Chapter 1: Prologue
“John, it’s for a case, it’s not as if any of it would be real –”
“My god, Sherlock, you have some harebrained ideas, but this one takes the cake!”
“It would take less than an hour –”
“And the repercussions would last a lifetime. You think I’m that keen to be made a fool of in front of a live audience?”
“It’s not as if this would be televised. It’s part of a local little theatre’s variety show.”
“Sherlock, even if I say yes – which I’m not – I don’t see how being on stage and embarrassed will help anything.”
“I need to examine the presenter – one Carlton Jones – to see if he’s really a threat to the show. His partner Raymond seems to think he’s up to something, and wants me to take a closer look. Can’t get much closer than actually participating, so-o-o…”
“I…just…goddammit, Sherlock. Why like this?”
“Why does this upset you so much? Surely we’ve done stranger things together for cases before?”
“I just don’t like the idea of being on stage while you take me to pieces with your deductions.”
“John, the show is set up to reward teamwork – wouldn’t you say we’ve survived worse than a few nosy questions with nothing and no one but each other?”
“John. Trust me.”
Chapter 2: The Game is On
“La-a-a-a-adies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Brighton Variety Show, with this month’s edition of The Newlywed Game!”
The stage lights are bright, and John feels odd in the suit Sherlock had laid out for him for the event. It’s a bit closer cut than he normally goes for in formal wear, the colour a touch more vibrant: an almost jewel tone of navy, a sort of electric dark blue that he would never have picked out for himself – but so far, so good. His grey three piece suit wouldn’t have done at all; there’s no way John would have looked as if he belonged beside Sherlock, who is predictably striking in black. It is a sumptuous, velvety black that seems to drink in light rather than giving it off like John’s suit does.
And while most of the time spent at home getting ready had been suffused with idle chatter-cum- reassurance that tonight needn’t be a 'big to-do,' he had felt gratified when Sherlock had spent even longer getting ready in the loo than John had (just a shave, after shave, and a bit of combing, and he’d been ready).
Beside him, Sherlock sits ramrod straight, his curls tamed as if for court, and his eyes clear, cheeks smooth. John blinks and looks away, because honestly, the night will be trying and awkward enough without him staring at Sherlock for no good reason.
“Let’s meet the contestants!” Carlton Jones bounds across the stage. He has dark brown hair and eyes and a smile so full to the brim with white teeth that is seems like he’s trying to show them off all at once. A quick wave to the audience, few quick strides back to the contestants, and he’s well-settled into his patter, introducing Geoffrey and Hannah Ameson (in their twenties and just married two weeks prior), Stephen and Jenny Willis (in their thirties, married close to six months), and –
“John and Sherlock Watson, married two months now, and just back from their honeymoon in the South of France – how was it lads?”
“Lovely,” Sherlock says with one of his easy, for-other-people smiles, and it’s a good thing he’s stepping in to say so, because John is busy trying to come to terms with the fact that Sherlock entered them under the surname Watson. It wasn’t a detail that they’d discussed much – John remembers telling Sherlock to just do as he pleased, still grumbling about being talked into this mess, and, well, he’d assumed –
“And you John, how are you this evening?”
His turn to speak, and for a wild moment John has no idea to say. A glance at Sherlock’s face – half quizzical, half encouraging, and he manages: “Fine, just fine.” A smiles slots into place behind the words, and it seems that’s enough for Carlton, because he turns back to the audience and begins to explain the game.
It’s not a complicated concept – there are three rounds. Round one has questions valued at five points, the second round each question wins ten points, and finally a bonus round, in case of ties: one question worth twenty-five points. Couples are seated side by side, but there are divider screens to preclude whispering and peeking when they need to write down their answers.
At least, it all seems very simple until John remembers that the questions themselves will be prying, and that he’ll have to answer them – and guess at Sherlock’s answers – in front of an auditorium full of strangers.
Music plays, and it’s time to begin.
John takes a deep breath.
Chapter 3: You Have Questions
“Round one, let’s warm up with some easy ones, yes?” The glint in Carlton’s eye does not bode well for John’s dearly guarded privacy. “Alright, ladies and gentlemen, question number one: Who does the most housework?” Carlton turns and lifts his eyebrows for the audience to see – obviously expecting a fair bit of squabbling over the answers.
John, meanwhile, writes his answer down, just thankful that it’s not too invasive a query – yet.
A chime tells them to put their pens down, and Carlton steps up to the first couple, the Amesons. John doesn’t pay attention to their answer – it seems they got full points – but instead watches as Sherlock watches Carlton, his eyes dancing over the presenter’s figure and dress for the night. Fact gathering mode.
John just hopes he doesn’t end up having to explain the Mind Palace to an entire audience.
“And that brings us to the Watsons!” Carlton chirps brightly, stepping full of bounce over to their side of the stage.
John blinks and comes back to himself, tearing his eyes from Sherlock’s profile to look at Carlton, who gives him a cheery smile. John swallows nervously.
“Alright – let’s see…” Carlton is saying. “Sherlock! Who does the lion’s share of the chores at home?”
Sherlock seems to take a moment to refocus, then gives a small smile. “John does, of course,” he says smoothly. Then, with a cheeky grin at John, he adds, “He is so very good at cleaning. Fastidious, even. He’ll dust the pollen right off the slide under the microscope if I’m not careful.”
“Oi – that was one time,” John can’t help but clarify, forgetting himself – or rather his surroundings – for a moment. “And if I didn’t clean once in a while, the flat would be in a sorry state indeed!”
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Mrs. Hudson would intervene before things got too dire.”
“She’s not our housekeeper.”
“So she says, but I think the lady doth protest too much –”
“Your answer, if you please, John?” Carlton breaks in, and John blinks at him, having almost forgotten the man was there at all.
Sherlock huffs at the intrusion, but there’s a smile tucked into the curl of his lips, and John can’t help but shake his head and smile as well. He lifts his answer card to show his answer: I do
They get full points and a smattering of applause.
The next question is a bit more challenging: “What will your spouse say is the source of the most bickering?”
Oh god. John just manages to keep from snorting. There’s so much that they quibble about each day – proper safety procedures, the correct way to respond to minor crises and major traumas, how one does not go about waking an ex-army doctor with PTSD up in the middle of the night by throwing him a gun and shouting at him to get dressed….
And yet, one almost daily point of contention sticks out among the peaks and valleys of their days together. When Carlton turns expectantly to him for his answer, John says, “The vegetable crisper,” and punctuates with a firm nod. Certainly it’s the one issue that Sherlock brings up almost as frequently as John does.
“Ah,” Carlton says with a knowing look. “Lets the veggies go a bit whiffy, does he?”
“What?” John barks out a laugh. “If only! It’s thumbs and livers and microwaved eyeballs that he lets go ‘whiffy’!” John shoots Sherlock a not-quite-mock glare; if Sherlock’s going to poke at fun at him with his answers, then John might as well get in a few of his own.
The audience is quiet, unsure whether to laugh or not.
“Your answer, Sherlock?” Carlton sounds unsure as to whether he wants to hear what Sherlock wrote or not.
Sherlock clears his throat and holds up his card – which is almost completely covered with writing. The space that does not contain words contains a neatly labeled pie chart. John rolls his eyes and covers his mouth, hiding a grin that’s threatening to be more fond than is called for. The card reads:
The state of the refrigerator constitutes approx. 40% of our disagreements* – particularly the organ drawer, which John insists on calling the vegetablecrisper for some quaint reason.
*this approaches 60% if only counting domestic topics of discussion
The pie chart is neatly labeled as follows: organ drawer (vegetable crisper) 40%*; kitchen safety 20%, gun safety 15%, social niceties 10%, arguing with criminals 8%, sock indexing John’s socks without permission 5%, and miscellaneous (paperwork, disguises, how to remove red wine stains, etc.) 2%
John starts giggling behind his hand as he reads and tries desperately to keep it from becoming something louder and more noticeable. It doesn’t help that he can see Carlton mouth the words ‘sock indexing without permission’ as he reads through the chart labels.
“Honestly,” Sherlock is saying as John tries to calm himself, “if I don’t empty out the organ drawer every five to six days he gets positively shrewish.” He finally seems to notice Carlton’s look and John’s silent laughter. His eyes narrow. “Don’t you, darling?” His tone is petulant and plaintive, as if he thinks the bloody audience will see his version of sense and perhaps disabuse John of his silly notions of food safe spaces.
And that’s just too rich, so John chips in: “Yes, well William –” Sherlock’s peeved little gasp is worth the on-lookers’ bewilderment – “the once you had me do it you sulked for three days because I’d ‘upset your mould cultures,’ so now it’s exclusively your job, and –”
Sherlock turns to glare at John, mouth open and armed with something scathing no doubt – but just then Carlton pipes up: “Boys, boys, save some for round two, yes? And five points to team Watson while we’re at it, though honestly, I’ve never seen a couple go at each other for getting an answer right!”
Sherlock’s mouth shuts with a click, and something in the glare snaps, and then John is gasping for air as he laughs, loud as anything, Sherlock shaking through his own laughter beside him.
“Lads!” Carlton chides, his bewilderment evident, and John tries to swallow down his mirth even as it seems Sherlock attempts to hold his breath. “If we may…?” the presenter asks dryly, glancing off stage for a moment – probably checking the time, John thinks – rustling the paper he’s reading the questions from.
When John and Sherlock have finally reined in their laughter, Carlton asks the last question of round one:"What would your spouse say is his least favourite item in your closet?"
Beside him, Sherlock scribbles down something short and – by the sounds of it – severe. John is hard pressed not to start laughing all over again as he realizes the likely reason for Sherlock’s intensity.
“Care to go first, team Watson?” Carlton asks.
John can’t help the giggle that escapes him. “It’s probably one of my jumpers. He’s managed to burn two of them so far – I know that was you, Sherlock, don’t pull that face – but probably the Christmas jumper my sister knit me takes the prize. He can’t stand it. Gets this sort of…tight look about his mouth and eyes – yes, exactly that – there, you see?”
Beside him, eyes narrow and lips pinched, Sherlock lifts his card. It reads, in emphatic lettering:
That bloody Christmas jumper
This time the audience laughs with John, and Sherlock huffs, but it’s all fine. Carlton quizzes the other couples, and round one draws to a close.
John takes a deep breath, feeling unaccountably light and optimistic – even though he knows that can’t possibly last.
On to round two…
Chapter 4: I Have Answers
“Alright, let’s take this competition up a notch, shall we?” Carlton smirks at the audience. “The Watsons and the Amesons tie for first, team Willis is ten points behind – never fear, this round each question is worth ten points – get one right and you’re back in the running!” Carlton beams at the three couples.
“Now, each question will be worth double the points, because each question will be answered by both spouses, and we’ll compare answers after the chime as usual – got it? Let’s go!”
Carlton opens an envelope with a flourish and reads: "What would your spouse say is your most annoying habit?"
John snorts, grabs his pen, and begins to write. Beside him, Sherlock sits in thought for a moment and then bends low over his card.
The tone chimes two minutes later, and Sherlock shoots John a peculiar glance before turning to watch Carlton again. John swallows, just feeling the edge of confusion, but he puts it out of his mind as Mr. & Mrs. Willis give their answers – his bad habit is lazing about on weekday evenings, and hers is micromanagement – and their predicted answers line up neatly: full points.
The Amesons only manage half points – they can agree on his shortcomings but not hers, it seems.
“And now for the Watsons – let’s start with you, John. What about you annoys Sherlock the most?”
John raises his eyebrows at Sherlock before turning to face Carlton. “My adherence to petty human needs like food and sleep,” he deadpans. “It’s such a shame we can’t all go days without food or sleep. Biology is such a nuisance sometimes.”
Sherlock huffs beside him. “At last you admit it.”
Carlton gives the audience a look – half of which is chuckling, and half of which is murmuring in a concerned fashion. “As for you Sherlock? Care to share a fault?”
Sherlock sighs, as if it’s a great strain to find a flaw to share, but when he answers, John is taken aback at the thoughtful nature of it: “Borrowing things without permission. Doing anything without permission, actually.” Sherlock pauses, shrugs one shoulder. “Probably my general disregard for asking permission. In fact, John is at least thirty-five percent less likely to get angry with me over some transgression if I take the precaution of acquiring permission ahead of time, even if I end up overstepping the bounds of said permission in the process.”
“Sounds like a lesson worth remembering,” Carlton says with a wink at the audience, and John doesn’t miss the way Sherlock’s eyes narrow at that.
They hold up their cards to show how their predictions and answers match up, and while the audience claps, they share a look. It feels serious, for all the ridiculousness of their situation and surroundings, and John can’t shake the feeling of dawning…something. They hadn’t really set out to do well in this competition – this was just about getting Sherlock a front row seat to observe Carlton after all – but the results so far are undeniable.
If John is honest, he’ll admit he hadn’t really expected them to know each other so well – which…well. It’s not that he didn’t think they knew each other well. In fact, he expects Sherlock knows him best of all the people in his life, including family. And John knows by now that he is considered an authority on Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective and Mad Flatmate – even Mycroft, who can always read Sherlock sometimes asks John to interpret or intervene.
But what John hadn’t been expecting at all was for this knowledge to coalesce into such an awareness – of each other and of themselves where the other is concerned. John’s never had that with anyone before – not even Harry back when they could have been twins. It’s a stunning little realization and leaves John more than a little breathless –
But there’s no time to come to terms with it; Carlton is asking the next question and Sherlock’s giving John a look, so John gives himself a shake and takes a breath and pays attention.
"What would your spouse say is his secret sexual fantasy?"
Annnd there it is.
John can’t help it – he’s blushing even before the question comes to a close. “Oh god,” he mutters, and tucks his hand over his mouth. Of the horrible scenarios John’s imagination had painted, this is by far the worst one, and it’s just been realized.
Beside him, Sherlock tilts his head to shoot him another look – this one seems almost concerned – but John is more worried about getting an answer down without combusting from embarrassment.
Sherlock’s likely response is easy – Not really my area, John can almost hear those lips murmur. He jots down that answer, then freezes as he considers what his response should be – and what Sherlock will guess – or is it deduce?
At that thought, John stills his pen’s tapping. Does he have a fantasy for Sherlock to deduce? Has he thought of – of –
Those lips are suddenly all John can see, those hands all he can feel. Sherlock always purses his lips as he plays the violin, fingers dancing through arpeggios, hips swaying his body through the grander swells and cascades of music.
Last winter, a difficult winter for them both, Sherlock had chased the cobwebs from the corners of their shared space with his Strad, coaxed sound back into the quiet hollows of 221B, woven a steady rhythm into their days and evenings.
Sherlock had taught him to dance, once, god so long ago it seems now, Sherlock’s hands in his, his feet guiding John’s, tempo and music pulling their strings, keeping them close even as they kept themselves apart.
John thinks now of sounds and rhythms coaxed by different means from different instruments, of Sherlock’s mouth upon his now, closing the distance that had lingered that day, stiff and formal as a handshake, of hands taking, grasping, pulling, holding, pushing, a distant memory of thoughts half thought, wants half hidden in moments between waking and sleep.
Those lips dipping low, those fingers dancing lower.
John’s eyes snap open as the chime begins, and he barely has a moment to scribble a one word answer and toss his pen aside.
Carlton starts with the other two couples (outdoor sex, sex in public, dressing up, light bondage) and then saunters over to John and Sherlock’s little booth. “And what of team Watson, eh?” Carlton’s eyebrows jump up and down a few times for effect, and John tries not to look at Sherlock.
“Who’ll go first – John? What is Sherlock’s secret sexual fantasy?” He says each word as if it’s an adventure in innuendo and intonation. John very much wants to make him eat those words – or a fist.
Instead of giving into temptation, John tries for casual as he answers: “I wouldn’t say Sherlock has one – it’s not really his area, fantasy. He’s much more interested in reality than idle dreaming.”
“Oho, really?” Carlton’s eyebrows jump up – and stay up. “Well in that case – Sherlock, care to tell us John’s secret desires?”
John can’t help it – he closes his eyes.
“He has none.”
John opens his eyes in shock.
Sherlock takes a breath and continues: “John is honest about his passions, makes no secrets of his wants, and has always openly acted upon his desires.” There’s the tiniest of twitches at the corner of Sherlock’s mouth, and John can’t help but read into it, remembering all the dates he’d paraded through 221B in the past, and suddenly feeling rather ill for it. “As such,” Sherlock adds, “John has no need of ‘secret sexual fantasies.’” He manages to imbue the phrase with enough disdain to strip paint. “A trait we share, although for different reasons.”
Carlton boggles at them both. His eyebrows are in danger of becoming one with his hairline. “So you’re saying John’s right? You don’t fantasize at all?”
Sherlock arches a brow. “That paraphrasing is correct.”
“And John? Throw us a bone here, man – is Sherlock right about you? Do you really have no secret fantasies?”
Rather than speak, John lifts his placard with his one word answer:
The audience applauds as expected, because that’s what they do when the answers match up (especially when they’re so unexpected), but John doesn’t miss the complicated look that passes over Sherlock’s features. It starts with satisfaction but is quickly replaced by something much more vulnerable, soft and brittle all at once – and then it’s gone.
Sherlock looks away, off stage.
John drops his card and tries to smile – they’re still in the lead after all – but being right has never left such a sour taste in his mouth before, nor such a sharp hollow in his stomach.
The applause keeps on and on.
“Well now,” Carlton starts, retaking the stage, “it seems we need to really stir up some trouble. Can’t have all this harmony and communication – it makes for terribly dull watching.” He winks as he pauses for a moment. “Are you ready, ladies and gentlemen? Ready for The Question that wrecks homes and relationships and tears whole families apart?” Carlton infuses each syllable with enough drama to shame day-time soaps. The audience holds its breath.
John sits forward even as Sherlock brings his steepled fingers to his chin.
Carlton shares a debonair grin with the audience as he says: “Who… is better… at making… tea?”
The audience reaction is a mixture of laughter and ‘ooooh’ noises. John and Sherlock share a confused glance, but even as they do, the other couples are already busy writing furiously.
John shrugs and grabs his pen, jots down his answer, and then sits back to wait.
Sounds of writing fill the time before the chime directs them to put down their pens.
Carlton saunters up to John and Sherlock, a smug grin on his face. “Alright, gents: who makes better tea?” Obviously he’s had enough of their ‘good luck’ streak.
“That’s easy enough. I do,” John says with complete surety. “I certainly get enough practice – in the last month, he’s only made tea twice, and not to drink mind you.” With each word, it’s a little easier to recapture the feeling and flow of the character he’s supposed to be playing.
Carlton tips his head quizzically. “What does he do with it, then?”
“Pours it out on newspapers. I think it’s a waste, but he’ll probably go on about how scientifically valuable stains on the floor and the carpet are.” He grins, and it’s easy, not just because Sherlock’s behaviour naturally inspires that sort of mad grin, but because at least they’re back on solid ground now, leaving all talk of hidden desires behind.
Beside him Sherlock huffs, but doesn’t say anything. Carlton notices and nods at him. “So, Sherlock, is it true? Do you never make the tea?”
“Of course I do!” Sherlock looks affronted. “The suspension of tannins in temperature variant liquid can be an extremely useful substance for marking the passage of time. Rates of evaporation and staining can all help pinpoint an accurate time of de–”
“Alright, alright, yes, quite good, ahem, but do you ever make it to drink?”
“What? No, of course not. John does that.”
Carlton leans in. “And whose tea tastes the best? Who makes it better?”
Sherlock waves a hand. “Oh, John, of course – Mrs. Hudson’s doesn’t even come close.”
Carlton quirks an indulgent smile at the audience. “I meant: between the two of you –” he indicates Sherlock and John (who cracks his knuckles beneath his writing surface, growing less and less tolerant of the presenter’s patronizing handling of Sherlock) in turn, “who makes the best tea?”
Sherlock blinks. “Still John. Of course. Of course John – his tea is reliably free of hallucinogenic additives and corrosive compounds.”
The audience is growing accustomed to Team Watson non-sequitors, it seems, because the chuckling has a much more uniform sort of fond acceptance this time round.
“So, in other words, John’s tea is better simply because it doesn’t kill you? Remind me never to come ‘round for a cuppa!” The audience chortles faithfully, but it seems Sherlock can’t read stage show conversation cues any better than he can real life conversational ones.
“I…no,” he amends. “It just…it tastes better. When he makes it. The tea.” Sherlock shifts in his seat, and John would be blind not to spot the beginnings of a flush high on his cheeks, seated as close together as they are. Even as his head tilts in confusion, he feels his heart tilt in conviction, and god, this was a terrible idea –
And then the audience goes ‘awwwwwww’ in that cooing manner of currently entertained and momentarily besotted people everywhere, and Sherlock levels a look of such blatant confusion at that response that John has to intervene before his ‘husband’ can say what he just opened his mouth to say.
Which is the sole reason why he hugs Sherlock.
It’s slightly awkward, because they’re still seated, and also because it’s obvious Sherlock wasn’t expecting it, and then realized that his in-character persona would have been expecting it, and there’s a bizarre moment where Sherlock’s arms literally cannot seem to decide what to do. So, very much more than slightly awkward then, but John has hugged a good many more people than Sherlock has, so he just waits it out, lets his arms find a good resting spot, and holds Sherlock.
His mouth is right by Sherlock’s ear, which means Sherlock’s mouth is right by John’s ear, and he sounds a bit lost as he asks, “John? What are you doing?”
John snorts and gives him a brief squeeze. “Stopping you from being a prat,” he says with a smile. “Let’s play the game and solve the case, yeah?”
“Good man.” John can’t resist another quick squeeze before he pulls away.
“You two are just lovely,” Carlton simpers, and John has to work at keeping a smile on his face. Whatever exists between him and Sherlock, nebulous as it is, the last thing it wants or needs is to be put into words by the glib man in front of them.
“Yes, well,” Sherlock clears his throat. “Obviously John’s the romantic in our…relationship.”
“Never would have guessed it,” Carlton says dryly, and moves on to the next couple.
Chapter 5: Game Over
“With the Amesons and the Watsons tied for first, and team Willis ten points behind, it’s anybody’s game as we enter the Bonus Round: one question to win or lose tonight.”
Carlton pauses, beaming at the audience, who finish their clapping and settle down into a hush. “Everyone ready?”
Carlton pulls out a gold envelope. He takes an unnecessarily deep breath and reads out:
“When will your spouse say that they first fell in love with you?”
John is grateful that he is sitting down. The sex fantasy question had been bad enough, but this? This is a whole new level of things John doesn’t want to think about – never mind say out loud! – on a stage. And this time it’s not because he doesn’t think he has an answer.
Fuck, he thinks. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Beside him, Sherlock goes still, and John knows something similar has just gone through the great mind seated next to him.
Strangely enough, that thought calms John, gives him hope, which makes him daring, which makes him honest. He decides on what he knows and what he hopes. He writes down his answers and waits.
The chime sounds, and beside him, Sherlock stops fidgeting, fingers stilling against one another where he’s clasped them.
Carlton starts at the other end of the stage, working his way through first kiss and first dance stories, awarding and withholding points as he goes. Finally he comes to stand by Sherlock and John. “And now for our frontrunners, John and Sherlock – get this right, and the prize is yours! What do you say, boys?”
John and Sherlock share a glance.
“Wonderful,” John says, after it becomes apparent Sherlock isn’t going to speak. “We’re so excited.”
Carlton frowns slightly at John’s deadpan delivery, then turns his attention to Sherlock. “And you Sherlock? You’re awfully quiet – care to go first?” Carlton’s smile, John decides, wants a fist – but he puts those thoughts aside as Sherlock takes a breath and begins to speak:
“It has been my experience that most paramours are quick to say they will make some great sacrifice for you, or perform some magnificent deed.” Sherlock’s mouth tightens for a moment. He looks down, then at the audience. “John has saved my life three times now, not including all the little ways in which he’s made it bearable and enjoyable and worth continuing.” Sherlock pauses. “Although quite frankly, the second and third time were over-kill. John can be such a show off.” Sherlock’s smile tries for playful, but it seems as if it’s just barely holding back a flood of things unsaid as he finally looks at John. “Honestly, all it took was the once, that first time during our first case together, saving me from circumstance and myself. I’m afraid I don’t think I’ve ever fully recovered.”
The audience is dead silent, and Carlton looks to John. “John?”
John stares at Sherlock, caught on his words and – and –
It’s his turn. His turn to speak. Play the game.
John swallows, waits for his heart to turn back over, clears his throat. “The pool,” he says, and it emerges a bit raspy. “When you saw me – the way you looked at me – I mean I didn’t even realize until you... left, but it started then. Right then.”
The audience is holding its collective breath, and Carlton asks, “Your cards, gents?”
Sherlock’s card reads:
The pool, April 1st, 2010
John’s card, beside Sherlock’s, reads:
Our first case
The applause is deafening – people stand up and cheer. It all seems overmuch, yet washed out and distant, unimportant.
They’ve won, it seems – but John’s not interested. He’s back to looking at Sherlock, who’s meeting his gaze even as Carlton chatters excitedly, effusing about their success, consoling the runners-up, trying to shake John’s hand, and then sort of just seizing it and pumping it a few times before trying to do the same for Sherlock and finally settling for clapping him on the shoulder.
Carlton’s voice is a brash interruption: “C’mon, lads - we’re done, now – time to exit stage left!”
“Oh.” John blinks, looks away from Sherlock’s eyes. The curtains are dropping, closing out the show, and already stage hands are darting forward, wheeling empty booths to the side, snatching up the answer cards before John can even blink. He doesn’t fully understand the profound sense of loss he feels at having his and Sherlock’s cards taken with the rest, but it’s there nonetheless. “Sherlock?”
“…Let’s go. We’re done here.” His eyes cut away from John’s, and he stands abruptly.
Oh. Back to business – to before – then. John flexes his hand, nods firmly. “Got what you needed, then?”
Sherlock won’t meet his eyes. “Of course.”
Sherlock turns and leaves, striding swiftly for stage right, against the flow of people, and John follows. He wants to ask if Sherlock’s solved it already, he wants to ask what evidence he spotted, he wants to ask so many things.
But every single word is stuck behind a question John can’t quite put into words.
John waits in the cramped brick hallway when Sherlock darts into the production manager’s office – it’s says R. Lionel on the door. He assumes it’s to do with the case, so he just leaves Sherlock to it. Besides, he doesn’t have any words to add, at the moment. He hears voices inside, an intense murmur, but the walls are thick and the door seems to be soundproofed.
“We should get home,” Sherlock says upon stepping out of the office. His expression is shuttered, but John is (now quantifiably) attuned to Sherlock: his set jaw and stiff shoulders belie irritation at least, if not outright anger.
John wants to ask, “Everything alright?” because he normally does, and he would right now, if he could, but he’s busy right now not asking questions. He can’t, not until he feels out the one that has to happen first. He thinks he manages a, “Mhm,” in response to Sherlock’s suggestion, but either way he follows when Sherlock leaves, and that should be answer enough.
The cab ride is quiet, both of them staring resolutely out their own windows.
London is a spring gray, flashing past in concrete and unexpected flashes of pale green as John watches. The sun is setting later now that summer is approaching, but it will be dark by the time they reach home.
When the cab pulls up outside number 221, Sherlock lingers to pay, which is odd, but John’s body is on autopilot while his mind turns over and over, and he’s in the door and up the stairs and stepping into the middle of the living room before he even realises Sherlock isn’t ahead of him or beside him or even behind him. He feels that absence suddenly, acutely, and as he does, something happens:
The words click into place.
His breath catches.
There are hesitant footsteps on the stairs.
John turns as Sherlock enters.
His gloves are in one hand, the other is deep in a coat pocket, and after an initial flash of contact, Sherlock won’t look at John, who is standing, waiting, almost shivering with the question he’s just finished putting together.
“John,” Sherlock begins, and he looks pale and young and uncertain as, words coming too quickly, he says, “I feel I need to apologize for the way the evening turned out. It was never my intention that –”
“Stop it,” John says, because he can now, his throat no longer locked around an unworded question. “Stop it, Sherlock, and just…just answer me.” John draws a heaving breath and finally asks: “Was what happened on that stage… real.” He’s so tightly strung he can’t even manage inflection in his words.
“Was it? Was it true?” John’s advancing, now. “Was what you said the truth?”
Sherlock’s mouth works, and he can’t seem to look away from John now, even though his head turns as if he were trying to break away. He gives a tight little breath, then, and closes his eyes. “Yes,” he breathes.
John stops. Breathing. Advancing. Thinking. Everything.
“John, I’m sorry –”
“You…” John finally manages. “You –”
Sherlock flinches as John invades his space, but doesn’t lift his hands, obviously anticipating a blow and accepting it, and every part of that cuts into John, that Sherlock should expect violence from him and think it deserved –
Sherlock’s hands jerk up in surprise and his eyes snap open in shock, however, as John lands a kiss against his mouth.
A sharp, high sounds escapes Sherlock, and his hands find John’s shoulders, and they’re shaking so that John can’t tell if he’s being pulled closer or pushed away.
John breaks the kiss, leans back, his hands on Sherlock’s right shoulder and left flank, and waits while Sherlock just stares at him and blinks.
“Sherlock?” he asks finally, and also, “Is this alright?” because that’s always important.
“– kissed me. You kissed me!” Sherlock’s eyes flit back and forth for a long moment. “Why would you do that?”
John takes a breath. “I…because I was also telling the truth.” He swallows. “Back there.”
Sherlock’s mouth opens on a silent gasp, and forms around the exhale, shapes it into “Oh,” and then he asks, “Really?”
Sherlock’s hands still a little, slip up to cradle John’s neck and jaw, tentative in their touches, so John slips his hands along Sherlock’s arms to lay his hands on top of Sherlock’s, pressing until Sherlock’s hold is sure. He lets his thumbs stroke over the backs of Sherlock’s hands.
Sherlock’s eyelids flutter, and his breathing grows harsh. “John –”
John leans in, and this time Sherlock is unmistakably pulling him closer, and his mouth opens under John’s with a soft gasp and a softer sound. John crowds closer, feeling every space between them, measured in years in the past, in inches now, and every last iota of distance is unbearable.
The kiss deepens, no longer just an intense press of lips, a ragged exchange of breath; Sherlock whimpers and sags back against the wall by the entry as John’s hands wind into his hair and hold him, tilting his head to help the kiss along, then pulling his head back so he can have a go at that neck, and Sherlock’s gasping out little ‘oh’s as his hands scrabble and grasp at John’s coat.
“John –” he breaks off to cry out as John bites into the muscle where his neck and shoulder meet. His back arches and is breath comes in little sips, and then his hands are pulling at John’s clothing. “John, the – the sex question,” Sherlock pants. “I lied. I – I lied. I do – I do – for you – I want –”
“Oh god,” John gasps. “Me, too – I couldn’t – I didn’t think – but I do, god, you – you, I want you –”
“Oh god, yes,” Sherlock breathes, “please –”
John’s hands ruck up Sherlock’s shirt even as their mouths meet again, teeth clicking, lips smearing as they try to walk backwards, sideways, with a bit of a turn, maneuvering out of their clothes and through the room, and into Sherlock’s bedroom.
“Do you have –?” John asks, and Sherlock makes an unintelligible noise, trying to answer without removing his mouth from John’s earlobe, which, oh god, but John persists, untangles himself from Sherlock and says, “We’re going to need –”
“I know, I know – and yes, except –”
Sherlock shakes his head. “I’m clean, John, I want –”
“Sherlock, I don’t want to put you at risk –”
“You wouldn’t – you’re clean, too.”
John gapes at him. “How could you possibly know that – I haven’t gotten tested since last Christmas –”
“John, do not make me talk about Mycroft and his penchant for poking his nose in everybody’s business right now. Please. Just trust me, if you weren’t clean, I’d be the first to know. After Mycroft, that is, but –”
John covers Sherlock’s mouth with his hand, because he simply cannot hear another word about that. “We are never talking about your brother again. Not like this.”
“Agreed.” Sherlock pulls back a little, almost bashful now, and asks, “So – can we – will you –?”
John tips Sherlock back onto the bed and is on him in an instant. At least three buttons are lost in the fray, and Sherlock’s breathless grunt becomes a series of gasps as John kisses and licks at his chest and nipples, going on general extrapolation of what he himself likes, until Sherlock is squirming beneath him, pelvis jerking with each new touch, an obvious hardness pushing against the confines of his trousers. John cannot help but meet Sherlock’s mouth in deep kiss, hands in his hair, and god how long has he pretended not to want this, lied to himself about not needing this, Sherlock, pressed close and shuddering, shivering as their hips grind together.
“John,” Sherlock gasps as their lips part for a moment, “John, trousers –”
“Brilliant,” John kisses him, “bloody,” he works his way down Sherlock’s body, “genius.” Sherlock lifts his hips, half in an attempt to help John rid him of his trousers and pants, and half because John’s grip on his side seems to run a current straight through that pale body.
John takes a moment to shimmy out of his remaining clothes as well as grabbing the last of Sherlock’s and then pushes everything off the side of the bed, not caring one whit for wrinkles. When he looks up from his task, Sherlock’s eyes are on him, already. Those lips are parted and swollen, those cheekbones flushed with red. Sherlock’s eyes are thin rings of crystal around endless pools of black.
John is so hard it aches.
“John,” Sherlock breathes, and then John is on top of Sherlock again, but then somehow he’s under him, being wound and wrapped up in long limbs as Sherlock kisses every bit of skin he can reach. “John,” Sherlock groans, and John joins in, because their cocks have just slid past each other, and oh god – “Here,” Sherlock says, and there’s a tube of something cool in John’s hand – oh.
He works it open, covers his fingers, feeling the thick, slippery viscosity of the lubricant, spreading it to cover three fingers thoroughly, and then shimmies down under Sherlock to slip his hand lower, down past his twitching cock and behind his heavy testicles –
Sherlock makes a choked-off sound, a stuttering of surprise and arousal as John strokes his perineum firmly, spreading the slick gel lower, lower.
“Uhn,” Sherlock manages, shuddering, as John pushes in with one finger, steady, slow, sure. He runs his dry hand up and down Sherlock’s side, looks up at his heaving chest, just inches from his face. He tilts his head up and licks at a nipple, and when Sherlock trembles and presses closer, he begins to suckle it, moving his finger in circles inside Sherlock until it’s time for another.
Sherlock grunts and stiffens as two fingers push into him, but John keeps on with his mouth on his nipple, splays his clean hand against Sherlock’s back and keeps him close and still as he strokes in and out, searches –
Sherlock stiffens above him, his breathing stops, and his arse clenches around John’s fingers, just once, and then Sherlock shakes as he says, “I just – I nearly –”
John can barely breathe at the thought. “Oh god –”
“Please, John, now, now, I don’t know if I can last, and I want –”
“I know, it’s ok, I know, let me just –” John pulls back out, and presses in with three fingers, staying away from Sherlock’s prostate this time, working on the tight muscles and rim, pushing as much lubricant in with his fingers as he can while keeping his touch light. Above him Sherlock shivers and sighs, lip caught between his teeth, eyes closed, and cheeks so flushed that they’re hot to the touch.
At last John pulls out, hand still slippery slick, and he takes a hold of himself and strokes himself wet and ready.
“How do you want me?” he asks Sherlock.
Sherlock’s skin ripples with a tremor. “I want to see you.”
“On top of you or under you, then.”
Sherlock bites his lip, so John takes his hip with his clean hand and wipes his other hand on the edge of the bed sheet. “Let’s try like this.” He guides Sherlock to all fours above him, then pushes until Sherlock’s arse is up against his thighs. “Ready?” he asks, and Sherlock nods.
John takes himself in hand, holds his cock in place as he guides Sherlock down. He plants his feet and pushes up into Sherlock, and now all the lube and prep pay off, because Sherlock gasps but doesn’t flinch or wince as John’s cockhead slips through first, only breathes hard and fast and pushes back until he’s sitting in John’s lap, held in place by John’s hands and cock.
“Oh,” John says faintly. “Oh fuck.” Sherlock is hot and tight inside, muscles working John’s cock with each tiny movement, with each breath it seems.
“I,” Sherlock manages. He shifts a little, “I – ah –” and John groans as Sherlock’s body takes him in just a little deeper.
“Ready?” John asks, and he’s maybe bruising Sherlock’s hips at this point with his fingertips, trying to brace himself against the urge to thrust. “Sherlock –”
“Yes, yes, do it – ahh!”
John’s first thrust is shallow, but he gets his hands – and Sherlock’s hips – involved in the next one, so it’s slow and deep, a thorough pull and press, almost all the way out, then all the way back in. The next thrust John works to tuck Sherlock’s hips forward a bit, and Sherlock quivers with the strain, but cries out as John’s cock moves over his prostate.
“Oh god, again, oh –” Sherlock’s elbows nearly cave, and John slips a hand to Sherlock’s chest to stabilize him as he tries to buck back against John’s cock. “I – oh – oh – fuck, John –”
John feels the clench, braces for Sherlock to come, but just then Sherlock’s arms give out and he collapses against John’s chest, quivering on the edge of release, and keening.
“Sorry,” he pants, “sorry – I can’t – I –”
John pulls him into a kiss. “Shh, it’s okay,” he pants, “here, get on your back.”
Sherlock lifts off John and flops onto his side, twitching and pliant, and John arranges him as he looks on in a daze. “John,” he murmurs, sounding almost drunk, almost drugged with arousal. “I – uhn!”
John slides back in easily, now on top, between Sherlock’s thighs, takes charge of the motion, and begins again, building the rhythm they’d been chasing when Sherlock had nearly come.
Sherlock is gasping after the first few thrusts, pelvis jerking up to meet John’s thrusts, hands full of bed sheets then John’s back, his shoulders, his hair, the pillows, the headboard.
He gets his legs up between one thrust and the next, heels digging into John’s lower back as he locks his ankles, and that’s it – John can feel the difference from one moment to the next, the punch of Sherlock’s breath, the clench of his muscles, and then –
Sherlock cries out, voice a high rasp as he comes, his eyes closed tight, his head thrown back, arms about John’s shoulders. “I – I – oh god, John!” His come stripes high up on his chest and stomach, his head tilts backwards, his fingers dig into John’s skin.
“I know, I know, I’ve got you, I’ve got you – oh god you – you’re gorgeous, oh fuck –” John pushes into Sherlock a few more times, watches as Sherlock shivers and twitches, going limp in the aftermath of his orgasm –
John comes with a shout, hoarse, buries himself deep and stills as his cock pulses. He can feel the wetness of his come, the silky slick of it as it spills inside, and it seems Sherlock can feel it too, his breathy cries echoing John’s release.
A few harsh breaths, and John slumps forward, catches himself on his elbows, and proceeds to kiss Sherlock as thoroughly as he can with his mouth slack from pleasure. He slips a hand down to help as he pulls out, gentling the skin of Sherlock’s thighs and arse, stroking the skin that’s slippery with come and lubricant.
Sherlock sighs and pulls John back to him. After a long moment he says, still out of breath, “I didn’t – I didn’t lie. About the first time. The first case.”
John lifts his head as Sherlock goes still beneath him. Sherlock starts to fidget as John just stares, drinking in the raw honesty on his face, trying to deal with the tightness in his throat. He swallows, clears his throat, swallows again. “I wasn’t lying either. About the pool.”
Sherlock inhales sharply and freezes, eyes locking onto John’s.
John pries the words loose from his throat and says them, refuses to let them get stuck this time, because they need to be said: “I love you, Sherlock.”
Sherlock’s vocal cords seem to have stopped working this time, because a raw sound rips out and he pulls John crushingly close and just holds him, face buried in John’s neck. Each breath shivers out of Sherlock, and John lets his hands stroke and soothe what skin they find. He hears a mumble against his neck after a minute.
He pulls back. “Sherlock?”
John breathes in sharply. “Yeah?” he asks softly.
Sherlock opens his mouth, begins to say, “I lo–” but John is kissing him, unable to keep from doing so again and again. Sherlock kisses back despite a surprised huff and a few half-hearted noises of irritation. “John,” he breaks away, “I’m trying to say –”
“Busy with your mouth,” John says, kissing him again. “Busy kissing you.”
“John,” Sherlock complains, but there’s laughter in his voice and his mouth, and then they’re pushing closer, Sherlock’s long legs sliding against John’s, fingers lacing together – and then Sherlock flips them, and John’s looking up at Sherlock’s heaving chest and parted lips, his face framed by wild curls.
“John Watson, I love you.”
John grins up at him. “That so, Sherlock Watson?”
Sherlock pinks, colour flagging high on his cheekbones. “I –”
“I don’t mind,” John says, then pushes up to kiss him again, softer this time, slower. Sherlock’s eyes close as he kisses back, and it’s lovely, languid, lingering, this closeness, shared breath and space and touch.
“So,” John says as the kisses wind down, the moments between them growing longer again.
“Mhm,” Sherlock replies. They’re on their sides by now, tangled and tucked together. Sherlock has his hands right against John’s chest, only shifting one finger every now and then.
“You solved the case.”
Sherlock grins sleepily. “I did.”
They’re both tired, so when Sherlock starts to laugh, at first it’s just a breathy shaking of his shoulders. He manages a few actual peals of laughter before it devolves into a full body shake, little snips of sound emerging as he tries to gasp for air. John chuckles along, but his curiosity and puzzlement keep him from joining in all the way.
“Care to explain?”
“Oh – oh god, John – I thought,” Sherlock hiccups – actually hiccups – and swallows some air down accidentally when he tries to breathe normally. “I thought you were going to be furious, but maybe not, now, seeing as –”
“What happened?” John asks warily.
“They – Carlton and Raymond – it was a publicity stunt. Raymond contacted me to have me look into Carlton, said the biggest tip off would be during the actual stage presence – and – well –”
John’s jaw drops. “No. Oh god – really – no!”
Sherlock laughs again, and this time it sounds less like hysterics. “I – I realized what was happening because of the questions – they were all questions that those insufferable newspaper polls ask about us, the ones your readers bother you about, especially that fantasy one – and –”
“Oh god.” John starts to laugh. “Oh god, we gave them the interview of the century –”
“I’m afraid so.”
“– as a married couple.” John is belly-laughing now. “Oh god, that would bother me so much more if –”
“If we hadn’t – if we didn’t –”
Their laughter fills the room before draining away to giggles and gasps.
“We should send them a thank you card.” John snorts. “Also, we should sue them. They’re not supposed to exploit contestants beyond the obvious.”
Sherlock grins, and it’s the one reserved for criminals who think they’re smarter than him or braver than John. “Well, it’s not like we weren’t compensated – you’ll be happy to know I charged Raymond triple the usual fee for being boring.”
“Also, I purloined the taped copy of the show – he already had it in hand when I walked in. It’s in my coat pocket. Our stage debut won’t go beyond the audience members and their meager social circles.”
“Good…that’s good.” John heaves a relieved sigh.
“And of course, we did win first prize.”
John can’t help himself: “Oooh, let me guess – a 23 inch colour telly with Mediterranean styling in wood panel!”
Sherlock, mouth open to explain, closes it with a click. “…What?” He frowns. “How is that a prize? Was it a prize? A consolation trinket for the runners up?”
John grins up at Sherlock. “Never mind – what did we get, then?”
Sherlock, still looking perplexed, gives his head a little shake. “A romantic getaway for two – a ten day Caribbean cruise.”
“I am not.”
“That’s…that could be rather – except –”
Sherlock’s frown, only just smoothed out, snaps back into place. “What?”
“It’s just – won’t that be terribly boring?”
Sherlock tilts his head to the side. “I thought you’d like it.”
“Oh, I know I will – what about you, though?”
“John,” Sherlock pushes in close for a kiss, his face lighting up as John gives it, gives in, until Sherlock pulls back again and says: “Ten days on a ship together, with islands to explore, passenger intrigue to uncover, and bedding to ruin.” Sherlock gives him a blazing smile, then. “I think I’ll survive.”
I should mention that the '23" telly with Mediterranean wood panel styling' prize is lifted from an actual 1973 episode of the Newlywed Game, because that tiny ugly box as a prize made me laugh so much harder than the rest of the period typical sexism ever could...
“John, it’s a deserted island, it’s not as if anyone would see –”
“Sherlock, it’s broad daylight!”
“It’ll only be for a little while, John –”
“Sherlock, we are not sneaking away from the tour to go skinny dipping – do you even listen to yourself sometimes?”
“Oh hush, John – the tour will survive without us for an hour or so, and we’ll have a proper look at that waterfall.”
“Sherlock, even if I say yes – which I’m not – I don’t see how we’ll even manage to get away.”
“Not to worry John, I have everything in hand. There are several convenient bends coming up in the marked trail that should allow us to slip away and rejoin again with a minimum of fuss. In fact, the only stumbling block is the fact that it is so very sunny. I’m afraid I will need assistance in applying sun block in some very unusual places, so-o-o…”
“I…just…fuck, Sherlock. When do we leave?”
“Is that a yes, doctor?”
“You know it is. Against my better judgement.”
“John, when has listening to your ‘better judgement’ ever helped – don't answer that. Besides, wouldn’t you say we’ve faced worse than the wrath of fussy tour guides?”
“Alright, Sherlock. Alright. Lead the way.”
“Excellent, John! Now, follow me….”
Thank you for reading!