to be on the safe side."
"John?" Sherlock asked.
"We're fine." John emphasized 'fine' with the hope that Sherlock would continue to exercise some form of subtlety. The last thing he needed was his flatmate's brutal honesty panicking the children. "Tom's just having a bit of an upset stomach," John said, grateful that his body was partially blocking Tom from view. If it was the angina, or worse, as John suspected, a heart attack, it would be better that they couldn't see.
Tom took off one of his leather gloves, rifled around in the duffel between his feet, pulled out a pill vial, and dropped a tablet onto his palm. "I'm really sorry about this. My doctor was clear that short balloon jaunts were fine, and Mr. Holmes has been such a help to us, I didn't want to disappoint him." he said, placing the tablet under his tongue.
Sherlock said, "You have just administered nitroglycerin to our pilot, which- "
"Jesus Sherlock, can't you just listen for once! Finish telling the kids about your case."
"What's going on with Grandpa Tom?" Em asked.
"He shouldn't be eating doughnuts." John took a breath and tried to tamp down his annoyance as he asked Tom, "Are you experiencing any pain in your upper body? Chest, arms, or face."
"A fair amount in the jaw. Figures my bad tooth would start acting up again. And I am a bit dizzy." Tom shook his head. "When you get older, it's like your body is a game of dominoes." He clapped John on the shoulder with his palm. "I can see you're a diligent physician, but I've been hauling myself in this body around a damned sight longer than you've been alive. I'll be fine."
If symptoms had started when Tom first took the antacid, by John's calculations this had begun about twenty minutes ago. With luck, it was just the angina, but if Tom was having a heart attack, it was critical to receive treatment within the first hour. "Land us," John ordered.
"I can't just drop a hot air balloon in the middle of London," Tom said. He added in a whisper, "Let's not upset the kids. We'll pass to the other side of the city in the next hour or so and then I can spend the whole afternoon at A&E if that will make you happy."
"Your breathing is labored, you are reporting significant pain in your upper body, you are lightheaded and showing signs of Cyanosis. If the situation is as serious as it appears, you need to be seen at a hospital as soon as possible."
"That's ridiculous! I'm fine." Tom stood and swayed.
"Grandpa Tom!" Matt shouted.
There was a rustle of fabric and then Sherlock and the two kids were on top of them.
"A little dizzy, that's all," Tom said.
"Give him some space," John steadied Tom. "Maybe it would be better if you sit."
Tom nodded and John settled him on top of the crate next to the propane tank valve. John took Tom's wrist and felt for the pulse. His heart was beating too rapidly.
"No more doughnuts for me," Tom said with a weak smile. A moment later he leaned over, fist clutched at his chest.
Em asked, "What's going on?"
Tom took a shallow breath, his mouth open. "Just a touch of my angina. Remember from Morty's birthday? I'll be fine."
"This looks worse." Em bit her top lip.
"Astute." Sherlock said, " Considering your grandather's physical condition and the duration of his symptoms, and my flatmate's response, this is is most likely a myocardial infarction."
John barely had a moment to thank whatever deity for the fact that his flatmate's tendency to use the technical terms for all things scientific before Em asked, "Isn't that a heart attack?"
"That's the layman's term."
Her voice quavered. "He's having a heart attack?"
"We don't know that," John said. "Your uncle has a history of angina, which can look the same but is generally more mild. But in any sense, it's better to get him to a hospital as soon as we can, which is why we are going to land."
Tom rested his forehead in his palms. The veins in his temples jutted from his skin.
"Em, Matt, see if you can't find some aspirin in that bag," John ordered. "Sherlock, can you get a signal on your mobile?"
"I left it in the limousine," Sherlock said.
"What?" John would have been less shocked if his flatmate had said he accidentally forgotten one of his own thumbs.
"Multiple sources indicate it's improper to have allow oneself the distraction of such electronic devices while on a date," Sherlock said. "Besides, if there is an emergency, we can use yours. Where is it?"
"Hey, are you two on a date with each other?" Matt exclaimed. "Does that mean you're gay?"
"Duh." Em rolled her eyes.
"To be accurate, John is bisexual."
John felt through his jacket and then went through his trouser pockets. "I think my mobile's still at the flat."
"How could you!" Sherlock said, with a tone of shocked disappointment that would have done John's grandmother proud.
"Well there was the fire," John said, his jaw tight, "and the other distractions, not that this is at all relevant now."
"Yes, well," Sherlock averted his gaze. "Tom?"
"No," Tom said, head still in his hands.
"Dad's been on Grandpa Tom to get a mobile for years," Em said. "But he won't let me have one, and my mom says I can't until I'm 13, even if I pay for it with my savings."
"Well that's idiotic," Sherlock said. "How are you supposed to live in the world? And a pay as you go plan with texting is more than reasonable."
"That's what I said!"
John said, "Let's try the CB."
"My dad's on Channel 4," Matt said, taking the walkie-talkie and pushing the talk button. There was a flash of static. "Brynne Ballooning groundside, are you on the line? Dad? Uncle Morty?"
'Excuse me," Sherlock said and turning on the ball of his foot with a sweep of his coat, walked to the lip of the basket.
"Mr. Holmes," Em shouted after him. "Where are you going?"
"Be quiet!" Sherlock snapped. "I can't think."
Em tugged at John's shirt. "But, he isn't going to help?"
"He's helping," John hoped. He rested his palm on Em's shoulder. "This is how just he gets when he's working something out. Now you look for that aspirin."
Em wiped a tear from her cheek before opening the duffel, her lips set in a firm line.
"Dad? Uncle Morty? Anyone?" Matt said, an edge of hysteria to his voice. "They're too far away! I can't get anyone. What do we do?"
"Switch to Channel 9, that's monitored for emergencies," John said. "See if you can't raise someone. After that, try Channel 19. Then go through one by one. When you reach someone, pass it to me."
"Got the aspirin." Em said.
"Tom, do you think you can chew them down?" John said, loosening his collar.
"I'll try." Tom kept his eyes shut; his hand shook as Em handed him the pills and he crunched them between his teeth, one at a time.
The CB crackled and then a woman's voice, "Breaker, breaker channel 9, Asuka77 here. This line is reserved for emergencies only."
"It's an emergency!" Matt shouted, "My grandfather's having a heart attack. We're in a hot air balloon—where are we Dr. Watson?"
"Excuse me?" the woman said. "You said you're in a hot air balloon?"
"Moving due northeast from Charing Cross at approximately 11 miles per hour," Sherlock said.
"Em, keep an eye on your grandfather and let me know if anything changes. Matt, pass the radio to me." John held out his hand and taking the CB said, "Yes, you heard correctly. I'm Doctor John Watson. Three other passengers and myself were taking part in a recreational balloon ride when our pilot, Thomas Brynne, began to show signs of distress. He is a male Caucasian in his mid-sixties with a history of heart disease, and I'm concerned about a possible heart attack. Mr. Brynne is conscious, but in severe pain with labored breathing, and his condition appears to be worsening. I suspect the event began approximately thirty minutes ago with the initial symptom of nausea which he attributed to indigestion. Our mobile's aren't receiving a signal and we need someone to let the authorities know that we'll be making an emergency landing in Hyde Park," God willing, "at which point Mr. Brynne will require an ambulance."
There was a crackle. "I see you, Brynne's Ballooning. This road should parallel your course for a bit. You have another pilot on board?"
"I'll land it," Tom said, his eyes still squeezed shut.
John released the button, cutting the CB connection. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"It's a terrible idea." Sherlock shouted. He strode back from the other side of the basket. "While your pain threshold is laudable, you could lose consciousness at any moment, not to mention how the added stress and movement will contribute negatively to your overall condition."
"My...fault..." Tom said.
"Hardly." Sherlock said, "When I was at your home two days ago, it was apparent from the low salt substitute in your dining room as well as the lack of sweets beyond fruits that you had a heart condition of some kind, and of course since most people are incompetent, I should have deduced and thus and controlled for the fact that your condition might deteriorate. Especially when stressed by environmental conditions like changes in altitude. While I have been..." Sherlock hesitated, "distracted, I am neither incompetent nor an idiot, therefore the fault in this instance is mine."
"Sherlock, this is not your fault." John rubbed his forehead with his palm. "That's the stupidest thing I think I've ever heard come out of your mouth. And Tom, you're staying put. We'll find another way. They have to be able to get us someone who can talk us through this."
Sherlock said, "No need. I should have minimal difficulty landing the balloon."
That idea was only marginally better than leaving their landing to the guy having the heart attack. "Sherlock, the last time you stepped foot in a hot air balloon you were eight."
"It's physics," Sherlock said. "But we will need to regulate our descent within the next seven minutes otherwise we will likely wreck on the roof of someone's flat. Tell them to send an ambulance to the open area of the park due southeast. And clear the area."
John hesitated, his thumb a millimeter over the call button.
"You have lost your trust in me," Sherlock said, his tone flat and his face equally lacking in expression. "I'm not perfect John. Even you should have deduced this when we met and I made that idiot error about your sister."
"I trust you." John took Sherlock's hand. His flatmate's fingers were cold, his palm damp. "Of course I trust you. It's not a matter of trust. You're the bloody most brilliant man I'll ever know, but you've never done this before, and if it was just my life on the line-"
Sherlock lifted their joined hands to John's cheek. "If I thought for a moment that my attempt to do this would harm you in any way, there is nothing and no one that could convince me to try."
"Jesus, Sherlock." John ran his tongue over his lips. He wasn't sure any human being could stand the focus of Sherlock's, what was this? Love seemed too small of a word, regard too stiff, affection too weak and obsession too bland. "You do realize with our general lifestyle you are holding yourself to an impossible standard."
"Not impossible," Sherlock said, his gray-blue eyes as steady as a surgeon. "Merely difficult."
John activated the CB and said, "Our reserve pilot says he can land us."
"Ten, four. I've called for emergency services and have them patched through on speaker phone. Please keep us apprised of your status."
Tom took a sharp breath and groaned, and lowering his head between his knees began to heave.
"Grandpa Tom! Grandpa Tom!" Em grabbed at his shoulders. "Are you okay?"
John tossed the CB at Matt. "Listen to Sherlock," the ordered, then knelt beside his patient, taking his wrist. The pulse had weakened, though it remained thankfully regular.
"You're going to be fine," John said. It was what you always said, but without the proper diagnostic tools or medications, he was helpless, and for a moment he was back in Afghanistan, the pain of the ricocheted bullet fragment in his shoulder beyond his ability to comprehend as the fever blended the midnight sobs of the man in the bed beside him with screams the earnest faced eighteen year old bleeding out beside a parked car from the right thigh in that same ambush that had sent him and John home, the boy in a bag.
"Dr. Watson?" Em had taken his hand and was squeezing it hard enough to turn the skin white. "Are you okay?"
Tom was sitting up again, his eyes squeezed shut, his brow furrowed with pain.
"I'm fine," John said. "Em, you help Sherlock. He's going to need it, and you and Matt have a lot more experience with balloons than either of us."
Em said, "I want to stay here."
"I need space to work," John said. "And if Tom did lose consciousness, or die, his grandchildren didn't need to witness that. "If I need you, I'll yell, don't worry."
"Em," Sherlock said, pointing to the opposite side of the basket. "Observe those birds. If they stop circling, report to me the change in behavior. I trust you can do this?"
"Yes," Em said, adding a hesitant, "Why?"
"Wind moves at different rates with shifts in direction at different altitudes."
"I know that."
"Well? The rest is obvious. Matt, you stand up and look out that way," Sherlock said, directing Matt so his back was to his grandfather and John. "Report any obstructions and relay the position I give over the radio."
Within thirty seconds they were all in position. Tom weakly pulled at the glove still on his left hand. John yanked it the rest of the way free and grabbing the other from the floor of the basket, handed them both to Sherlock. "Thank you," John mouthed, his gaze flitting between the two children.
Sherlock shrugged, and wrinkling his nose put the gloves on his hands. Only his Sherlock would see no problem with eating food from the same shelf as the putrefying stomach in the refrigerator but at the same time be squeamish about sharing another man's gloves.
Over the next ten minutes or so they made a bobbing descent. Tom's ragged breathing mixing with the crackling of the CB as instructions and observations were relayed between Sherlock and the twins. Tom thankfully didn't decline further, though he wasn't showing signs of improvement either and had given up any attempt at conversation.
John was seated next to his patient, he wasn't able to see where they were or how close they were to the ground, but the popping in his ears let him know they were dropping fast.
Em yelled, "Pull up, we're going to hit the river!"
"What river?" John jumped to his feet. In front of them spread a wide, winding strip of water bracketed by trees. Their basket were close enough to practically skim the water, creating wake like that of a motor powered boat. Ahead and closing fast was a bridge.
"The Serpentine is technically a man made lake and I'm well aware of our trajectory," Sherlock said, feeding more flame to the balloon. "The wind has changed direction which is going to make it a bit tricky to get around these trees."
About thirty seconds later they rose again. There was a scratching sound as the bottom of their basket scraped over a copse of trees.
"Passing Diana's fountain," Sherlock said. "This will be a bit bumpy."
As usual, Sherlock was right. The basket hit the ground and slid, nearly careening into a pair of benches before dragging to a halt. Through the trees came the light and wail of incoming sirens.
"Tom," John said, taking the older man's hand. "We've landed. There's an ambulance inbound."
Two EMTs came running single file rolling an ambulance cot between them. John relayed the situation as they loaded Tom up and then followed to the ambulance, Sherlock and the kids in tow. "We're taking him to Saint George's," the lead EMT, a stocky blonde woman with nails bitten to the quick, explained. "Can't have anyone in the vehicle except adult family."
"We'll follow along in a taxi," John said.
The woman nodded and they shut the doors.
An hour later, Morty and Tom's son arrived at the ICU waiting room. Tom's son was the spitting image of his father, except fairer complected with a smattering of freckles over his face and neck. His eyes were red and puffy, "I can't thank you enough," he said, his voice cracking.
Em and Matt ran to their father and threaded an arm on either side around his waist.
"We heard on the radio," Morty said. "I never should have let him fly. He hasn't been out for more than an hour at a time since the angina, but Tom's always been a stubborn git. Didn't even let me know until you got here that he'd planned to take you over London."
"His Troponin test does show some damage to the heart, but his ECG is looking better. They're doing the angioplasty now." John said. "I think we got him here in enough time."
"We can't thank you enough," Tom's son said again. "And for staying with the kids."
"John was concerned about your father's condition."
With the way Sherlock had been grilling John and then any doctor on the floor who had even showed signs of glancing at Tom's chart, his flatmate had been rather concerned as well.
Morty said, "I still can't believe Tom landed the balloon in his condition."
Matt said, "Oh, Mr. Holmes landed us."
"Basic physics," Sherlock said. "Still, it was hardly what one would call an expert landing," he said with audible annoyance in his tone.
"Listen, you two have already done enough. You don't have to feel obligated to spend the afternoon here with us too. My father mentioned you two had a rather full schedule for the day, and your limousine and driver is currently in the hospital lot. Sixth floor."
Sherlock glanced at John. "It's your decision."
"Well..." John started. He really didn't want to stay in the hospital. Beyond the obvious, knowing he had no place in the routine, no work, nothing to do but wait on the actions of other competent professionals who did not need him, it made him feel the loss of his ability to practice his specialty all the more.
"John is tired," Sherlock said. "Take down my mobile number and email. You can inform us via text if there are any significant changes."
Morty dutifully entered Sherlock's information into his mobile and after tearful hugs from each of the children, which Sherlock endured with his benign for the purpose of questioning witnesses smile, they left. Sherlock kept his gaze focus rigidly in front of them as they walked through the hospital, not allowing John within a pace of his personal space. He was silent in the elevator to the parking lot. When they reached the limousine, he held the door open for John. Sherlock took the seat opposite John, keeping two body widths between them.
"What going on?" John asked, shifting closer to his flatmate.
"Don't," Sherlock said.
"Why not? Isn't that the point of this?"
Sherlock's gaze dropped to his lap. He took the now warm can of cola on the chair beside him and began to fiddle with the tab. "I don't—I mean, I'm finding it increasingly doubtful that I can be the person you deserve."
"And who is that? Because I'm rather fond of the lunatic who keeps body parts in the fridge, clutters our kitchen area with science experiments, drags me out at all hours to hunt criminals through the streets of London, can tell a man's life story from his pocket watch, and kisses like an angel of sex."
"I won't be able to maintain the cleaning regimen."
"Boring?" John smiled.
"Well, I guess it's lucky that good housekeeping has never been very high on my list of boyfriend criteria," John said. "So what's next?"
"You can't possibly want to continue this."
"Are you kidding? If we live to see the end of the day, this may well end up being the best date of my life."
Sherlock smiled, that mix of joy and shyness and want that made John's chest tighten and his breath come like a heart attack.
"May I kiss you again?" Sherlock said.
Again, much thanks to Evildrem for Brit Picking this chapter and subsequent ones! I have been a bit slow on responding to comments and corrections, but I will get that finished in the next couple of days!
Chapter 13: Date 4: Part 3
Wherein there is a funfair and a fish.
This is a ridiculously short update but it seemed like a natural point to break so I've decided to post it as its own chapter. The next chapter should be of a more normal length and then (finally!) we will have the last part and short epilogue. This fic keeps getting longer and longer (I think because I like writing it so much) but I promise I'm not going to string you guys along forever. There is an ending and we're really moving towards it!
As always, I want to thank Evildrem my amazing Brit Picker/Beta Reader who has taken the time from her very busy schedule to look this over and not only check for Americanisms but also make general edits! This chapter is SO much better because of her hard work and I couldn't be more grateful! Any mistakes are of course my own. I went through and erased her comments but if any remain, please let me know so I can delete them.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Sherlock had taken his requested kiss—how could a man who claimed to find kissing distasteful be so good at it-he crossed back to the other side of the limousine and pressed the intercom button. "Number three on the itinerary please," Sherlock said.
"Yes, Mr. Holmes," The driver said over the speaker.
Sherlock rested his right ankle on his knee. "Calculating travel time, we have about two hours, which should be enough time to fulfill all of the requirements for the next part of the excursion."
"Relax. We don't have to do this by checklist," John said. "I think the only requirement is that we both have a good time and enjoy each others company."
"Vague," Sherlock said with a minute shake of his head. "Of course I enjoy your company. I mean, not all of the time. You can be difficult in regards to certain experiments, especially those involving larvae and decay, even when they are properly labeled, and the day of your weekly lunch excursions with your sister you become decidedly surly, not to mention your obsession with household matters but 88.5 percent of the time or more you are well above acceptable company, which for someone so initially ordinary is frankly remarkable."
John's lips twitched. Just being Sherlock's friend required a very thick skin. And hazard armor. "Is this how you woo all of your dates?"
"Oh no, it's much more effective to lie to them."
"Excuse me?" Sherlock only had social skills when he was pretending to be someone else, John reminded himself.
"Simulated attraction and flattery work well to create the illusion of connection, after which point it is far simpler to extract information from a witness or suspect. You employed this tactic quite effectively when you approached Mr. Carlisle in regards to his identity theft on the evening I recognized you were denying your sexual interest in men."
Yes, that was true, but the thought of it, especially when put so plainly, made John a bit queasy. "I still feel bad about that."
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "And allowing the man to lose all of his worldly possessions and be possibly subject to murder would have been an improvement?"
"That's not the point."
"What is the point then?"
"Have you ever dated someone outside of a case?"
"Why would I?"
"You have to have been attracted to someone else before me."
"Of course. But it is more efficient to simply have sex," Sherlock shrugged. "Though truthfully I've generally preferred to have sex with people I'm not particularly attracted to as it is less distracting."
Sadly, the latter part John could relate to. "Were you attracted to Victor?"
"Why are you asking me about Victor?"
"Because at some point he mattered to you."
John averted his gaze. How could he explain the terror that Victor was not history but somehow prophecy, a vision of John's future. John was not foolish enough to believe he was capable of truly mapping the inner mind of any person, let alone someone as brilliant and cracked as Sherlock Holmes. Had Sherlock dedicated to Victor his own concerto? Had Sherlock kissed the other man with the same heat he now gave John? Given Victor the same half shy, half hungry smiles? Had Sherlock's breath caught, his hands fluttering like dandelion seeds as he explained some intricacy of an experiment or murder? If so, how long had it taken for Sherlock to grow bored? A month? A week? Boredom was inevitable in Sherlock's world. But better his boredom have come later then to have been bored and hiding it from the start.
"You want Victor to have mattered." Sherlock's eyes widened. "Why?"
"I never said that."
Sherlock leaned towards John with the unblinking concentration of a snake. "But you don't deny it."
"If you say he didn't matter, then he didn't matter." John rolled his shoulders. The tension of the balloon ride had tightened his muscles, and his wound throbbed. "I'm just a bit tired, that's all. Not all of us can live off of deductions and sunshine like some of the Consulting Detectives in this car."
Sherlock coughed. "Sunshine?"
"That's what I'm going to call you from now on." Grateful he'd found some way to distract his flatmate, John smiled. "Sunshine."
"Call me that again and I'll set fire to every teabag in the flat."
"Won't be the first time, Sunny Boy."
Sherlock's face screwed up like he'd just lost a profound argument with a lemon.
For the rest of the ride they chatted about inconsequential things, the new flame Angelo's youngest daughter was trying so hard to hide from her family (so far successfully, a testament to their lack of observational skills rather than any ability of hers at obfuscation, Sherlock attested), a patient whose wife had accidentally switched out her husband's sugar substitute with rat poison (just a game, she'd cried when she bought him in to have his stomach pumped, I thought he'd taste it to which Sherlock responded 'idiocy ought not to merit companionship' with a disdainful sniff), and the progress of Sherlock's skin fermentation experiment (conclusive).
When the limousine slowed, outside spread a host of amusement rides and carnival games. "Hampton Court Funfair?" John read from one of the waving banners above the entrance.
"Yes, there is a Ferris Wheel and a variety of rigged games for prizes that undoubtedly value less than the amount paid to attempt winning them. It is ideal."
"Where exactly did you gather your data about dating?" John asked, suspecting Mrs. Hudson's collection of eighties films had contributed a great deal to the events of the day.
"The internet, of course, and I distributed an anonymous questionnaire at various locations through the city as well as amongst the Yarders, stating it was for a case though Lestrade was distressingly smug when he received his copy. In addition, Mrs. Hudson lent me some interesting media perspectives as well as a wealth of information drawn from her own experience. Though her husband was a serial killer, he apparently had quite a romantic streak and her reminiscences were quite fond."
"I see." Of course Sherlock would see no problem in taking third hand dating advice from a serial killer.
"In addition to the obligatory selection of rides and health deadening snacks, I will endeavor to win for you some form of stuffed animal from one of these many stalls."
Deductions were his flatmate's area, but pure marksmanship? John laughed. "You do realize I'm a better shot than you."
"Certainly," Sherlock grinned, opening the door. "It is one of your many endearing qualities."
They managed to get through the funfair without any notable injuries or destruction of property. Sherlock did catch three pickpockets in the act, critiquing their technique with enough detail and professional venom to reduce one of the three to tears before 'washing his hands of the whole mess', his arms thrown outwards in a flare of overly dramatized disgust. Along the arcade they played games. Sherlock penny pitched his way into acquiring a goldfish. Though the weight of the water pistol was severely off for the shooting game, John managed to win a large stuffed giraffe and three medium sized bears which he promptly piled in Sherlock's arms (taking the baggie with the fish) and used his mobile to take a series of photographs of his flatmate's disgruntled expression.
When he was finished, John asked, "So, are you going to put them on your bed?"
"Is that...what you want?" Sherlock said with an expression of horror.
John burst out laughing. "Maybe you'd do better to give them to the kids."
"Kids?" Sherlock blinked.
"Em and Matt, your two biggest fans," John said.
"Oh, yes," Sherlock nodded. "The girl shows some potential."
"Just don't go mailing her any body parts."
Later, John bought candy floss and hotdogs, by habit ordering double so his flatmate could taste his way through half of it while still maintaining his iron control over his 'transport system', but Sherlock only watched, once swiping a dab of mustard from John's nose with a brush of an index finger.
"At least have a bite," John said, pulling the second hot dog free of its wrapper. "You're not working."
"I just want my mind to stay clear." But Sherlock did nip a mouthful of candy floss.
At the top of the Ferris Wheel, Sherlock folded himself onto the bench beside John, and said, "You matter to me. I'm not sure what I need to do to give you confidence in this assertion, but if there is something please inform me."
"I don't doubt your sincerity." John turned his head and pressed his mouth to his flatmate's. There was a desperation to the kiss to which Sherlock responded, tightening his arm around John's shoulders and running his fingers over John's jaw.
No, John could not doubt Sherlock's sincerity, but he did ask himself how much longer Sherlock's interest would last. Sherlock in many ways was like a child, intensely passionate about a new puzzle, and casting it aside just as easily once he had solved it. Whatever mysteries Sherlock had found in John (most of which, John determined, stemmed from his flatmate's almost pathological refusal to attempt to understand basic social skills), Sherlock would solve them. One of the many lessons he's taken from Afghanistan was that while it was essential to plan for the next patient, the next day, the next action, tomorrow was never guaranteed. Their days were numbered and all the sweeter for it. In this moment, John had the attention of his flatmate, friend, the man with whom he had idiotically and irrevocably fallen in love. He wouldn't let worries about the future intrude. A man could endure anything if he lived without expectations.
They were still snogging when the acne spotted teen opened the door to their car to let them out.
Once they were off the Ferris Wheel and far enough away from the red-faced teen, John whispered, "I don't think I've made out this much since school."
"I never have." Sherlock glanced at his watch. "We've accomplished everything we needed to for this part of our date. Shall we move on?"
Lord but if he and Sherlock had another date, John was going to insist on planning something a bit less reminiscent of his boot camp schedule. "Good idea," John said, "Let's get out of here before someone decides to off their partner in the House of Mirrors or wire the Viking ship to explode."
"Murder in a house of mirrors is highly impractical." Sherlock said. "Though perhaps it would be an effective location for ridding oneself of a cadaver."
"Well, you would know."
They walked back between the row of game stands towards the parking lot, Sherlock hugging the three stuffed animals in one arm and the bag with the fish swinging lightly from his opposite hand. When they reached the end of the arcade, Sherlock said, "We also need to make provisions for your fish," holding up the baggie.
"I assume you will be preparing a bowl for it in your room?"
"Why is it my fish? You won the fish on your own and even did a victory dance afterward."
"I did no such thing!"
"You hopped and clapped your hands while humming some concerto under your breath. Close enough." To John's left an excited group of seven-year-olds were being herded past through the gate into the park. John stepped closer to Sherlock as a girl wearing an amazing cacophony of yellow and green plaid barreled towards where he had been, chased by a thin, harassed looking woman of about thirty five. Their arms touched and John found himself watching the play of sun and shadow over his flatmate's angular face while behind them a small group laughed and cheered at a Punch and Judy skit.
"In any case, I won the fish for you," Sherlock said. "We can leave it in the coach until we get back to the flat."
"Not in that bag we won't, unless you're trying to kill the poor thing. No matter what our schedule, we're going to have to stop somewhere and pick it up a proper bowl at least and some fish food." John held his finger under Sherlock's nose with only semi-mock reproach. "And you're not allowed to use Gladstone for experiments, do you understand me?"
"When I was a kid before my parents died I swore if they agreed to let me have a dog I'd name him Gladstone," John said. "I guess I saw it in a movie or something, I don't remember. But with our current lifestyle," John waved his hand towards the fish, "this Gladstone is about all the responsibility either of us can handle."
Sherlock stopped in the gap between two cars. "You named it," he said, and placed two fingers under John's chin, lifting it. "You really are sentimental."
"And it's our fish. We'll keep it in the living room so the skull has some company."
Sherlock ran his thumb along the base of John's jaw. He blinked as if trying to clear something from his eyes. "I..."
Sherlock lowered his hand and shoved it into his pocket. "When we get back to the limousine, I'll use my Blackberry to locate the closest pet shop. Is that acceptable?"
"Was that what you were going to say before?"
"Of course." Sherlock started in long strides towards the car. "Do hurry, John. It is perfectly fine to miss the beginning of the next event, but the second half is relevant."
Within two car-lengths, John caught up, and their paces fell into step.
"You are still enjoying yourself, aren't you John?" Sherlock asked.
"Of course. Are you? No robberies or murder yet. I hope you're not too bored."
"You could never bore me," Sherlock said.
John doubted that, but the surety of Sherlock's tone put the future from John's mind. He grabbed Sherlock's hand and squeezed it. When John tried to pull away, Sherlock refused to let him go.
Again, much love to Evildrem who has made this chapter more shiny and awesome!
Chapter 14: Date 4, Part 4
Wherein there is dinner and mayhem.
I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to get this update finished! I had written a totally different version of this chapter but when I ran it by my beta (misanthropyray) it became clear that the chapter was dead wrong and really belonged in a different story, so I started over from scratch. This is much better (I think). I hope you like it. I'm working on the next section now. It will take one more chapter to wrap up this date and then an epilogue. Misanthropyray has also Brit -picked my previous chapters but due to formatting issues it's taking a bit to get the edits to upload properly, so getting the edits up has been a relatively slow process. I hope to have it finished soon. All errors are of course mine.
Much thanks as always to Evildrem for copy-editing and Brit-picking the current chapter! In spite of being very busy and having been sick, she managed to squeeze looking this chapter over and did her usual fantastic job of getting rid of the Americanisms and making it shiny. All errors, as stated above, are still of course mine.
Disclaimers: Still don't own it!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Upon entering the limousine, Sherlock flipped open his Blackberry. "Can you hold the fi-Gladstone up to the light?"
"Sure," John said.
Sherlock stared at the fish for a moment and then his gaze returned to his mobile, humming a bit as he his fingers flitted over the keys. "Carassius Auratus. They call it the common goldfish, but it's really a rather remarkable fish. Originating in China, it can survive comfortably in water temperatures ranging from sixty to eighty five degrees and lives for decades provided it's given the proper environment."
"That's good," John said. "Truthfully, I've never had a Fun Fair Fish last more than a month or two though."
"Don't blame yourself. Goldfish apparently require a fair amount of upkeep. Far more than the man at the stand indicated when he so cavalierly handed us over this responsibility." Sherlock flipped his mobile shut and leaned back in his seat, stretching his legs across the aisle and steepling his fingers under his chin. "We will do better."
Three pet stores and one disassembled aquarium later, they had.
John looked at the four foot long box holding their new fifty gallon fish-tank and asked, "Are you sure we can afford this?"
"The money is none of your concern," Sherlock said. He squatted beside a rack of books and magazines about pet-care, took one with a fish on the cover, flipped through it and then handed it over to John, "Chapters four and five seem useful. Look them over. We'll change at the flat once we have the tank set up properly."
"Evening wear." Sherlock glanced at his watch. "We may have to push back our reservations."
As Sherlock paid for the tank, John did his best not to yawn. Judging by the setting sun, he'd been up for over twelve hours, and he hoped he could muster the energy to leave the flat again once they'd returned. Of course Sherlock looked fresh and awake; he generally did until he'd used up all his reserves, at which point he would simply shut down, falling into a stupor in the taxi and only with encouragement and the bulk of his weight against John's shoulder, shuffle up the seventeen stairs into the flat to collapse on the sofa. Three months ago, John had left the city for a week to visit his grandparents and Sherlock had taken a case alone. That Sunday, John had found Sherlock passed out on the stairs, Mrs. Hudson having thrown a blanket over him and wedged a pillow under his head.
They made it back to the flat in short order, hauling the tank up the stairs into the living room where the lingering smell of smoke and charred spot on the floor brought back nostalgic memories of the morning's fire. Sherlock immediately began unpacking the tank, and John went back down to the limousine to retrieve their clothes. When he returned, Sherlock had the fish-tank in pieces on the floor, and was peering over what looked like the timer for the light with a soldering iron. On the counter, Gladstone swam in a small fish bowl that the sales representative had thrown in free of charge.
"Do I have time for a shower," John asked.
"Mhhmm." Sherlock mumbled, holding a screw up to the light.
Yes, John thought, this had to be the weirdest date of his life.
The suit was one step down from a tuxedo, perfectly fitted of course, with a forest green silk shirt and matching handkerchief in the front pocket. Running his fingers through his damp hair, he felt like a teenager dressed in a rental tux for a school ball with the slight fear that his date might suddenly find John lacking, or leave him waiting. Ridiculous! John spritzed on a bit of cologne, took an automatic step towards the nightstand for his gun, and then stopped, a laugh escaping him. Even on a date with Sherlock, taking an illegal firearm on a date would be, in John's own words, a bit not good.
When John returned to the living room, the tank was finished, and Gladstone had been transferred. A layer of flat, gray stones filled the bottom, and in the center sat a chunk of coral surrounded by some false plants. On the right side of the tank, the bubbler churned. Gladstone made hesitant movement towards it, his open mouth tasting the water before doing making a quick turn and flitting back to the other side of the aquarium.
"Great job with the tank," John said, glancing around the room for Sherlock. "Roomy." Cavernous for a two inch long fish.
Sherlock lay stretched out on the couch, eyes shut, hands pressed together, fingers touching his chin. "Fifty gallons of water per goldfish." He had changed too, the smooth line of his suit making him look almost dangerous as he tapped the tips of his fingers together. "Your sister gave you that cologne for Christmas."
"Is that a problem?"
"It suits you."
"Listen, I'm having a great time but, you know, if you're tired I mean, we can end it here. Order in." Take out, some bad telly, snogging on the couch, maybe something more...it sounded delightful. Sinful. Amazing.
Sherlock sat straight up. "I'm not tired. You're not tired, are you?"
"No, no of course not."
"Good." Sherlock jumped to his feet and began to pace. "Very good. We've almost covered all of the criteria for a successful date. I will see this through. I promise you, I'm not lazy."
"I'm so sorry I said that."
"You should be. It's remarkably unobservant." Sherlock said, and then with a quick turn crossed the room and took John's hands. "Will you join me for dinner."
John grinned. "Always."
Sherlock ran his tongue over his lips and God but John wanted to kiss him, imagined for a moment pushing Sherlock against the wall beside the coat hooks, yanking his collar down and snogging him senseless, until his lips were bruised and his face was flushed, but then they'd for certain not be getting out of the flat, not that it would be a bad thing, more than a bit good to be honest and-
Sherlock took a step back, releasing his grip on John's hands. "We should go," Sherlock said a bit too quickly.
In the limousine, they made small talk about the fish. Sherlock had managed in that past two hours to Google or deduce more about goldfish than John imagined possible, not that he had any doubts who would ultimately be caring for their pet once the novelty wore off. When the limousine passed into Soho, John asked, "Angelo's is it?"
Sherlock cocked his head. "Of course not. Angelo doesn't hand-make his pasta."
"I didn't realize that was a requirement. Angelo's could be romantic. An anniversary of a sort."
"Not for ninety three days."
"You remember the date of our first dinner out?"
Sherlock averted his gaze. "It was a case."
"Right, of course." John crossed the space between them, shoving aside the pile of stuffed animals that had not made it back to the flat in order seat himself at Sherlock's left. The tension was visible in the tightness of his shoulders and the tendons of his neck. John leaned towards Sherlock's ear. "Married to your work, I think that's what you said."
"I meant that metaphorically."
Sherlock's gaze remained focused on his hands. "I can't imagine my work without you."
John's breath caught in his throat. He placed two fingers under Sherlock's chin and gently turned his head so that they faced each other. John said, "Now I know I've followed you around the bend because that was possibly the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me."
"Really?" Sherlock tapped his fingers on his leg. "That's good then. It's not just your medical skills and marksmanship, though both are superb-"
John touched his mouth to Sherlock's and murmured, "Shut up" against his lips. They spent an indeterminate time snogging, the mint of John's toothpaste mixing with the tartness of Sherlock's tongue, John's fingers moving lazily across his jaw, down his neck and arm to twine their fingers together.
When John looked up again, they were in Covent Garden. John's stomach growled.
"It's not much further," Sherlock said.
"In Covent Garden?" The back of John's neck tensed. It was irrational. There were dozens of Italian restaurants in this area. More than one must hand-make their own pasta, and besides it took a month to get a table at Bel Cibo.
"Yes." Sherlock's eyes narrowed, and he leaned a touch closer to John. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." If Sherlock really started observing, heaven knew how many more of John's secrets would be laid bare. Better to give an obvious reason for his nerves. John said, "Really, where are we eating? Nowhere too posh I hope."
Sherlock smiled. "It's just posh enough." His head tilted slightly. "Don't worry, you're dressed more than appropriately, the menu is in English, and this isn't the sort of place to bother with a wide variety of forks."
"They're also very open to gay and lesbian couples. It's a point of pride with them. The owner was very clear on this point. And they have an array of romantic courses and," Sherlock clapped his hands together with a grin. "chocolate fountain fondue!"
It was impossible not to smile at Sherlock's expression (his flatmate had a sweet tooth a mile wide), even as John's stomach roiled. "Is it Bel Cibo?" John ventured. It had to be Bel Cibo: the epitome of couple's dining in London.
Sherlock's eyes widened. "That's brilliant, John! How did you know? I admit, I gave some fairly broad hints, but considering your income, background and general tastes, I'm genuinely surprised that Bel Cibo's entered into your consideration at all!"
"Good grief Sherlock, Bel Cibo has been written up in practically every local food magazine."
"Of course, your interest in cooking! How could I have overlooked it? You often prepare pasta." Sherlock tapped his index finger against his lips. "Though I'd previously assumed it was more a matter of expense."
Right again. "I like pasta," John said. His stomach churned. This was idiotic. Yes, Patrick had been fond of the Bel Cibo. Trendy with a reputation of timelessness, eating there implied an aura of wealth (or in Patrick's case that your father was best friends with the owner, though John hadn't been aware of that until later). But that was hardly relevant now. John had had exactly two conversations with the owner, none of them memorable, and the chances of Patrick being there, or any of that old crowd were infinitesimal to say the least.
Lord but John hated the possibility of ghosts. He faced enough of them in his dreams.
"You don't like the restaurant." Sherlock drummed his fingers against his knee. "Of course, you've always valued comfort over appearances. Your clothing choices if nothing else make that evident." Sherlock tapped his right foot against the floor, leg shaking with the motion. If they were back at the flat, he would surely have been pacing by now. "But you took Sarah and that other woman, the one with the high-heel fetish, to posh establishments. Were you doing it merely to humor them?" Sherlock tapped his fingers against the side of his head. "No! Stupid, so stupid! We haven't even determined if I'm capable of a romantic relationship. Bel Cibo is too forward. No matter. I'll cancel the table." Sherlock whipped his Blackberry from his pocket. "We'll find a nice Chinese place. With disposable chopsticks."
"It's fine! It's all fine." John grabbed at the mobile.
Sherlock snatched it away, holding it above his head like a game of keep-away. "It's not fine. That's just your troubling tendency towards self-sacrifice talking."
Troubling tendency towards self sacrifice? Patrick, that ass, was not going to mess up John's love life again four years after crashing his credit rating and ending the relationship by fucking another man on their couch. ("It meant nothing, John. Everyone craves variety. Don't you ever get tired of doing the same things, the same person day in and day out?")
John grabbed at Sherlock's arm, putting his weight against it and pulling down, but for someone so thin, Sherlock was ridiculously strong. He didn't budge.
"Sherlock, give me the mobile! My God, are we five? It's not self sacrifice to go to one of the most exclusive couple's spots in London with a beautiful man. Of course I want to go."
Sherlock's arm wavered. "Really?" He smiled, something shy with a touch of Christmas morning. "You mean it?"
"Yes, I mean it. It's not like there's any point in lying to you." Or hiding things. The fact that Sherlock hadn't deduced Patrick already only highlighted Sherlock's obsessive focus on having the date go well, by whatever convoluted standards he'd assigned to 'well'. "How'd you even get a table in less than a week?" How many favors did Sherlock owe his brother for this one? John didn't want to think about how much the wall would suffer when Mycroft called those favors in.
"It wasn't Mycroft," Sherlock said with a grimace. "Give me some credit. More a fortunate coincidence of events. Graft is common in the restaurant business, but the amount had to be significant enough to warrant a suitable degree of gratitude."
Which meant that Sherlock had most likely read through a local food guide and then visited restaurants one by one until he found one with the right kind of trouble. No wonder Sherlock had been so busy. John asked, "Was this your embezzlement case?"
"Yes. The challenge was presenting the evidence in a way that couldn't be ignored, as the man's father had been ignoring the problem for years. Deadly dull. And the son would have inherited it all anyway. Idiot! And then I had to let him hit me even though he telegraphed his movement so blatantly even Mrs. Hudson could have avoided it."
John glanced at Sherlock's stomach where beneath his shirt the bruises of that incident lingered, and John's back tightened in anger, sending a flare of pain through his shoulder. "Bastard."
"Unfortunately not. But disowned, at least for now. I doubt it'll keep though. You'd have to be deliberately obtuse to overlook the fact that your son has stolen over 300,000 pounds from you over the course of three years."
"It was stupid yes, but you can't help but feel bad for the man. I mean, it is his kid."
"All the more reason to have a better understanding of his character."
"Nobody expects someone they love to betray them."
"Well, they ought to." Sherlock folded his arms over his chest, his voice deadly flat. "People betray people they claim to love all of the time. They lie, they abuse, they rob, they blackmail, they mutilate and sometimes they murder. How many bodies have I stood over where the root cause of death was some permutation of love? It's so common as to be banal."
"We're not those people." John took his flat-mate's hand. Sherlock's fingers were warm and slightly damp. Whether someone had betrayed Sherlock (and whoever it was, John would take that person apart piece by piece when they met), or Sherlock had simply come to that conclusion based on a worldview flavored by his obsession with crime, or some combination of both (most likely), it was useless to ask when Sherlock was being so resolutely calm. Reassurances might also be useless, but John tightened his grip on Sherlock's hand. "It's like Afghanistan. You see so much death and horror, it gives you a skewed view of the world. But that's not most people. And it's certainly not us."
"It is most people," Sherlock said. "When their pretenses are stripped away."
"Okay, genius, considering I killed a man for you practically the first day we met, put up with you crashing all of my dates," and planning the last set, which had certainly been the more hideous. "Dragged your blown up arse out of a swimming pool and gave you CPR after an obsessed nutcase strapped me to a bomb: the same obsessed nutcase I might add who you agreed to have a secret meeting with so you could hand him a flash drive full of government secrets:, stitched you up on multiple occasions, put up with the body parts and the deadly chemicals scattered around the flat, not to mention that maggot study in the tub, why don't you let me know what it's going to take for me to decide to murder you in your bed?"
Sherlock blinked at him. The silence stretched to the point of awkwardness before Sherlock said, "I don't know."
John laughed. "You don't have to sound so offended by it. And I assume you're not planning to murder me and leave my corpse in an alley anytime soon either, or rob me of my government pension, or the twenty-three cents I've earned in click-throughs from the advertisements on my blog."
"I could get one of my Irregulars to tweak that for you." John raised an eyebrow. "And you could do this legally?"
"In a manner of speaking."
"How about you come back to me when you can answer that question with a simple yes."
"Don't try and delude me into believing that you're so strict in regards to legalities."
"All the more reason not to go to jail for internet fraud."
"Oh please," Sherlock actually gave a disdainful sniff. "Nobody with half a brain—which is an accurate description for most of the people who would be investigating anything regarding your personal blog-would suspect you of having that level of technical skill. You won't even deign to buy a smartphone."
"Some of us can live without having the internet in our hot hands every living moment of every day."
The limousine stopped on William's Street and the driver's voice came in over the loudspeaker. "We're here, gentlemen."
The street was packed, of course. Bel Cino's lorded over it, two stories that jutted out onto the cobblestone sidewalk. The restaurant's entrance was framed by off-white columns and illuminated from above and below in warm yellow tinted light. The windows were arched and frames cut such that they glittered and fragmented as gazing through a diamond. They'd touched up the lettering, gold framed by a border of black.
When they stepped out, the driver handed Sherlock a large briefcase. It was black leather and twice the girth though only half the height of an ordinary briefcase. Sherlock cradled it under his arm. Turning sharply towards the restaurant, he said, "Come along, John."
"Wait, is this a stakeout?" John asked. Sherlock rarely did things for a single purpose, and he'd clearly put a lot of time and social interaction to arrange these dinner plans. Having it intersect his work wouldn't even be unromantic in Sherlock's eyes, he'd see a late-night romp after a potential criminal as a good addition to a date, an expression of their common interests and the like. "Think we'll be able to get through the main course before we have to go tearing off?"
"Had you wanted today to include a case? I knew it! Lestrade vetoed the idea."
"You consulted with Lestrade about our date?"
"Well, we couldn't just wander around the city hoping to stumble across a murder. It's not as easy as it sounds. Besides, Lestrade has a financial interest."
John rubbed his palm over his forehead. "The Yarders have taken up a pool, haven't they? They're going to grill me the next time we go out to the pub."
"Doubtful, as most of them thought we were shagging already. Donovan was quite surprised that we weren't, but her deducing abilities in regards to relationships is insufficient at best."
"What are the odds?"
"Lestrade's put his money on us." Sherlock held the door for him. The smell of basil, marinara and garlic was overpowering, reminding John of exactly how long they'd spent aquarium shopping.
"Tell me Bel Cibo is comping us tonight," John said.
"Considering I've saved this restaurant an average of £273 a day, it's the least they can do."
"You really are brilliant, utterly brilliant."
Bel Cibo was as dazzling as John remembered, though not as intimidating. Fighting a war and then nine months living with Sherlock made it difficult to be intimidated by anything. The restaurant's design loosely resembled a classical Roman home. They stepped into an airy vestibule with intricate tile mosaics in shades of red and blue running along the walls. At the far end stood the hostess, and behind her sprawled the main room in candlelight and bronze.
The hostess spotted Sherlock straightaway and murmured something to the man she had been serving before waving. "Mr. Holmes!" She had a good two inches on John. Light brown curls just brushed her shoulders and she had a dusting of freckles over her cheeks.
"Eight o'clock," Sherlock said. "Thank you, Darlene."
John tried not to choke on his tongue at his flatmate's politeness.
"Of course, of course," Darlene said, "We've reserved our best table for you and your date. Dr. Watson, is it?"
Darlene smiled. "Please, this way." She stepped away from the hostess table with a crisp motion and beckoned them to follow.
The restaurant was divided into four sections facing the cardinal directions, marked by diaphanous bronze curtains that gave an illusion of privacy while still allowing good views of the central atrium. A waist-high sandstone wall framed the atrium with large gaps for entrance at the cardinal directions. They skirted it, moving slowly enough to get a good look at the fountain in the middle. Its water trickled gently into artificial streams that flowed outwards beneath glass between the tables. Replicas of the fountain—water replaced with milk, white, or dark chocolate—could be ordered to each table along with an assortment of fruits. Above the atrium, the floor had been cut out in a circle, allowing the vines along their poles to stretch up towards the glass skylight. At night, warm artificial light glowed through the fronds, creating an illusion of sunlight. The vines were new, and the columns had been redone, their white practically gleamed.
Their table was tucked in a corner nook, partially obscured by a pair of wide leafed plants. It was shaped like a half moon with the base elevated slightly, so that they could overlook the restaurant easily without being disturbed by the bustle of waitstaff moving this way and that with their trays and orders. In the middle of the table candles floated in a shallow crystal bowl like flower petals on a pond. Two chairs, upholstered in red velvet with armrests and legs intricately carved, were placed at either end of the arc, close enough to be intimate without necessarily implying anything.
"Mr. Donatello asked me to let him know when you arrived. He wants to personally convey again how very grateful the restaurant is for your help, and again to apologize for his son's behavior." A light grimace ghosted over her lips. "It was incredibly kind of you not to press charges, Mr. Holmes."
"That wouldn't have accomplished anything," Sherlock said with a dismissive wave.
Not when Sherlock's goal in the whole affair was a free dinner, John determined.
They sat. The half moon table meant they sat more side by side than facing each other. Darlene placed a menu between them and explained the specials, finishing with: "A server will be over to take your orders. Please relax and enjoy yourselves."
When she had left, John said, "Sherlock, this is really amazing. You know, it usually takes a month to get a table here." He glanced down at the menu. "What do you think, a red or a white, though I guess it depends on what we're having for dinner."
Sherlock leaned his chin on his thumbs, the tips of his index fingers just above his nose. He said, "You've eaten here before."
"How did you know? Of course you knew." John sighed. "I don't even know why I'm surprised."
"I suspected when I saw how you looked over the place. Your attention focused on the newest additions. You spared a passing glance at the chocolate fountain, but focused heavily on the curtains and ().? You had dinner here on more than one occasion before you were deployed to Afghanistan. This place is rather expensive for a medical students income and you aren't inclined towards frivolous spending, so who brought you? You're too proper to have let a woman pay for your date, so it was a man. Boyfriend?"
"It's really not a good idea to talk about past relationships on a first date."
"Was this the person responsible for turning you off of men?"
"I told you it wasn't one bad experience."
"What did he do?"
Sherlock was relentless, not that this should have surprised John. "It was four bloody years ago." John took a breath. His temper wasn't helping things. "Since that time, I've become a doctor and fought a war. Whatever happened between Patrick and me, it happened to a different John. This John sees no reason to belabor this topic."
"So his name is Patrick." Sherlock's eyes narrowed.
"For Godsakes Sherlock, let it go." John inclined his head down towards where the owner approached, carrying a bottle of champagne "There's Charles."
Charles wore a three piece suit cut to cover his thickening middle. He was almost as tall as Sherlock, but where Sherlock was angles, Charles was round: face like an egg: weak chin, wide eyes, and a button nose that child-stars envied.
Sherlock said, "You know him."
"We met a few times, but that was more than four years ago and Patrick had a steady stream of lovers so I doubt Charles will remember me."
"Does Patrick often bring his significant others here?"
"He used to. Charles never charged him and the place does make a good impression. But if Patrick's here, tonight, I didn't see him."
"Mr. Holmes." Charles approached with a bright grin. "And," Charles's eyes widened. "is that John Watson! It's been a long time. You're a doctor now, I bet."
Sherlock smiled, a smile that crinkled at the corners but didn't light his eyes. "John said you wouldn't remember him."
"Are you kidding?"Charles placed the champagne bottle on the table and flipped their two wine glasses upright. "I was very sorry when Patrick stopped bringing John around." Charles waved a hand towards John. "You were very good for him."
"Patrick's not here tonight, his he?"
"Oh no. He seems to have settled in this month with some model from Milan. Way too young for him." "Did you want me to pass on your regards?"
"That's okay." John looked down at his hands. "Things didn't end so well. It's probably best to just let it alone."
"Yes...well," Charles rubbed his palm on the back of his neck. "Of course. And you're clearly doing well for yourself. Mr. Holmes is certainly a great man. If he hadn't called attention to my son's gambling problem, I wouldn't be able to get the boy the help he needs. Charles agreed to enter a program."
Sherlock's lips twitched as his gaze met John's.
"That's good to hear," John said. "From what Sherlock told me of the case, it seems like a very difficult situation."
"Charles is my son. I just don't know how I missed this. What more I could have done to help him."
Sherlock opened his mouth to speak and John gave his flatmate a firm kick in the shin. "We can only do our best," John said.
"But that is neither here nor there," Charles said, a stiff smile on his face. Mr. Holmes here his insistent on the two of you having the perfect romantic night out. "We have a five course Lover's Special that I assure you will be perfect." He lifted the champagne bottle and poured it into Sherlock and John's glasses. "And Mr. Holmes informed me in advance of all of your food and medication allergies, so just relax and enjoy."
"Thank you," John said, knowing full-well his flatmate wouldn't bother with the politeness now that he had achieved his goal.
"Someone will be over with your appetizers," Charles said, stepping back from the table.
John lifted his glass. They toasted. Sherlock smiled, and once again John had to remember to breathe. John slid his hand across the table, his fingers brushing at the tips of Sherlock's. "I've never had anyone go all out like this for me. I don't even know what to say.
Sherlock asked, "Didn't Patrick?" Sherlock said Patrick's name like it was something he'd scraped off his shoe.
"Patrick took all of his dates here. It wasn't special," Though John had thought it was at the time. "You, on the other hand, would never have stepped foot in here if it wasn't for this date."
Sherlock asked, "Did you love him?"
"I thought, maybe, but..." John took a sip of his champagne. "I was more...dazzled by him. It was hard not to be. Patrick's one of those people that manages to be brilliant at everything he tries." John hadn't resented it, no more than he resented Sherlock's brilliance. John had admired it, done his best to weather Patrick's moods and give him the stability he needed to express that genius.
Patrick had been like a butterfly, flitting from calling to calling with a profound, obsessive interest. When they'd met it had been poetry, his flat strewn with half-written verses, chapbooks, and volumes on critical theory that John had barely understood; though he'd been content to listen as Patrick talked, blond hair artfully (John discovered how artful this was later, in their month of flat-share) disheveled, hands literally shaking with excitement as he discussed with himself the relationship between free verse and Derrida, Kant and Plato and Socrates who had banished Patrick and his brethren from an ideal world. After poetry came tennis, then flute, then professional poker, where Patrick managed to lose enough money to have his family freeze his accounts. In a fit of pique Patrick had disowned himself, moved into John's one room flat, and rediscovered himself in modern art.
The disowning hadn't stuck, though Patrick might have if John had been willing to compromise just a bit more of his self respect.
Sherlock said, "I will find out what he did to you."
"And do what? Make him suffer?" John looked down at the table. "It wasn't any great betrayal. Patrick just got bored, that's all. He wasn't the only one." Saying the words out loud hurt. It was a truth John hadn't really wanted to accept. And now, in a sense, he was risking the same mistake again.
Sherlock asked. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Like Donovan, when she talks about finding me over a corpse."
A server, thin lipped with blonde corkscrew curls, came over with a large tray. "My name is Angeline, and I'll be your server for today. Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, please enjoy our finest selection of appetizers."
As she described each dish in detail, John blinked to clear his head. Sherlock and Patrick were nothing alike, not where it counted. For one, Sherlock had maintained a singular obsession for the majority of his life, whereas Patrick couldn't maintain interest in a topic for more than a month or two. The fact that he hadn't even compared the two before meant that there wasn't much to compare.
When Angeline had left, John took a bite of the Bruschetta. "Amazing." The smell of garlic and basil was more intoxicating than he remembered, and the taste. John closed his eyes for a few seconds.
When he opened them, Sherlock was watching with one of his enigmatic smiles, but his hands didn't stir towards the plates of artfully arranged food.
John asked, "Aren't you going to eat something?"
"When was the last time you had a proper meal?"
"I ate that pasta you left for me."
Lord but his flatmate was infuriating. John said, "Two days ago."
"And we had breakfast."
"I think you got a bite in before we almost burned down the flat. And don't tell me you ate at the funfair, because two bites of Candy Floss is not anyone's idea of what a reasonable person should have for lunch. We are not working," John emphasized each word. "And I don't want you passing out on me again."
"I admit, I lost some track of time in that instance. It was an aberration."
John drummed two fingers against the table until Sherlock took up a stuffed mushroom and popped it in his mouth. Sherlock said, "Satisfied."
"Not yet." John raised an eyebrow. "Maybe later."
"Is that a proposition?"
"Good of you to catch up." John ate one of the stuffed mushrooms. It was better than he remembered: the mix of garlic and crab meat perfectly tuned. "You should try the Bruschetta." John said, in a voice that broached no argument.
"You're worse than Mummy."
"Yes, that's me, certified caretaker for wayward geniuses." John said the words with a smile, but there was a bitterness to them that he couldn't quite ignore. He hadn't thought of Patrick in years. And Patrick certainly didn't measure up to the term genius either, not after having known Sherlock. Patrick was the reflection of light off of a shallow stream, Sherlock a sunrise. But how long could one expect to hold the attention of a sunrise?
Sherlock took an assortment of appetizers and placed them on the plate in front of him. "Well, I'd hope I was your first."
"Genius?" John took another bite of the Bruschetta. "If I thought I had known any before I met you, I was sadly mistaken."
John hesitated; had Sherlock deduced him? Most certainly. The surprise was that it had taken this long. But if he had, Sherlock didn't say anything further on the subject. Instead he turned his attention to deducing the particulars of everyone else around the restaurant. The servers, of course, Angelina managing three lovers, four cats, two brothers all while pursuing an online degree in 'something practical, like business management.' And the couples that passed through the garden. And then where the napkins had been made. They inched closer to each other as they talked, well as Sherlock talked and John listened, occasionally interjecting his own humorous quip or deduction of his own, the first of which Sherlock laughed at and the second at which he made noncommittal remarks before proceeding to thoroughly dismantle John's arguments.
By the time the salads had been taken away, they were sitting shoulder to shoulder. It was almost normal, without the pressing weight of expectation, though whether his weight was more something to relish or fear John hadn't fully decided. In the midst of his deductions, Sherlock periodically glanced at his watch.
"What is it?" John asked. "That's the third time in the past ten minutes."
"Impressive observation. You're really getting better at this."
John had determined a while ago, that the thing with Sherlock was that because everything was obvious to him, he had trouble discerning what was actually truly obvious. John said, "Well? Are you going to tell me or what?"
"It's," Sherlock's index finger painted tense circles on the tabletop. "I had hoped...well, you will make your own determination."
Intrigued, John leaned closer. "About anything in particular?"
"There's Charles," Sherlock said, pointing towards the center of the restaurant floor, holding a briefcase in his left hand. It took a moment for John to recognize it as the briefcase that Sherlock had carried in. When had his flatmate passed it off? Considering Sherlock's pickpocket abilities, John doubted it had been a difficult to manage. Charles gave Sherlock a wave and Sherlock stood. "I'll be back."
Sherlock walked towards Charles and their heads came together in some kind of involved conversation. Sherlock nodded his head once or twice, and then Charles waved his hand towards the kitchen to which Sherlock gave a curt shake of his head. When they were finished, Charles clapped his hands together and in a voice loud enough to carry over the chattering of the restaurant's patrons said, "And now, one of our most valued patrons, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, has a special performance he would like to give for the benefit of his date." Charles waved a dramatic hand towards John and said, "Dr. John Watson." The lights in their corner of the restaurant rose, creating not quite a spotlight effect, but putting enough attention on John to make him feel simultaneously embarrassed and exposed. One glance at Sherlock at least let John know that his flatmate hadn't expected that as a part of his special presentation? Whatever it was.
Everyone in the restaurant applauded. Even the servers paused, all but two of them, holding their trays as Sherlock opened his suitcase and removed from inside a battered violin case. For a moment John felt guilty when his attention, honed by training and his time in Afghanistan, tracked the still moving targets instead of focusing on his lover's (not yet but soon and thoroughly if John had any power in this) face. But then his guilt turned to something else as he recognized Patrick. Yes, Patrick had died his hair and now wore glasses, but the shape of his bright green eyes, the set of his mouth, a sort of deep rooted petulance further echoed in the set of his shoulders, was unmistakeable. Him and his companion moved to flank Sherlock, and the second man was armed.
Sherlock raised his Stradivarius to his chin.
"Sherlock!" John jumped to his feet, instinctively reaching for the gun he'd left at the flat.
"Sherlock Holmes," the second man dropped his tray. "You're going to pay for what you've done!"
And then all hell broke loose.
Sorry about the cliffhanger guys! Working on the next chapter as busily as I can in the midst of my visit back home to the States. Much love and thank you to all of you who are still reading and following this story even with the rather intermittent, slow updating.
Chapter 15: Date 4, Part 5
Wherein John and Sherlock handle their business and certain declarations are made.
Okay, I admit, I'm a bit terrified to post this update considering how long it's taken to write (and how short the chapter ultimately turned out to be). I wrote four versions of this chapter over the past four months before I felt like it hit the right note. (there was also a bunch of other stuff going on in my life, and I did Nanowrimo, but still...good grief!). I hope this version satisfies and that you have enjoyed the story as a whole. This is my longest work that anyone besides my best friend has actually read (and liked) and your many comments and messages have really been inspiring and awesome! I love each and every one of you!
I do have one more chapter planned, an epilogue, which may or may not lead to sexy times. I may be able to get it done before I go in for my surgery next week (routine surgery only, no cancer, so don't worry about me), but if I can't, I'll definitely have plenty of time during my convalescence to write, so the epilogue should be done by the end of 2011.
As always, I can't thank Evildrem and Misanthropray enough for their help in Beta and Brit Picking this. All errors are my own.
So with no further ado...
The man John didn't know, the one who had promised to make Sherlock pay wore a blond wig; his skin was sallow and shone with sweat. He and Patrick carried SR-40 handguns. Neither man had the faintest idea of how to properly hold a firearm. Patrick held his like a grenade with a loose pin that at any moment might fall and explode. He used both hands at least, but his elbows were locked and though his left hand covered his right, both cupped around the front of the magazine with white knuckled grip.
The other man was worse, with a one handed hold, his index finger resting lightly on the trigger like something out of a badly directed action movie."Mobiles on the floor and kick them to me," he shouted and fired a shot upwards, thankfully missing the skylight. The recoil forced his arm down and he winced but managed to hold onto the weapon. "I see anyone holding a phone and the next bullet goes in him. Or her!"
Or an unintended target, which seemed most likely. God save John from amateurs with guns. John surveyed the table. Next to the appetizer plate sat two mini shrimp forks and a pair of butter knives. Useless. Why hadn't he asked Sherlock to take him out for steak? Fabric rustled and mobile phones hit the floor amidst the hum of panicked voices.
"William," Hands up, palms out, Charles took a step towards the gunman.
"Stay out of this dad," William said. "Patrick, what the fuck are you waiting for? You're supposed to get the boyfriend."
Patrick glanced at John and then back to his friend. "I—but-."
"You know him? Oh God, you fucked him!"
"So you're that Patrick," Sherlock's expression was rock hard, his tone cold enough to freeze oil. "I was planning to make your acquaintance, albeit under different circumstances."
Charles took another step towards William. "I didn't raise you to be violent. Why are you doing this?"
William aimed his gun directly at Sherlock's chest. Even as poorly as William was holding the weapon, at such a close range the shot would hit. "I'm your son, and you trusted this consulting detective over me."
"That's because I didn't steal over half a million pounds from him," Sherlock said. "Obviously."
"Of course I trust you. You're a good kid." Charles started to move again.
"Take another step and I'll shoot him," William said. "I don't have to bring Holmes in alive to collect the money."
"What money? I paid the clinic."
"The money he owes his bookie," Sherlock cut in. "What was it, horse racing? No, poker. Your friend seems the type to think himself intelligent enough to set up some kind of card hustling scheme, though after your falling out with your father, you likely hit the same establishment too many times, or for two much money, and were promptly discovered. Boring. So what does he, or she, it's best not to make assumptions, want with me? Business proposition or a spot of torture? Perhaps both?"
"She didn't say. I didn't ask."
"Ahh... Ms. Henreitta. An alias, of course. You really are an idiot."
"Shut up!" William's finger tightened fractionally on the trigger. "Patrick, stop thinking with your cock and go get our insurance. We don't have all night."
The plate would have to do. John grabbed it and ducked under the table.
"You have seven minutes by my estimate," Sherlock said. "Though you locked the outside doors and prevented your hostages from calling 999, the fact that a restaurant full of people are standing with their hands over their heads is visible through the front window. Even with as pitifully unobservant as most people are, eventually some passerby will become suspicious enough to call the police."
As Sherlock explained, John shed his suit jacket. He wrapped it around the plate, and turning it upside down, kicked it in the center with the heel of his shoe. The plate crunched. Opening his jacket revealed three good sized shards.
"I can't see him." Patrick's voice held a note of panic. "Where'd he go?"
Sherlock said, "Under the table, obviously."
"Is it drugs? Son, are you on drugs?"
"What does it matter? I'm going to fix everything. You'll see. I'll send you money to get the place fixed up, when we finish this."
"Money! You think I want money?"
"Don't we all?"
John took the narrowest shard and ran his finger along the edge. His finger stung and a thin line of blood welled up over the pad. A fair weapon, but without something to wrap the base he'd injure himself using it. The gun would be useless to him if his hands bled too much, let alone a more serious injury. If only he'd had the good sense to grab one of the cloth napkins off the table when he'd taken the plate.
"Hiding eh?" William laughed. "You must be so impressed with your boyfriend's bravery."
John yanked at the sleeve of the suit jacket. Of course it held. Sherlock had probably gotten it from the same place he bought his suits, which meant it would be able to survive an explosion relatively intact.
"Volunteering to serve in Afghanistan is certainly braver than taking a restaurant full of people hostage," Sherlock said. "And he's not my boyfriend. I consult with Dr. Watson when I need a competent medical opinion. We're colleagues."
"And flatmates. And he thinks the sun rises and sets on your arse if you read his blog. I found the link on your website. All he does is talk about you. The bit with the solar system was a hoot. Of course, your very close colleague has to be making up most of it. A seven foot tall assassin named The Golem for godsakes. Sounds like something out of a comic."
"John is prone to literary fancy," Sherlock said. "You'd do better not to bring him into this. I'll go with you to meet your bookie."
The fuck he would. The fuck John would let him.
William said, "And engineer some escape as soon as you get a chance? John's our insurance for your good behavior."
"If you further involve John in this, you will regret it."
"So sweet, how you're so protective of your colleague."
"William, I wanted to see you get help. But there's no help for this." Charles asked, "God, what did I do wrong?"
"You didn't do anything," Sherlock said. "Your son is a psychopath. He is impulsive, narcissistic, fails to internalize social norms, lacks empathy, is deceitful and prone to taking risks. You've known there's something missing for some time, that's why you've always given him what he's wanted. It's why you ignored all of the signs that he was stealing from you. You wanted to believe that if you loved him enough, you could fill that emptiness inside of him. But you would have been safer to cast him aside. He's incapable of returning your sentiment."
"Of course I love my father," William cut in. "You don't know anything about me."
"I know you've stolen from him, threatened his customers, fired an illegal weapon in his restaurant, and said you'd shoot him if by stepping closer to you he interfered with your petty attempt to revenge yourself against me. If this is your definition of love, you have a poor understanding of the concept."
"I just...this is all your fault."
"The stealing or the gambling?" Sherlock asked. "Because I don't-"
Why couldn't Sherlock turn on his charm for anything other than hunting murderers? Charles started talking again, thank God, in reasonable tones, something about William's mother. John flipped the suit jacket again. His gaze caught a bit of light blue in the front pocket. The handkerchief. Genius. There were benefits to dressing posh. John wrapped the handkerchief around the base of the shard just as the sound of Patrick's footsteps sounded on the staircase to their table grotto. From under the table, John could only see Patrick's trousers and shoes. Patrick said, "John, I need you to come out now."
"I'm not going to hurt you. I promise. You trusted me once."
"I trust you. I just-" John let his voice catch. He was no Sherlock, to be able to drop a tear and a sob at whim, but luckily Patrick wasn't actually looking at him. Unlike Sherlock, who generally overestimated John and then acted put upon if John didn't meet expectations, Patrick had always underestimated John. Patrick had even had the nerve to act surprised when after discovering his infidelity John had started to pack. John said, "It's my leg. The war, that's why they sent me home."
"You were shot!"
No, he'd been the victim of a tragic corn threshing accident. How on earth had John ever imagined himself in love with this git? Sherlock would never have bought this nonsense. Sherlock had deduced John's injuries with barely a glance. How had John imagined Patrick was a genius? Or even interesting. John said, "Can you give me a hand?"
And Patrick did it. He squatted down, placing the gun on the floor next to him as he extended his hand. John grabbed the outside of Patrick's hand and pulled. As the momentum carried him forward he let go, extending the hand behind Patrick's neck and with the other hand held the shard to Patrick's throat, just hard enough so that Patrick would feel the edge. "Quiet," John whispered. "If I press this deeper, it will cut the carotid. The drop in blood pressure will make you lose consciousness immediately and you will bleed out in less than a minute. Do you understand? Whisper."
"John?" Patrick's voice was almost a whimper.
John tightened his grip on the back of the other man's neck. "Do you understand?"
"Patrick!" William shouted. "What the fuck's taking so long. You better not be snogging him under that table."
"Tell him I passed out." John whispered.
"I'm fine," Patrick said, too quickly, breathing like he'd just spent ten minutes on a treadmill. "I mean," I'm helping John. John' s passed out. That's all." A tear dropped warm and wet on John's thumb.
"John does that sometimes," Sherlock said. "PTSD."
"You've got to be fucking kidding me! He never said anything about passing out in his blog."
Yeah, John wasn't buying it either. He could push Patrick back and try for the gun, but the noise and scuffle would only alert William and thus escalate the situation. The same went for slitting Patrick's throat. In spite of having killed, John wasn't a murderer, and killing a man who was crying in your hands, even if he had held a gun to you, came a bit too close to crossing that line. Besides, the wound would surely spurt and if John came out from under the table holding a gun and drenched in Patrick's blood, he would have to shoot William immediately to prevent him from getting a shot off. John needed Patrick ambulatory, to use as either cover or as a hostage in order to get close enough to disarm William without this ending in a pile of bodies.
"He wouldn't put that in his blog," Sherlock said, with grave seriousness. "He prefers not to talk about it."
John waited, breath caught in his throat. He'd go for the gun if it came to that.
"Yes, well—shit! Just leave him there, Patrick. We have to go."
John whispered."Pick up the gun by the barrel and place it at my right side. If you try to shoot me, I will kill you. If you struggle, I will kill you. Do you understand?"
"Yes." Patrick's hands trembled as he moved the gun to John's side.
"Good. Now put your hands behind your head and lace your fingers together."
This was the most dangerous part. The moment John loosened the grip on the back of Patrick's neck to take the gun, Patrick would have the freedom to attack, yell, or try to escape. So far, Patrick had tended towards terrified obedience, so as long as John maintained the illusion of control, Patrick should stay in line. John pulled his left hand from behind Patrick's neck and took the gun. It was heavier than the one he kept at the flat, but the balance was decent enough.
Necessity warred with John's safety training which said to line his index finger along the side of the barrel to avoid an accidental firing, but he needed to be able to fire quickly. He placed his finger on the trigger and said, "Stand up first, and wave. We're going to walk towards your friend. Do you understand?"
"What happened to you?" Patrick asked. "You're a doctor. Didn't you take an oath? Aren't you supposed to-"
"Lay down and let someone threaten something I love?" John asked. His shoulder throbbed, the combination of sudden movements and stress, but his hands were steady. God but he needed this. He needed Sherlock. It would be unforgivable if Sherlock and all of his brilliance died here, at the hands of these, for lack of a better word, idiots who had the audacity to pretend that by incompetently wielding firearms that they were somehow on his level. "We're finished talking. Now move."
Patrick stood and waved.
William glanced over at Patrick. "Well, what are you waiting for? We don't have all day."
At that moment, Sherlock said, "Do you mind if I put this away?" and dropped to his knees.
William's gaze and gun tracked the motion. "I didn't say you could move." His hand twitched, but he didn't fire.
John moved from his squatted position and pushed Patrick forward, keeping the barrel of the gun at Patrick's back. John was shorter than Patrick, though a bit stockier, so he kept his body at an angle, bracing his left elbow against his ribs to steady his aim. More reflex than necessity at this range, but better to be sure.
Twenty five paces. They passed by people, wide eyed with tired arms. A man opened his mouth and John shook his head, mouthing "Quiet."
Sherlock unlocked the clasps on the violin case. "I know. I was testing a theory."
Twenty two paces.
"Theory?" William's attention was firmly focused on Sherlock now. John wasn't certain if he wanted to kill the man or hit him for taking such a foolish risk as to make a sudden motion around a drugged up, trigger happy psychopath. If they both got out of this alive, John figured he'd do both. .
"You've killed animals before, but never a person. You're not sure if you're ready to take that step, if the joy of watching the light die in a person's eyes is worth the consequences. Not to your conscience, because you don't have one, but because murder implies a level of commitment." My God, Sherlock was riveting, caressing the neck of his violin as he placed in in the case, clicking the locks shut again, one at a time. "Once you start killing, you'll never be able to erase that, or go back, and like your cohort, you've always been a dabbler."
"There's a first time for everything," William said.
Sherlock stood. "And of course, with your claim of affection for your father, you might do better not to gun down a customer in front of him. Especially when he offered you no provocation."
Through the window, John caught glimpse of red and blue flashing lights and then came the whine of a police siren.
Sherlock said, "Six minutes, forty two seconds."
"Fuck!" William looked at the window then at Patrick. "We've got to go—" His eyes widened. "Patrick, what the hell?"
"Put the gun down," John said. "And walk away."
"You, what? The boyfriend?"
"I'm sorry Will," Patrick said, his voice catching in another sob. "He had a knife. He was going to kill me."
"You had a gun! Do you know how hard we worked to get those?"
"I said you would regret it if you further involved John in this," Sherlock said, his eyes alight with glee? Pride? John's cheeks warmed as Sherlock asked, "Which was it John, the wineglass or the appetizer plate?"
"Plate," John said. "Although I think we're getting a bit off topic here." John took a breath. "William, you and Patrick have failed, but nobody was hurt. Put down your firearms and walk away. If you do, you have my word that Sherlock and I won't press charges, and your father will certainly help you pay for a good defense attorney."
"Yes, I will son, For both of you." Charles said. "Please. Just do what he says."
"No." William said, his arm shaking. "I'm not going to jail."
John said, "You either submit peacefully or wait for one of the police snipers to take you out. These are your options."
William took a step towards Sherlock. "This is all your fault. I'm not going to jail. You deserve it." He was pouring tension and sweat, his cheeks flushed, his lips drawn back in a snarl. "You deserve everything I'm going to do to you."
John had seen the desperation in William's face enough times to know what it meant. William would shoot Sherlock and maybe himself also. John shoved Patrick at William with all his strength. Patrick screamed; arms flailing, he slammed into William's side as the gun went off. For a moment, the sound was so loud it erased John's world. Had Patrick deflected the bullet enough. Had Sherlock deduced that William would shoot? Of course Sherlock had, but had he moved in time?
Patrick and William fell together in a screaming, cursing tangle of arms and legs. Methodically, John stepped over them and kicked the gun away. Then with great precision, he pistol whipped them both: Patrick on the back of the head and William on the side.
When they had both gone limp, John stood.
"John?" Sherlock's voice. Alive, blessedly alive.
John turned. "You idiot," he said, his mouth opening into a grin that bordered on hysterical. "What were you thinking with that violin stunt! You know better than to make sudden moves when someone's holding a firearm."
Sherlock was crouched on the floor, his body curled awkwardly over his violin case. He stood. "John."
"The police are going to be here any minute. And then we'll have to give statements. God, what a mess. It's not your fault. I mean, things were going quite splendidly and-"
Sherlock closed the distance between them. He ran his thumb over John's cheek, his fingertips resting at the base of John's jaw. Sherlock's gaze was focused, like he was looking at a corpse, only more...hungry.
John ran his tongue over his lips. God but he could lose himself in that gaze. "We...umm..."
"I love you."
Twice in five minutes, John's world froze. "You do?"
Sherlock took a breath. "Don't look so surprised. Of course I love you. I just...how did I miss it? It's the only solution that fits the evidence. I mean, maybe it's because you seemed so ordinary. There's always something. A plate shard? Brilliant! Absolutely brillia-"
"Shut up, you nutter, and kiss me." John grabbed Sherlock by the collar and pulled him down.
Their lips met to the wail of police sirens and thunderous applause.
Chapter 16: Epilogue
It's an epilogue.
Notes: Much love to my two wonderful Brit-pickers to fix this up for me. Haylebopp Brit-picked the first 10 chapters and Evildrem the rest (with some awesome betaing at points from Haylebopp). I'm still uploading edits of earlier chapters. As always, all mistakes and issues are of course my own fault.
Disclaimer: I don't own Sherlock in any incarnation and I'm not making money off of this. My original characters are my own though I'm not making any money off of them either. Written purely for entertainment value. Please enjoy :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The applause died down as the police stormed the restaurant. Sherlock noted it with a minute percentage of his attention, the rest focused on the far more important task of kissing John. The man was truly a genius. Not to the degree of Sherlock, of course, but certainly more interesting than the majority of the human population. Kissing John made Sherlock hungry. No. Hunger was a distraction that inhibited Sherlock's performance whereas John improved him.
"Police!" One constable yelled as though it wasn't completely obvious. "Everyone hands where we can see them and nobody move."
Sherlock had no intention of moving. John tasted of garlic and wine. He smelled of cologne and blood. His mouth was hot. He had three mercury fillings in his back molars.
"Reports of gunfire were heard at this location," Another PC said. There was a flurry of voices as patrons explained. Charles's voice mixed in with the others: he was the owner of the restaurant and he begged mercy for his son's actions. He was going to close the restaurant. He had no idea what his son had planned. No idea that his son's sickness ran so deeply. Predictable.
A woman's voice. "Gentlemen?"
John pulled away. "I think she means us."
"Irrelevant." Sherlock brushed his lips over John's earlobe and said, "Let's get out of here."
"They've blocked the entrances."
"Not all of them," Sherlock said.
Someone tapped Sherlock roughly on the shoulder. "Gentlemen! If you don't mind."
"We mind greatly," Sherlock said. "Bad enough these two idiots tried to ruin our-"
John elbowed Sherlock in the side. "Excuse us, ma'am," John said. His lips were reddened, his hair inelegantly mussed. In spite of the deference of his words, a smile teased the corners of John's mouth.
"I'm Sergeant Harrington." The sergeant, a curvaceous woman in her mid thirties with a low level wheat gluten intolerance that lead to her having a dusting of acne across her face extended said, "Were you two were responsible for disarming the gunmen?"
"Obviously," Sherlock said. "I'm Sherlock Holmes and this is my," friend, boyfriend, partner, colleague, flatmate, which was appropriate? John had always objected when someone suggested they were a couple, but they were on a date, and he certainly hadn't seemed to mind snogging in front of the entire restaurant. Still, best to keep it professional. "This is my medical consultant, Dr. John Watson."
Sergeant Harrington's face lit up. "Sherlock Holmes! John Watson!" She extended her hand towards John. "It's an honor to meet you both. I'm a huge fan of your blog, Dr. Watson." She smiled, too brightly. "I'm assuming the pair of you were here for a case?"
"In a manner of speaking," John said.
"It was a date," Sherlock said, taking John's hand. "John is my date."
John started, "Sherlock-"
Sherlock gave Sergeant Harrington the full strength of his gaze. "And he's not interested."
"It's fine," Sergeant Harrington said. "A bit obvious, the way you two were going at it. My best mate called it, and she's usually right about these things, but I kept thinking, well, Dr. Watson sure does have a lot of girlfriends for a gay man in love with his flatmate."
"John's bisexual," Sherlock said.
"And as long as you're all consenting adults-"
"But he's only going to be having sex with me from now on."
John's face flushed. "Can we discuss this at some other time?"
"Are we supposed to have a discussion?" Sherlock's research had mentioned nothing about a discussion. A peculiar feeling settled in his gut, rippling like maggots over a fetid wound. "Had you wanted to have sex with other people?"
"No! Jesus Sherlock." John pulled his hand away. "I'm not talking about our personal business in front of a policeman."
"Policewoman," Sherlock corrected.
"It's fine," Sergeant Harrington wiped a palm over the thigh of her trousers. "We'll simply need to get statements from both of you and then you two can be on your way. It's obvious you still have a lot to...umm...discuss..."
John couldn't possibly intend to keep their relationship—no, one date did not equal a relationship, even Sherlock knew that—their association then, a secret? That was ridiculous. John had asked Sherlock to kiss him in front of an entire restaurant. Of course, adrenaline could lead people to do things that were out of character. John always corrected anyone who assumed they might be together. Sherlock had assumed that was John's moral compulsion to honesty, but maybe John was embarrassed. Of Sherlock? Logical. Sherlock often did embarrassing things. This heaviness, it was like his organs were coming apart. Decomposition. This was how decomposition must feel. Or maybe it was simply the situation. Beyond his sister, John never mentioned his family. They might not have been so accepting of his sister's sexuality, or his, if he'd revealed it. Also his time in the army would have tended him towards discretion. Sherlock needed more data, but the area was too busy, and John was saying something.
"Sherlock?" John said, doing nothing to close the distance between them.
"Statement, yes." Best to get this done as quickly as possible. "Charles's son William," Sherlock waved a hand towards the two unconscious bodies on the floor, "attempted to enact a petty revenge against me and solve his gambling debts by recruiting John's ex-boyfriend to help kidnap me at gunpoint. They also attempted to kidnap John as a form of insurance, which only highlights the unending depths of their idiocy, as John quite brilliantly demonstrated by disarming Patrick with a plate shard." Sherlock couldn't help but smile. How had it taken him so long to realize he was in love with this man? He would take John now, except, it would be embarrassing for John and he might say no. "Then John used Patrick to dispatch with William and rendered them both unconscious. That's the all of it." Before the sergeant could open her mouth and say something tedious like she needed to bring them down to the station to further repeat the obvious, Sherlock added, "If you have any other questions for us, please direct them to Detective Inspector Lestrade."
"Lestrade?" Harrington tilted her head, a slight wrinkle between her brows. "I thought you said this was a date? How's DI Lestrade mixed up in this this."
"I suggest you ask him. Come along, John." Would John follow? Of course he'd follow. He'd want to get out of here at least. Sherlock took up his violin and set a brisk pace for the door. The key to having ordinary people yield to you, he'd learned long ago, was to act as though they already had.
"Mr. Holmes!" Sergeant Harrington called out from behind them. "Dr. Watson!"
John had followed and some of the humming nervousness subsided. "Phone Lestrade." Sherlock said, still walking. Sherlock strode past the two constables at the door, wielding Lestrade's name again to get them to hesitate enough to let Sherlock and John pass.
When they were out on the street, John said, "How long before we need to start running?"
"Not yet," Sherlock said. "Though a brisk walk wouldn't be amiss."
After they'd crossed the police barrier and pushed through the crowd of onlookers, Sherlock texted the limousine driver. Traffic around the restaurant was of course impossible, so Sherlock suggested a corner a few blocks away. John was in his shirtsleeves, the jacket presumably under the table at the restaurant. They walked side by side, but Sherlock was careful to maintain an appropriate social distance. He wanted to step closer, let their hips brush, make it clear to everyone that passed that there was something between him and John beyond empty space. But John's desire for discretion had been well expressed.
Sherlock observed. John's gait was steady, his gaze focused forwards. Sherlock missed the easy camaraderie that usually came when they brushed with danger. John looked...tired. He was certainly hungry too, considering how little they'd actually eaten over the course of the day. They'd barely started on the appetizers before William ruined things. Should they try for another restaurant? When they got back to the flat, the date would be over. And then what?
Who was Sherlock kidding? No matter what assurances John, in his kindness, had given to the contrary, this date had gone all wrong. Even so, Sherlock wanted John. More than anything he'd ever wanted in his life. Being in love, Sherlock determined, was horrible.
Sherlock let John enter the limousine first, and then followed, seating himself across from his flatmate. Now that they were in private, John would surely close the distance. He didn't.
"You're still hungry," Sherlock said. "We could stop-"
"No more restaurants," John said.
"Yes, of course." Sherlock smoothed his palm over his trousers. "I could cook something."
John's brows raised. "You?"
"It's basic chemistry."
"Right." John grinned. "So you've just been to lazy to take a turn at it before?"
"I'm not lazy." Sherlock just didn't concern himself with unimportant things. But feeding John, as they had previously but without flammables or witnesses, could be important. And pleasant. Very, very pleasant.
"Of course you're not." John leaned back and stretched his legs across the gap between the seats. "Well, probably not such a hot idea to use our kitchen right now anyway, considering the fire. Besides, you must be exhausted from putting all this together. It's been pretty incredible, I must say. Not that I expected less of you."
Sherlock couldn't help but smile. Some of the tension knotting his shoulders and back eased. "We almost died twice," he said. Three times, if you counted the fire, which Sherlock didn't as they'd managed to extinguish it well before it became a genuine threat.
"I always thought dating you must be an adventure." John's head was tilted, slightly, and he looked up at Sherlock with clearly dilated pupils. "So what were your criteria for a successful date? Lots of snogging? Because we hit that."
"Expression of mutual sexual interest. Yes."
"And the others?"
"We're not finished yet."
John pinched his fingers at the bridge of his nose. "You've got something else planned?"
Even if Sherlock had, he would have canceled it immediately at John's resigned expression. "It's proper to see a date home, and sharing a good night kiss is a promising development."
"Relax, Sherlock. I'm a sure thing."John's grin became brighter and a bit more brittle. "At least until you get sick of me."
"If I was going to tire of you, I would have already."
John averted his gaze. His shoulders and neck were tense and his hand dropped down to his leg, his fingertips running small circles on his thigh where the pain of his psychosomatic limp was focused. John said, "And after this goodnight kiss?"
Sex preferably. And lots of it. Sherlock had decided that upon waking John this morning. A fuzzy, sentimental feeling blossomed in Sherlock's gut at John's sleep mussed hair, and now that Sherlock had realized his feelings, acknowledged them, he wanted it more than anything. This degree of want, no need, was disturbing in its intensity and Sherlock wasn't sure how to react. Especially in light that John seemed reluctant to make a commitment. Sure, he was in love with Sherlock, but John was capable of loving many people. Should this fail John would love and be loved again. Sherlock held no such illusions about himself.
"Sherlock?" John said.
Well, Sherlock would simply have to be brilliant, unique, and interesting enough to hold John's attention. That he could manage, especially with John's shared interest in mayhem. "Sex," Sherlock said. "Of course."
The problem, of course, was that Sherlock only had a vague idea what was supposed to happen after the sex. Sleeping probably. And the next morning? With Victor they had simply returned to being friends. Or so Sherlock had assumed. If he could deduce how he had managed to hold Victor's interest for so long, he could certainly apply that data to John. The sex. It must have been the sex. That had been the critical variable. Sherlock leaned forward on his elbows, resting his chin on his fingers as he thought. Sex he could manage. If snogging was any indication, it would certainly be pleasant. More than pleasant. Enjoyable. More than that.
But there were other considerations. How long would he have to keep the body parts in a separate cooler? How would he refer to John in public? Should he ask John? An admission of ignorance was not the best way to start proving his brilliance. Not that Sherlock needed to prove it. He was brilliant. He would gather more data in the morning. It couldn't be too difficult. Ordinary people managed 'relationships' all of the time. Of course ordinary people managed to date without nearly getting their partner killed twice; and that aside Sherlock didn't want to model himself too heavily on ordinary people for fear his mind would degrade beyond recogniti-
"Sherlock!" John kicked Sherlock in the sole of his shoe.
"Don't tell me you're already planning our second date."
Should he have been? Sherlock stopped breathing for a moment. He'd assumed that this first date, if done properly, would give John enough data to make an informed, appropriate, and most importantly positive decision, which was pure idiocy because Sherlock knew most people had multiple dates. John had gone on four dates with Sarah before she left him.
John burst out laughing. "Oh my God, your expression! Bet you only thought we were doing this once. That's why you tried to pack everything into one day, isn't it? You do realize any one of today's activities would have been more than enough for a successful date."
"I just thought that if I did it correctly-"
"Covered all seven, or was it eight of your criteria, you'd never have to have another date again."
"Dating you has been interesting. I can certainly plan something else." Sherlock was speaking too quickly, his words falling like a wave of deductions he couldn't stop. "I will, after I have your feedback on this date. I'll refine the process. Next time will be perfect, I promise."
"What?" Sherlock hadn't expected to quite so quickly cast aside. He'd hoped that John would be able to stand him a year or at few months at least. John leaned back in the seat, his legs stretched in front of him, crossed at the ankles. His lips still held the hint of a smile. What was so amusing? Sherlock was missing something. Observation. With all of this emotional confusion, Sherlock couldn't maintain the detachment needed to properly observe and make deductions.
John said, "I'm planning the next date. And I plan to get us through the entire thing without the involvement of police or paramedics. A bit dull, I know, but-"
"It's fine. It's good, very good! What shall we do?"
"I have some ideas." Now John was teasing.
Sherlock liked that. "What ideas?"
"Not telling. And you're not allowed to hack my computer to find out. I know you'll hack my computer anyway, but anything date related is off limits. Do you understand me?"
"Perfectly." Sherlock certainly wouldn't need to hack John's computer to figure out his intentions. That would be cheating. Sherlock would find out through other means. After John made his decision. Which he clearly hadn't yet.
John said, "No deducing either."
"You know I can't stop that."
"Oh, I think you can, stop, given the proper stimulus." John's lips parted and he ran his tongue over them, slowly. When he pulled his tongue back his lips were moist. He bit the bottom one, cradling it gently in his teeth and looked up at Sherlock.
Sherlock exhaled quickly through his nose. How was it that something so simple aroused him? "Stop it."
"That. I want..." to touch you, to get beneath your skin, root through your flesh until I know the taste of your organs. No. Bit not good, that. "I like that we can laugh together."
John's brow furrowed. "Yes, me too."
"That was the third of the eight, though I knew we had that sort of accord well before our date." Sherlock glanced out the window. Two minutes to the flat by his estimation, provided nothing unexpected happened, which considering the day could not be discounted. "We have two minutes to the flat."
John uncrossed his feet and his thighs parted, just slightly. "Not a lot of time."
"Too damned much."
John choked on a laugh. "And here I thought it was all just transport."
"It is. And it's distracting. If you didn't improve me in so many other ways this would be unforgivable."
John blinked and shook his head so minutely, Sherlock doubted the other man had noticed his action.
"You do," Sherlock said. "And it's not just your inspired applications of combat experience."
"We should date more often. I don't think you've ever given me so many compliments."
"Compliments are sentimental and often contrived," Sherlock said, "I observe."
"I see." John rested his leg against Sherlock's calf. Through the thick fabric of their trousers, Sherlock could only have been imagining the heat, but he felt it. John said, "Well, I love your observations. I'm going to save these ones up for the next time you're being a right prat."
"I love you," Sherlock said, because he could, and because the mix of surprise, delight and openness of John's expression made Sherlock feel for a moment like he could taste colors with his skin.
"How much longer?" John asked.
The car slowed. "Soon," Sherlock said. "Now."
They couldn't get out of the limousine fast enough. On the pavement in front of the flat, Sherlock took John's hand. "I wanted to thank you for a lovely evening."
John ran his tongue over lips, shifting his weight away from his psychosomatic wound . "Is this where you kiss me goodnight?"
"Yes." Sherlock rested his palm on John's back, pulling him closer. Their bodies strained for each other, uncomfortable, awkward arrangements of meat and bone that somehow fit.
"Inside," John said, backing Sherlock towards their front door. They kissed. John's tongue in his mouth. Then John's lips on his neck. John was aroused, his erection hard against Sherlock's thigh as Sherlock fumbled in his coat pocket for the keys, his elbow and hip banging against the door. He had better coordination than this. He could pick a lock with his eyes shut. At his third failed attempt to fit the key into the lock, the door swung open.
"Good heavens, boys, all that knocking and banging would be enough to wake a corpse."
John jumped back, his face burning scarlet. "Mrs. Hudson! Good evening. I mean, I'm so—we're so sorry."
"Don't be." Mrs. Hudson dropped her keys back into the pocket of her dressing gown. "It's about bloody time, loves. Judging by the news report, you boys didn't have enough time to eat, so I left you some sandwiches at the top of the stairs. This is a special occasion, mind. I'm not your housekeeper." Mrs. Hudson took a step back and then turned towards her flat. "And use the upstairs bedroom, if you've a mind to keep each other entertained. I'm quite overjoyed the two of you got yourselves sorted, but I don't need to know the all of it, if you understand my meaning."
When her door shut behind her, John said, "Well, that was..."
"Only slightly less embarrassing than being arrested for public indecency, yes I know."
They climbed the seventeen stairs to the flat. In front of their door sat a tray with a covered plate. "Well, I suppose we should at least check to see what's in them," John said, kneeling beside it.
"Roast beef and horseradish, most likely," Sherlock said. "She made it for the workmen yesterday, but we can check that after."
John looked up, baring the pulse of his neck. "After?"
"Don't be deliberately obtuse," Sherlock said, "It doesn't suit you."
"I'm taking these inside, at least." John took the tray and stood. "It would be rude not to."
Sherlock didn't care about rude, but he wanted John inside so he opened the door. The flat still smelled slightly of burning, though not so much as to be outside the norm for 221B. In the light of the fish tank, John placed the tray on an unburnt corner of the kitchen table. When he was finished, he leaned back and said, "Now, where were we?"
Sherlock said, "I won't share you."
"I know it's too soon to ask which is why I'm not asking. I can't share. So you can't fall in love with anybody else unless I die." And even then, the thought of somebody else in John's arms sickened Sherlock, but considering his lifestyle, their lifestyle, he had to afford some fairness.
John stood, stepping into Sherlock's space so that there was only a pace between them. "You're not going to die," he said. "Not until we're very old and puttering around some bee farm in Sussex."
"John, be reasonable. Statistically, with my vocation-"
"You're not. And if you do, I won't know it, because whatever knife, bullet, explosive wielding psycho is going to have to go through me first." John's tone was flat, his mouth a determined line, his back straight, his hands steady, his knees bent slightly, his feet rooted; if holding a gun his shot would be unhesitating and true.
John was brilliant like this. Brilliant, terrifying, and wrong. Sherlock said, "I won't let you do that for me. You've integrated yourself far too well into my work and other areas to allow me to continue without you. I'm not strong enough."
"Then you'll have to take more care to keep yourself alive. And eat more regularly. I won't have you fainting over another criminal."
Why did John always insist on bringing that up? The loss of consciousness (Sherlock refused to call it fainting; only John would insist on painting a temporary loss of consciousness with so much sentiment) could have just as easily been attributed to the cricket bat that had grazed his head earlier. "It was only that once. And I caught him."
"You collapsed on him, upon which he tripped and knocked his temple against a streetlight, thus leaving me to restrain him and deal with the Yard."
"I tripped him."
John's lips quirked, and the muscles in his neck and shoulders eased back from combat readiness. "I suppose you're going to tell me that was intentional."
"It certainly was." Not that Sherlock remembered it, but the moments before a loss of consciousness were always confused, and Sherlock certainly would have moved with intent in that situation.
John rested his fingers resting on Sherlock's hip. "You have no idea, do you?"
"Rigid self assessment is critical for any sort of scientist."
"Rigid," John laughed and his hand moved inwards, palm flat against Sherlock's zip.
Sherlock's hips thrust towards the movement. He ran his tongue along the crest of John's ear. "So you'll agree to grow old and raise bees with me?"
"As much as the idea of mixing you with swarms of live, stinging insects terrifies me, absolutely."
Sherlock put his hand behind John's back, sliding it under his shirt to John's skin. "And we will go upstairs and have many hours of mind-obliterating sex."
"God yes," John said, unbuttoning Sherlock's shirt.
"And you promise not to fall in love with anybody else."
"How could I fall in love with anyone else?" John reached up and brushed his knuckles over Sherlock's cheek. "Hell, even dating someone else would be too boring."
Thank you all so much for sticking with this fic for so long. Everyone's thoughts, comments and emails have been so motivational and wonderful. I can't thank you enough! I hope you've enjoyed the resolution and that it was worth the waiting. I know I'd hinted previously at the vague possibility of smut in this epilogue, but I really rather liked where the ending came to and I didn't think more would add to the fic, so I'm ending it here.
For anyone who is interested in future Sherlock works by me, my next large project is a Sherlock Holmes/Ziggy Stardust fusion (written for the prompt: Sherlock Holmes is Ziggy Stardust) which I'm loosely summarizing as “Sex, drugs, and rock and roll as the world ends.” This will be another longish work (though probably not as long as Matchmaker) with a chapter for each track on David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album and two hidden tracks (epilogues): “Life on Mars” and “Modern Love”. If you haven't heard David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album, definitely take a listen. I've got the full fic outlined and am almost finished Chapter 1. When I get a few chapters ahead, I'm going to start posting, so if this is to your interest, keep an eye out (or put me on alert). I'm also working on a shorter Mystrade which includes a bachelor auction.
Well, that's it! Much love to you all :)