Chapter 1: Episode One
"The judges let you into the competition because of your simple, clean lines. But this. Dear god." Tim glowered at Sherlock, gesturing at the mannequin swaddled in black chiffon and lace.
"That's just the hat." Sherlock continued snipping away at the fabric.
"Just make it work, Sherlock." Tim tossed over his shoulder as he sauntered away from the young man to speak with Anderson about his ‘interesting’ choice of alligator skin leggings.
As soon as Tim mentioned ‘Michael Kors’ and ‘Jurassic Park,’ John knew it was safe to give his fingers a rest and take a quick break. He glanced up from his workspace opposite Sherlock. He put aside the strawberry jam coloured silk he was delicately hand stitching and rounded the table.
"I think it's quite nice," he said slowly with an easy going smile.
None of the other designers had approached Sherlock since the first challenge when he had spilled a lurid red dye all over everyone's white bed sheets. It had looked like some demented crime scene. Tim, not missing a beat, had wryly threatened to call the 'Fashion Police.' To which Sherlock had sneered that the joke was painfully obvious. John had been the only one to laugh at both comments.
Sherlock stopped cutting and looked up at John.
"Honest." John spoke again, unnerved by the eyes flicking back and forth over his face. He felt like the man was attempting to unravel him. Turning, John pulled at the yards of black fabric. "Bee Keeper chic."
Sherlock whipped the hat off the mannequin and stuffed it onto John's head and began pinning.
"Hold still, John. This will only take a moment."
Chapter 2: Episode Two
“John, why are you helping him so much?” Sally asked, staring up at the long-suffering designer. After the last challenge he had made the mistake of ‘befriending’ Sherlock Holmes. And now the poor designer was being punished for it by being forced to stand on a stool, trussed up in bright red wool that Sherlock swore would somehow be manipulated into a full-length coat. He had been stranded there for a good quarter of an hour while Sherlock hurried back and forth between the sewing room, weaved between other contestant’s work stations (perhaps hoping to get a better view of his masterpiece) and generally made an arse out of himself on national television.
“He said he works better when he has someone to talk to.” John started to fidget, pulling at the folded cuffs of the garment.
“John!” Sherlock snapped from across the room where he was surreptitiously borrowing a few choice buttons from Lestrade.
“That doesn’t explain why he had you put the coat on.” She poked him in the side with a pair of scissors. “Plus, I’m sure talking to a skeleton would be just as adequate for that freak.”
“Just leave it, Sally.” John looked down at her and realised just how nice being as tall as someone like Sherlock must be for situations like this. He thought he cut quite the intimidating figure standing five inches taller than normal. But, regardless of how threatening his tone or height or facial expression may have been the ridiculous mass of red wool piled around his neck made it hard to take anything he said seriously. “He promised to help me with my dress.” John admitted sheepishly. “He has the same measurements as my model.” He cleared his throat, glancing at Sherlock who was now making a box with his forefingers and thumbs—perhaps trying to imagine how beautiful the coat would look on the cover of Marie Claire. “Almost.” John gestured to his own chest and Sally rolled her eyes.
“What did I say about moving?” Sherlock asked harshly, coupling it with a stern look as he quickly crossed the room in five long strides. “Sally.” He nodded curtly to the woman before picking up the hem of the coat and pinning it just below John’s knee.
“Good luck.” Sally sighed, returning to her asymmetrical blouse.
“Thank you.” Sherlock and John looked at each other as they both finished speaking. John was the first to look away, glancing down at the pale hands clutching blood red fabric.
“Are you almost finished?” Sherlock jabbed him in the thigh with a pin.
A half hour later, Sherlock twirled in front of the full-length mirror near John’s workstation. His eyes lit up as he watched the rich, white dress float around his legs. A slight blush crept up the back of John’s neck as he stepped closer, helping Sherlock slip on the dark green satin blazer. Long fingers threaded the one button and smoothed the fabric down. John touched his elbow gently, turning the other man to check the way the satin clung to the curve of his lower back and shoulders.
“Unexpected.” Sherlock murmured with the ghost of a smile on his lip before listing off all the alterations he would make to each piece.
Chapter 3: Episode Three
John felt the mattress dip when a wiry body crouched at the head of his bed, jostling him awake with bony elbows and long legs. He grumbled, rolling away from the intruder and curling into a ball.
“You do know that it was my suggestions that helped you win.”
“Yesh, Shurlock.” John murmured sleepily, his tongue not seeming to work properly at four in the morning. He shouldered the blankets higher, tugging them around his neck and snuggling deeper into their warmth, desperately chasing sleeping.
There was no point starting a row when John was beyond exhausted. He had quickly realised that when it came to Sherlock, it was always going to be much easier to just play along.
Sherlock stayed quiet for a moment, mulling over John’s response.
Just as sleep seemed obtainable, even with a lanky designer attempting to occupy his bed, the man spoke up again. “I think they are going to do a team challenge next.” John rolled back over to glare at Sherlock. The look was lost in the darkness. “I hate team challenges.”
“Sure,” John whispered back, his voice rough, “hateful things, teams. Right, now shush…” He blindly reached up to press his hand over Sherlock’s mouth.
It actually worked.
And if Sherlock allowed the hand to linger before peeling it off, John did not say anything.
The next morning John was nowhere near surprised that the designers were in fact being split into teams of two. What did manage to surprise him were the terrifying models on stilts towering above the group as they strutted down the catwalk. Oh, and the fact that Sherlock had been paired with Anderson while John, who had immunity, was saddled with the oldest Project Runway contestant to date, Mrs. Hudson.
At least Sherlock would not be bored by the challenge. Infuriated, possibly, but decidedly not bored.
Sally, who lucked out by getting Lestrade for a partner, snickered all the way to the workroom.
The most shocking thing, John thinks, was that Sherlock did not utter a single word the entire day.
Not when they were sketching. Not when they were fitting their models and discussing concepts. Not even when Anderson pulled out a bolt of neon chartreuse fabric at Mood. Although, John has it on good authority that Sherlock apparently tore the fabric out of the designer’s arms and swatted him over the head with it before taking the money and purchasing a much darker pallet.
It was quite impressive how bossy and demanding the man could be even while totally silent.
John, on the other hand, seemed to get along famously with his partner. While the two had not really spoken prior to the challenge, they essentially agreed on everything and even if Mrs. Hudson’s design aesthetic was a bit dated, at least her sewing was impeccable. They worked fast, completing the garment with a half hour to spare. So John went to quietly keep Sherlock company in the sewing room while Anderson ruched the bodice beyond recognition.
At the end of the day John noted that there were several ‘interesting’ and ‘bold’ garments being constructed around the room. Many of them ignoring Tim’s sage advice to avoid the much dreaded ‘costume’ realm.
When the group returned to the flats, John tried in vain to draw out a few words from Sherlock. Nothing worked and he remained eerily silent. John fretted the whole night, his sleep fitful and full of nightmares.
When it came time for the runway show, the updated kimono John and Mrs. Hudson produced was smashing, though it only qualifies the pair to move onto the next round. Sally, thanks to Lestrade’s gracious offer, was the sole winner of the challenge with their perfectly editorial pantsuit.
Sherlock and Anderson were not as lucky.
Though Sherlock seemed to have found his voice again, defending his work ethic and choices while explaining the insanity of Anderson’s aesthetic and their inability to compromise. He also pointed to the tailoring of the skirt and pants.
“I just don’t get it, boys,” Michael Kors sneered, gesturing to the dark purple monstrosity that seems to totally engulf the stilt walker. “She looks like a sad California Raisin.”
“It was totally dead in the water.” Nina tapped her scorecards against her knee, disappointment etched on her face.
“I love the colour, Sherlock,” Heidi began with a smile toward Sherlock. “But what woman wants that much bunching around their boobs?”
Everyone piled into the greenroom together while the judges deliberated. John scooted closer to Sherlock, pressing their thighs together as Anderson loudly berates him from across the room. Most of the fellow designers were smart enough not to get involved in the fight. A few people like Sarah rolled their eyes while others like Dimmock and Molly just ignored the outburst completely.
Sherlock’s clever hands were clasped together between his knees, his back curved as he leans forward to stare unblinkingly at the linoleum floor.
“Freak is the only reason you had a dress to send down the runway!” Sally stepped in to defend Sherlock when Anderson began whining about being thrown under the bus during their interrogation.
“Sally.” Lestrade tugged her elbow, attempting to pull her back onto the couch.
“No, it’s true!”
When a PA came to escort them back onto the runway, John felt the heavy weight of a pale hand press against his thigh as Sherlock slowly rose. The designer spares John one unreadable glance before slipping through the door.
Apparently, the only thing that saved Sherlock were his hands. They warned him, demanded more, expected more, but ultimately complimented his tailoring all the same.
Sherlock walked back to the greenroom on stiff legs, still reeling from his brush with elimination. His brilliance in serious question, the genius of his vision thrown off kilter. He slumped onto the couch beside John with a heavy sigh, his head falling to rest on the other man’s shoulder.
Anderson was sent home.
That night, when Sherlock climbed onto his bed, John did not roll away. Instead, he pulled back the blankets and wrapped an arm around his friend’s thin chest.
Chapter 4: Episode Four
“It needs to be sharper.” Nina Garcia says flatly, gesturing at the limp sleeves hanging off Sherlock’s mannequin. “But, the silhouette is stunning.” There is a flicker of genuine approval in her voice and John is certain that he is the only one to notice how eager Sherlock is to hear the praise.
“Thank you.” Sherlock maintains his calm composure.
Nina nods, already moving on to speak with Molly about her depressingly mauve shirtdress. Tim hangs back, arms crossed tightly against his chest.
“There is a lot of pressure on you this week, Sherlock.” He looks stern but sympathetic. “But I’m going to go ahead and say that there is a lot of ‘wow’ factor in this. Good luck.” Tim reaches out, gingerly patting Sherlock on the shoulder before he turns to follow Nina across the workroom.
As soon as the pair is gone, Sherlock’s eyes light up. He rips the tailored blazer off the mannequin and rushes to the sewing room.
John smiles to himself, glad to see the old Sherlock flitting about.
At dinner John and Sherlock sit together with Sally and Lestrade across the table, munching on Chinese takeaway that a PA fetched for them. The rest of the designers have either opted to continue working on their garments or had their dinner earlier.
“So, what did Nina say to you, John?” Lestrade asks.
“She thought my blue was too light for her skin tone,” John mumbles into his box of lo mien, rolling his eyes.
“Nonsense,” Sherlock scoffs. John glances over to watch his friend prod a lump of chicken with his chopsticks. “It suits her perfectly,” he continues, still pushing his food around and barely eating.
“Yeah, now she’ll look like a proper ice queen.” Sally teases, nudging John and managing to draw out a smile.
“She also thinks my design is a bit too ambitious.”
“You know.” Sally’s voice sounds strange, softer than John has ever heard it before. He has no clue how to interpret the sudden shift in her demeanour. “If you need any help…” Beside him, Sherlock tenses and John feels the long fingers of a very skilled hand wrap around his knee.
“I’m sure I’ll sort it.”
Sherlock spends the rest of the evening toiling away on the opposite side of his workstation, brushing shoulders and chatting away with John about his own sleek design. Throughout the evening, whenever John leaves to the sewing room, he comes back to find another piece of his blouse perfectly cut out according to his pattern. When he thanks Sherlock the only answered is a pointed silence.
The next morning, with only a half hour until the runway show, John gives in and accepts Sally’s offer for help. He knows that Nina was right but he can’t scrap the idea now, it’s too late. Sally gleefully stitches a sleeve on while John finishes pressing off the trousers. In between styling his model’s hair and makeup and readjusting a finicky button, Sherlock repeatedly throws nasty looks at John’s workstation. Each time John feels a shiver run up his spine, whirling around just in time to catch the back of Sherlock’s head. They have not spoken to each other since Sally swooped in.
“Your boyfriend is jealous,” Sally whispers with a grin, leaning in close and pointing to where Sherlock is now frantically tossing pairs of shoes over his shoulder—trying to find the right one for his model.
“He’s not—we—Sally, please, there are more important things right now,” John sighs, snatching away the finished blouse and handing to his model.
“Oh my god, you guys would be like the cutest couple,” the model coos as she wriggles into the blouse, careful not to dishevel her hair or smudge her makeup. “He’s like all crazy energy and you’re so sweet and calm.” She laughs loudly, bending to encircle John in a half hug just as Tim calls them to the runway.
After the runway show, John is relieved to pass in the middle of the pack. He shuffles back to the green room with the other designers, wondering how he managed to skate by with a poorly constructed but ambitiously designed garment.
Perhaps Sherlock was right when he said they liked to play favourites. At least John, and usually his designs, was well liked by the judges. Unlike Sherlock, who constantly seems to be at odds with either Nina or Michael or both.
“So who do you think is top and bottom?” Dimmock prompts the room. The unanimous decision is that Sherlock is, much to most of their chagrin, definitely in the top.
While the judges discuss, the six designers file back into the green room. Sherlock perches on the arm of the couch next to John.
“Everyone thinks you’ll win.” John looks up, leaning his elbow on Sherlock’s thigh and grinning like a proper idiot.
“Nina said she wouldn’t change a thing.”
Sherlock wins his first challenge.
He comes strutting into the green room and John knows immediately. Bounding off the couch, John pulls Sherlock into a tight hug. Preoccupied with excitement and the warmth of Sherlock’s arms encircling his waist, John misses the ice cold, wildly possessive glare aimed directly at Sally.
Chapter 5: Episode Five
The minute Sherlock finds the shoebox with his name on it several different ideas pop into his head. None of them end well. He grabs his box, as well as John’s, and returns to their shared bedroom.
“John.” Sherlock dumps the pair of trainers onto his flatmate’s chest before settling onto his own pristine bed. Last night, instead of curling up on his own mattress, Sherlock had opted for torturing John with ice cold feet pressed against warm calf muscles. But, after half an hour of complaining, John had actually managed to get some sleep.
“Whaa?” John recoils, batting the shoes away and burying his head under the sheets.
“I despise active wear.” Sherlock sulks, shrugging off his dressing gown and holding up the bright red t-shirt.
“Good thing you have immunity,” John mumbles from somewhere under his bedclothes, shifting beneath them until he crawls out the other side.
“Boring!” The sound of Sherlock’s voice is far too animated for so early in the morning. John is starting to suspect that Sherlock probably never fell asleep and the implications of that conclusion are a little too much for John to process before he has had a cup of tea. “Just means I can take more of a risk,” Sherlock smiles and John does not quite like the way the man’s eyes light up. But he will admit that a thrill runs through his body at the thought of Sherlock’s mind whirling at the speed of cutting-edge fashion.
As soon as Heidi explains that the four fastest designers will be team captains John groans. The prospect of another team challenge is daunting, especially when working with two other designers. He glances around the group, sizing up the athletic abilities of his competitors, trying to determine if there is anyway his leg will best anyone other than Mrs. Hudson.
After a few quick strides, John realises just how fast Sherlock is and immediately elects to slow his pace down to a more comfortable jog. He would prefer to work with his flatmate rather than against him. Sherlock continues sprinting around the track, his long legs carrying him across the finish line a good distance ahead of the runners up, Dimmock, Lestrade and Sarah (who just narrowly beat Sally).
Sherlock is the first to choose.
“John.” The statement of ‘obviously’ is implied in his tone. John, with a small smile, moves to stand beside Sherlock as the other team leaders select their other members.
“Sally, pick Sally,” John whispers in Sherlock’s ear, gripping his elbow tightly.
“No.” Sherlock snaps back, shaking him off.
“Sherlock?” Heidi prompts, gesturing to the group of designers left to select as team members.
“Oh! Okay.” Molly practically skips over to join the two men, gazing intently at Sherlock with a daft grin on her face. John has a sinking feeling that look is the only reason Molly was selected—she would be quite easy to manipulate and boss around, the perfect designer for a team challenge pioneered by Sherlock.
Interestingly enough, the three seem to get along famously—at least in terms of their garment output. John simply works as he always has with Sherlock, bantering back and forth with the occasional injection of actual aesthetic advice. Sherlock, of course, easily adapts to the role of team leader—not through any charismatic inclinations, but rather is uncompromising vision for their collection. And Molly, poor Molly, practically bends over backwards to accommodate Sherlock, her eyes glinting every time he directs any sort of attention at her.
“Molly,” he gently touches her shoulder and she goes pale. John glares over his dress form at the pair. He sees right through Sherlock’s guise of sweetness. “Cinch the waist in a bit more and it’ll be brilliant.”
“Okay,” she replies in a daze before stripping the skirt off and rushing to the sewing room.
John rounds his worktable, moving to stand behind Sherlock. The designer remains seated on his stool, staring at the right sleeve of his fitted suede jacket.
“Why didn’t you listen to me?” John asks in a hushed whisper, leaning forward to perch an elbow on Sherlock’s shoulder.
“Molly is a perfectly adequate designer and a great seamstress.” His voice is cold and flat and it is only when John shies away that Sherlock drags his eyes away from his jacket. Sherlock looks confused by the reaction.
“But Sally is really quite good.” And, John thinks, Sally would have never spent majority of her time mooning over Sherlock. If John was honest with himself, the whole thing was getting rather tiresome.
“I don’t like her.”
“She’s my friend, and she defended you,” John counters and just barely has enough focus to catch Sherlock’s slight flinch.
“And?” He asks expectantly, turning back to his jacket. Apparently noticing something, Sherlock hops off the stool and begins fiddling with the cuffs of his garment. John scoffs, glancing at the clock and realising that there are not enough hours in the day to try and teach Sherlock a modicum of humanity.
At least at the moment.
“Better?” Molly holds up the new skirt for Sherlock to inspect.
For the rest of the challenge John refuses to talk to the man about anything other than their team’s collection. Sherlock does not seem to notice. Their three looks come together flawlessly and Tim has nothing but nice words for the group.
The next morning, with only two hours to runway, the workroom is a chaotic world of strewn denim and suede and angry designers sniping at each other. Molly scurries around the workroom, herding her team’s models around while brandishing needles and pins in order to make a few last minute alterations. During the frantic mess of hair and makeup, Sherlock pulls John aside.
“John, I—” Sherlock starts, his fingers tensing around John’s bicep. “We made a beautiful collection, even if it is active wear inspired.” His eyes dart around the room, resolute on avoiding John’s gaze. “But, I want you to know that I value your input.”
John stares and realises that this is probably what Sherlock thinks an apology sounds like. It is a step in the right direction.
“Thank you, Sherlock.” He turns and walks away to help Molly.
Sherlock and Lestrade’s teams are both in the top.
While they sit in the green room, Molly cannot stop gushing over how wonderful Sherlock was as their team leader. John sits beside the man, arms crossed and squeezed into the corner of the couch thinking over Nina’s comment about the odd tension she sensed within the group. She said it was strange because none of it appeared in their entirely cohesive and striking collection. Sherlock and John remained silent while Molly had looked at her dumbfounded and said this was the best experience she had ever had working with two other designers.
John comes back to the present when he hears Sherlock say something that sounds painfully placating and hollow. But the warm hand on his upper thigh feels surprisingly sincere.
Perhaps Nina was right, John can feel a definite tension.
When they are called back on the runway, Heidi’s wide smile is a little unsettling as she turns to look at Sherlock and John.
“John, Sherlock, we thought your designs were innovative and complimented each other very well.” she starts. “Congratulations,” she says after a dramatic pause. “Both of your designs will be sold online as part of my collection.”
Overwhelming excitement flooding his system, Sherlock grabs John and kisses him. Molly squeaks, John forgets how to use his appendages and Sherlock rubs his thumbs over John’s cheekbones as he hauls him closer.
“Well, I think that’s a Project Runway first.”
Chapter 6: Episode Six
Apparently, and this was in fact news to Sherlock, some men don’t really fancy being kissed on television—even if they have already come out to their open-minded family and friends. And apparently, some men would rather Sherlock had done that bit in private, when there were no cameras or bloody judges watching, and, of course, in a more consensual manner. But, apparently, despite his many protests, some men, well one man in particular, did seem to enjoy the kiss even if that one man is refusing to speak to Sherlock at the moment.
Sherlock knows the network is having a field day. Each designer now has his own camera operator following his every movement.
So, when the team arrived at the arts school in Harlem, all Sherlock felt like doing was being stroppy in the corner. And when Tim explained that they would be painting with children for the next two hours and then designing a garment based on their collaborative art, Sherlock was even more inclined to curl up on a stool and pout.
A young student, the one Sherlock was assigned to paint with, approaches him cautiously.
“What colours do you like?” Her smile is open.
Sherlock crosses his legs, staring at the blank canvas. He takes a long moment, shifting his eyes back to examine the girl. It’s obvious she will not leave him alone to sulk and, despite having immunity for this challenge, Sherlock always wants to prove his brilliance—especially with such a large audience watching. Oh, and John, too.
“Blue. Purple. Red,” he responds after almost a minute.
“Okay,” the girl says slowly, turning to fetch several tubes of acrylic paint and some brushes. “Here.” She stuffs one of the paintbrushes in Sherlock’s hand and tugs him off the stool. “Let’s paint our emotions.” It sounds more like an order than a suggestion.
Sherlock scowls down at her. She looks at him with a bored expression; apparently she is accustomed to mockery. Arching a brow, she adds an unapproved splash of yellow to their palette—the wilful child. Sherlock dabs his brush into the black and starts jabbing at the canvas. The girl makes no attempt to correct him.
Across the room, John and his student artist are laughing and carrying on like the best of friends. Sherlock watches as the child abandons his paintbrush and opts for smearing a streak of orange across their canvas with his fingers. To his amazement, John follows suit and ends up covered to the wrist in several different colours. A few splashes end up on his forehead and cheeks.
How adorable. Sherlock bites the inside of his cheek when John laughs and ruffles the kid’s hair.
“I had a really bad crush on a boy once,” his partner’s calm voice draws him back to where he is currently twisting the bristles of his brush into a frayed mess upon the canvas. Small black, jagged circles dot the landscape of yellow and red the girl has painted while he was observing John.
“I don’t—” Sherlock snaps, switching to the red without cleaning the black from his brush.
“He was really sweet and nice,” she cuts him off. “But he saw me as just a friend.” The girl sighs and Sherlock pauses. “It was torture.”
“Torture.” Sherlock parrots back, adding a stroke of black-red to the painting. “How old are you?”
“Fourteen.” She glances up at him, leaning over to clean her brush. “Doesn’t mean I don’t see things, Mr. Holmes.” That piques his interest.
“And what exactly do you see?” He puts his paintbrush down, leaning back against a stool.
With a few strokes of her brush, the girl outlines a purple human heart—as anatomically correct as five quick lines can be.
“You think you’re quite clever, don’t you?” Sherlock is surprised by the hint of something like quiet affection in his voice.
“Sometimes.” She throws him a cheeky grin over her shoulder. Sherlock picks up his paintbrush again, dabbing it into the purple and rejoining the student. They continue painting in silence for a few minutes. “So what’s he like?” The girl asks as they switch sides of the canvas.
Sherlock peers over the top of their painting and catches John watching them. The other designer looks away the instant their eyes meet, turning to talk with his partner. John’s smile seems a bit dimmer than before.
“He’s my foil.”
When each pair finishes their paintings and consulting, the group of art students begin tidying up. Sherlock’s partner elbows him in the side the second she notices John slipping off to the toilets. They’ve spent the last twenty minutes chatting about John and how Sherlock just needs to talk to the man and sort it out before it derails both their chances at continuing in the competition. And, after much eye rolling and fussing, Sherlock begins to admit (only to himself) that the brat may have a point.
He follows close behind the other designer.
“John,” Sherlock calls quietly, stepping inside the school toilets to find John leaning against one of the sinks. The two camera operators assigned to each of them try to squeeze in behind Sherlock. “Oh, piss off,” he shouts, whirling around to shove them out and bolt the door shut.
“You’re an idiot, you know that?” John murmurs loud enough for Sherlock to hear as he turns to wash his hands. He wrenches the tap on and pumps several squirts of liquid soap into his palm.
“John.” Sherlock takes a step closer, reaching a hand out to grasp the rim of the closest sink, two down from where John stands.
“I’ve already told you, Sherlock, I don’t want to talk about it right now,” he says in a hushed whisper, sensitive to the two men outside listening in and most likely recording their conversation through the door. John rubs his hands raw, scraping off the layers of dried paint with blunt fingernails. He turns to throw a glare Sherlock’s way as he switches the tap off. “You’re still my bloody competition.” Water and a few flex of paint run down John’s wrists as he dries them off, angling his body to face Sherlock head on.
Oh, Sherlock thinks, he’s missed a bit.
“It’s just.” Sherlock wets a paper towel. All John can do is stare in confusion as Sherlock gestures vaguely to his own face. “Here.” He invades John’s personal space with two quick strides.
“What?” John takes a defensive step away, his back colliding with the metal frame of the toilet stall behind him. Sherlock holds up the damp paper, slowly moving it towards the splotch of yellow John missed near his hairline. Delicate, as if he’s sewing chiffon or satin, Sherlock wipes away the paint. “Oh.” He blinks, staring at the yellow paint now marring the paper towel. “Thanks.”
Sherlock does not move. He stands far too close, eyes trained on John’s mouth and the man can feel his chest constricting. John can tell Sherlock wants to kiss him again. He wants Sherlock to kiss him again.
“I’ve worked so hard to get here, Sherlock.” It stupid but his knees feel a bit weak being this close to Sherlock while they are both wide-awake with the lights on. He can’t think straight. All he can see are princess seams and icy cold eyes. How is he meant to sew a beautiful, inspired, couture dress by tomorrow morning with Sherlock’s mouth and tongue taunting him? “I can’t loose sight of my goal now.”
That is when Sherlock realises John has got it all wrong—he can’t see the forest for the trees, the potential for the immediate.
“You don’t find me inspirational?” Sherlock asks point blank and John is clearly surprised by the sincerity in the man’s voice. Long fingers curl around the wide collar of John’s black and white jumper, gently rubbing the fabric between thumb and forefinger. Sherlock smiles to himself, glancing down to watching as he releases the cheap material, instead running his fingertips along the hard bone of John’s right clavicle. “Every time I look at you.” He glances back up at the man’s face, tapping the hollow of the designer’s throat with his index finger. “I have this impossible urge,” he continues, palm pressed flat against John’s sternum. “To strip away your absurdly cuddly jumpers and cut you an entirely new wardrobe.” His fingers come to rest on the button snap of John’s denim trousers, running back and forth over the rough-cut waistline. “One that follows every hard line of your body.”
“Boys, time to kiss and make up is over,” Tim’s voice pierces through the bolted door. “We’re heading to Mood.”
Chapter 7: Episode Seven
Raz was finally eliminated for his rather disturbingly literal adaptation of his partner’s painting of a garish blue jay—as well as his beyond questionable use of spray-paint as an acceptable alternative to eye shadow. Sherlock had been in the top three with what he deemed a ‘John-inspired’ piece while Sally won with a beautiful translation of her student’s colourful, abstract work of art. John had simply been safe in the middle of the pack thanks to his vibrant yellow colour and neat tailoring.
With Raz out, Sherlock and John would be the only ones left in their flat.
“Would you like some tea?” John asks the minute they cross the threshold into their flat. He tosses the keys onto the counter and begins puttering around the small kitchen. Sherlock leans against the door frame, watching the other man struggling to retain his composure as he busies himself with the tea. There are no cameras or fellow designers or adorable brats and unbelievable exhaustion to come between them now. Not even a meddling Tim Gunn.
“I’ll just go ahead and make a pot,” John mutters, plugging in the electric kettle. In a thinly veiled attempt to avoid Sherlock’s piercing gaze, John starts neatly lining up the carton of milk and bag of sugar before fussing with the box of PG Tips.
Sherlock moves closer, and John would venture to say the way the other man slinks across the kitchen, slumping against the counter, is almost feline in nature.
“John.” He reaches out and covers John’s hand with his own. The other designer stills, bowing his head to stare intently at the water gradually coming to a boil.
Slowly, slowly enough that John could stop him at any moment with the briefest of signals, Sherlock pushes away from the counter to stand behind the other designer. With his free hand, Sherlock traces along the line of John’s strong shoulders, gliding down the man’s arm until he presses his fingers between those splayed on the Formica. Chest to back, Sherlock tilts his head to breath in the clean scent of John’s soap.
His lips ghost over the shell of John’s ear and a sigh escapes the designer’s lips. All the tension drains from his body until John is leaning back against the other man. Tipping his head back onto Sherlock’s shoulder, John turns to kiss him. He can taste the last cigarette Sherlock smoked half an hour ago outside of Parsons.
The kettle switches off with a loud click.
“No,” John croaks out, his voice cracking as he untangles himself from Sherlock. “I can’t,” and his voice is resolute as he presses both palms against the flat expanse of Sherlock’s chest. He watches his own hands rise and fall as the designer breaths in deeply. “Can’t we just go back to how it was before?” John looks up into Sherlock’s confused face. “I think you’re brilliant but I can’t be distracted right now.” It is infuriating that Sherlock even has the audacity to scoff and roll his eyes. “Yes, you, Sherlock. I’ve already said that you can be very distracting.”
Sherlock stares at him for a long minute, unblinking. John gets the disturbing feeling that he has crossed some invisible line.
Perhaps the fact that Sherlock agrees so readily should be more worrying to John, but all he can feel at the moment is relief.
Sherlock was beginning to think that the producers of Project Runway were getting a bit careless with the blatant and rather artificial attempts to stir up drama.
Honesty, another team challenge?
At least he would get the chance to experiment with creating his own print—that had to mean something. It was the only positive thought running through his head as he waited to be selected for a team. So far, every other designer, except for himself and Molly, had already been selected.
John had made a point by choosing Mrs. Hudson over Sherlock. But, that could not save the man. When it comes down to it, Sherlock is the last designer left and Sally’s team still needs their fifth member.
Heidi makes as Sherlock bounds onto the stage to stand along side his new team.
“I’ll try not to distract you,” Sherlock whispered in John’s ear, his warm breath tickling over the sensitive skin.
With a stiff smile, John whacks him in the chest with the back of his hand.
“So what is our theme?” Sarah asks, plopping down onto the sofa beside John.
“New York,” Sally suggests, chewing on the end of her pen.
“Expected.” Sherlock snipes back with a pained expression. John swats him on the knee but only elicits a small smile from the other designer.
“Colour?” Mrs. Hudson ventures, scooting to the edge of her seat in order to hear the rest of the group better.
“For the ‘design-your-own-print challenge’?” Sally actually manages to beat Sherlock to the comment.
“Sorry, what did you say, John?”
“Take your favourite print and twist it,” he starts explaining, fiddling with the edge of his sketchbook. “Maybe a colour scheme you’ve never seen before. Put your own spin on it. Like orange houndstooth or something.”
“And each piece can be connected through colour,” Mrs. Hudson chimes in, pointedly glaring at Sherlock.
Everyone, including a pleasantly surprised Sherlock, loves the idea. It is very John Watson after all—the usual template with a slight twist.
They eventually settle on shades of green as their linking colour. After fiddling with the technology for almost an hour, printing out test pages, the group selects the three patterns created by John, Sally and Sherlock.
The next morning they are all thrilled to find the fabric just as they envisioned.
Thankfully, John thinks as he starts cutting out strips of green houndstooth, Sherlock has managed to respect his wishes. The designer still offers advice and welcomes John’s, but physical contact has been reduced to minimal—only a faint brush of fingers when passing a test swatch or the bump of a shoulder as he leaves the workroom. It is everything John needs right now.
During the afternoon, Sally takes a break from her trousers to check on John’s progress.
“It looks quite nice.” Sherlock vanishes to the sewing room the minute Sally opens her mouth. She leans against John’s worktable, looking over her shoulder at Sherlock’s mannequin. “You know, it’s rather sweet the way Freak fancies you.”
“Sally, please,” John sighs, casting a glance toward the double doors that lead to the sewing room.
“Honest,” Sally responds, turning back to John. “Almost makes him seem human.” He can hear the smile in her voice and draws his shoulders back, sitting straighter on his stool. “So why are you torturing him?”
“I need to finish this.”
After their team’s sparkling runway evaluation, full of unadulterated praise from Heidi, a few positive jokes from Michael Kors and scepticism from Nina, John pulls Sherlock aside. The rest of their teammates continue into the green room.
“What is the matter, John?” His eyes are fixed on John’s hand wrapped around his wrist. “They loved our pieces.”
“Weren’t you listening? Now they think we’re a bloody unit.” John struggles to keep his voice quiet, yanking on Sherlock’s arm to draw him closer.
Maichael Kors had gone on and on about how their models looked like the sweetest lesbian couple caught on a romantic date in Paris. Which of course made Nina start prying into how much collaboration went into their garments and who actually designed what. And Heidi couldn’t stop asking if she could take John’s green houndstooth blazer home after the show.
“They can’t look at me and not see you. They are no longer judging me or you, they’re judging ‘us’.”
“We are on the same team,” Sherlock says and John releases his grip, silently hoping that Sherlock is not intentionally being obtuse.
“For this challenge.”
Chapter 8: Episode Eight
In the morning, Sherlock and John silently brush their teeth side by side. John makes a pot of tea and pours two mugs. Next, four pieces of toast slathered in strawberry jam are set out on the kitchen counter for them to share.
With crumbs tumbling down his black button down, Sherlock grumbles about how John should have won the last challenge instead of Sally—citing Nina’s irrational fascination with absolutely everything the woman designs, as if she can do no wrong. He scoffs, repeating Sally’s name with a shake of his head. John tells Sherlock he is being ridiculous but rather sweet. A warm smile pulls up the corners of John’s lips, suggestively tilting his head up to gaze at the other man. Sherlock bristles and downs the rest of his tea before suggesting they leave the flat to bravely meet their new challenge.
John, the king of mixed messages.
Sherlock cringed the minute his client opened his mouth and a string of misogyny came tumbling out. He has already spent a quarter of an hour attempting to extract what colours the man’s wife prefers. But instead all he gets is a spiel about how ‘awesome’ his wife’s ‘tits’ are delightfully punctuated with a few sly references to the Boston Red Sox that go completely over Sherlock’s head.
“And she has wicked awesome tits. You gotta show off her tits, man,” his client added emphatically, holding his hand in front of his own chest in order to properly demonstrate just how large his wife’s breasts are for Sherlock.
One table over, John and his client are chatting away about an offbeat colour palette for his hipster girlfriend. There is a strange stiffness to John’s actions that catches Sherlock’s eye. The designer does not seem to be comfortable with whatever recommendations the man is making. At least the jut of his hip and bend of his head suggest so—or is it an odd undercurrent of jealousy causing John to hold himself in such an uncomfortable position. Jealous of what? How the man is gushing about his girlfriend, how stupidly in love he is and isn’t that frightfully annoying? How the man is clearly head over heels and totally accepting of that fact, revelling in it even?
“Shurly,” the man calls, snapping his fingers in front of Sherlock’s face. “Dude cruising is for later.” He chides, hopping off the worktable to lean against the mannequin. “Now, you asked about colour, yeah? My lady loves leopard print.”
“It’s Sherlock. And that is not a colour,” Sherlock replies, managing to somehow keep his tone calm and even.
Things did not get any better for Sherlock when they stepped inside of Mood and the man immediately started hassling one of the shop workers about the location of their animal prints.
“We’ve already discussed this,” Sherlock reminds his client through clenched teeth, struggling to maintain his composure. He can feel John’s eyes on him from the opposite aisle. Glancing over, he catches the other designer’s eyes and watches as a faint flush creeps up his neck.
Sherlock’s client eventually concedes on the animal prints. In the end Sherlock stumbles upon the perfect print. The man cannot stop blathering on endlessly about how he obviously got the best designer of the group and all the other competitors should pack their shit and go now.
Sherlock cannot help but grin; at least he has one die-hard, albeit sleazy, fan.
When they return from Mood, the designers finally have time to reevaluate their designs and fabric choices without the stifling presences of their clients. Sherlock starts draping and pinning things to his dress form while John slowly pulls out one brightly coloured fabric after another from his bag.
“Very bold, John.” Sherlock comments casually, strolling over to check in on the other man’s progress.
“I know,” John sighs, collapsing onto the mound of colourful fabric piled up on his worktable. There is a soft thud when his head connects with the hard surface of the tabletop. “But apparently she just loves colour. And he loves her. So I must love colour too.” His voice is small and muffled by the vibrant textiles surrounding his head.
Sherlock knows he was right before about the rampant jealousy contouring John’s otherwise nonchalant posture. But John was the one making things difficult, so why be jealous of another man in love? The designer could be so frustratingly irrational.
“You already know what the judges will say.” Sherlock reaches down to massage the tense muscles coiled at the base of John’s skull. The other man’s shoulders tense for a second before relaxing into the touch. Just as John moves to sit back, Sherlock pulls away. “Don’t loose your point of view.”
John watches Sherlock walk back to his dress form, lingering for a few unnecessary seconds before turning back to sort himself out.
“Oh my gawd, it’s stunning, Sherlock.” The woman runs a hand over her own ass with a delighted laugh. She shakes it a little in the mirror, watching as the tailored dress flows effortlessly around her thighs. Bouncing slightly, she spins to grab her husband’s lapels. “Don’t you think it’s wicked sexy, babe?”
On the other side of the worktable, waiting for his client to return from makeup, John laughs at Sherlock’s bewildered expression as his client continues to wiggle around in her new, custom-made dress. Sherlock throws him a pleading look as the woman starts fiddling with the hemline, asking if it could be just a tiny bit shorter.
“What do you think, babe? Shorter? Sherlock, shorter?” She asks expectantly.
John rounds the table to get a better look at the woman.
“I can literally feel my IQ dropping.” Sherlock whispers, clutching John’s shoulder and burying his face in the man’s neck.
“The length is perfect for the runway,” John answers the woman’s question while stifling a laugh. He wraps an arm around Sherlock’s waist, giving him a quick squeeze before shoving him back toward the woman.
Maybe this could work.
Chapter 9: Episode Nine
Thankfully, because of a little luck and their very different aesthetic preferences, Sherlock and John did not end up choosing the same band member. John selected to design for the drummer while Sherlock chose the front man. It would have been especially tragic since the two men ended up on opposing teams for this challenge, meaning the two looks would have been for the very same client.
The only issue was that John had never designed menswear. Sherlock, on the other hand, made all of his own clothes in addition to designing for his older brother as well as other high-ranking, UK government officials. So when John hits a rough patch during their first fitting with the band, he glances around the room to find Sherlock waiting for his client to finish being fitted by Lestrade.
“Ouch!” The drummer yelps as John accidentally jabs him in the collarbone with a pin.
“Sherlock?” John calls over blindly, focusing on pinning the collar of the drummer’s shirt in place and not his skin. “Sherl—” He turns to check on Sherlock and nearly crashes into the other designer. “Oh!”
“Men have hard angles.” Sherlock slips past him easily, stepping behind the drummer to tug at the fabric tight, emphasising the lines of the man’s body. Looking over the shorter man’s shoulder, Sherlock catches John’s eye. It’s hard not to remember the feeling of Sherlock’s fingertips gliding down his torso, chattering on and on about hard lines and nakedness. When he releases the material it flutters back out around the man’s narrow waist. “Don’t give him hips,” he scolds, circling back around to John while closely examining the finished pair of jeans. “The pants, however,” he pauses to flash John an unsettling grin, “Are quite flattering.”
Across the room Lestrade finishes with the lead singer, sending him over to Sherlock’s empty workspace.
“It’s good, John.” Sherlock leans in close, hand moulded to the small of John’s back as he crosses back over to his table. “Just don’t forget all the important tailoring bits.”
“Cheers,” John says with a smile, reaching out to briefly touch Sherlock’s elbow as he walks away.
Three hours later, John has scrapped his shirt and started a completely new design with the help of some extra fabric Sherlock loaned him. He’d have to figure out a good way to make it up to the other designer.
“John, dinner?” Sally suggests with a pointed look. John sighs and shoves the dress form away. She threads an arm through his and drags him off to the small kitchenette where the show’s catering has prepared a dinner buffet for the designers. Already seated at the table and halfway through her dinner is a smiling Sarah. They both start piling food onto their plates.
“Now,” Sally starts, plopping down the seat beside Sarah, opposite John. She picks up a fork and spears a hunk of chicken curry. “What is going on with you and Freak?”
“Oh bloody hell, Sally, give it a rest.”
“Honestly, John,” Sarah chimes in and John realises her timing was not a coincidence. She pushes her clean plate away, leaning forward with her arms crossed to close the distance between them. “I can’t concentrate with all the sexual tension flying back and forth.” Sally starts emphatically gesturing toward Sarah, attempting to nonverbally amen her sentiment while her mouth is stuffed with curry. “Will they, won’t they? Will they, won’t they?”
“I—I just—” John cuts himself off, shaking his head with a self-deprecating smile. “No, it’s mental.”
“Out with it.”
“We won’t pass any judgement,” Sarah adds with a sweet smile, reaching out to touch John’s wrist.
“I,” he starts out slowly, taking a bit of salad and chewing it methodically. “I can’t design properly when I’m ‘involved’.”
“That’s insane.” Sarah throws Sally a near lethal glare.
“I’ve tried it before, it didn’t end well.” John starts jabbing at the salad on his plate. “I just get lazy and contented.” The tinges of his fork disappear into the greens as he continues stabbing at the salad until his fork is overloaded. “I loose all my drive.” He tosses the fork onto the plate, bits of salad popping off the end.
“But it’s Sherlock,” Sally responds, completely baffled. “Wouldn’t he just spur you on?”
“I’m worried that if I give into…” John fumbles for a proper word to describe his current situation with Sherlock. “Whatever it is, I’ll just get complacent and take myself out of the equation.” He glances over at the closed door. “I don’t want to be competing against someone who I’m in a proper relationship with…”
The door swings open and Lestrade strolls, eyes locked on the buffet.
“Anyways, I think it’s the tension that actually spurs me on.”
A few minutes later, Sherlock bangs open the door and demands John’s advice. He crosses the room and, despite Sally’s warnings of bodily harm, pulls John out of his chair. John doesn’t say anything when Sherlock’s hands lingers a little too long against the skin of his wrist--or the way his thumb brushes over his thrumming pulse.
John does not win the challenge but, with Sherlock’s help, he is more than happy to find his garment in the top three.
Chapter 10: Episode Ten
That night, John stumbles over to his bed with a wide grin, still gushing about his scintillating runway evaluation. Sherlock follows behind him, locking the door to their flat before stripping off his suit coat. Only half listening to John, he tosses the coat on his own mattress.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard Nina say such nice things before.” John collapses onto his bed, arms spread wide as he beams. In the corner of their shared room, Sherlock begins to silently undress for bed. “To me or anyone!” He laughs, staring up at the ceiling. Running his tongue over his lips before nibbling on the bottom one, John sits up slowly to face Sherlock. “Thank you.”
“Genius does love an audience.” Sherlock brushes the gratitude a side, sitting with his back turned to John. He starts yanking off his socks, chucking them into the closet opposite his bed.
“You didn’t have to help me.” Behind him John’s bed springs creak as the man shifts around. “You probably shouldn’t be helping me this late in the competition.”
“You would have done the same thing if I had been in your position.” Both men know how ridiculous the likelihood of such a role reversal is but they allow the comment to past. Sherlock stands abruptly, slipping on his dressing gown in a whirl of silk. He turns to find John standing with his hands shoved in his trouser pockets rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.
“True.” John admits with a ridiculously warm smile. Despite the obvious affection, Sherlock finds the expression difficult to fully interpret. “Still, it’s a rather stupid stratagem.” With slow deliberate steps, John closes the distance between them. He tilts his face up to look up at Sherlock. There is so much gratitude and simple happiness framing the edges of his smile. “So, thank you, again.” A hand slides up the silk lapel of Sherlock’s dressing gown. Eyes sliding shut, heels rising off carpeted floor, John softly presses his lips against Sherlock’s.
It feels gentle and sweet and wholly John.
Tentatively, knowing John could change his mind at any moment; Sherlock stills his hands before they start tugging at the man’s woolly jumper. Instead, he softly flicks his tongue out to run along the seam of the man’s mouth. Lips parted, hands on the flat of Sherlock’s chest, John pushes against the other designer. Still kissing, they stagger backwards until Sherlock’s legs connect with the bed frame and together they go tumbling onto the closest mattress.
“John,” Sherlock murmurs with a triumphant grin, long fingers cradling the back of John’s head while his thumb runs along the sensitive shell of his ear.
A look of pure panic flashes across John’s face. He seizes up for half a second before pressing his hand against Sherlock’s wet lips. Without a word, he rolls off Sherlock and jumps out of bed. He switches out the light before crawling into his own bed, tugging the covers high around his shoulders. Across the room, Sherlock can still hear his own pulse thudding loudly in his ears.
“Sherlock,” John’s voice is small but clear in the dark. “Will you make me a promise?” He pauses for a response but they both know he does not expect one. “We will help each other when necessary, until both of us make it to Fashion Week.”
Sherlock twists around to try and make out John’s expression in the darkness. All he can see is the other designer staring up at the ceiling.
“But after that…”
“Déjà vu.” Sarah whispers in Mrs. Hudson’s ear the minute Tim Gunn announces the new 70s themed challenge.
“Oh, yes, but I might have a real chance at this version.” She jokes with a snicker. A few other designers around them chuckle.
“Make it work,” Tim tosses over his shoulder while the designers scramble for their sketchbooks and begin brainstorming.
“Sophisticated paisley?” Sherlock murmurs to John with a pointed look as they cross the room to their worktables. John laughs and the skin around his eyes crinkles. “There was nothing ‘chic’ about the 70s.”
“Make it work.” John does his best Tim Gunn voice before knocking his hip against Sherlock’s with a bright-eyed grin. Shoulders stiff, eyes wide, Sherlock stares after John as the man slips off start his own sketches. Each time he looks up he catches John staring at him with a small smile that disappears the moment he realises he has been caught.
When Tim told them all that they would need to make a second look for the challenge, John almost collapsed onto his pile of plaid fabric and surrendered right there and then to the gods of fashion. But Sherlock practically climbed over his worktable to nudge him until the other designer groaned and begrudgingly picked up his pencil. After a joint brainstorm, they both started sketching again. After that, John seemed to find another fount of inspiration. He was plugging along steadily on his second look until Tim came around for his critique.
There is a deep crease between Tim’s manicured brows and John immediately knows it is a bad sign.
“You look worried,” John says around a mouthful of pins as he peers out from behind his dress form at an uncharacteristically quiet Tim. After a few speechless gestures at the plaid romper, Tim finally sighs and folds his arms.
“I just don’t see a lot of John Watson in this piece.”
“How do you mean?” He removes the pins from between his lips and jabs them into the dress form.
“It’s just not very ‘you’.” John rounds the table to get a look at the garment from Tim’s perspective. To him the romper looks exactly like he wants it. “Take some time to closely examine the whole design, especially the silhouette.”
“Thank you, Tim.”
Behind him, Sherlock finishes sewing the hem of his own romper.
Across the workroom Sally leans over to Sarah, nodding towards Sherlock and John, “Seems to be a rather popular design.”
The next morning is a frenzy of alterations and broken sewing machines and John starts to completely question both of his finished looks for the challenge. The longer he stares at them, the less he can see his perspective in the garments. Sherlock had somehow managed to worm his way inside his brain, totally override his personal design aesthetic. The man is such a dominating force that every time John touches his pencil to paper it turns into something distinctly ‘Sherlock Holmes’.
But it is too late for John to start all over again. All he can do now is send the romper and jumpsuit down the runway and pray that the similarities between his and Sherlock’s designs will not be noticed.
Heidi crosses her legs, leaning forward to speak with the bottom three designers, Dimmock, Sherlock and John.
“We’ve seen this silhouette from you a lot now, Sherlock.” She scolds, holding his gaze with a cold stare while Nina nods solemnly. A slight smile twists up the side of Heidi’s mouth and Sherlock narrows his eyes. “We want you to push the envelope.” She pauses, glancing down the runway at the other two men waiting for her to determine their fates. “You’re in.”
Sherlock nods to Heidi with a tight lipped smile before turning toward John. He reaches out to gently touch the designer’s elbow. Everyone watches quietly as Sherlock leans in as if to tell John something, something vital something not intended for the judges or anyone else. But he says nothing. Pulling back quickly, he escapes to the green room.
“John,” Heidi calls out and John feels his stomach lurch, heart jumping into his throat. “We thought your look was tired and a sad reflection of your competitor’s.” She nods to where Sherlock stood only moments ago. The message is painfully clear. “We are starting to question if you have lost the unique point of view that we were so enchanted by last week.”
She angles her body toward Dimmock, tapping the over-sized note cards on her knee.
“Dimmock.” He practically flinches the minute she says his name. “You’ve created a mess of plaid and paisley. Your design was not innovative and poorly executed. And this is not the first time.”
The pause seems to last almost an hour.
But the wait is nothing compared to the second pause. His heart races inside his ribcage, palms sweaty, skin clammy. All he can manage are a few short, shaky breaths.