“John, it’s your 18th bloody birthday,” she says, voice a mixture of exasperation and affection. “You don’t actually think I’m going to let you spend it puttering around in your room and, and probably knitting, do you? You’re only young once, you know. Carpe diem. All that sort of thing.”
“More like carpe vino in your case, Harry. I can see right through you, you know.”
“I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about. Nobody mentioned anything remotely vino-ish. Besides, all this is entirely for your benefit,” Harry proclaims, giving John her wounded-puppy expression and receiving a swift shove to the face for her troubles.
“That is an absolute no to the no doubt alcohol-soaked party, Harry. And I do not knit.”
“Owww, ow ow bloody ow, you’ve gone and broken my nose - ”
And so it comes to pass that John finds himself sitting in a circle of tipsy teenagers, only a few hours before sunrise and the beginning of the official end of his youth. The party has been in full swing for an hour or two, now. Harry’s busy romancing a mousy girl from 5th form - what was her name again? Kara, Tara, something. Soon to be known as “Harem Girl #13”, if his calculations aren’t too far off.
Donovan and Anderson are making out shamelessly, a sight he would have gladly avoided were they not, in fact, sitting right across from him. He can see Anderson’s boxers. They appear to have characters from The Land Before Time printed on them.
“Oh for God's sake,” John groans under his breath.
It isn’t that he doesn’t like these people. They’re a good lot, really. He can sit with them at lunch and know that they won’t ask him uncomfortable questions about his shoulder, that sweet Molly Hooper will understand his talk of medical school dreams, that Lestrade and his quiet wry quirk of a smile will be there to corral the conversation in a way John is sometimes incredibly, stupidly grateful for.
It’s just that he hates fuss. It’s the last thing he needs now, with thoughts of university weighing on his mind, and his shoulder aching vindictively. He hates the way everyone is so careful around him, scrupulously avoiding his left side, treating him like...like he’ll shatter at any moment.
No one remembers that the reason why the man who’d tried to rape his twin sister a year ago isn’t in jail is because he’s currently in the hospital, comatose. The doctors have diagnosed him with head trauma, cause unknown.
(Even now, John can still feel Harry’s wet fingers clenched around his as she says to the officer, stonily, “He saved me. He saved me. I don’t care what happens to that fucker, I hope he dies. You hear me? You leave my brother alone.”)
No one, of course, except for his lab partner, who seems to see everything with those uncanny pale eyes. He’d taken a single glance at John’s hands and said, “Metal folding chair the only thing handy, I see,” in that startlingly deep voice, then gone on to measure out 10 microliters of InstaGene matrix as John gaped at him.
Sherlock Holmes. He is an anomaly, to say the least. 14 years old, and at the top of his form, which is of course the same as John’s. He probably could have graduated at 12 if he weren’t so partial to the school’s top-notch lab facilities. Rumor has it that his older brother Mycroft, also a genius, pays him to run experiments for his thesis research.
As a lab partner he’s both a godsend and a nightmare - cuttingly efficient, always three steps ahead of everyone else, and unsparingly vocal about it. By the third class, John decided he’d had enough of being called an incompetent imbecile and to just let Holmes get on with things, occasionally grabbing a pipette or even answering a text for the imperious boy, who is a devout subscriber to the belief that nothing was worth doing if there was someone else around to do it for you. John has even brought him lunch a few times, to the shock of his friends, not to mention the rest of the school. Everyone says that no one can stand Sherlock Holmes but himself... and now, John Watson, apparently.
Here’s the thing: Holmes is arrogant and insensitive, but he invariably sees the truth about other people - which of course doesn’t win him many friends, as no one really likes to hear the truth about themselves, especially uttered in Holmes’s trademark bald terms. But bald terms are just what John needs. He’s had enough sympathy and platitudes to last him a long, humdrum lifetime.
“Oi, Watson, nice view where you’re at?” says a voice to his left, and John jumps a bit.
“Sorry, Lestrade, just...thinking.”
“Not bored, are you? We could play a game, if you want.” Lestrade’s eyes crinkle as he smiles that reassuring quirky smile.
“Ooh, I know a good one,” says Hooper from under Lestrade’s arm, which is looped loosely over her shoulders. Her lipstick’s smeared a bit, the area around her mouth flushed pink. Her cheeky grin mirrors Lestrade’s. “I learned it in America last summer, it’s really fun.”
She explains the game to the others. Lazy remarks of agreement come from around the circle, Harry’s accompanied by the obligatory catcall.
John hears none of them. Suddenly, impossibly, Sherlock has entered the room.
Donovan un-suckers her lips from Anderson’s to goggle in disbelief at Sherlock.
“Well, well! If it isn’t the freakazoid himself,” she says nastily. “Tired of plotting our murders, are you? Come to get some first-hand data?”
Sherlock’s eyes sweep over the scene of teen debauchery before him. He doesn’t bother to look at her as he replies, “Please, Donovan, ‘freakazoid’ stopped being an acceptable insult when you were five.”
“Listen, kid,” Lestrade says quietly, “What are you doing? You’re not supposed to be here.”
Sherlock sniffs. “I was bored.” He doesn’t look at John.
Harry’s sniggering. “Come to the right place, then, haven’t you? Why don’t you play a game with us?” She takes a swallow from her red cup and gestured at a spot near Anderson. Lestrade’s vague protests that he’s far too young for any of this are lost in a chorus of agreement. Everyone is eager to see cold, superior Sherlock Holmes humiliated.
Sherlock’s disdainful expression doesn’t change. He surveys at the room again, seems to decide to take Harry’s invitation for the challenge that it undoubtedly is, and folds himself catlike onto the floor beside Anderson. The latter glowers and tugs irritably at his dinosaur boxers, which are beginning to slip a bit.
John hasn’t said a word yet. Something about the sight of Sherlock, this impossibly long and elegant creature that belongs - where? In a lab, hunched over some arcane instrument, probably, or outlined dramatically against the London skyline - the sight of him, jarringly incongruous against a mundane backdrop of red plastic cups and haphazardly arranged crepe streamers, has rendered him speechless. It’s like seeing a ballerina pirouetting through a hippopotamus pen. Or something. God, he can’t even think coherently. How many beers has he drunk?
For his part, Sherlock has glanced once, and only once, in John’s general direction, greeting him with a vague nod. His face betrays no emotion, though this is not, as such, a deviation from the norm. John attempts to smile back, but his face doesn’t seem to be working properly for some reason.
The game begins. “Here, birthday boy,” calls Harry, tossing John an empty Stella bottle. “You get first pick.”
John catches it gamely, but he’s shaking his head. “This is ridiculous,” he croaks out as he sets the bottle whirling, hypnotic against the smooth hardwood floor.
The bottle glints menacingly as it spins, once, twice, thrice... and comes to a slow and undeniable stop with its mouth pointing smugly at Sherlock Holmes.
There follows the inevitable pause during which all present gape soundlessly at either the instrument of fate itself or its hapless victims. Sherlock’s face seems to be frozen into a rictus of... shock? Annoyance? Sherlockness? Who knows what is going on in that formidable cranium?
As for John, after the initial shock, he just looks at the ceiling and says quite matter-of-factly, “Of course this is happening to me.” Being John Watson really sucks sometimes.
Meanwhile, everyone is talking at once, or laughing uproariously in Harry’s case. Molly is saying insistently, “Yeah they do, it still counts if they’re both boys or both girls, it doesn’t matter, it’s the rules,” Anderson is bleating something about a re-spin (very loudly, too - odd, that, thinksJohn distantly), Lestrade is pinching the bridge of his nose, and, oh, okay, someone’s pulling John up by the arms. He lets himself be dragged to the closet, shaking his head the whole way. Resistance is beyond him now, and whether it’s due to the Stella or just pure exhaustion, he really doesn’t know or care.
Sherlock does, though, apparently, and he puts up quite a fight, spitting and snarling at Sebastian and some deceptively tiny bloke from Organic Chemistry (unremarkable fellow; John thinks maybe his name starts with... an M? Whatever) as they haul him bodily into the closet next to John. The door closes with a very final whump.
The two boys stand in darkness for moment, the steady sound of Sherlock’s angry diatribe low and immediate over the distant hum of the people outside laughing and chatting.
John switches the light on. Then he winces. The illumination provided by the closet’s dingy, yellow bulb, mediocre though it is, nonetheless leaves no doubt that Sherlock is having, to put it lightly, a monumental strop. He’s still muttering furiously to himself, arms firmly crossed.
“Well. Hullo, Sh - Holmes,” says John, and damn it, how long has he been thinking of him as Sherlock?
Sherlock seethes. “This. Is. Ludicrous.” His eyes are fixed determinedly on a spot somewhere to the left of John’s head.
John sighs, tries to explain. “Look, I - I’m so, so sorry. They’re just - they’re my mates, you know, and they can be a bit obnoxious, but they’re just trying - they just want to have a bit of, of fun - ”
“Yes,” snaps Sherlock, “I have deduced by now that they are your ‘mates’, Watson, thank you very much, and furthermore that they are obnoxious in the extreme, though that did not require much effort. I now regret coming here even more than I’d first suspected I would, but such misfortunes do seem to go hand in hand with boredom, and I shall simply have to chalk it up to bad luck and delete the entire experience. I had originally intended to collect data on the difference age makes in the behavior of subjects who have imbibed alcohol, but thanks to your mates’inane game, I have been unable to collect anything of use and therefore cannot even claim this small consolation for the utter ruination of my evening. Why - ”
And it’s not that John isn’t listening to what Sherlock’s been saying. He sort of knows this monologue anyway, the everyone-is-a-moron-and-out-to-make-my-life-miserable-and/or-boring speech (he makes it all the time in chem lab, where idiocy makes its presence known quickly and often). It’s just that now that they’re alone, and John’s had a chance to really study Sherlock, he’s suddenly struck by how very young the kid really is. Despite the fact that he looms over nearly everyone in sixth form and is clearly lightyears ahead in terms of mental prowess, he’s still just a 14-year-old boy, gangling and more than a little awkward. It’s apparent now, in his averted eyes and the tautness of his face, the only signs of nervousness poking through his otherwise solid facade of irritation and condescension. He can’t help noticing, too, the elegant lines of his neck, shadowed in the dim light, and how soft the unruly tufts of his dark hair look, and where the hell did those thoughts come from?!
He clears his throat and interrupts Sherlock’s rant. “All right, Sherlock, I’m really sorry, but listen, it’s - it’s okay, we don’t have to actually do anything. Really. We could just pretend. I mean, they’re not gonna know what happened in here. It’s the rules, they can’t look.”
Sherlock ignores him and just carries on. “ - why are people so stupid? Sometimes I think they do it on purpose. You are, obviously, though I can’t for the life of me fathom why - ”
“Um, sorry, what?” says John, bewildered and a little insulted, which is pretty much how he usually feels when he talks to Sherlock. “What do you mean, I’m being stupid on purpose - how am I - ”
“These people, Watson,” hisses Sherlock, flinging an angry hand towards the closet door, “these awful, mundane people you spend your time with - it’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen. I know you, John Watson, you creature of action, I know you the way those people never can and never will. I know what happened that night your sister was attacked. You went hunting. More than that, you managed to find your prey before it was too late, a feat I would never think any of these people” - again, the impassioned gesture towards the door - “capable of accomplishing. And when you found him, you beat him into submission with the nearest weapon to hand. Even with his knife in your shoulder, you just kept hitting him, didn’t you, Watson?”
For a moment, the only sound in the closet is the distant susurrus of the party beyond the closet door. The air in the closet is utterly still, as though it, like John, is holding its breath.
Sherlock’s eyes are blazing. He’s looking John square in the face for the first time since the beginning of his whole debacle.
“Yes,” breathes John. “God, yes, you got that exactly right.”
And then Sherlock’s long fingers are holding John’s face and bloody buggering hell, Sherlock’s kissing him and it’s either the most confusing or most the brilliant thing that’s ever happened to him, possibly both. John is unable to respond for a moment, isn’t even sure if he will ever be able to - but before he can make a decision, Sherlock is breaking abruptly away, stumbling backwards with a hunted look on his face. His eyes are huge, the pupils blown nearly to black. He is panting as though he has just run the race of his life.
For just a second, the look on his face turns to one of total anguish; and then he turns and throws himself against the door, bellowing, “Let me out, for God’s sake, you - you imbeciles, let me out of here now - ”
(John thinks, with the tiny part of his brain that isn’t still shell-shocked, that he’s never seen Sherlock at a loss for words before.)
Someone outside (Donovan, probably) is hollering back, “Shut up, you little freak, it’s only been five minutes, bloody hell!” and Lestrade is saying, low and furious, “Listen, maybe we should let them out, we all know Holmes is a bit weird, who knows what’s going on in there - ”
John looks at Sherlock pounding furiously at the door, his face a mask of desperation, hair even more of a flyaway mess than usual, and thinks, God, this is such a bad idea.
And then he’s pulling the younger boy back, one hand around his wrist, which he traps against the wall, and one hand fisted in the lapel of his blazer (Christ, who the hell wears their school uniform all the time except for this absolute weirdo?). He leans up and into Sherlock and fits his mouth against the dramatic curves of Sherlock’s, bites gently but insistently at his bottom lip.
Sherlock’s chest is still heaving, and he doesn’t move for a moment; but then he’s opening to John’s tongue, and his mouth is incredibly soft, so different from the hard-edged keenness of the rest of him. John kisses him and kisses him, one hand wrapping possessively around his waist, and feels grounded, for the first time in more than a year. Which is funny, because he also feels completely lost. And it’s somehow all still okay.
Well, sod that earlier thought, John thinks. This is a bloody brilliant idea. He grins against the curve of Sherlock’s mouth, sweet and secret.
"You arrogant prick, of course I bloody well got it right," murmurs Sherlock grumpily against John's neck. He shifts a bit closer, the seat of his trousers sliding over the closet floorboards and raising small puffs of dust. John just chuckles and tightens his arm around Sherlock's waist.