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In at the Deep End

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5 AM. Alarm. Wrestle with duvet. Swear. Stumble into bathroom. Strip off pajamas. Struggle into training suit. Swear. Pull pajamas back over the top. Shuffle into kitchen. See Harry. Swear. Take offered smoothie, down it in one. Swear at the taste. Grab two bananas and kitbag. Get into Harry's car. Fall asleep.

 

Sherlock was woken by the sounds of Bach filtering from the iPhone resting on his chest. He let it continue but quickly checked through his news alerts (FINA, swimming, Olympics 2012, hydrodynamics) and frowned. He raised himself off the sofa and stretched languorously, wrapping his dressing gown around himself and padding barefoot into his ensuite. Mmm ... 2nd Thursday of the current schedule, endurance with a healthy bout of interval and VO2 max training. Start with a high-density complex carbohydrate and mix a sweetened energy drink for the last half of morning practice. Oh, and of course the tedious strength training yesterday, so protein powder would help. He returned to his study, where he'd fallen asleep last night contemplating the spreadsheet of his current times, and examined the schedule on the wall. It was huge, colour-coded and cross-referenced, completely optimised to ensure the greatest improvement in his performance. There was a large red circle around one date, 15th June, but Sherlock ignored that for the minute and concentrated on yesterday's entry. In his scrawling hand he'd noted down every pertinent detail about yesterday: duration of training, effort expended, calories expended and consumed, and the all-important training times. Hmm ... adequate. Still a few hundred calories to make up, what a bore. And no improvements yesterday on the times. He climbed over the sofa and coffee table, letting his suite's door slam closed behind him with vindictive satisfaction and making his way into the kitchen, where he fell with a dramatic sigh onto the heavy wooden bench.

"Why the long face, Sherlock?"

The cheery woman with an apron tied around her waist passed Sherlock a plate of whole grain pancakes liberally festooned with fruit and kissed his cheek.

"Everything's just so tedious, Mrs Hudson, routine routine routine. Nothing for weeks on the Olympics but 'Boris Johnson is opening officials-only lanes!' 'The Tube will have forty-minute delays!' 'Nothing will be ready on time!!'. There's NOTHING on swimming, nothing of interest at all. " Nothing to research, to keep my mind active in the slightest.

"Oh dear, well I suppose you'll have to continue training as planned today. Eat up." And she passed him a coffee, black, two sugars, and his training bottle.

Sherlock paused. This can't be right, Mrs Hudson knows my regime better than I do, she was one of the top sports nutritionists in the country, I'm not allowed coffee, and especially not before training, too dehydrating. This must be for a reason, a treat -- no, a concession for something. But there's nothing tiresome to do today so it must be unexpected.... Mycroft.

No sooner thought than the horror himself appeared in the doorway.

"Ah, hello Mycroft. I'd offer you some breakfast but unfortunately pancakes aren't on your diet."

Mycroft smiled infuriatingly.

"No, thank you, Sherlock, and may I say it is a shame you won't be at the trials today. I was so hoping to see you at the new Aquatics Centre, it is a lovely pool."

Sherlock put his fork down with a clatter.

"You know very well I'm not ready yet, Mycroft." He hissed across the table. "If I'm going to have a shot at the Olympics it'll have to be in June, and I need to stick strictly to my routine until then. So you should not bother me."

"Oh no brother, you misunderstand me. I certainly do not wish to distract you, merely to inform you that the results and videos from today's trials will be in your email inbox at five PM. Do enjoy your pancakes, you are looking a trifle … thin. Good morning, Mrs Hudson, urgent business in London."

He swept out of the kitchen before Sherlock could throw the plate in his face, unfortunately. No appetite, but it would be ridiculous to not eat. I must start improving today, June is only three months away. He demolished the plate and headed down to the pool in the basement, juggling his coffee and bottle. Warm shower, stretches, and a slow kilometre to warm up.

 

"John, Johnny, we're here."

Open car door, outside, JESUS that's cold. Jog into the pool, wave at staff with as much cheer as humanly possible. Changing rooms, strip off outer layer, goggles, hat, towel, bottle, poolside. Smile at Mike Stamford, already there with a clipboard and stopwatch. Deep breath, dive into lane one.

BLOODY HELL!!!! COLD COLD COOOOLD!!!

 

John climbed out of the big fifty-metre pool and smiled at Coach Mike.

"Want a hug?"

The coach laughed heartily.

"I'm fine, thanks, John, and you? How're you feeling?"

John gave his oldest friend a big fake smile. "Really good, thanks Coach. Lots of sleep last night and I'm raring to go."

"As you should be Johno. Now get ready while I tell these whippersnappers what for."

John towelled himself dry vigorously, slapping his muscles and massaging them efficiently. He sank into the downward facing dog pose and started with thirty press-ups, hard and fast. Then a combination of stretches, Pilates, and lightning-fast yoga for a quarter of an hour, and just as John was finishing the rest of the training session was gawping at him with amazement from the pool. He gave them a friendly smile and did his final exercise -- twenty explosive squat jumps on the balls of his feet -- to appreciative ooh's.

"Alright you lot, back to practice!" Mike bellowed from the other end of the pool. "Thirty fifties on minutes. GO!" There was a general groan of dissatisfaction but the highly disciplined group shot off, eyes fixed on the pace clock.

"John, a nice gentle taper, loosen those shoulders and hips, sounds good?"

John nodded, already fixing his goggles in place and ascending to the block.

"Plus some dives and turns at the end, run my races through?"

"Whatever you say Mr Olympian."

March 3rd 2012, in a few hours I'll be at the GB Olympic trials in the new Aquatics Centre, built for our upcoming Games. John smiled his wolf-like grin, the one very few people saw. This is going to be fun.

And with a mighty jump he launched himself into the gleaming blue water.

 

Sherlock pulled himself out of his pool with a dissatisfied grunt. The visit with Mycroft had unsettled him more than he liked to admit, and his times had reflected that. I'll just have to note that in the spreadsheet as an anomaly, and adjust accordingly. One always has to plan for the unexpected in an experiment, as much as I dislike doing so. Hopefully tonight's session will be better, I'll take a look at those times again, and the results from today's meet. And I'm sure my turns could be a more streamlined on the release; I'll have to watch the videos...

He kept up his furious calculations throughout his showers (cold for muscles first, then warm and a vigorous shampooing) and dressed himself in one of the suits he kept in the changing room downstairs, adjacent to the swimming pool. He returned to the study and powered up his laptop, downloading that session's videos and times. Best thing Mycroft ever did was update the pool software. Only the best. He was just looking at the slow motion videos of his turns (and maybe plotting a cleaner line out of the wall, work on precision foot placing later on today?) as Mrs Hudson knocked on the door and entered with muffins and hot lemon. She placed it on the edge of the desk and shot a sharp look at Sherlock's face.

She's worried about my sleeping patterns.

"How long did you sleep last night?" He shrugged eloquently. "Sherlock! Was it less than eight hours?"

Shrug. "You know the rules, Sherlock, eight to ten hours every night, no excuses. You won't be able to swim if you're exhausted. Go on, back to bed for another hour or so, before the physiotherapist gets here. Go on." She shoved him away from the desk and towards his bedroom.

He smiled. "Yes, Mrs Hudson."

"Now get some rest, and remember dear, I'm your housekeeper, not your coach!"

 

John exited the pool smoothly and grinned at the sea of eager faces before turning to Mike.

"Good luck today John, it should be fine."

Mike clapped him on the back and looked him in the eye.

"We'll be thinking about you, just so you know."

And that was the best thing about Mike. He knew exactly when to stop talking.

John could only shake his hand vigorously in answer and turn to leave poolside. A voice piped up from the pool.

"Good luck today, Mr Watson! Blow them away!"

John turned and grinned at the blushing seventeen year old who'd spoken. She looked very familiar.

"Don't I know you from Nationals? Lucy, right?"

She nodded, speechless that the great John Watson knew her name. There was a murmur and the rest of the group joined in with "Good luck! Good luck!"

John left poolside with a wave and a huge grin ("All right young'uns, if you ever want to be anywhere near as good as Mr Watson, you'll need to finish your work-outs!"), and met Harry at reception the same way, now wearing his GB track suit.

"I've got your race kit, dry towels, lots of food and water, energy drinks, iPod, change of clothes, and a camera. We're meeting Mum there, now get in the back and eat this pasta." She shoved him a huge Tupperware, still warm, with their traditional race-breakfast -- chicken, ricotta, and broccoli pasta -- and manhandled him into the back of the car.

"Why did you classify energy drinks as a separate entity?" John said around a mouthful of pasta.

"Firstly, don't talk with your mouth full, little brother, and secondly, what?" He swallowed.

"You said, food, water, energy drinks, clearly implying energy drinks are not food."

She looked at him in the rear view mirror over the top of her glasses.

"That, dear brother, is because they are not food. They are the tool of the Devil, to change your mind and make you do his evil bidding."

John snorted.

"Well who would trust drinking something that fluorescent colour?!" She shook her head. "I swear the mind-altering properties is the only reason you athletes keep training." She gave him a fond look. "Crazy buggers. Now, it's a long way from Barnet to Stratford, you finish that and get some sleep Johnny." She put on quiet music as they slipped onto the motorway, John yawning through the last of his breakfast and snuggling into the blankets in the back seat.

"Oh, and John? You know he'd love to be here right now." Harry's eyes were sad in the mirror and John nodded past the lump in his throat and settled back into his seat, soothed to sleep by the rain falling onto the windscreen.

 

Wow. The Aquatics Centre is stunning. Just gorgeous, even though the rest of the Olympics Park is looking a little rough and ready still. Right, have to get on the team, just to practice here!

John shouldered his kitbag in the cool March morning and strolled up to the Centre. It was busy here today. The trials to choose the Olympic team meant all the usual suspects would be milling around, and maybe a little press. His races weren't until the afternoon, and he was already warmed up, so he could grab a nap, run the race through in his head, see his Mum, and hopefully cadge a massage off Molly. His times were good, his shoulder wasn't too bad, the swim this morning had been great, he should make the qualifying time easily.

He lingered at the entrance, flashing his badge to the officials and going down into the changing rooms.

Wow, just wow. London's really going to show Beijing what for. In his lucky racing suit and track suit over the top he wandered up to the viewing arena to catch the show. The trials had just started (women’s 200-metre free) and the GB coaching team were making notes and watching times intently. John waved at Molly Hooper, team GB masseuse and physio, and slid in next to the Team GB head coach, whose fierce gaze was currently trained on the races. She turned at the end with a disappointed sigh and smiled at John.

"We should've got Joanne in there, her 200's not looking good this season...as opposed to you, Mister." Her steely gaze focused on his face, scanning for signs of fatigue or anxiety.

"Ready for this? I know these past couple of months have been difficult, but I'm not taking any excuses. You're in the best shape you've ever been, you swam like a monster at Worlds and frankly, you could be one of our best chances at medals in July. So all I'm asking you to do is keep focused and warm, and give 100%, so I can kill you in training next week." She paused, a strange look on her lovely face. "Please, John."

Please? The Dominatrix saying please?! Alright, it's serious. More serious.

"Absolutely, Coach Adler, you won't be disappointed."

She nodded and turned her attention back to the pool, John was clearly dismissed. He turned to Molly and gave her a big hug.

"You going to work your magic on me, Angel of Death?"

"After Sarah and Becky, Oh Ancient One."

He cuffed her lightly round the head and followed her to the treatment rooms.

T-minus two and a half hours ‘til race one.

 

Mmm, that's wonderful. Just lovely, ouch ouch ouch, ignore it! The body is transport, a well-oiled mach-ayeee, a well-oiled, a well-oiled machine! The physiotherapist was really working out the kinks in Sherlock's muscles, pulling his shoulders around like they didn't weigh a thing. A hulking Czech man, he kept mostly silent while he worked, a trait Sherlock appreciated immensely, letting his mind run through the various permutations of training schedule and possible improvements. He was nearly finished with the physio (nicknamed the Golem by his victims -- sorry, clients), then an hour and a half bodyweight exercises, including cardio on the rowing machine before lunch. He was expecting the Speedo Aqualab scientists at two, I have a few ideas for some alterations to FASTSKIN3 , especially my new racing suit. It may not have caught on among the others, but the numbers speak for themselves. He grimaced. And I'll show them all at the June trials when I qualify. They all complain it's uncomfortable and difficult to put on, but what's a small bit of discomfort to winning? Speaking of which...

The Golem grunted and finished up his manipulations, slapping Sherlock hard on the shoulder to finish. He winced a little and got off the bench. Oh that's gooood. He glanced at the clock and grabbed his sleek black warm up jacket, bouncing on the balls of his feet and lithely stepping into the adjoining gym. He fastidiously wiped down the rowing machine handles and seat, sliding onto the seat and strapping his feet down. Just put the music on... and Holst's "Mars" immediately blasted out from the sound system. Thirty minutes, keep the splits down, increase the rate every kilometre. He settled onto the balls of his feet, the "front-stops" position and grabbed the handles. Breathe in, breathe out, and push. Sherlock shoved backwards with his powerful glutes and thighs, starting off with a vicious pace and settling into a punishing rhythm for the next half an hour.

 

Alright Johnny-boy, it's just another day at the pool. Just another day you try to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics. Changing rooms. Calm. Empty. Warm and dry. Hydrated. Body is in perfect condition.

This is feasible, it's all mind over matter! More focus, more focus...

Time to go. He lifted himself up, headphones in his ears and towel round his neck. For some reason Chariots of Fire always helped. Walk onto poolside and stand behind lane three. Wave at Harry and Mum. Where's the empty seat? Oh, Sarah's sitting in it, what a treasure. He'd been dreading seeing that empty seat, missing the one person who'd believed in him since age seven and he'd mastered the fly. Warm up time, splash face with water.

 

Only ten minutes left, I can definitely cope with another step up on the rate. Thirty-three strokes per minute, there!


Shake shoulders out, breathe.


No the time can't slow down, I can do this!

 

Race announced ("100-metre butterfly men’s finals"), name called, smatter of applause. Obviously heard about my World Champs performance. Good.

Whistle. Climb on blocks. Settle into dive crouch.

Breathe. Calm. This is my race.

Take your marks. Tighten muscles.

This is for you, Dad.

Beep!

GO!

Oh thank God, it's over.

 

Sherlock climbed off the machine and wiped his face with a towel. He took a long swig of water and grimly set his face again. And another hour to go. He moved to the mats and started sit-ups.

 

Dive in, fast kick fast kick fast kick fast kick. Where am I where am I?? Quick look to the side. Not far enough yet, keep going. Twelve and a half metres, to the surface, PULL arms out. There, fast and PULL and BREATHE and GO. Kick in, kick out, kick in. Nice and hard, lots of power down. Like this morning, only about fifteen more strokes before the end, no time at all, no time at all. Breathe, pull, pull, BREATHE pull pull. Wall coming up fast. Ready for the touch, no need for a half stroke, just a sharp kick THERE. Touch and turn and STAMP ON THE WALL LIKE IT'S THAT BASTARD WHO RAN INTO DAD. That's a great one, I felt the power ripple through. Over halfway done, accelerate on the way back. Breathe every two, no need for a PB, just to massacre this race. Lungs. Want. Oxygen. Vision. Getting. Dark. Around. The. Edges. Going to do this, going to do this. Last two strokes. No need to breathe. BIG kick now. And we're done.

John popped his head up, gasping furiously and ripped off his cap and goggles. What the hell is the time?!

 

"Olympic Qualifying Time: 52.36

1st Place - John Watson: 51.40"

 

YES! John pumped his fist in the air and suddenly realised that the roaring in his ears wasn't from water but from the entire pool on their feet, clapping furiously. Even Coach Adler was waving her clipboard frantically. Well, I did do well at Worlds but that was 25 metres. Guess I'm going to the Olympics. And he leaned over the lane rope and shook hands with lane four, who was shaking his head in amazement.

"Great swim."

"Yeah, you too. Wow, guess I've got to step up my game if I want to qualify in June."

"Bet you will."

He exited the pool to Harry's screams and Mum's tears, after all I have to cool down for the 200 and the IMs.

 

At five PM sharp Sherlock received the email from Anthea. He ignored it to drink his leek and potato soup and run over the new improvements the Aqualab scientists had given him to check for viability. Unfortunately due to his current endurance training regime he wouldn't be able to test the improved suit for sprinting capabilities until next month, but Speedo were perfectly happy to wait for anything he came up with. It is nice to be appreciated for my true genius, but I can see why they chose me. After all, I am the world's only consulting hydrodynamic specialist.

After his evening swim session he finally looked at the results while eating a second dinner. All fairly normal, not that many swimmers had qualified today, quite a few were aiming to later, with Sherlock. His face tightened in annoyance.Well it would be futile to try, as I'm clearly going to qualify. The numbers speak for themselves, I don't know why so many people continue to delude themselves. Like John Watson, late twenties and past his prime, not going to win a medal, I would be surprised if he even qualified for the 200m fly this time around. Wait a second, I'm sure I saw his name on here. Where...

"John Watson - 100m Butterfly, QUALIFIED

John Watson - 200m Butterfly, QUALIFIED

John Watson - 200m Individual Medley, QUALIFIED

John Watson - 400m Individual Medley, QUALIFIED"

 

Sherlock was actually struck speechless for a second or two. Impossible. How could I have missed that? He pulled up John Watson on his spreadsheet of pro swimmers and looked dumbfounded at his World Championship times. Dear God, he was third and fourth in these! And only sixth in the fifty-metre fly, his worst event! How did THAT happen? But there wasn't anything to show the massive improvement, just a leap up since November 2010, with John beating times he'd set as a seventeen and eighteen year old, and easily. Sherlock was left to consider the mystery that was John Watson and his sudden improvement.By all rights it should be impossible. The statistics don't allow for this, and they never lie. Hmm. It was to keep him up thinking for another hour or two before he descended into an exhausted slumber.

 

 

Some notes about the contents:

1). I have tried to make this as accurate as possible, these swimming times are in the ballpark of accuracy, and those are the dates for the GB Olympic Team Trials.

2). Barnet Copthall is a highly esteemed swimming club in North London, although the head coach is not Mike Stamford, he is a lovely guy called Ricky and the club produces many great swimmers and Olympians. Nice pool too.

3) Becky is Rebecca Adlington, the current queen of British swimming. Joanne is Joanne Jackson, don’t worry, she did make it to the Olympics.

4) “Thirty fifties on minutes” is 30 times 50 metres frontcrawl/freestyle swum on 1 minute. This means you have 1 minute to swim 50 metres AND rest for the next one. Also you have to decrease your time swimming the 50 metres by 1 second each time, so you start on an easy 60 seconds and end up at a flat-out sprint, 30 seconds. It is a well-documented and evil set.

5) The Speedo FASTSKIN3 is the new system Speedo came up with late last year. It is meant to reduce drag by something ridiculous like 11%, but a lot of pro swimmers don’t actually like it. More on that later.

6) The idea of John recently losing his father was inspired by the young British diver Tom Daley, who recently lost his. In no way do I intend to belittle Tom’s suffering in this difficult time, but to investigate how much grief and the loss of a constant support and comfort can affect a pro athlete and a human being. My condolences to Tom Daley regarding his loss.

Chapter Text

It was wet. Wet and rainy and miserable. Nothing like June really, just disgusting. John was starting to deeply regret going for a run this evening, Regent's Park was empty but waterlogged.
The plan had been to shake out the cobwebs and clear his head a little before a hard practice this evening, and relieve some of the tension in his shoulders. The strength training for his fly was clearly improving his times, but this morning a little niggle had started in his left shoulder, where the surgery had been, and he was loath to push it so close to the Olympics. He'd taken the executive decision to do a much less intense land training this morning and go for a run to make up the cardio and endurance, but the constant feeling of doubt was weighing heavily, like he'd accidentally put bricks in his running backpack instead of a water bottle.
Was it the right decision? Am I stressing my legs too much? What if I fall over and twist something or get run over? Will it put too much pressure on the joints? What if I'm not ready for the Olympics? Four events, huh? You're kidding yourself, John Watson. John shook his head as if to clear away the doubts. What was that Dr Ellen said? "These doubts are a natural by-product of your anxiety, and you should ignore them". Easier said than done Dr E. He slowed down and came to a stop before crossing the road. If only, if only. The words that you're not supposed to say, "don't worry about what you can't change, John, focus on what you can". Well yes, I know that, and I know I should ignore the doubts, but that doesn't make it any easier to do!
The frustration was overwhelming and it was beginning to affect his training, he could tell. Mike had looked at the times this morning and winced, just a little, before he'd tried to cover it up. And he knew himself too well, when frustrated he pushed himself harder, sometimes too hard, and it was just going to be a matter of time before he hurt himself too much to cope. Embarrassingly it had been Harry who'd pointed it out to him in her own special way. "You're a mess" had been the exact words. Not easy to take from the person who'd turned to alcohol, but who can really blame her?
John didn't even like thinking it in his own head, the reason he was pounding the pavement and Harry finished a bottle of wine by herself each night, and his Mum had taken to volunteering at the local hospital and running the Women's Institute with an iron fist in a velvet glove. Losing Dad has created such a huge hole. God I miss him, his out of tune singing in the car to training, his cooking five-layer lasagne the night before a competition and his absolute and complete confidence in me. Six months was nothing after losing a parent, John was starting to realise, but he couldn't let anything at all impact his mind-set at the moment. It certainly wasn't something he'd ever dwell on, or spend time complaining about to a shrink (whining, more like) but it couldn't be denied that it was plain unfair. After the loss of a parent you were supposed to be a wreck, and he had to perform better than a human being should, in 7 short weeks. Training camp tomorrow, have to be on the ball for that, but I guess Irene won't let me wallow for a minute. And it'll be great being back together with everyone again, can't wait to spend some time with the team. With renewed energy and a better outlook he turned back up Baker Street, the way home.

Sherlock had tried to sleep in the large black car but it was futile. Annoyingly he couldn't turn off his brain, however much he deleted, it kept recurring and recircling. At around Oxford he'd given up and retreated to his mind palace. One of the rooms was built like a 50 metre pool, and this was where he'd gone to, mentally swimming his two races and matching his current condition to the times he needed to qualify. I am in peak condition, my times are acceptable, and they are currently better than those of Bill Murray, he won't have been able to improve in the week since the European Championships. I have all the calories I need, all the liquids, my timers are set for optimum meal times. Hmm, maybe to work out the resistance off the bottom of the pool. He'd long since inputted all the details of the Ponds Forge pool into his mind palace, along with his pool and the major international ones, now including a brand new drawer with the London Aquatics Centre. The resistance in different lanes and pools made tiny differences, hundredths and thousandths of seconds in normal swimming but every pro athlete knew the difference between swimming in a shallow pool or deep pool or lane 4 or lane 8. However, they haven’t all extensively researched hydrodynamics and wave motion. Sherlock allowed himself a smug thought as he mentally formatted the mind palace pool into Ponds Forge, length, depth, water speed, temperature, water turnaround and the all-important lane placement. He was seeded lane 8 for both, the slowest in the heat, and not expected to qualify, but 2010 Europe times are useless for determining my current ability. Lane 8 has a great deal more resistance usually, especially if Murray and Anderson use that brute force to kickstart their 100 free and create a huge lane splash. However, if I go deeper at each turn I'll miss the resistance off the surface, and the closer I am to the lane ropes the easier it'll be. A deeper dive with the 50 will be good as well, but I'm going to have to slow my heart rate beforehand to improve my breath holding. Maybe I should have competed this season to get a better lane...but the element of surprise should unsettle the other swimmers. Strange that so many people are so affected by trivial changes in mental state, or changes in their silly superstitious routines. It's all science, it can all be calculated and timed, human physiology isn't difficult to apply to hydrodynamics, well maybe it is for most athletes, but one would think that their coaches at least would be able to. It's almost as if they don't want to win! He let out a snort, earning a disapproving glance from the driver. First sign of insanity, he thought wryly, is not talking to yourself but laughing at your own jokes. He kept the outward appearances of insanity to a minimum for the remainder of the drive.

Sherlock was deep in meditation by the time he was called up for his race, goggles firmly secured and muscles warm.
Breathe. It's an involuntary reflex that can be voluntarily controlled and this is one of those times when it's required.
He climbed onto the blocks gracefully, settled his long limbs into place.
"Take your marks" Average of 2.75 seconds between the take your marks and start signal of an international FINA-approved race.
Beep.
Sherlock reacted on pure instinct, launching himself all the way down to his toes, feeling the ripple of power travel through him.


Silence. Oh God, the silence. That unbelievable, exquisite moment when the feet leave the block and you're flying, and the shock of hitting the water and flying again, wonderful and amazing and quiet. And the world fades away to a blessed hush, and the only sound in your head is the rushing of water. Why can't I have this any other way?


Sherlock slammed into the wall with one hand outstretched, the tips of his fingers thrusting into the pad. He brought his head up and took a gulp of air, silence shattered by the screams of spectators and the noises coming from the other over-exerted athletes. Hmm, for some reason I don't want to look at the scoreboard. Strange. I know that was a good swim, more than adequate, yet I am still reluctant. Ridiculous. He looked up just before he got out the pool. 22.00, adequate, qualified. Oh, and I did come first as well, just before Anderson. Excellent. He swam to the steps and pulled himself out easily. An unforeseen advantage to an end lane. He almost didn't bother to look up as he left poolside, after all Mrs Hudson hadn't come today, and Mycroft certainly wouldn't, there was no one to seek approval from or congratulate with. He did catch Irene Adler giving him her gimlet stare, and she nodded curtly at him, once. He inclined his head in return, ah Irene, it will be...interesting, to work with you again. He could tell that her clear stare for a few seconds was a reply, I look forward to it, Sherlock. He hid a smirk and turned to the cool down pool. Qualified for the 50m and 100m freestyle for the London 2012 Olympics, now maybe to look at some minor technical details before the tedium of the next two weeks' training camp. Of course he was already packed.

 

John came pounding back in through the door to 221B Baker Street, trying not to drench his hallway, and stripped off his thin outer layer with difficulty. The flat should have been dark with the lack of natural light but it was lit up with the warm yellow glow of John's cosy lamps. He found that Harry was nursing a strong coffee at his breakfast table, with her reading glasses balanced on the tip of her nose, tilting her head to see the laptop.
"Don't drip on me baby brother. I stopped swimming for a very good reason a very long time ago."
John grinned behind her back as he filled the kettle with water and squelched off to change. Having a shower at home and not the pool or gym was such a luxury that he spent at least 15 minutes under the hot water scrubbing himself vigorously. He wrapped himself in fleecy pajamas and a woollen jumper over the top, returning to Harry's rapt attention at the screen.
"What is it?"
She sighed and leaned away from the laptop, rubbing her eyes.
"It's this "Meet the Team" thing British Swimming is doing, on their website, a little synopsis of all TeamGB. Just some personal info, a photo (but that'll be done when you get back from training camp) and some past times and things. I'm just exhausted, it shouldn't be taking this long and they're driving me bananas to have it done A-SAP."
John frowned.
"They haven't even got the whole team yet, the second round of qualifying is today, up at Ponds Forge. Why are they bothering you?"
Harry turned to stare at John, blue eyes wide in the face that was so similar to his.
"John, are you serious?" She began haltingly. "You're one of the biggest stars of TeamGB, after Rebecca Adlington. You've got one of the best chances of getting a medal, or even a few. They're going to be making a huge deal about you, interviews and sponsorships galore, they're talking of having you in the Opening Ceremony."
What? No, impossible! But, but, what?!
"If you stop your impression of a fish and think a second, you'll realise I'm right."
He shut his mouth with a snap. He had done well at Worlds, hadn't he? Top 3 in most, finals in all, we were all pleased. But no one had made much of a fuss back then, swimming never got much coverage. The Olympics, though, was a different kettle of fish. It would be mad, pressure and hype and expectations of a small island who never won much and wanted desperately to impress the world on their home stage.
He dropped his head onto the kitchen table and groaned.
"Oh Johnny, I'm sorry. I thought you knew."
"I didn't need this right now Harry, I really didn't." His voice was muffled against his sleeve.
"It's not so bad, it doesn't affect your swimming anyways! You just do what you normally do and you'll be fine."
John closed his eyes and took a deep breath in. He loved Harry and he was so grateful she was helping him out, especially in the extremely busy run-up to the Olympics. But she just didn't understand it, the pressure, the doubt, not wanting to disappoint anyone. Not like Dad had. He took another shuddery breath to calm himself down and looked her dead in the eye.
"Don't worry, it's fine" he hoped that she couldn't tell he was lying through his teeth, "I'm going on training camp tomorrow night, I won't have time to sort anything out for 2 weeks. Thanks for trying to get it done nice and early."
She visibly relaxed.
"No worries John, this won't worry you at all. I'll sort it on the home front." Doubtful. "Oh, and before I forget, the results from today's competition are here. Irene sent them round with strict instructions for training camp."
She turned the laptop round to him and went to make a new coffee. He ran down the list, checking for the usual suspects. Most of it was very expected, Jo, Caitlin, Jemma, Liam, and Greg Lestrade, still going strong at 30. But where's Bill? Oh no, he didn't make it! Who...Sherlock Holmes?!
"How did Bill do?"
"He didn't make it, he came behind Alex Anderson and Sherlock Holmes."
"Who?"
Of course, she wouldn't remember, she wasn't as involved a few years ago.
"Just a kid, well known, well notorious. He ducked out of World Championships ‘10, they said it was health reasons but rumours said he got pneumonia. To do that you've got to really not take care of yourself, apparently he didn't eat or sleep, just collapsed."
"Jeez, it's mad what some people do to themselves for sport."
"Yeah it was sad, he was only 20 or so. Just a kid. Good for him, I guess, pulling it together for the Olympics." Pretty impressive too, especially as he hasn't been competing at all since, wow November 2010, practically unheard of to do that.
"What's he swimming?"
"Uhmm he's qualified 50 and 100 free. Nothing on relays yet, but he's probably going to do the 4 by 100 free relay, he's got a pretty solid 100 time."
"Have to keep an eye out for him then. Now get eating, we've got evening practice with Mike later."
She shut the computer and John stretched, yawning. I want a LOT of sleep tonight, and a fairly gentle practice tomorrow too. Training camp with Irene is going to be brutal.

Chapter Text

As John walked in through the doors to Heathrow Terminal 3 he was assaulted by a voice shouting his name. He turned and saw a rakishly handsome grey-haired man with broad shoulders running towards him. He grinned widely and braced himself for the onslaught that was Greg Lestrade, Lestrade giving him a massive bear hug and slapping his back furiously. "

How you been doing John?"

"Great, thanks, you? I'm glad to see the Aussies still haven't broken your London accent."

Greg threw his head back and laughed.

"Not for want of trying, mate. Missing it yet?"

"Not for a second."

Greg clapped him on the shoulder again.

"Don't blame you, been thinking of coming back to old Blighty myself. But every time I venture near here I seem to be blagged with this shit weather."

He sounded disgusted. John snorted.

"It was sunny and warm today Greg."

"Mate, I came from winter in Melbourne, and trust me, it was warmer than this. Now come on, we've got to check in."

They walked together around the Costa coffee and WhSmith, catching up.

"Worlds, mate, Worlds. When you smashed it."

"You got it, old man."

"Hey, hey, older and wiser, and don't go forgetting that."

"How could I, you remind me all the time?" Coming around the corner they caught sight of the majority of TeamGB, who all gave a cheer at seeing John and Greg, and welcomed them with hugs, kisses, and slaps from a clipboard for being late (the last just from Irene). This is why I swim, and train all year. For my team, my other family. John was welcomed with especial enthusiasm this time, he was definitely one of the stars, and Greg gave him a wink as they checked in, and sidled closer.

"I can spot a lovely lady or two on our team who've been eying you up today a bit more than usual. The extra muscle and smell of success are magnetic to women. Two weeks in sunny romantic Austria, maybe an illicit rendezvous or three in the wings?" He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

"Not interested, Greg. And you know Irene would murder me. Actually, no, she'd make me suffer for the next 7 weeks, laugh in my face at every training, let me swim the Olympics, and THEN kill me." Greg shuddered.

"Never mind then. Hell hath no fury like a coach subverted. Anyways, you heard about Bill?"

"Yeah, it's going to be strange on training camp without him, I called him up last night, he's pretty disappointed."

"You should've seen this kid, Sherlock Holmes? Just wiped the floor with him and Anderson in the 50. Came in cool as a cucumber, didn't seem nervous at all." John idly scratched at his arm, the stubble was itching again.

"I don't think I remember him personally, can't offer an opinion. We'll meet him properly soon enough, he's probably one of those who go mental at competitions." Greg hummed in acknowledgement as they gave their suitcases in. Just as John was finishing, Greg tapped him on the shoulder and stage whispered.

"Look! Over there, it's him!" John tried to turn around nonchalantly, in preparation to saunter over to the group again, but stopped and stared, mouth suddenly dry.

Oh dear Lord. A tall (well, average for a swimmer, but he looks somehow taller, almost giraffe-like) man was walking towards the check-in desk. He was not quite thin, more wiry, with legs that went on forever, and he was (practically poured) into a beautifully cut suit, wheeling a large black case and a leather satchel slung over one shoulder. He was milk-white, the colour of Edwardian heroines, only interrupted by a dishevel of dark curls, piercing pale eyes (set over cheekbones a model would envy) and an (obscenely) lush Cupid's bow. The whole picture was somewhat marred by the dissatisfied expression on his face, but John chose to ignore that for a second. Mmmm, what would that look like out of the suit. Inappropriate, John! Oh bugger he's coming this way, CLOSE YOUR MOUTH AND PREPARE NOT TO ACT LIKE A PERV. Sherlock mostly ignored them as he came up to the check in desk, briefly glancing over Lestrade and then John. Did his eyes briefly widen? Was he surprised? (Or interested? Shut up brain.) Or am I imagining it? Luckily before John could nod in a manly manner (or say something stupid) Sherlock was past them and they were back with the team. John noticed Molly was looking a bit flushed and discombobulated for some reason.

"Alright, Molls?" He asked kindly.

"Hmm? Oh, oh, yeah I'm fine." She still looked confused and was staring behind John distantly. He risked a quick peek over his shoulder and it crashed like a thunderbolt. Someone else likes the look of him. Wait a second, a lot of the other ladies are looking in that direction...well he is attractive. And very probably straight. But the strange slow burn under his sternum didn't dissipate. He dragged his eyes away from the tempted women and caught Irene's Cheshire cat grin.

"You were nearly late John, we've been waiting for you two, oh and Sherlock of course." Her innocent statement immediately elicited John's suspicion. She gave him that broad grin again. It's worse than a wink wink nudge nudge, like being caught by your parents. He internally groaned.

"Ah Sherlock how nice of you to finally join us. I see that you arrived one minute after the allotted time, this means that you'll be performing one extra rep of every set we do in the first training session, how lovely for you."

"Yes yes Irene, I remember your little fascination with punctuality, tedious. Was it really necessary to leave 45 minutes early just in case of traffic?" His voice was bored, emotionless, and deep dark baritone. He's also surprisingly blasé, Irene is the coach after all, and as such in charge of whether we survive or not. He probably won't, stupid kid. (Not that he needs brains with those looks). John really needed to shut that little voice up, hopefully two weeks of pain would do that.

"Move out team. We'll meet at the gate, at the right time Sherlock, if it wouldn't trouble you too much?"

 

By general agreement, Becky went through security 5 minutes before everyone else, being the most recognisable and apt to cause the most stir. She wasn't best pleased and left Alex Anderson carrying her extremely heavy carry-on bag. This caused general hilarity when he had to haltingly explain why he had tampons when the bag was searched. Greg dragged John to get a coffee (decaf, of course) "before we're subjected to that shite brew on the plane" where once again (just my fabulous luck) they came across Sherlock.

"Black, two sugars please." Before John could say anything Greg called out to him.

"Hey mate, don't think we've been introduced. You're Sherlock Holmes, right? I'm Greg Lestrade and this is..."

"John Watson, yes I know." John startled at that, how does he know me? Sherlock switched his coffee to his left hand and shook hands with both of them, fixing John with that arresting stare again.

"Accident or overtraining?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Your left shoulder injury from about three and a half, four years ago, did you do it in an accident or overtraining?"

"Accident but that's..."

"Surprising you're even here, let alone making the times you are." He swept off, leaving John agape and Lestrade sniggering. Greg shrugged at John.

"No worries, he's like that with everyone. No one even knows how he does that, either he ignores you or finds out your most embarrassing secrets. Yesterday Anderson said he didn't expect him to still be swimming and Sherlock ripped into him completely, his childhood fascination with dinosaurs, his affair with Coach Donovan, even what he had eaten for breakfast. It was brilliant, Alex's face went purple." Greg sighed happily, as if reliving the moment and John had to laugh too at the image.

 

Surprisingly the whole team managed to board the plane without a major incident or too much bickering over who got the extra legroom seats. When the seat belt signs were switched off after take-off, Irene turned around in her seat and gave them a meaningful glance, the one that usually meant "Listen up you lot, or you'll regret it". As one person, the team respectfully fell silent and shuffled closer, smothering yawns at the late hour.

"Shall we sort out which races you're going to be swimming in the rather important competition coming up then?" Irene asked with a smile, and was met with enthusiastic (if quiet) applause. "Ladies first, I think you should all swim what you qualified for at the moment, but for the relay teams we might take out one event to conserve energy? So the 200 free: Becky, Ellie, Jo and Caitlin. 100 free: Fran, Jessica, Amy and Caitlin again. I don't think we should do a medley, Sarah, Gemma, Stacey? What do you think?"

Sarah piped up, "Well I for one am not overly enamoured with having to do a relay on the same day as my 400IM, how well are we seeded?" Irene shook her head. "Nevermind then."

Irene continued "All in agreement? Good, we'll check out the possibility of events clashing with relays later, have a sit down one evening. Gentlemen now, 200 free is Rob, David, Alex and Ross. 100 is Simon, James, Craig and Ieuan. Medley is Alex, Greg, John and Sherlock, in that order."

There was a bit more of a reaction to this one. Alex Anderson started indignantly

"What? Why the hell am I doing the back in the medley?" Irene answered frostily.

"Because, Alex, we actually have a chance at medals for the medley, and Sherlock got better than you in the qualifiers. Now you're swimming the 100 back and 50 free as well, Sherlock is only provisionally swimming the 100 free. The rest of the coaches and I will decide at the end of training camp, and if he's not ready you'll do the 100 free instead of the 50. Understood?"

"Yes coach" he replied meekly. John took a furtive glance at Sherlock, to see how he was taking it. He'd been silent throughout the entire exchange and was now looking down at his hands, meticulously dissecting an orange. On one hand, it's a massive honour to be put in the relay, especially to anchor the medley...but on the other, to qualify fair and square then be told you might not be trusted to perform under pressure, how galling. The little voice in the back of his head piped up yes, and you get to spend lots of time with him practicing for the relay. Damnit, I'm the fly in the relay, wait a second, I'm the fly in the medley relay at the Olympics! He looked at Greg and saw his grin and received a fistbump in appreciation. Dad would be so proud...so many things I keep wanting to tell him.

Irene started passing around the schedule, John noted with interest that most of Friday was blocked out with "All-day hike + swim in lake", he knew Austria had some beautiful landscape and it was always nice to spend some time in a non-chlorinated environment. It would also be a pleasant change from the usual 5 hours plus spent in the pool on training camps. Unfortunately, someone else was less enamoured, Sarah Sawyer started haltingly.

"Irene, where it says hike and lake, is that by any chance the lake near that hotel we did training camp at a few years back." The way she was saying it, she clearly hoped the answer was "No, no, course not! Never", unfortunately she was to be disappointed.

"Why yes Sarah, that is the lake! Wolfgang and Ana are very kindly offering their centre to us again, and are coming to help the coaching staff out again, how lovely!" Oh dear, Irene sounds positively gleeful, not a good sign. Sarah looked like she was about to cry, John leaned over to her.

"What is this place, I don't remember somewhere in Austria?"

"It was when you hurt your shoulder, we did winter training camp there, and it was the worst week of my life!" Sarah wailed, "I can't believe you brought us back here!"

Molly patted her soothingly on the back.

"I'm sure it'll be better this time Sarah, it's summer, it'll be sunny and warm!"

"It's the mountains, Molly! They made us swim in an ice cold lake and bathe in ice water every morning before practice! Then they yelled at us to hurry up. In German!" John looked around and noticed that the more veteran members of the team were nodding in acknowledgement and looking equally apprehensive. Bugger he thought through the sinking feeling in his stomach we're really screwed, aren't we?

 

It was late by the time they arrived at the hotel, too dark to see the surrounding countryside. Molly handed the keys and room assignations out through her yawns, unsurprisingly the medley relay team was in one room, but John didn't have the energy to even think about that, following the rest of the team groggily upstairs without a murmur. Even Alex Anderson didn't complain, merely stripped off to his boxers and got into one of the top bunks without unpacking anything, and was asleep in under a minute. John and Greg took the time to actually brush their teeth and pull out training gear for the morning before getting into bed as well. John noticed that Sherlock was waiting to use the bathroom and change.

"Do you have any preference, top or bottom?" He asked politely. Sherlock looked surprised that he was being spoken to.

"No, no difference to me." John shrugged.

"Alright, I'll take top over here, we have to be down and ready at 5:30, don't worry, I've got an alarm set for twenty past." Sherlock nodded absently and locked the bathroom behind him, John sank into sleep before he returned.

 

The harsh shrill of the alarm woke John, with a jolt and violent swearing as he hit his head on the ceiling. He clumsily climbed down the ladder, attempting to be the first in the bathroom and nearly ran into Sherlock exiting it, already fully dressed and looking pristine. How the hell does he do that? It's not even 6 in the morning! There was a concerted effort of struggling into suits and warm up outfits, with the usual scramble of "Where the hell did my goggles go?" and "Help, I've tried to put a leg through my swim suit and fallen over!" but somehow they managed their way down to breakfast, following the stream of similarly-attired people to the basement. Unsurprisingly Sherlock was already there, nonchalantly eating an apple and porridge and flicking through something on his iPhone. John slid to the table further down, slinging his training bag under the table and motioned down the table for the orange juice, stirring it into porridge and mashing a banana into the mixture. Greg leaned over to Jamie, who was eating muesli and thick German bread slathered with jam.

"I wouldn't be eating that if I were you, first-timer," he said kindly, "you'll want something easily digestible, liquids are best for morning practice, they absorb faster." He pointed at his own very watery porridge, mixed with jam and bananas, and his scrambled eggs. All down the table, the new members of the team dropped what they were eating, except for Sherlock. Hm, opportunity to make conversation.

"It looks like you know the drill for breakfast, have you worked with Irene before?" Not bad Watson, innocuous, casual, good job. Sherlock didn't even look up.

"Anyone who has adequately studied the schedule would have noticed that the gap between breakfast and warm ups is far too short to allow proper digestion." He turned to John and favoured him with a small smile. "And Irene's proclivities towards sadistic morning practices are legendary. Obviously some people haven't researched adequately."

"Is that how you knew about my shoulder injury, you researched me?" Would explain a lot.

"No, for some reason I didn't find any mention of it in your literature. But really, anyone with eyes could see that you were consciously favouring your left shoulder, carrying your backpack and pulling your suitcase with your right hand, even though your left hand is the dominant one, as you had written out the labels with your left hand. You were clearly practiced using your non-dominant side for manipulation, speaking of a long-term injury, but definitely healed to have performed so well recently. That corresponds with a period of time about three and a half years ago when you didn't compete, and then started to steadily improve your times afterwards, implying that the injury spurred you to improve yourself somehow," disdainful sniff at this "so it either wasn't tied to negative emotion or the sense of failure incurred merely made you more determined. Impossible to determine at first glance."

This had come out in a stream of barely put together sentences, words strung like beads on a necklace knocking into each other. John was staring at Sherlock, open-mouthed, and so were a number of other people. It seemed like Sherlock had only just noticed other people were listening and he stood up abruptly, taking his bowl to the side. John followed behind, breakfast forgotten.

"Hey, hey, wait up! Wait! That was brilliant!"

Sherlock turned on his heel.

"Really?" John nodded.

"That's not what people usually say."

"What do they usually say?"

"Piss off" John snorted. Sherlock quirked a corner of his mouth up, it was a reasonable fascimile of a smile.

"I can see why. So what else can you tell me about everyone else?" Sherlock's face lit up, it was like he'd never had anyone listen to him before, and he started to detail the inner lives of the team. It's surprising how much he can tell, and how much is accurate. Spooky, really. They wandered outside together into the pale half-light of dawn, stretching out cold muscles.

"...and that's why Dr Molly Hooper has stayed in this job despite being offered a more prestigious position as a pathologist at Bart's."

"I thought it was because she liked working on big muscular men." John offered a cheeky grin, the one that had helped cement his position as Three Continent Watson.

"Hmm, that too." "Shh, shh, she's coming!"

John started to chuckle under his breath and was wholly taken aback to hear a giggle from Sherlock as Molly approached with the other coaches.

"Morning John! Need a hand with your shoulder?" She's far too damn cheerful for this early, well she can sleep when we swim later, lucky cow.

"Nah, fine thanks, maybe later."

"Sherlock? Want a quick rub down?" It's not my imagination, she's a lot more enthusiastic about massaging him.

"No."

"Oh, um, okay, I think we're all running up in 5 minutes anyways, no time, of course, silly me!" Sherlock didn't answer and Molly beat a hasty retreat with a flushed face. John found himself stifling a laugh for the second time that morning.

"I think she likes you." Sherlock grunted dismissively. Seriously how does he manage to do even that elegantly?

"Meretricious, that was evident. Only a small infatuation, she's really interested in Greg Lestrade." John was about to interject but stopped as the rest of the team trudged out blearily, Irene standing by the side in her sports gear. And like Sherlock, she still somehow manages to always look gorgeous. I wish they gave lessons in it.

"Right kids, time to wake up. A nice easy jog up the path, we'll stop at the spring and do stretches etc. Everyone got their shoelaces tied? Off we go!"

They pounded off up the gently inclining dirt path. Greg came up the right side of John, face like thunder. Clearly he knows what's coming ahead, spring water doesn't exactly sound toasty. On the other hand, he's not a morning person, could just be general grumps. The jog didn't take too long, the scenery just starting to be illuminated, rocks and small bushes being thrown into sharp relief. At the final bend they crossed under a high wooden beam, into a rough enclosure. Irene came up from the rear, dark ponytail flying behind her.

"Right, strip to swimsuits and get in" she pointed at the long troughs, set out as a stepped path in the clearing "you'll feel much more awake after." That grin is a harbinger of doom, I swear.

They all stripped off unwillingly, milling hesitatingly around the entrance to the trough and waiting for the first brace soul to get in. Luckily Irene solved that dilemma fairly quickly.

"Last one in's going to have to carry the equipment." Mass stampede into the freezing water. Large amounts of swearing and splashing. The gradual submersion into the water was especially evil. Ankles, then shins, then knees, and to the waist, with a bucket at the end to go over the shoulders, wielded by a grinning Assistant Coach Donovan. John jumped out the end, shivering furiously and joining in the jumping jacks Irene was leading the team in.

"Come on you lot, it'll get you warm!"

"Couldn't we just towel off, Coach?" Sarah called out breathlessly.

"Then you lose all the beneficial properties of the fresh spring water, keep jumping!" Universal groaning and silent suffering, only broken by a spluttering from the end of the trough. The whole team turned as one to see a sopping wet Sherlock Holmes, his curls plastered to his head like a drowned rat and a look of utter disgust on his face like a Persian housecat, and Sally Donovan with the biggest grin on her face John had ever seen.

"Woops" she said innocently "guess I aimed too high." Sherlock's face was like granite, as if he was trying to be indifferent, but John noticed a twitch as giggles started up from the team. He tried to catch Sherlock's eyes as he walked over to no avail, and sighed. Should have a word with Greg or Irene later, he may be a prickly bastard but that's no reason to treat him any different.

"Alright everyone, stretches here, then four times 25 push ups. We'll go into some core exercises here before we run back for morning practice. Molly, could you?” The tiny iPhone speakers immediately started up, blasting out pump-up music to the general approval of the team, making the sweaty and difficult exercises a great deal less torturous. John sneaked a look out of the corner of his eye at Sherlock, who seemed to be in a great deal of pain. Poor sod, it’s always the sprinters. Just as they were finishing up and jogging back down he ran near him.

“Alright? The first day is the worst, promise, it gets better from here on out.”

Sherlock shot him a massively aggrieved look.

“How could one get used to that awful noise? I wouldn’t want to anyways.”

John slowed down.

“You mean...the music?”

“I don’t think it merits that descriptor” John couldn’t help himself, he had to laugh.