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The Art of Negotiation

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“Sherlock!”

Holmes doesn’t look up from his box. He’s carefully cataloguing and organizing his collection of cigar bands and can’t really be bothered at this moment. Correction: he could be bothered at this moment, but he chooses not to be. Watson’s complaints, as interesting as they may be, can wait until after he’s finished the Cuban section.

“Sherlock!” Watson says, much closer now. She’s standing behind him. He doesn’t look at her, simply tries to decide whether he should organize the cigar bands by colour, odour, expense, or strength. It’s a conundrum, one worth his attention.

Watson has been living with him now for a week without the sober companion title to her name. Because of the lack of temporary status- though she still amusingly insists that her living with him will be temporary- she’s been sorting and shifting the brownstone around an idea of cleanliness and orderliness that is foreign to him. He mostly just ignores her. It’s been working out well thus far.

“What are you doing?” she asks. He can picture her- standing with her feet shoulder-width apart, arms on her hips, classic confrontation stance.

“As you can clearly see, I am organizing my cigar bands. I despair of your future as an investigator, Watson, if you can’t even deduce that much,” he replies. He last had the bands organized by expense; he thinks he’ll do it by odour this time, to give his senses a proper test. He lifts the first band to his nose.

“Yes, but why?”

“So they’ll be organized. I thought you liked organization, Watson. You’ve spent a week telling me about the importance of organization, and finally, your words are heard! You should be pleased,” he tells her, and carefully sets the band back down, picking up another.

Watson moves around where he can see her. She’s wearing her yoga pants and a flannel shirt, clothes he’s come to know as “the laundry day outfit”. Laundry day never bodes well for him.

“Sherlock, I don’t doubt your ability to organize your locks, your handcuff collection- and don’t think you slipped that one by me, by the way- your ashes, your shoes, your- your cigar bands, apparently, or anything else related to crime and detective work,” she says, rolling her eyes. She lifts her hand up and shakes a pair of socks in his face. They’re bright orange with toes. He’d been wondering where that pair went. “What I do doubt is your ability to keep your stuff out of my space. I found these in my room. Why were they in my room?”

Holmes sighs and pushes his box back. When Watson is like this, it’s pointless to try and work. He thinks about it for a moment, trying to remember when he last wore his orange toe socks and why they would have found their way into Watson’s room.

It only takes him a moment. He folds his hands in his lap and looks up at her, giving her a small smile, the one that he’s noticed always makes her soften imperceptibly. It doesn’t seem to work this time. If anything, she just squares her shoulders more and tightens her grip on the socks.

“I was testing the velocity of various sock brands,” he says, which is a sort of truth. He was really just bored and throwing socks around, but it sounds better if he couches it in scientific terms.

Watson gives him a flat look. “So you were bored.”

“Of course not!” Holmes protests immediately. “Knowing the difference in velocity between, say, my orange toe socks and my purple zebra socks could one day be essential to a crime.”

The look Watson gives him is a familiar one. It’s her you-are-shitting-me-I-swear-to-God-it’s-a-miracle-I-haven’t-killed-you-yet look. Watson’s looks are quite eloquent. It’s amazing how much disdain, frustration, and cynicism she can communicate with a simple glance.

“I don’t care how bored you get, Sherlock. You’re going to keep your socks out of my room!”

She shoves the socks at him and walks away, not quite storming off. Holmes nods and looks down at his cigar bands.

“I agree!” he calls after her, already absorbed in whether or not Bolivar should come before or after La Gloria Cubana.

******
Holmes believes in the art of negotiation. He’s honed it over the years, refined it in every way, made it work for him. For him, the art of negotiation boils down to one rule: agree with the other party, and then do whatever you want anyway.

Watson is making him rethink that rule.

“Sherlock,” Watson says, taking the tennis ball out of his hand and setting it to the side. She looks calm. Something inside of him quails. “Why are three pairs of your socks in my hamper?”

Here’s the truth: during the case they’d solved two days ago, he’d been working extensively in one of his storage rooms, the one on the same floor as Watson’s bedroom, and he’d taken off each pair of socks over the course of three days. At the end of the case, when tidying the room up a bit and filing case materials away, it had simply been easier to drop off his dirty socks in Watson’s room rather than walk them over to his room.

But from the way Watson is glaring at him, he suspects that may not be a viable explanation.

“It was an experiment!” he says, smiling broadly.

“In how soon I’ll lose my temper and murder you?” she shoots back.

“Of course not,” he says smoothly. “It is a deductive exercise for you, Watson. Try to figure out why I would have left three pairs of socks in your room-”

“After I specifically told you to keep your socks out of my room.”

“- after you specifically told me to keep my socks out of your room,” he concludes. He doesn’t remember her telling him that. He remembers them arguing over his orange toe socks five days ago, right before their new case came in, but he doesn’t recall agreeing to that. Holmes thinks about it for a moment, and mentally nods. She did say that, he remembers now. Of course, he was busy doing important work, so it didn’t really sink in, but she did say it.

Watson folds her arms. She looks irritated. No, he corrects. She is irritated, and probably has right to be. He did say he agreed, after all, even if he didn’t mean it and didn’t remember it.

“You are so full of shit,” she says, and he winces a little. She’s always been much better about knowing when he’s lying than anyone else. “Here’s what I think happened: you were too lazy to walk your dirty laundry to your room, so you stuck it in mine, figuring I wouldn’t mind.”

This could go two ways: he could concede that he’d completely ignored her demand, or he could continue to pretend it was a deductive exercise. He decides on the one that is least likely to wind up with a basketball in the face.

“Very good!” he praises. “Your deductive skills are really coming along marvelously, Watson.”

Watson pinches the bridge of her nose. She’s exasperated now, which is better than irritated at least. Not much better, he’ll admit, but still better.

“Listen to me very carefully, Sherlock. The next time I find a pair of your socks in my room, I am going to take a pair of scissors and cut them up, and then the deductive exercise will become you finding the pieces of the murder victims around the house. I happen to know you like your socks. Do you want them to die because you were careless?”

“You don’t mean that,” he says, appalled.

Watson’s look is the same one she gave him right before she knocked over his padlocks. “Try me,” she says.

Holmes studies her for a moment, biting his lip. “My apologies, Watson,” he says carefully. “I will take the offending socks, and I promise to keep all articles of clothing out of your room in the future.”

Watson smiles. “Thank you. See, Sherlock? Compromise really isn’t that hard.” She turns and starts to walk away. Holmes frowns and stands up.

“My socks?”

Watson turns, her smile not changing at all. “Good luck finding them.”

Holmes blinks, watching her walk away. “You didn’t cut them up, did you? Those were my lucky socks! Watson?”

(Later, he finds his socks in the dryer, still in one piece. It is literally the last place he thought to check.)

******
Holmes stares at his closet in horror.

He has many, many closets in the brownstone, each one stuffed full of things he collects, little mementos from previous clients, detritus of his life, and piles and piles of case files. Each closet has a system, each system is understood by him, and he likes it this way. It may appear as chaos to the outside observer, but Holmes has never had any trouble finding what he needs because chaos is imminently understandable when one observes the overlying structure. There is no such thing as chaos; merely a pattern too large to observe immediately.

This closet contains boxes with case files from the years 2008 through 2009. He organizes them in order of difficulty and crime committed. They are not how he left them. They are, in fact, utter chaos.

“Watson!” he yells. No one else has been in the brownstone all week, and he’s certain, short of a psychotic break, that he did not open this closet at any point and rearrange his boxes. He twitches slightly and turns to yell again. “Watson!”

“You bellowed?” Watson says sarcastically, walking into the room. He doesn’t care. He turns back to look at his closet, forcing himself to stand still and not throw himself at his boxes. They’re wrong, and it’s making him anxious.

“What did you do to my files?” he asks, not looking at her and instead trying to figure out how she could have completely destroyed his system. There’s nothing new in the closet, so it isn’t as though she was looking for more space for her things- she asked last week if he would clean out the closet in the room next to hers so she could store a few of her boxes, and he’d acquiesced, so he hasn’t been unreasonable about the entire arrangement.

Watson frowns. “During that case last week you needed one of the case files from here. When I opened the closet, all the boxes fell on me. You were busy obsessively listening to some cassettes, so I put them back.”

“You put them back wrong,” he says, shifting and tapping his fingers against his thighs.

“They’re in alphabetical order by victim,” Watson replies.

“They’re wrong.”

“Well I’m sorry! It didn’t look like there was much of a system to begin with.”

“There was a perfectly rational organizational scheme-”

“The boxes fell on me, Sherlock. I was buried in boxes-”

“-which was perhaps slightly disturbed in a moment of quick rummaging three weeks ago and created structural instabilities but nonetheless functioned and worked and now it’s destroyed.”

Watson sighs. She looks genuinely apologetic, so he supposes he can’t be too hard on her. She didn’t know.

“I didn’t want to bother you while you were working,” she explains.

Holmes sighs too. He’s taken her head off once or twice when she’s tried to get him to eat while working or sleep while working or do anything other than work while working. It isn’t really a surprise that she decided to tidy up the closet while he was working.

“There is a system to these closets, Watson, and it’s time you learned them. Clear your schedule for the day! This will take some time.”

They adjust the 2008 through 2009 closet, and then he takes her to the other closets in the house, explaining each system to her. She suggests some surprisingly useful organization techniques for a few of the closets which he had not considered, and he promises to think them over. She also suggests that he use the same system for each closet, but he dismisses that one out of hand.

“There is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace,” he declares immediately.

“Yeah, whatever,” Watson says, staring at his Closet of Oddities, where she found his violin. It is organized by size. “I’m just saying, having the same system for every closet might prevent you from having a temper tantrum whenever I move something.”

Holmes glares at her, and then tips his head to the side. “I will type up a master list of the systems of each closet for you,” he concedes. “I cannot expect everyone to memorize my techniques, I suppose. It would be difficult, even for you.”

Watson glares at him this time. “Are you saying that I can’t figure out your closets?”

“I am merely saying that it would be, perhaps, difficult for someone who isn’t as intelligent as I am.”

Watson’s mouth goes thin, and she whirls around and points at the cupboard under the stairs. “In there you keep any outdoors or sporting equipment, including your endless supply of tennis balls, your singlesticks and dummy, and the basketball that I’m seriously considering using right now. It’s organized by colour.” She turns again and points toward his television room. “In that closet is multimedia equipment. It’s first sorted by function- VCRs, CD players, your one gramophone- and then by serial number.” She turns a third time and points above her to where he knows his closet of cords is. “That closet above us is your cord closet. You organize them by plug and then by length, which is not labeled, but I happen to know the length of all your cords already.” She turns yet again and points down and to the left. “And that closet, which we haven’t gotten to yet, is your closet of crazy, where you keep everything you have connected to Moriarty that can’t fit comfortably on the wall. That closet isn’t organized- you haven’t found a satisfying order yet. Do I need to continue?”

Holmes shakes his head, gobsmacked.

Watson smiles sweetly. He’s learning to fear that smile. “Suggesting that you choose one system of organization isn’t my way of saying I can’t figure them all out; it’s my way of saying that it might make more sense. No one is going to think you’re unintelligent just because you like one consistent system.”

He forgets, sometimes, that she can keep up with him. He’s so used to having to dumb things down, or step people through his process, it always comes as a bit of a shock when someone doesn’t need it. He needs to get used to it. Watson isn’t just anyone.

Still, she made one incorrect assumption. “It isn’t because I fear being seen as unintelligent,” he corrects her. “It’s a security precaution.”

Watson stares at him, and then her mouth makes an “o” of understanding. “If someone were to break in looking for your files or evidence…”

“They wouldn’t be able to figure out where I keep it. Precisely.”

She purses her lips and nods. “All right. May I make one more suggestion?”

“I value your input, as always, my dear Watson,” he replies.

“The code you use on your 2000 through 2002 files is really easy to work out. The organizational system is fine, but I was able to work out which box belonged to which criminal pretty quickly.”

He nods, considering. “Excellent point. I shall get on that immediately.”

******
“Sherlock!”

Holmes sometimes thinks that fifty percent of their communication is really just them screaming one another’s names from somewhere in the brownstone.

“Watson!” he yells back, just to vary up the routine a bit.

She walks into the kitchen, wrapped in a towel, her hair dripping onto the tiles. He raises his eyebrows. She generally wears more in his presence.

“Care to explain to me why I just got into the shower and promptly stepped on worms?” she asks.

“Ah, yes!” he says. “They’re for Clyde.”

Watson’s glare is withering. “Can Clyde even eat worms? Isn’t he vegetarian only?”

“I quite forgot to check, actually.”

“No more worms in the shower, Sherlock!”

In this case, negotiation is hardly needed. “I agree,” he says, and means it.

******
“Or the sink, Sherlock!”

“Well, you didn’t clarify!”

******
Holmes stares at the woman’s body. She was small and compact, but her musculature suggests that she did Pilates, probably a few times a week. She has defensive wounds. She fought back, and hard.

Contrary to popular belief, Holmes hates murder cases. Robbery, car theft, corporate espionage, fraud, arson, embezzlement- he enjoys those, even if they’re simple and boring, because there is always hope that things will end well for the victims. There’s a chance. There are only two crimes he loathes more than murder: rape and blackmail. There are few crimes so dehumanizing.

Jenny Snyder is dead. She put up a fight and she’s still dead. She screamed and yelled and did her best, and she’s still dead. The trouble with having his brain is that he can see everything. He can see where the murderer stepped out of the alley and grabbed her. He can see her being dragged backwards. He can see the precise moment where she bit his hand and can imagine her screams, can hear them echoing in his head. He can see the man grabbing her, and her swinging. He sees her strike him in the face, nails catching his cheek. He can see her starting to run. He grabbed her hair. He ripped some of it out. She fell backwards and lashed out at him with her feet. He caught her right leg. She yanked away and lost her right shoe. She tried to get to her feet again, but he was on her. She squirmed and screamed and fought, but the killer had his knife out at that point and made quick work.

Holmes stares at Jenny Snyder.

“Are you okay?” Watson asks quietly, barely audible over the screams of Jenny Snyder and the normal New York noise.

He jerks his head. In some universe, it probably counts as a nod. “Of course. The murderer was six foot two, blonde, goes to the gym on a regular basis. He’s right-handed. He knew the victim. In fact,” he says, standing, “I would posit that her murderer is her boss at the butcher shop.”

“What?” Gregson asks, catching the last part as he walks over. “What makes you think that?”

Holmes shifts back and forth on his feet, agitated without reason. He doesn’t want to be standing here right now. The smell of blood is too strong. He hasn’t slept in two days, and all the nerves under his skin are electric and alive and he would rather be anywhere else right now than standing over the body of Jenny Snyder, age twenty-nine, dead from exsanguination.

“Holmes,” Gregson says, and Holmes scowls.

“It’s easier to know it than explain why I know it,” he snaps. “I am not here to supply the deficiencies of the police.” It’s wrong, and he knows it the instant he says it, shoving the heels of his hands into his eyes just as Watson says, “Sherlock!” and Gregson says, “Out of line, Holmes!”

He makes his hands into fists and drags them down to his side. Watson looks worried. That will not do. He exhales slowly, then inhales sharply. “Her attacker clearly knew her- you can see where he was standing in wait for her, based on the number of cigarette butts behind his dumpster. Any number of people walked by this alley while he was here, but only she would do. She was on her way to visit her mother, which she only did on Tuesdays or Thursdays, never two days in the same week. Her killer had to have known that she was going today- there are no cigarette butts indicating that he waited on Tuesday as well, thus implying that she knew him. Now, look at these wounds,” he says, crouching back down and gesturing at the three gashes on her arms, the one across her stomach, and the final, fatal one across her neck. “These were clearly made by a boning knife. Given her occupation, it seems a little coincidental that the knife used to kill her is the same type of knife they use daily at the butchers.” He picks up her hand and points at her nails. “And finally, observe the fine blonde hair in her nails and between her fingers. This hair is far too short to be hers. She grabbed her attacker by the hair and pulled, trying to get him off of her or cause him enough pain to stop. Sadly, this attempt failed, and you can see the outcome before us. Her boss, who knew her schedule and uses boning knives, is most likely blonde.” Holmes stands up and yanks off the latex gloves. “Jenny Snyder wasn’t the fifth victim of the murderer we’re after; she’s the lone victim of an angry, jealous boss who read about the crimes of our murderer in the newspaper and decided to use his modus operandi in order to conceal his own crime. She is the victim of a copycat. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to continue looking for our serial killer.”

He walks away before Gregson can say anything, trusting that Watson will follow. He can hear her say something to Gregson, but soon after that he can hear her swift footfalls as she jogs to catch up with him. He doesn’t look at her. He can’t, not at the moment. He’ll just see Jenny Snyder, or the four other women who’ve been butchered this week.

It hasn’t been a good week, overall.

Watson doesn’t say anything for a while, just walks next to him and keeps up with his rather brutal pace. He ought to hail a cab, but he forgot his whistle, and he still wants to prove to Watson that cabbies will respond to their traditional signal; he isn’t going to undermine his own point by shouting for one. It isn’t that cold out, anyway, and he’d rather walk. Walking, as Watson informs him, is good for him. So is jogging. So would any exercise, she says every day, but thus far he’s managed to ignore her. Exercise for the sake of exercise is blatantly ridiculous to him. If he’s going to move about, it ought to have a purpose.

He feels like he’s going to shake apart, though. Watson, even at her most harried and distressed, has never looked anything other than in control. She never looks like she’s vibrating out of her own skin.

“Do you own a bicycle?” he asks abruptly.

Watson glances at him out of the corner of her eye, but doesn’t look directly at him.

“No,” she says after a slight pause. “But I could get one.”

“I would jog, you understand, but I’ve heard it does unspeakable damage to your joints. And running without reason seems frivolous somehow. I think bicycling would be preferable.”

There’s a lengthier pause, and then the corner of Watson’s mouth quirks up. “I’m still holding out for Jazzercise. I think you’d look great in a pair of legwarmers.” She turns and offers him a wider smile. “But I’ll accept bicycling for now.”

Holmes nods, and Watson reaches an arm out, hailing a cab. He lets her, and doesn’t even make a face when she gets a cab on the first try.

******
Watson looks up from the newspaper and raises an eyebrow. “Yes?”

Holmes bounces on his toes and gives her the sharpest look he can manage right now, which isn’t particularly sharp as he’s been asleep for fourteen hours. “Why is there a tank in my bedroom?”

“It’s a terrarium,” Watson corrects. She looks back at the newspaper and doesn’t say anything else. Holmes stares blankly at her and then manages to jolt his brain back to working.

“Why is there a terrarium in my bedroom?”

“Because shockingly, Clyde couldn’t continue to live in a desk drawer,” Watson replies, not looking up from- yes, the sports section, he ought to have known. It’s the off season for baseball, but apparently Watson is a New York Rangers fan, or at least follows them enough to request the sports section every morning.

“Why?” he asks.

“Because it was small and cold and dark?”

“Oh,” Holmes says after a moment. He’s not really awake yet. He and Watson had found the serial killer before he could claim a fifth victim yesterday, and he immediately fell asleep when they returned home. “Why is it in my room?”

“Because he isn’t going to be in mine.”

“Why not the kitchen or any of the other rooms?”

“I didn’t want him to get lonely.”

Holmes squints down at her. He thinks there is probably more to that statement, some sort of hidden meaning- and he thinks he knows what it is- but honestly, he’s too tired to care. He shuffles over to his chair and sits down. A moment later, a plate of toast is dropped in front of him.

“Eat up,” Watson orders.

He does.

Later, when he wakes up face down on the table, he’s pleased to note a plaid blanket draped over his shoulders.

******
Watson no longer even attempts to ban him from entering her room. She recognizes a pointless struggle when she sees one. But she does tell him that if he’s going to barge in and interrupt her, he may as well make it worth her while.

It’s a little past two am, and he knocks twice before opening the door. The light illuminates her face, and she groans and pulls the pillow over her face. “What?” she mumbles.

“I have a scone and tea for you, Watson,” he says, setting the saucer and cup on her nightstand. He walks around to her closet. She’s useless when she’s half asleep, and they need to move quickly.

“Is it poisoned?” she asks, rolling over and reaching blindly for the scone.

“Of course not,” he scoffs, pulling out a pair of jeans and digging out a worn hoodie from the back of her closet. He wants her warm and comfortable, not fashionable, not right now. It might be a long night, and the night air is brisk. “Here you are, arms up.”

She puts her arms up automatically and he tugs the hoodie down over her pajama top. She’ll hopefully forgive him later. “Now your trousers, Watson, you’ll need to do those yourself, I’d rather live to see the dawn.”

Watson looks blearily at her alarm clock and groans. “Sherlock, it’s two fifteen in the morning. I went to bed at midnight! Why, why, why are you getting me up again?”

“Apologies, my dear Watson. Crime keeps no schedule. Jeans, Watson! We need to go!”

She stumbles out of her room five minutes later, her shoes half laced, the scone in one hand and her tea in the other. She looks barely awake. Holmes smiles fondly at her, kneeling down quickly to finish lacing her shoes. She murmurs her thanks, tea sloshing onto her hand.

“Come along, Watson. We’re taking the subway,” he says, guiding her into her coat and out the door.

She falls asleep again on the subway, her head tilting to rest on his shoulder. He carefully pushes her upright and, noticing the rats’ nest that is her hair, tugs it into a loose French braid.

When she wakes up, she doesn’t notice, but she does realize at the crime scene that he did her hair. She punches him in the shoulder and walks away. He catches her touching her hair and smiling later, though, so he supposes they’re all right.

******
He agrees to put the cap back on her toothpaste; she wants him to stop using her toothpaste in general, but that’s as much as he can promise. He’s at least agreed to never use her toothbrush to collect mold samples again, and she bought five extra toothbrushes for the cause. In any case, she soon figures out that he hates Crest and starts using that instead, and negotiations are concluded.

She agrees that she’ll only nag him about eating once per case, and only if the case goes on for three or more days. Later, after Holmes passes out (she uses the word “faints” but Sherlock Holmes does not faint) at a crime scene after not eating for five days post the singular nag, it’s amended to allow for nagging every three days, regardless of anything else. He’d like to say that he fought this harder, but since the negotiation was enacted while he was eating a PowerBar on the floor of the victim’s kitchen, he really can’t say that he did.

She agrees to leave his dishes alone unless they’re actually in the sink. The others might be experiments, and he doesn’t want to lose valuable data. In return, he promises to return any non-experimental dishes to the sink, but this only happens after she starts depositing his plates with spoiled food in his bed sheets.

He agrees to avoid playing classical music at the loudest volume possible at three am. That is later adjusted to ANY music, as he tries to play the Rolling Stones one early morning and is met with a pillow in the face when he explains that it isn’t classical music. She does permit him to scratch away on his violin, though, which suffices.

He concedes that assorted flavours of Ramen do not constitute a varied diet. She accepts that no matter how she dresses them up, he will not eat beets.

They learn to work things out.

******
“No.”

Holmes sighs and carefully slides the small pocketknife from Watson’s hands into his own. They’re tied up back to back, and it’s taking forever to cut through the zip ties at this angle.

“Now is not the time for negotiation, Watson,” he says, tipping the knife up and beginning the slow and arduous task of sawing through plastic. “When we are free, you are going to run and call Detective Bell or Gregson. Either will do.”

“No,” Watson says again, and he can just imagine the hard set to her face. She’s a stubborn woman, his Watson, and normally he respects and admires that, but now is not the time.

“Watson-”

“Now is not the time for negotiation,” she says right back to him. He can feel her shoulder blades shifting as she moves to give him a better angle. “You’re not facing down that mad man without me.”

“You could have taken self-defense,” he replies, hissing slightly as the knife nicks his wrist. He suspects both of their wrists will be bloody after this, but bloody is better than dead, so he’ll take it.

“You could have waited for the cops,” she snaps back. She slides up on her knees and tilts backwards, giving him yet more room. The only reason they have the knife to begin with is because, unlike him, she can reach her ankle while bound. He’s beginning to think he ought to join her in the yoga, if only for situations like these. Perhaps pointless exercise isn’t so pointless.

“If I had waited for the cops, he would have gone.”

Watson doesn’t reply. He’d like to believe that it means she’s seen his point, but in truth, he suspects she’s just fuming too much to formulate a response. Holmes continues sawing away, listening intently for the sound that their captor, one Tom Kaspar, is returning.

“When you are free, I need you to get the detectives. I’m not his type- I can keep him busy. It’s logical, Watson. Don’t allow emotion to get in the way of logic.”

“You’re not his type, which means he’ll just kill you right away,” Watson argues. “You know I’m right, Sherlock.”

Holmes fists his left hand in frustration and drops his chin down on his chest, letting out a long breath. He and Watson have been partners, just partners without the chains of fiscally agreed upon companionship, for three months now, and they work wonderfully together, just as perfectly as he had hoped. He has adjusted his entire life for her, and he knows she’s made considerable concessions as well. But this is one area where he will not negotiate or compromise.

“I am not going to compromise over your safety,” he says softly, the words pained. He hates how she makes him spell out his feelings when he’d much rather such things go unspoken. He hates it, but he does it all the same, because he knows now that relationships are all about negotiations, and he can bend enough to give her that.

“And I’m not going to compromise over yours,” she says, equally soft. Her hand steals into his free one, squeezing briefly. He bites the inside of his cheek. The pain focuses him.

“Watson…”

“Sherlock. We’re done negotiating. Cut us free.”

He takes a shaky breath and presses the knife back to the zip ties, industriously cutting away.

Kaspar walks back into the room just as the bonds snap. Holmes pulls away from Watson and swings around, already preparing to throw himself at the man in order to give Watson the opportunity to run or find a weapon, whichever, but Watson gets there before him. She tackles Kaspar to the ground. Kaspar lets out a strangled yell and lashes out, punching Watson hard in the jaw. Holmes’ heart clenches hard when Watson goes sprawling to the side. Kaspar is up and reaching for his gun a second later, but Watson is up too, and Holmes can’t make himself move, too terrified for Watson, too scared that he’s going to watch her die, knowing that he did nothing.

Kaspar grabs his gun, but Watson smacks it out of his hand in a desperate move and then punches him three times in quick succession before twisting and kicking him, hard, in the gut. He goes down to his knees, wheezing, and Holmes manages to unstuck himself long enough to reach down, pick up the gun, and slam it into Kaspar’s head as hard as he can manage. He collapses, unconscious.

Holmes turns quickly and grabs Watson, lifting her chin up so he can see where Kaspar hit her. Her lip is bleeding, and her cheek will bruise, but she’s all right. She’s grinning, in fact. He runs his hands down her arms, squeezes her wrists, touch the edge of her mouth, and then takes a breath. He turns and kicks Kaspar and walks out, trusting Watson will call the police and handle the closing of the investigation.

He needs to go for a walk.

******
Holmes doesn’t get home until the next day, in the hours just before dawn. The sun is starting to peak up when he walks through the door, closing it carefully behind him. He doesn’t want to wake Watson, not yet. He’s not quite ready to talk to her.

Unfortunately, it seems that luck is against him. He goes into the kitchen searching for a cuppa and finds Watson instead, sitting upright in her chair, a mug in her hands.

“I was wondering when you’d come back,” she says quietly.

He stops in the door frame, squares his shoulders, and then walks in, heading for the cabinet where the mugs are kept. He pours himself some tea and turns to look at Watson again, leaning against the counter.

“Are you all right?” he asks. It’s the first thing he needs to know. He reassured himself she would be fine before he left, but he needs to know, needs to hear it from a doctor.

“Yeah,” she says. She puts her own mug on the table and stands up. “Sherlock, I-”

“You are learning self-defense,” he says flatly. “If you will not run when I tell you to run, then you will learn to defend yourself properly instead of- whatever that was.”

“Tae-bo, mostly,” she admits, her hand sneaking up to touch her mouth. “With a little bit of playground fighting mixed in.”

He cringes. He thought as much. “This is not up for negotiation,” he says, a phrase he has come to recognize as far more malleable than he’d like, but one he hopes she’ll consent to now. Holmes knows, of course, that he cannot make Watson do anything she does not want to do. Negotiating with them was more like drawing lines in the sand, showing where the boundaries are, rather than any hard and fast rules. They are not politicians, trying to prevent war, and they are not businessmen, trying to get their own way. They are friends, partners, regular people, and he can ask her to do this, but he cannot make her. “Or rather,” he says, his thoughts finally catching up, “I would feel… less frightened for you, if you would do this. I cannot make you, I know this, but- but I would like you to.” He swallows. “Please.”

Watson watches him over the rim of her mug, her practiced eye sweeping over him quickly. “Sit down,” she says after a second. “I’ll make us breakfast.”

He does as she tells him, moving on autopilot. He watches her pull out various things- eggs, sausage, pancake mix- and then gets up again, walking over to help her. He takes the eggs from her. She looks at him in askance. “You never make them right,” he says, which isn’t true, but he can’t abide sitting still right now. He needs something to occupy his hands.

From the look she gives him, he knows he’s been caught, but she doesn’t say anything, so neither does he.

They work in companionable silence, used to the kitchen routine, used to dancing around each other and passing each other milk and spices. This is familiar and safe.

Later, when they’re sitting together at the table, Watson looks up from her eggs and says, “I choose what self-defense I want to learn.”

“Of course,” he agrees immediately.

“And you do it with me.”

“No,” he says, just as immediately.

“Yes,” she says serenely. “I don’t doubt that you know fifteen different martial arts or whatever, but I want you to learn one that I’ll know, too. And I want to learn it together, so we can practice outside of class.”

He licks his lips three times before nodding jerkily. “Fine.”

“Good. I’ll sign us up for bartitsu later today. That’s strange enough to keep your interest, too, I think.”

******
“Sherlock!”

Holmes looks up from the short wave radio he’s rewiring and stares at the doorway, waiting for Watson to appear. She doesn’t disappoint him. She finds him in moments, standing in the doorway with a look of sheer irritation, holding a DVD in one hand, the other behind her back.

“Watson,” he says cheerfully, beaming at her. There are days when he can’t stand having her angry at him, but then there are these days, where her irritation just makes him smile because he knows, underneath it, she’s not really irritated at all.

“Why are there Billy Blanks DVDs all over my bed?” She’s trying hard not to smile, but it’s in her eyes.

“After your excellent use of tae-bo the other day, I decided to encourage it. We may be taking bartitsu now, but there’s something to be said about guerilla tactics.”

Watson can’t quite fight back the smile. He watches it blossom across her face, grinning with her. He loves making her smile. There’s an art to it, really.

“Our agreement was that we’d do self-defense together,” Watson says, her smile taking a distinctly mischievous turn.

“No,” he says instantly, realizing that perhaps his plan backfired.

“Yeah,” she says, and reveals, in her other hand, legwarmers. Electric green legwarmers. She throws them at his head. “Put them on, Sherlock. I’ll meet you in the television room.”

He watches her go, slightly horrified. He has electric green legwarmers. The television room has seven televisions. The man in spandex will be shouting at him from seven televisions while Watson laughs at him.

He stands up quickly, following Watson and shouting, “Surely some things are negotiable! Watson! I’m not wearing these!”

In the end, Watson’s plan backfires as well. He rather likes the legwarmers- they’re like big socks. He takes to wearing them to crime scenes, and then a new round of negotiations begins.

He rather likes negotiating, actually. It makes life a bit more interesting.