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Eyes Up, Heels Down

Chapter Text

The drive that led to Baker Farms was extensive. Tree-lined and impressive, John was even more intimidated than he’d been during the phone interview. He barely had the references for the position and he knew it. The owners must really be out of barn staff to hire him.

He urged his decrepit jeep up the gravel drive, pulling off alongside enough BMWs and Jags to make his stomach drop. He had no place here. This was a training barn that hosted Olympians like it was nothing. There was no need to hire a washed up groom to muck a few stalls.

Still, he needed the money and the farm was the first to call him back. Maybe Mike’s good word had been enough. He walked around the grand fountain at the end of the drive and followed the narrow path through a hedge-rimmed gate.

If he thought the drive was impressive, his heart nearly stopped at the barn.

Sprawling out before him was a twenty-four-stall barn with attached indoor arena. He could see two other barns, forming a semi-circle that faced three outdoor arenas behind which he could see acres of sprawling cross-country courses and fields, at least a dozen horses were grazing in the mid-morning sun. John couldn’t help but gasp as he watched a flashy bay warming up in one of the jumping arenas. People milled about, some leading horses in from workouts, others just getting started. A comparatively modest house sat a few hundred meters back, all gray stone and shaded by trees.

“John Watson?”

“Ah, yes, ma’am,” John said, startled from his gaping. He made sure his jaw was tightly shut.

“Sally Donovan, assistant barn manager,” she said. John took her offered hand, forcing himself to meet her soft brown eyes. “I’ll take you to the boss."

John nodded and followed her into the main barn, the familiar, earthy smell of horses and leather calming him as it always did. He barely had the time (or the adjectives) to register the interior of the main barn as Sally led him down the aisle. He saw a few other staff members, one mucking and another doling out hay. He could see a few riders at the end of the aisle but was pulled into the main office before he could get a good look. Inside, a man was sitting behind a large wooden desk, the walls behind him full of photographs and ribbons. There were a few trophies on the windowsill.

“Greg, this is John Watson. He’s starting today.”

“Ah, John, nice to meet you,” Greg said. The man was older, with silvering hair and a tired expression, but John had heard of Greg Lestrade before. He’d been a groom for a few big time riders in his younger days.

“You too,” John replied.

“Well, we run a tight ship here, but with our clients you have to. Feedings at six am, some at two pm, and again at five pm. We muck twice a day, all three barns. Big time boarders are here, mares and foals to the right, and the rest across the way."

“All right,” John said, hoping there was a schedule posted in the tack room.

“Horses are groomed daily, some twice according to the owners. You clean tack once the rider is finished. We’re in charge of blankets, vet calls, farrier, you name it, we do it. All the rider does is ride, got it?” Lestrade asked.

John nodded.

“Mike Stamford put in a good word for you and he was one of the best exercise riders we had so I hope he knows what he’s talking about,” Sally added, looking John up and down. She could probably smell his lack of pretentious upbringing. Hell, John had only been able to compete on the show circuit when a friend had broken their ankle and asked him to ride. God, that had been a great season. Not for his friend, of course.

“Now, discretion is important,” Lestrade said. We have some of the top riders training here and it wouldn’t do for mouths to go flapping. We keep the barn neat and the horses safe. Gossip is not our division.”

“Of course,” John said.

“Right. Sally, give him the tour. Let him do turnout and help with the evening feed.” He nodded to John and turned back to his computer.

“This way,” Sally said, her dark ponytail bobbing as she lead the way out of the office. “And it’s all posted in here,” she said with a smile, nodding at the feed room next to Greg’s office.

“Thank God,” John said.

“You’ll get used to it,” Sally said, continuing down the barn. “There’s a lot to handle, but we’ve managed. Though, to be honest, you’re quite needed at the moment.”

Needed? That was a feeling he wasn’t used to. At least not lately.

They saw a few other workers, all of them nodding as he and Sally passed. Nobody spoke. Hell, even the horses were quiet. All John could hear was the soft whoosh of soiled bedding being tossed into wheelbarrows and the occasional stamp of a hoof.

“Is it always this…quiet?” he asked.

Sally laughed. “Only when a certain someone is here.”

John waited for her to give him more detail but she didn’t, stepping into the exquisite tack room instead. Saddles lined the walls, all soft gleaming leather and perfectly run up and shining stirrups. Bridles were lined up and figure-eighted on the wood paneled walls and there was a small sitting area to the left of the door. Even the couches looked expensive.

“Most of our riders keep the rest of their tack in their personal trunks,” Sally explained. “All tack cleaning supplies are in the cabinets over there and groom boxes for farm horses are on the second shelf.”

“Medical supplies?” he asked, wondering if this tack room had ever seen a spec of mud. At least it smelled like a tack room. There was something to be said for the scent of well oiled leather.

“Above the sink.”

“Seems pretty straight forward.”

“So long as we keep it looking this good. Certain riders want their tack cleaned a certain way. You’ll start out with the farm horses, the ones owned by Mrs. Hudson, and the rider or another member of staff will explain personal saddles later,” Sally said.

John nodded, noting the thirty odd saddles that lined the wall. A few of them he knew to cost his entire last year's salary.

“Far left are the ones you're in charge of. Once a day wipe down, full cleaning each week.” Sally spun around, apparently expecting him to figure out who owned the rest at another time.

They left the tack room, though the barn was just as clean, their boots softly resonating on the cement floor. Each stall was large, roomy enough for the fancy jumpers they contained. John even recognized Silver Blaze, the eventing stallion Mrs. Hudson, the farm’s owner, had made her name as a trainer with. She’d been retired for years, but she still kept the horse at stud.

“We muck each morning after feeding, then in the afternoon, and after the evening feed if needed. Most of the horses are on some turnout rotation though we have a few on stall rest.”

John caught sight of the stall cards on each, often beneath a nameplate. Well at least that would make a few things simpler. He’d once worked at a little run down barn that relied on stall numbers for the ever-changing rotation of their horses. John was pretty sure he’d only gotten it right half the time but it had never seemed to matter there. This, however, this was an Olympic level training barn. It would definitely take some getting used to.

Sally paused before one of the stalls, grabbing a leather halter that hung beside the nameplate of “Copper Beeches” before sliding open the door. She smiled at the big chestnut mare and slipped the halter over her head. “Molly Hooper’s,” she said to John, leading the horse out of her stall before handing the leadrope to him.

He let the mare sniff over his jacket before reaching up to pat her neck. Her coat gleamed and he could feel the muscles of her top line as she flexed her neck to watch Sally pull a bay out of the stall opposite. The horse screamed expensive. What the hell was he doing here again?

“We’ll take these two out. They’re both in pasture 1.”

It was a short walk through the courtyard and behind the arenas, a line of hedges mostly hiding them from view. The little gray house was to their right, on a bit of a hill so it must have a nice view over all the going on’s of the barn. There was a little pond in the front with willows. Even the grass was perfectly green. Was the entire fucking place a heaven on earth tucked away an hour outside London?

They released the horses into a good-sized pasture blessedly marked with a clear “1” on the gate. Thank God they weren’t above numbering. “We’ve got a couple young ones to bring in. Boss doesn’t want them on too much grass before they go into training,” Sally said, leading them to a gate marked “4.”

Halters were hanging outside the gate and Sally tossed him one and indicated he grab a bay colt. The horses were docile enough and fat from their day at pasture so they came willingly enough. Sally led them a different way back, through the hedgerow so they ended up in the grassy aisle between the large jumping arena and the smaller dressage and warm up rings.

There was less activity now, one rider taking a few 3’ fences in the large arena, but John’s eye was caught by the flashy Friesian in the dressage ring. He watched, hardly able to take his eyes away as the great black horse eased into a canter, neck perfectly rounded and precisely on the bit. He pulled his focus away for a moment, watching the rider. Even from a bit of a distance John could almost see the steel in his eyes. His hands were perfectly steady and soft, though, his seat hardly shifting in the saddle. John continued to watch as the pair effortlessly transitioned down, easing into an extended trot at the long side of the ring. The horse’s feathers danced and his long mane was unbraided, flying back to almost cover the rider’s hands.

“Good, isn’t he?” Sally asked.

John forced himself to turn toward her. Great, brilliant impression he was making. Focus. Focus and calm, just like he'd once had in the ring.

“That’s the one you need to look out for,” she said, jerking her chin in the pair’s direction.

“Who? The rider or the horse?”

Sally laughed. “Oh, the horse is a dream. It’s the rider you should worry about.”

John looked back, the pair had come down to a walk, the horse stretching into the reins as the rider released his hold on the bit. The man leaned down to give the horse a perfunctory pat before pulling out a cell phone as he let the horse walk on the buckle. “Bit of a bad habit, that,” John said. Cell phone use was hardly condoned in elite riding.

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it,” Sally laughed. By the time Sally had walked him through turnout and evening feed it was dark. The other staff were warming up to him a bit, Anderson being friendlier with him then most, though they all remained rather reserved. John figured out why when he was returning supplements to the cabinet.

“You’re the new groom?” said a deep voice.

John spun, startled at the man’s presence. It was almost impossible to sneak up on someone in a barn. “Uh—yeah, yes. John Watson,” he said.

The man looked him over, cold blue eyes seeming to cut through John. He recognized him as the rider from earlier. The one on the Friesian. He gulped as he caught his gaze lingering over the man’s tight dressage pants. He jerked his eyes up, getting stuck on the impossible cheekbones and dark hair, curls very defiantly sweeping over his forehead despite the damp sweat from his ride. The man’s eyes met his, holding John silent and helpless.

“Don’t bother with my tack.”

“Uh…okay.” John was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to be touching rider’s tack yet anyway, but something about the posh tone of the man’s voice made him think he wouldn’t really be allowed to argue had he been told otherwise.

The man gave him a last, calculating look before sweeping out of the room and disappearing. John let out the breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding.

“I see you met our favorite person,” Sally said, replacing the man in the feed room doorway. “And yes, he always does that.”

“Sorry, does what?” Brood? Pull off riding pants better than any other man could? See through to John's soul?

“Did he not pull it on you? Maybe it’s an off day,” Sally said. She added a bag of biotin pellets to the cabinet and nodded toward the barn. “Boss wants to see you before you go.”

Right. Yes. Work. John shook his head. He was here for the job, and he wouldn't be distracted by ridiculously posh, good looking riders.

John followed after Sally, shutting off the lights and pulling the door closed behind him. “Sorry, what was he meant to have done?”

“Oh, the Freak? Yeah, he has a habit of finding out and loudly spilling everyone’s secrets. He deduces them or something. It's torture.”

“Ah,” said John, somewhat horrified, and surprisingly unsurprised at hearing this. Everyone had secrets for a reason. God only knew what the man would say if he did decide to mess with John.

“Boss,” Sally said, knocking on Lestrade’s door before walking them in.

“Ah, John. How was it, then?” Greg asked.

“Fine,” John said. “Incredible place.”

“Isn’t it? Yeah, good old Mrs. Hudson might have lost her touch, but she didn’t lose a penny to that ex-husband,” Greg said. “Well, you’re on if you like.”

“Really?”

“Yep, starting tomorrow if you can.”

“Of course,” John said, still a bit shocked that the job was actually his.

“And you’re in luck, Anderson’s just let us know he’s got himself a flat in town so the barn apartment is yours if you want it.”

“Barn apartment?” It wasn’t that uncommon for barns to still use them, especially older ones like this, though it was now more accepted to have a separate house for the staff that lived on site.

“Yeah. Mrs. Hudson’s already loaned out her spare room, but we like to keep someone here in case things go wrong,” Greg explained.

“Yeah, all right. Makes sense.” And living on site would take away the hell of his commute. And lower his petrol spending.

“Great. Anderson will be out by the week’s end so you can move in Friday. Until then, 5:30am staff meeting.” And with a nod John was dismissed.

Sally walked him back out to the courtyard. “You’ll settle into it,” she said, apparently sensing his still somewhat tensed shoulders.

“I hope.”

“And most of the riders are pleasant.”

“Except the one,” he said.

“Except the one.”

“And you keep him around because…?”

Sally lifted an eyebrow. “He won the Maclay at thirteen and fifteen and completed his first Badminton two years later.”

“Shit,” John said. Christ, the guy must be well into his professional career by now. “How come I haven’t heard of him?”

“Oh, I’m sure you have,” Sally laughed, turning back towards the barn.

“Have I?” John still wasn’t sure.

“He won Rolex last year.”

Jesus Christ, the man was Sherlock Holmes.

Chapter Text

By the end of the week John was settled into the barn apartment and was quickly picking up the ebb and flow of Baker Farms. It was fast paced, it had to be to get to all the horses during the day, but the non-stop motion of it all kept his mind off Sherlock fucking Holmes.

Well, sometimes.

He hadn’t seen the man other than at a distance. He’d taken out his jumper prospect, Elementary Solution, a couple of times, but John was too busy to notice every single rider that filtered in and out of the barn every day. After the barn shut around eight, he would pass out, briefly rise for the midnight check, and then sleep like the dead until his alarm went off at five the next morning. It was thankless work, but horses always were.

Then again, it wasn’t the horses that were the problem.

There were 43 horses currently on the property and two foals expected in the spring. Needless to say the full time staff had their work cut out for them.

“She looks lovely, John.” Molly smiled at him, rubbing the bay mare’s ear.

He gave her a nod and continued to groom, easily working out the shine of the thoroughbred’s coat. “How’s she coming?”

“Good. I’m taking her over a few lines today. She’s still a bit feisty from the track, but she’ll settle in.” Molly gave the horse one last pat. “And how are you settling in?"

“Fine.” He smiled. Molly was one of the youngest professional riders at the farm, but she was by far the sweetest. She made it a point to know the staff and was even a bit shy around them. Her quietness carried into her riding and she had the steadiest hands John had ever seen. The mare he was grooming, Lady Eva, was off the track and, despite being eight already, was Molly’s newest project.

“I hope Sherlock didn’t scare you off the other day,” she said.

They both grimaced a bit. Sherlock had thrown a tantrum upon finding that his saddle had not been cleaned to his standards. He’d ranted and raved about Anderson’s incompetency at the proper amount of oil his Antares needed for a solid twenty minutes.

“I’ve seen worse,” John lied. He’d seen similar behavior at every barn he’d worked in, but Sherlock took rider tantrums to the next level. If he wasn’t so talented and if Mrs. Hudson didn’t have such a soft spot for him, John didn’t doubt that Lestrade would put all his power into having Sherlock thrown out.

“Well I do hope he settles down. He’s not always like that.” They both knew it was a lie.

“It’s fine,” John said.

He kept an eye on Molly in the arena as he went to and from the main barn, mucking his assigned stalls. She was competent and patient with the horse, easing the mare into her new discipline. He groomed a few more horses and was moving on to his last, Mrs. Hudson’s Gloriana, when Sherlock entered the barn.

The man stalked down the aisle, tall boots clicking on the concrete until he reached the stall next to Gloriana’s. John stayed silent, watching through the black iron bars as Sherlock entered the stall. It belonged to the Friesian John had seen him riding the first day, aptly named Noble Bachelor. The horse gave a soft nicker at Sherlock’s approach, nuzzling at the man’s arm until Sherlock gave him a pat.

John watched, not trying to spy but not exactly drawing attention to himself either. Sherlock was brusque with people, storming around and making demands. But he was so quiet with his horses. He kept all four of them with Baker farms, even his childhood pony Scarlet. There was something about the animals that seemed to quiet him, or at least bring out a kindness otherwise never seen.

“Hello boy,” Sherlock said, rubbing the gelding’s nose. His deep voice was made deeper by the whispered words and John held back a shudder. Jesus it had been a long time. He mentally kicked himself, forcing his attention back on the currycomb in his hand.

John watched out of the corner of his eye as Sherlock quickly examined the horse, disappearing behind the wooden planks that separated the stalls on the ground before they were replaced with the black iron bars that ran up another six feet. When his dark curls reappeared, he gave the horse’s neck another pat before sliding back out the stall door.

Finishing up, John hastily exited the stall, sliding the lock into place just as Sherlock came out of the tack room. His eyes locked onto John’s and for a moment the breath whooshed out of his lungs. So piercing was the ice blue stare that John nearly dropped the groombox in his hand. He gulped in a breath, tearing his eyes away. Every trace of kindness he’d seen Sherlock give the horse had disappeared completely.

“Ah, John, isn’t it?” Sherlock said, voice easily rumbling across the short distance between them.

“Yes, sir,” John said, eyes on his boots. He nearly kicked himself for being so formal, but it was a habit easily returned to in times of fear.

Sherlock hummed a reply. “And where is Anderson?”

“Checking over the broodmares, I think.” His boots were quite fascinating. The brown leather dry and cracked, splitting apart despite the copious amounts of Lederbalsam he’d applied. Sherlock’s boots were the opposite. Black and gleaming, the leather perfectly formed around his calves.

“And conveniently unable to tack my horse. Good to know I’m a valued member of this farm.”

“I’ll get him,” John said quickly. He knew better than to offer to do the work himself. Besides, he didn’t think he could handle if that stare was aimed at him much longer, watching every second and critiquing his every move. He’d been flustered upon first seeing Sherlock up close, though he could easily blame that on the tight riding pants. But now…now Sherlock practically radiated posh and angry, and John knew better than to mix with either of those.

“Do,” Sherlock replied. And with that John scurried off, practically tripping over Sally and his way across the courtyard.

“Easy there, John,” she said.

“Sorry, sorry. Anderson still with the mares?”

“Yes, why?”

“Holmes needs him.”

Sally frowned, brown eyes scanning John before looking back at the barn she’d just come from. “I take it you didn’t offer to groom the horse yourself.”

“I’m not stupid.”

Sally chuckled but the laughter died quickly as she turned back to John. She gave him a nod and he jogged off to find Anderson.

 

 

“I mean really, what the hell is his deal?”

“Honestly, John, what does it matter?”

John bit his lip. Mike had him there.

“I just…”

“You’re just horny.” John gasped.

“Relax, mate,” Mike chuckled. “You’re not the only one.”

“Yeah well I’m beginning to think I am,” John muttered, switching the phone to his other ear. He ran a hand over his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose before sprawling on his bed, his back aching at the comfort and stretch.

“Please, Molly’s been practically begging for years. Don’t tell anyone I said that.”

“Groom’s honor,” John replied. He stared up at the wooden ceiling, eyes following the large oak beams that had held up the barn for nearly a hundred years. The stalls and plumbing might have been updated, but the foundation was solid as ever.

“But it can’t be that bad. Greg runs a tight ship but he’s a great guy. Even Anderson will grow on you.”

“No, everyone’s fine. It’s all…fine,” John said. He rolled onto his side before sitting up. The room was small, but it was still nicer than the beige flat he’d been staying in. “Hell, I never even thought I’d be at another farm.”

The ‘you’re not the only one’ went unspoken.

“Why don’t you get out of there. Take a day off. Come up and see me.”

“Yeah?”

“Of course. You get this Saturday, yeah?”

John ran over the week in his head. “Supposedly. So long as Abigail’s mare doesn’t deliver.”

“Come on up. Pip’s been missing you.”

John smiled. It had been a long time since he’d seen the gelding that was practically his own. “You think so?”

“Of course,” Mike said. “Come.”

It wouldn’t hurt, actually, to get off the property. It was large and winding and easy to get lost in, but John hadn’t been past the hedge rowed property line since moving in. Yes, a bit of time off would do him good.

 

Noble Bachelor:

Chapter Text

“I told you it was a good idea,” Mike grinned, clapping John on the shoulder.

“Yeah, all right, you got me there.” John said, slamming the car door closed and following Mike towards the massive red barn before them. “Damn, I knew this place was nice but…”

“Eh, not quite as fancy as Baker, but we have it pretty nice here I’ll admit.”

“No kidding.”

The two men walked into the double aisle barn, Mike introducing him to Sarah, the woman who ran the place.

“Nice to meet you,” she said, shaking John’s hand.

He smiled at her, not at all shocked to find such a woman in charge. Her light brown hair was pulled back and she was wearing a polo shirt with tan breeches and tall boots. John smiled again.

“Mike here said you’re working at Baker Farms now?”

He nodded confirmation.

“Nice place. Good riders.”

“Yeah, and better horses.”

She laughed. She was even prettier when she laughed.

Mike caught his eye and grinned but John just chuckled. “Mike tells me ol’ Pip has ended up here.”

“Indeed he has,” Sarah said, nodding down the aisle. “And still eating more than a horse his size has any right to.”

“That’s my boy.”

“I still don’t know why you won’t take him,” Mike said.

“Haven’t got the money, mate.”

The phone in the office rang and Sarah nodded at them and gave John one last smile before running off to answer it.

“I told you coming here would help you get over Holmes,” Mike grinned, elbowing John in the ribs.

Okay, he kind of had a point there. “She’s just being nice,” John said.

“Uh huh.”

John laughed and looked around the barn. The drive up had only been three hours, but already he was missing the smell of alfalfa and saddle soap. The aisles were neat and each horse they passed seemed quite contented in the sawdust filled stalls.

“So how many you riding, then?”

“Got about five right now,” Mike said. “Couple of good prospects, some still in off season.”

“Still? It’s March.” John nodded as they passed one of the grooms. He’d worked with the man a few years back but couldn’t remember his name.

“I don’t make training calls, I just ride who I’m told.”

John hummed agreement. They’d all been there.

“And here’s your guy,” Mike grinned, stopping at one of the stalls on their right and unlatching the wooden door.

“Pip!”

The horse snickered, sticking his nose out and sniffing at John’s offered palm before nudging him in recognition.

“How’s it going, boy?” John stepped into the stall, patting the buckskin’s neck.

“He misses you,” Mike said, leaning against the stall door so Pip wouldn’t be tempted to escape.

John couldn’t help the smile on his face. He probably looked like a kid with their first pony, but damn, he felt like it. He hadn’t seen Pip in nearly a year but he’d worked with the gelding since he was a yearling at an eventing farm in Florida. The horse had been flown over by Fox-Pitt and John had followed. Of course, it wasn’t too long before Pip had been dismissed from the program. Mike had taken the horse to a small farm in Devonshire and had been looking after him since.

“He still working?” The horse turned, snuffling at John’s pocket.

“Yeah, I try to get on him every now and then. Got some young kid showing him on the hunter circuit come May.”

“Babysitting now, eh, Pip?” The peppermint Pip was digging for was unveiled and he happily munched it, whiskery nose brushing John’s palm.

“He’s steady.”

“Always was.”

“Wanna take him for a ride?”

John grinned.

 

Christ it had been a long time since he’d been in the saddle. Even longer since he’d ridden in jeans and paddock boots, but they were on the trails and he’d make do.

“We’ve more land than arena,” Mike said. He’d pulled out one of his younger assignments, a thoroughbred that was more flight than fancy. The animal jigged and veered but Mike’s hands were steady and he remained as unflappable as always.

“Must be nice,” John said, though he suspected Baker Farms had more than its fair share of fields.

“Good for the young ones,” Mike said, just as his horse spooked at a leaf and reared back. “It’s all right, you big sod.” He rubbed the horse's neck, urging him forward so they stayed level with John and Pip. “Christ.”

“Always fun, isn’t it?”

“Don’t I know it.”

They rode on in silence, John relishing the slight strain in his legs and ankles. He would be sore tomorrow, but seeing the world from the comfortable view of horseback was worth it. There was something about it that was freeing. Things always seemed clearer with a horse underneath him. He had far less time to concentrate on his own problems and very little desire to. The green of the trees around them, the shade-covered grass still dewy from the morning’s rain, the blue-grey sky and clear air…it was all much preferable to the tumult of doubts and questions that usually plagued his mind. He could clear his head enough with his daily chores, but riding, riding made them all vanish. At least for a little while.

When the reached a clear field John couldn’t help himself. He turned to wink at Mike before nudging Pip’s sides and giving him more rein. The horse instantly responded, neatly picking up a brisk canter, one ear forward and one back to listen to John’s cues. He rose up out of the saddle, nudging a little harder and Pip leapt into a gallop.

The quarter horse’s black mane was unbraided and still long from the winter. It brushed over John’s bare hands with each stride, the sounds of hooves and snorting breath were the only things John could hear outside the wind rushing past them. He knew Mike wasn’t following. They were alone.

And God did it feel good.

Eventually he had to pull back, gathering the horse up and trotting him around as they waiting for Mike. As much as he’d like to, cantering through unknown forests was not the best idea.

“Still got it,” Mike said, finally joining them.

John leaned down and gave Pip a pat on the shoulder. “He does.”

“You both do. You’re still a great rider, you know.”

John bit his lip and looked away. “Back to the barn? I should be heading out soon.”

Mike made him stay for dinner and they walked to a nearby pub. John only had one pint, but it was the first he’d had in a long time. With John living at Baker Farms he was always on the job. And Greg was very strict about what it meant to be on the job. Still, the evening was nice and they managed to catch an old game on the telly before walking back. The light had faded earlier but the barn was still lit up. Even from a distance they could hear the sounds of grain hitting buckets and the stomps and snorts of hungry and impatient equines.

John gave Pip one last goodbye pat before meeting Mike at his Jeep.

“Thanks for coming up, mate, it was good to see you.”

“You too, Mike.”

“And come by anytime. I mean it. Even if you don’t want to ride.”

John nodded and climbed into his car, waving as he took off down the driveway.

 

He made it back to Baker Farms around ten that night. He saw a few cars and figured one of the younger interns had drawn short straw for barn checks. They really didn’t know how lucky they were having him around to do most of them. Hell, he’d never complained when he was that age.

The main aisle lights were off when he went through the people door, but the night-lights that Mrs. Hudson insisted on were giving off enough light that John could make his way to his apartment. He tossed his keys on his small dresser and grabbed a torch, heading off to inspect the office and tack room before turning in. Sure the young kids were meant to do it, but he was far from trusting them. Besides, the long drive and ride had been him sore and stiff. If he didn’t walk it off before bed, there was no way he was moving tomorrow.

The night-lights cast a low blue glow over the barn and John left his torch off for the time being. He knew the barn well enough now to navigate it in the dark, but he always felt better with back up. There was the occasional munching of hay and the sound of his own boots, but otherwise the barn was silent. It was nice this way. The hustle and bustle of the day was gone and the dark seemed to press the thick scent of horse and wood and leather closer. John inhaled deeply and let the breath out as slowly as he could. Something about the barn at night always calmed him.

He met Janine at the tack room. She was just stepping out and nodded at him as she set the lock.

“I’m out,” she said.

John gave a small wave as she left the barn before turning into the office. He flicked the light on and blinked for a moment as his eyes adjusted. Everything was in order so he turned the light back off and stepped out to lock up.

“You went riding today.”

He jumped at the voice, spinning and looking blindly as the bright lights of the office still spun across his vision.

“Sorry?” he said. He held the heavy torch by his side and shook his head, trying to clear the spots.

“Not here though. Farther north.”

Ah. The low voice could only belong to one man. As the white spots began to fade from his vision, John could see the dark silhouette of Sherlock a few feet away from him. Funny, he hadn’t heard the rider’s approach at all.

“I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Yes,” John said steadily, relaxing his grip on the torch but still standing, muscles tensed. What on earth was he doing here at this time of night?

“Don’t worry, I don’t always stalk the corridors.” There was almost a chuckle in the voice. Bloody mind reader.

“Just tonight,” John said.

“You were gone today.”

“It was my day off.” Why was he even talking to the man? It was late, he was tired, and he wanted nothing more than to go to sleep still calm and relaxed from the ride. He should have none that wouldn’t last.

“A horse you’re familiar with, yes?”

John didn’t answer.

“It’s been, what, over a year?”

John felt his fist clench involuntarily.

Sherlock smiled, white teeth and eyes turned blue by the nightlights. The color made him look menacing. “It’s not surprising, given your background.”

“And what do you know of my background?”

Sherlock gave another smile as John stooped to playing his game. Molly and Sally had both warned him, but there was something about the man that made John turn into an idiot.

“Only the highlights.”

“You followed my career?”

“If you can call it that.”

John held his tongue at the comment. He had his own reasons for not pursuing what most would call the point of riding. It wasn’t always about making a name for yourself.

“Though to have such a fall after all of that…it’s no wonder you only groom.”

John had to bite back the growl in his throat. "That’s none of your concern.”

Sherlock was silent then and John tried to focus on something, anything, other than what Sherlock was saying.

He was trapped, for one, fenced in by the locked office door behind him and Sherlock in front of him. He could, truthfully, just walk away. He could push past Sherlock and lock himself in his apartment, but something kept him rooted to the spot. He dropped his eyes to the floor, gaze following the hazy blue outline of Sherlock. It took John a second to realize he was in a suit. A very well tailored suit at that, and he wore a long wool coat over it. As John followed the blue line upwards, he noticed how the collar of the coat was popped, highlighting the man’s ridiculous cheekbones and unruly curls. John definitely liked it better when the man was wearing a helmet. At least then he had one less thing to be distracted by.

“It wasn’t your fault, you know.”

John nearly jumped when the deep voice spoke again. “Sorry?”

“It wasn’t. I read up on the case. You’re not to blame.”

“It was a long time ago.”

“Not really.” John fell silent again. He just wanted to go to bed. He just needed to get out of the mysterious swirl of temptation and anger that was Sherlock Holmes.Without meaning to, he looked up, eyes meeting Sherlock’s. But the hard gaze, the steel anger that John was used to seeing, looked somehow different. Maybe it was the darkness or the soft blue light, maybe it was John’s own haze of exhaustion, but the eyes were softer now, earnest. John blinked.

“I’ve a meeting tomorrow. I need you to ride Elementary Solution for me.”

“I—what?”

“You heard me.” And with a swirl of his great coat Sherlock turned and strode out of the barn, leaving a very confused and flustered John Watson in his wake.

 

Pip:

Chapter Text

 It was pure exhaustion that had driven John to sleep the night before. Nothing else could have overcome the combination of trepidation and confusion currently sweeping through him. He found himself mucking stalls as slowly as possible, taking extra care to lay each strand of mane in place after he’d groomed. Greg had even barked at him to hurry up. Eventually there was nothing else to do. Tack was clean, stalls done, horses happy.

Now he was supposed to ride.

And not just ride, ride Sherlock’s horse. Sherlock Holmes’ bloody eventing horse. The same horse he seemed intent on sweeping the next season with. And John was supposed to ride it. Just like that. Great.

He panicked when he got to the tack room, wondering if he was meant to work in Sherlock’s gear or not. The problem was solved when Mrs. Hudson, down to dote on her horses, found out who he was meant to ride.

“Oh, only Sherlock’s will fit him well enough, dear. His withers are far to narrow for any of the schooling saddles.” She gave him a smile and a pat on the back, apparently finding nothing terrifying about the prospect of schooling Elementary Solution whilst Sherlock Holmes was away.

So John carefully removed Sherlock’s (extremely expensive) saddle from its rack and looped the bridle over his shoulder.

Just another ride. Just another horse. It’ll all be fine.

Fine.

He let out a breath, slowly walking down the aisle to stop before stall 12. The great dapple grey inside looked up at him, intelligent eyes no doubt wondering why it was John carrying his tack and not Sherlock. Sally’s laugh sounded down the corridor and John quickly slipped into the stall, preferring to tack up in relative privacy rather than march the grey across the barn to a wash stall. He didn’t know if the others were aware of his history, but it wouldn’t be hard to look up. Greg was sure to know, but he was good enough not to mention it. Still, having a panic attack in front of his coworkers was not on John’s to-do list for that day.

“Hello there, Elmer,” John said, letting the stallion look him over. The horse gave a whoosh of breath, lifting his nose to ruffle John’s hair. “Nice to officially meet you too. I’m calling you Elmer, by the way. Hope you don’t mind.” The horse just looked at him. “Much simpler than Elementary Solution and I’ve never heard of Sherlock’s horses having barn names.” Seemingly okay with this, the newly named Elmer turned his head to inspect his feed bucket.

Okay. Breathe. Step one: tack up.

Having already been groomed that morning, Elmer’s coat was gleaming, each dapple standing out and his dark mane and tail a sharp relief. John carefully slid the saddle pad and half pad onto the horse’s back. The grey was easily over 17 hands and John had to admit to having a bit of trouble reaching. The dauntingly tall Sherlock no doubt found the task simple. Damn him.

“Looks like Mrs. Hudson was right,” John said, settling the saddle onto the high withers. “You really are narrow.” Offended, the horse turned back to him. “But hey, no offense meant. I’ve seen your front end, you’ve got style.” Elmer snorted in agreement and John couldn’t help but smile.

Girth cinched up and bridle snug around the large but shapely head, John was left with nothing to waste time on other than his helmet. Unfortunately it still fit perfectly and therefore offered a mere two seconds of wasted time.

Right. Arena.

The walk was long and it felt as though each shod step echoed around the barn as John led the grey out. He kept his head ducked, visor on his helmet giving him more excuse to avoid anyone who might stop to look at him. But he’d done nothing wrong. He had been trusted to ride Sherlock’s horse. He should be honored. And he would have been, were he not so terrified.

It’s just another horse. Pip was fine. Elmer will be fine.

The day was overcast and the coming rain gave the air a heavy, wet feel. John rolled his neck, trying to shake out the tension bunching in his muscles. He’d have to be calm, Elmer was a stallion after all. Not that he often acted like it.

The touch of grey in the sky was enough to scare off the more pathetic and entitled of the riders so John found that he had one of the warm up rings to himself. Leading the horse over to the mounting block, he double checked the girth and made sure to mark what hole Sherlock’s stirrups had been on to drop them back down once John was finished.

Christ, he was actually going to ride. And not just a trail ride, a real, actual work ride. But he had the ring to himself and Elmer was calm and time had passed. It would be okay. Taking a deep breath. He collected the reins in one hand and slid his left foot into the stirrup, easily hoisting himself up and sliding the other foot in before quietly settling down.

Elmer didn’t so much as flick his tail and John let out the breath.

“That’s a good boy,” he said, giving the dappled neck a pat before collecting up the reins. The horse was currently in a full cheek snaffle, Sherlock not being overly fond of getting in his horse’s face. John hoped it was enough. “Damn, you are bloody tall.”

He stayed standing for a moment, checking his stirrup length and making sure there weren’t any twists in the reins. Settling down, he let his legs and seat readjust to the feel, giving himself a moment of saddle envy at the soft and supple knee rolls and welcoming seat of the Antares.

But then it was time to move.

A slight collection of rein and the soft press of a heel and Elmer moved off beneath him, the long stride throwing John’s hips into the motion. He tensed at first, even at the walk, but soon relaxed into it, keeping his hands light but testing the pressure and response. Elmer easily shortened his stride when asked and moved off John’s leg without fight.

“I see you’ve finally been assigned to ride.”

John nearly jumped at the voice, pulling Elmer up and spinning around to the gate. He found a rather tall and skinny man watching him, a large white horse in dressage tack behind him. The man still wore his helmet, but it was unbuckled and it was clear the pair were coming back from a workout.

“Sorry?” John said, walking Elmer closer.

“Elementary Solution. Good horse.”

“Yes.”

John waited, wondering what the rider wanted. He looked up at John with pursed lips and a sour expression, so boarder, not worker. Besides, John could tell that the man’s helmet alone cost more than John’s monthly wage.

“And Sherlock Holmes has let you ride him.”

“I—yes, he said he would be away.”

“And so he is.”

They fell silent again. John still wasn’t sure what the man wanted, but John certainly didn’t want the rider watching.

“Interesting that,” the man said, eying John’s position.

“What is?” John asked, dropping his heels even further.

“Sherlock asking a barn hand to exercise his pride and joy.”

“I’m just doing what was asked,” John said. He looked around to see if Greg was anywhere near. He couldn’t get in trouble if the rider himself had asked him to work the horse.

“Yes.”

The cold, accusatory stare again. John shivered. There was something distinctly off-putting about the man. Even his horse was odd. An actual white, not grey. John could see the pink skin where the horse was still sweating.

“Well do be careful, Sherlock doesn’t take well to his things being messed with,” the man said.

John nodded and watched as (thankfully) the man turned to leave.

Right. That was totally normal.He shuddered again but pulled his mind back to the task at hand. He’d been asked to work Elmer and so he would. “Okay, big guy, let’s get you moving.”

The horse was a dream. Even with John’s stiff equitation and long out of practice technique, the ride was still incredible. The horse seemed to float over the ground, covering more with each stride than little Pip could ever hope of doing. He was a bit fresh, tossing his head as a few drops of rain fell, but the sky kept mostly quiet and John let him trot until he’d worked it out.

His canter was more than John was used to, but once collected, the horse relaxed, ears twitching back toward John as his long, comfortable stride helped John regain a touch of the confidence he wasn’t fond of admitting that he’d lost. Even as large as he was, Elmer wasn’t overly long and he came back when asked, easily sliding onto the bit and settling between John’s hands. Christ, the things money and good training could buy.

The flatwork was enough for John and after the hack he let out some of the rein, letting Elmer drop his head as he walked. John gave the horse a pat on the neck, bragging on him more than was necessary for a simple hour of work. He hadn’t exactly been told what to do in terms of training, and John was happy to leave the jumping to the professionals.

He was just sliding off and slipping the reins over Elmer’s head when Molly walked into the ring with her prospect, the chestnut eying Elmer’s every move, ears twitching.

“He looked great, John,” she said.

“Thanks. All credit to the horse though. He packed me around quite well.”

“As well trained as he is, horses don’t collect themselves.”

John ducked his head at her praise, unable to hide the small smile that tugged at his mouth. He’d been long out of the saddle, but rather pleased with himself. Early anxiety aside.

He helped Molly mount up and took Elmer back to the barn, giving the horse another fond pat as he pulled the tack. He’d make sure to wipe it down before Sherlock returned, but he’d double check with Anderson to see that it was properly clean.

Elmer turned to nose his arm when he returned to the stall with a groombox. The day wasn’t warm enough for showers, and the workout hadn’t been nearly enough to make Elmer out of breath, but John found himself wanting to spend extra time on the horse. Though he also didn’t want to give the horse’s rider anything to yell about. Lord knew he had enough already.

“That wasn’t so bad, eh?” John said, pulling a stiffbrush over Elmer’s barrel. “I’m a bit out of shape, but I don’t think I did too much damage.” He gave Elmer’s nose a rub before crouching down to the dark legs, checking the tendons.

“No, I think you did rather well.”

John shot up, kicking himself for the sudden movement around Elmer while simultaneously feeling his stomach drop at the sight of Sherlock in the stall door.

“I thought you were gone for the day.”

“And now I’m back.”

“Yes, but you could have just ridden yourself.”

“I needed to see you ride.”

John didn’t have a reply. At least, not a witty one. “You watched me ride?”

“Obviously,” Sherlock said, frowning at him like he was an idiot.

“But your car wasn’t in the lot.” Yep. Idiot.

“I parked it elsewhere.”

Right. Obviously. Well.

Sherlock opened his mouth but closed it again, the bow shaped lips not at all distracting John from what he was actually supposed to be doing.

After a second, Sherlock stooped down, snatching up another brush before moving to Elmer’s other side. The horse turned, snuffling Sherlock’s offered hand before looking back at John, no doubt questioning why there were currently two people grooming him. Unsure what else to do, John continued brushing.

Sherlock did the same on Elmer’s other side, though the horse’s height kept them from looking at each other. John let out a breath. He really had to get this whole calm thing locked down.

“You’re right wrist is weak.”

“Sorry?”

“Your wrist,” said Sherlock.

“Oh. Yeah. Uh, left handed.”

“I know.”

John traded his stiff brush for a hoofpick. He forced his eyes to stay on the horse, not looking over at Sherlock’s dark boots on the sawdust. He hadn’t noticed before, but the man was wearing jeans. So clearly he hadn’t come out to ride another horse. But he didn’t seem intent on talking with John. Other than stating facts, apparently.

“You also carry too much tension in your elbows. You need to relax.”

“Long time out of the saddle,” John said.

Sherlock came back around to John’s side, running his pale fingers over the horse’s neck and through the dark mane. The blue eyes found John’s again.

“Mycroft intimidated you, didn’t he?” Sherlock rolled his eyes, sneering as he glanced toward the horse before staring down at John once more.

“Um.” Mycroft? Why didn’t John know that name?

“He’s a touch dramatic, but ignore him.”

“Okay,” John said, still unsure why Sherlock seemed so dismissive of the frankly terrifying man John had run into earlier.

“Eight a.m. tomorrow, I need Elementary Solution ready.”

Sherlock stepped past him and dropped the brush back into the groombox by the door.

“I’ll tell Anderson.”

“No, I’m telling you.”

“You…you want me to get him ready?”

“Well, as my groom, getting the horse ready will, in fact, be one of your main chores.”

Wait, groom? As in, show groom? As in, helping the competitor out in every single aspect of competition and travel groom?

John knew he was gaping and he was about to ask Sherlock if he was serious but the man had already gone, the soft soles of his boots fading as he strode down the aisle.

Well. That was interesting.

 

 

Elmer:

Chapter Text

“Did you just refer to my horse as Elmer?”

John looked up, both startled at Sherlock’s sudden arrival and somewhat guilty of being caught out by a man notorious for not giving his horses barn names.

“Erm…yes?”

“Yet you know perfectly well, and can clearly see by his stall plaque, that the horse’s name is Elementary Solution.”

“Bit long though, isn’t it?”

Sherlock rolled his eyes but didn’t speak, something John took as a lucky break. He double checked the fit of Elmer’s tack and adjusted the girth before turning to Sherlock. He wasn’t entirely sure yet what his new title consisted of, but he’d officially been told to take over grooming and tacking from Anderson.

Sherlock nodded when John handed him the reins and double-checked his helmet, the black velvet almost as dark as his hair. John let his eye follow one of the curls, desperately trying to escape the helmet’s hold.

“Need anything else?”

“What do you mean?” Sherlock said, narrowing his eyes.

“Before I go.”

“Go? You’re not to go anywhere.”

“I’ve still got stalls and turnout.”

Sherlock didn’t deign to comment and led the grey out of the stall. John paused for a moment, unsure. He had work to do, yes, but it seemed that Sherlock made his own schedule and expected the rest of the world to follow it. John still worked for Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson first and foremost, but he had the feeling that the both of them would prefer that John do everything within his power to ensure that Sherlock and his horses remained at Baker Farms. With a sigh, he followed Sherlock down the aisle.

Sherlock chose the jumping arena and John hastily took care of the gates and moved the mounting block out of the way once it was used. There were two other riders in the ring, but Sherlock made it clear the space was his.

“Now, do pay attention,” he said and walked off to the far side of the ring.

John hovered in the middle, having no idea what he was supposed to pay attention to. One of the other riders, a woman in her fifties riding a bay thoroughbred, joined John in the middle of the ring. She dropped her feet out of her stirrups but didn’t make a move to dismount, instead watching as Sherlock pushed Elmer into the wonderfully loose trot that John had experienced the day before.

“Gorgeous, isn’t he?” she asked.

“Which one?”

The women laughed. “Fair question.”

John grinned at her but quickly looked back at Sherlock. The pair was only warming up, but already John could see the complete focus and total absorption that Sherlock was famous for. He seemed oblivious to the rider finishing up the outside line beside him, eyes up but never straying from the path in front of him. Elmer seemed to be responding, shortening and lengthening with the tiniest of cues from Sherlock. If John hadn’t been looking for them, he would have completely missed the signals.

Still not sure what he was meant to look for, John allowed himself a rather large amount of jealousy at the ease with which Sherlock sat a horse. His body seemed entirely attuned to the animal, perfectly balanced and straight as they circled the ring, changing direction and weaving between the fences.

By this time both riders had cleared the ring and an audience had started to form at the fence. John glanced over quickly, catching Sally’s eye as she gave him a small smile. He looked away, not entirely sure what his standing was with the rest of the staff. Grooms were usually brought in with the rider or only came around during show season. Hell, John wasn’t even sure what Sherlock’s season looked like. But if this workout were anything to go by, John would say they had a fair chance of winning.

As Sherlock brought Elmer into a collected canter, the grey’s dapples shining in the mid-morning sun, there was a group of ten standing by the ring. From riders to grooms and stablehands alike. John wasn’t all too sure that Greg would approve of the last few, but he could hardly blame his coworkers for being drawn out of the barn. The few times he’d managed to catch Sherlock riding, John had been hard pressed to focus on his job.

And good God, the two only got better.

John had watched Sherlock’s Maclay rounds, looked up every single YouTube video he could find, and even thought about calling up some of his old coworkers and bosses to find out more about Sherlock. Every single video, every story he’d heard, all of them told of the sheer brilliance of Sherlock Holmes on a horse. Christ, John would give up one of his limbs to ride half so well.

Catching onto the turn Sherlock was about to make, John moved out of the way as Sherlock sent Elmer sailing over the closest line of jumps. They were a mere 2’ 6” and just barely a warm up, but Elmer took them seriously, knees tucked up and hooves almost crossed as he neatly cleared the fences with room to spare. John heard a low whistle from the crowd at the fence.

Sherlock didn’t call out the lines, simply expecting John to get out of the way. But John had years in the business and could guess at Sherlock’s next route by the layout of the course and Sherlock’s motion in mid-air. He was currently setting the big grey up for a large oxer to John’s right. He didn’t move though, knowing the pair was far from being distracted by extra bodies in the ring.

Elmer’s hooves beat the ground, Sherlock collecting the horse up for the larger fence. The rhythm grew quicker four strides out from the jump, Elmer’s head up and ears perked, already scoping just as Sherlock set him up for the perfect spot. Haunches bunched and front hooves snapped off the ground, the ricochet of takeoff similar to the jumping style of Gem Twist. Sherlock moved easily with the big leap, as though it was second nature. Hands automatically releasing, perfectly balanced over the saddle.

Caught in midair they would have been picture perfect; Elmer’s intelligent eyes alert, a perfect bascule to his jump. Hell, he made the large jump look easy. And Sherlock, damn him, was the epitome of perfect equitation rider. John couldn’t see his leg move even an inch, heels down and close to Elmer’s barrel, spurs glinting and boots polished. George Morris had nothing on him.

The moment broke as Elmer’s front legs stretched out, reaching for the soft dirt arena. They landed cleanly and cantered off to the next jump, Sherlock balanced in three point and guiding Elmer through a quick jumper turn. The audience applauded when they’d finished.

But Sherlock didn’t seem to notice them. He trotted a lap and let out the reins, Elmer walking on the buckle and stretching out his neck. The horse was breathing hard, but was by no means struggling. Sherlock gave him a few pats on the neck before pulling his phone out of his pocket, loosely holding the reins in one hand and his phone in the other.

And dammit if John hadn’t just become groom to one of the best riders alive.

“You know they’re applauding for you, right?” John said when Sherlock brought the horse into the middle. By now Elmer was breathing evenly again, though there was a fine sheen of sweat on his coat.

“Mmm?” Sherlock said, finally storing his phone. “Dull.”

“If you say so.”

“I just did.”

John didn’t reply but held the reins as Sherlock slid down from the saddle, landing far more gracefully than anyone had a right to from a 17.2 hand horse.

“I do hope you were paying attention,” he said, unbuckling his helmet. The curls beneath were damp and a few clung stubbornly to his forehead. John clenched his fist and fought the temptation to brush them away.

Before waiting for a response, Sherlock spun on his heel and walked out the ring, leaving the gate open and giving John a pointed look when he saw he wasn’t following. With a cluck and another pat for Elmer, John led the magnificent horse out, following his surly rider.

 

 

“John, if you have a moment?”

Of course he wouldn’t be able to take his break. Why would he deserve to sit down and have a cup of tea?

“Yeah?”

Sherlock looked at him, apparently finding something distasteful in John’s tone, but John would be damned if he apologized. “Mrs. Hudson made tea.”

“Sorry?”

But he didn’t get a response from that either, just an impatient tap of a still booted foot as he turned away from his apartment door and followed his tall sort-of-boss out of the barn.

He’d never been invited into Mrs. Hudson’s house, but he’d seen the large brick home on his first tour of the property. Mrs. Hudson herself, though getting a bit old, was still tough as anything despite her sweet demeanor. He wasn’t entirely sure what happened to Mr. Hudson, but he knew enough not to ask.

They crossed the gravel between the barns and followed a little stone pathway up to the two-story house. It sat on the top of a small hill, trees surrounding it and a small pond in the front. Sherlock silently led the way, not bothering to knock but walking right in. John followed, less sure how welcome the intrusion would be.

“Sherlock, dear, is that you?” Mrs. Hudson appeared in the foyer from what appeared to be a sitting room. She was wearing a housedress and smiled fondly at Sherlock (who ignorered her) before turning her attention to John. “Ah, John!”

“Sorry, Sherlock said you wanted to see me?”

“No, I said she had tea.”

Still not understanding, John gave Mrs. Hudson a smile and remained standing just inside the doorway.

“That I do have. Come in, come in,” she said, ushering him further into the house. Sherlock marched down the hall toward the staircase, taking the steps two at a time before disappearing to the next floor. John watched him go before turning his attention back to the house. It was old and stuffy and smelled homey. Thick curtains hung from the windows, but light filtered into every room. There were Persian rugs overlaying the hardwood floor and the whole place had a decidedly Victorian air.

Mrs. Hudson led him back through the house to a cozy kitchen, forcing him to sit at the small white table as she bustled about putting the kettle on and pulling mugs from a cabinet. She sternly brushed off his offer of help so he contented himself with looking around and snacking on the plate of biscuits she placed before him.Sherlock still hadn’t returned when the kettle boiled and John awkwardly sat across from his employer with his steaming mug of tea.

“That Blaze?” he asked, nodding at one of the many photos adorning the walls. Many were in black and white, but a number of recent ones were there as well. John spied a number of Sherlock.

“Oh yes, back in his hey day.” Mrs. Hudson smiled, staring up at the old photo. “That was at the Royal. We won that year.”

“No surprise there,” John said.

“Oh stop it. I’m old now. And besides, I see you’ve got yourself a new project.”

John looked down at his mug, pushing the handle back and forth between his hands.

“Come now, groom is a good position. One you’ve held before, yes?”

“Yeah, a while back.”

Of course Mrs. Hudson knew about the accident, but bless her, she never brought it up. Still, he wondered if she harbored any doubts. Sherlock would have, through his odd power of deduction (or just by listening) known about the incident right after it happened, but that didn’t seem to bother the eccentric rider one bit. The eccentric and still missing rider. John took a sip of tea and helped himself to another biscuit.

“He’s fond of you.”

“Sorry?”

“Sherlock. He won’t admit it, but he’s lonely.”

“I’m just his groom.”

Mrs. Hudson gave him a knowing look and he ducked his head again. The light brown surface of his tea was oddly fascinating.

“You know he doesn’t ever train with a coach. Oh, he’s asked me for lessons a time or two, but there’s hardly anything an old bat like me can teach him.”

“Well, you never stop learning.”

“That’s true.” She took a sip of her own tea and cast her gaze back to the wall of photographs. “That was his first pony, Scarlet.”

John looked up at the photo she indicated. A small boy in black hunt coat and cap, almost doubled over the short neck of a little chestnut pony. The horse’s mane was neatly braided and even from the small and somewhat grainy photo John could see the look of utter concentration in the little rider’s eyes.

“Do try not to be sentimental, Mrs. Hudson.”

The pair at the table startled as Sherlock walked in, now in jeans and a button down shirt though he wore a blue dressing gown over it.

“I’m old, dear, it’s allowed.” Mrs. Hudson stood and fetched Sherlock a mug, adding a rather large amount of sugar and milk to it before handing it over. Sherlock took it and sat in her recently vacated seat, pushing the mug aside. “Now you be nice. I like this one.”

John could feel his frown as Mrs. Hudson winked at him and left the kitchen. John could hear her hum as she headed back to the front of the house. What the hell had he gotten himself into?

“So you live here.” Right. That was a rather safe question, yes?

“Obviously.”

“Any particular reason?” It wasn’t like the man lacked funds for a house of his own.

“Closer to the work.”

“The work?”

“Yes, the barn, obviously. No need to waste hours in a car that could be spent in the saddle.”

An interesting theory for a man who only rode for an hour or two every other day. Then again, they were still out of season and Sherlock would no doubt be riding near constantly once his three horses were in full training.

“Fair enough.” Another gulp of tea. The liquid was still hot, but the slight burn was a nice distraction because goddamn that dressing gown was a rather lovely shade of blue and had no right to set Sherlock’s eyes off like that.

“I need an assistant.”

“Groom.”

“Yes, I need a groom.”

“Why not hire back Casey? She worked with you for a while, right?”

“Casey is an idiot.”

Okay, so previous employees were out. “And why not Anderson?”

Sherlock simply gave him a look.

“Okay, point taken.”

Sherlock looked down at the table, tracing some pattern or course onto the cheap white top, his long fingers nearly as pale. “I do not tend to work well with others,” he said, not looking up.

John was too uncomfortable to laugh but still bit his lip. Sherlock’s reputation for not getting along with others was almost as notorious as his reputation for being one of the best damn equestrians in all of Europe. “So why do you need someone?”

“Well, if I am to win the Reichenbach jumper trails, I’ll need the best team of horses and people.”

“You don’t have a coach.”

“Mrs. Hudson has offered to help.”

Finally he looked up and John just barely caught the uncertainty on his face before the calm mask was in place once more. Was Sherlock actually worried?

“Riechenbach trials- that's big.” Hell, they were set up to be the biggest.

“Rolex was bigger.”

“That’s debatable.”

Sherlock raised a dark eyebrow. “Do tell.”

“Well obviously eventing takes skill, especially four star eventing. But the Reichenbach trials? I mean, Magnussen’s won them the last three years and he’s bloody brilliant on a horse.”

“Mmm.”

John could see the distaste radiating off Sherlock. His shoulder’s tightened and he frowned, Cupid’s bow lips pulling into a tight line of displeasure and hatred. John knew the two riders had never gotten along, but perhaps the rift ran deeper than he thought. “Not a fan?”

“No one should be. But the lineup will not be announced until the end of summer and we have much work to do before then.” And with that he stood, leaving his untouched tea on the table and striding from the room, dressing gown floating after him. John was starting to think the man had a thing for long dramatic coats.No wonder he rode dressage.

“Work everything out, dear?” Mrs. Hudson said, reappearing in the kitchen doorway.

John had no idea where Sherlock had gone but he smiled at his boss and stood from the table, almost eager now to get back to work. “All set,” he said, heading for the door. “Thanks for the tea.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock was erratic to say the least. At the beginning of spring, he still hadn’t put his horses into full training, but only occasionally rode Elmer around the jump course or did a few passes on Noble Bachelor. John had hacked both, quickly nicknaming Noble Bachelor Richard because it was a gentlemanly name and because the gelding was, quite frankly, often a dick. Sherlock’s other stallion, a chestnut Thoroughbred called Dancing Man, was still out with a Navicular injury and was only getting light lunge work and stall rest.

This left John with, quite frankly, not much to do. He was used to the fast paced life of a groom during show season. It was a constant cleaning, working, feeding, traveling nightmare but he’d thrived there, eager to work and surrounded by others who felt the same. Now he was…stationary. He was older now, having to admit that 34 in the horse world was older, but by no means the end of things. Hell, the O’Connors would probably ride into their eighties. Still, there were days where his shoulders ached and his back protested every bucket lift and bale buck.

Sherlock, however, was as sprightly and under 30 as usual and consistently held the most inconsistent schedule at the barn. There were pre-dawn rides and near midnight rides and sometimes days without any sighting of the man. His horses didn’t seem to mind, though John was finished after the first night he awoke to Sherlock standing at the end of his bed and demanding that Elmer be tacked up immediately. John’s reply of “what the bloody fuck do you think you’re doing?” didn’t seem to matter as Sherlock had simply stood staring at him until he’d tossed off the covers and rolled out of his apartment in jeans and a t-shirt.

Boundaries, it seemed, weren’t Sherlock’s forte.

“Christ, John, were you never taught how to clean tack?” He’d ambushed John in the tack room, quickly scaring away Sally and even Greg.

“You haven’t complained before,” John ventured, setting down the saddle soap as Sherlock swooped over to him. John shifted on the bench he was straddling, grateful for the saddle stand that hid his lower half from Sherlock’s view. His ride with Mike was now a long time past and the whole “forgetting about it” thing wasn’t exactly working.

Sherlock huffed and shook his head, a few curls falling onto his forehead. “I expect this barn to run like the top notch training establishment it was meant to be.”

John grit his teeth. The verbal abuse Sherlock was so fond of spitting out had begun to wash over him now. It had been a little over a month since he’d started the job and the words now went past, no longer harming him at all. In fact, he was very near mastering the ability to fully ignore every negative thing Sherlock said. The rest of the staff, it seemed, weren’t as lucky. How on earth Mrs. Hudson managed to live with him John couldn’t tell.

“You are infuriating, you’re aware of that, yes?” John asked. He picked up his rag, carefully applying leather preserver to the saddle’s knee rolls. The leather was soft and supple and began to glow under John’s ministrations.

“Rather rude to speak to your employer that way,” Sherlock snarled. It wasn’t often that anyone talked back to him.

John grinned. “You’re not my employer and, if I recall correctly, you even referred to me as your partner.”

“You are my groom and you will do as I say.”

John looked up, finding no real anger in the ice blue eyes staring down at him. He shrugged, allowing himself a quick glance over the tan riding pants Sherlock wore before going back to work. Sherlock didn’t speak, but John could feel eyes on his shoulders, watching as his hands worked the leather.

Whatever this was, whatever weird, messed up working relationship they had, John couldn’t even begin to tell if it was a good idea. He continued working, forcing his eyes to stay on the saddle in front of him as he shifted slightly on the bench. Sherlock was attractive, there was no doubt about that, but it was surely against the rules and besides, the man would probably reject John instantly.

But then there were the times when Sherlock shut his mouth and stayed quiet. The times when he occasionally helped John groom the glossy black Bachelor or tack up Elmer. There was something about the horses that seemed to make Sherlock’s mind stop. At least, it made his mouth stop. He seemed more centered, more content. He didn’t bark orders or tell John that his braiding was appalling and really, was that how he was taught to wrap polos?

But no, that was the influence of the horses, not John. He reminded himself of this as Sherlock spun on his booted heel and walked out, stomping down the barn aisle.

John sighed and finished up the saddle, hearing Sherlock’s sharp reprimand of one of Mrs. Hudson’s students. John was often shocked that he hadn’t scared the poor teenagers off. Then again, they knew what they were getting themselves into riding at a barn with Sherlock Holmes.

“John, the master calls.” Greg had popped his head around the tack room door in a rare break from his office. Hell, John had almost forgotten what the man looked like without a phone to his ear.

“What does he want now?” John stood from the bench, surreptitiously adjusting himself before carrying the newly oiled saddle to its rack.

“Says you're to saddle Silver Blaze and meet him in the indoor.”

“Blaze isn’t his horse.”

“Boss has him on a twice weekly hack, looks like you get him today.”

“Great.” The horse was legendary, sure, and John was actually eager to ride him, but it wasn’t like trotting around the arena under Sherlock’s harsh, judging gaze was the same as a hack in the field.

“Enjoy.” Greg winked and ducked back out.

John sighed again.

 

“No, no, no.”

That put the “no” tally up to 36 in the last 20 minutes.

“Now what?” John snapped, not at all amused by Sherlock’s “training” session.

Sherlock was in the center of the arena, head dramatically in his hands. He was in riding gear but had no horse of his own, choosing, instead, to torment John, who wasn’t actually the one that planned on competing in a million pound purse jumper trial in the fall.

“Really,” Sherlock said, raising his head and striding toward John.

That still didn’t clear anything up, but John pulled the old bay to a halt and waited for Sherlock to meet them. They’d barely begun walking before Sherlock had critiqued his entire position.

“Hold your leg steady, you’re riding, not swimming.”

John looked down, checking his alignment. He felt all right. His heels didn’t stretch like they used to, but his toes were up and his leg tight. They were flatting, so he had his stirrups a hole longer than he normally would.

“Here,” Sherlock said. He reached them, putting one hand on John’s calf and moving it an inch back. “Grip with the back of the calf. You need more flexion in your ankle.” He used his other hand to push John’s heel down and closer to Blaze’s barrel. The horse shifted forward at the contact. “There.”

“Right,” John said, swallowing hard. Sherlock’s hands were surprisingly warm through his breeches and even, John would swear, through the leather of his boots.

“Push in, not back,” Sherlock said, demonstrating by pushing John’s leg closer and tighter to Blaze’s side. “Try again.” He stepped back, John’s skin tingling when Sherlock’s hands dropped.

Right. Focusing.

He urged the horse forward again, keeping a working walk for half the ring before moving the old horse into a medium trot. He kept his eyes forward, trying to keep his attention on the new leg position and not the man whose eyes followed him around the ring.

“Good. Now circle around me,” Sherlock called.

John nodded, pushing the Thoroughbred onto the new track, keeping the circle as even as possible. It was easy enough to do with Mrs. Hudson’s years of training still in place on the bay.

“Canter.”

He followed the direction, picking up a soft lope to the left, holding the horse’s shoulder so he didn’t fall in.

“Sit,” Sherlock said.

“I am sitting.”

“If you call that a sitting canter you’re fired.”

John held back his retort and tried to sit deeper, opening his hip angle and sinking into the motion.

“You’re perching, sink down.”

He did as told, trying to soften his seat and not hover. Blaze’s stride was long but had a slight up and down motion, tossing John’s seat up with each stride. Keeping his hands soft, he allowed his body to move with the motion, the soft thump of his backside hitting the saddle eventually evening out as he found his heels dropping deeper and his hips and spine absorbing the bounce.

“Better,” Sherlock called from the center of their circle. “But your wrist still twists in.”

Surprise. John could manage to do one thing well enough but instantly fell into another for the “no” category.

Eventually Sherlock had them pull up, having added only 12 more “no”s in the other direction. He nodded once at John and left the ring.

 

“The hell was that about?” Anderson asked him as he was untacking Blaze.

“No fucking clue,” he said. Honestly, Sherlock hadn’t said anything outside of a critique and he’d given no speech before or after. But why on earth would he waste time training John when he was the one riding? Did it help him to focus on the problems of others? Was it a distraction? Or was it just meant to belittle John even further?

But it hadn’t belittled him. Surprising as it was, John hadn’t felt ridiculed, despite the no’s and dramatic reactions. Of course, he wasn’t at all surprised that Sherlock had fixed a few of his equitation problems in under an hour, but he’d done so rather…gently. Other than a few harps and loud sighs, Sherlock hadn’t been that harsh of a teacher. John had had far worse. Once, when he was fifteen, he’d had a trainer threaten to rip him off the horse if he didn’t fix his position over fences. But rather than threaten physical violence, Sherlock had simply moved John’s leg where it needed to be.

Interesting.

Sherlock’s comments from before, about knowing what happened, flared back into life now. He’d said it wasn’t John’s fault. But how could he have known? Everything seemed to indicate that it was. The owner believed so, many of the staff believed so, why didn’t Sherlock?

John hadn’t thought about the accident this much in almost a year. He had gotten rather good at tamping things down, blocking off the memories and moving forward. It was better that way, despite what his therapist had insisted. He’d stopped seeing Ella three months after the accident and he’d been doing much better since then thank you very much.

But there was absolutely no reason for Sherlock to care or comment about the event. Yes, he could be curious, especially before taking John on in his new role as groom, but his needing to tell John that he didn’t believe him guilty…well, that was just odd.

Not that odd was surprising in any way, shape, or form when connected to Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes with his perfectly coiffed hair and piercing blue eyes and wonderfully tight fitting pants which showed off his rather wonderful ass.

Yes, another cold shower and gentle reminder that John was better off alone for a reason and he would be well again. It would all be sorted out and there would be no trouble, no fuss, no feelings.

He caught sight of Sherlock as the man was leaving the barn, the slight breeze blowing through the open barn doors rustling his hair and the sleeves of the button down shirt he was wearing. Even from this distance John could see that they were neatly rolled up to his elbows, the deep plum bringing out the alabaster skin.

Shit.

Chapter Text

By the end of the week, Sherlock had put Elmer into full training. Rides six days a week, sometimes twice a day. The horse was young, only seven, and already in shape, but the training was quickly refining the Warmblood’s hindquarters and increasing his stamina.

John had insisted that Sherlock take a break from the arena, declaring he’d seen many a good jumper lose focus and passion if ridden solely in a sand arena.

“Yet that is his job,” Sherlock said when John brought it up again.

“No, that’s your job,” John replied. They were in the wash stall, Elmer between them. The grey coat was dark with water from his post-workout shower.

Sherlock didn’t reply. The soft swipe of the sweatscraper gliding over Elmer’s coat was the only sound in the barn. It was midday and surprisingly warm, causing a number of riders to take the afternoon off, preferring the morning or early evening to ride.

“Do you even have a plan for the season?” John asked. He walked over to the wash stall cabinet, pulling out Absorbine and a bucket. He took it over to the hose, mixing a fair amount of the liniment with cool water. “When’s our first show?”

My first show is in three weeks.”

“Right, of course. I’m just the groom.” John bent near Elmer’s front leg, soaking a sponge in the bucket before smoothing it down the horse’s legs. The sharp, minty scent hit John’s nose and he breathed it in. Liniment, sweat, and saddle soap. The show season was upon them.

“Devon, right?”

“Mmm.”

John hadn’t asked about the details of their schedule. Honestly, he wouldn’t be surprised if Sherlock told him a few days ahead of time. He half expected the mad rider to slam open his door (despite the new lock John had installed) at three in the morning declaring they had a show at eight. It was par for the course that a groom be given the season’s tentative show schedule at the beginning of each paying year, but nothing about Sherlock was par for the course.

“And after that?” John pushed, moving to Elmer’s back leg. He sluiced liniment over the horse’s hocks, letting the liquid run down over his own hands as he rubbed it into the horse’s sore legs. The somewhat icy feel was soothing, his hands weary with bucking the new hay supply that had come in that morning.

Silence came from the opposite side of the horse and John sighed as he stood up, taking the bucket around. Sherlock stood at Elmer’s shoulder, one hand on the damp grey shoulder. His eyes were on the ground, far away, but flashed up as John moved, bending to Elmer’s back leg. The grey flicked his tail as the cool water hit him, but remained calm and tired in the crossties.

“You do have a plan, right?” John repeated.

“Obviously,” Sherlock snapped. He moved his hand up, long fingers twisting in Elmer’s mane. His lips were pressed together in a thin line, eyes once again lost in the middle distance.

“Anything I should know about?”

“Mmm,” Sherlock looked at him, stepping away when John moved to the last leg. “Adler starts Friday.”

“Irene?”

“Yes. Turner jumper trials. She’s got a new mount.”

“I heard about that. Thought she was Stateside.” John finished and stood, squeezing out the sponge and dumping the bucket, watching the water swirl off down the stall’s drain. He gave Elmer’s rump a pat.

“Not this season. Brought her coach and everything.” He paused. “I wonder what she’s playing at.” His voice trailed off and he looked up at John.

“Dunno. American shows just too boring?”

“Or she’s coming after me.”

Leave it to Sherlock to decide that a rider was specifically chasing him rather than wanting a change of scenery. Though John had to admit it was a bit odd that an American rider would do their preliminary shows in Britain.

“New coach?”

“No, she’s brought the old one here.”

“Can’t imagine it was for the weather.” Last he’d heard, Irene Adler and her coach, William King, were training in Florida. Actually, they had been working at the same facilities Mrs. Hudson had worked at when she and her late husband lived there. Suddenly Sherlock’s theory didn’t seem so completely off base.

“No,” Sherlock said. He frowned and spun on his heel, sliding under the crossties and taking off down the barn aisle.

John shook his head and put the bucket back in its place. He gave Elmer one last, wet pat before unhooking the horse and leading him toward the pastures for his daily turnout.

 

“Sherlock seem off to you?” John asked, trying, casually, to steer the conversation.

“Holmes?” Sally asked. She pulled a sack of sweet feed from the pile, ripping off the string and emptying it into one of the sealed bins. “Isn’t he always?”

“Yeah, but more so.” John ran his fingers through his hair, rubbing the back of his neck before taking the now empty bag from Sally and adding it to the pile.

“You tell me, you spend more time with him than anyone else here.”

Sally was right, but John still felt like somebody should know Sherlock well enough to tell if he was all right. He was always erratic and unpredictable, but his usual flare and sharpness had dulled. John passed Sally another bag of feed, watching her dark hands on the white and blue bag as she hoisted it into the feed bins.

“We need more Cosequin?” she asked.

 

It was when Sherlock went out for a trail ride that John knew something was wrong. The man never rode on the trails. Occasionally he went out for cross-country practice in one of the back fields, but since he’d decided to focus on jumpers this year (because, being who he was, why should he stay in one discipline?) he hadn’t ventured beyond the arenas.

“The hell is he doing?” Greg asked, stopping John as he mucked.

“Who doing what?”

“Sherlock. He’s gone off on a bloody trail ride. First I’ve seen him leave the arena for months.”

“Sherlock?”

“Do we have another?”

John didn’t reply as Greg wondered back to his office. Sherlock. On a trail ride. Something was definitely off.

He finished mucking quickly and, as Greg had already asked for John to ride his leopard Appaloosa, Napoleon, tacked up and trotted out to the back fields. There were a number of trails on the property and some lead onto the neighboring estates and farms. John couldn’t know for sure which way Sherlock had gone, but he was banking on the man taking the largest, most well defined trail and he trotted the Appy down it accordingly.

Napoleon, true to his namesake and his owner, put up a bit of a fight. Spooking at a tree that lay across the path before leaping over it with feet to spare. John shook his head and pulled the horse sharply back onto the path. He knew he should spend more time working with the animal, but something in the back of his mind urged him to find Sherlock. Not that the man wasn’t a thoroughly capable rider, but because he had seemed so off lately. Whether he knew the reason or not, John could tell something was wrong.

The trail was wide and Napoleon’s trot consistent enough that they’d covered quite a bit of ground when John found him. The trail broke into a clearing on the edge of Mrs. Hudson’s property. A stream made up the back edge of the farms and it was along this that Sherlock and Dancing Man had stopped. The chestnut looked up when John and the Appy entered the small circle of trees but Sherlock didn’t move. He was sitting on a fallen tree trunk, Dancing Man grazing (in his bridle no less) before him. He had the Thoroughbred’s reins loosely in his hand but the horse was calm, simply watching as John approached.

John dismounted quietly, sliding up his stirrups and slipping the reins over Napoleon’s head. The spotted horse followed him, ears pricked toward the other horse, as he neared Sherlock. “All right?” John asked, careful not to speak too loudly. Something about the secluded spot made John think that Sherlock spent time here, had made it something of his own.

Sherlock didn’t look up as John approached but he didn’t seem upset either so John, careful to keep an eye on the two horses as they sniffed each other and dropped their heads to graze, sat down beside him.

The log was rough but the stretch felt good. Tension he hadn’t been aware he was holding seeped out through his stretched legs and he let his shoulders sag a bit. Sherlock was looking ahead, sometimes at Dancing Man and sometimes at the stream. It was early evening and light was bouncing off the water, reflecting back in piercing white and yellow.

“How’s he coming?” John asked, nodding at Dancing Man. The horse was eight but a new project for Sherlock, who intended to train the horse to Open and sell him for a nice profit.

“He’s tense,” Sherlock said, still not looking around at John.

The horse’s ears continued to twitch and his tail flicked back and forth even though flies weren’t yet a problem. “He’ll calm down.”

“Hope so. He’s got the potential, just needs to mindset.” Sherlock glanced sideways so quickly that John, if he hadn’t been looking, would have missed it.

“It’s a common problem,” John said, making sure to keep his voice measured. He looked over Sherlock’s profile, the slightly upturned nose and full lips. Sherlock still had his helmet on, but John slipped his own off, setting it beside him on the log. “Think the trail ride helped? Greg says you haven’t been out here in a while.”

“I’ve a schedule to keep.”

“Free riding can be counted as a workout. Besides, it’s a nice brain break, you know.” John looked back at Sherlock. “For horse and rider.”

Sherlock hummed in response and looked down at his hands. The dark brown leather of the reins was smooth against Sherlock’s pale skin and he ran his thumb along the braiding.

“Look, you don’t have to tell me about it or anything, but something’s clearly wrong.”

Silence.

“And if there’s anything I can do to help…well, I want to do it.” John wasn’t entirely sure why he said the words as his job, strictly speaking, didn’t involve any personal aspect. Hell, who was he kidding, he knew exactly why he was doing it. Because somehow, despite himself, John Watson genuinely cared about Sherlock Holmes.

So of course, bastard that he was, Sherlock laughed at John’s offered help.

“Why on earth would I need your help?”

“No reason at all,” John sighed, shaking his head as Sherlock chuckled.

“Though I will need you to cool out Dancing Man once we’re back. Mrs. Hudson is forcing me to go into town for dinner with some of her old friends. I detest training talks.”

“You hate talking shop?” John asked. “You of all people.”

“I of all people?”

“All you do is get into everyone’s head and analyze every single detail of their riding. I’ve seen you do it,” he said, when Sherlock looked at him doubtfully. “The second you finish riding you pull out your phone and look up videos of your competition.”

Sherlock, at least, had the decency not to deny it. “It’s research.”

“It’s technically stalking.”

Sherlock opened his mouth but, thinking better of it, turned away.

“You know,” John said, “this would all be a lot easier if I was in on the game plan.”

“What would be easier?”

“This. Acting as groom.”

“You’re not acting, you are my groom.”

It took all of his willpower not to roll his eyes. “You know what I mean.” Napoleon gave a sharp tug on the reins as he tried to walk farther away, front hoof trailing as he stretched for greener grass. John stood and pulled the horse back over, allowing the animal to pull to the other side of the log. Sitting back down, John moved fractionally closer to Sherlock.

Now facing away from him, John wasn’t able to see his hands, but he could more easily watch his face. The eyes were still distant, still flitting back and forth at a slower rate than usual, and the rich, dark curls almost blended in with the black velvet Charles Owen helmet Sherlock still wore.

“Adler will be tough,” Sherlock said to the ground, “but Moriarty will be tougher.”

“Moriarty?” John asked. He’d heard the name in connection with the junior division, but nothing in the Adult Amateur or Open categories.

“He’s moved up. New mount, new coach.”

“Wasn’t he the one that got caught doping?” John shuddered. He’d never understood why people would stoop so low as to injecting their horses with illegal drugs in order to get ahead.

“Twice. Somehow he’s managed to shake the charges off.” Sherlock’s scowl was clear through his tone.

“I’ll check with Greg, see if he’s heard anything,” John said. He adjusted his position, once again creeping slightly closer to Sherlock on the old log. He could feel the other man’s body heat now and his whole right side seemed to light up at the near touch.

“I don’t usually discuss things with my groom,” Sherlock mused, looking sideways to meet John’s eye. There was no accusation in the look, nothing to indicate that John’s actions were seen as interference, but John got the sense that he was being analyzed somehow, his motivations checked out.

“You don’t usually discuss anything with anybody,” he countered.

This earned him the slightest of smiles. “No.”

“Partnership, remember? I help you, you help me.”

“And how am I meant to help you?” Sherlock asked, eyes narrowing.

John shrugged. “Put in a good word?”

“When you leave.” Sherlock looked away.

John couldn’t reply. He really had no intention of acting as groom again, yet here he was. He hadn’t been this active in the equestrian world since the accident, nor had he really thought about the future since then. It was hard enough going day by day. But what did he intend to do with his life? Try for a position as barn manager like Lestrade? He knew he wouldn’t ever become a trainer or do more than exercise or catch riding, but what did he really intend to do?

“I’m not going anywhere.”

Sherlock didn’t reply and John had startled himself so much that silence reigned for a moment.

“You know, I’ve always been told it’s easier,” Sherlock finally said.

“Easier when?” John asked, somewhat recovered from his own declaration. It made sense though. Baker Farms, though he’d only been there for a while, was quickly becoming his home.

“Having someone.”

“Someone how?”

Sherlock shrugged, lips pursing for a moment as he resolutely looked ahead.

“Well,” John ventured when it appeared his question would remain unanswered, “you’ve got a groom.”

“Yes,” Sherlock said, gifting John a brief smile before standing up. “That I do have. Now, if I’m to escape a rather harsh scolding, we best make our way back.”

John restrapped his helmet and held Dancing Man as Sherlock used the log to mount up. Quickly jumping on himself, the two riders silently made their way back to the barn.

 

Napoleon:

Chapter Text

Friday morning found John far earlier than he would have liked it. Just a few hours after his midnight checks, his alarm began screaming, filling up his tiny room with the annoying sound. He forced himself out of bed, pulling on jeans and a jumper and grabbing the bag he’d packed the night before.

“I don’t like to be late,” Sherlock growled when John left the little apartment fifteen minutes later.

“Show doesn’t start til nine.” John yawned, making a show of covering his mouth and stretching.

Sherlock simply harrumphed and turned on his heel to march out to the lot, his tall form hidden behind the hedges for a moment until John joined him on the other side. The sky was gray, barely a hint of light creeping around the horizon, but enough that they weren’t totally blind. John found his green jeep and began to head towards it when Sherlock tossed a set of keys at him.

“We’re taking mine.”

John played with the keys in his hands. He’d planned on driving, expecting Sherlock to sleep the entire way, but he hadn’t planned on driving the bloody Jag. “You’re serious?”

“Do I ever jest?” Sherlock frowned at him as they reached the sleek black car.

Unlocking the doors, John tossed his bag in the backseat before settling into the driver’s. It was a simple day trip, there and back, but he never quite knew what Sherlock had planned so he’d packed accordingly.

Sherlock was already settled into the passenger’s side, phone glowing before his face. He somehow managed to look like a model, just sitting there on his phone. Perhaps it was the designer jeans and the well cut suit jacket. Or the fact that John no longer had control over his fantasies.

“Coffee first,” the rider barked.

John nodded and slid the key into the ignition. The engine turned over and purred, nearly vibrating the wheel beneath John’s hands. Well, some things were worth waking up at 3 a.m. for.

 

“I don’t know why you want to see her full warm up,” John said. The sun had come up enough that it was peeking through the clouds, giving Sherlock at least some excuse for the dark sunglasses he now wore.

John’s question was greeted with unsurprising silence so he resigned himself to staying at Sherlock’s side, following the mad bastard along for the entire day like a dog on a leash. The sad part was, he really didn’t mind it.

Sherlock finished his third coffee and handed the empty paper cup to John without looking. This too, it seemed, was something John would have to get used to. Sherlock quite liked handing him things and fully expecting John to take care of it. Being handed crops and spurs and jackets John could handle, but taking out other people’s trash without being asked was a bit more than John was used to. Still, he knew he would acquiesce without question so he drained his own cup (only his second) and found the nearest bin.

“She never gives them enough walking,” Sherlock said. John had rejoined him, leaning against the arena fence at his side. The warm up ring was outside, but the classes would be taking place in the large indoor. At eight in the morning only a few spectators joined the many coaches and grooms that milled about the parking lot, quietly getting horses and riders ready for the day.

“Some horses need a faster warm up,’’ John said, watching Irene hack her little white mare around the ring.

“No, she gets them too wound up, they need to be looser, more relaxed.”

“Well I guess that’s to our advantage,” John said. He looked up at Sherlock, imagining the calculating look behind the dark glasses. The rider wasn’t writing a thing down, but John was pretty sure he was recording Irene’s ride in his head. “She’s got a nice mover though,” he said.

“Mmm. Flat jumper, but she has no problem with the height.”

“Which doesn’t help us in jumpers.”

“No.”

The two turned back to Irene. She’d brought the little mare over from a jumping barn in Florida, though the horse went under the name Jersey Girl. Sherlock hated it, no surprise there, but Irene seemed rather pleased. The rider herself was poised and quiet, easily trotting and cantering the horse around. Other riders were still walking and jogging, but Irene looked like she meant business.

“How many classes is she in?” John asked.

“Three. She’s got a good chance at equitation, but she’ll most likely point in jumpers.”

“She is set to have a clear season,” John mused. He’d looked into Sherlock’s competition for the year, having to switch over some of his knowledge from eventing to jumping. A number of riders rode multiple disciplines, but it wasn’t common for riders like Sherlock to suddenly switch after winning a four star event. “By the way,” he asked, “are you going back to eventing after this?”

“Don’t know.”

“And why the switch?” John had tried to bring the subject up before but had never gotten a clear response.

“Who’s acting as groom for her?”

John sighed. “Kate Harrison. She’s been around.”

“And she’s had riders caught doping.”

“She was cleared of all involvement.”

Sherlock hummed but didn’t look away, eyes following Irene as she made her way around the ring.

 

Irene, it turned out, was going to be a problem. Or she’d at least give them a run for their money. She’d always ranked well, taking home silver plates on both sides of the Atlantic, but she seemed to have stepped up her game this season. She swept her jumper class, easily besting the rest of her competition. Still, it was early in the season and there was plenty of time before the Reichenbach trials.

“Well, we’ve still got the better horse,” John said, following a rather quiet Sherlock back to their car. They’d stayed to watch some of the young riders, but Sherlock’s interest was clearly in Irene Adler.

“He’s bigger, probably slower.”

“We can work on that. Besides, that mare was almost too scopey.”

“No such thing.”

“Well they sure like to get in tight.”

Sherlock didn’t reply but once again slid into the passenger seat of the Jag. “You know you’re the better rider.”

“Perhaps,” Sherlock replied. He stared out the window, watching as horses were led back to trailers and circled the outdoor ring.

“You are,” John said, surprised at the vindication in his voice. They hadn’t even started the season and his usually overconfident rider seemed…almost unsure. “Sherlock.”

“Mmm.”

“Look at me.”

“Why haven’t you started the car?” he said, turning his head to look at John.

The sunglasses were still in place and the ice blue eyes were hidden. Still, John could feel the gaze on his face. Before he could stop himself, John found his hand on the dark sleeve of Sherlock’s jacket. “You are the better rider,” he said, willing Sherlock to believe him.

There was another hum and Sherlock looked away but didn’t make a move to pull his arm from beneath John’s hand. Well, at least any pre-show nerves would be quiet rather than full-blown tantrums. John sighed and put his hand back on the wheel, turning the car on an starting the quiet drive back to Baker Farms.

Chapter Text

John was leaning against the fence, watching Sherlock warm Elmer up in the jumping ring when the tall, thin man from a few weeks ago appeared at his side.

“I see you’ve made progress,” the man said. His accent screamed public school, much like Sherlock’s.

“Sorry?” John said. The man next to him was impossibly thin and impeccably dressed, not a single hair or spec of dirt on his starched white breeches or lilac polo shirt.

The man nodded at Sherlock, trotting tight circles at one end of the ring. “He’s always been a handful.”

“No problems so far.”

“Though I dare say he’s been quieter than usual.”

“And how would you know that?” The man hadn’t taken his eyes off Sherlock and John felt a shiver run down his spine. He crossed his arms.

“I do like to keep tabs on my brother.”

Before John could utter a rather confused “what the fuck are you talking about,” the tone of hooves on sand changed and he glanced up to see Sherlock trotting toward them, pulling Elmer up once he was even with the fence.

“Piss off,” he spat at the man—his brother?

“Morning, brother mine.”

“I’ve told you not to interrupt my sessions,” Sherlock said.

“I was merely conversing with your groom.”

“Leave him alone, Mycroft.”

Right. Sherlock, Mycroft. Totally normal names. Though that did begin to explain a bit…

“You know, you’ve always been wasted on jumping. And you’ve got that excellent Frisian just waiting in the stables,” Mycroft said.

“If I recall correctly, that’s absolutely none of your business.” The venom in Sherlock’s tone was almost startling and John slid between the slates of the fence, reassuring Elmer that his rider was not, in fact, yelling at him.

“He’s rather good, isn’t he?” Mycroft said. John didn’t look up, but he got the feeling the comment was about him, not the horse.

“Don’t change the subject. We were just getting into your failings,” Sherlock said. John glanced up and caught the corner of a smile, stifling his own smirk as he checked Elmer’s legs for swelling.

“Oh, pish posh to jumping. It’s too much excitement, dear brother. Not enough focus or precision.”

“Oh, do shut up, Mycroft, it’s entirely focus and precision. Only we actually go somewhere with it.”

John actually snorted before he could clap a hand over his face. Sherlock grinned down at him.

“Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve training to do.” Sherlock turned Elmer toward the center of the ring, John following along at his side.

“That’s actually your brother?” he asked.

“Unfortunately. Though seven years my elder which means he will die before me and I will at last have blessed peace.”

“He seems…creepy.” Mycroft was, in fact, still standing at the fence where they’d left him, his gaze fierce and judging from beneath his hat.

“You’ve no idea,” Sherlock said. “Now, knock off the top pole on that oxer, we’ll start small today.”

 

“You know,” Sherlock said when they were back in the barn and untacking Elmer, “you’re always welcome to stop by the house.”

“Sorry?” John stood with the saddle over one arm, accepting the bridle and martingale as Sherlock slide them over John’s shoulder. It was perhaps his imagination that Sherlock’s fingertips lingered there for a moment.

“Mrs. Hudson’s. She gets bored and likes the company. She said to invite you up anytime.”

“Oh, well thanks.” John left the wash stall and headed back to the tackroom. Really? It was Mrs. Hudson who had invited him back up? He saw her on a regular basis, why would she ask Sherlock to tell him rather than saying so herself. But no, it wouldn’t do to dwell on that now. Sherlock was easing up and had seemed to warm to John in the last few weeks. He still wasn’t sharing his game plan or explaining much of anything, but he didn’t scold John or bark at him like he did with all the other barn staff. Had Mrs. Hudson been right? Did Sherlock really just need a friend?

It was easy to see why he didn’t spend much time with his brother (and how John hadn’t known that the siblings shared a barn, he was still berating himself for) but it was true that no one had come to visit Sherlock and it was rare that his Jaguar moved from its spot in the lot. But the man traveled often and was busy most of the day. Still, even John, who had hid for the better part of a year after the accident, had some friends.

“I’ve drawn up a plan,” Sherlock said, not looking up when John rejoined him in the wash stall. The rider was quietly pulling a stiff brush over Elmer’s dapple coat.

The horse snorted and snuffled at John’s palm when he walked up, turning his large head away when it was clear that John didn’t have any treats. “Oh yeah?”

“Mmm, though it’s up at the house. Come up when you’re finished?”

First an invitation from Mrs. Hudson and now a direct request from Sherlock? Would they perhaps win their entire season next? It did seem that odd things were happening everywhere.

“Sure thing,” John said. It was, after all, his job to help prepare for the season.

Sherlock nodded and, with a last pat for Elmer, left the stall, boots softly echoing even though the barn was rather noisy at this time of day.

“Not even one scolding,” Janine said, setting down the wheelbarrow as she passed by. “What on earth did you do to him?”

“He’s not that bad,” John replied, picking up a soft brush and going over Elmer’s face. The horse snorted and rubbed his head against the brush.

“He’s vicious, actually,” she said.

“Only when you piss him off.”

“Well look at you, got the great Sherlock Holmes all figured out.”

“Hardly.”

“Whatever you say.” Janine winked at him and went back to mucking, humming under her breath as she cleaned.

“Elmer, you’ve got him more figured out than the rest of us,” John told the horse.

Elmer snorted and bobbed his head in agreement. Laughing, John unhooked the cross ties and led the horse back to his stall, double checking that everything was put away before he stepped out of the barn and turned toward the house.

It looked far more intimidating now than it had before. Perhaps it was because he didn’t know what was waiting for him inside. Not that he ever knew what was waiting for him, but he hadn’t seen Mrs. Hudson’s car all day and assumed that Sherlock was there alone. It was rare for any of the stable hands or even Greg to venture into the house aside from the occasional dinner, and he suspected Sherlock was the main reason for that.

When he’d made it down the little shaded path he hesitated before quietly knocking on the door. He heard Sherlock call that it was open from somewhere within the house and crept inside, looking around for Mrs. Hudson in case her car was hidden or in the shop or something. He didn’t see a soul and had to call out to Sherlock until he could follow the voice into the sitting room.

Sherlock was sitting on the back of a black leather chair, shoes on the seat and laptop open on his knees.

“How many times have you seen Jim Moriarty ride?” Sherlock asked without looking up.

“Probably just a few, why?”

“I’ve a feeling he’ll be our biggest competition.”

“Not Irene?” John asked. He was standing awkwardly near the doorway, unsure what to do with himself. Sherlock finally looked up and waved him over, pointing to his laptop screen. Advancing, John looked behind Sherlock’s shoulder, seeing that he had nearly 50 tabs open on his computer and four videos playing simultaneously (but blessedly on mute). “That Milverton?”

“Yes. He’ll also be an issue, though I suspect he’ll be called out for doping.”

“You suspect or you know?” John asked.

He felt Sherlock’s grin of response more than saw it. He leaned in even closer.

“Moriarty’s coming in strong. And he’s got a new horse as well.”

“Does anyone keep an animal longer than a year anymore? What’s the new one?”

“Eat Your Heart Out,” Sherlock groaned.

“That’s just bad taste.”

Sherlock nodded and John was so close that one of Sherlock’s dark curls brushed against his ear.

“I’ve been watching everything I can find on the horse, but his show history is rather limited.” He switched to another tab and John glanced over the horse’s breeding records.

“How old?”

“Four.”

“Could be too fresh.”

“Nothing Moriarty can’t handle. He’ll have the horse in perfect condition by the middle of the season, if not sooner.”

“Yes but ours jumps like Snowman, we do have that,” John said.

“Ours?” Sherlock shifted to look at him.

“Sorry, yours.” John ducked his head to look away.

“No, you’re right. I did ask you to help.”

“I’m the groom, not the owner, rider, or trainer,” John reminded him.

“Owner, no, rider, no, but you are helping with the training.”

“I play jump crew.”

Sherlock gave a soft laugh at that. “But you are proving invaluable.”

Invaluable? Really? Had Sherlock just declared John as someone indispensable? He almost checked Sherlock’s forehead for a fever. “I polish your boots.”

“You help me win.”

John couldn’t help it; he turned his head, meeting the ice blue stare that was waiting for him. That hadn’t even begun their season (their first show was scheduled for that weekend) and Sherlock was already crediting his wins to John? What Twilight Zone had John walked into? But the blue gaze softened and held John’s, daring him to look away. John couldn’t.

“You don’t mean that,” John said.

“But I do. John, I—“ but Sherlock stopped himself, looking down and licking his bottom lip. John followed the pink tongue, feeling the sudden heat shift from his cheeks to his belly and below. And then Sherlock looked up and John met his eyes and they were kissing. It was soft, hesitant, and John couldn’t tell who moved first. All he knew was that Sherlock’s lips were on his and he was running a hand through soft curls and quite possibly moaning at the barest touch of skin on skin.
Sherlock quickly pulled away, though not willingly. He looked at John, almost frightened. They’d barely kissed, barely done anything other than breath together, but John just grinned and, pulled Sherlock’s mouth back to his.

“We are supposed to be working, you know,” Sherlock said, tilting his head back so he could talk.

“You started it,” John said. He pulled back to stand up, letting his hand fall from Sherlock’s now mussed hair.

“I asked you to look at a video.”

“And then kissed me.”

Sherlock hummed and looked away, trying to go back to work. John grabbed the laptop with his left hand, setting it aside on the table. Sherlock twisted, a hand going around John’s waist and burning a trail of heat along his entire spine as John captured Sherlock’s mouth once more. The position was awkward and he could already feel the strain in his legs but good God he’d wanted to do this for so long.

“I don’t think that’s in the job description,” Sherlock eventually said, pulling away only slightly.

“Not that we’ve really done anything in the conventional way so far,” John replied.

“I don’t…”

Ah, so here was the talk. It was all a mistake and should have never happened or merciful Jesus let’s go all in. There didn’t really seem to be a middle line in John’s mind. And it wasn’t ever like Sherlock did anything halfway.

“Sherlock—“

“No, let me finish,” Sherlock said, pulling away even more so John could stand upright. “We can’t—I don’t…shit.” He dropped his head into his hand, running his fingers through his hair.

Damn. Had John completely ruined his chances at getting back into the profession? But Sherlock had definitely started it. Or he at least encouraged it. So they wanted this, right? Were the fantasies that John fought off each night actually coming true? Was it even possible to have any kind of relationship with the mad bastard that was sort of his boss?

“Stop overthinking.”

“What?” John startled out of his thoughts as Sherlock spoke.

“You’re overthinking everything. Stop.” The blue eyes were soft once more and there was a small, reassuring smile on the cupid’s bow lips.

“Right. It’s just, how can we—“

“Let’s not think about it now, yes?”

“But you—“

“Have been wanting to do that for quite some time, John.”

John laughed, not even aware he’d been holding his breath until the whoosh of oxygen met his frantic lungs. “Right.” Okay. Fine. Jesus Christ he’d actually kissed Sherlock Holmes.

“Now,” Sherlock said, reaching for the laptop once again, “what do you think of this trainer?”

Chapter Text

There was more kissing throughout the week. Of course, it required a rather grand amount of sneaking around to accomplish, but John was decidedly okay with that. And he never quite knew when Sherlock would sneak up behind him, spin him around, and pin him to the wall, trapping the surprised noises from John’s mouth with his own. On those few occasions that Sherlock took him by surprise and smiled and John could see the nervous excitement behind his otherwise cool gaze, it seemed to be something more. It wasn’t like they were even doing anything worth sneaking around for, but the possibility was there, however tentative on Sherlock’s side, and John was wary of pushing too far too fast so he would respond to the kiss and close his eyes and ignore the rest of the world for a little while.

But then the show came and everything stopped. Sherlock wouldn’t even look at John, much less brush his fingers over John’s wrist or sneak a kiss behind Elmer’s huge barrel.

“You all right?” John asked.

Sherlock was pacing, looking down at the first course he’d drawn in a little pocket notebook.

“Sherlock.” John paused as he finished the last braid on Elmer’s mane.

“Blue oxer, white vertical.”

“Sherlock!”

“What?” his rider finally snapped, spinning on his heel to glare at John. “I’m working.”

“You’re panicking. You’ve got an hour yet before you’re on course. Calm your arse down.” John waited until Sherlock met his eye, albeit briefly, before resuming Elmer’s braids. The black mane was thick and, though recently washed, would require more than a bit of styling gel to sit just right.

“I’m fine,” Sherlock hissed, though he finally sat down on his tack trunk.

“You haven’t been fine since yesterday, and even then you were on edge.”

“It’s our first show.”

“Of your, what, fifteenth season?”

“Seventeenth, actually.”

“Well there you go. It’s a hunter course, you’re fine. If anything, give Elmer his head and let him do his job. At least he’s calm.” John reached out to rub the horse’s muzzle. Elmer huffed and lipped at John’s palm. “Tell your rider he’s overacting.”

“I am not overreacting. Besides, when was the last time you competed? It’s stressful!”

John rolled his shoulders and grit his teeth. Sherlock seemed to sense what he’d said wrong and shut up. A wise choice. He knew. The bastard knew that the accident had happened the last time John competed. “Yes, making digs at your groom is absolutely the way to handle this,” he said, each word carefully measured and monotonous.

“John, I’m sorry, I—“

“Go get your number.”

Sherlock didn’t reply, but nor did he get up. They both knew Mrs. Hudson had gone off to do just that and there was no sense in trying to follow after her as she would be chatting with everyone she met.

John continued getting Elmer ready, slicking gel over the braids so there were no flyaways and ShowSheening the dark tail until it glowed. Elmer, bless his heart, had decided not to lay down in his stall overnight and had remained glowingly grey and white, just as John had worked hours the day before to accomplish.

He shouldn’t be surprised, really. He’d been warned against making friends with Sherlock and whatever weird, possibly romantic path they were now treading was probably the most ill advised thing he’d ever done. But he couldn’t deny the little flutter in his stomach each time Sherlock had quickly pressed their lips together or slid his tongue alongside John’s, nor could he deny the very direct reaction his body had when Sherlock was beside him or in the same stall or, hell, every time John thought about him. Needless to say, though he wanted a great deal, it seemed entirely possible he would get nothing more than whatever…this…currently was.

“John?”

“I’m working, remember.” Okay, that was perhaps a bit strong seeing as how Sherlock appeared to be genuinely sorry. “No, sorry, go ahead.” He adjusted Elmer’s boots before coming back around to Sherlock’s side and picking up Elmer’s tack from the side of the truck. Sherlock was still sitting on his trunk but he didn’t look up at John.

“If I don’t win—“

“You will.”

“But if I don’t…”

“Sherlock, we both know that you can’t win every single class. This is your first show, it’s basically a warm up. Besides, Moriarty and Adler aren’t even here. And Milverton’s out with that hock issue.”

“I don’t lose well.”

“I guessed as much.”

John settled the saddle on Elmer’s high withers, adjusting the keepers and making sure the saddle pad wasn’t rubbing. Stepping around to Elmer’s other side, he slid the martingale over the horse’s head and did up the girth, knowing he’d probably have to wipe it down before they entered the show ring.

Yes, he could get used to this again. It felt good to be doing something he’d been trained to do, and if it came with some complications…well, he’d manage. He was lucky enough to be working for one of the most talented riders in the business and he hoped the chilly vibe currently radiating off said rider was a one-time show thing.

And if it wasn’t and if his little crush remained clandestine kissing and nothing more…well, he’d deal with that too. Hopefully.

When he was readjusting the halter over Elmer’s bridle, Sherlock appeared beside him, fleece jacket over his show shirt and sweats over his pants and boots. John didn’t look at him until he felt Sherlock’s hand on his elbow, tugging him around.

“I can’t lose,” Sherlock said.

“So I gathered.”

“If this doesn’t work…”

“If what doesn’t work?”

But Sherlock kissed him rather than answer. Before he could even stop himself John was tipping his head back and greedily running his tongue along Sherlock’s bottom lip, but Sherlock pulled away and looked down.

“What is this?” John asked, before he could stop himself.

Sherlock looked up, finally looking directly at John. “It works.”

“Not for me it doesn’t.” Because it wasn’t enough, actually, and he really, really didn’t want to try and manage on meager kisses and nothing more.

“I don’t do this.”

“This being?”

“Whatever you meant it to be.”

“You know perfectly well what I was referring to,” John said.

“Yes well, I don’t…I don’t do well with failure.”

“How is it a failure if we haven’t even done anything? It’s hardly…Christ, Sherlock, it’s hardly what you could call a relationship. Hell, it’s not even friends with benefits.”

“Intimacy is…not my strong suit.”

“So you’ve implied,” John said, dropping his voice and stepping closer as he mind prompted him to keep an eye on the hundreds milling about them. It wouldn’t do for more talk to plague the already gossip-fraught equestrian world. “Sherlock, you ride bloody horses over six foot fences. What’s more intimate than trusting a thousand pound animal with your life?”

“It’s not the same.”

“But it is. You trust Elmer more than you trust me and, granted, we’ve only known each other a little over a month but…I’m not trying to make you…define anything, I just want to know where we stand.”

“Where we stand?” Sherlock said, looking down again.

“Yes. Sherlock, you can’t pretend you haven’t noticed how much I like kissing you. You did start it, after all.”

Sherlock gave a slight grin at that. “But I…” he looked back up at John. “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“Nor do I, join the club. Groom’s don’t exactly get much free time.”

“Mother only ever gave me winters off,” Sherlock said. “And only until I was 18.”

“You haven’t had a vacation since you were 18?” No wonder the man had issues.

“Well, Scotland is more or less a vacation, but not truly, no.”

Scotland they would discuss another time, as John had absolutely no idea what Sherlock was talking about. Still, it seemed imperative to have this conversation now, no matter how ill timed it was. The fact that Sherlock was actually responding was enough to make John want to fall at his feet and beg for…well, something. “So, now what?”

“We have a show.”

“I’m aware of that, smartarse, what I mean is now what with us. Where do we go from here?”

“Where do you want it to go?” Sherlock said, voice quiet and with a hint of nerves.

“Sherlock I’m not going to force you into anything but God, can’t you answer that question for yourself?”

“I’ve very little experience to go on.”

“Yes, but you’re human and have instincts, start from there.”

“Yoo-hoo! Boys!” Mrs. Hudson’s voice wafted over to them and John took a step back, releasing Sherlock’s arm, which he’d unconsciously taken hold of.

“Hi, Mrs. Hudson,” John said, eyes closed as he sucked in a breath.

“Number 221, Sherlock,” she called.

“Thanks, Mrs. Hudson.”

John opened his eyes, knowing Mrs. Hudson wouldn’t make anything of finding them standing so close but that others might. It wasn’t that the gay thing was the problem, it was more the Sherlock Holmes thing that was.

“John,” Sherlock nearly whispered, hand still on John’s elbow.

John looked up at him, almost afraid that Sherlock would answer the question but more frightened that he wouldn’t. “Yeah?”

“Me too.”

John smiled.

Chapter Text

Mrs. Hudson had already gone off to find a seat and John was holding Elmer in the warm up ring as Sherlock adjusted and buttoned his show coat. John took a brief second to admire the exquisite tailoring on the navy jacket before pulling a cloth out of his back pocket and polishing Sherlock’s boots.

“It’s a hunter round, go easy,” John said, one hand holding Sherlock’s booted leg out of the stirrup as he wiped dust from the black leather.

“Yes,” Sherlock said. His eyes were front, watching the rider before him. John had tried not to pay him too much mind, other than noticing that the little chestnut tended to shorten his stride when tired.

John went to the other side, brushing off Sherlock’s boot and doing a quick wipe for dust on Elmer’s hindquarters. Elmer snorted as Sherlock gathered up his reins, the rider before him taking the last line.

“You’ve got this,” John told them both, giving Elmer a pat on the neck and squeezing Sherlock’s knee briefly before taking Elmer’s bridle and leading him to the gate. The chestnut was dropping down to a trot, a smattering of applause accompanying his round. The gatekeeper nodded and John let go of the bridle as Sherlock and Elmer entered the ring.

The onlookers fell silent. It was an early season show and not one of the big names, but there was still a decent amount of people milling about. John stood at the gate, biting his lip. Sherlock nodded at the judge and put Elmer on a circle, picking up an easy canter as the announcer called their number and his name appeared on the digital screen at the side of the arena.

Elmer was calm, ears twitching back and forth as Sherlock set him up for the first line, a straight vertical leading into little rolltop. Elmer’s ears flicked forward when he caught sight of the line and Sherlock eased out the stride to hit their distance. Elmer quickly obliged, lengthening two strides out from the jump before taking it in a perfect bascule, floating effortlessly over the fence and into the five stride line. They met the rolltop dead center, executing a flying change midair to meet the change in direction as they turned to a stand alone oxer. The remaining six jumps went just as well, though John could see that Sherlock had to ask a bit more for the in and out oxers on the last line. The pair was applauded as they trotted their closing circle, Elmer accepting the bit and nearly floating across the ground. The gatekeeper beside John pulled the gate open for the last rider and John was ready with a smile when Sherlock exited.

“That was brilliant,” he said, looking up at Sherlock.

The rider kept his face neutral, but John could see his satisfaction in the way he gave Elmer a pat and let out the reins, allowing the grey to have the buckle as he walked toward the trailers to let Elmer cool out before their equitation course later on.

“Clean round,” Sherlock said, John walking at his side.

“Near perfect round,” John replied.

“Near?”

“That in and out shouldn’t have been so hard.”

“True.” Sherlock looked thoughtful for a moment, and possibly a little surprised that John had noticed.

“He’s just out of shape still.”

 

They left with two blue ribbons and a smug grin on Sherlock’s face. There were congratulations when they returned to the farm and a pat on the back from Greg, which Sherlock seemed to startle at before giving the barn manager a small smile. John knew that Greg had dealt with a lot from Sherlock over the years, but he seemed genuinely happy that they’d done so well. It was a terrific start to the season either way.

Sherlock quickly disappeared back up to the house and John busied himself with unloading the trailer and catching up on his regular barn duties. As nice as it was to get away from the stables every once and a while, the show had put him over half a day behind, though Greg had at least done his morning chores of feeding and turnout.

He caught up on stalls now, having rubbed Elmer down with liniment and turned him out to a small paddock so he didn’t get stiff overnight. The rest of his charges were given fresh bedding, clean water, and, when evening (rather quickly) rolled around, grain and hay. It was 9pm before he’d finished night checks and turnout and the rest of the barn staff had already gone home. Janine was on midnight check at least, so he didn’t have to worry about that. Lights were still on at Mrs. Hudson’s house as he pulled the main barn doors shut, but Sherlock had no doubt passed out as soon as the adrenaline left his system. He seemed to be a man who required very little sleep, but John knew from Mrs. Hudson that he was a profound post-show crasher.

So the knock at his door a half hour later was a shock. Who would be down here at this hour? The only people on the property were John, Mrs. Hudson, and Sherlock.

“Just a minute,” he called. He’d just stepped out of the shower and quickly toweled his hair and threw on a nearby pair of sweats before opening the door to his little apartment.

“John.”

“Sherlock. What is it?”

“I simply came to see you,” Sherlock said, clearly a bit unsure of himself. “I thought we might celebrate.”

“You don’t strike me as someone who takes time to celebrate,” John said. He stepped aside to let Sherlock in, suddenly very aware of his half nakedness and damp hair.

“Not often, no,” Sherlock replied, looking around the little room. He’d broken in a number of times during the night, but John wasn’t sure how often, if ever, he’d seen it with the lights on.

“Well, I’m hardly dressed for a celebration.”

Sherlock turned to him, looking (for him) somewhat frumpy in jeans and a t-shirt. “You don’t need to be,” he said, eyes dancing over John’s bared stomach and chest before turning back to the little room.

“Right,” John said, slipping into his tiny improvised kitchen. “Drink?”

“I don’t usually.”

“But this is a celebration,” John said, pulling out two glasses and pouring them each two fingers of whiskey. He thought better of it and added a third to his own. He rarely drank so much as a beer when on the job, but he was also very rarely half naked in a room with Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock didn’t reply but accepted the glass when John handed it to him.

“Sorry I’m not really set up for entertaining,” John said, sitting on the end of his bed and indicating the single chair across from him. Sherlock sat and John downed half of his drink, closing his eyes against the burn in his throat and the heat in his belly that was only partially from the liquor.

“Thank you,” Sherlock said.

“For what?”

“For earlier, at the show. I…appreciate the pep talk.”

“Yeah, some pep talk.”

They were silent for a minute, Sherlock playing with the glass in his hand and looking at the floor while John forced himself to drink the rest of the whiskey in sips.

“You were right,” Sherlock said, finally looking up at John. “This…isn’t working for me either.”

Oh. So this was the break up speech. Not that there was much breaking up to do, but at the show he’d seemed to be sure, to feel the way John felt, but then he was a rather difficult person to figure out and maybe—

“You’re overthinking it.”

“Me? You’re the one who overthinks things.” John downed the rest of his drink and twirled the glass in his hands. He must have been too caught up in his own head because he didn’t realize that Sherlock had moved until large, slender fingers were covering his, gently prying the glass from his hands and setting it on the floor.

Sherlock was standing in front of him, the unsure look still on his face, but his eyes seemed rather intent on John, sliding down to John’s lips. Without telling his limbs to move, John found his arms reaching up, wrapping around Sherlock and pulling him down beside him on the bed. John repositioned himself so he was facing Sherlock, holding the man close.

“What are you saying?” Clarity. That was all he needed. A very clear ‘proceed.’

“I thought that was fairly obvious,” Sherlock said, sliding one hand onto John’s thigh and pulling John’s face to his with the other.

John was lost to the feel of it all, the warm press of Sherlock’s lips on his own, the knock of knees as they both slid closer together, grabbing at clothes and skin and anything to get nearer. This. This was what John had been waiting for, hoping for, admittedly praying for. This was all he needed.

The heat between them rose, John’s sweats growing rather tight as Sherlock moved to nip at his neck, running his tongue over each little bit as he moved down to John’s collarbone.

“Sherlock,” he whispered, realizing that he was shaking.

Sherlock paused, looking up at him. There was clarity in his eyes, all trace of insecurity gone. Jesus, he wanted this too.

“Oh God,” John moaned, pressing his mouth to Sherlock’s as he pushed the other man down on the bed, straddling him without a second thought. Sherlock growled and thread his fingers through John’s short hair, pulling them even closer while groping for John’s ass with the other hand. “Not fair.”

“Hmmm?”

“You’ve got at least one layer of clothing that can go.”

Sherlock grinned and released John so they could both rid him of the t-shirt. John paused, staring down at the slender torso before him. True, Sherlock was rather adept at wearing perfectly tailored shirts and jackets, but it was something else to see the creamy skin and flat stomach in the subtle lamplight of John’s room.
John couldn’t help himself and, bending down, he licked a path from the top of Sherlock’s jeans up to his sternum. Sherlock hissed as the air cooled the wet stripe.

“Now you’re the one not playing fair,” he growled.

“That was just getting even.”

Sherlock harrumphed but kept his mouth closed, staring up at John and running a soft hand up John’s arm, resting on his shoulder.

“Are you sure?” John asked, trying to ignore the bulge in Sherlock’s jeans. Christ it had been a long time.

“When am I ever unsure?” But a quick glare caused him to sigh, dropping his voice to a near whisper before he spoke again. “Yes, John. I’m sure.”

John’s fingers were unzipping Sherlock's jeans before he’d finished the sentence, mouth sealed to the rider’s and tongue stroking the other’s. Sherlock moaned, pushing at the top of John’s sweats, each wrestling to unclothe the other first. Sherlock, unsurprisingly, succeeded, grinning through their kiss when he realized that John hadn’t had time to put on anything underneath the sweats before answering the door.

Still, John was rather determined when faced with any job, and quickly freed Sherlock of both jeans and pants before realizing that Sherlock was still wearing shoes.

“Bastard,” John muttered, sitting back a little so Sherlock could toe them off.

“An oversight. Shan’t happen again.” Again. Christ Almighty they hadn’t even done this once and Sherlock was already thinking of the next round.

“See that it doesn’t,” John said, kissing Sherlock’s rather prominent hipbone before taking the man in hand. Sherlock hissed again, head rocking back against the mattress.

“Are you always this bossy?” Sherlock asked.

“That remains to be seen,” John grinned.

Smiling back at him, Sherlock reached down to take John’s own cock in hand. He gave a quick tug, John nearly blacking out at the sensation. He let go of Sherlock, bracing himself with both hands against the bed. Honestly, he wasn’t a teenager anymore. He gasped again when he felt Sherlock wrap one large hand around them both.

“In my pocket,” Sherlock said.

It took John a moment to process. Sherlock’s hand fell away and John quickly turned behind him, reaching for the abandoned jeans. “Vaseline?” he asked, pulling out the small tube from one of the back pockets.

“I have chapped lips.”

“Oh, of course you do,” John said, leaning down to kiss the lips in question.

Sherlock nipped at him, taking the Vaseline from John’s hand and squeezing it onto his own before grabbing them both again. John dropped his head at the touch, remembering to balance his weight as he rested his head in the crook of Sherlock’s neck, kissing the damp skin in front of him as Sherlock worked his hand over them both, slicked with Vaseline and the pre-cum that dripped from both of them. It was embarrassing, really, how close they both were. Still, John counted it a victory that he was lasting longer with the real thing than he did with his fantasies.

A minute later they were both panting, John puffing out short breaths into Sherlock’s neck as his entire world narrowed to the pinpoint of Sherlock’s hand holding them both together. One more stroke and he was gone, growling and cursing into Sherlock’s neck and whimpering as the other man followed suit, groaning out his own release as his hand stilled.

They lay there for a minute, both gasping as they came down. John groaned, dropping his weight and rolling sideways so he didn’t crush Sherlock. He threw a hand over his face, knowing that they should clean up, but too boneless to care. Why should he care about anything anymore? He’d just shagged Sherlock Holmes. Well, he’d rather been shagged by Sherlock Holmes, but it was all a matter of perception.

He felt the mattress dip beside him as Sherlock rolled to the side and stood up. A second later John heard running water from his bathroom. A wet cloth hit his sticky stomach a moment later and the bed dipped once more as Sherlock returned.

“Shit,” John moaned, suddenly feeling the ache and weariness of the day come crashing down on him.

“We might’ve ruined the duvet.”

“Fuck the duvet.”

John dropped his hand from his eyes and quickly ran the washcloth over the worst of the mess, not giving a damn whether he should take another shower or not. He tossed it to the side, and rolled to face Sherlock, pushing himself up towards the head of the bed where Sherlock was now lying, propped up on his elbow and still gloriously naked.

John grinned at him before groaning. “We didn’t even—“

“We’re both clean.”

“What? How do you know?”

“I was tested last year and haven’t been with anyone since. I sent in your blood sample two weeks ago.”

“How on earth did you get my blood?” He would probably remember being stabbed with a needle in the night.

“Remember when you sliced your hand fixing the fence?”

“Ah.” John wasn’t about to ask for details, but it seemed that Sherlock was capable of making pretty much anything work. Bones and muscles aching, John adjusted his pillow, settling in at Sherlock’s side as the man ran one finger down John’s side, leaving little shivers as he went. “Mmm.”

“Sleep. We’ve had a long day.” Damn right they had.

And John was drifting off to sleep before he could remember to ask Sherlock to stay.

Chapter Text

John woke up alone. It was probably for the best. After all, he was still weary from the day before and he was, as it happened, still rather in shock.

He sat up, noticing the rumpled sheets beside him and the poor, wrecked duvet on the floor. He didn’t know when Sherlock had left, but John felt the faint smile tug at his mouth when he remembered falling asleep in the other man’s arms.

“Damn,” he sighed, sliding off the bed and heading toward the shower. He’d slept with Sherlock Holmes. And damn it all if he hadn’t found himself in an actual relationship with the man.

Well, he assumed it was a relationship. It was sure as hell something.

Sherlock didn’t come down to the barn until later that morning. John suspected he’d been asleep, though the man would rarely admit that he was, in fact, as human as the rest of them.

“You know, people usually stay,” John said as he slipped a bright white saddle pad over Bachelor’s narrow withers. Elmer was off today and Sherlock had requested that his dressage mount be ready by ten.

“Do they?” Sherlock said, yawning as he leaned against the stall door.

“Mmm. Not that you tend to identify with ‘people’.”

“No, I don’t.”

John laughed at that, settling the saddle on top of the pad and adjusting the keepers.

“Are you angry?” Sherlock asked.

“No,” John said after a moment. It would have been nice to wake up together, but honestly he didn’t mind. John could feel Sherlock watching as he finished tacking up, turning for the bridle where it hung just outside the stall.

“You genuinely aren’t mad.”

“No. Am I supposed to be?”

Sherlock frowned, watching as John unwound the figure-eighted bridle. “I can’t say I have much experience to form an opinion on the subject.”

“Sherlock, it’s fine,” John said, leading the Friesian over to the stall door once he’d settled the bridle in place. Sherlock was still frowning but John reached out, putting a hand on his arm. “It’s fine.”

“Mmm.”

They walked to the indoor, rain keeping most of the riders from venturing out to the larger rings.

“Why don’t you have Five Orange Pips out here?” Sherlock asked.

John held Bachelor as Sherlock mounted. “You know about Pip?”

“Mmm. Decent eventing career at the lower levels.”

“Not that decent. Fox-Pitt kicked him out not six months after he started. I think he’s got a junior rider doing hunters with him now.”

“That won’t last. She’ll move up come fall.”

John didn’t ask how Sherlock knew.

“You still didn’t answer the question,” Sherlock said.

“How am I supposed to have the time or money to keep him?” John asked.

“But you’d like to have him here.”

“Time and money.”

Sherlock gave John a small smile before moving off. John turned back to the barn, he wasn’t needed for a simple dressage practice and he had enough other chores that couldn’t be shafted as they usually were.

“John, just the man I was looking for.” Greg nodded at him as they met outside the feed room.

“All right?” John asked, checking if he needed to reorder Elmer’s Cosequin yet. “We getting more bute the next vet check?”

“Yep, and we’ll be doing new x-rays on Blaze. Boss wants to keep on top of of those hocks.”

“Yeah, he’s been moving all right with supplements. I need to work him again this week?”

Greg followed him out the door and over to the tack room, John pulling out the cleaning supplies and settling on the smooth wooden bench, one of the school saddles over his leg. “Actually if you could take him over some little cross rails this week that would be great.”

“She wants him jumping?” John asked.

“Just because he’s bored.”

“Sounds like someone I know.” Even though they’d only been working a few weeks, John had already had to force Sherlock back out onto the trails when he’d insisted that the ring was boring and “far too rounded for its own good.”

“About that,” Greg said, hands in the pockets of his jeans as he rolled on the balls of his feet.

“What?” John asked, sponge poised above the saddle. There was no way that Greg could know. And it wasn’t technically against the rules. That had definitely not been listed in John’s contract. But still, it wasn’t like he wanted everyone knowing.

“What’s up with him?”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s been…well, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say he’s looked rather happy,” Greg said, frowning at the thought.

“Something wrong with being happy? He’s ranked fifth in the world, nothing to be ashamed of.”

“No.” Greg’s frown deepened before dropping away, grey head shaking. “I guess it’s nothing. Just wanted to see if you’ve said anything to him.”

“I doubt there’s much of anything I could say to make Sherlock Holmes so happy.” Well, John had a few ideas, but he was keeping those to himself, thank you very much.

Greg looked at him, silent for a moment before shrugging. “Hmmm. Anyway, take Blaze out when you can. Vet’s coming Wednesday.”

“Got it.”

Greg left him then and John returned to cleaning the saddle, hardly paying attention as he soaped and oiled. Was Sherlock different? He’d certainly opened up a little, but that seemed to only be true with John. But was it so much different from his usual surly demeanor that even Greg, I-never-have-time-to-leave-my-office Greg, had noticed? John made a mental note to keep an eye out.

 

“Oi, Greg seems to think you’re looking rather happy,” John said, leading Bachelor out to hand graze so the sun could dry out his dark coat.

“Greg was never the greatest at observation,” Sherlock replied drolly.

“Are you saying it’s not true?” John smiled at Sherlock who stood next to him. The taller man paused for a moment before the corner of his mouth twitched and he pushed John to Bachelor’s other side, the horse’s large barrel shielding them from the barn as Sherlock bent to kiss him.

“Answer enough for you?” Sherlock said.

John just grabbed Sherlock’s shirt and pulled him closer once more, breaking away only when they were both panting for breath.

“You know, the house would be much more convenient,” Sherlock said, stepping back a few inches.

“I’m sorry?”

“In future.”

“So I’m on the schedule now, eh? This part of your own physical training?” John grinned.

“Something like that.”

 

The next days passed much as they had before, only Sherlock stole more kisses and John was fiercely fighting the lust that rolled through him each time. Occasionally Sherlock would be too caught up in his own Sherlockian brain to even remember that they were in a…whatever they were in and simply ignore John almost the entire day. It wasn’t exactly like they’d established some rules of there relationship. They were both working adults, after all. But some sense of stability would have been nice. But then again, John would trade stability for shagging Sherlock any day.

And the rider was right – the house was far more convenient. Mrs. Hudson lived on the bottom floor and generally kept to herself, John not even seeing her half the time he was there. Sherlock seemed to rule most of the second floor and had a bed far too comfortable for someone who rarely slept as it was. Not that John was complaining this time.

“It’s free if you want it,” Sherlock said and John couldn’t be sure what he was talking about through the post-coital fog that plagued his brain. Sherlock, seemingly unaffected by the whole thing, was already back on his laptop, no doubt stalking Magnusson’s latest show scores.

“What?” John mumbled, rolling onto his stomach and curling into a pillow. Sherlock looked over at him and John swore he saw the piercing blue eyes soften for half a second before turning back to the glowing screen.

“The bed you’re currently taking over.”

Oh. Was that some kind of semi-permanent booty call? John could feel the sleepy weight of his eyelids as he blinked up at Sherlock.

“Yes, for that too,” Sherlock huffed, apparently quite put out by having to explain what his rather cryptic invitation meant. “But for anytime. I hardly use it and that closet you call an apartment is far from comfortable.”

“Hey, it works. Besides, you’re not the one who has to do midnight barn checks and 5 a.m. feedings.”

“True. But you do get paid for that.”

“Yeah, well...you get paid to ride. So...shut up.”

“Do you always turn into a five year old when you’re tired?”

John tried to frown but he was so tired his eyes closed and he curled up onto the down pillow even more. He heard Sherlock chuckle softly before the heavy duvet was pulled over him and the line between sleep and consciousness blurred.

Chapter Text

“We’re going to London,” Sherlock announced on Wednesday.

John frowned at him, holding Blaze as the vet prepared the old stallion’s hocks for new x-rays. They were in the wash stall, out of the way of the few riders and grooms scurrying around and preparing mounts. Molly walked past them, smiling when John nodded though he saw her eyes linger on Sherlock for half a moment before she walked away.

“And why are we doing that?” John asked.

“I’ve an interview.”

“Which obviously requires me. Easy, Blaze.” John gave the horse’s nose a pet, rubbing up the white fur on his face that had been his namesake. The horse shifted his weight once more before settling, allowing the vet, Dr. Mortimer, to adjust his leg and set up her machines.

“Glad we’re on the same page,” Sherlock said before turning on his heel and walking out. “We leave in an hour.”

John didn’t even bother replying, just shook his head and returned his attention to the old Thoroughbred.

“Nice of Holmes to say hello,” Dr. Mortimer said, smiling at John as she stood up, moving to adjust the final piece of equipment. “Here.” She handed John the ever fashionable lead apron required for the x-rays, tying her own around her waist as she moved to the computer to make sure everything was hooked up.

“Well, you know he’s always been one for a chat,” John said.

The vet chuckled again, dark ponytail bouncing. “All right, hold still old man.”

 

“No really, why are we going to London?” John had lost the battle (not that he’d even put up much of a fight, Greg hadn’t argued when he’d said he needed the afternoon off ‘because Sherlock’) and they were currently waiting at the train station for the noon train to London.

“I told you,” Sherlock said, hands in the pockets of his trousers as he stood on the platform, watching the other passengers as they milled about.

“Yes, well you are known around the world for your clarity.”

“I need sponsors. Sponsors need interviews.”

“No, “Practical Horseman” needs interviews.”

“Same thing.”

Their train pulled in and John followed Sherlock to the first class coach, settling into an aisle seat after Sherlock quickly laid claim to the window. The journey was just under two hours and John had to admit it was rather nice to sit still and read a book for once. He still got the occasional day off, but since Sherlock had promoted him to full time groom as well as stable hand, he’d had more than enough on his plate to occupy his every waking hour and, most recently, even his nocturnal hours.

“You enjoy fantasy?” Sherlock asked an hour into the trip, finally looking away from the window.

“Yeah.” John continued reading.

The Hobbit?”

“Didn’t your parents read it to you as a kid?”

“No.”

John looked up when he felt Sherlock shift toward him, the black suit jacket not doing much to hide he warmth of Sherlock’s arm where it pressed into John’s side.

“Come on,” he said,” it’s classic.”

“Mummy never approved of such frivolities,” Sherlock sniffed, leaning away and looking back toward the window.

“Well, she sure didn’t believe in vacation, but reading? Who the hell doesn’t like reading?”

“Oh, we read. Just not fiction.”

“So you’re saying you grew up on a steady diet of George Morris?”

“Something like that,” Sherlock said, a faint twitch appearing at the corner of his mouth.

“Here,” John said, holding out the battered paperback.

Sherlock frowned, looking from the book to John and back.

“To borrow,” John said. “Not much your mum can do about it now.”

Sherlock still looked a bit shocked and wary, but he reached out and flipped the book over, glancing at the summary on the back. John chuckled.

“You don’t have many friends, do you?” Right, because that didn’t sound cruel at all. “I mean, sorry—“

“Friends, no. Mostly I was raised with my heinous older brother and you’ve seen that I’ve yet to escape him.” Sherlock’s face didn’t betray any indication of being upset at the comment and he’d responded in a rather brutally honest monotone.

“Well, you do have one,” John said, squeezing Sherlock’s thigh and letting his hand rest there.

Sherlock’s look was veiled but he tucked the book into his suit pocket and placed his hand over John’s.

 

It was actually “Horse and Hound” that Sherlock was scheduled to interview with and John found himself in the lobby of an uber posh hotel, sitting on a black leather sofa across from Sherlock and wondering, yet again, why he was there.

“Seriously, people don’t just bring their grooms to interviews.”

“You’re not here for the interview.”

“I am decidedly where the interview is taking place.”

“Don’t be tedious. The interview will last all of an hour, they we’ve the entire day to ourselves,” Sherlock said.

John rolled his eyes but didn’t say more as a tall, blonde man came toward them. He looked to be a few years younger than John, about Sherlock’s age then, and he pushed his thick black glasses up his nose with his wrist, both hands full.

“Sherlock, nice to see you again,” the man said, shuffling the papers and phone under one arm so he could hold out a hand to Sherlock.

“Victor,” Sherlock said, standing and slowly shaking the other man’s hand. His eyes were narrowed and John could see that his shoulders had tensed. It was obvious the two had met before, but it clearly hadn’t been a good meeting.

Victor smiled at Sherlock, though it was clear that he’d picked up the tension, before turning to John. “Victor Trevor,” he said, holding out a pale hand.

John stood and took it, quickly glancing at Sherlock before turning back. “John Watson.”

Victor smiled but there was confusion behind it. Hidden well, though.

“John is my new groom,” Sherlock said, finally seeming to snap out of whatever shock he was in and sitting back down with a flourish. Victor nodded at John before settling into the chair beside Sherlock’s, pulling a recorder out of his bag and setting it onto the table. He turned the little device on and John watched the steady red light at the end blink to life.

“So, Sherlock.” All business, interesting.

“Victor,” Sherlock replied. John could see the indifferent mask slipping back over Sherlock’s face. The one he used with most of the other Baker Farm staff.

“New season, new sponsor. How do you feel?”

“Good. Ariat is a great backer and we look forward to a good season.”

“Aiming at the Reichenbach Trials by any chance?” Victor leaned forward, scribbling a few things down on the open legal pad on his lap.

Sherlock gave a tight smile. ”If the horse is ready and the timing is right, it looks to be an excellent competition.”

“And of course you still have a few shows before the points are calculated and competitors announced.”

“Of course, the season for us has only just begun.” The tension was back in Sherlock’s shoulders and he had twisted his fingers together in his lap. Neither he nor Victor paid any mind to John.

“And so far you’ve only entered nine shows, correct?” There was a slight tone of judgment beneath the question and John automatically felt his hackles raise.

“Yes, Reichenbach would make ten.”

“If you make it.”

“If we make it.”

 

“What the hell was that?” John asked, forty-five grueling minutes later. Victor had pounded at Sherlock, asking for every tiny detail of their show schedule, training routine, he’d even asked about John like John wasn’t sitting right there in the room. The entire thing was decidedly off and John could feel his fingers clenching at his side as Sherlock lead them from the hotel and towards Hyde park.

“He’s freelance, John.”

“That doesn’t make any of it okay. What the hell was he angling for? It’s bloody “Horse and Hound” for Christsake!”

“I appreciate your willingness to jump to my defense, but it’s fine, John.”

“Stop pretending that it is though,” John hissed, dropping his voice as they passed a gaggle of tourists clearly looking for Buckingham Palace. “You two obviously know each other. That was personal.”

Sherlock stopped walking, John nearly tripping when he realized it and spun around to face the taller man. “Yes,” Sherlock said, voice steady and eyes focused somewhere above John’s head.

“Why?”

“Because Victor Trevor is a sniveling bottom feeder who has resented me and my career for the past ten years.”

“What? Why?” John hadn’t even heard of the man before, much less known about a vendetta against Sherlock. The professional world got rough, by there weren’t exactly blood wars.

“Because I always had better horses, placed higher than him at every show, and because I left him to pursue my professional career just as his bottomed out.”

The words took a moment to sink in. “Wait. You two…dated?”

Sherlock sighed, finally dropping his eyes to John’s. “Yes, John. If that’s what you’d like to call it.”

“What else would it be? You said you left him. And that you had very little experience with relationships.”

“Congratulations, your listening skills are on par.” Sherlock begin walking again, hands once more in his trouser pockets and long legs striding so fast John could hardly keep up.

“Hey, wait,” he said, grabbing Sherlock’s arm until the other man finally halted.

Sherlock frowned down at him, almost daring John to mock him. John felt the words die in his throat. Sherlock thought he was going to accuse him. Why on earth would Sherlock think that?

“You were teenagers.”

Sherlock nodded. “We rode the circuit together.”

“Was he your first?”

Sherlock swallowed and looked at John, eyes flashing to bright blue.

“And since then?” John asked, voice nearly a whisper. He kept his hand on Sherlock’s arm, anchoring him there. Sherlock didn’t move his eyes from John’s.

“The work is more important.”

“Oh, Sherlock.”

The rider pursed his lips and turned his gaze to the side, watching as couples and groups walked down the paths, stopping occasionally to snap photos. John let go of his arm, moving one hand up to gently cup Sherlock’s cheek. The curly head snapped back at the touch, instantly locking eyes with John, who smiled before pulling their lips together. It was delicate, soft, just a chaste press of lips to lips, but Sherlock’s shoulders dropped and he slid one hand to John’s hip, warm even through John’s jeans.

“Today was not supposed to be about Victor.”

“What was it supposed to be about?” John asked, falling into step with Sherlock as they continued walking, perhaps a bit closer than before. John couldn’t stop his eyes from darting around them, checking to see if anyone had noticed or photographed the quick kiss. Equestrians were nowhere near as famous as most other athletes, but one never knew and bad press hurt everyone.

Sherlock gave a faint smile. “Getting you off that bloody farm. Do you ever leave?”

“Oh, that’s rich,” John laughed, knocking his shoulder into Sherlock’s.

Sherlock’s smile was real this time. “Hungry?”

“Starved.”

Chapter Text

“Oh my God, Sherlock, you can’t honestly mean you want a roll in the hay.

“And what would be wrong with that?”

Sherlock had cornered him, again, when John had been sent up to the hayloft to toss down a few bales. Sherlock had, of course, snuck up behind him and grabbed his hips right as he’d dropped the first bale down, spinning him back around and pressing him against the stack of hay against one side of the roof.

“Apart from the crippling embarrassment and my inevitable sacking if we’re found? Well, it’s damn uncomfortable and itchy, for one.”

“Well then,” Sherlock growled, pulling John closer and moving his lips so they whispered across the shell of John’s ear. “You’ll just have to be extra quiet.”

John gulped, closing his eyes to try and concentrate on all the reasons this was a very, very bad idea. Unfortunately, closing his eyes only made the wet tongue trailing behind his ear and down his neck that much more distracting. “And the itch problem?” he gasped.

“Best to keep you on your feet then,” Sherlock said, his voice low as his hand slid beneath John’s shirt. The fingers were gentle, but John could feel the calluses from hard-mouthed horses and hours of grooming. He was actually shocked to find them there. They matched his own.

“Jesus,” John moaned. He needed this job, he reminded himself. Needed…oh God…needed…something. It would fine. Yeah. Just a telling off.

“Shhh,” Sherlock whispered, covering John’s mouth with his own and capturing the feeble sounds of protest.

A strong hand quickly took care of his belt and had the zip of his jeans down before John’s brain had caught on to what was happening. The warm fingers reached below, wrapping themselves around John with a teasing tug.

If Sherlock’s mouth hadn’t been around his own, John was sure the entire stable would have heard his moan.

“I thought,” he whispered, pulling back slightly though his hips pushed forward as Sherlock’s steady hand stroked up and down his cock, “you didn’t like distractions the week of a show.”

“Distractions, no,” Sherlock said, twisting his fingers over the head and John felt his knees go weak. It was pathetic, really, how close he was. Though he’d been half hard since seeing Sherlock walk into the barn that morning, so it wasn’t entirely a surprise. “You, yes.”

John didn’t even try and compute what that meant as Sherlock gave a particularly practiced tug and John groaned with the impulse to rut against the man’s hand. Instead, he pulled Sherlock as close as possible, burying his face in the warm neck and wrapping one hand in the tight black curls at the nape of Sherlock’s neck.

Another thirty seconds and his gut dropped as he came, gasping silently into Sherlock’s neck as he felt himself spill over the other man’s hand. He panted, trying to remember where he was even as his brain still floated in a warm cloud of post-orgasmic bliss. He was so getting fired if this ever got out.

A moment later he felt a soft towel wiping away the evidence of the past few minutes. He pulled in a breath, forcing it out evenly as he opened his eyes. Sherlock was watching him, wiping his hands with the towel. John gulped and righted his clothes, making sure to check that he was still presentable.

Sherlock stepped past him, tossing the soiled towel into one of the laundry barrels by the stepladder. He turned back toward John, looking for all the world like he hadn’t just gotten John off in the hayloft in the middle of the day. “Problem?”

“Uh,” was all John could manage to reply. Sherlock didn’t seem in any way to be expecting a return of the favor, but then again, John could never actually tell what Sherlock wanted.

“Don’t worry,” Sherlock replied, the corner of his mouth quirking up into a smile, “I’m in no need of your services at the moment.”

Right. Well that answered that question.

“I’ve a lesson with Mrs. Hudson in an hour. Do see that Elmer is tacked up, would you?”

And with that he spun around, easily dropping down the ladder and disappearing from sight.

How John had actually managed to get his chores done over the past few weeks he didn’t know. Hand jobs in the hayloft? It sounded like a bad porno.

With a heavy sigh, John tossed down the remaining few bales of hay and climbed down the ladder, looking around to see if anyone had noticed Sherlock up there with him. The few people in sight seemed busy with stalls and horses, and no one made any comment if they had noticed what was going on above their heads.

The baling twine dug into his fingers as John hoisted the bales where they were stacked in the corner of the feed room. Janine nodded at him as she walked by, speaking with one of the lesson riders. John hadn’t met too many of the other clients, but he did spend most of his time in the boarding barn, so that wasn’t too surprising. He followed the two women out of the barn, beginning to head out to Elmer’s pasture before their conversation stopped him.

“But he can’t hog the whole ring.”

“I’m sorry,” Janine said, “but he’s a paying client just as yourself.”

“Yes, and the rest of us give a head’s up rather than ordering everyone to get out of our sight!” the older woman huffed. John didn’t have to think too hard before knowing just who they were talking about. “Look,” the woman continued, “I know he’s a big name or whatever, but that doesn’t give him an excuse to be an arsehole to the rest of us.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Janine said, shaking her head as the woman stomped away.

“That a member of Sherlock’s fan club?” John asked, stepping over to her.

“Ha ha,” Janine said, waving and smiling as the woman turned around to glare once more. “Guess your boy has chased away another.”

“She quit lessons?”

“Not quite, but she sure isn’t happy.”

“Well, Greg won’t like to hear that,” John said.

“Nope, so have fun telling him.” Janine smiled and patted his back before taking off back into the barn.

John shook his head and continued out to the fields, Elmer’s leather halter over his shoulder.

The great dapple was, of course, at the furthest point of his pasture and, naturally, had rolled in mud about six times. He looked very pleased with himself when John found him and had to cover his face with his hands for a moment. Elmer nickered.

“Thanks ever so much,” John said, fastening the halter behind the white ear.

The great mud battle took up nearly an entire hour and John was still tacking up when Sherlock came striding into the barn, impatiently tapping his riding crop against his boot.

“Come on, John.”

“Working on it.”

He’d barely fastened the bridle before Sherlock took the reins from his hands and pulled Elmer out toward the arena. Show week, John had to remember. Because somehow that gave Sherlock an excuse to give out hand jobs in the morning and snap at everyone who moved in the afternoon. God help them all.

John was only halfway through mucking his first stall when Mycroft leaned against the door, helmet held daintily under his arm and his white breeches pressed to perfection.

“I do think you could try to be less of a distraction.”

“Bugger off,” John huffed under his breath.

“As a paying client here, I will pretend I did not just hear that.”

John stood straight, one hand still on the pitchfork and the other on his hip, looking at Mycroft head on. He really wasn’t in the mood for the elder Holmes’ cryptic remarks. “What do you need?”

“I am quite positive that you heard me. Sherlock must earn 15 points to be eligible for the Reichenbach Trials and he won’t be able to do that with the way he’s riding.”
“Pretty sure that’s his problem, not yours,” John said.

Mycroft curled his lip. “You are a distraction.”

“I’m his groom.”

“Yes,” Mycroft said, eyes glancing over John before swooping away again.

Great. Another very supportive lecture. John rather prided himself on not giving too much of a shit when talked down to, but something about what Mycroft had said rattled him. Sherlock wasn’t riding well enough? True, John had only watched a few of his workouts recently and they hadn’t been the best ride, but they surely hadn’t been as terrible as Mycroft was suggesting. Curious, John set the rake against the stall and walked out to the jumping arena, careful to stand on the opposite side than what Sherlock was using.

He and Elmer seemed to be tackling an in and out line, Mrs. Hudson standing in one corner as Sherlock cantered around to take the line. Elmer chipped in the first fence and barely made the second, trying to throw in half a stride before take off. Even from across the arena John could see Sherlock grit his teeth and give Elmer a sharp kick as they rounded to take it again. The second line was only slightly better.

Interesting.

John turned back to the barn and finished his stalls, wondering if Sherlock would say anything after the lesson. He was usually rather eager to talk shop, discussing the tiny nuances of each horse he rode and how he could tell that Elmer had slept on his side or standing up and whether he preferred a long warm up or a short one.
It didn’t seem that today was a chatty day.

“How’d it go?” John asked, as he always did, when Sherlock and Elmer entered the barn.

Sherlock merely grunted and tossed the reins to John, spinning on his heal toward the boarder’s lounge.

“Okay then.” John turned to Elmer but the horse merely looked at him, still warm from the workout.

John still hadn’t seen Sherlock by the time he’d cooled Elmer out and put him back in his stall. He stopped to say hello to Molly as she was tacking up and helped one of the students with an ornery pony when the student couldn’t reach to bridle. And then he saw Mycroft come out of the boarder lounge and immediately made a beeline for it.

He knocked once before stepping through the slightly open door. No one else was around, no doubt because Sherlock storming in had scared them all off, and Sherlock sat at the little kitchen table on his phone. John pulled out the chair beside him and sat down.

“Moriarty’s already won five points.” Sherlock said, not looking up from his phone.

“They did start the season two weeks before us.”

“And Adler will be at the show this weekend.”

Sherlock would have sounded bored to anyone else but John could hear the uncertainty beneath his otherwise monotonous tone. “We’ll beat her,” he said.

“Not if we continue riding the way we have been.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“I highly doubt it.”

“Come on, you know a ton of riders go like shit before a show and then win every class the day of.”

“Honestly, John, that’s not the way things work.”

“Nerves get the best of everyone sometimes,” John said, ignoring the last comment.

“Please. I don’t get nervous.”

“You’re human,” John said.

“I’m ranked fifth in the nation, I don’t. Get. Nerves.” Sherlock growled at him, still not looking up from the phone in his hand.

“It is allowed, Sherlock.”

Sherlock looked up, eyes burning a fierce blue. “What do you even know about it? Your career was ended before it started John. And Christ, even if you hadn’t gotten that horse killed, you still wouldn’t have had the ability to even compete near the A circuit.”

Silence.

“I’ll ask Janine if she can sub for me this weekend. I’m sure she’ll be much more helpful.” John stood from the chair and walked out of the room.

Chapter Text

John hadn’t thought about the accident for months. Well, other than the occasional lapse where it crept into his thoughts and nightmares. But still, he’d been making progress before he quit therapy and moved out to Baker.

So having it thrown back in his face in the most scathing of voices from a man he’d recently considered letting himself fall a bit in love with was not his idea of coping.

Now it didn’t seem he had a choice but to think about it. It was long enough ago – nearly a year and a half now – that the wounds had healed, but the memories stayed fresh no matter what he did. It was hard to forget a competition, much less one that saw you losing your partner in front of 300 odd people. And John knew, no matter what others said, that it was entirely his fault.

St. Bartholomew was the best horse John had ever ridden, Pip aside. The little grey was gentle and patient and, despite his young age, had never failed to put in a good training session. Bart, as he was known around the barn, had even given a few lessons to the odd niece or nephew of his barn mates at Northumberland Stables and had been gentler than the oldest schoolmaster. The gelding was only 15 hands, but John had steadily ridden him up through Training level within a few years and the two were handily placing at each event they attended. Northumberland owned the horse, but Sebastian Moran, the stable owner and head trainer, had kindly let John take over the horse’s training.

And then they’d gone to Iping and it had all gone to hell.

John remembered the fence, of course. It was the twelfth jump of eighteen. They were ahead of time, Bart was jumping cleanly, and John felt more secure in the saddle than he had for months. The jump was a double bank. Simple enough: down and out. It was open, most of the people there to watch milling about the small clearing it was in with jumps eleven and thirteen visible as well.

It was a bank. Just an easy drop, two strides, up and out.

But they never made it out.

The drop was fine. John stayed centered and Bart collected, picking up the pace as his ears flicked toward the up bank. It wasn’t too high, but John sunk his heels and added leg, encouraging the little gelding to use his head. One stride, two, and Bart was up, John already out of the saddle to give the horse his back. But then a front leg dropped and the back end didn’t come up behind them and the motion stopped, John and Bart flipping over the fence as the grey’s leg caught and snapped. John was thrown clear, Bart landed on his neck.

It was instant, the vet said, after the emergency trailer had sped over and volunteers held up drop cloths to shield the crowd. John vaguely remembered hearing the whistle as the event was stalled and a doctor jogged over to him, checking over his head and limbs. John was sore. Fine, but scratched and bruised. His horse was dead.

There hadn’t been anything there. They had impulsion, they were both focused. There was nothing there that made sense. Nothing that should have caused such a horrible fall. It was a simple bank, not even three feet tall, and there was nothing to snag on. And yet.

No matter how many times John replayed the image in his head, he couldn’t quite figure out what he’d done wrong. Too close? Too far? Had they not had enough impulsion? Was the ground slicker than it had been when John had walked the course? Had he missed something, some trap?

It didn’t much matter, honestly. He watched them drag Bart into the trailer and was escorted off the course by the event doctors. He didn’t remember the rest of that day but he’d woken up the next morning in his hotel room with twenty missed calls and a list of the new event standings. John and Bart had been scratched.

John’s apartment at Baker was much the same as the hotel room. He dropped into bed now, purposely settling into the middle. He had pictures of Bart, just as he had some of Pip, but he hadn’t bothered to put any of them out. They were all in a box, somewhere in Harry’s flat, and he didn’t intend on seeing her anytime soon.

He tried not to think too much about what Sherlock had said. John had already been over everything on his own. Of course he felt responsible, of course he doubted his ability to do well in competitions. Of course he fucking hated thinking about it. But damn it all if he wasn’t doing his best.

He couldn’t leave. Not now. He didn’t want to. Sure, he had zero desire to see Sherlock anytime soon, but this was still his job. He should have known better than to start anything with the eccentric rider. That would have been best. It was advisable now that he left the farm, but he had only just arrived and he rather liked it here. He liked the people, liked the horses, and dammit he wanted to see Sherlock do well.

Besides, it wasn’t like the man would recommend him to another rider.

So he was stuck here. And he would make the best of it.

Of course, he had no idea how to do that.

Staying away from Sherlock was probably best. They could still work together, still be cordial. John could care for Elmer and Bachelor and the rest without needing to see Sherlock every waking second. He was just glad he hadn’t taken up Sherlock’s offer to stay in Mrs. Hudson’s house…

So he would try and forget. Well, maybe not forget, but he would try to ignore it. Try to do his job. He owed that much to the farm at least. Besides, it wasn’t like Elmer had pushed Sherlock into John’s apartment that night. And John couldn’t even claim to have been drunk.

But it would get easier. Easier to ignore Sherlock when the kisses and the touches in the barn stopped. Easier when Sherlock didn’t knock on John’s door at night or John found his way up to the house after a training ride.

Right. Forget it all. Move on.

Because of course whatever this tender, delicate thing was between them, trust Sherlock Holmes to go and fuck it all up.

 

Sherlock didn’t speak when John loaded Elmer into the trailer. Janine had agreed to take over that weekend, thankfully not asking John for detail, simply taking his offer to give up his next days off for her. She finished loading the truck and came around to the side, taking the leadrope from John.

“Anything else I need to know?” she asked.

“If he gets stressed he won’t be too interested in eating. Sometimes he’ll hand feed, but make sure he gets grass,” John said.

Janine nodded. “And anything about the other one?” her eyes darted to Sherlock where he was speaking with Greg at the entrance to the barn.
“He can take care of himself.”

John helped Janine double check the truck and trailer before heading back toward the barn, almost eager for four days without Sherlock around. It seemed, however, that the man wouldn’t leave him in peace.

“John,” he said, holding up a hand as if to stop John when he walked past him.

John halted and glared, watching Greg leave out of the corner of his eye. Thankfully, Sherlock didn’t dare touch him.

“I…” Sherlock began, eyes dropping to the ground as he stuffed both hands into his pockets. He opened and closed his mouth for a moment before finally looking up, eyes looking just past John’s ear. “Any advice?”

“Eyes up, heels down,” John said before spinning on his heel and heading back down the barn aisle. He waited until he heard the truck pull out of the drive, followed by the deep purr of Sherlock’s Jaguar, before he let out his breath.

God bless Greg, he seemed to have warned off the rest of the staff as not a single one asked him why he wasn’t going along. Anderson nodded at him as he picked up Janine’s stalls but didn’t say a word.

Right.

Now how on earth were things supposed to go back to normal?

 

The barn was quiet. Molly was training for her own upcoming competition and rode every morning at dawn. There were lessons and training rounds and John even saw Mycroft taking out one of his greys on Saturday. Greg remained in his office and Sally had the weekend off.

John found himself looking at the house whenever he was outside. It remained dark, Mrs. Hudson joining Sherlock for the weekend show. They wouldn’t be back until Monday.

And what happened then?

John’s anger faded a bit as they weekend passed. He was still upset, and rather rightfully so, he felt, but the boil of aggression had settled to a simmer. Instead he began to wonder why Sherlock had said it. What right did he think he had? True, Sherlock didn’t handle self-doubt well at all, and John wasn’t surprised that he’d lashed out. But going that far? Something must have gotten to him.

But upset or not, bringing back the traumas of John’s past was not exactly the mature way to handle things.

John was still mulling it over when they returned, trailer spinning gravel as it pulled up the drive and Janine expertly backed it up. Sherlock saw the Jag pull up closer to the house and continued spreading shavings in Scarlet’s stall.

“Fair all right, then?” he heard Anderson ask, going out to help unload.

“Not bad,” Janine replied. Not first then.

“Is our wonderboy number one yet?”

“Getting there.”

Then there was the sound of iron on steel as Elmer was backed out, unsure about the last step and jumping sideways rather then stepping back. John heard doors being slammed and the scuff of boots and horseshoes as Elmer was led back in to his stall, thankfully on the opposite side of the barn.

“All right, John?” Janine asked when he met her in the tack room. She was just sliding Sherlock’s covered saddle back into place.

“All fine here,” he said, pulling out a fresh supply of bit wipes to clean the schooling horse bridles.

“He came in fourth and third.”

“Mmmm.”

He could tell that Janine was looking at him, but willed himself to keep his eyes down. The apple flavored wipes smelled strong and he polished off bits of grass and dried saliva from the snaffle. Finally she left and John moved on to the next one.

Mrs. Hudson found him as he was coming out, just heading back to his apartment for a bit of lunch. “John, dear, are you all right?”

“Fine, Mrs. Hudson. I hear the show went well.”

“Not well enough for Sherlock,” she said.

“A bit more practice, eh?”

“John, you haven’t been up to the house all week.”

“You were gone four days, Mrs. Hudson.” John kept an eye on the barn entrance, hoping that Sherlock had already gone back up to the house.

“I mean before that, dearie. I may be old, but I’m not blind. There’s a reason Sherlock rode poorly this weekend.”

“We all have off days.”

“Not Sherlock.”

“Well isn’t he perfect,” he snapped before he could catch himself. Mrs. Hudson didn’t look too offended though, just gave him a pointed look.

“Fix it, is all I’m saying.”

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s not about the riding, John.”

“I’m sorry, I thought that’s what we were discussing.”

“You’re not a fool, John. You know perfectly well what I mean.”

The repetition of his name made him feel small, as if his mother were haranguing him again. He looked at her and gave a slight nod but didn’t both to reply. Mrs. Hudson stared at him a moment longer before turning toward Greg’s office.

“Oh and John? Do get on Silver Blaze again. He quite likes you.”

John saluted her as she walked into the office and disappeared from view. Had his boss just ordered him to fix his own break up? Was it even a break up? John groaned and stepped into his apartment, dropping to the single chair and slumping. Elmer would probably have the day off tomorrow, or at least light work, so John doubted that he would need to do much more than groom and tack up. But that still meant seeing Sherlock. Sherlock who, apparently, was now riding like shit because of John. Great.

Chapter Text

“It wasn’t you, bud, I’m sure you did your job just as he asked,” John said, giving Elmer a pat as he dumped the morning grain into the feed bin. Elmer immediately stuck his head into the bucket, crunching the grain.

John traded the feed bucket for the liniment wash he’d brought. He’d done Elmer’s whole body the night before, but the horse still looked stiff coming in that morning and, calm as he was, John went about his job without bothering to tie the horse up.

“He still stiff?”

John was no longer as startled by the sudden appearance of Sherlock, but he couldn’t help but bite his lip at the intrusion. He wasn’t exactly in a chatting mood this morning.

“A bit yeah. I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“I suppose he should get the day off.” Sherlock stood at the stall door, leaning against the frame. Elmer turned to look at his rider before dropping his head to lick up the last of the grain.

“You’re the boss.”

John continued to rub down Elmer’s legs, the sponge splashing in and out of the bucket for a few minutes before John stood and gave the horse a pat.

“John.” Sherlock still stood in the doorway, blocking John’s exit. “I…I apologize. For the other day.”

“Oh?” John, not wanting to push Sherlock out of the way for fear the man would stop him, set the bucket down and went back to Elmer, running his fingers through the thick mane to check for ticks or dandruff.

“It was…horrible of me to say and I am sorry.”

The words were stiff and John doubted that Sherlock was very familiar with apologies, but it was sincere, that much he could tell. “Thanks,” he nodded.

Sherlock looked down for a second but met John’s eyes when he turned from Elmer’s mane. “I…he was short on the last fence of our first course and struggled with the in and out. Any suggestions?”

“You want me to give you training tips?”

Sherlock swallowed, clearly fighting with himself. John allowed himself a moment of smugness before settling back into wariness. Sherlock asking for help…that was unprecedented.

“Well, it sounds like he’s losing stamina. Take him out for a few gallops, trot him up and down the hills past the arenas.”

“Right. Yes.”

John nodded and grabbed the two buckets, steeling himself to walk past Sherlock. He had the rest of his lot to bring in and feed.

“John—“

John paused before Sherlock, watching as the rider’s hand twitched. Finally Sherlock stepped aside, hands in his pockets.

“Do you need Bachelor ready today?”

“If you are still willing to act as my groom.”

John sighed and looked at Sherlock, waiting until the other man met his eyes. Sherlock looked like he was in pain. “Of course I’m still your groom. What time do you need him?”

Sherlock let out a breath. “At three, if you could.”

“Sure thing.”

“Thank you.”

John nodded and turned back to the feed room.

When Sherlock returned at three, John stood with Bachelor, acting more as his alter ego Dick today, in the barn aisle, just finishing the Friesian’s polo wraps. Sherlock hadn’t come back to the barn since he’d stopped in that morning and he gave John a tentative look as John stood and undid the cross ties.

“Thank you,” Sherlock said quietly as John handed him the reins. Their hands barely brushed but neither said anything, Sherlock looking away and John tried to ignore the tingle it sent down his entire spine.

“Have a good ride.”

Horse and rider walked out to the dressage ring, the light drizzle not enough to bother them. John watched until Sherlock mounted, long legs easily falling into perfect position as he settled in the dark saddle.

“Haven’t heard him scream once today,” Sally said, stopping by John at the barn entrance.

“Guess he’s learned that adult tantrums aren’t quite as endearing,” John replied, leaning down to scratch the barn cat’s ears when he heard the mewing of the little ginger.

“John…Greg said not to ask, but what happened with you two?”

John stood up, the cat rubbing at his legs before trotting away. “I thought Greg said not to ask.”

“And yet I am.”

John gave a soft chuckle. He really did like Sally, even if she wasn’t Sherlock’s biggest fan. “It’s nothing.”

“So much nothing that you skipped a show and had Janine go in your place.”

She had him there. “Look, it was just…”

“You know you can stop pretending, the entire staff knows.”

“Knows what?” he asked, looking over at her.

She gave him a pointed look and he pulled his ballcap further down his face, fidgeting with the fit. “It’s fine. Really. If crazy is what you’re into.”

“I’m not into anything.”

“Mmhmmm.”

“That’s a rather personal question, Sally.”

“It stopped being personal when you started snogging in the hayloft.”

John opened his mouth but had no reply and Sally laughed at him. “Just be careful, yeah? I don’t know what’s going on between you two, but heartbreak has no place in the barn, got it?”

“Heartbreak is a bit of an overstatement—“

“Just remember you’re the one who’ll go first.”

Awesome. Yes, he definitely wanted to be reminded that his job could actually be on the line. He nodded and Sally walked away toward the office. So break off whatever was going on or fix it, those seemed to be his options. He glanced at Sherlock, trotting the flashy horse around the ring, horse rounding toward the bit as they warmed up.

This was his job, but it was also something else. Something more that John hadn’t had, much less wanted, for quite some time. And now that he’d had a taste it seemed important. Something that was…well, frankly good for him. He’d liked the flutter of excitement in his gut when he saw Sherlock enter the barn. He’d enjoyed falling asleep next to a warm body rather than on his own in his cold little apartment. But was it worth it? And would it even turn into something more? John ducked his head guiltily, knowing that it could if he let it. If Sherlock wanted it to as well.

He spent Sherlock’s ride cleaning out water buckets, choosing to use the wash rack out front so he could keep an eye on the arenas. Something made him want, no, need to watch Sherlock. It all felt, perhaps due to Sally’s comments, that it was in his hands, that he was the one to make a choice. It seemed that Sherlock felt that way too, what with his apologies and rather timid behavior toward John that morning.

The rain had stopped but the hose water was cold as John sluiced out the buckets, using an old stiff brush to scrub them clean. He’d rolled his sleeves up past his elbows and his skin had begun to numb a bit with the chilled water. Nevertheless, he finished them all and was just setting the last one out to dry when he saw Sherlock and Bachelor walking toward him.

“How was he?” John asked, stretching his back as he stood.

“A bit ornery, but he settled all right.”

“I’ll take him.”

“It’s all right. You dry off and I’ll untack.” Sherlock led the horse past him, heading toward the wash rack in the middle of the barn.

So Sherlock was untacking his own horses now? Still, John did stop by the lounge to grab a towel and dry off his arms, letting his sleeves fall back into place. It was almost warm enough to lose the sleeves all together, but the spring rain still brought a chilly wind.

Sherlock was rubbing the horse down with a towel when John returned. Without a word, John picked up another rag and joined in on the other side. Bachelor flicked his tail a bit and shook his head, the bullsnaps clashing against the walls.

“Hey now, settle,” John told the horse, resting a hand on the black shoulder as he worked over the damp girth area.

“I’m bringing in a new horse tomorrow,” Sherlock said.

“You’re what?” John asked, startled. He paused, towel falling to his side as he stood straight.

“Lestrade says I can use the stall beside Elementary Solution’s if you wouldn’t mind making it up."

Right. Elmer didn’t usually like other horses on his right, hence why the stall was usually left empty or used for storing hay or bedding. “Sorry, why did you get a new horse?”

“Not for showing,” Sherlock said, not answering the question.

John didn’t push though, knowing better than to be surprised at anything Sherlock did. “Okay, what time?”

“Should be here by ten.”

“I’ll make up the stall tonight.”

They fell into silence again, Sherlock on one side, John on the other. Slowly they got Bachelor dried out and cool, the dark coat gleaming once more. John tossed his towel into the laundry bin and picked up a comb, stepping to the side to brush through the thick tail.

“Are we to continue not talking about it?” Sherlock finally said.

John was tempted to ask about what, but he knew Sherlock didn’t like it when he played dumb. He heaved a sigh and continued working through the tail, gently pulling at the knots to loosen them. He felt Sherlock come around behind Bachelor, dropping his own towel into the bin alongside John’s.

“I…I’ve told you I have very limited experience here but I don’t…” Sherlock closed his mouth, biting his bottom lip. It was odd, seeing Sherlock so concerned about his words where he usually spouted off the first thing that came to mind. But then again, concern was rather Sherlock’s more common expression these days.

“You don’t have to talk about it, Sherlock, you apologized and I appreciate it.”

“Yes, but—“

“I’m still your groom, you don’t have to worry about it.” John worked through a particularly large knot, holding the hair tightly so as not to pull too much.

“It’s not the job I’m worried about,” Sherlock said, almost to himself.

And there was the precipice. The damn cliff John stood on, looking over for a bridge but knowing there wouldn’t be one. What were they to do? Sherlock clearly -and possibly for the first time in his life—felt bad and seemed to care enough to want to fix it. But that was good, right? Just last week that was what John had (secretly) desperately wanted. And now he was faced with it but couldn’t quite make himself jump off the damn edge.

Apologies aside, he didn’t actually know if he trusted Sherlock. He believed his regret to be sincere, he had, after all, lost two classes because of it, but if he’d turned on John simply out of nerves, what would he do if John actually let this play out, actually let himself fall for the man? And did he even want to find out?

“Just…give it some time, yeah?” he finally said, slowly working through the last section of Bachelor’s tail. He let the hair fall back into place, pulling out the strands that had caught in the comb.

He looked up at Sherlock and forced himself to hold the blue gaze. Sherlock nodded and left the wash stall, boots quietly tapping out his steps.

John thought it all over again as he prepared the stall as Sherlock requested. Elmer watched him, clearly unsure of this new use of the stall. But John could only offer the horse a few words of encouragement before he was back on autopilot, spreading out shavings as he replayed everything from the past few months since he’d come to Baker Farms. He had to admit his life here had been better than it had been in years. He had a steady job, a position as groom once more, and he’d found in Sherlock someone willing to deal with his tragic backstory (until using it against him). So what happened next? He wouldn’t give up the position, he knew that. So he ultimately had two options. Break it all off, whatever it was, and remain professional. Or give in to the damn twinge in his stomach and slow burn in his chest and lay it all out.

Yes, great decisions to be making not even four months on.

He tossed and turned throughout the night, still awake when his alarm beeped for midnight checks. He managed to doze somewhere in the early morning but Greg had called another dawn meeting and he had to get his chores done before the new horse came in.

By the time ten a.m. rolled around, John was already sweaty and covered in dirt from the morning’s work. He was just leading Dancing Man and Mycroft’s gelding, Solitary Cyclist, in from the pastures when he saw the truck and trailer backed into the barn entrance. He put the horses away, tucked their halters up, and double-checked his lot’s water before heading over to see just who this new addition was.

Sherlock and Greg stood outside the stall, speaking with a man that John somewhat recognized. Sherlock and the man shook hands and then the stranger headed back out to the truck. John shook his head, figuring he must have seen the man haul before. Greg nodded at John when he reached the stall, slapping Sherlock on the back before stepping away toward his office.

“So who’s this new horse, then?” John asked, stepping up beside Sherlock.

“See for yourself,” the man said, a nervous but somewhat hopeful look on his face. Did he think John would dislike him for adding more to his workload?

John turned to slid open the stall, taking a second to look at the buckskin before gasping. “Pip!”

The horse turned, immediately coming over to John and huffing into his outstretched hand, nuzzling John’s palm as he looked for a treat.

“Hey there, old man.” John gave the horse’s face a rub, patting down the tan neck and trying to hide the smile breaking out across his face. He could feel Sherlock watching him, silent in the barn aisle. John gave the horse a last pat and turned, sliding the door shut behind him.

“You bought Pip?”

“He’s for you,” Sherlock said, clearly trying to gauge John’s reaction. “As apology. I know you can’t afford him on your own.”

“You bought me a horse to apologize?”

“I…yes,” Sherlock said, seeming a bit surprised himself.

“You’re an idiot, you know that?” John said, taking a step forward and pulling Sherlock into a kiss before either could think twice. He felt Sherlock’s hand timidly curl around his waist before he pulled away.

“I take it you’re happy?”

“You clearly have a lot to learn if you’re unsure of that. It’s bloody brilliant, Sherlock.” The rider smiled. “Thank you,” John said, voice quiet.

“I know it can’t negate what I said but John…I need you.”

John looked up at Sherlock, eyes going over the soft curls and delicate lines around the ice blue eyes. He felt his chest tighten and his belly warm. He kissed Sherlock again.

“You’ve got me.”

Chapter Text

They took Pip and Elmer out that afternoon. John knew there was a giddy grin on his face, but he couldn’t be bothered to hide it. Pip was still somewhat excited, looking around at each tree and bush they passed, Elmer walking calmly beside them.

Sherlock didn’t talk and John didn’t have anything to say. They simply remained silent, enjoying the light breeze and bright sunshine, John fighting the impulse to giggle with Pip beneath him once more.

He reached down, patting the tan coat and running a hand through black mane. Pip had always liked to be scratched on his withers; it was where all mothers nipped at their young. Pip dropped his head a bit at the touch, reassured that the small tree beside them was not, in fact, going to leap up and eat him.

They reached the little clearing, the one John had found Sherlock in weeks ago when he’d run off with Dancing Man. Without discussing it, they each dismounted, John letting Pip graze in his bridle despite knowing he shouldn’t. He would have to call Mike later, see if Pip had changed supplements or had any more hock issues. Sherlock sat on the log and John joined him, both watching the two horses sniff at each other before turning to graze side by side.

“I still can’t believe you bought him,” John said quietly, already mapping out Pip’s workouts and whether he should do more dressage or gymnastic work to get the horse into perfect condition.

“I told you that girl would drop him. She didn’t even point out with him, just found another flashy hunter and left.”

John shook his head. “Don’t know why.” Then he shook his head, saying “you didn’t…?”

“Buy her out?” Sherlock asked. “No.”

“Ah.” At least John didn’t have that hovering over him.

“You know, a horse is a bit of an extreme gift.”

“It seemed appropriate.”

John gave a half smile, knowing that Sherlock would see it. He leaned his shoulder into Sherlock’s, just the barest hint of contact, but it was enough.

“Does this…solve things?” Sherlock asked.

John finally turned to look at him. “Solve things?”

“Yes.”

“Are you asking if Pip negates what you said? Because that’s not how relationships work, Sherlock.”

A crease appeared between Sherlock’s brows.

“You can’t just buy me a horse every time you fuck up.” John knocked his shoulder against Sherlock’s, letting the man know that while the initial pain and anger had faded, they still weren’t back where they started. Not that they would ever be.

“I…what else must I do?”

“What do you mean?”

“I know that I hurt you and I understand that it is customary to make an apology…”

John sighed and turned a bit to face Sherlock, keeping one eye on the horses as he did so. It really wouldn’t do for one of them to spook and break their reins at the moment. “But that’s just it…yes, what you said was awful, but that’s not…” How to word this? How to explain to Sherlock, in rather childish terms, what was going on? But did John even know what was going on? It should have been a simple ‘I’m sorry’ ‘thank you’ and move on. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t all right because…”I don’t trust you,” John said. Huh. Now that the word had come to him, it seemed to make rather perfect sense.

Sherlock looked at him, the crease deepening.

“You don’t hurt the people that you care about and you’re…”

“Not too well known for my caring,” Sherlock replied.

John gave a weak smile of understanding. “We’re working on it.”

“Why are we?”

“What do you mean?” Pip jerked at the reins in John’s hand and he gave them a bit of a tug, pulling Pip back within reach. The horse stepped closer, sticking his muzzle into John’s hip, searching for treats in his pocket. “Oi, you’re interrupting, mate,” John said, rubbing the dark nose.

“I mean, why…why does it matter to you if this works?”

“Sherlock, you just bought me a horse in order to keep this together and you’re asking me why it matters?” For a genius, Sherlock seemed a little slow. “Surely this came up with Victor…?”

“Not particularly. He was…well, a distraction when I needed it and competition when I didn’t.”

“I see.” Elmer, noticing that Pip was still digging at John’s pockets, stepped over to join him, both horses pushing their way into John’s space, Elmer’s dark head blocking Sherlock from view. “Piss off,” John said, pushing at them each. “Christ.” Finally the horses dropped back to the grass, clearly let down by the promise of carrots. Well, at least Pip hadn’t changed much.

“He always been that nosy?”

“Unfortunately yes,” John said, scratching at Pip’s forelock.

“John, you have to…” Sherlock shut his eyes for a second, clearly digging up the words for whatever he wanted to say. Emotional unburdening hardly seemed a common Sherlockian event. “You must tell me.”

“Tell you what, Sherlock? I’m not exactly hiding much.”

“I,” he clenched his eyes shut again, face contorting for a moment as he grimaced. “I said I need you and I do. And I’m not entirely sure how to go about keeping you.”

“Sherlock, I already told you that I’m in this thing. Whatever ‘this thing’ may be.”

“That’s it?” Sherlock asked, eyes finally opening.

“Yes?”

“But…”

John finally took pity on the man. “I’m hurt that you said those things but I know you feel bad and I appreciate what you’ve done in return. But if we’re going to keep on trying to make this work, I have to trust that you won’t do it again. That you won’t take it out on me.” He waited until Sherlock met his eyes. “I’m here to help you, not fight you.”

“And you want it to work?”

“Don’t you?”

Sherlock nodded, looking almost like a child as he did so. John smiled at him, making sure that Sherlock saw. “Well then, I think that’s all settled, yeah?”

The corner of Sherlock’s mouth lifted a tad in return and John could still see the doubt in his eyes as his mind no doubt cataloged every single word John had said. Laughing, John kissed his cheek before Sherlock had time to notice. When the rider looked up John stood and held out his hand. “Enough feelings for one day, let’s ride.”

They spent nearly three hours on the trails. They trotted up hills and next to the stream and cantered through the neighboring fields, Pip keeping up with the longer legged Elmer. Still, John wouldn’t race them. Not just yet.

The sunshine kept up throughout the afternoon and the breeze had kept them cool enough that neither horse was too sweaty when they finally made it home. John knew that stalls were waiting and tack had to be cleaned, but he savored the moment, storing it for later.

Sherlock untacked beside him in the wash stalls, each cooling out their own horses before returning them to their side-by-side stalls. Elmer, it seemed, had accepted Pip as his right hand man and didn’t once kick at the stall as he usually would. Hell, he didn’t even pin his ears, simple looked over, sniffing at Pip through the bars.The buckskin seemed just as content with his new friend and John sent up a little prayer of thanks that they’d gotten along.

“Will you come up to the house? After evening chores?” Sherlock asked before he left.

John nodded as he slid Pip’s stall door closed. “I should be finished around nine.”

Sherlock said goodbye to Elmer and made his way out the barn and back up toward the house. John went to the tack room, looking over the notes that had come along with Pip as well as a bag of grain. He was on a different feed than most of Baker used and John made a note on his feed chart to gradually blend the two until Pip was weaned to the other. And more protein, he decided. Pip could do with a few more pounds of muscle.

When he finally finished for the night he washed up and changed into clean jeans and a new shirt before walking up the little pathway to the house. The sun was already setting but Mrs. Hudson had installed solar powered lights along the pathway, not that solar powered lights were ever much good in England. Still, it did make the walk a little easier.

He knew Mrs. Hudson was out, away for the weekend at a clinic, so he quietly slipped in through the unlocked front door and closed it behind him.

“Sherlock?” he called, never quite knowing where he would be.

There was no reply from upstairs so John wandered into the kitchen. It was empty and dark, but from it he could see that one of the living room lamps was on. He turned into the room, immediately spotting Sherlock, curled up and fast asleep on the black leather sofa. Grinning to himself, John stepped over the various stacks of books and clinic DVDs scattered about the floor before sitting at the free end of the sofa by Sherlock’s feet.

He watched the rider for a moment. The dark curls were scattered about his forehead and the frown he often wore was smoothed away. He’d wrapped himself up in a blue silk dressing gown but his bare feet peeked out from under the edge near John’s thigh. He smiled but willed himself not to touch the pale skin, knowing all too well that Sherlock rarely got enough sleep as it was and that the world as a whole would be better off if John didn’t disturb him now. Instead, he looked through the stack of books on the table in front of him, picking up a few to search through.

Beneath a book on equine anatomy and jumping form from the last hundred years, John spotted a familiar cover. He pulled the book out, noting Sherlock’s progress through the little tome. It seemed Sherlock rather liked Tolkien after all.

“It’s not bad.”

John looked over. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“I didn’t mean to sleep.”

“You know you’re supposed to get eight hours a night.”

“Is that so?” Sherlock said, twisting so that he was on his back.

“Although I know you’re not too fond of doing what you’re supposed to.”

“Sleeping’s boring.”

“Right, I forgot.”

Sherlock pulled himself up to sitting, toes still near John’s thigh but not touching. He folded his arms over his knees and looked at John for a moment, hair still looking impeccably styled despite being a bit flattened on one side.

“I don’t like that you don’t trust me.”

“I don’t like not trusting you.”

Sherlock didn’t frown this time, simply looked at John with the same level stare that scared off a number of Mrs. Hudson’s younger students. “Though I’m not tired, I rather find myself in want of a bed.”

John laughed. “A make up shag is usually part of the deal.”

“Good.” Sherlock stood from the couch, dressing gown flowing after him. He held a hand out to John.

They were really going to do this. Really going to try and fix it all and move forward. And John had to trust Sherlock, or at least had to believe that he would grow to trust him. And was it all worth it? Was it really a good idea for either of them? John knew that Sherlock sometimes found him tiresome and in the way and everyone knew that Sherlock was infuriating and almost non-human when he got into one of is moods. But yes. Every part of John wanted to take Sherlock’s hand and follow him upstairs. So he did.

Chapter Text

It seemed that, after his many years on the show circuit, Sherlock had come to expect perfection from everything around him. Unfortunately, that wasn’t how the real world tended to work.

“For Christsake, John, did you not feed him this morning?” Sherlock called, pulling Elmer around in a circle and realigning himself on the little dirt path.

“The horse is fed, rested, and in perfect health,” John replied. “Rider error.”

“I don’t make errors,” Sherlock snorted before kicking the warmblood into a canter and quickly moving up into a hand gallop. Elmer’s dark hooves kicked up dust as they stretched out even further, the dapple’s full gallop truly something to behold. But not, apparently, good enough for his surly rider. John clocked them at 42 seconds before Sherlock pulled up and spun to do it again, Elmer’s sides heaving beneath him.

“All right, break time,” John called. He dropped the stopwatch hanging from around his neck and urged Pip into a trot, ever grateful for the fact that Pip could fall asleep almost anywhere. Dealing with Sherlock was enough, the last thing John wanted to do was worry about his horse.

“No. Again.”

John stepped Pip in front of Elmer, the path too narrow for Sherlock to go around without running into trees. “Break.”

“He can easily make that in 40.”

“Not today he can’t. Let him walk, poor thing can hardly catch his breath.”

Sherlock harrumphed but allowed the horse a loose rein, Elmer happily dropping his neck and plodding forward as Pip pulled up beside him.

“Mrs. Hudson never trained me this way.”

“That’s because Mrs. Hudson taught you equitation,” John sighed.

“Something you could use a bit more of.”

John looked over to catch Sherlock’s eyes scanning his posture and he immediately felt his heels sink deeper without his telling them to do so.

“Oi, this isn’t about me.”

“If I’m to be seen riding with you, I can’t have you look appalling.”

“Thanks. Real nice of you.” John shook his head. “Molly tell you she’s entered the show up near Norwich?”

“Why ever would she tell me that?” Sherlock snorted, pulling his phone out of his pocket.

“Still riding, no technology,” John frowned.

“Says who?”

John sighed. “She’s taking that little prospect mare, should give her a bit of an experience.”

“Mmmm.” Sherlock’s eyes were on his phone, scrolling through some endless page of gossip about Adler or Magnusson no doubt.

With Sherlock distracted, John slowly lead them back toward the barn. He kept one eye on Elmer’s breathing, happy with his recovery time, and allowed himself a moment of quiet to enjoy the day.

Sherlock continued tapping on the phone until they pulled up, slipping the device into his pocket before dismounting with far more grace than anyone should be allowed. John slid down in a bit more of a human fashion and was about to lead the two horses into the barn when Mrs. Hudson called to them from the arenas.

“Yoo hoo, boys!”

“Nope,” Sherlock said before quickly ducking into the barn and out of sight.

John turned to him in confusion but wasn’t able to get a response before Mrs. Hudson continued.

“John, dear, mind helping me out for a moment?”

“Sure, Mrs. Hudson,” John called back. He gave Sherlock’s slight smirk one last questioning glance before tossing both sets of reins at Sherlock. “Untack, would you?” Sherlock frowned at the sudden change in positions but led the horses into the aisle with a soft cluck.

John jogged out to the arena, slipping between two of the wooden slats in the fence and joining Mrs. Hudson at the center of the ring where she was standing with a little girl riding one of the school’s paint ponies. He gave the horse a pat and smiled at the little girl, who couldn’t have been more than seven or eight, and turned to his boss.

“Gracie here is having a bit of trouble with Whiskers and I’m a bit too old to have that conversation with a pony.”

“Oh right? What’s he been doing?”

“We’ve been working over some ground poles and little caveletti cross rails and, well, Whiskers isn’t the biggest fan you see.”

Ah. Right. She needed him to ride the damn thing. Great.

John could almost feel Sherlock’s eyes on him from the barn and he could swear he heard muffled snickers.

“Do you want me to find Sally? She’s a bit lighter than me,” he said.

“Oh, no, dear, you’ll do fine. Just pop him over that line and we’ll be on our way.”

Awesome.

Smiling at Gracie, John watched the little girl dismount and pull up her stirrups. She stepped over to Mrs. Hudson’s side and waited patiently. John wouldn’t even fit in the saddle. But it was clear that his boss would rather he not untack just for a minute of riding. Great. A twelve hand pony. At least his legs might not totally drag on the dirt.

Right. Ride the demon spawn pony over a cross rail or two. He could do that. In a little girl’s English tack. Well, thank God he wasn’t still in jeans. Whiskers turned to eye him, clearly not so sure about having a fully-grown man on his back. John could swear the pony’s eyes glinted red.

Mounting was a matter of settling his leg over the horse rather than hoisting himself up. The saddle, naturally tiny, barely fit half of his arse and he was left to deal with the fact that he was more hanging out of it than sitting within. He gathered up the reins, the pony’s head practically in his lap, and held his feel high enough off the ground that his toes wouldn’t drag down the jump rails.

“Right.”

Knowing that most ponies, by the laws of nature, were ornery little shits who liked nothing more than dumping their riders in the dirt and running away to the nearest patch of grass, John tightened his legs as much as the ill fitting saddle would allow. Taking a deep breath, he gave the horse a nudge.

Whiskers exploded, going straight up into the air rather than forward. Thankfully with John’s added weight, the horse couldn’t get too far, but with a back barely the size of a kitchen chair, there wasn’t much room for John to move with the motion. Gripping harder, he pulled the pony’s head up and whipped him around, the little white nose almost touching his leg before the horse spun out beneath him and into the desired direction.

Until he decided that that was enough and dropped his head to buck.

Bucking ponies were, in one sense, easy to sit. Their head was already rather close to the ground and therefore can’t go much farther, and their legs, being rather short as well, don’t quite have the power that, say, a Thoroughbred on the track might. Still, pony bucks were rather annoying, and John felt no mercy in sawing the bit to get the damn thing’s head back up.

“Quit that,” he growled, almost daring the pony to buck again. It was all a dominance show with ponies. Cocky little bastards.

Whiskers tossed his head into the air but kept all four feet on the ground. John pulled his legs up high to kick the horse again, barely reaching the horse’s barrel. Whiskers, deciding that the kick was enough for a canter, quickly jumped into the gait, John nearly falling back with the momentum before pulling the horse into a trot so jagged and bouncy he was rather sure that even Sherlock wouldn’t be able to bring back the feeling in his crotch. Wincing, he nearly took the bit in his hands, wrenching the damn thing backwards until it slowed to a panting stop.

“You little fucker,” John hissed, making sure that neither the child nor his boss could overhear him. “Step up,” he growled again, giving the horse another kick, but ready for the quick response this time.

They managed nearly half a lap around the arena before Whiskers decided it was time to sit down and stop. Butt nearly sliding across the sand, the pony slid to a halt, tossing his head and shifting from one back foot to the other as John cursed the day Mrs. Hudson decided to buy the deceptively cute Whiskers, now officially known as the Spawn of Hell.

With his neck still stinging from whiplash, his entire body numb from the waist down, and his patience all but gone, John spun the horse in a circle, forcing the little demon into a trot, keeping his heels dug in and his fingers tight around the reins. Let the little shit try anything now, John was ready.

When they made it to the far side of the area, John nudged the pony into a canter, the little stride barely half of Elmer or Pip’s. Barring a near spin out, John aimed the little thing at the line of cross rails and held on even tighter, just praying he could get the pony over and get off before the entire barn came out to record his mighty pony triumph. And Christ, he must look ridiculous: Arse hanging out of a little girl’s saddle, feet nearly dragging in the dirt, back hunched to try and absorb the shock of quick-beated pony strides. And he would never hear the end of it from Sherlock.

Whiskers, clearly deciding that John did, in fact, look ridiculous, and that the entire routine was now beneath his dignity, took the line like a champion, dropping to a trot before circling to a stop in front of Mrs. Hudson and Gracie. Nearly groaning with relief at his survival, John slid off the Spawn of Hell and almost threw the reins at the little girl.

“Bit stubborn, that one,” he said, nodding at Mrs. Hudson.

“Thanks, dearie,” she smiled, turning back to help her student mount.

Well, that had been an adventure.

“Just a head’s up,” John said when he found Sherlock in the washstalls, “don’t ever buy me a pony.”

“But you ride them so well,” Sherlock sniggered, clearly not bothered by the lightning rods John was attempting to shoot from his eyes.

“You didn’t seem too eager to show off your own great skills,” John mumbled. He pulled a stiff brush from Pip’s groombox, taking it to the somewhat damp coat. “At least you’re a human sized horse, aren’t you boy. You’re not a creation of Satan, no you’re not.”

Pip nickered in acknowledgement.

“I should have you ride Scarlet tomorrow…” Sherlock said, grinning as he tossed Elmer’s hoofpick back into his box.

“Ha ha, very funny,” John growled.

“She’s quite the lovely little hunter pony. Should still be doing all right.”

“She’s 27.”

Sherlock shrugged and pulled Elmer out of the cross ties. “Thought we’d walk them out today.”

“Oh, finally accepting that your horse did the best he could?”

Sherlock grimaced for a second but gave Elmer’s dark nose a rub as John grabbed Pip’s leadrope to join them. “I just need points.”

“Which you will get. All in good time.”

“Please don’t start quoting Mycroft, I’ll never sleep with you again if you do.”

“Ugh,” John grimaced, rather nauseous at the mention of sex and Mycroft in the same sentiment.

They led the horses out toward the arena, silently walking them side-by-side until each horse had sufficiently cooled and their coats were dry and soft. By unspoken agreement, they turned the horses back toward the barn, settling them into their stalls and sliding their halters and leadropes back into place on the hooks outside their doors. John quickly scurried back to the washstalls to pick up the saddle he’d been using on Pip. He’d have to buy one for himself, but Greg hardly rode Napoleon and hadn’t seemed to mind when John asked after the saddle.

As if summoned by the thought, Greg stepped out of his office just as John was going past. If possible, his hair looked even more silver and his face was pale, deep shadows beneath his eyes.

“All right?” John asked, pausing with the saddle still on his arm.

“Mmmm, seems Sherlock has scared off one of our clients.”

John winced. Board fees and reputation were the only things that kept barns going.

“Shouldn’t be too long before we’ve a new one knocking at the door. Especially if Sherlock and Molly have winning seasons.”

“We’re working on it,” John said. He lifted the saddle at Greg before slipping into the tack room and setting it down. He trotted back out.

Greg was running a hand through his short hair and staring off down the barn aisle. John followed his gaze to see Sherlock standing before Elmer’s stall, rubbing the grey’s head and no doubt telling him to pick up the pace next go round. “He seems…better,” Greg said. He turned his gaze back to John.

John hummed but didn’t comment. They were doing…all right. At least, neither of them had brought anything up for the past few days. It was, in John’s opinion, about time to just let things be.

“Show in two weeks?”

“Yep.

Greg nodded and waved at Sally when she rounded the corner into the barn. Jerking two fingers towards himself, he got her attention and stepped back into the office to wait for her. Well, that conversation was apparently over.

Retreating back to the tack room to wipe down Greg’s tack, John forced himself to think of the show rather than Sherlock. He’d braid Elmer in the morning but he’d have to pull out Elmer’s shipping boots and helmet, make sure they were clean. The drive was a bit longer and he’d have to prepare hay nets and figure out who was going along as Elmer’s companion. Dancing Man often filled that requirement as he was young and letting him see the show atmosphere without actually showing was a good introduction. He’d have to ask Sherlock.

Still going over his mental checklist, despite the show being almost two weeks away, John finished with the saddle, sliding it back into its appointed rack and tossing his dirty rag into the laundry hamper. He shut the door behind him, nodded as Anderson passed, and headed back toward Sherlock’s stalls.

The rider was still there, this time standing before Pip’s stall. It was the longest time John had seen him just hanging out with his horses and he paused for a second, sure that Sherlock noticed him but not too close yet that he had to be acknowledged.

“You’ve got to be good for him, all right?” Sherlock was saying, rubbing Pip’s ear. “He deserves that at least.” Pip shook his head so that he was rubbing against Sherlock’s hand even harder.

“He’s always loved that,” John said, stepping up beside them.

“You’ve rather let him treat you like a post,” Sherlock replied.

“Eh, he’s spoiled,” John said, giving the buckskin’s neck a pat.

“I think he should join us.”

“For?”

“The next show. Elmer’s grown rather attached and Pip seems quiet.”

John couldn’t stop the grin from hearing Sherlock refer to his horse by John’s nickname. Sherlock frowned for a moment before catching the smile, teeth flashing in a wide grin. It was the happiest John had seen him in weeks.

Chapter Text

Two days before the show found them in the arena, working Elmer through a series of gymnastics. They’d done conditioning for the past two weeks and Sherlock was finally content with the grey’s speed, but still not entirely happy with his scope.

“It’s a hardly more than a cross-rail, of course he doesn’t treat it with respect,” Sherlock snapped, circling Elmer around the arena to take the line of bounces again.

“Doesn’t matter, he still needs to pick up his feet,” John called back.

Sherlock, perhaps finally realizing that John did, in fact, know what he was talking about, didn’t reply but set Elmer up to take the line again.

“Add leg. You’ve got to work too,” John said.

Sherlock squeezed at the base of the first bounce and Elmer tucked his legs up, easily finding the distances between each fence. They came out of the line in perfect stride.

“Told you.”

Sherlock frowned at him but trotted Elmer halfway around the ring before letting him break to a walk. The horse stretched down as Sherlock gave him the buckle. Sherlock kept the horse to the rail and waited for John to walk over and join them.

“You’re braiding before we load?” Sherlock asked.

“Yeah. It’s one less thing to worry about once we get there.”

“Mmm. Thinking we should do a light workout tomorrow. I’ll take Bachelor and Dancing Man out later today though.”

“All three? You worked Elmer pretty hard today.”

“Yes, and he’s prepared. I am not.”

“Pretty sure you’ve been jumping horses since you were a toddler. You’re ready.”

Sherlock huffed at him. “A rider can never be too prepared.”

“Maybe not, but a rider can be too exhausted.”

“I’m fine, John.”

“Of course you are.” John knew it wasn’t worth the argument. Sherlock would work himself into the ground before admitting that he was nervous about a show.

John gave Elmer a pat on the neck before leaving them to cool out. If Sherlock wanted Bachelor and Dancing Man, he’d want them immediately. Perhaps John could convince Sherlock to crash that evening and, heaven forbid, sleep through the entire night. Collecting Bachelor’s groombox, John set to work preparing Sherlock’s next horse.

He had Bachelor ready when Sherlock brought Elmer into the barn, the two men silently switching horses in the aisle before Sherlock returned to the arenas.

“That was a good boy,” John told Elmer, rubbing the horse’s nose as he led him to the cross ties. “Just keep that up this weekend and we’ll be fine.”

Elmer snorted in agreement.

“And be nice to old Pip, yeah? He’ll be jealous he doesn’t get to compete so don’t rub it in, okay?”

The horse clipped in, John set aside saddle and bridle before pulling out the hose. A cold shower and rub down would set Elmer right for minimal soreness the next day. Not that the prancing, hot-blooded creature in the washstall gave any sign of stiffness.

“Now you’re just showing off,” John told him.

Once Elmer was cooled out and returned to his pasture for a few hours, John made his way back to the outdoor arenas. Sherlock was working Bachelor in one half of the dressage ring, staying out of the way of two young riders at the opposite end.

“It’s not like you to share,” John said when he’d reached the arena fence.

“Lestrade did mention something about a boarder leaving.”

“Ah, and we’re listening to Lestrade now?”

Sherlock glared at him before returning his attention to the black Friesian beneath him. The horse swished its tail and John could see the black neck bracing against Sherlock’s hands. “He’s not in a very willing mood today,” Sherlock admitted.

“He is named Dick for a reason.”

“His name is Noble Bachelor. You’re the one renaming all my horses.”

“That’s not true, Scarlet’s just fine.”

“The mare’s retired.”

“Still yours though.”

Sherlock had moved too far for normal conversation and John watched as the steady hands encouraged Bachelor to break over, softening his neck and accepting the bit rather than fight it. It really wasn’t fair that one rider be so damn skilled in so many disciplines. When the pair returned to John’s side of the arena, he nodded back at the barn.

“I’ll get Dancing Man ready in a bit. Need to go over the packing list.”

Sherlock nodded back and moved the horse up into a perfectly collected canter. Damn. John really needed another lesson. Or a hundred.

The rest of the day was a mix of caring for Sherlock’s horses, going over the show checklist, and finishing up regular barn chores. Sherlock rode the next morning and it wasn’t until noon that John could even begin to clean Elmer’s tack. He’d already pulled out shipping boats for both Elmer and Pip and had found the appropriate coolers for each.

Sherlock had remained silent most of the day, as he was wont to do before a show, but he didn’t completely close off as he’d done before. He’d briefly rested a hand on John’s shoulder when he’d passed by and had even managed a tight smile when he’d finished with Elmer in the morning. Still, he’d quickly retreated to the house for the afternoon, not coming down to load his trunk and equipment until after John had finished the evening feed.

“That everything?” Sally asked, shutting the trailer’s tack room door.

Sherlock nodded at her and brushed past John on his way back up to the house.

“He’s always like that before a show,” Sally said, helping John load hay into the back of the truck.

“So I’ve noticed.” They wrapped the bales with a tarp and settled the wheelbarrow and apple pickers in beside them.

Reminding himself that Sherlock was Sherlock and his brush off before turning in meant nothing, John went about final turnouts, shutting down the barn, and setting his alarm for an ungodly hour before gratefully falling into bed.

He was slipping into unconsciousness when the knob on his door rattled before silently swinging open. Sitting up in bed, John turned to the door, waiting for Sherlock to appear. It wasn’t as if someone would take the time to break into his little apartment when there were million pound horses in the barn.

Within a second Sherlock appeared in the dark room, standing out of sight of the thin band of moonlight that escaped John’s curtained windows.

“All right?” John asked, giving up on anger over Sherlock’s lack of concern for privacy and locks.

Sherlock didn’t speak but stepped closer; toeing off his shoes before wiggling out of the jeans he’d slipped on for the walk down. He silently lifted the covers and slid beside John in the bed.

“Looking for a bit of a cuddle then?” John asked, unable to hide a soft laugh when Sherlock slipped closer, wrapping an arm around John’s waist.

“Hmmmm” was Sherlock’s only response.

“Knocking occasionally works.” John settled back down, content with Sherlock beside him.

“Didn’t know if you were awake.”

“So naturally you decided to break in.”

Sherlock nuzzled into John’s shoulder and John found himself with a hand sinking into Sherlock’s curls, quietly running his fingers through the dark hair.

“I need to win tomorrow,” Sherlock said into John’s shoulder.

“I know.”

“Moriarty is supposed to be there.”

“I know.”

They were silent again, John dropping closer to sleep once more and Sherlock no doubt throwing himself into an anxious tizzy about the show.

“Hush, you’ll be fine,” John told him, nudging his nose into Sherlock’s hair for a moment, breathing in deeply. Naturally, Sherlock smelled of expensive shampoo. And boot polish. “Cleaned your own boots then?”

“Despite what you may think I am capable of tending to my own tack and equipment.”

“You never cease to amaze me, Mr. Holmes.”

Sherlock harrumphed and tucked his chin into his chest, nearly curling into John as the arm around his waist tightened.

“Relax. You’ve done this for years. What you need now is sleep.”

Sherlock nodded against him and John could feel the man force himself to take a deep breath.

“Elmer’s ready, you’re ready. Just show up and do what you do best.”

“Had I known you came with a pep talk I might not have hired you.”

“You didn’t hire me, Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade did.”

“You know what I mean.”

“All right, so you might not have hired me, but you’d still be sleeping with me,” John grinned.

“Mmm, you are a distraction.”

“A good one, I hope,” John said, thinking briefly of Victor Trevor before turning back to the man in his arms.

“The best.”

Slowly they both succumbed to sleep, Sherlock all but wrapping himself around John and John not minding at all.

 

In the morning Sherlock all but rolled into the car. Anderson had agreed to drive out with them and was double-checking the trailer hitch and truck while John loaded the two horses. He’d already been awake for hours, braiding Elmer’s mane before the sun had even considered peeking above the horizon. Horses loaded and Anderson pulling out of the drive, John grabbed the two travel mugs from his apartment, locked up, and joined Sherlock in the Jag.

“You do know this car is bloody pretentious, right?”

“Mmmmm.”

John shook his head and handed Sherlock one of the mugs, the rider sucking down nearly half the coffee without even opening his eyes. Within twenty minutes of Sherlock rolling out of John’s bed, they were on the road headed north.

It was nearing mid-morning by the time they reached the show, Anderson pulling the trailer in with the others and John parking the Jag among the line of other over priced (but rather pretty) sports cars.

Each horse twitched its ears and looked around as they were unloaded. Pip held his head high, clearly excited by the show atmosphere.

“Sorry, bud, not your day,” John said, patting the buckskin shoulder. He led the horses to their side-by-side stalls at the far end of the barn. There were already grooms and riders rushing about preparing for the lower divisions. Sherlock had gone to check in and fetch his number and returned by the time everything was set up and the horses were settled.

“Three o’clock,” he said, slipping his number into his coat bag and looking over Elmer. “Time enough to braid his tail?”

“Usual French braid?”

“Should be fine.”

John nodded and slipped into Elmer’s stall, checking how his mane had fared though the drive. Thankfully the long drive hadn’t brought on any swelling and, with Pip in the next stall, Elmer seemed rather calm and ready.

By 1:30 Elmer was braided, tacked, and gleaming. Sherlock slipped into his tall boots and tucked in his show shirt. As per usual, John held on to his coat and crop, slipping a towel into his pocket and snagging a bottle of flyspray and ShowSheen.

The pair warmed up quietly, Sherlock not asking too much from the horse. Elmer and Pip had seemed a little confused when Elmer was tacked and led out and Pip was not. After looking around for his companion for the first few minutes of his warm-up, Elmer finally settled into his job, ears twitching back to listen to Sherlock.

John polished Sherlock’s boots and Elmer’s flank as Sherlock went over the course, quite pointedly not looking at Moriarty, who had stepped up beside them to glance at the course as well.

The Irishman was astride a little black thoroughbred. Delicate and narrow, the horse hardly seemed to have a chest for endurance but Moriarty showed no concern.

“Sherlock, dear,” Moriarty said.

Sherlock didn’t turn, but accepted his coat when John handed it up.

“You know,” the man continued to drawl, “I’m thinking of scratching, to let you have this one.”

“And why would you do a thing like that?” Sherlock asked, still not looking over.

“It makes me so proud to see you win.”

John forced himself to keep his mouth shut, knowing it was better if he didn’t get involved. Still, Moriarty’s sugar-sweet words seemed to slip down John’s spine, making him shudder.

“Seb,” Moriarty called over his shoulder.

A tall blonde man appeared. He was nearly a foot taller than John and twice as wide, face set in a grim smile as his small, dark eyes scanned over them. “Yeah, boss?”

“Do scratch us today, would you? It would so please me to see dear Sherlock here win a few points.”

John ground his teeth as the man, Seb, smiled up at Moriarty before walking off. The little black horse snorted and stomped a hoof.

“Good luck,” Moriarty crooned, giving a laugh before he turned the horse and disappeared.

“Ignore him,” John said before Sherlock could speak.

“I had every intention to.” Sherlock smiled down at him but John could see that it was forced.

Number called by the gatekeeper, John led Elmer over, waiting as the horse and rider before them entered the ring. Elmer rubbed his head against John’s shoulder and earned a last scratch on the ears before John turned to Sherlock, squeezing his knee.

“You’ve had brilliant rides all week, just do the same thing here.”

“There should be a rule against mind games in the warm up ring,” Sherlock said.

“They’re only mind games if you let him in,” John warned, squeezing tighter to be sure he had Sherlock’s attention. “Come on now, did you see that horse? Not sure the little thing has the strength to make it over half of these.”

“It was a bit small,” Sherlock admitted, attention back on John.

“Exactly, and you’ve got big old Elmer here to take care of you. Now, make sure he minds that oxer combination and you’ll be fine.”

The pair in the ring finished their course, their time flashing up on the big screen as a smattering of applause saw them out.

“Eyes up, heels down,” John said, letting go of Sherlock’s knee and smiling.

Sherlock nodded and kicked Elmer into the ring.

Elmer was fast. Clearly their work over the past few months, and especially the past few weeks, had helped. The horse was neat and quick, easily taking the shortened lines and tighter turns that Sherlock asked for. Hooves pounding, Elmer sped over the oxer combo without batting an eye, easily sailing over the water jump and rounding to the last vertical by nearly spinning on his hindquarters. Without even looking at their final time, John knew the pair would be hard to beat.

A few minutes later and his theory was proved correct, Elmer and Sherlock trotting back into the arena to collect their blue ribbon and pick up a neat five points.

“See? Nothing to it,” John grinned, walking Elmer, with Sherlock still astride, back toward the barn.

“The gallops did improve his speed,” Sherlock said, contemplating the ribbon in his hand.

“Well done you,” John told the horse.

It wasn’t until they were loading Pip and Elmer back into the trailer for the long ride home that Sherlock brought up Moriarty.

“I do wonder how it would have worked out had they not scratched.”

“Sherlock, it doesn’t matter. They scratched, you won.”

John checked the locks on the trailer and went to take the keys from Anderson.

“I’ll drive back. I reckon you’ll have your hands full there,” Anderson said, nodding back at Sherlock.

“He’ll be fine. Besides, it’s only fair I take it back.”

Anderson looked back at Sherlock one more time before closing his fingers around the keys and heading toward the truck. “I insist.”

John sighed and walked back to Sherlock. “Come on, you.”

Sherlock managed another ten minutes on the road before bringing up the subject again. “They do have the speed. The horse is light, gets around quickly.”

“So does ours.”

“But if he hadn’t scratched…and why do such a thing. The horse was clearly sound and they didn’t pull a drug test on him.”

“He was messing with you, but it doesn’t matter. We’re five points closer to Reichenbach.”

“Why go all the way to the show?”

“Sherlock, we’ve been over it. It doesn’t matter.”

“But it does!” Sherlock said, rounding on John.

“Why?”

“Because…because it does, John. He’s messing with me, clearly setting out to break me down.”

“So don’t let him,” John said.

Sherlock scoffed, as if it could be that simple.

“You won. You have the points. All you have to do is win ten more and we’re set.”

Sherlock didn’t reply but fell into a sulky silence against the window. Exhausted from the day, John didn’t have it in him to fight. He did wish that just once Sherlock would celebrate a win…okay, they had celebrated that first one, but still. Did Moriarty completely negate any happiness or pride Sherlock might draw from winning that day? And if his current mood was any indication, it seemed a post-win celebratory shag was out of the question. Not that John had much energy to begin with.

Sherlock didn’t speak the rest of the drive back, though he did help unload and followed John into the little barn apartment.

“Staying here then?” John asked, pulling out pajamas and heading toward the shower.

Sherlock looked up, as if just now taking in his surroundings. “I…yes.”

“Suit yourself, I’m having a shower.”

Once John finished, Sherlock slipped past him to take a shower of his own. John caught the little bundle of pajamas he held under his arm, not entirely sure when Sherlock had started stocking his own clothes in John’s apartment.

Either way Sherlock was in whatever mood he was in and John was exhausted and rather happy to see his bed again. Flopping down, he managed to slip beneath the covers, squashing his pillow into the perfect position.

The water in the shower clicked off and a few minutes later Sherlock slid into the bed behind him, hair damp and dripping.

“You know it’s customary to dry your hair rather than getting someone’s bed completely soaked.”

“I need to think.”

“About drying your hair?”

Sherlock didn’t move any closer to John and John didn’t turn over to face him.

“Moriarty.”

“Right. You enjoy that, I’m going to sleep.” John adjusted the covers, too tired to deal with the stroppy rider currently dripping all over his bed.

Chapter Text

The week had been stressful. Filled with endless show results, number crunching, and the constant stream of horses and people in and out of the barns. One of the mares had given birth the night before and John had only managed to snatch quick naps throughout the night and following day but Sally and Janine now had the foal and mare on constant watch and John was relieved from newborn duties. Not that he didn’t enjoy seeing a brand new baby take its first wobbling steps, but the blood and pushing and stress that came before had rather worn him down.

So it was a bit of a shock when John found himself pushed up against the entry hall wall of Mrs. Hudson’s house, pants around his ankles with Sherlock’s mouth around him.

“Jesus,” he hissed, eyes squeezed shut as he wrapped his fingers around Sherlock’s curls, hating how much he wanted to just hold the man there.

“Not quite,” Sherlock laughed against his erection, licking a long stripe up before swallowing John back down.

It was then that John lost the ability to speak. Reduced to moans, he simply writhed against the wall, half encouraging Sherlock and half holding himself up by the fingers twined in Sherlock’s dark hair.

Sherlock growled against him, the vibration sending a ripple all the way up through his spine before seeming to burst across the top of his head, melting downward until John nearly went boneless on the floor. Sherlock had one hand wrapped around John’s knee, the other holding his hips still.

“Christ,” John panted, knowing that if Sherlock let go he would end up as a rather undignified mess on the floor. Not that he would let Sherlock stop.

Sherlock hallowed his cheeks and John nearly passed out.

Forcing one eye open, John looked down at Sherlock, impeccably dressed in a suit and on his knees before John. And God that mouth. John couldn’t think of a love song quite worthy of that exquisite mouth. Damn it all if those Cupid’s Bow lips weren’t perfectly formed for this exact job. But it was then that John met the ice blue eyes, gazing up at him, singularly focused on every nuanced reaction of John’s as he melted against the wall. Sherlock hummed once and John was gone.

Heaven really couldn’t have anything on this.

When John began to descend his cloud of bliss a few moments later Sherlock was still looking at him. Standing now, having tucked John back into his trousers, Sherlock licked his lips and John nearly went off again.

“Where the fuck did you learn to do that?” John panted, unable to stop himself from leaning against Sherlock when the man moved closer.

Sherlock chuckled. “You really don’t want to know.”

Still hazy, John let his mind wander for a moment before abruptly shutting that thought down for another time. Wrapping a hand around Sherlock’s neck, John leaned their foreheads together, still catching his breath and trying to remind his knees how to work.

“Shit, it’s been a long day.”

Sherlock still had a hand wrapped around John’s waist and John felt the hand tighten, slide to the small of his back and press, as though feeling for the tension John knew his tired muscles carried.

“Thus the surprise.”

“Never took you for the surprising type.”

“I’m a man of mysteries, John.”

John laughed and pulled back, watching the blue eyes read his entire week. He’d hardly seen Sherlock at the barn other than to hand off his horses and cool out the others. Sherlock had remained rather mum about Moriarty, though John had seen him stalking the man’s career point total last Wednesday.

“Stay the night?” Sherlock asked.

“Might need to carry me up the stairs.”

Sherlock didn’t end up needing to carry John, but it was a close thing.

John kicked off his clothes, tossing them carelessly to the floor. He snagged a pair of sweatpants from Sherlock’s drawers and grumbled when the bottoms pooled on the floor around his feet.

“It’s really not fair.”

“That I’m of average height?” Sherlock was carefully hanging up his suit.

“You’re at least two inches above,” John said, huffing as he dropped face first onto the large bed. It really was far too comfortable for a man who rarely used it. Sherlock’s earlier invitation to use it anytime was sounding more and more appealing.

John remained on his stomach, smashing his face into a pillow and stretching out his aching limbs. His mind pulled him toward sleep and every muscle felt heavy and magnetized to the floor. He must have drifted a bit because he came to only when Sherlock touched him. John twisted his head on the pillow, watching as Sherlock straddled his back, setting his hands on John’s bare shoulders and feeling the tender muscles.

“When was the last time you properly slept?”

“Dunno,” John mumbled into the pillow. Sherlock had started working his neck, massaging away the consistent ache. John felt himself melting all over again.

“Well you really ought to get better at that.”

“Would be easier if my boss wasn’t so demanding.”

“It’s no wonder your shoulders hunch when you ride.” Sherlock kneaded the offending muscles. “Range of motion is important, John.”

“Mkay.” He was already drifting back to sleep, body sinking even deeper into the mattress as Sherlock worked down his back. Good God if this riding thing crashed and burned Sherlock definitely had a back up career.

Sherlock continued in silence, John slipping in and out of a dreamy state as his body seemed to come completely undone beneath Sherlock’s strong, steady hands. Perhaps all masseuses should take riding lessons, it did wonders for finger strength and control.

When Sherlock had slid back and settled on John’s thighs, fingers skimming John’s lower back, John came to once more, hovering just above consciousness as he craned his neck, trying to see Sherlock’s face.

“Why’re you doing this?”

“Because you’re stressed.”

“Yeah, but…it’s not very like you.” John winced, hoping the words hadn’t sounded rude. He appreciated it, God did he appreciate it, but he was still curious. That was two nice gestures from Sherlock in one night. Had he blown up the barn when John wasn’t looking?

“No, but I’m given to understand that it’s what partners do.”

“You mean you read it online.”

John couldn’t see, but he could tell by the way Sherlock’s fingers paused for a moment before continuing that Sherlock was slightly ruffled. “Perhaps.”

Sherlock finished -John now absolutely refusing to move a single goddamn muscle thank you very much – and laid down next to John, dark curls splayed out on the white pillow.

“I figured I’d…give it a try.”

“What?” John yawned.

“This…boyfriend thing.”

“You already gave me a horse, that was enough of an apology.”

“I’m not trying to apologize.”

John opened both eyes, focusing on Sherlock’s own so near to him. “Okay.”

“I don’t…” Sherlock frowned. Now that the subject was brought up, Sherlock again seemed at a loss for words.

“Thank you,” John said, grabbing his hand and smiling. “I feel much better.”

The corner of Sherlock’s mouth twitched in response and he wrapped his fingers around John’s.

“You know, there’s not a manual you have to follow.”

“I’m aware.”

“So don’t think I’m keeping a checklist or anything. We’re making it up as we go, yeah?”

“I’m really not fond of bouts of spontaneity.”

“I think that surprise in the entryway begs to differ.” John pulled his pillow closer to Sherlock’s, making sure to keep their hands twined between them. As steely as his gaze might be, John knew that one false move would send Sherlock scurrying and backtracking, and that was really not where they wanted to go.

“I’d planned that all day.”

“I’m honored.”

“As you should be,” Sherlock huffed.

“Prat.” John smiled.

Sherlock looked down at their hands as though mesmerized by the connection of alabaster and tan.

“Are you happy?” John asked quietly.

Sherlock looked back up at him sharply. “What?”

“The point of all of this. Of this relationship. You’re supposed to feel happy.”

“I need you.” Sherlock replied simply.

John nodded against his pillow. It wasn’t exactly a yes, but John wasn’t brave enough or smart enough to understand the twisted way that the answer made sense in Sherlock’s brain. Perhaps the two were one in the same for him. Still, John couldn’t help but take note of the lack of ‘yes.’

Sherlock’s gaze wondered back to their hands and John could no longer fight the weight of his eyelids. Squeezing Sherlock’s fingers, he nuzzled into the pillow and slept.

 

John awoke with Sherlock’s head on his stomach, the rider’s hands pressed together and resting on his chin.

“You sleep at all?” John asked, yawning and trying not to stretch so much that Sherlock was jostled.

“Busy thinking.”

“About?”

“Your accident was in Iping, yes?”

John stiffened. “You know it was.”

Sherlock hummed but fell silent.

John forced himself to take a deep breath, running a hand through Sherlock’s hair as he stared at the ceiling. He’d woken up more refreshed than he’d felt in weeks, Sherlock still beside him, and a few minutes to waste before he needed to start working. And now he was thinking about the accident.

“I’d like to go there.”

Staring down at Sherlock’s profile, John frowned. “Why?”

“I’m not entirely sure it was an accident.”

Not an accident? How could it be anything but? Cross-country was dangerous, every rider knew that going in. What had happened to John was a horrific example of just how dangerous it could be.

“What else could it be?”

“Still working on that.”

“But why?”

“Just a thought.” Sherlock closed his eyes and that seemed to be that.

They stayed there for a moment, John forcing his mouth to stay closed, no matter the number of questions near bursting from him. Finally a glance at the clock told him he needed to drag himself out of bed and he nudged Sherlock’s shoulder.

“Work.”

“Boring.”

“Required.”

Sherlock acquiesced, rolling to the side so John could slide out beneath him. The rider went back to his stillness, eyes closed once more as he, for some unknown reason, thought back to John’s accident.

The day found John up to his elbows in soapy water, Sherlock’s little red mare shampooed up and smelling of apples. She stood still, loving the attention and craning her neck as John worked soap into her mane, rubbing away dirt and dead skin.

“Don’t think she’s gotten that much attention in years,” Janine said, setting down her wheelbarrow as she walked by.

“She was due a little TLC.”

“Well we can’t let the big boys steal all the attention.”

Scarlet snuffled as Janine gave her nose a rub. “So, early morning show planning?”

“Sorry?” John set the bucket down, reaching for the hose to sluice away the suds.

“Don’t be coy, we saw you coming down from the house this morning.”

“It’s funny,” John said, “I could have sworn that was none of your business.”

Janine grinned. “You could do worse.”

John shook his head as she walked away. He could absolutely do worse. And, despite Sherlock’s sudden preoccupation with John’s accident, he really doubted he could do much better. Shit.

He rinsed Scarlet and sweat scraped her while the conditioner settled into her tail. But why now? Why was Sherlock suddenly interested in something that had happened months ago? No. Horse. Focus on work. He rinsed out Scarlet’s tail, sprtizing it with ShowSheen and pulling a comb through it.

He put the mare back in her stall after letting her dry out in the sun. She'd grazed quietly and John forced himself to watch the riders working in the ring rather than think about Sherlock.

Of course, that got a bit more difficult when the man himself arrived just as John was sliding the latch on Scarlet’s stall closed.

“I see Janine has been spying.”

John didn’t even bother asking how he knew.

“I sense you aren’t comfortable discussing the accident.”

“Wonder why,” John said. Sherlock was standing in front of him, blocking his way.

“I simply intend to find the truth.”

“Well, standing in the barn aisle in the middle of the day isn’t exactly the place to discuss it,” John said.

“Agreed. We’ll discuss this at dinner.”

“No, we wo—what? Dinner?”

“Yes, we’re going out.”

“Since when? I thought you were spending the next few weeks trying to prove that my accident wasn’t an accident.”

“I will.” Sherlock grinned at him though John sent him a glare. “Though Mrs. Hudson has decided I’m to eat more and you haven’t been off the job in weeks.”
That much was true. John hadn’t taken more than an afternoon off in the past month. But now a date? He and Sherlock didn’t date. They just…were.

“Right,” John said, not knowing how else to reply.

“Good. Be ready by seven.” Sherlock spun on his heel and waltzed back toward the house.

Right. Okay. Surprise blowjobs, massages, and now dates? And Sherlock suddenly investigating John’s accident? John looked around the barn, just to make sure that Sherlock hadn’t actually damaged it when no one else was looking. What else would explain why Sherlock was acting so…normal?

Chapter Text

John wasn’t entirely sure what to do about the whole date thing. He’d done as Sherlock requested though, dressing in a clean pair of jeans and, for once, changing out of his well-worn paddock boots.

At seven exactly Sherlock appeared in one of his perfectly tailored suits.

“Should I—“

“You’re fine,” Sherlock said, ushering John toward the small parking lot.

“Right. Remind me again why we’re doing this?”

“Because you need to eat.”

“Uh huh.” Still, John was, in fact, hungry, and he let Sherlock shut him into the Jag before taking the driver’s seat. “And where are we going then?”

“Little Italian place. The owner owes me a favor.”

“Catch ride a horse for him?”

“No. Proved his wife was doping their horses.”

Huh. That seemed to be the end of the story so John sank back into the leather seat and let Sherlock drive them off the property. They were only a few miles from town and the sun was setting. Brief flashes of purple and pink appeared between the trees as they drove down the main road.

They stopped in front of a little place called Angelo’s and were immediately shown to a table. Sherlock stared out the window as John ordered but eventually turned and ordered something as well when John glared at him. How Sherlock stayed healthy and strong enough to ride a horse on the diet he appeared to be on made no sense to John. Besides, if they were building up Elmer’s strength and endurance, it was only fair they built up Sherlock’s as well.

“You are going to eat at least half of that,” John told him.

Sherlock frowned but didn’t argue. That was something.

“All right, so why did you drag me all the way here?”

“I told you, it’s—“

“No, I don’t want the “How To Date” version, I want you to honestly tell me why we’re here.”

Sherlock looked chastened, playing with the silverware in front of him for a few moments before frowning and pulling something out of his jacket. “It comes out tomorrow,” he said, handing John a magazine.

“The article from Victor?”

“He published it.”

“Published what?” John asked, flipping through the knock-up to find the article.

“Us.”

“What do you mean he—shit.”

Sherlock pursed his lips and turned toward the window, gazing out at the busy street though John doubted he was really seeing much of anything. Right. John knew it was a bad idea for him to attend the interview. Really, who drags their groom all the way to London?

“So.” John said, putting the magazine down. He slid it to the side, not wanting to look at it anymore.

“Yes.”

“Well, I guess it won’t be much of a secret tomorrow.”

“It’s not much of one now,” Sherlock said, still looking out the window.

“It’s one thing for the farm to know, but everyone? Sherlock, millions of people read this magazine; every rider in the world could know!”

Sherlock turned to frown at him as his voice rose. John grit his teeth and forced himself to drop his voice.

“What are we supposed to do?”

“Buy every copy and burn it?” Sherlock suggested.

“Yes, that’ll be very easy with the online edition!”

Sherlock frowned again and John glanced around. So far no one in the restaurant had paid them any mind, but an argument at dinner would certainly catch a few eyes.

“Why aren’t you telling me this at home?” John hissed, sending a glare at the magazine before looking back at Sherlock. “Oh Christ, you did this on purpose.”

“It seemed logical.”

“You bloody dragged me out in public so I couldn’t lose my temper. Brilliant.” John slumped back into his seat, folding his arms in front of his chest. Now he would be forced to sit through an entire awkward dinner before letting Sherlock have it. “You knew that was a bad idea, especially with your ex writing the article!”

“Shhh.”

“No, don’t tell me to shush, it’s your fault.” John kept his voice low but didn’t hold back on the venom.

“Honestly, what’s the worst that can happen?”

John stared at him. The worst that could happen? “I’ll never get another bloody job again.”

“You already have a job.”

“And what do you think Ariat is going to do with this? They don’t back riders with scandals. You know it’s bad for appearance. You’re already hounded enough, now this? People will talk.”

“They do little else.”

“But your reputation, my reputation, that means nothing to you?” It wasn’t that their relationship was illegal in the horse world. Many a scandal followed the sport, but hooking up with your boss was generally looked down upon and people would remember, whether they outright mentioned it or not.

“My reputation? Not a thing.”

“And mine?”

“You already have a job, you’ve nothing to worry about,” Sherlock said.

“And if you lose your sponsors? If they pull out and you can no longer compete?”

“I have a trust fund.”

“Sherlock!” John had to remind himself, again, to lower his voice.

Sherlock turned to him them, fully meeting John’s eyes. Sherlock frowned, dark brows wrinkling his forehead as his eyes darkened. He was about to open his mouth when their waiter appeared, plates in hand.

John sat back, forcing a smile as their food was set down. Yes they were fine with water; no they didn’t need anything else. Unless the waiter had a time machine.

“Eat,” Sherlock said, poking at his food with a fork.

“Not hungry, surprisingly,” John said.

“It would look a bit odd to come into a restaurant and not eat anything.”

“Bastard,” John growled, but picked up his own fork.

They spent the next few minutes pushing food around their plates. If Sherlock’s career fell apart because of this, John would be out of work. Competing at this level was expensive – every last detail had to be accounted for and paid off. There was a reason professional riders had sponsors. No one could afford to pay out of pocket. And it wasn’t as though Sherlock would be noted as the first gay equestrian. But that sort of thing just wasn’t discussed. Equestrians talked about their horses, tack, equipment. The media wasn’t interested in their personal lives, more the feed they chose to use. But this? Having something like this come out mid-season as Sherlock was preparing to go after one of the biggest titles in Show Jumping? Well, it was a bit more than the oft-suppressed, ancient sport was used to. Discretion, that was the name of the game. And Sherlock and John had just blown that out of the water.

“Fuck,” John huffed.

“Yes.”

“Look, I know it’s not your fault…but it is your fault.”

“I’m not sure I understand how that works.”

John set his fork down, looking at Sherlock until the rider met his gaze. “I know it’s too late to ask Victor to pull the article. It’s going to get out and, even though he doesn’t really have solid proof, people are going to ask questions.”

“I’m not going to deny it,” Sherlock said immediately.

John couldn’t help the slight smile. “No, but you have to understand that this sport doesn’t take kindly to personal gossip.”

“I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t riding – I know what happens when these things get out.”

John nodded. “Right. So what do we do?”

“Isn’t that the question of the evening.”

They finished their meal in silence, Sherlock forcing a jovial smile when Angelo himself came over to say hello. They took their leftovers – and a free dessert on the house – and wandered back to the car, neither saying a word as they drove away. It was only when they were back on the farm, back at home, that Sherlock spoke.

“We carry on as before.”

“What?”

“We ignore them. We do our jobs.”

“Sherlock—“

“The only thing people should be concerned about is how well I ride my horses, nothing else.” There was a flash of steel in the ice blue eyes.

“I know, Sherlock,” John said quietly.

They paused outside the barn door. Sherlock glanced down the aisle, watching the dark outlines of horses in their stalls. “It shouldn’t matter.”

“And yet it does.”

Sherlock hummed but turned back to John. “Carry on. That’s the English way, right?”

“Always has been, I suppose.”

“I…might I stay the night?”

John smiled. He was exhausted and knew it would only be worse tomorrow. But if Sherlock wanted to face this, it only made sense that they face it together. “Course,” John said. “I need to check on the foal then I can turn in.”

Sherlock nodded and let himself into John’s apartment as John went over to the broodmare barn. The little bay foal and mother were still in their box stall, though they’d started going out during the day.

“Hey, little man,” John said, letting himself into the stall. The colt looked at him cautiously. To be fair, he was usually surrounded by women. “Remember me?”

The mare came forward, sniffing at John’s offered palm before stepping back, remembering that he wasn’t a threat. “That’s a good girl.”

He double-checked the water and hay, building the straw bedding up a bit more in the corners where it had fallen. The foal watched him tentatively, never leaving his dam’s side. Before leaving, John looked over the mare, giving her a pat before turning to the colt.

He was dark bay, a single white star on his forehead. Through the deep straw, John could see the front left foot, a small white coronet band encircling the horse’s leg leading into the white hoof. John had always liked horses with an odd colored foot. It made them more interesting. Even though Pip and Elmer looked quite regal with their all black legs and feet, the little pink hoof on the foal was rather adorable.

“You’ll be a big boy, won’t you,” John crooned to the foal. He was still wary, but took courage from the fact that his mother had accepted John readily. “That’s right.” The foal reached out his nose, stretching to sniff at John’s leg. The long, spindly legs of the colt tottered a bit as he tried to reach without stepping forward. “Easy does it there, I’ll be back.” He gave the mare one last pat before letting himself out of the stall.

When John returned to his apartment, Sherlock was sitting on the bed, leaning against the wall. “Foal all right?” he asked.

“Fine. Still unsure, but curious.”

“Should have nice conformation once he’s grown.”

“And he’ll be at least 17 hands,” John agreed, sitting down on the bed to take off his shoes. He leaned back against the wall beside Sherlock, neither man making a move to undress for bed. “All right?”

“You ask me that at an alarming frequency.”

“Because I rather doubt you’re asking yourself.”

“It was a mistake taking you to London.”

“All of it? We had a nice afternoon.”

“The interview. I should have anticipated that Victor would be doing the interview, they told me the reporter hadn’t been set.”

“It’s not your fault,” John said.

“I should have guessed.”

“How on earth were you supposed to know?”

“I should have.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“It was a mistake.”

“And now we’re dealing with it.” John leaned against the wall a bit more, head resting closer to Sherlock’s.

“And you want to? Deal with it?” Sherlock asked.

“What else are we supposed to do?”

“Call it off?”

“We already talked about that,” John said, sitting up so he could face Sherlock. “Unless you want to…”

“No,” Sherlock said quickly, grabbing John’s hand. “No, I don’t.”

“Right. And neither do I.”

“So we deal with it.”

“We deal with it.”

Sherlock squeezed John’s hand until John settled back down, allowing their fingers to twine together. He could feel Sherlock settling a bit against him.

“The other night, you asked if I was happy.”

“Mmm.”

“I am.”

John smiled, squeezing Sherlock’s hand tighter. “That’s good.”

“And we’ll get through this together.” It sounded like a question.

“Of course, Sherlock,” John said.

“And we’ll…be okay.”

John shifted again to look at Sherlock. The man didn’t look at him, simply stared up at the ceiling. But then again, they were discussing emotions, and Sherlock was still a five-year-old when it came to those. “Why wouldn’t we be?”

“I want you to come to Scotland with us.”

Scotland? John vaguely remembered Sherlock mentioning something about Scotland before, but of all the places to go it seemed…anticlimactic.

“Every year the farm goes. Well, not the whole farm, just Greg and Molly and some of the stablehands. We take the horses up, spend a few days trail riding.”

“Oh? Your two days a year of vacation?”

“Something like that.” Sherlock finally turned to look at him. “Bring Pip.”

“All right,” John smiled. “And when does this magical vacation happen?”

“Two weeks before the Reichenbach Trials. If we make them.”

“When you make them.”

“Right. When.”

A few days in Scotland, riding about the Highlands. It wasn’t so bad as far as breaks went. Besides, it would do Elmer and Sherlock a world of good to get off the farm for a bit before the Trials. “And where do you stay?”

“There’s an old manor house, one of Greg’s friends keeps a working farm up there. No one else around though.”

Okay, running around a dark Highlands manor house, fires flaring up in the ancient grates as the evening turned cool. Yeah, John could think of worse places to stay. “All right.”

“Good.”

“Good.” John grinned.

Chapter Text

The next morning Sherlock was gone. It wasn’t surprising and honestly, John was rather glad they wouldn’t be seen together first thing in the morning.

John went about his chores, quietly feeding and mucking out stalls, keeping his head down when he brought horses in or took them out to pastures. None of the other barnhands mentioned anything. Not that it was shocking news to them, and hell, they might not know that the news had gotten out.

Sequestered in the wash stall with Noble Bachelor, John began the quiet task of pulling Dick’s mane. The horse snorted at first and shook his head, but eventually eased into the steady rhythm and let John get on with his job. It was a rather quiet day in the barn. Sherlock was going to hack Elmer later that afternoon and only a few other riders were in and out of the barn. It was warm out, but there was enough of a breeze blowing through the barn aisles that the work wasn’t too bad.

John had managed to lull himself into a state of unthinking for a while, concentrating solely on the brush, wrap, pull of his work. He was nearly halfway done with the Frisian when Molly stopped by, leading her chestnut mare out to the ring.

“Lovely day, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Yes,” John agreed. “Nice day for a ride.”

“I, uh…read that article this morning.” Ah Molly, always one for a segue.

“Mmm.” John pulled another inch of mane.

“So you and Sherlock then? Or is that just speculation?”

John turned to look at her. He’d seen the blushing looks she’d thrown at Sherlock, the steady way she always watched him ride. John sighed, almost wishing it wasn’t true just so he didn’t have to hurt Molly. But, most likely, he would handle it with more tact and grace than Sherlock might. “It’s true,” he said, turning back to the horse.

“Oh,” her expression was crestfallen. “Well congratulations then. That’s…good.”

“Thanks, Molly.”

“Right. I’ll…I’m off to ride, then.” She gave him a brief smile before leading the horse toward the indoor ring.

“Always wondered when she’d come to her senses.” John turned toward Janine’s Irish drawl.

“I can’t blame her,” he said.

“No you can’t,” Janine agreed. John smiled. “So then. That’s got out, eh?”

“Apparently so.”

“And I’m guessing not at your request.”

“Name one equestrian who enjoys talking about their personal life.”

“Fair point. But what are you going to do about it?” Janine stepped forward, giving Bachelor’s nose a rub and watching John, though he continued to steadily look forward as he worked.

“Nothing,” he said.

“Right then. I sure hope he makes you happy, John.” He didn’t look up as Janine walked away.

He finished pulling Bachelor’s mane in peace, putting the horse back into his stall before returning to the wash stall to clean up. He was sweeping when he was called to Greg’s office.

Sherlock was there when John arrived, standing before Greg’s desk with his hands behind his back. He was wearing breeches and tall boots, a black Ariat jacket on despite the warm day.

“John, I’d offer you a seat but I’m hoping to make this quick.”

John nodded and stepped beside Sherlock, the rider not looking over at him. John put his hands on the chair in front of him, reminding himself not to grip too tightly.

“I’ll get straight to it—we’ve all read the article.”

“Speculation,” Sherlock said.

“So you’re denying it?”

Sherlock didn’t reply.

“Right,” said Greg, sitting back in his chair. “The farm won’t be making a statement. It’s hardly supported and there’s no need to go into your personal lives. But I do have to warn you to be careful. This kind of gossip can draw the wrong attention and if you lose your sponsors…Well, just be careful.”

Sherlock didn’t move so John nodded when Lestrade turned to him.

“Of course your positions at Baker Farms are by no means in danger. I couldn’t give a toss what you do in your free time, just no…”

“Shagging in public?” Sherlock snipped.

“Exactly,” Greg said, nodding to himself. “Right. Thank you, Sherlock. John, if I could see you about feed schedules?”

Sherlock spun on his heel and John grit his teeth. He knew Greg had no inclination for discussing grain.

“Well?” John asked.

“You’re really going for it?”

“What?”

“A relationship with Sherlock Holmes?”

“What of it?” John sniffed. Greg was a kind boss, and John knew that he’d meant it when he said their positions were safe. But it wasn’t comfortable for anyone when their personal relationships were discussed.

“Nothing, just..I hope it works out for you.”

“Me too.”

“Right. Well then, let me know if I can do anything to help with this weekend’s show.”

“Cheers.” John let go of the chair and turned to follow Sherlock out the door.

Sherlock was waiting in front of Elmer’s stall, watching as the horse munched on his hay.

“Well, at least we’re not being kicked out.”

“Lestrade wouldn’t dare.”

“Maybe not, but he could make it rather difficult to work here.”

“Then we’d leave.”

“We?”

“Obviously,” Sherlock said. He still hadn’t looked at John, but there was confidence in his tone and John couldn’t help but soften a bit when Sherlock assumed they would stay together.

“And where else would we go? Train with Moriarty?”

“As we’re not going anywhere it hardly matters.” When Sherlock finished speaking he finally turned to look at John. His eyes were grey and ever-moving, scanning over John and glancing around the barn aisle behind him. “I don’t know what will happen this weekend.”

“We’re going to win,” John said, reaching out to play with the zipper on Sherlock’s jacket. Sherlock froze for a second before sighing.

“You say that with such confidence.”

“Because I know it’s true.”

“Adler will be there.”

“She looks good in red.”

Sherlock’s mouth twitched and he caught John’s hand in his, stilling the zipper as well. “I am sorry.”

“I’m not exactly sure what you’re apologizing for, so I’ll save that one for later, yeah?”

Sherlock nodded, but they both knew what he had meant.

“You want Elmer ready?” John asked.

“If you’ve time.”

“Of course. Grab your saddle.”

 

The whole scandal didn’t really explode until they’d settled Elmer into his stall at the show just outside York. Naturally, once the photographers and few reporters milling about got word that the Baker Farms trailer had pulled in, their little haven in the middle of the barn was overrun.

John did his best to scowl at the reporters, eagerly watching from a few feet away. They knew better than to come right up to Elmer’s stall, but they’d been placed in the middle of the barn aisle this time, and were surrounded, which didn’t make their neighboring riders very happy. And it wasn’t as though they were swarmed; the five people standing about were pretty par for the course at an event like this. The truly professional reporters remained by the arena, however, faithfully recording the days’ rides.

Thankfully, though, John didn’t see Victor Trevor among them.

“I honestly don’t know what is so exciting about Elmer in a stall,” Sherlock said, fussing with his helmet's straps before setting it down on his tack trunk.

“Well he is a gorgeous horse,” John replied, tossing the grey a flake of hay to help him settle. They weren’t due on course until later that day and had plenty of time to kill.

“I only ride the best.”

“That’s because you’re a rich, spoiled brat.”

Sherlock huffed but otherwise didn’t reply and John grinned, happy that Sherlock at least accepted the truth.

“There’s nothing wrong with pretty horses. Pip is rather a looker if I do say so myself.”

“Well I can hardly have you riding a swaybacked roan.”

“There’s nothing wrong with roans.”

“They look revolting.”

“That’s rude.”

“Just the truth.”

“Uh huh.” John twisted around Sherlock, reaching to check the supplement bin. Sherlock had quipped about John being over prepared, but he would be damned if they were caught overnight without the proper food and equipment for the great horse. Besides, the damn thing was worth more than John’s life as it was.

Sherlock wandered over to Elmer’s stall, watching as the horse munched contentedly. Thankfully, the grey had always been pretty easygoing at shows. “How long do you think they’ll stand there?”

John glanced over at the reporters. They’d stopped taking as many pictures, but were still standing there eagerly, notebooks in hand as if Sherlock and John would start snogging in the aisle. “Dunno.”

“I don’t like them there.”

“They’re the requisite 20 feet back. You know I can’t ask them to move anymore unless it’s bothering Elmer.”

“They’re bothering him.”

“Did he tell you that?”

“I don’t like not being able to kiss you.”

John paused, lowing the groom bag he’d picked up. “Didn’t know you were thinking about it.”

“I usually am.”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

Sherlock frowned at Elmer. “I know I’m a difficult man to…deal with.”

“Very much so, yeah,” John said, placing the groom bag in its proper place. He walked over to join Sherlock before the stall, hearing the click of cameras as he did so. Christ, they’d only been there twenty minutes and already he was over it. “Let’s watch a few rounds. Molly rides in half an hour.”

Sherlock nodded and they left Elmer to his hay, pushing past the few reporters without saying a word. John could feel Sherlock tensing beside him, but the man’s face never changed from his usual calculating, confident expression.

They slipped into the stands mostly unnoticed. Receiving a few looks from fellow riders, Sherlock simply nodded at them and carried on. They settled into one of the back rows, watching the little black mare currently on course.

“Weak back,” Sherlock said, eyes never leaving the horse as she bounced around the lower level course.

“Mmm, never heard of her rider,” John said, pulling the show bill from his back pocket. Sherlock glanced down at it when John offered, but turned his attention back to the ring. Knowing Sherlock, he’d probably memorized the entire list the night before.

They watched the rides leading up to Molly’s, Sherlock commenting on each horse and rider. Most of them had some fatal flaw, a few were even beneath Sherlock’s notice. There were three riders who were "not entirely ghastly” and only one person in the stands turned around to glare at them. John made comments agreeing or disagreeing with Sherlock, asking him to point things out when John didn’t see them.

When Molly’s little chestnut entered the ring, John could see that the horse was fresh. They’d hauled the mare up the night before, hoping to give the youngster more time to settle in. It was their first big show, and while they were only doing a low level, John found himself clenching his hands as the horse burst into an uneven canter. Molly pulled her back though, doing her best to settle the mare. John could see the horse’s ears twitching, flipping between a focus on Molly and the crowd.

“This could be interesting,” Sherlock said beside him.

Their first fence was high and clean, the mare startling as she remembered that she had a job. Molly rode it more like a hunter course though, steering the mare through wide turns and steady lines. They knocked a rail on the third fence and chipped in the fourth.

“She’s cowering to the horse,” Sherlock commented. “She’s still not confident.”

“You ride it then,” John said, rather glad that he wasn’t the one on course as the chestnut flung herself over the last fence. Molly quickly collected her back up, forcing the horse to canter quietly before leaving the ring.

“Not worth my time,” Sherlock sniffed.

“Not even you, the great Sherlock Holmes, were born the perfect rider.”

“I was, however, the nearest thing to it.”

John groaned and shook his head. “Of course.”

They watched a few more rounds before heading back to the barn to check on Elmer. Only two reporters followed them this time and Sherlock dared walk just a little bit closer to John, but whether it was nerves or defiance, John couldn’t be sure.

At five that evening John sent Sherlock into the warm up ring. Molly and Janine had put the chestnut mare away after coming in sixth.

“Not too bad for her first round,” Molly said, standing by the in gate with John as Sherlock put Elmer into a working trot.

“No,” John agreed. “She seemed like a handful.”

“Oh, I know Sherlock would ride her better, but I am proud of the little girl.”

“Well, Sherlock is rather used to perfect horses, I’m not so sure what he’d do with a hot-blooded filly.”

Molly smiled at him and watched as Irene sent her horse over the warm up oxer. “If she doesn’t get off that horse’s mouth they’ll never clear Reichenbach.”

“They already in?”

“They will be if she’s second or higher today.”

Odd that Sherlock hadn’t mentioned anything about it. They still needed seven more points to place and there were only three shows after this one that Sherlock had entered.

Irene was the first of the class but John made a point not to watch. Molly squeezed his arm before stepping over to keep an eye on the American woman and the little white horse. Instead, John watched Sherlock, the dark haired rider only taking the warm up jump once before trotting a few more circles.

Molly reappeared by his side just as Irene left the ring. John didn’t look, but he could tell by the frown on Sherlock’s face that she’d nodded or called to him. “Well?” he asked.

“Clean round.”

Figured. John nodded and moved to hand Sherlock his coat before wiping down the black boots. Neither spoke but John squeezed Sherlock’s knee briefly and gave Elmer a pat on the neck before the pair entered the ring.

Chapter Text

Sherlock and Irene tied for second which, to Sherlock, might as well have been third. Because the tie was for second and not first, the judge hadn’t called for a jump off, but Sherlock took his three points and red ribbon and huffed his way back toward the barn.

“Second, honestly.”

“Oy, that’s only four more points to place in Reichenbach,” John said.

“Yes but Adler’s already there. And who the hell let Magnessun just show up like that?” Sherlock sat on his tack trunk, violently taking off his spurs while John led Elmer into his stall. They’d already walked the grey a bit, Sherlock surprisingly staying near John rather than immediately heading back to the barn.

“Money, sponsors, who knows.” It was rather odd that the rider had entered the show that morning. Sherlock, having not looked at the revised show bill sent out during the afternoon, had only found out a few moments before his own course that Magnessun was there. The rider had taken first, smiling right at Sherlock as he’d accepted the blue ribbon.

“I don’t like it,” Sherlock snapped.

“You don’t like much of anything. But second isn’t bad.”

“Tied for second,” Sherlock reminded him.

“You still did good, didn’t you?” John said to the horse, pulling off the saddle and setting the girth and saddle pads on top of the dark leather. He’d already pulled off Elmer’s bridle and he returned the tack to its proper place (shooing Sherlock from off the trunk) before leading Elmer out for a shower.

“Not fast enough,” Sherlock said. He followed them out of the barn, again an odd move for him.

“Magnessun’s horse has nearly a hand on Elmer. Of course he’ll have a longer stride.”

Sherlock huffed but gave Elmer a pat on the shoulder as he stepped out of the stall. “I suppose we’ll need a few more training rounds.”

“Exactly. We’ll keep working and he’ll be beat them all,” John said. Elmer tossed his head in agreement.

Sherlock held the grey while John showered him off. It seemed that they’d finally shaken the reporters, only one photographer snapping a picture as he walked by. Shockingly Sherlock hadn’t wanted to discuss the matter with any of them and John wasn’t about to speak up. They led Elmer back to his stall side by side, Sherlock no doubt thinking over his round and ways to improve, while John remained contented with the sound of hooves on concrete and the smell of hay and saddle soap.

“If we win at the next show we’ll have enough points,” Sherlock said, more muttering to himself then speaking to John.

“True, but it’s a sharp turnaround, the Norwich show is in five days.”

“Hmmm.” Sherlock stopped by his trunk to step out of his boots and pull on a pair of track pants over his breeches. He’d already taken off his coat and show shirt, a grey t-shirt surprisingly informal for the usually Prada-clad rider. “Oh don’t look at me like that,” Sherlock snipped, apparently reading John’s mind.

“It’s just that I don’t normally see you in…regular clothes.”

“Just because you choose to wear jeans day in and day out doesn’t mean that I am overdressed.”

“Hard to muck stalls in a tailored suit,” John said. He tied Elmer in the stall, squatting down to rub the horse’s legs with Absorbine.

“Do you think we should pull him?” Sherlock asked.

“Sorry?”

“Skip the next show, hold out for the one after.”

“Could be risky. That only leaves three point shows before Reichenbach.”

“And here I thought you were our biggest cheerleader.” Sherlock came to stand by Elmer’s head, scratching Elmer’s left ear just where the horse loved.

“I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I am paid to do more than brush your horse.”

“I know. It’s not the most logical, but…”

“We don’t want to overwork him.”

Sherlock looked thoughtfully at the grey. They’d worked together for the past five years and Sherlock had steadily trained the warmblood up to their current level. But any horse could be overworked, and if they intended to win Reichenbach…well, they’d have to keep a reserve.

“The sooner we win, the sooner we can stop mucking about with shows.”

“You do realize you’re paid to show, right?” John said. He stood and moved to Elmer’s other side.

“As I have been for the past few years, yes.”

“What are you saying, you want to retire?”

“And let riders like Adler and Moriarty take my prizes? I think not.” Sherlock put his hands into his pockets, frowning as Elmer rubbed at his chest, hoping for more attention.

“Good. But you know, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you wanted to take a break,” John said. He’d looked up every show Sherlock had ever entered. The fact that neither he nor any of his horses hadn’t simply dropped dead on course was a bit of a surprise. Most riders did anywhere from ten to twenty shows a year. It seemed Sherlock’s mother had favored the thirty to forty variety. And reaching the age of eighteen didn’t seem to have dissuaded Sherlock from the same path. Thank God Greg had talked some sense into him the past two years.

“Why would I take a break when we’re doing so well?”

“Because you’re human. Besides, you’re only showing Elmer this year and he could do with a break just as much as you could.”

“I don’t need a break,” Sherlock huffed.

“Everyone needs a break.” John finished with Elmer’s legs and stood, reaching for the towel on Elmer’s stall door to wipe off his hands.

“We’re fine.”

“You know, during the last month you’ve actually fallen asleep every single time we’ve spent the night together.”

“I do sleep, contrary to your belief.”

“You nap. On occasion. You know, the other night you were actually snoring.”

Sherlock glared at him. “I do not need a break.”

“Uh huh.”

Sherlock continued to frown at him, but there was something else there, a softening, questioning look that came across his face. The man had done nothing but work since childhood. Hell, John imagined that Greg had to nearly drag the man off to Scotland for a few days each year, and the only reason that succeeded was because there were horses going along as well.

“What if we take a week off, after we win the Reichenbach Trials.”

“Why on earth would we do that?”

“Elmer would get the week anyway, why not you? You work just as hard as he does.”

Sherlock’s eyes clouded for a moment, as if this hadn’t occurred to him before. “But…”

“Come on, we’ll take a little holiday, wherever you want. No horses, no working.”

Sherlock looked down as John stepped closer. The idea hadn’t been one that John was thinking over before, but it suddenly seemed right. They deserved a break, honestly. And it would do Sherlock good to not see a horse for a day or two. There was only so much good you could do before it started becoming harm.

“Breaks are allowed, you know,” John said, reaching out to rest a hand on Sherlock’s arm.

“John Watson, are you proposing to whisk me off on some romantic holiday?” The cloudy fog turned to ice again as a gleam came into Sherlock’s eyes. Now that it had been said out loud, it seemed that they were both rather keen on the idea.

“Why yes, I do believe I am,” John grinned. He quickly looked around the barn to make sure no one else was paying attention before leaning up, pressing his mouth to Sherlock’s.

Sherlock froze for half a second before softening, wrapping a hand around John’s back and opening his mouth to capture John’s. John allowed Sherlock control, softening as Sherlock kept things slow, tongue reaching out to swipe across John’s bottom lip. Instinctively, John pulled Sherlock closer.

Before anyone could have a chance to catch them, John pulled back, pushing his face into Sherlock’s neck for a moment before stepping back a little ways, hand still wrapped around Sherlock’s arm.

“A break,” Sherlock mused.

“A break,” John agreed, giving Sherlock a quick, chaste kiss before fully stepping back. “Now, let’s get Elmer packed up and ready to go. I’m sure Molly’s already waiting for us.”

Molly showed up not five minutes later, giving a little wave as she stopped before them. “Need any help?” she asked, looking more at Sherlock (who was sitting on his tack trunk, staring at his phone) than John (who was wrapping up the rest of a hay bale in a tarp for transport).

“We’re just about ready,” John said, wrestling with the twine for a moment before he had the thing retied. “Mind taking his hay net out to the trailer, though?” He nodded toward the full hay net at his feet. A three-hour drive with nothing to occupy the horses was out of the question with Elmer.

“Sure,” she smiled, snatching the net and skipping off toward the trailer. It seemed she was rather happier with her performance than John had previously guessed. Either way, he was glad that she and Sherlock were driving back together. It had been a long day and John wasn’t really in an incessant chatter kind of mood.

An hour later and they’d loaded up the trailer, strapped down everything in the back of the trunk, and were leading the horses out of their stalls. Molly’s mare danced and fidgeted, but Elmer didn’t bat an eye, loading like the professional he was. Janine and John climbed into the truck while Sherlock glared at John before slumping off toward Molly’s Jeep. Sherlock, more so than John, hated needless talking.

“Oh, they’ll have a blast,” Janine grinned, waving at Molly as they pulled out of the long drive.

“Better him than me,” John said, keeping an eye on the side mirrors as Janine pulled the rig out onto the road. Molly and Sherlock would follow, keeping an eye out behind.

“That’s no way to treat your boyfriend.”

“Like he wouldn’t do the same in a heartbeat.”

“Fair point.” Janine grinned at him. “All right, driver picks the music,” she said, cranking up some God-awful techno pop song.

John groaned but leaned back in his seat. They’d trade off in an hour or so and he could fill the cab with blissful silence.

When they finally pulled into the farm a little past midnight, John had barely parked the trailer before he saw Sherlock shoot out of Molly’s car and dash up toward the house. John could only imagine how betrayed Sherlock must feel. Tough luck.

They unloaded the two horses, loosing them in the small paddocks for the night, before taking care to replace the tack where it belonged, clean out the trailer, put feed back in bins, and finally close up the barn for the night. John, thankfully, had the following day off and was all too eager to get a head start on the sixteen-hour sleep fest he had planned. Of course, that sixteen-hour sleep fest would be a bit more enjoyable with Sherlock.

Not sure if Sherlock even wanted him there, John cautiously made his way up to the house once Molly and Janine had driven off. The little solar paneled lights illuminated his way and he hesitated for only a moment before trying the door. It was unlocked. He pushed his way inside, closing the door behind him as quietly as possible, all while feeling that he was rather breaking into Mrs. Hudson’s home. Then again, he doubted that she ultimately cared—she’d always smiled and cooed at him when he and Sherlock were there.

Quietly creeping up the steps, he followed the lamplight to Sherlock’s room, finding the rider already in pajamas and sitting up in bed, reading off his phone.

“What took you so long?” Sherlock asked, looking up from the phone for a moment. It was only then that John realized the man was wearing glasses. Adorable glasses.

“Wasn’t entirely sure I was welcome,” John said, stepping into the room and sitting down on the bed.

“Why wouldn’t you be?”

“Since when have you worn glasses?” John asked, unable to keep himself from staring.

Sherlock quickly pulled them off, as if he’d forgotten they were on. He cleared his throat and pointedly looked at his phone.

“No, I like them. They’re rather...sexy actually,” John grinned. He kicked off his shoes and went into the bathroom, gathering the pair of pajamas that now lived in Sherlock’s room on the way. He quickly washed up, changed, and returned to the bed, sliding in beneath the covers.

“You think so?” Sherlock said. He was holding the glasses in one hand, looking at them. So he’d been thinking about it for the past ten minutes? Interesting.

“Very much so,” John said, rolling closer so that he could nuzzle at Sherlock’s neck, kissing along his jawline.

Sherlock stopped talking at that, setting the glasses and his phone aside before turning to wrap a hand around John’s neck. John laughed a bit at the immediate reaction, placing kisses across Sherlock’s neck and cheekbones before making his way down to his lips. Sherlock pulled him closer then, the irritation and stubbornness of before seemed gone, or at least muted, now and his other hand snaked around John’s shoulders, nearly pulling John on top of him. John responded in kind, sinking a hand into Sherlock’s silky hair, tugging just enough to pull one of his favorite moans out of Sherlock.

“Christ,” Sherlock moaned, pulling back only slightly before capturing John’s mouth again. It was nice, this. They hadn’t been all that close in the past few weeks, what with Sherlock being a prat and the constant workload of preparing Elmer and taking care of regular barn work.

John reached his other hand down, pushing at the hem of Sherlock’s t-shirt. He slid his hand underneath, running his fingernails over the soft skin there. He felt Sherlock’s stomach muscles flutter, flexing and softening beneath his touch. John nipped at bit at Sherlock’s bottom lip before pulling back. “Off,” he hissed, tugging at the offending shirt.

Sherlock complied, sitting back just enough so they could wrestle the shirt off and out of the way. John fell towards him again, seeking the warm pocket of air they’d made between them. He licked at Sherlock’s lips before slipping his tongue inside, stroking over Sherlock’s own. Sherlock hummed and his hands slid down over John’s bare back, his skin soft and smooth, fingers carrying only a few of the calluses that John’s did. A hand slid lower, fingers tugging at the waist of his pajama bottoms. Thinking about it now, John wasn’t sure why he’d bothered with pajamas in the first place. Then again, there was really no knowing what would happen with Sherlock Holmes. And damn it, John was rather more excited and intrigued by that than annoyed.

“Too many clothes,” Sherlock moaned, licking his way down John’s neck to his collarbone, holding John on his lap as he kissed and sucked, no doubt leaving a line of small bruises in his wake. John groaned.

Then Sherlock flipped them, grabbing John’s waist and pinning him to the bed, mouth never leaving John’s collarbone. He tugged again at John’s trousers, clearly upset that they were still in place.

Somehow, with each of them trying to reach the other, they managed to divest themselves of all clothing, tossing everything in a heap on the floor. They’d have to pick up before Mrs. Hudson came in to clean. Then again. John wasn’t entirely sure she hadn’t already heard them. But Sherlock didn’t seem concerned and John would be damned if he told the man to stop.

Sherlock still held John down, working his way down John’s chest and across his stomach, licking a line down John’s inner thigh, causing John to hiss and push his head back into the pillows. Sherlock continued down John’s leg, crawling backwards on the bed until he’d reached John’s foot, placing a small kiss on the inner heel. John whined and reached out, pulling Sherlock back toward him, devouring his mouth the second he could reach. He almost didn’t care that it had been a while since they’d been this intimate. If all he got were a few nights like this, he imagined he could get by.

“Something different tonight,” Sherlock said quietly. “I’m tired of thinking.”

John kissed him again, feeling bereft even when Sherlock pulled back to whisper against his lips. “How are you thinking now?” Because John was definitely not thinking about much other than the fact that he wanted Sherlock closer and right…he groaned as they lined up, hardness rocking against hardness.

“No, I…” Sherlock drifted off, content to let John kiss him into silence, rocking them together once more before he rolled to the side, reaching for the bedside drawer. As Sherlock was on top of him, he pushed John’s arm away, opening the drawer and pulling out what they needed. “Something different,” he repeated.

“What do you mean?” John asked, taking a moment to admire the man above him. The lamplight threw him into all white planes and dark angles and his hair was tousled perfectly.

Sherlock looked weary for a moment before he looked down at the lube in his hand. “Only if you want to. I mean, it’s been a while, but…”

“Wait, you—oh.” John looked at him harder then. He supposed this should have come up sooner, but by the time they two of them had fallen into bed, it was usually all they could do to pull each other off before passing out. But this…this was far more intimate than they’d ever been. And for some reason it was after today that Sherlock brought it up. Not that John wasn’t interested—he was definitely interested—but it seemed a bit odd, that a second place finish and a stressed Sherlock would lead to their first time like this.

“If you don’t—“ Sherlock said, cutting himself off and looking down. He looked almost embarrassed.

“No. Yes,” John grabbed Sherlock’s wrist, smiling at him. “It’s all fine.”

“Right. Good.” Sherlock worriedly played with the bottle of lube again, not meeting John’s eyes.

“Hey,” John said, trying to balance the fact that his body very much wanted now with Sherlock’s obvious hesitation. Slow, that’s what they needed right now. They’d jumped in a bit fast, thrown caution to the wind and started whatever this thing was, and now Sherlock was asking him to make it something…well, something more. Which was, though he didn’t want to admit it, exactly what John had been waiting for. “Hey,” he said again, smiling at Sherlock once more as he sat up, taking the bottle from Sherlock’s hand and pushing the other man down onto the bed.

Sherlock looked at him from beneath a fringe of curls, face weary. John leaned down and kissed him again, beginning chastely but quickly giving in as Sherlock’s hand cupped his jaw and the desire in his groin flared up again. Right. If they didn’t stop kissing John was in danger of losing it right then.

The kiss seemed to settle Sherlock and he leaned back into the pillows, legs parting a bit as John settled between them. Right. It had been a rather long time since John had even been with a man, much less done this with one, but he knew the basics, and it wasn’t as if Sherlock was afraid to correct him. He took a breath to steady himself and poured some of the lube into his palm, working it over his fingers until they were properly coated. He paused then, looking down at Sherlock, far more exposed then he’d ever seen him, and reached forward for one more kiss, fingers slipping over Sherlock as they’re lips met, one finger circling and circling, just as John circled his tongue around Sherlock’s mouth. He felt Sherlock gasp.

It wasn’t long before Sherlock had relaxed enough for John to slip one finger inside. He was shocked at the warmth, the ridge of muscle as he began to nudge the tip of a second finger in. Sherlock groaned and John felt him clench before he sighed and opened once more. John kissed him the entire time, little fluttering kisses across his face, soft swipes of tongue against tongue. He kissed him and murmured whatever came to mind and slowly, every so slowly, Sherlock opened.

“Now. Please,” Sherlock said, eyes closed and sweat breaking out around his hairline. John bent down, nipping at Sherlock’s earlobe before kissing beneath his jawline. He let his fingers slide out of Sherlock, already missing the heat but feeling his own now flagging erection grow once more when he thought about just where that heat would be in a few moments. He somehow managed to squeeze more lube on his hand without having to stop kissing Sherlock and pumped his hand around himself a few times before sitting back on his heels, one hand on Sherlock’s stomach.

Sherlock opened his eyes and looked at John, already looking thoroughly debauched with bruised lips and hair tousled beyond any kind of style. His face was slack, all irritation from the show had disappeared and the frown lines were gone, his youthful face remarkably clear and open as he stared up at John, nodding at him. John nodded back, adjusting them both so that he could line himself up. He forced his hips to work slowly, just barely breaching Sherlock’s entrance before he slowly slide inside.

And it was wonderful. Sherlock’s eyes fell closed again which was just as well because John couldn't tear his eyes away from where they were now connected. He paused once he was fully inside, reveling in the feel of it. There were black spots across his vision and he felt dizzy.

“Move,” Sherlock hissed beneath him and John did.

They were both exhausted, both spent with the events of the day and the need for something, for some sense of connection. Well, they had it now, and John really didn’t think he would be able to keep himself from climaxing before Sherlock. But he would. He had to. He moved in rhythm, wanting to bathe himself in every moan that escaped from Sherlock’s perfect lips. He reached over, capturing the moans in his mouth, meeting them with his own so they escaped as a mixture of the two of them. John adjusted his angle, reaching, pulling them closer than before. Sherlock gasped, nails scratching at John’s back. John’s vision began to blur again and his world seemed to narrow down, centering entirely on the deep heat that was growing from the bottom of his spine upwards, branching out into every nerve ending until he felt as if he was on fire. Sherlock was writhing beneath him, rutting into his own hand and panting as they each sought oblivion. Finally Sherlock found it, gritting his teeth as he came, groaning out his release just as John found his own, and it was bliss.

They spiraled down slowly, John’s hips shallowly moving on their own accord before he could come back down enough to gain control of his own body again. He slowly slid out, mindful of the wince on Sherlock’s face as he did so. He pulled the filled condom off, tossing it in the bin before collapsing on top of Sherlock, who immediately wrapped his arms around John, burying his face into John’s neck and shoulder. John kissed the top of his head,

“Thank you,” he said into Sherlock’s hair.

Sherlock made a sound somewhere between a groan and a hum and pressed a kiss to John’s chest.

John felt boneless, barely able to keep his eyes open, but he knew that if they didn’t clean up now they, especially Sherlock, would regret it in the morning. He forced himself to roll off the bed, grabbing a flannel and cleaning himself up before going back out to Sherlock. The rider was still sprawled across the bed, utterly spent. John smiled down at him, cleaning him up as Sherlock made no move to do it himself. He tossed the flannel toward the bathroom and snuggled up to Sherlock, pulling the duvet--which had thankfully escaped their adventures—over the top of them both.

Sherlock sighed and turned toward John, rolling into John and nuzzling his shoulder. John wrapped an arm around Sherlock, knowing that they would both suffocate if they remained this close under the duvet, but not giving one flying fuck about it at the moment.

“So did we just level up on the boyfriend scale or what?” John asked, drawing a chuckle from Sherlock.

“We surely earned another badge.”

John smiled again, settling onto the pillow so that his nose was buried in Sherlock’s hair. Despite the fact that Sherlock was taller and lankier, the man seemed to shrink at night, twining himself around John and cuddling into him. John absolutely did not have a problem with this.

Sherlock’s breathing quickly steadied, evening out as he drifted off to sleep. John couldn't help himself and kissed the dark curls once more and realized that he was, without a doubt, in love with Sherlock Holmes.

Chapter Text

John’s sixteen-hour sleep fest turned into a fourteen-hour crash with two hours of snuggling before his bladder finally forced him out of bed. He immediately returned however, because the bed still contained one Sherlock Holmes who had rather become the center of John’s universe overnight.

“Do you think we can just not leave this bed today?” John asked. They were tangled in the duvet, sprawled across the bed but somehow still entwined. The second John had gotten back into bed Sherlock had smothered him, dragging John back into the circle of his arms in a motion that could only be described as the way an Octopus catches their prey. Not that John was complaining.

“I very much doubt that Mrs. Hudson will allow it. I’m surprised she hasn’t stopped by with tea,” Sherlock replied. His voice was muffled as he’d somehow managed to burrow his head between the mattress and John’s shoulder.

“Well, she wouldn’t exactly be met with a family friendly sight.” John looked down at them both, nude and tangled in bedclothes. As much as he liked the sound of a good cuppa, he would very much prefer if Mrs. Hudson remained on the other side of Sherlock’s door. “You know,” John said, running a hand over the arm Sherlock had splayed across John’s middle, “we could do exactly this for two weeks after Reichenbach.”

“Two weeks?”

“It seems an appropriate holiday length. Especially if it’s one of the only vacations you take all year.”

Sherlock mumbled into John’s arm.

“Where do you want to go? Somewhere tropical? Would be a nice break. Doesn’t your family own some estate in the south of France?”

“Yes and Mycroft uses it more than is good for him,” Sherlock groaned. He turned his head a bit so he wasn’t suffocating. John grinned and twisted, leaning down to kiss the perfect lips before him.

Which of course was when Mrs. Hudson decided to make her appearance.

As if summoned by the mere mention of her name, she swooped into the room with a tea tray, not seeming at all bothered by the fact that John was desperately trying to cover them both. Sherlock didn’t even blink.

“Oh, no need to worry, loves. I’ve seen it all in my time.” She set the tray down on the bedside table, looking over Sherlock and John with a sly smile and giving John a wink. “Just thought you’d need some nibbles.”

John was almost positive his entire body was blushing. He couldn’t look his employer in the face and instead decided to try and prove the thread count of Sherlock’s sheets.

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock mumbled, clearly un-phased. Mrs. Hudson slipped out, closing the door behind her.

“You seem very comfortable with all this,” John said, covering his face with the duvet and moaning.

“It’s just Mrs. Hudson.”

“Oh, do you bring men home to ravish so often that she’s used to waltzing in and finding them sprawled naked in your bed?”

Sherlock chuckled and tugged at the sheet, exposing John’s face. “Just you,” he promised, bending down to finish the kiss John had started earlier. The sheets were ripped from his hands and he found himself with an armful of Sherlock.

Sighing, John settled back against the bed, allowing himself to forget about everything except the exceptionally comfortable mattress beneath him and the man he loved lavishing attention on his lips, seeming to claim them for all he was worth. John hummed and kissed back, knowing he shouldn’t say anything, no matter how much he might want to, but hoping he could at least hint at all the feelings swirling around his head.

Eventually Sherlock pulled back, kissing John’s forehead before rolling off the bed and heading toward the bathroom.

“You better not get in the shower,” John growled, rolling to his side so he could better admire Sherlock’s rather fantastic arse as he walked into the bathroom.

“And why not?” Sherlock asked, quirking an eyebrow.

“Because knowing you, that means you don’t intend to come back to this bed.”

“Hardly. I will this evening when you insist, yet again, that I get a few hours of sleep.”

John tried his best to pout but it fell short. Sherlock chuckled but stepped into the shower, the steam carrying out of the bathroom through the partially closed door. John sighed but sat up, arranging the sheets around his waist and taking advantage of the steaming tea beside him.

 

“How hard would it be to get near the cross country course during show days?”

“What?” John looked up from the novel in his hand, glancing at Sherlock across from him.

“Cross country,” he repeated. Sherlock was draped across his chair at such an odd angle John didn’t know how the man hadn’t thrown out his back.

Still not sure what Sherlock was on about, John tried to play along. “Only riders and coaches are allowed on the course besides judges and officials.”

“Mmm,” Sherlock said. He had his hands steepled beneath his chin and his eyes closed. He’d remained silent most of the evening. Considering they’d slept the majority of the day, John was taking advantage of the rare free hours he had. The novel in his hand had been hidden on one of the massive bookshelves in the sitting room, stuffed between a text on the exoskeleton of British bugs and a biography of Snowman.

Sherlock didn’t seem to need his input anymore and John happily went back to the paperback mystery. He managed another three pages before Sherlock spoke again.

“It wouldn’t be possible to plant something while on course…unless...”

“Sorry, what are you on about?” John asked.

But Sherlock was back to his still and silent meditation so John shrugged and carried on reading, taking a sip of his tea before turning the page.

They didn’t leave the house for the entire day. Sherlock didn’t so much as move a finger to indicate that he would rather be riding and John noted that with pride. Perhaps he was enough for Sherlock. At least for today. They ate with Mrs. Hudson that evening, John still not able to meet her eyes over the roast she put on the table. Sherlock picked at his food and mumbled to himself, but after a few minutes John was able to speak through his blushing, managing a whole conversation with Mrs. Hudson/his carrots.

Eventually they trundled back to the sitting room, Mrs. Hudson waving good night and John settling in with the telly, flipping through the news before finding a halfway decent rerun of Doctor Who. He settled on the couch, Sherlock curled up by John’s feet, making notes and fussing with his laptop.

“It must be possible. But he went fifth…” Sherlock muttered.

There was a commercial break on and John turned his attention to Sherlock, stuffing his cold toes underneath Sherlock’s thigh. “What?”

“He went fifth. But I suppose a time delay might work.”

“Uh huh.” Sherlock was clearly still off in his own world so John simply savored the domestic scene, happy to be sitting so close, his toes now thankfully warm, and went back to his show.

The thought of his alarm blaring early the next morning was what finally made John move. He turned off the telly, nudged Sherlock in the darkness that now fell across the room, and they quietly made their way upstairs. They changed into pajamas and settled into bed quietly; Sherlock no doubt still sore and John content to just sleep beside another human. And it didn’t hurt that every time Sherlock looked at him, talked to him, was within the same room as him—hell, on the same planet as him—John’s chest filled with warmth and his stomach twisted and all logical thought fled his mind. Christ, he had it bad. And Sherlock seemed…well, he hadn’t complained about staying in all day and while he hadn’t exactly talked to John, he’d made a point to always be nearby.

“What have you been thinking about all day?” John asked, turning to his side to face Sherlock in the darkness. There was a swatch of moonlight coming in from around the window curtains and John could just make out the liquid reflection in Sherlock’s eyes.

“Just thinking,” Sherlock replied, fussing with his pillow. John doubted Sherlock would sleep much that night, but he was thankful that the rider had gone to bed with him rather than stay up in the sitting room.

“Anything interesting?”

“There would be no point in thinking of uninteresting things.”

“That’s fair,” John laughed. “What about the Norwich show?”

“Mmm. It would allow us to leave for Scotland sooner. Lestrade is itching for a vacation.”

“He hasn’t so much as taken a day off since I’ve been here.”

“Won’t allow it,” Sherlock said, “doesn’t trust any of the others. At least there we agree.”

“Well I know you wouldn’t strain your horse simply to be nice to another human, so you must feel okay about doing it,” John said.

Sherlock stretched, ending up just a bit closer to John though he didn’t reach out for him as he had the night before. Unable to resist, John ran a hand across Sherlock’s face, cupping his cheek for a moment before letting his fingers fall away. Sherlock looked at him in the darkness. “I’m unsure.”

The look in Sherlock’s eyes, what John could see of them at least, was one that he couldn’t quite describe. They’d been discussing the show and what to do about gathering the last few points Sherlock needed, but there was something else there, something in Sherlock’s tone that made John pause, his heart beating loudly in his ears. “I know,” he said.

Sherlock held his gaze, forehead creasing for a moment before he grabbed John’s hand, squeezing for a moment then letting go. He rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling and resting his hands on his stomach.

“Why don’t we take the boys out tomorrow—bit of a trail ride to relax. You can still get some flatwork in and then we’ll do some light jumping work later. None of the other big names are expected to be in Norwich now Adler’s finished, so we should be fine.”

“Right,” Sherlock said to the ceiling.

He didn’t seem inclined to say more so John gave into the fact that he was still tired and had an early morning the following day, settling into the pillow and letting his eyes close.

Chapter Text

Sherlock decided to forge ahead with the show outside Norwich so John tacked up both Elmer and Pip the following day, preparing for a nice, calming ride despite the fact that Greg and the staff had spent most of the morning trying to rile him up about not leaving Mrs. Hudson’s house for his entire day off. John rolled his eyes and shrugged and brushed it off with a laugh and, while he knew they were doing it to get a rise out of him, he found that it only served to remind him just how much he’d enjoyed the day. And how bloody gone he was on Sherlock.

He went through the actions of grooming and tacking up methodically, his mind easily beginning to wander, not quite sure what to think about the whole love thing. It wasn’t as if Sherlock had pulled back or shown any sign of doubt, but it was still early days. And besides, could the notoriously cold rider even feel that sort of thing? Did he want it? To be strapped in a relationship for…well, for life?

John tried to imagine them both, old and grey. He could see it. See himself running the farm when Greg retired, Sherlock giving clinics and training the next crop of riders and horses. Well, John couldn’t imagine Sherlock willfully helping others but Molly certainly would and maybe Sherlock would soften with time, though that seemed a bit unlikely. Still, John liked the image, liked the idea of sharing the house with Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson, watching the horses out grazing in the fields, going to bed with Sherlock each night. And maybe, just maybe, he could eventually have that.

Sherlock joined him a few minutes later and they silently mounted and set off down the trails, the horses calm and casually swishing their tails at flies. John smiled at Sherlock and Sherlock smiled at John and they cantered through the fields and let the horses drink at the stream and everything was rather perfect.

So perfect, in fact, that John should have known catastrophe would be waiting when they returned.

Janine came running out to meet them when they neared the barn, John quickly dismounting before thinking twice.

“What is it?” he asked.

“It’s Mrs. Hudson, she fell.”

Sherlock immediately hit the ground. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. Greg went up to talk to her and found her at the foot of the stairs.”

John sucked in a breath. “Is she okay?”

“At A&E,” Janine said. “We’re not sure.”

Sherlock let out a growl and tossed Elmer’s reins to John before jogging off to the parking lot, no doubt on his way to the hospital.

“Do we know how bad?” John asked, wrapping a hand in Pip’s mane to keep himself steady. Mrs. Hudson was old, they all knew that, but there was something about her, despite her frail looks, that led him to believe she would outlive them all.

“No,” Janine said, dropping her eyes to the gravel beneath their feet.

John nodded to himself and adjusted his grip on the horses' reins, leading them both back into the barn. It wouldn’t do to go tearing off after Sherlock when the horses needed looking after. Not that John could do much. He only vaguely understood Sherlock’s relationship with Mrs. Hudson, but he knew enough to worry about them both.

Janine helped him put the horses away, quickly tossing tack back in its place and running a stiff brush across both horses. They’d cooled out on their walk back so John put them out, letting them roll off the last residues of sweat and heat. Janine nodded to him and he grabbed his keys from his now rarely used apartment before dashing off to his Jeep. Whatever other chores he had that day could wait or would be covered by the others. It seemed there was some unspoken agreement in times of crisis that involved Sherlock. The others would do the chores, John was to take care of the rider.

There was only one hospital nearby and, after asking at the front desk, John found himself weaving through the maze of corridors and waiting rooms until he came to the right one. Mrs. Hudson would be placed in her own room on the third floor and both Sherlock and Greg were waiting in the corner of the floor’s main lobby.

Greg came up to him first, a look of relief flashing through his eyes before they went back to their steady, grey concern. “She’s in surgery. Broken leg, fractured collarbone and who knows what else.”

John winced, eyes flashing over to Sherlock before turning back to Greg. “How bad?”

“Don’t know,” Greg said, looking at Sherlock as well.

John nodded and squeezed Greg’s arm before stepping around him to Sherlock. Still in his riding clothes, Sherlock was sitting in one of the plastic chairs, jaw clenched as he stared down at his hands in his lap. The only outward sign of his agitation was the continuously bouncing left knee.

John quietly stepped up to him, not surprised when Sherlock didn’t look up. Though any normal person might have wanted a hug and reassuring words, John simply sat beside Sherlock, cautiously placing his hand over Sherlock’s knee, effectively stilling it. Sherlock froze for a moment, every line of his body tensing even more, before his hands slid lower and over John’s, gripping tightly. Sherlock didn’t look up and John glanced over at Greg as he sat in the corner with them, all three solemn and silent.

They remained that way for hours.

Finally, a nurse with a clipboard came over to them, looking around before her eyes settled on Greg. He stood and nodded at her, jaw clenching and unclenching as he waited for news.

“She’s out of surgery and resting,” the nurse said, glancing at her clipboard as she read. “Doctors set her leg and collarbone but she also fractured three ribs and will be badly bruised.”

“But she’ll be all right?” John asked. He felt Sherlock hold his breath.

“She’ll recover slowly and it won’t be easy at her age, but there’s a good chance she’ll be fine. She’s lucky she didn’t land on her head or neck.”

Greg nodded and thanked her, asking when they’d be allowed in to see the patient.

“She should be awake shortly. Only one visitor at a time though. Someone will come out to fetch you.”

Sherlock was still staring at his hands covering John’s, hardly even moving when he breathed. John squeezed his knee, they all knew Sherlock would be the only one she wanted to see.

“She’ll be all right,” he said quietly, barely loud enough that Sherlock could hear him. “She’ll be okay.”

Sherlock still didn’t move but John scooted as close as he could in their separate chairs.

Another agonizing half an hour passed. John looked around the other patrons in the lobby, trying to guess who they were waiting for. He wasn’t able to concentrate much, however, as he and Greg continued to look at Sherlock and pass worried glances. Neither discussed it, but they’d never seen Sherlock act like this. He was always moving, always talking or bickering. He didn’t do emotional turmoil. An outsider might not even understand his concern when they looked at how blatantly Sherlock ordered Mrs. Hudson around or demanded that she leave him be or do things for him. But both John and Greg knew that Mrs. Hudson was more of a mother to Sherlock than his own had ever been.

Another nurse arrived, this one clipboard free. “She’s awake,” he said.

Sherlock didn’t move so John gave him a bit of a nudge. “You can see her now, Sherlock,” he said. Sherlock still didn’t move. “She’ll want to see you,” he said.
Slowly, almost as though he had been frozen, Sherlock began to move. He gave a faint nod and lifted his hands, John moving his numb hand back to his own lap as Sherlock stood up. His eyes were dark and hard and he rolled his shoulders as if steeling himself before nodding at the nurse and following him through the doors to Mrs. Hudson’s room.

Though Sherlock hadn’t spoken a single word, silence seemed to crush the two left in the waiting room. A number of other people had been in and out in the hours they’d been there, but now the rush seemed to die down and there were only about three others sharing the room with them. Greg sighed deeply and ran a hand through his silver hair.

“Christ,” he muttered, looking over at John.

“At least you found her when you did,” John said, shuddering at the thought that it might have been Sherlock to run across the elderly woman’s still body.

Greg seemed to catch his thought and nodded. “I was worried something like this would happen and then Sherlock moved in and…well, we’ll have to keep an eye out now.”

“Maybe take shifts?” John suggested. “We’ll be up there taking care of her anyway, might as well add it to the list.”

“And if you’re there with Sherlock, that will at least ease my mind a bit.”

Far from the teasing of the morning, Greg was all seriousness now as he gave John a questioning look, as if wondering if John would actually be up there often enough to watch out for the farm’s owner. “That’s the plan,” John said quietly, knowing that it was only true on his side and not necessarily on Sherlock’s. They’d deal with that later though. No matter what, the farm would take care of Mrs. Hudson.

The two again fell into silence, each lost in their own musings, until Sherlock returned about half an hour later. He was paler than usual and John immediately stood up, going to Sherlock but not sure what to do. Cautiously, he placed a hand on Sherlock’s forearm.

“How is she?” Greg asked, standing as well to join them.

“She’s…in a cast. All wrapped up.” Sherlock’s words were stilted, as if he didn’t quite believe them. Shock. The man was in shock.

“But she was awake. And talking?” John asked, feeling his heart nearly break when Sherlock turned to look at him, his face so lost and confused.

“Yes. Groggy but…”

“Happy to see you, I’m sure,” John said, putting a hand on Sherlock’s back reassuringly.

“The doctors say she needs to rest.”

“And so do you,” John said.

Greg went off to find a doctor or nurse for more details and John tried to shift Sherlock’s attention and pull him out of the frightening state he was in. Healing Mrs. Hudson’s physical wounds John could handle, but fixing Sherlock’s emotional ones were a bit beyond him.

“She’ll be fine for the night and we’ll come see her first thing tomorrow, yeah?” John said, smiling when Sherlock met his eyes. “For now let’s go back to Elmer and Pip and apologize for not giving them a post-ride treat.”

Sherlock nodded a bit, seemingly distracted by the mention of the horses. “We’ll jump tomorrow.”

“Sounds good. Do a few practice lines, work on our turns. Good.”

Sherlock still looked lost, but his color was starting to pinken a bit, or as much as Sherlock pinkened.

Greg returned with visiting hours for the following days and they walked back out to the parking lot. Greg had come in with the ambulance and John pulled the Jag’s keys out of Sherlock’s pocket before tossing them to Greg. There was no way Sherlock could be trusted to drive. Greg’s eyebrows rose a bit as he looked at the keys, but far be it from anyone to question the opportunity to drive such a car. He nodded and walked over to the shiny vehicle. John led Sherlock to his Jeep, making sure he was settled in the passenger side before getting in himself. The drive back to the barn was silent.

It was near the evening feeding time when they returned and all of the barn hands were waiting around impatiently, immediately running over when they saw the three pull up. Sally frowned and looked at John when she caught sight of Sherlock but didn’t question the man’s pale face. John hoped this was because she was starting to develop a moral code, but supposed it was more likely that his intimidating glare had shut her up. Either way he was happy for the silence and led Sherlock out toward the pasture they’d thrown Pip and Elmer in, leaving Greg to explain the situation.

Sherlock perked up when the two horses came trotting over, Pip immediately snuffling at John’s pockets for treats. Sherlock reached out to stroke Elmer’s nose and Elmer snorted in approval. After a few more minutes with the horses, Sherlock seemed more himself, giving Pip a rub as well. “I...would rather not stay in the house tonight,” he said.

“Of course,” John said, trying not to sound too excited at the fact that Sherlock was coming back. “You’ll stay with me until you’re ready.”

“When will she be returning home?”

“Greg said the best guess was three or four days. Just because she’s older they want to monitor for awhile.”

“Of course,” Sherlock said. All equestrians had had their fair share of accidents, and John was no stranger to hospitalizations himself, but the older a rider, the more severe the risks.

“And I’m sure she’ll be happy to get out of the hospital as soon as she can,” John said.

“She’s always hated white walls.”

“I guessed that,” John laughed. The wallpaper in the living room made it pretty apparent that Mrs. Hudson wasn’t into plain decorations. “And I’m sure she’ll miss you.”

Sherlock rubbed Elmer’s chin.

They returned to the barn slowly, watching as everyone scurried about doing chores. Greg was gone, most likely in his office, and John and Sherlock stopped by the feedroom to see what was left to be done.

“It’s covered,” Janine said when she saw them. “Just throw down a few bales of hay and we’ll be good. Take the night,” she said, looking at Sherlock before turning back to John.

John nodded and gave Sherlock the keys to his apartment, watching as the man disappeared inside before climbing the ladder to the hayloft and hoisting three bales through the chute. Janine called up a thanks and John carefully stepped back down before going to his room.

Sherlock was in the shower so John went to his mini-kitchen to make a drink. He rarely drank on the job, but tonight he needed something. As he stood at the counter, sipping from a few fingers of Jack Daniels, he thought of their first night together. It had started like this, John drinking. He looked at his little double bed. It was small for two people, but they’d always made it work. Besides, Sherlock was usually wrapped around him so they had little trouble when it came to fit.

But how would things be tonight? Sherlock’s odd, closed off shock reaction was like nothing John had seen from the man before. The usual demanding, aloof air was gone. Not so much stripped as simply disappeared. There was still a cloudy look in Sherlock’s eyes and John had no clue how long it would take to disappear, if it ever did. But at least they hadn’t lost her…John could only shudder to think of what would have happened to all of them. He felt his gut turn and he reminded himself furiously that she would be all right. He’d been so worried about Sherlock, he’d almost forgotten to take into account his own concern. He downed another gulp of whiskey.

The shower switched off and John finished his drink. One thing at a time, that’s how they would take this.

Chapter Text

When John awoke the next morning Sherlock was gone. He’d remained quiet most of the night, turning away from John but not resisting John’s attempts at comfort. He’d most likely run off to the hospital that wouldn’t let him in for hours yet, but then again, Sherlock could probably break into Mrs. Hudson’s room if he wanted to.

John dragged himself from the bed, more emotionally drained than physically. He reached for his phone, sending Sherlock a text. He wasn’t trying to be
overbearing in asking his whereabouts, but Greg had suggested that the emotionally turbulent Sherlock had run off before.

A sigh of relief escaped him when Sherlock immediately replied. Just as he’d thought - at the hospital. Throwing on jeans and a t-shirt, John joined Janine on the morning feed.

“How is he?” she asked when he stepped into the feed room.

“Not sure.” John reached around her for the supplement cabinet, pulling out the ones he would need.

Janine looked at him, frowning before she spoke. “Well, Anderson should be in soon and Sally’s taking the evening shift so do what you have to and head out.”

John nodded before doling out the feed for his line. Janine disappeared to the mare barn and John took a moment to breathe. Thinking only of the smell of sweet feed and hay, he went through each stall, greeting the horse within and handing out breakfast. The horses quickly downed their grain, the sounds of crunching and fuzzy lips snuffling at buckets filled the air and John stood in the aisle when he was finished, relishing the familiarity of it and embracing the fact that, for once, the drama was taking place outside the barn. At least here he could deal with it. The barn was a far cry from the sterile hospital waiting room with its white walls and antiseptic smell. Sweat and dirt and hay – those were familiar.

Once the horses inside were taken care of, John grabbed Pip and Elmer’s halters, knowing the two could easily be led in together. When he reached their pasture, he found the horses grazing side by side, tails swishing as they bit off chunks of grass. Pip had clearly rolled and Elmer’s grey flank was now stained green. John shook his head at them, undoing the latch and stepping through the gate.

The two horses lifted their heads when he entered. They were the only ones currently in the small pasture and John whistled at them, walking the short distance to Pip’s side. Pip raised his head when John approached, easily allowing John to slip the dark blue halter over his head. Elmer, however, was less excited by the idea of a nice grain breakfast and seemed to think that spending the entire day grazing was a much better option. John growled when Elmer threw his head in the air, far too high up for John to reach.

“There’s no need to be a jerk,” he told the horse. “Come on now, we need to get you cleaned up before your father gets home.”

Elmer snorted but finally dropped his head, accepting his fate.

Leading the horses through the gate and down the grassy stretch between the arenas, John planned out his day. He knew Sherlock would most likely terrorize the hospital staff and that John should attempt to wrangle him. He still hadn’t quite gotten a handle on Sherlock’s mood, but Sherlock really didn’t have anyone else.

Except his brother.

Who was now walking toward John.

“Mycroft,” John greeted, ducking his head at the superior, chilling gaze the tall man sent him.

“John, good to see you.”

John nodded, walking past Mycroft and leading the horses to their stalls. Mycroft leaned up against Pip’s stall and waited for John to loose the horses and lock them in.

“I heard about our dear Mrs. Hudson.”

“Still in hospital,” John said, heading toward the tack room. He needed to get Pip and Elmer groomed before he headed out and he’d be damned if he let Mycroft Holmes hold him up.

“And my brother is with her I presume.”

“Yes.”

“And yet you are not with my brother.”

John didn’t look at Mycroft as he stepped into the tack room, reaching for the wooden groomboxes. He gripped the handles tightly and turned, brushing past Mycroft and back out toward the stalls. He hadn’t spoken to Mycroft in weeks, but Sherlock sneered every time they saw him. But they were brothers, surely Mycroft would care about how upset Sherlock was. Surely he would at least be a bit concerned. And yet his tone was that of a man listing traffic reports.

“I have work to do,” John said, setting Elmer’s groombox outside his stall before moving into Pip’s. He slid the door closed behind him, a clear indicator that Mycroft was not welcome.

“I was under the impression that my brother was your work.”

“I’m his groom,” John said, applying more force than was strictly necessary to the currycomb he was running over Pip’s shoulder.

“And his lover.”

John sucked in a breath and let it out slowly. “I will be with him when I can.” Not that it was any of Mycroft’s business. At all.

“Good.”

John didn’t look up but he could hear Mycroft’s boots echoing down the barn aisle. He shook his head, trying to clear it and put a steadying hand on Pip’s neck. The buckskin had finished his grain, licked his bucket clean, and now turned to inspect John’s pockets for treats. “Sorry, bud,” John said. “Later, all right?”

Pip spent another minute waiting before finally giving up and dropping his head to the pile of hay in the corner. He stayed still as John groomed, the matted brown dirt soon disappearing as the bright, warm buckskin color began to gleam.

John worked the horse’s coat, running Pip over with both the stiff and soft brushes, combing out the black mane, and making sure the dark feet were free of dirt and stones. Pip snuffed in contentment, quite happy with the treatment and attention. When he finished, John gave Pip another pat on the neck, letting his hand rest against the warm, soft skin there for a minute.

He moved on to Elmer then, the big grey not as happy with the interruption to his morning hay but allowing John to work out as much of the grass stain as he could without washing. He scratched Elmer’s chin when he finished, promising that John would bring Sherlock back for a ride that afternoon. Sherlock hadn’t officially scratched from the Norwich show yet, and John tentatively made plans to both attend and cancel. Either way the horse needed work and no one could ride him like Sherlock.

It was nearing eight when John grabbed his keys and stepped into his Jeep. He passed Greg as the man was coming in, the men nodding at each other in understanding. A few minutes later and John pulled into the hospital lot, easily spotting Sherlock’s shiny black Jag.

There were very few people in the hospital, mostly just nurses starting their shifts and the occasional doctor checking charts. John only saw one other visitor in the hallways as he went up to Mrs. Hudson’s floor. There was something eerie about a silent hospital. It should be comforting to see the floors nearly empty, but the opposite proved true.

The lift doors finally dinged and John stepped out into the familiar waiting room, the only person there. The nurse at reception checked her watch before begrudgingly pointing him toward the right room. Visiting hours hadn’t officially begun. That either meant Sherlock had caused a ruckus or the woman couldn’t be bothered to care. John prayed it was the latter.

Mrs. Hudson’s room was toward the end of the hall and John counted down the number plaques until he was there. The door was open but the room immediately rounded a corner and John couldn’t see or hear the occupants. He knocked lightly on the door, announcing his arrival before stepping inside.

The bed took up most of the space, Mrs. Hudson swaddled in blankets and casts of light blue and white. She looked awful and John felt his breath catch but his eyes immediately sought out Sherlock, alighting on the dark form hunched in a chair beside the window.

“John,” Mrs. Hudson croaked, eyes wide despite her condition.

“Mrs. Hudson, how are you feeling?” he asked, stepping beside her bed. She reached out for his hand, her arm snaking out from beneath the covers. John took it, noting how papery thin the bruised flesh looked over her bones.

“I’m all right, dear,” she said.

“She’s high.” Sherlock’s voice was quiet but John immediately looked up. Sherlock was in a black suit, a deep purple shirt beneath his jacket.

“Tsk tsk,” Mrs. Hudson said, though there was humor beneath her words.

“You deserve a little morphine,” John said. “I’m so sorry we weren’t there sooner.”

“It’s all right, John. I’m getting older, no stopping that.”

“I still feel bad.” He squeezed her hand as gently as he could. She gave him a thin smile before letting go, readjusting herself so she was once again wrapped up.

“Thank you for coming to visit,” she said. “Sherlock hasn’t been very talkative.”

“You’ve been asleep,” Sherlock said. He didn’t look at John.

“I do seem to drift,” she mumbled, appearing to do just that.

John stepped back quietly, allowing her the rest she needed. He looked at Sherlock, noting the darkness beneath his eyes and the messy curls and pale skin. He knew Sherlock had slept a little the night before, John had stayed awake to make sure of it, but the rider would clearly need more.

Sherlock looked up at him, the grey eyes twitching between John and Mrs. Hudson until she drifted off to sleep and John leaned against the window beside Sherlock.

“How early did you get here?”

“Don’t know.”

“Break in?”

“Door was open.”

“Of course it was,” John said. He caught the glimpse of a smirk on Sherlock’s face.

They stayed silent for a moment, John trying to gauge Sherlock’s mood. He wasn’t nearly as tense as he’d been the night before but he still wasn’t back to himself. But the fact that he was talking was definitely a step in the right direction.

“Elmer rolled last night. Entire right side is green.”

“Pip must have encouraged him.”

John chuckled. “Don’t blame my horse, he was relatively clean. Aside from the mud coat.”

“Must have had your hands full this morning.”

John nodded and looked down at the top of Sherlock’s head. The dark curls were a mess and yet still managed to look somewhat artful, as though he was just leaving a photo shoot. Then again, Sherlock always seemed to look like that, even sweaty and gross after a ride.

“Why aren’t you at Baker?” Sherlock asked.

“Because you’re here.” John looked out the window, peeking through the spaces of the blinds. The view was of the parking lot and a few cars had begun to move about, more people beginning the day and streaming in to work or appointments or for a visit.

“It’s not your job as groom to follow me everywhere. You’re to take care of my horse.”

“The horse is taken care of. And I’m not here as your groom,” John said, looking back down at Sherlock. He didn’t like when Sherlock played this game, pretended they weren’t what they were. Of course John was still his groom professionally, but he wasn’t about to let Sherlock gloss over the rest of it as if none of it mattered.

There must have been something in his look because Sherlock ducked his head, hiding his face from view. He possibly muttered a sorry but John couldn’t be sure. Either way, he took a deep breath, let it out through his nose and looked at Mrs. Hudson’s monitors, trying to decipher if she was getting better or not.

Sherlock cleared his throat and then spoke. “They said she should be able to leave at the end of the week.”

“Right before the Norwich show.”

“I…yes.”

“Sherlock.” John waited until the man looked up. “I know this was unexpected, but I need to know the schedule.”

"Schedule?”

“Are we going to the show or scratching?”

Sherlock pursed his lips and looked over at Mrs. Hudson. She was still, barely visible beneath all the trappings. Sherlock stared for a long time, the beep and pulse of the monitors the only noise in the room save the occasional squeak of shoes on linoleum in the hallway. “She would want us to.”

“Sorry?” Sherlock had spoken so quietly that John barely heard him.

“She would want us to go. Besides, Lestrade has already made plans for Scotland.”

John knew this but hadn’t wanted to pressure him. The last thing they needed was John forcing Sherlock to show and Sherlock blowing it. Neither their working or personal relationship could quite handle that at the moment.

“Right. In that case, you should practice today.”

Sherlock looked down at his hands and John sighed, putting a hand on Sherlock’s bony shoulder.

“She’ll be okay. Just a few hours and you can come back. Besides, we should let her rest.”

Sherlock didn’t reply but leaned his head, resting it on John’s arm. The soft skin of Sherlock’s ear was brushed against his forearm as the dark curls swept to the side. John huffed out a breath at the unexpected affection, tightening his grip and bringing his hand up to cup Sherlock’s chin. Sherlock’s head lifted a bit, eyes gazing up at John.

“I promise she’ll be all right,” John said. He couldn’t make such promises, not to Sherlock. But he had to. The way Sherlock gazed up at him, pale eyes searching his face for reassurance. Sherlock wouldn’t say it, wouldn’t admit to how much the entire thing had upset him, but he would allow John to see it. Something told John that, no matter what the doctors said, no matter what Greg said, it was only John’s word that really mattered to Sherlock. Hell, it seemed Mrs. Hudson herself could make the promise of full recovery and Sherlock would still wait for John’s agreement. “She’ll be okay,” he whispered.

Sherlock dropped his chin, leaning on John’s arm briefly before he stood up, John’s arm falling from Sherlock’s shoulder down to his slim waist. Sherlock turned, looking down at him and giving a small nod. “Right. Wouldn’t want to leave the horses waiting.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock and Elmer were riding in the rain. It was coming down hard, quickly turning the arena to slop. But the indoor was rather crowded and John knew without needing to be told that Sherlock would prefer to ride alone. Elmer worked through it like a champ, hooves splashing up great puddles of muck as they trotted through the ring, doing circles and leg yields to warm up.

Sherlock was clearly distracted, but did his best to focus. He kept his leg steady and his eyes forward but occasionally John would catch a hunch in his shoulders or a tremor in his hands and Elmer’s ear would twitch or there would be a hitch in his step. If only John could reassure the horse that his rider would pull through. Elmer knew it was show season, could tell that they should be working better than this, but he trotted steadily on, keeping his head tucked as rain streamed over his bridle and down his mane, sending the wet strands into his eyes and plastered to his dark neck.

Putting the horse on a circle, Sherlock picked up a canter, Elmer throwing out the correct lead despite the fact that John could clearly see Sherlock hadn’t asked correctly. Ears twitching back and forth, Elmer cantered on, spraying mud on John’s boots when they passed the section of fence he was perched on. Despite the rain slicker pulled up over his head, his jeans were soaked through and he could feel water pouring into the cracks in his boots. Thankfully there was less rain up north so the show wouldn’t be as bad as it was at Baker.

The grey turned in the opposite corner, cantering down the diagonal and performing a flying change at the center. Sherlock tipped forward a bit, shoulders hunched, before he caught himself and straightened up again, adjusting to catch the motion of the horse’s back.

John didn’t offer advice and Sherlock didn’t comment on the performance. Instead, they continued on in the rain, a steady sheet of water brimming over Sherlock’s helmet visor and his gray shirt turning almost as black as his pants and boots. But despite the poor ride, Elmer’s splashing feet were consistent and he didn’t balk at the low fences Sherlock popped him over.

Eventually the muck became too much and the rain was pouring down so hard that John could hardly see the pair crossing the arena. He slid off the fence, landing in a spray of mud, gravel, and water that splashed up across his coat, dripping down his front as Sherlock stopped in front of him, swinging his leg over and dismounting, sending up his own spray. Elmer snorted and stretched toward John, clearly begging to escape back into the warm, dry comfort of the barn. The rain had brought a slight drop in temperature, signaling the oncoming fall, and there was steam rising from the dappled grey rump, visible even through the downpour.

“Inside, both of you,” John said, looking pointedly at Sherlock. If the man would keep regular hours and actually eat three meals a day John would have been only mildly concerned. Now, however, emotionally compromised as he was, something bad seemed inevitable.

The three made their way back to the barn, the rain’s pitch immediately changing as they stepped into the wood and stone building. The echo was damped but still drowned out the typical noises of the barn. John could barely hear the clop of Elmer’s hooves and Sherlock’s boots were silent. Pushing Sherlock toward his apartment, John took Elmer to the wash stall, immediately stripping him of saddle and bridle before setting to work with a towel.

Once the horse was cooler, John wrestled with the mud and gunk splattered across the horse’s legs and barrel. Even the dark nose was now stained with drying crust. Tossing his used towel aside, John picked up another alternating stiff brush and towel until the horse was dry and clean once more.

His own jeans now damp and uncomfortable and his boots squelching with each step, John led the horse back to his stall, making sure he had clean water and a fresh flake of hay. He’d need to be checked on to ensure he’d cooled out properly, but for the moment John had to deal with Sherlock’s now sopping wet tack.

Because, naturally, those who partook in outdoor sports preferred leather as their material of choice.

Settled on the bench in the tack room, saddle on his knee and bridle hanging out to dry, John got to work. His own aches and pains could wait for now, as could his discomfort and damp. With only three days before the show and two days before they hauled out, there wouldn’t be much time for resting.

He was halfway through oiling the Antares’ skirt flaps when Sherlock sat down across from him. He’d changed into jeans and a dry shirt and John could smell the shampoo from his shower.

“That was horrible,” Sherlock said.

“It rains in England. Get used to it.”

“You know what I mean,” Sherlock said, frowning when John gave him a smile. Long pale fingers picked up the bottle of neetsfoot oil, turning it over and over.

“It wasn’t that bad. Besides, it’s nearly the end of the season, you’ve technically been practicing for months.”

Sherlock sighed and put the bottle down, resting his hands on his thighs. John kept his eyes on the saddle beneath his hands, trying not to pay too much attention to the fact that Sherlock was sitting like he was, legs spread out on either side of the wooden bench. Sherlock was far from that mindset and John wasn’t going to push him. No matter how well those jeans stretched across his thighs…

“Sorry, I should have used a different saddle. I didn’t realize you’d have to oil it back to life.”

“Part of the job. Besides, it wasn’t quite pouring when we headed out there.” John flipped the saddle, resting the pommel on his knee as he rubbed the underside down with an oiled rag. It hadn’t gotten as much rain, but the water had leaked down and stained the already dark leather to a near black. The oil soon polished it away, leaving the dry, cracked leather supple and glistening. John inhaled deeply, breathing in the familiar smell.

“We need to get you one,” Sherlock said.

“One what?” John resituated the saddle on his knee, setting his rag to the side and looking up at Sherlock.

“A new saddle. You can hardly continue to use one of the school’s.”

“There’s nothing wrong with the schooling saddles.”

“They’re…common.” Sherlock frowned, lines on his forehead bunching up at the thought of shared tack.

John rolled his eyes. “We don’t all come from money you know.”

“I’ll buy you one.”

“I’m hardly kept man material. You bought me the horse, let’s settle at that.”

Sherlock pursed his lips but John smiled at him, raising an eyebrow. “Mmm.”

“Trade?” John said, holding out the saddle and nodding at the bridle.”

Sherlock nodded, swinging one leg up and over the bench to stand. He returned the saddle to his rack, making sure not to touch the still-wet oil, and retrieved the bridle from its hook on the wall. He sat down again, both legs on the same side this time.

“Do you think we stand a chance?”

“Course you do,” John said. He began to undo the bridle, mentally marking where each buckle fit before taking it all apart and laying it out in front of him on the bench. Unfortunately, each piece had to be oiled separately before being pieced back together.

“Not if I ride like that.”

“You won’t. By then Mrs. Hudson will be back home and it won’t be raining.” John watched Sherlock from the corner of his eye, gauging his reaction at Mrs. Hudson’s name. The rider stayed quiet, looking down at his hands, but he didn’t stiffen and John took that as progress.

“She’ll want a blue ribbon,” Sherlock said.

“Then she’ll get one.”

Sherlock picked up the reins as John set them aside. He ran his fingers over the braided leather, pulling and twisting as he tested the effect of the rain. John polished the bridle back to life, holding out his hand for the reins and running the oiled rag over them carefully. If the rain kept up he’d be doing this over and over again, but it was a steady action, one he’d done hundreds of times over, and the quiet of the tack room and the soothing smell of the oil and leather helped him focus and ignore every other crazy thing that was going on in his life. Right now his job was to take care of Elmer and make sure that Sherlock could win.

Sherlock stayed quiet the next few days. The rain continued to fall but the indoor arena was generally free near dawn so they rose quietly and schooled before feeding. John took care of the horse, Sherlock fussed with his phone. John did his chores, Sherlock stopped by the hospital. They hardly spoke but they didn’t really need to. Greg nodded at them when they passed his office and Janine smiled and tried to make Sherlock laugh. No one mentioned the upcoming show but preparations were made and John only referred to his checklist when Sherlock was out of sight.

The day before the show, Sherlock stayed on the farm. John had expected him to visit with Mrs. Hudson until it was time to haul out. She’d been ordered to stay in hospital another day for extra monitoring before Greg could bring her home. The staff had already worked out a calendar of chore swapping so that someone could constantly be in attendance up at the big house. At least until Sherlock and John returned.

But Sherlock remained, staying silent but right by John’s side. He even helped bring horses in and put them out. He didn’t muck, but stood just outside the stall, tapping away on his phone, as John worked. It was odd, this rather clinging behavior from Sherlock, but John didn’t say anything about it.

They took only Elmer to the show, Pip nickering as they loaded up. But it was a small show, out of the way for most riders, and they had only a corral for Elmer since the barn had space for only ten extra horses. Sherlock hadn’t complained about this at all, which surprised the entire barn staff, though none dared comment. Sherlock joined John in the truck, neither really seeing the need for an extra car or wanting to undergo the entire two –hour drive alone.

Sherlock stayed on his phone most of the drive and John was occupied enough with driving the rig, but there was something pleasant about the company, silent as it was. John found that they tended to be silent or growling at each other and he would gladly accept the silence, especially since it was far from the stiff, terrified silence of waiting-room Sherlock from a few days prior. He’d calmed after speaking with Mrs. Hudson and proving for himself that she really would be all right, but there was still something of an edge, softer though it may be. However, it no longer felt like a wall between them and John had sighed in contentment the first night Sherlock willingly curled up into him.

They pulled into the farm a little after dark. Sherlock wasn’t scheduled to ride until mid-afternoon the next day and hadn’t wanted to keep Elmer separated from Pip for too long. Once John was directed to a spot just off the main circle drive, they pulled Elmer out, allowing the horse a moment to raise his great head and look around. He pranced for a moment, tossing his head and swishing his tail as horses and riders walked past before finally dropping his head to eat, no longer interested in it all. John gave the horse a pat and walked him over to Sherlock, handing over the leadrope and turning back to pull out the corral fencing.

A few volunteers ran over to help him, casting quick glances at Sherlock and Elmer before beginning to help pull out the metal pieces, lining them up so each hook fell into its allotted spot. They had the corral up in about twenty minutes, using the side of the trailer as one wall to give Elmer extra space. John thanked them as they jogged off to help the next rig that pulled up. As small as the barn was, he had to say he was surprised at the number of volunteers. Unless they’d only been so eager to help because of Sherlock. But he wasn’t about to complain.

“All right, bring him in,” John said.

Sherlock led him over, allowing the horse to sniff and inspect the new fencing before unclipping his leadrope and letting the horse walk around the circle. When he dropped his head to graze once more John nodded and sighed. There was always a chance a horse as hot as Elmer would get a bit worked up over temporary fencing, especially without a companion. But their stay was short and Elmer proved his worth and professionalism so John tossed the horse a few flakes of hay and began to sort through the rest of their equipment.

To keep an eye on Elmer, they were bunking in the trailer, the double bed settled above the tack compartment keeping them for the night. It wasn’t long ago that John had tutted at trailers with plumbing and full bedrooms, but now he was rather grateful that Baker Farms was wealthy and happy to show that off.

Sherlock wandered off to check in, returning with his number and the ride list. The two of them quickly scanned for any unplanned competitors, but the list was free of any stiff competition and John allowed himself to truly believe, for admittedly the first time that week, that Sherlock would win. Sherlock seemed to feel the same, humming to himself and tucking the list back into the manila folder he’d been given.

“I think we’ll take him over to the ring and lunge,” Sherlock said.

“Catch him and I’ll grab his groombox.”

They quickly brushed over the already clean horse and John spent just a few minutes throwing Elmer’s mane into braids. It obviously wasn’t a judged round, but presentation had been so ingrained in him that he couldn’t allow the horse to go out mane flowing. Sherlock nodded in approval and walked along beside them as John led the horse to the indoor ring. Lunge whip in hand.

He gave the gate keeper their name and show number and were let in, Sherlock settling against the outside of the ring as John maneuvered the few horses and riders already working. He put Elmer through his paces, the big grey dropping his head and engaging his hindquarters as he floated around John, quite possibly showing off before they even began the judged event. John saw a brief flash of pride in Sherlock’s face as a few of the riders stopped to admire the warmblood.

After about twenty minutes Sherlock nodded and John brought the horse to a walk, reeling in the lunge line and reattaching Elmer’s regular lead. He gave the horse a pat and checked him over for sweat marks, pleased that the horse was still relatively cool.

“He moves like that tomorrow and it’s in the bag,” John said as they met Sherlock at the gate.

“It’ll be a bit more difficult than that, but he seems to have settled quickly.”

“Have you?” John asked. He didn’t like reminding Sherlock of his unusual mood, but it was his professional responsibility to ask.

Sherlock frowned at the ground for a bit before looking up at John, blue eyes wide and unsure. “I hope so.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock deigned to do an interview with one of the reporters at the show so John spent the morning alone. Things had been quiet overnight, John threatening to drug Sherlock if the rider didn’t get some sleep, while he himself stayed awake most of the night, keeping one ear out for Elmer and one eye on Sherlock. But despite his rather weary mood, Elmer was feeling good and, if a higher power was looking out for them, so was Sherlock.

The man returned around lunch, handing John a sub and a packet of crisps, nothing but a coffee in his own hand. At John’s frown, Sherlock nodded toward the trailer. “I’ve food in there. I’ll eat something.”

“Hard to win ribbons when you fall of your horse from exhaustion.”

“I’m fairly certain you’d tie me to the saddle before that happened.”

John harrumphed (but had to admit to a bit of accuracy there) before joining Sherlock on the running board of the truck, each settling as much as they could on the thin rail. “You know, we could have brought the chairs,” John said, fidgeting. The rail was digging into his arse and he was tempted to just sit on the ground.

“No need,” Sherlock said, sipping his coffee and watching the other horses and teams scattered about the main circle drive. It was a relatively small horse show, but if they won here, they’d get three weeks off before Reichenbach.

All the way in Switzerland, they’d have to ship or fly Elmer over. And Pip would surely be going along to act as company. John was glad he didn’t have to foot the bill, but Ariat would be more than happy to do so if Sherlock won the trials wearing their brand. Of course, Britain itself would help with some of the cost, what with the competition being international. They would hardly allow the Americans to one-up them yet again. John wondered how many royals they’d see at the trails. One of them was still at Olympic level if he could remember right.

“Why haven’t you joined the Olympic team?” he asked, suddenly surprised that “gold medal winner” had yet to appear on Sherlock’s resume.
“Haven’t been interested,” Sherlock said, stealing a crisp.

“Who isn’t interested in riding for team Great Britain?”

“Mmm. It would mean a change in coach, change in barn. I’m hardly one for team sports.”

“Right.” John shook his head. “And you hardly have a coach as it is.”

“Wouldn’t want Mrs. Hudson to be jealous though. And Greg would miss me terribly.” A small grin appeared on Sherlock’s face.

“If I didn’t know any better I’d say you tried out and failed, but you honestly just haven’t tried out.”

“No. Perhaps some day.”

John shook his head again at the fact that Sherlock could, in fact, join the team whenever he so fancied. Christ. “Basically you need to go to the Olympics so I can go to the Olympics,” he said.

Sherlock smiled again. “I’ll consider it, if it means that much to you.”

John finished his lunch and stood, offering a hand to Sherlock who took it and stood as well. “Grab your saddle, we’ve got a show to win.”

“The entire show would be something…but I’ll settle for the class.”

“If you’re going to be a prick about it you can wait in the trailer.”

“I do so appreciate your pep talks.”

“Yes, I can see they have a huge effect on you.”

John rolled his eyes but Sherlock still walked around the truck, grabbing his tack from the trailer. He bridled Elmer while John adjusted his saddle and pads, tightening the girth and wrapping up his boots. He’d already done Elmer’s mane and tail that morning, but he ran over the horse with another coat of Showsheen and added the bottle and an extra towel to his pack. While John led the horse out of his corral, Sherlock put on his spurs and helmet, pushing the curls beneath the black velvet despite their unwillingness to cooperate. Show coat over his arm, they headed off to the warm up ring.

Two laps around and John knew something was wrong. Sherlock was stiff and behind, Elmer’s ears twitching as Sherlock’s weight shifted this way and that. It wasn’t like the rider to be off at all, and John watched his fingers tighten on the reins as they trotted by. He settled a bit at the canter, finally dropping his weight more securely into his leg and his shoulders relaxing a touch to absorb Elmer’s motion when he sat, but John could only hope that the progress Sherlock had appeared to be making wasn’t just a show he’d put on. But the longer John watched the pair warm up, the more he became convinced it might have been. Though Sherlock had been better, he hadn’t been himself.

Knowing that Sherlock would start to overthink everything, John called to him that he should only take the warm up jump twice either direction. Sherlock nodded and did just that, chipping in the first time and taking a long spot the second. John could see the other riders start to notice. It wasn’t uncommon for a warm up to be a bit rough, but Sherlock wasn’t riding a young or green horse by any means and he was widely known to be a bit of a perfectionist. Before too much talk could spread, John motioned them over to the gate and led them from the ring. Sherlock dismounted and stared at the ground, taking his coat from John and following as John led the horse over to a free patch of grass.

“What’s wrong?” John asked, checking over the horse before turning his full attention to Sherlock.

“I don’t know.”

“Yes you do, but you’re better than that.”

“I can’t—“

“Yes you can,” John interrupted, not really caring how the sentence was going to end. “Sherlock, you’re fine. Elmer’s feeling good, you just need to get out of your own head.”

“Riding is being in your own head,” Sherlock replied, frowning and looking at Elmer.

“Part of it, yes. The other part is instinct and practice. Both of which you have in spades. Trust your horse,” John said, giving Elmer a pat, “and trust yourself.” He stepped closer to Sherlock, quickly glancing around before reaching out to squeeze the man’s shoulder.

Sherlock looked up at him, eyes grey. “I can’t focus.”

“Stop trying to. Your body knows what to do. Just tell your brain to shut up for a while, yeah?”

“Oh yes, I’ll get right on that.” Sherlock rolled his eyes.

“Oh for the love of—“ John reached forward and grabbed the back of Sherlock’s neck, dragging the man’s lips down to his own. Sherlock gasped in surprise and John had to twist his face to avoid the rim of Sherlock’s helmet, but after a moment Sherlock softened into the kiss, John’s hand sliding down to Sherlock’s back as he felt Sherlock’s fingers wrap around his hip. After a moment he pulled back, reminding himself to keep his fingers closed around Elmer’s reins as Sherlock stared down at him with those now ice blue eyes that seemed capable of holding John in their grasp forever. “See. Stop thinking.”

Sherlock huffed out a breath and his tongue flicked out, running along his bottom lip. John had to stop himself from chasing it back into Sherlock’s mouth.

“Go out there and jump some fences,” he said.

Sherlock’s fingers tightened on John’s hip before sliding away, John letting go of his grip on Sherlock’s back and putting another foot of distance between them. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have tempted fate with such an act, but it was the only thing he could think of to shock Sherlock out of his own mind’s hold on him. Well, he could think of other things, but it seemed the most appropriate.

Elmer pulled at the reins and John had to turn back to properly hold him, yanking the horse’s head up from the grass. “I think you’ve had enough now,” he said to the grey. “Shall we go work?”

He spun the horse back toward the arena, checking his watch as Sherlock slung his coat on and buttoned it up. He readjusted his helmet strap and did the ties on his number. “Ten minutes,” Sherlock said when they stopped just outside the ring with two of the other riders in Sherlock’s class. They gave him a wary look and John hoped that they would now be content to settle for second.

Once Sherlock was mounted, John wiped down his boots, brushed over Elmer’s legs once more, and reminded Sherlock to tuck an escaping curl back under his helmet. When the pair was on deck, John squeezed Sherlock’s knee.

“Eyes up, heels down.”

Sherlock nodded, eyes focused on the course he was about to ride. John nodded at the gate-keeper and took hold of Elmer’s bridle, waiting to send the horse in. As the little bay in front of them finished the course (way too slowly to be any real competition) John gave Elmer a cluck, sent up a quick prayer to whoever was listening, and watched Sherlock trot into the ring.

Their approach circle was slow and Sherlock was a bit perched but the horse automatically picked up speed as they turned toward their first fence and crossed the start line. John knew the current time to beat was a minute ten with only two riders set to go after Sherlock. Elmer cleared the first vertical with room to spare and Sherlock immediately spun him toward the offset oxer, the horse flying over that too. With two clean jumps under his belt, Sherlock finally settled and John could have sworn he saw Sherlock shake his head and nod to himself before he sat deeper, clucked Elmer on, and finally did his job.

They swept through the in-and-out, took the short line to an oxer and flew over at a diagonal. Sherlock sat down, spun Elmer out and popped him over the skinny before taking on the outside line, three oxers of increasing height. He pulled Elmer back for a stride before the final fence, putting on a burst of speed three strides out as Elmer sailed over the wall and galloped for home. John looked at the clock. Minute eight.

When they were called back in to collect their trophy and ribbon, Sherlock allowed himself a small smile but gave Elmer a great pat, the horse nodding his head and flicking his ears at the applause of the crowd. John couldn’t help but beam at the pair as they walked back out of the ring, Elmer stretched on the buckle and Sherlock with a cautious smile on his face.

“And what did I tell you?” John said, holding the grey and bragging on him as Sherlock dismounted.

“He did most of the work.”

“Yes, you clearly just sat there, along for the ride,” John said.

Sherlock pursed his lips but walked silently alongside John, shoulders occasionally bumping as they led the grey back to their trailer. They were loading up and heading out immediately, both eager to take advantage of the rest and celebration they now deserved.

But it wasn’t until they’d dismantled the corral, packed up their equipment, and loaded Elmer that John actually got a chance to talk to Sherlock. He found the rider just shutting the tack room door.

“Congratulations,” John said.

“It was because of you,” Sherlock replied. He looked around for any sign of people before reaching out for John’s hip, pulling him forward.

John went eagerly, smiling at Sherlock before tipping his head back, eyes closing as Sherlocks mouth covered his and he could feel Sherlock’s tongue smooth over the crack in his lips, sliding inside when John opened them. He let out a sigh, melting against Sherlock as Sherlock in turn leaned against the trailer. John let his arms wind around Sherlock’s neck, pulling the man even closer. God he’d missed this. It had been only a few days since Mrs. Hudson’s fall but they hadn’t so much as held hands during that time. Sherlock too wrapped up in his own head and John too…well, too unsure of what to do and frightened that he’d make it worse. But this, he needed it. This closeness he’d been missing for the past week, that was how he handled things. He’d been just as upset to hear about his boss, but he couldn’t ask that of Sherlock, not when the man was so clearly affected by it all.

Sherlock hummed against him before pulling back, resting his forehead against John’s for a moment before letting go. “Elmer will be getting worried.”

“We wouldn’t want to keep our first place finisher waiting,” John agreed, reluctantly letting go of Sherlock. “And I’m proud of you both, by the way.”

Sherlock looked at the ground and John could see a faint blush on his pale cheeks.

“Has anyone actually told you that?” he asked.

“It wasn’t Mother’s preferred teaching technique, no,” Sherlock admitted quietly.

“Christ, no wonder you second guess yourself so much,” John said. He reached out for one of Sherlock’s hands, squeezing. “Well for every time she forgot to tell you, I’m proud of you.”

Sherlock still didn’t meet his eyes but he squeezed back, fingers wrapping around John’s almost painfully before he let them drop and pushed off from the trailer, stepping around to the passenger side door of the truck. John looked after him, not needing Sherlock to reply to know he’d hit rather closer to home than he could have imagined.

“And everyone’s proud of you too,” he told Elmer, doing one last check before getting into the truck himself. Sherlock was on his phone and John smiled, starting up the truck and heading for home.

Chapter Text

It seemed as though they’d hardly gotten back to the farm before John found himself standing in Sherlock’s room and packing for the rider who was downstairs, tutting over Mrs. Hudson and informing her that she didn’t have enough pillows. John smiled to himself and stuffed the one jumper that Sherlock owned into the open suitcase on the bed. They would be leaving the following morning, Greg having already set his packed suitcase on his desk, in case anyone was thinking about keeping him from the trip.

Tossing in a pair of pajama pants and an old t-shirt, John zipped the case closed, setting it beside the bed before wandering back downstairs. Mrs. Hudson had been set up on the sofa, the coffeetable pulled close to her with water, medications, and snacks. Sherlock and John were on watch duty that night and Sally would be taking over come morning.

“All right?” John asked as he stepped into the living room.

“I’m fine, dear,” Mrs. Hudson said.

Sherlock had finally let the pillow thing go and had slunk into the kitchen, banging something around. John sat down on the edge of the coffeetable.

“You’ve got all your medications but someone can run to the chemist and pick up more if you need,” he said, glancing over the little pill bottles on the table. There were four in sight.

“You don’t need to worry about it, John. Just go and have a good time.”

“We can hold off if we need to,” he said.

“Over little old me? I’m fine,” she said, reaching to cover his hand with her own. Her papery flesh was warmer now, the color back in her cheeks and her eyes closer to their usual spark.

“If the boss commands,” John sighed.

Mrs. Hudson smiled then coughed, reaching for the glass of water.

“Crap telly?” John asked, picking up the remote.

Setting the glass back down, Mrs. Hudson nodded, settling back into the fluffed up pillows behind her. John stood up and pulled the old armchair beside the couch, turning to a chat show he’d seen Mrs. Hudson watch before. He quickly found himself zoning out, but the woman seemed happy to have company and John kept a smile on his face while he let his mind drift to the upcoming trip.

In the end only Molly, Greg, Janine and a few of Greg’s friends were joining them. Six horses from Baker were being shipped up, Greg’s friends meeting them there, and Greg, most likely to get away from the chatty women, had volunteered to drive the trailer. John and Sherlock would be following in John’s Jeep with the girls heading up earlier to prepare everything. Well, it wouldn’t be a Baker roadtrip without at least three excessive vehicles.

John didn’t know much about the northern farm, but apparently Greg’s family had been going there for years and, upon his divorce a few years back, he’d had made it a Baker tradition. Of course, the idea was to take Mrs. Hudson and the rest of the staff, but they were lucky for the break at all with everything that had happened.
And, not including the two days of driving there and back, it was set to be a rather blissful four days.

If Sherlock would speak to him.

It wasn’t that the rider was actively avoiding him. He had, actually, been rather more expressive than the initial few days after the accident, but John could feel that something else just wasn’t quite right. There was something off about the man…as though he was faking…well, faking something. But maybe getting away would help to solve it all. A vacation, that’s what he needed.

At least, that was what John was telling himself. Because if it was more than that, if Sherlock was bored or purposely being distant. Well, John couldn’t really handle that. He would if he had to, he wasn’t about to force Sherlock to maintain whatever their relationship was, but John needed more. Needed something solid. The same thing, basically that he’d always needed. And perhaps it was needy and rushed of him but he was old enough to know better and dammit he didn’t know how much more he could take. So many years had passed without a lasting relationship and…he was sentimental enough to want one.

And maybe now would be the time. This trip could end up being exactly what they needed or tear them apart. Well, fun would be had for sure.
Around 10 Mrs. Hudson began falling asleep and John and Sherlock shut off the telly and helped her to her room, insisting that sleeping on the couch would only make her miserable. She complied with little fuss, taking her pills before the two slipped out to leave her in piece, her door cracked just enough so they could hear her call if she needed them.

John followed Sherlock upstairs after turning off all the lights save the one in the stairwell. The last thing he wanted was to stumble down them to check on Mrs. Hudson. Sherlock looked at his packed case and pushed it over by the door, throwing a questioning glance at John.

“Well it’s not like you were going to pack it,” he said.

“I’m quite capable of packing my own luggage thank you very much.”

“We’re spending a week in a manor house in Scotland. Don’t think you’ll need all of your suits.”

Sherlock pursed his lips and went into the bathroom. His toiletries at least he could pack on his own.

John’s own bag still went unpacked in his apartment, but he would need only a few minutes to toss in a pair or two of jeans and a jumper for the evenings. More concerned with the horses, he went over the checklist in his head while Sherlock finished up, leaving the bathroom light on for him when he stepped out.

John showered and brushed his teeth, pulling on pajama pants and wandering back out from the bathroom. Sherlock was seated on the bed, resting against the headboard with a book in his hand.

“Anything interesting?” John asked, sliding beneath the covers and picking up his own paperback from where he’d left it on the side table.

“Mmm, history of beekeeping.”

“Bees? Didn’t know you were interested,” John said.

“Bees are fascinating creatures,” Sherlock informed him, turning the page.

“Naturally,” John said, settling in a little. They didn’t have to leave until mid-morning but he was already tired. Opening his own book to the spot he’d bookmarked, he tried to remember what had last happened.

“The author lives in Sussex.”

“Who?”

“The author,” Sherlock repeated, indicating his book. “I’ve a mind to go down there.”

“To learn how to raise bees? Horses not enough for you?”

“I highly doubt I’ll be able to ride competitively at 80, John.”

“Oh, so you plan on making your own honey?” John looked over, watching the delicate sniff Sherlock gave as he dramatically didn’t look at John. John couldn’t help but laugh and scooted over just a bit closer to Sherlock.

They read in silence for a while, each lost in his own world before John could no longer stop his yawning and set the book down. He adjusted his pillows and turned to face Sherlock, not at all bothered by the lamp that was still on. He rolled closer, just inches away from Sherlock’s thigh, and sighed. He could feel Sherlock glance down at him but kept his eyes closed. They were taking a break – going on the first holiday Sherlock had had all year – and damn it all if John wasn’t prepared to make the most of it.

“’night,” he grumbled, already feeling the pull of sleep.

“Good night, John.”

 

He woke in much the same position, though the other side of the bed was empty. At least the sheets were rumpled, so Sherlock must have slept at some point. John rolled to his other side, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. He could hear voices downstairs and assumed that Sherlock had moved Mrs. Hudson back to the living room.
John stood and made his way to the bathroom, shaving and brushing his teeth before grabbing the pair of jeans he’d worn yesterday. He found one of Sherlock’s t-shirts and tossed that on as well.

Trotting down the stairs, he found Greg in the living room, chatting with Mrs. Hudson about the horses. Greg nodded at him and John walked past to the kitchen.

“Tea, Greg?”

“Cheers.”

Sherlock was sitting at the kitchen table, watching old jumper derby videos on his laptop. He’d thrown on his blue dressing gown, but John could tell he was already dressed.

“Morning,” he said as he filled the kettle.

“Mmmm,” Sherlock hummed.

“You eaten?”

“No.”

“I’m not surprised. Toast at least, please.”

Sherlock didn’t reply but John popped two pieces of bread in the toaster and pulled out the jam. It wasn’t until recently that he’d been even remotely comfortable rustling about Mrs. Hudson’s kitchen, but he supposed it was partially Sherlock’s and it wasn’t as if the rider was going to use it.

The kettle chimed and John pulled out three mugs, dropping in the tea bags and covering them each with boiling water. The steam rose in little tendrils from each cup.

“Milk or sugar?” John called out to the living room.

“Black,” Greg replied. No surprise there.

John took the mug out to Greg, checking that Mrs. Hudson was still well stocked before making his way back to the kitchen. He handed Sherlock a mug and set the toast in front of him. He bent down and kissed Sherlock’s cheek before he could think better of it and chicken out. “Eat, please.”

Sherlock grumbled but didn’t look up and didn’t argue, taking a bite of toast. John smiled at him over his tea as he sat down in the chair cattycorner.

“We ready, gents?” Greg asked, appearing in the doorway. He had one hand shoved in his pocket, leaning against the doorframe in the most relaxed position John had ever seen him in. And here he’d been thinking that it was Sherlock who needed this vacation most.

“Just about. What time you want to start loading up?”

“Figured we could get all the supplies in by ten, head out right after that?”

“Sounds good,” John nodded.

“And you’re aware there’s no wifi,” Greg said, looking at Sherlock though the dark head didn’t look up.

“Dataplan,” Sherlock replied.

“Not if I steal your phone from you,” John said.

This time Sherlock did look up. “You wouldn’t dare.” He narrowed his eyes at John, a challenge clearly waiting for him.

John simply sat back and took a sip of tea. Greg chuckled and Sherlock glared.

Chapter Text

“I’m not spending the entire drive with you on your phone,” John said, taking a moment to glare at Sherlock before turning his eyes back to the road. They were directly behind Greg, keeping an eye on the large trailer and the horses within. Naturally, pulling six horses up toward the Scottish Highlands was not a quick endeavor, and John was already bored with the silence filling his beat up Jeep.

“What would you prefer to do?” Sherlock asked, clicking away on his phone though he’d –blessedly – turned off the keypad sounds.

“I don’t know, talking?”

“About what?”

“Whatever. Anything, nothing. It doesn’t matter.”

“You’re right, it doesn’t.”

“Charming, aren’t you,” John said.

Sherlock heaved a sigh and put his phone in his lap, making a show of crossing his arms and looking at John. “Dearest John, of what do you wish to speak.”

John rolled his eyes. “I don’t know…what’s your favorite color?”

“I don’t have one.”

“Everyone does. What colors do you generally like?”

“Why is that at all important?”

“Because,” John said, thinking over the question, “I hardly know anything about you.”

“You know enough.”

“Something wrong with wanting to know more? I know everything about you as a rider, Sherlock, not so much as a person.”

“Favorite colors are a ridiculous way of ‘getting to know someone,’” Sherlock said.

“Humor me.” John risked another glance across at Sherlock.

Sherlock heaved a sigh. “Cobalt blue.”

“Mmm, you’d look good in that color.”

“As would you,” Sherlock said.

John grinned. “All right, favorite food.”

“This is tiresome already.”

John gave him a pointed look.

“Fine. Each year around Christmas Mrs. Hudson makes some type of biscuit.”

“Ah, a sweet tooth. I shouldn’t be surprised.”

Sherlock shook his head, picking up his phone once more. He turned to look at John, waiting.

“All right fine. But I’m putting on music and you’re not complaining. Also we must speak every 20 minutes.”

Sherlock grumbled to himself but didn’t argue.

 

The drive ended up taking near six hours. John was bleary eyed and exhausted by the time they pulled in, but the horses had all been fine each time they’d checked and Sherlock had managed to answer one of John’s questions every half hour, even asking one or two of his own.

Though it was only just nearing twilight, the sun was already at the tip of one of the mountains, each peak rising up in a jagged point, great swaths of green and blues covering their sides, snow just visible on the peaks. Sherlock didn’t look up too much, but John blinked his eyes wider at nearly every turn for the last hour of the drive when they’d officially crossed over into the Highlands. There was the occasional hairy coo and cabins and hotels. They passed lochs and fields in between the mountain peaks.

And then they pulled into the long drive to the manor and Greg pulled the trailer out from in front of them and John nearly slammed on the breaks when he saw the great stone manor. It was situated at the bottom of a smaller cliff, sheltered from the worst of the wind. They were in a valley, a small stream running about fifty meters from the house and John could see the stone barn not too far off, a few horses looking up from their grazing as they watched the rig pull in.

John pulled in beside Molly’s car, staring open mouthed at the great house before him as he stepped from the Jeep. He looked over at Sherlock, who was still on his phone, but couldn’t quite bring himself to care all that much as he looked back at the house. Great grey stone covered the entire massive structure. Two floors expanding off in either direction to make something that, for all intents and purposes, might as well have been Buckingham Palace. There were tall glass windows recessed somewhat into the worn, weather-beaten stone, and smoke rose from one of the chimney’s. It would no doubt take a tremendous fire to warm even part of the place.

Greg stepped up beside him, chuckling a bit. “Quite something, isn’t it?”

“I’ll say.”

“Come on, help me with the horses then you can settle in. It was a long drive.”

“Worth it,” John said, grinning at Greg.

Just then, Janine and Molly stepped out of the huge, wooden front door.

“You made it!” Molly smiled, looking over at the horses. “Everyone all right?”

“Just fine. No one complained too badly,” Greg replied.

“Come on, you lot, we’ll show you to your rooms,” Janine said.

Molly nodded and stepped over to the Jeep, helping a reluctant Sherlock pull out their bags, Greg’s included with their things.

“Assuming you two will be sharing,” Janine said, nudging John.

“Yeah, all right,” John said, trying to smile back. He’d almost forget that they were actually staying here.

“Don’t look so excited. We gave you your own wing and everything. Bit of a honeymoon, eh?” she grinned.

“Not married,” John said, shrugging off the hint of worry that had started to creep up his spine.

“Yet,” Janine laughed. She spun to help Molly, following her and Sherlock into the house with their bags.

John shook his head and stepped over to help Greg, letting each horse take a look around before leading them into the great stone barn. It was made almost entirely of stone, only a few extra wooden support beams and stall doors not made of the dark grey stone. The stalls were old, huge boxes filled with pine shavings and fresh water.

“Looks like the girls got it all set up,” John said, giving Pip a pat on the neck as he let him loose in the stall to explore. Greg put Elmer in beside him, the two horses sniffing over the medium stone wall that separated their stalls. Thank god none of their horses were biters.

They brought in the rest of the horses, waiting for them each to settle into their new stalls before tossing a few flakes of hay in with each. The barn was dark as the sun slipped behind the mountains, but the horses seemed content so John and Greg left them for a few hours to settle in themselves.

Molly met them at the door again, smiling widely as John took it all in. They’d entered a huge foyer, chandelier hanging above them and a grand staircase to his left.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” she asked.

John let out a low whistle and Greg smiled fondly at the old building.

“Greg, you’re through here,” she said, indicating a hall just past the staircase. “And John, you’re upstairs to the right. Sherlock’s already up there.”

“Cheers,” he said, smiling as Janine came in view.

“Kitchen’s through there and our host will be back within the hour. John, I’ll show you your room?”

He nodded and followed her up the staircase, oil painted portraits hanging on the walls. “Ancestors?” he asked.

“Most likely.”

The reached the top, dark blood red carpet covering the stone floor. Janine took a right, walking down the hallway a bit before stopping in front of one of the large wooden doors.

“This is you. Toilet’s just across the hall,” she pointed, “and I’ll take barn check tonight.”

“You don’t have to do that,” John said, frowning at her. They’d already set up each stall.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, giving him a smile. “You’re on holiday.”

“So are you,” he reminded her.

“But I’m not on holiday with the tall drink of water in there,” she smirked, twirling away and off down the hall toward the stairs.

John shook his head and stepped into the room. It was large but bare, a huge four-poster bed taking up most of the space opposite a wall of bookcases and a fireplace, currently dark and empty. There were a few chairs scattered about the corners and he saw his luggage on one of them.

“How were they?” Sherlock asked from the bed.

“All settled in. No one seemed too sore or stressed.”

“Good.” Sherlock swiped at something on his phone’s screen.

John grit his teeth. “I’m for a shower,” he said, rustling through his luggage for a change of clothes.”

“Right,” Sherlock said, not looking up.

Because of course, here they were in some gothic manor straight out of a romance novel and all Sherlock wanted to do was stare at his bloody phone. John kept his mouth shut and crossed the hall to the bathroom, the upper corridor silent. Had they really been given an entire wing of this place? It would take him nearly a half hour to walk each room it seemed. He’d have to do some exploring later.

 

“Sherlock, seriously, give the phone a rest,” John said, stepping back into their room and closing the door behind him. Sherlock was sitting on the end of the bed, still examining something on his phone.

“You said no laptop, I didn’t bring my laptop,” Sherlock said, never looking up.

“Does this not mean anything to you?” John asked, tossing his towel across the back of a chair and dropping his things down near his suitcase, finally fed up with it all.

“What?”

“This, Sherlock! We’re off the farm, have a break in competition, finally get to spend some time alone, and all you can do is stare at your phone all day!”

“It’s important,” Sherlock said.

“No,” John snapped, stepping over to the bed, “this is important.” He reached for the phone, Sherlock looking up to glare at him as his fingers twined around the device.

“Leave it,” he snarled, pulling back.

“Don’t be a child.”

“Stop trying to take my things.”

John tugged again, their fingers slipping and twining and reaching as they each grappled for the phone.

“It’s not important, John, just leave it.”

“It is important. You’ve spent more time with that phone than you have with me!”

“Don’t be petty,” Sherlock snapped, but his fingers slipped and the phone slid out of his hand, John snatching it up and holding it away.

“Honestly, is this phone more important to you?”

“Than what?”

“Than me!” John growled, instantly shutting his mouth and groaning. He hadn’t meant to say that out loud. It sounded small and pathetic. But it was true. “Seriously, is,” he looked down at the phone to ascertain just what was so important when his voice caught, mouth falling open without making a sound. “This is Ipping.” He looked down at the picture that Sherlock had been examining. It was the jump. The jump that had shattered John’s world.

“John,” Sherlock said, making a pass to grab the phone once more but John stepped backward, holding it out of his grasp.

“Why do you have this?”

Sherlock looked at him, mouth a thin, hard line. His jaw flexed and he met John’s gaze, eyes steel grey and hard. “Give me the phone.”

“Why?” John asked again, trying to keep his voice down. He was getting over it. Happy with a new job and Sherlock to distract him. He had Pip, had a new purpose. And here Sherlock was dragging it up again. “Why?”

“I was simply looking into it.”

“Looking into it? What is there to look into? We hit the jump, Bart died.”

Sherlock winced a bit at the cold, harsh tone as John bit out the statement. “That doesn’t seem odd to you?” he asked, voice low.

“It happens. Cross-country is dangerous. It was my fault and I lost the horse, end of story.”

“It wasn’t your fault.” Sherlock had dropped his gaze, playing with the hem of his shirt. His voice was quiet, almost too soft for John to hear.

“Excuse me?”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Sherlock said more loudly, bringing his gaze back up to meet John’s. His eyes were hard but the edges were softening, as if he felt bad for John. As if he actually believed it wasn’t John’s fault.

“And how the hell would you know that?” John asked, clenching the phone in his hand. Sherlock’s eyes darted to the phone but quickly went back up to John’s, a dark curl sweeping across his forehead, softening the otherwise harsh lines of his face.

“Because I’ve been looking into it.”

“That accident was over a year ago,” John said, voice quiet.

“I know.”

“And what exactly do you suggest happened?” John asked, taking a step closer to the bed. He was still a few feet away though, phone clenched in his grasp.

“Moriarty.”

“Oh, of course, Moriarty,” John snarled. “And how did Moriarty kill my horse?”

Sherlock winced a bit but kept his back straight, focused entirely on John. “His groom planted something in the fence, a remote controlled device,” Sherlock said. “Once you were on course, Moriarty activated it.”

“Right,” John said, looking down at the phone in his hand. He wasn’t sure what was more ridiculous, the fact that he’d had to wrestle the phone out of Sherlock’s hand like a five-year-old or the fact that Sherlock was so preoccupied with a nearly two-year-old accident that he couldn’t even give John the time of day. He stared at the picture on the screen, looking at the dark brush and wooden logs, the red flag to the right, indicating the direction it was to be jumped. He lifted his thumb, swiping the image to the right. He nearly dropped the phone.

“John—“

“This is what you’ve been looking at?” John asked. “This is how you’ve been spending your time?” He held down the bile rising in his throat, turning the phone so he didn’t have to look at the image again.

“John,” Sherlock said again, standing from the bed and cautiously walking toward him, hand held out to take the phone.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” John said, voice nearly a whisper.

Sherlock stepped closer, keeping his eyes locked with John’s. He cautiously reached out, wrapping his hand around John’s and sliding the phone from his grasp. He hit the lock button, the image disappearing. The image that John had suffered months of nightmares over. The image of his horse, front foot catching on the fence, head dropping forward as his body weight shifted, a moment away from snapping his neck.

John blinked, Sherlock’s eyes still locked on his. “Why?” he asked, not entirely sure which answer he wanted.

“I…I don’t know,” Sherlock said, swallowing hard before tossing the phone on the bed and taking both of John’s hands in his. “I didn’t want…it wasn’t your fault,” he said.

John blinked again, his vision blurring and his eyes beginning to burn. “You…how?” he whispered, not sure if he was falling into Sherlock’s chest of if Sherlock was moving closer to him.

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock said and John didn’t care what he was apologizing for. He pressed his face into Sherlock’s shirt, shutting his eyes and doing his best to black out. He felt Sherlock free his hands, wrapping his arms around John’s back and holding him close.

“You can’t fucking do that,” John hissed, still not sure who he was talking to.

“I know. I’m sorry,” Sherlock repeated.

“Why?” John asked.

But Sherlock didn’t answer, simply held John to him, a hand reaching up to run through John’s hair. John accepted the gesture for a moment before pushing back, easily breaking away from Sherlock’s hold. He wiped at his face harshly, not looking up at Sherlock as he stepped back. “John?”

“Just don’t, Sherlock.”

“It wasn’t your fault. There was a device, something that cut his pastern. It wasn’t your fault, John.”

“No, he wasn’t balanced, I let him drag.”

“He was cut, it might have even pulled him—“

“Enough!” John growled. Sherlock stopped talking, body held still as though he were waiting for John to hit him. It was tempting. “Why did you have to bring it up? Why was it so important that you went chasing after a crazy theory? Can you even prove it?”

“Yes. There’s evidence. You can see it in the photographs.”

“Seriously? A remote controlled device was set off at the exact second that I was taking that fence.”

“Yes. A wire, razor sharp and nearly invisible.”

John growled, gritting his teeth. It seemed impossible, but he’d never known Sherlock to be wrong. And it did…well it did justify John as a rider, if it wasn’t actually his fault. But still, it was the past and now Sherlock had spent the last God knew how many months staring at photos of John, his mount dying beneath him.

“Why, Sherlock? Why are you looking at all this now? In the middle of competition?”

Sherlock dropped his gaze, staring down at the floor.

Then it clicked. Moriarty. “You were trying to get him eliminated,” John said, voice cracking as he laughed. “That’s what all of this was about. You cutting down your competition.” John stared up at the ceiling. “Next thing you’re going to tell me is that you hired me just to get an edge.” He looked back at Sherlock and nearly choked. “You did. You bloody did.”

“John—“

“Oh, that’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I knew you were clever, Sherlock, but this just really,” John stopped, not sure if he was laughing or crying. “You’re a bastard, you know that?”

“It’s not like that.”

“So tell me what it’s really like.”

“You…” but Sherlock stopped, dropping his gaze once more.

“Perfect. And this whole thing,” John said, indicating them both, “was this part of the plan?”

“John—“

“Not even sure why I’m letting you talk. Hell, you haven’t even really spoken to me since Mrs. Hudson, and even before then it was a struggle. Interesting, all that. Were you looking into the accident every time you were on your phone or computer? Were you looking it all up while I slept beside you,” John let out a strangled laugh, staring up at the old wooden-beamed ceiling once more. “And here I was, thinking I was falling for you.” He laughed again. “I’m beginning to understand why so many people hate you now.” He winced a bit there, some part of his rational mind chiding him for saying such a horrible thing. But the other part, the betrayed, lovesick, terrified part, didn’t allow him to apologize.

“John.” Sherlock’s voice was strangled now and John looked over at him. “I didn’t—“

“I’m pretty sure I love you, you know,” John said, almost talking to himself. “Thought it could work.”

Sherlock stood there, mouth hanging open a bit and a crease across his forehead. The lines around his eyes were tight, strained.

“Well, good to know that’s all over.”

“It’s not,” Sherlock said quietly.

“Oh really?”

“John, I—“ but Sherlock cut himself off, almost whining as he clamped his mouth shut, head hanging.

John knew he should stop talking, knew he should really just shut his mouth before he could say any more, but he couldn’t. He didn’t really know how. He could barely make sense of the thoughts in his head and for some reason, speaking them made it a tad easier. Not that he could even begin to untangle them, but at least they were out there, floating around the room rather than his head. He dropped his face into his hands, still caught somewhere between laughing and sobbing.

“You’re wrong,” he heard Sherlock say.

“About what?” he asked. “You trying to eliminate Moriarty? You taking me on for that purpose alone?”

“It’s not over. Not if you don’t want it to be,” Sherlock whispered.

John lifted his face from his hands. “Really? That wasn’t faked too?” He wiped at his face blinking back the moisture in his eyes.

“John.” Sherlock took a step forward, softly but firmly taking John’s face into his hands. John tried to step back, his own hands reaching up to wrap around Sherlock’s wrists, his mind wanting him to pull away, his body wanting him to move closer.

Sherlock leaned forward, eyes searching as they flit down to John’s mouth and back up. “It was never just that,” he said. “I…I’m sorry.”

John growled, fingers clenching around the pale, skinny wrists even more. Sherlock’s skin was cool, the chill of the old stone house settling in on them. John hadn’t noticed until now how dark the room had become, very little light now coming in from the windows. Sherlock’s face was nearly in shadow, but the intent look was still clear.

“I’m so sorry,” Sherlock whispered. He leaned down, lips cautiously pressing against John’s own.

John pulled back but Sherlock followed, insistent but not forcing. John hummed from somewhere deep in his chest, fingers still clamped tight on Sherlock’s wrists. His lips opened of their own accord, but Sherlock didn’t push, simply holding his lips against John’s, breath ghosting across John’s skin. He shuddered.

“Sherlock,” he whispered, the other man nearly swallowing the words down. John heard a whine, knowing that it came from him but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Nothing made sense. Just the sinking realization that Sherlock had in fact been using him to try and eliminate his competition. That and the fact that the same, heartless man was standing before him, eyes shining in the dark, waiting, asking John what to do next.

John’s lips finally moved, pushing into Sherlock, teeth clacking as John forced his tongue into Sherlock’s mouth. He felt Sherlock gasp at the sudden motion but he responded in kind, tipping John’s face and kissing back with just as much force, nipping at John’s tongue as he chased it. John moaned, his grip on Sherlock’s wrists not loosening a bit as he fought with Sherlock, sinking his teeth into Sherlock’s plush lower lip. He tasted blood, licking away the tiny droplets and letting the coppery tang rest on his tongue, filling up his mouth. Sherlock hissed until John held his tongue over the bleeding, capturing John’s lip in kind. When John felt teeth sink into the soft flesh he realized that Sherlock was copying him, matching every move he made. He pressed his face forward, capturing Sherlock’s lips once his own were free. Sherlock pressed back.

Eventually John pulled away, panting. Sherlock held his face a mere centimeter away, gulping in each breath. John blinked, trying to focus on Sherlock with the man’s face so close to him, deciding instead to press a chaste kiss against Sherlock’s bruised lips before pulling back and licking at his own, lips still slightly bleeding.

But Sherlock pushed back into him, using the sudden move to slip free of John’s grasp, arms twining around John’s waist and spinning him toward the bed. John felt his knees hit the mattress and Sherlock’s weight pushing him backwards, the two of them landing on the bed with a slight bounce as John twined his fingers in Sherlock’s hair, pulling and petting in equal measures as Sherlock did everything in his power to invade John’s space.

Lips met lips and jaw and neck and John found himself yanking Sherlock’s shirt off over his head, tugging at the dark jeans as Sherlock swiftly ripped John’s track pants down his leg, the two of them clamoring and kicking clothing off. John growled into Sherlock’s mouth, letting himself be kissed for a moment before he grabbed Sherlock’s waist and flipped them over, pressing his body weight down onto Sherlock and kicking off the man’s jeans so that they were both naked. He pulled his mouth away, biting down Sherlock’s jaw before nipping at his neck, being none to gentle about letting his teeth scrape across the pale skin. Sherlock whined, fingers digging in to John’s back. John bit harder, leaving a bruise.

Sherlock gasped and rocked back, hips shifting up so that their fast growing erections brushed against each other. John let out a hiss, quickly taking them both in hand and silencing Sherlock’s mouth with his own, swallowing up any protest or surprise. He jerked, dry skin meeting dry skin in a pain he almost felt they both deserved. And yet his cock didn’t seem too upset, leaking out pre-cum as he squeezed once more. Swiping the liquid over both of them, John moved his hand, forcing a rhythm though Sherlock’s hips snapped up, hipbones digging into John’s thigh.

John quickly picked up the pace, losing track of whose hand was where and who was causing the most damage to who. Sherlock was no doubt leaving long, angry red stripes down his back as nails dug into his skin, hips leaving bruises along John’s torso and thighs as Sherlock writhed beneath him, nipping at his jaw and tangling their legs.

“John,” Sherlock hissed, nails digging deeper as John gave a sharp tug, twisting his hand as he fumbled to keep a rhythm around them both, not so much bracing with one hand as pinning Sherlock to the mattress.

John kissed him harder, eyes shut tight as he felt himself get close. His tongue invaded Sherlock’s mouth, hand moving faster and faster until he felt his stomach coil and his toes curl and then everything released in one glorious moment, leaving him blinded and gasping into Sherlock’s mouth, slumping over as Sherlock quickly followed, letting out a yelp at the sudden release, holding on to John as they rolled sideways, neither strong enough to move.

They lay there panting, John slowly coming down from the white cloud of bliss and opening his eyes, the darkness of the room creeping back in. Sherlock was laying beside him, eyes open and staring, dark curls splayed out on the mattress, shaking slightly with aftershocks or the cold. John could only vaguely feel the chill in the air, his entire body and mind now entirely exhausted. Hardly able to form a complete thought, he simply lay there, not willing to move, much less think.

Sherlock stared at him, not saying a word and not moving more than the slow, soft blink as long lashes briefly covered the now almost black eyes. The early moonlight filtering through the windows behind John was reflected in the dark orbs, chilling John to the bone.

When their breathing was back to normal and their shaking became more apparent, Sherlock rolled to sitting, carefully getting out of bed and walking to his suitcase, pulling out the pajamas and jumper that John had packed for him. He bundled these up, peeking out the door before crossing to the bathroom. He came back into the room a moment later, damp flannel in his hand and no loner shaking in his pajamas.

He didn’t look at John when he got back into the bed, avoiding his eyes as he carefully pressed the flannel to John’s damp skin, wiping away the thin, sticky layer on his stomach and groin. John blinked slowly, not able to move. He closed his eyes, feeling the bed shift beneath him for a moment before the duvet was lifted up and over him, having been kicked to the floor earlier. He shivered when the cold sheet covered his skin, but Sherlock settled down alongside him, wrapping one arm around John’s middle and cozying up to his side, warmth slowly emitting through his jumper. John kept his eyes closed, not moving. It was better this way.

Chapter Text

John woke alone, not realizing that he’d drifted off. He was wrapped up on the blankets on his back, cocooned in fleece and down, a low fire flickering behind a grate in the large fireplace. The orange glow chased a few of the shadows back, leaving streaks across the walls and ceilings. Blue met orange where the moon crept in through the windows, curtains still hanging open.

Numb, John simply lay there. He couldn’t hear anything other than the flickering of the fire, nor did he roll over to check the time. He didn’t really care one way or another. The only thing he cared about was the fact that, despite it all, his heart still burned and pined after Sherlock. Abused and broken as it was, he couldn’t pretend to be cold to it all. It hurt, thinking of what Sherlock had done. And yet a small part of him, a teeny sliver buried deep down, wanted to believe that it wasn’t over.

But how were they meant to continue? Their entire relationship – both working and private – was a sham. He’d been specifically hired to be Sherlock’s link to a win. True, Mrs. Hudson and Greg had actually hired him, but John wondered if Sherlock hadn’t been involved, if he hadn’t been somehow hand-picked.

So now what? Did he still even have a job? Did he want to still have a job? It wouldn’t behoove him to try and find another at this point in the season, and he owed it to Elmer if nothing else. But what about Pip now? He hadn’t exactly asked after who was paying the buckskin’s board fees. But if he left? He couldn’t afford to take the horse with him. Nor was he likely to get another job at his age.

The questions rolled and roiled beneath his skull, twisting and turning and spiking through his neck and spine, lashing out at his limbs and straining every muscle within him. But he remained still, closing his eyes and accepting it all, letting it wash over him, through him, and away. It might have taken minutes or hours, but finally John was left empty, completely exhausted of all thought or care. He closed his eyes once more.

When he woke, the fire had died and the sun was creeping through the windows. He rolled over, untangling himself from the sheets and stepping over to his case and pulling out a jumper. The wooden floor was cold against his bare feet and he quickly changed into jeans and thick socks before pulling on his boots and reaching for his coat. His phone was still in his coat pocket and he pulled it out to check the time, noting a single text from Sherlock. He hesitated, but eventually swiped the message open.

I’m sorry. - SH

John blinked and locked the phone, screen going black. He simply wouldn’t think about it.

He ambled down the grand stairway, following the sound of soft voices toward the kitchen. It was early yet, but Janine and Sherlock were sitting at a vast wooden table, mugs in front of them and a plate of scones and jam waiting untouched. Janine looked up when he arrived but Sherlock kept his eyes down, quickly standing up and leaving the kitchen without a backward glance. John simply watched him go.

“Rough night?” Janine asked, taking a sip from her mug.

John sat down heavily, taking up the spot Sherlock had vacated on the long stool.

“Right.” Janine stood, fussing with something on the counter for a moment before returning to the table, pushing a mug of tea before John. “I don’t want to know. Actually, I totally do, but I won’t ask.”

John tapped his fingers on the ceramic mug, staring down at the dark tea within.

“Missed you at dinner,” Janine said.

“Fell asleep,” John replied. He took a sip, not really tasting anything but happy for the slight burn of hot liquid on his tongue.

“Greg wants to ride out once his mates arrive.”

“Fine. I’ll feed.” With that, he stood. Leaving his tea almost untouched, he stepped out into the cool morning, frost still clinging to the air as the sun began to peer out around the mountains.

The horses nickered in greeting when he arrived, Pip impatiently stamping his foot as John sorted through the various feeds and supplements. He cleaned stalls while the horse’s ate, once again reminded why he hated straw bedding as he fought it with the pitchfork. Nevertheless, he’d managed to feed and clean and do a bit more organizing of their things before the trailer pulled up with Greg’s friends.

Greg appeared out of the house at the sight of the trailer, followed by an older man whom John assumed was the owner. He did feel a hint of embarrassment at having slept through introductions the night before and quickly stepped out of the dark barn, smiling when Greg introduced them. The man was old, dark grey hair white at the roots but his grasp was firm and his weather-beaten face told John all he needed to know about the Scotsman.

“Thank you for having us,” John said.

“Nice to see the place being used.”

It didn’t seem that there was more to say so John went back into the barn, grooming and tacking up each of the horses. Janine and Molly arrived a few minutes later, stopping to greet their host before tacking up their own horses. By the time the horses were ready and John was putting on his helmet, Sherlock was still nowhere to be seen.

“Oy, where’s your star rider?” Phil, one of Greg’s friends, called out.

“Lord knows,” Greg replied, leading Napoleon out of his stall and halting him in front of the stump used as a mounting block.

John gave Molly a leg up onto her chestnut mare, watching for a moment as the horse pranced and tossed her head. It wasn’t until Janine had mounted and the chestnut had calmed a bit that John was satisfied.

He led both Elmer and Pip out into the yard just as Sherlock stepped around from behind the house.

“Exploring, were we?” Greg asked.

“I’m here now,” Sherlock replied quietly, taking the reins from John’s hand without meeting his eyes. He quickly swung up onto Elmer sans helmet, dark curls blowing around his pale face. John frowned but let it go, not much in a mood to protect Sherlock’s head.

He followed suit, mounting Pip and then they were off, waved away by their host as Greg led them around behind the manor and toward a trail between two of the cliffs. John didn’t ask where they were going, didn’t care really. They all fell in, the path wide enough for them to travel side by side. John gave a sigh of relief when Molly appeared beside him, her mare still prancing.

“Don’t think she knows what to do outside of a ring,” Molly said, smiling at the mare’s antics.

John gave the mare a measured stare, determining that she wasn’t panicked and just excited. The last thing they needed was to be airlifted out of the bloody highlands. Pip moved along steady as ever, swinging his head around and looking at each tree they passed as the trail rose, turning into more a climb.

“Good for her though,” John said.

“How’s Pip?” Molly asked, letting out the mare’s reins an inch. The mare didn’t immediately bolt and Molly smiled.

“Always been steady,” John said, twisting a few strands of the dark mane between his fingers.

They continued to climb for a bit before the trail evened out and they found themselves on the side and about halfway up one of the mountains. There was a valley and loch below, sun glinting off the rippled surface and moving across in patterns with the breeze. John smiled as the girls brought out their phones, clicking away until satisfied they’d captured the shot. It was rather beautiful, he had to admit. But pretty as it was, he still felt as though he was hovering along above everyone rather than riding alongside them. He shook his head and adjusted his seat, forcing himself to be more present. Whatever was happening back at the farm, they were here now. He had Pip, they were in an incredible spot, and he would enjoy it.

The party continued on, spreading out a bit as Greg laughed with his friends and the girls deemed it necessary to try every possible filter for the best Highlands shot. Eventually, and much to his chagrin, John found himself beside Sherlock, Elmer nickering a bit as Pip turned toward him. John kicked the horse forward but let the friends stay side-by-side.

Neither man spoke for a while, nor did they look at each other. The horses were content beside each other and, despite how petty he might have felt, John wasn’t about to take it out on the equines.

“Your silence is a bit terrifying,” Sherlock said quietly.

“Your behavior is a bit terrifying,” John said, looking forward.

“I said I’m sorry.”

“And you bought me the horse, yeah, I know,” John snapped. Pip flicked an ear back at the tone and John placed a steadying hand on the warm neck, unsure who he was trying to calm.

“I love you,” Sherlock said suddenly.

John swallowed. “Bullshit.”

“I could.”

John growled and finally looked over, Sherlock ready and meeting his gaze without blinking. The blue green had cooled to grey and Sherlock held the gaze until John tore away. “Not sure you’re able to.”

“I love Elmer.”

“You love the sport. Love winning.”

John looked over at him again, catching Sherlock worry at his bottom lip. “I tried with Victor.”

“That clearly worked out,” John snapped.

“Stop,” Sherlock said quietly. He was looking down now, running a thumb over the leather braiding of his reins.

“Stop what? Reacting like a human?” John kept his voice down, not wanting to draw attention from the rest of the happy, laughing group. They’d obviously caught on that something was wrong, but he didn’t want to pass out invitations to the drama.

“You’re not giving me a chance.”

“You had about five months of chance,” John said.

“I don’t…I don’t know how to do apologies,” Sherlock said, gritting his teeth and nearly forcing out the words.

“We’ve established that.”

“And I messed this up.”

“Royally.”

They fell silent again, John not even sure if he wanted to be a part of this situation and Sherlock…well, he didn’t really give a damn what Sherlock was thinking.
Finally Sherlock spoke, no longer meeting John’s gaze when he looked over. “Do I not get a chance?”

“To lie some more? No.”

“It’s not a lie.”

“You admitted to it. Well, as good as.”

“To Moriarty, yes.”

“Which is why you hired me.”

“Yes.”

“Which is why you started a relationship with me.”

Sherlock winced. “Yes.”

“I’m not seeing where your rights come into this.”

“It was wrong to start, I know—“

“Oh, good to see you figured that out.”

“—But I…care about you.”

“In so much as I get your number one opponent disqualified,” John said.

“No. John…how do I…how do I prove it to you?” Sherlock asked.

“Well you’ve done a bang up job so far.” John forced himself to take a breath and roll his shoulders. Pip had raised his head at the continued strained voices and John put his hand on the buckskin wither once more, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath.

“John…”

“All right, here’s a hint,” John said, eyes still closed. “Don’t ever say ‘I love you’ without meaning it.”

“I haven’t.”

John stopped breathing for a moment, losing all sensation save the steady movement of Pip’s shoulder beneath his hand. He squeezed his eyes closed tighter, curling into himself a bit as his brain took hold of that information and went wild, sending another firestorm of emotion coursing through him. No. More lies. It couldn’t be true, not after everything.

“Don’t,” John gasped, forcing his lungs to work as he leaned harder on Pip’s shoulder. Sherlock must have reached for Pip’s reins because suddenly they were stopped and Pip had turned his head to nudge at John’s boot, clearly worried about his rider. “You’re lying.”

Sherlock didn’t reply, simply waited for John to recover. Eventually he did, sitting back up fully and taking the reins up, blinking hard. He looked over at Sherlock, the grey eyes waiting for him, no hint of deception there. Before Sherlock had needed him, repeatedly told him so. And now…now Sherlock loved him?

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock said quietly. “It was wrong and I am deeply sorry.”

John couldn’t bring himself to reply. He reached down to gave Pip’s nose a scratch, reassuring the horse that everything was all right. Well, all right enough that he wasn’t going to pass out and fall off the horse. He nudged Pip forward, noting that the others had disappeared around a bend in the trail. He blinked hard, forcing his mind to just leave him be for a moment. He couldn’t think about it, whatever it was. Hours ago he’d been determined that it was all over, knew that it should be over. And now…now damn it all Sherlock had gone and fucked it all up once again because heaven forbid the surly bastard let John be. No, he had to go and admit to that. The one thing that John had been waiting so long to hear. The one thing that would make him reconsider the roiling hate for Sherlock that had settled into his gut.

The bastard.

He moved Pip forward a bit, leading Elmer and Sherlock as they moved to catch up with the other riders. They found them about 400 meters ahead, Janine trying to take a group shot with everyone still on horseback.

Molly smiled widely at them as they rode up and Greg nodded in his usual way, but Janine gave him a look that demanded explanation.

“Elmer was a bit startled,” Sherlock said, speaking up before John got the chance. “Fine now.”

“Surprised he’s taking it all so well,” one of Greg’s friends said.

“John has always encouraged working outside the ring,” Sherlock said.

“Smart,” Greg nodded approvingly.

John busied himself with checking his girth so as to avoid further conversation. He didn’t entirely trust himself at the moment, completely unsure yet as to his reaction. The sane half of him wanted it to just end, knew he’d be better off without the stress of lies and distance between them. And the insane half reminded him how perfectly wonderful he felt every single time he’d merely held Sherlock’s hand.

“Well, shall we head for home?” Greg asked, turning Napoleon and heading back toward Sherlock and John.

“Lead on,” Molly said as they all nodded their consent.

John kicked Pip up beside Janine before he was forced to ride beside Sherlock again. He wasn’t prepared to think about it just yet – if ever – and he didn’t care who he had to tune out on the ride back down to the manor.

“Are you sharing with the class?” Janine asked. She’d brought one of the schooling horses, a big bay who ambled along with his head low. Pip flicked his ears at the horse as it wasn’t one he usually shared pasture time with.

“Nothing to share,” John said, nudging Pip on.

“Oh I highly doubt that,” she said. “But, I’m not one to interfere with the ways of love,” she grinned.

John felt his cheeks flush a bit at that but hoped he could blame the color on the wind. “You seem rather happy to interfere,” he replied.

“Only because you look like you want to throw yourself off a cliff.”

John had to admit it wasn’t the worst idea he’d heard. “Elmer would be very confused as to why he wasn’t getting fed.”

“You’re right, because we would just let your horses starved if you ever left.” Janine paused, looking over at John. “You’re not going to leave, are you?”

John forced a grim smile. “Who knows, might get fired.”

Janine gave him a kind look at the pathetic response. “No you won’t,” she said, and her voice was sincere, as if she had somehow read his mind and figured out exactly what was happening.

“Err…thanks,” John said, looking down at his hands. The breeze at this height had kept them pretty cool compared to the warmer weather down south, but his hands still held the tan he’d gotten over the summer, the skin dark and rough.

“Don’t do what I think you’re gonna do, yeah?” she said, nudging the big bay closer to John and Pip. He looked up, frowning at her as though he didn’t understand exactly what she was saying. Though he absolutely wasn’t sure how she knew to say it. “And it’s all over your face,” she said, smiling.

“Not really your business either way,” he said.

“No, but just…don’t. He’s a prat, trust me, we all know that, but he’s less of a prat with you.”

“So basically I make life easier for everyone else and should just carry on doing so no matter what?” he snapped.

“He’s less of a prat and you’re happier. I’d say that’s a fair trade.”

John didn’t want to admit that she was right. Of course, that was before. And yet, the small voice in his head wondered if Sherlock actually had been affected…actually cared for him. There was no reason for him to change his behavior beyond what would get John to talk. But if it was that noticeable to everyone else…did that mean he’d actually been better?

John shook his head, tired of thinking about it all. Something would happen, one way or another. And he was tired of thinking, of straining himself over it. He’d either let his subconscious come to a conclusion or go with his gut. That was it. No more thinking it over, no more thought period. He reached down to twine his fingers through Pip’s black mane, reins in one hand. This, this he understood.

Chapter Text

They returned to the manor, each rider taking care of their horse and the Baker horses taken out to a small pasture visible from the house. The small herd pranceed a bit, chasing each other around the new field. Napoleon snorted at each fence post, sniffing along the ground line before finally joining the others. John couldn't help the small grin at the similarity to Greg.

“Lunch I should think.”

They all turned at the sound of their host and followed him in for a late tea, no one quite sure of the time and no one really caring. John went along, forcing a fake smile at Molly and Janine, shaking hands with each of Greg’s friends and chatting about things he instantly forgot. Sherlock didn't disappear as John expected, but stayed silent, on the perimeter of the small group. Occasionally John felt Sherlock watching him, but he kept his eyes from meeting the ice stare and pushed his food around so that no one could see he wasn’t eating.

As the light outside shifted to golden yellow and the shadows grew longer, John excused himself to take care of the animals. He methodically cleaned stalls, refreshing the bedding in each and making sure the horses had clean water. He slowly took apart a few bales of hay, tossing flakes into each stall. He mixed up dinner for Elmer and put a few handfuls of sweet feed in Pip’s bucket.

The sun was beginning to set by the time he led each of the horses in. Janine hasn’t come out to help, no doubt sensing his want of privacy, so he leads them in one by one and makes sure they’re settled. Still not wanting to go into the house, he pulled out Pip’s groombox and set about brushing the buckskin as the horse quietly munches on his hay, occasionally looking back at John and nuzzling at his pockets in case he’s gotten any treats since the last time the nosy horse checked.

John pulled the stiff brush over Pip’s soft coat, allowing his mind to remain empty and quiet. It was only the stroke, lift, stroke, lift of the stiff brush and Pip’s warm flesh beneath John’s free hand. It was quiet and calm and John didn't notice that he wasn't alone until Sherlock stepped into the stall, John knew it was him without having to look.

“Do you think you could just…not be here?” John asked quietly, still brushing over Pip’s barrel.

“I don’t know what else to do.”

“Try not being yourself,” John said, but closes his eyes at the insult.

“John.” Sherlock stepped forward, boots a soft rustle in the straw but he faltered, clearly wanting to touch John but not sure that he should.

“I don’t know what you want from me,” John said.

“Everything.”

John felt his stomach drop and his hand inadvertently stopped brushing. Pip turned to look at him.

“Sherlock,” John said.

He finally turned, dropping the brush back into the groombox but keeping his eyes on the ground, the dirty yellow of the straw reminding him yet again of his distaste for it. Finally he forced his eyes up, Sherlock’s face open and wanting and confused. It was so obvious that both of them completely sucked at relationships and communication that John almost laughed. Of course he couldn’t have this. Of course it wouldn’t suddenly start working out.

But that stupid, small, lovesick part of him said that it could.

“What are we supposed to do?” John asked, voice so quiet he was barely whispering.

“Start over?” Sherlock said, voice deep and soft. He stepped closer to John, slowly, so that John could step back. He didn’t. “I didn’t know.”

“What?”

“That I’d end up caring for you,” Sherlock said. He reached a tentative hand out, placing it softly on John’s cheek, soft palms meeting rough, day-old stubble.

John squeezed his eyes shut, unable to look at Sherlock anymore. He hated the man, was so distraughtly angry at him that he wanted to slap the man’s hand away and never see him again. But his touch was so soft…warm against the oncoming chill of night. John squeezed his eyes shut harder, battling the moisture that wanted to slip free from his lids.

“Why did you do it?” John asked, holding still, afraid to move one way or another.

“Because I wanted to win,” Sherlock said.

“And that seems to be all you’ve ever wanted.”

“Until now.” Sherlock’s voice cracked and John felt his hand shake.

Opening his eyes, John looked up, looked up at the man who’d simultaneously given him a reason for living and made him hate like nothing he ever had before. “I thought you sucked at apologies.”

“This isn’t one,” Sherlock said. John must have frowned because Sherlock shut his eyes for a moment, shaking his head slightly as if arguing with himself. “There’s not much I could do by way of apology, but I…I can’t just let you think it wasn’t real.”

“Why didn’t you stop it? Why didn’t you tell me before?” John said, hand reaching up to wrap around Sherlock’s wrist. He didn’t pull the hand from his cheek though, simply pressed his fingers to Sherlock’s pulse point, silently counting his rapidly beating heart.

“I thought it wouldn’t matter. Thought you would get bored, leave me anyway.”

“You thought you could get away with it,” John said, leaning in a bit more to Sherlock’s hand. He felt Sherlock’s pulse jump.

Sherlock hung his head a bit. “And then…and then Mrs. Hudson fell and ended up in hospital and I realized…”

“What?” John asked.

“I realized how much I need you. Not, not in that way. Not in the same way as before.” Sherlock frowned, fingers clenching a bit against John’s face before spreading wider, his other hand reaching out toward John’s waist, spasming in midair between them. “You…you cared about me.”

“I had rather thought that was obvious,” John said, looking down at Sherlock’s free hand.

“I…I haven’t…cared about someone before. Not like this.”

“What about Victor,” John asked, still watching the long pale fingers twitch as his own fingers monitored the blood rushing through Sherlock’s body.

“I tried but…it’s you John. Just…just you.”

They stood motionless, the horses and barn forgotten, John no longer feeling the uneven straw beneath his boots or the chill creeping around his neck and ears. Sherlock’s pulse was pounding, nearly echoing in John’s head as his fingers felt each gush of blood pushed through his body, heart racing as they hovered between action.

John moved first, slowly taking a step forward. He kept his brain quiet, focusing only on the skip and jump in Sherlock’s pulse as he stepped closer, finally looking up to meet those ice blue eyes, blown wide with shock and desperation. He knew that Sherlock had lied, had blatantly used him to get ahead. But he also knew that even Sherlock couldn’t alter his pulse, couldn’t hide the fact that his fingers twitched and his body leaned in as John moved closer.

He felt Sherlock’s other hand wrap around his waist and John allowed his arm to settle around Sherlock’s back, his other hand sliding up Sherlock’s arm, over the hard muscle he could feel beneath the button up shirt, wrapping around Sherlock’s shoulder and pulling him closer.

Their lips met, cold and unsure and John closed his eyes and screamed at his head to shut it. He leaned into Sherlock’s hand, still cupping his cheek, and let out a sigh when Sherlock’s brain seemed to click into gear and a soft gasp escaped from Sherlock’s mouth into John’s. Sherlock instantly pulled him closer, tighter, though the hand on John’s face still stayed light, almost reverent. Lips parted and warm, tongues only barley peeking out. John gripped the fabric at Sherlock’s back, pulling back just enough to breath, rubbing his nose against Sherlock’s.

“Fuck you,” he said, eyes still tightly closed, arms holding Sherlock’s body so close that their stomachs brushed with each breath. He could feel the heat between them, breath warm and skin flushed. Heat was growing between them further down as well, John not able to react either way as he felt his own growing hardness brush against Sherlock’s.

“I know,” Sherlock replied, hand moving up to run his fingers gently through John’s hair and over his ear. “I know.”

They pulled apart then, John immediately turning to reach for Pip’s groombox, mentally apologizing to the horse for crashing his stall before pushing past Sherlock for the stall door. He felt Sherlock right behind him, his body somehow attuned to Sherlock’s as they silently left the barn. The moon had risen, casting a bright, white light around the farm. It caught the peaks of each mountain, highlighted each blade of grass. There were still lights on in the house, and they heard voices as they pushed open the front doors. Everyone seemed to be in the sitting room, firelight flickering out from the open door along with spilled conversation. The two quietly walked up the staircase and along the dark hallway to their room. Sherlock shut and locked the door behind them and John stopped before the fire, grateful to whomever had built it up.

He turned to Sherlock then, watching as the man silently stepped over, reaching for one of John’s hands. John let him take it and followed the soft tug to the bed. He sat down heavily, numb to everything else around him. He watched as Sherlock slowly undid each button on his shirt, pale skin gleaming over hard muscles as the black fabric gave way. John tugged off his jumper and t-shirt, toeing off his shoes as Sherlock did the same.

He tilted his face up, meeting Sherlock’s kiss as the man pressed forward, wrapping a hand around John’s back and dragging them up onto the bed. John let his hands wander over Sherlock’s pale skin, his tan fingers running over biceps and shoulders, wrapping around the strong muscles of Sherlock’s upper back before sliding down and around to the flat stomach, muscles hard beneath quivering skin. He let Sherlock kiss him, mouth traveling down along his jaw and to his neck, the warm lips kissing across his collarbone and down his chest. Hands tugged at his belt and he lifted his hips as Sherlock pulled his jeans and pants down, reaching up to do the same to Sherlock.

They tossed the clothing to the floor and Sherlock’s mouth came back to his, meeting him with quiet fervor, their growing erections brushing against each other as Sherlock settled over him, John’s fingers tangled in dark curls and Sherlock’s arm snaked around behind his back, flipping them over with astonishing ease. John pulled back a bit, nibbling on Sherlock’s ear, sucking the lobe into his mouth as Sherlock hissed beneath him, hips grinding up to meet John’s. John pulled back, trailing his mouth along Sherlock’s jaw and back to the cupid’s bow mouth, sucking the plush lower lip between his teeth.

Sherlock’s fingers dug into his back, pulling him closer as John’s tongue laved against the red, swollen flesh of his lip. One of Sherlock’s hands let go, reaching toward the nightstand on one side of the bed. John pulled back a bit, looking up to follow Sherlock’s fingers. He saw Sherlock’s toiletries bag on the table and he leaned over to grab it, holding it out to Sherlock. Sherlock quickly pulled out the small bottle of lube, tossing the rest of the kit to the ground and holding the bottle out to John. John paused for a minute, looking at the soft blue eyes, warm and wanting, before reaching for the lube and sitting back, settling on his knees on the mattress as Sherlock shifted, legs falling open around John’s hips.

John leaned up, kissing along Sherlock’s stomach as he slid one lube-slicked finger around Sherlock’s entrance. Sherlock hissed and squirmed a bit, but his legs opened wider and his hand tugged on John’s hair. John continued kissing his stomach, pale flesh springing up with gooseflesh as the cold of the air and the slide of John’s finger poured over and through him. Two fingers and Sherlock pulled John up, capturing his lips and sliding a hand around his neck, holding the base of his skull. He nipped at John’s chin before pulling back, shifting so that John’s fingers sunk deeper. John looked up at him, saw the slight nod, and sat back, pulling out his fingers and swiping them over his erection, adding more lube before tossing the bottle to the side. He wiped his fingers on the duvet, not much caring for the sheets at the moment, and rose to his knees, lining himself up. He paused, looking up at Sherlock and reached for his hand, twining their fingers together before he slipped slowly inside.

John groaned and Sherlock hissed as muscles contracted and shook, John closed his eyes at the tightness and warmth. Sherlock let out a breath, relaxing a bit against the mattress and John felt himself slip in the last inch, now buried inside Sherlock. He rolled his hips slowly, watching the pain-pleasure mix in Sherlock’s face, the blue eyes closed tight. Sherlock’s free hand reached for John as his legs came up to wrap around John’s back, holding him closer and pulling their mouths together.

John began moving in earnest then, trying to keep his spine rolling as he pushed into Sherlock rather than slamming him into the mattress. Sherlock still writhed and twisted, pushing up to meet John’s thrusts, his tongue invading John’s mouth just as John was invading him. John gasped and pulled away, burying his face in Sherlock’s neck as he felt the heat already building in the base of his spine, his mind going fuzzy at the edges as Sherlock clamped down around him, pulling John as far into his body as he could. Their hands were still together, fingers holding on as sweat slicked their skin and John groaned as Sherlock gasped. The heat built further, traveling up John’s spine and he desperately thrust into Sherlock, breathing in the heady scent at the base of his neck as he felt Sherlock’s teeth clamp down on his shoulder. He hissed and gasped as the heat finally hit, his brain going white as sensation exploded all around him. He felt Sherlock shudder, body pulsing around John’s cock, milking out every feeling and emotion as they both flew over the edge, fingers twined together and faces buried into the other.

They stayed that way for a moment, wrapped around each other and shaking. John wasn’t sure if it was sweat or tears in his eyes but he didn’t really care, squeezing Sherlock’s hand and kissing his neck, the salty skin bitter on his tongue and yet the sweetest thing he had tasted. He lifted his head, lips searching for Sherlock’s and meeting him halfway with the soft tang of blood on Sherlock’s tongue and the sting of cold air on John’s shoulder, wet flesh imprinted with Sherlock’s teeth.

Sherlock gave a small cry as John pulled out and the long legs slowly released him. John kissed Sherlock’s chest, slowly pushing him back down onto the bed as he felt the man go limp, muscles still occasionally spasming with aftershocks. John released his hand from Sherlock’s, fingers aching and stiff as he sat up on the bed, reaching for the tissue box on the nightstand. His leg knocked the bottle of lube to the floor, the small sound of plastic and wood echoing through the room. He offered a tissue to Sherlock before cleaning himself up, not wanting to bother with a shower at the moment. Sherlock tossed the wadded up tissue to the floor a moment later, letting it join John’s as John pulled the duvet up and over the top of them.

Sherlock rolled to his side, shivering slightly as John settled the down blanket around them, sliding up behind Sherlock and wrapping his arm around the slim waist. His shoulder ached a bit where Sherlock had bit him but he smiled a bit at the pain. He pressed his nose into Sherlock’s hair, inhaling the mix of sex and sweat and Highland air. Sherlock wrapped a leg around John’s, pulling them even closer and John sighed. They lay there in the silence for a moment, each slowly coming back into their own. The soft crackle of the fire met the muffled voices and laughter coming from downstairs.

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock said, voice quiet as he tucked his chin into his chest, curling up and into John.

“I know,” John said. And he did.

Chapter Text

John woke a few hours later, the fire still fairly strong in the grate and Sherlock now turned into his side, one pale arm resting across John’s torso, dark curls resting on his chest. John could tell by the breath on his skin that Sherlock was awake and he resituated the covers around them, keeping the small bubble of warmth that they’d created.

John let out a sigh, feeling the slight ache in his back and the pain in his stomach. He hadn’t eaten all day but he knew that could wait. Right now they had a few things to talk about. He wrapped one arm around Sherlock’s shoulder, holding the man to his chest and running his other hand over Sherlock’s skin, tracing the muscles of his forearm.

“What else did you lie about?” John asked quietly.

“Nothing,” Sherlock said immediately.

“So you just chose the biggest thing to lie about then?”

“It would seem so.”

John let his fingers run over Sherlock’s arm, feeling the soft, faint hair there and moving his hand from elbow to fingertip. He stared up at the dark ceiling.

“Why was it so important?”

Sherlock sucked in a breath before releasing it, John feeling chilled for a second as his skin tingled with the hot air. “When Greg and Mrs. Hudson began discussing new stable hands, I looked each one up. You were…interesting and once I read about your accident…well. I called Fox-Pitt and he said you were a great groom.”

“You just called Will? Do you know everyone?”

Sherlock gave a soft chuckle. “Between the three of us, Baker knows everyone, yes.”

“Okay, so you thought you could get a groom out of it too?”

“I thought having you as a groom would give us a sense of…professional intimacy. And then when I met you, you were so…I couldn’t help myself.”

John felt Sherlock’s fingers trap his, stopping the up and down motion on his arm and twisting their fingers together and back, running his smooth skin over John’s calloused hand.

“I knew you wouldn’t be forthcoming about the accident and I…”

“Tricked me.”

Encouraged you to tell me.”

“So that you could use the information to eliminate Moriarty from the season if not ban him for life.” John sighed, allowing Sherlock to play with his fingers. “Because winning is everything.”

“I thought it was, yes,” Sherlock replied.

“Thought?”

“Until you started working at Baker and…forced me to remember what riding is actually about.”

“You’re a professional, it’s about winning.”

“No, it’s about partnership.”

John felt a small glow in his belly, pride at having changed Sherlock’s mind, though he certainly hadn’t tried to. “It is. But you found out what you wanted and then what?”

“And then Mrs. Hudson was sent to hospital.”

“What does that have to do with it?” John asked.

“Everything. When Mrs. Hudson fell down the stairs I was forced to remember that death happens, unexpectedly sometimes, as you well know. And it…hurt to think that I would lose her, a woman who has honestly been more of a mother to me than my own.” Sherlock paused for a minute, lost in thought, before continuing. “And it made me think how things would have been had it been you.”

“But Mrs. Hudson is all right.”

“She very nearly wasn’t.”

“Accidents happen, Sherlock,” John said quietly, though he felt the small lump of fear rise in his throat as he thought about it. Every time a rider mounted up, there was a chance they wouldn’t survive it. Terrifying and deadly though the sport was, they all knew the risks. And knew that the reward outweighed them. But if something were to happen to Sherlock…John pulled the man even closer.

“I would not have been okay had something happened to you,” Sherlock said.

“And yet you continued to lie to me.”

“Out of fear. That you would leave me.”

“No one would blame me.”

“You still could,” Sherlock said, voice quiet and muffled as he turned into John’s chest, fingers gripping John’s and holding their connected hands closer.

“I’m trying not to,” John said, sliding down so that he could kiss the top of Sherlock’s head. He pulled their entwined hands up, lifting Sherlock’s chin so that he was forced to look John in the eye. “If we’re going to try this, we have to be in it together. No secrets, no hiding, got it?”

Sherlock stared at him, mouth open a little. “You…you don’t hate me?”

“I want to, I did for a bit there,” John said, giving Sherlock a soft smile. “What you did was horrible, nearly unforgivable.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know you are. And for the first time, I think it’s genuine.

Sherlock’s eyes were cool, visible only through the orange flicker of the firelight, but John could see the moisture rise up within them and he kissed Sherlock’s forehead.

“That doesn’t mean I’m right pissed with you,” John said. “But for some insane reason I can’t seem to leave you. So, despite the enormous twat that you are,” he took a deep breath, “I’m willing to try again.”

Sherlock leaned up then, capturing John’s mouth with his own as their hands slide apart, Sherlock lifting himself onto his elbows. A stray curl fell onto John’s forehead, the silky hair sliding across his skin as Sherlock’s mouth swept down his neck and to his chest, kissing directly over his heart.

“But one thing,” John said, when Sherlock lifted his head once more. “Don’t try and eliminate Moriarty.”

Sherlock frowned at that, pulling back slightly. His jaw went stiff and his eyes narrowed.

“I mean it. If you want to try this, start this whole thing anew, we are not starting with Moriarty.”

Sherlock seemed to be holding his breath, measuring John’s demand. John knew that his desire to try again meant nothing if Sherlock wouldn’t do this for him. John could say all he want, but it came down to Sherlock to decide if their relationship would work, if it was even worth it.

Finally, after an agonizingly long minute, John’s stomach twisting and the fear rising along his spine, Sherlock hung his head, eyes closed. “Of course.”

John felt his heart skip a beat and he smiled, reaching for Sherlock’s face and kissing him soundly, brushing the hair from his eyes as he pulled back. Sherlock gave him a timid smile, eyes darting over John’s face, to the side, down, and back as though he wasn’t entirely sure of his decision. But he’d said it and something in John told him that, this time, Sherlock meant what he’d said.

“Thank you,” John said.

Eventually John’s stomach began to growl so loudly they could hardly continue to ignore it. He sighed and felt Sherlock shift against him before easing away and sitting up. John laid there as Sherlock rustled on the floor of their room, tossing clothes back at John and collecting his own.

“Come on, before you starve,” Sherlock said, pulling on his jeans.

“You should eat too. I doubt you have.”

Sherlock didn’t reply but John sat up and dressed, somehow knowing that Sherlock would most likely eat anything and everything John put in front of him at the moment. John ducked into the bathroom and met Sherlock in the hall, reaching out to adjust his wild dark hair the best he could. Sherlock rolled his eyes but stood still until John was satisfied.

“Christ, we’re a mess,” John said, running his hands through his own untamed hair.

“Not like it’ll matter.”

“We do have our dignity to maintain,” John reminded him.

“Boring.”

“Oh, is it?” John said, but sighed and began to descend the stairs, following the sounds of conversation to the sitting room and kitchen, choosing the latter when they found only Greg, filling up what looked to be a second plate.

“Ah, you boys finally decided to join society,” Greg said, handing them each a plate before taking his up again.

John ducked his head for a moment, chastened by his boss but he felt Sherlock step up behind him and reminded himself that it was worth it.

“All settled now?” Greg asked.

“All settled,” Sherlock replied.

John looked up to catch the two of them looking at each other, each seeming to measure and feel out the other, looking for a challenge. Finally Greg nodded, looking over at John before turning back to Sherlock with a small smile. “All right then. Dawn ride tomorrow.”

John nodded and fixed a plate, not even taking much note as to what he was grabbing from each dish set out along the long wooden countertop. Sherlock filled a plate as well, though not nearly as much as John. Still not daring to enter civilized company, the two sat down across from one another at the long wooden table and benches in the center of the great stone room.

“If you want me to move to a room down the hall, I can,” Sherlock said after a moment, picking at his food.

John thought about it for a second. Space might be a good thing for them right now, but it could also set them back. And they were already starting at the beginning. If they were going to make this work, they had an uphill battle ahead of them.

“No need,” he replied, finishing off his portion of stew.

Sherlock nodded solemnly and took a bite when John pointed stared at his empty fork.

“Do you think we could…not talk about it for a while?” John asked, setting down his fork and looking at Sherlock, his fingers tracing the whorls in the dark wooden table.

“I thought our extreme lack of communication was the initial problem.”

“Yes, I know, but…well, let’s give it a bit of a rest for tonight then, yeah? And maybe tomorrow? I just…we haven’t exactly spent time together for a while.”

“No,” Sherlock said, voice steady and measured. “We haven’t.”

“So let’s just…enjoy the day and celebrate the fact that we’re going to Reichenbach. Christ, we’re going to Switzerland,” John said.

Sherlock gave a soft laugh. “Yes. Bit of a bother, really.”

“How well does Elmer fly?” John asked, picking up his fork once more.

“We’ve taken him to Germany and France recently. He gets a bit riled up but we’ve never had to give him more than a simple sedative.” Sherlock took another bite of food. “He should be calmer with Pip though.”

“Pip’s going?” John asked, swallowing.

“Of course. He helped us get here after all.”

“Oh, did he?”

“Mmm, calmed Elmer significantly.”

“And that had nothing to do with his high-strung rider?”

“I am not high-strung,” he said haughtily.

“More so than the horse.”

Sherlock pursed his lips but didn’t reply and John considered it a minor win.

“All right, who do you propose is paying for Pip to fly to Switzerland for no reason?” John certainly couldn’t afford it. And he knew Sherlock probably could, but that was a hardly an expense John would allow him.

“Ariat will. And if not, Tredstep has long been interested. Damn Irish.”

“How on earth are you going to convince a sponsor to pay for a second horse?”

“If they won’t, I’ll switch to another.”

“Not before the trials,” John said.

“I could.”

“And everyone would hate you. Come on, there’s no way you can swing it.”

“If Elmer needs Pip, which he does, then I’ll get him there.”

“All right,” John said, seeing the steel in his eyes. It wasn’t often that Sherlock didn’t get what he wanted. John was case-in-point. “Finish your stew.”
Sherlock scowled at his meal but continued eating, the two falling into silence as they finished.

Chapter Text

John awoke the next morning to Sherlock’s phone, buzzing on the table beside him. Sherlock groaned and buried his face in John’s shoulder until John elbowed him hard enough to make it stop. They still had a few minutes before they needed to be up at at the barn, and John had full intention of taking advantage of each one of those minutes.

“What?” Sherlock growled into the phone, his voice thick with sleep. “Victor.”

John immediately rolled over, propping himself on an elbow and looking at the pale outlines of Sherlock’s face, illuminated by the blue-glow of his phone screen.

“You absolutely do not need an interview.” Sherlock growled again. “No, not on the rec—“ Sherlock nearly hissed and fell silent.

John could here the faint sound of Victor, no doubt asking anything and everything he could to get Sherlock riled up, but Sherlock kept his mouth firmly shut, jaw clenching.

“Goodbye, Victor. Be sure not to call again.” Sherlock let the phone drop to the bed, groaning. “Bastard.”

“It’s before dawn, what the hell does he want at this time of day?” John asked, turning to switch his alarm off as it buzzed.

“He’s writing a big Reichenbach piece.”

“Ah. So, trash talking, strategy, all of that?”

“How the two of us are preparing, what makes it different this year now that I have you.”

“Well, for one thing, I’ll help you beat him to a pulp,” John said cheerily.

“And I thank you for that.”

John yawned and stretched before rolling out of the warm bed and tossing on the same jeans and jumper from the other day. Sherlock stood at his suitcase for a moment, debating over what he wanted. John shook his head and snuck past to the bathroom, yet again forgoing a shave (they were on holiday, for Christ sake) and brushing his teeth. Sherlock butted in a moment later, monopolizing the tiny room.

“You’re just all about sharing, aren’t you?” John asked, feet away from the sink and toothbrush in hand as Sherlock pulled out his shaving kit.

“One of my many great qualities.”

“I think I like you better when you sulk,” John said, stepping up to the sink and shoving Sherlock out of the way with his hip. “Quieter.”

Sherlock scoffed but waited until John was finished to return to the mirror.

“I’ll be downstairs, see if I can rustle up some breakfast before we head out.”

John trotted down the stairs, lighthearted, and ran into Janine in the kitchen.

“Ah, someone’s feeling good is he?” She asked, nodding at the just boiled kettle.

“It’s well within my rights to be happy,” John said, pouring out two mugs of tea.

“How was the shag then?”

John turned to glower at her, waiting for the tea to steep.

“All right,” she said, holding up her hands, “none of my business.” That didn’t stop her from winking lewdly at him. “He’s good though, isn’t he?”

“Ah, Molly, good morning.” John gave Molly a smile and moved out of her way, glaring at Janine as she laughed.

“You seem chipper, John,” Molly said.

“Do I?” he smiled through gritted teeth. He just wanted things to go back to normal. Not like he and Sherlock had ever been normal…but he wanted it to be easy. Apparently the entire barn would make sure it wasn’t.

“Know where we’re headed today?” Molly asked.

“Just following the boss’s orders,” Janine replied.

Sherlock stepped in a few minutes later in dark jeans and a navy jumper that surely cost more than John’s car. John handed him the mug of tea and Molly turned her question to Sherlock.

“Some loch, I believe. I heard mention of caves and other such nonsense.”

“It’s not nonsense to some of us,” Janine protested. “We’ve no lochs in England.”

“Well surely you had caves growing up in Ireland,” Sherlock replied, leaning against the counter beside John.

“Not the point.”

“Ah, the gang’s all here.” Greg’s friends stepped into the kitchen just as Greg came in from outside.

“Morning all,” Greg said. “Just been out to check the weather. Looks like a chilly morning.”

“Why we must come to the cold in Scotland when it’s perfectly tolerable in England is beyond me,” Sherlock said.

John elbowed him. “Be nice.”

Sherlock frowned into his tea.

“You’re on holiday, Sherlock. Just bloody enjoy it,” Greg said.

A few minutes later they were tacked up on in the saddle, the dawn just beginning to creep around the edges of the mountains but still not strong enough to light there way. John gave the pale glow of Pip’s neck a rub as the group organized themselves. Elmer was tossing his head beside them, clearly unhappy with the early, chilly ride when his stall was warm and filled with hay.

“Honestly,” Sherlock chastised him, giving him a kick and sliding the bit until the grey horse dropped his head.

“Can’t blame him,” John said, lifting the collar of his jumper higher on his neck. The night air still bit at them and John flexed his toes in his boots to keep them warm.

They followed Greg in good faith, no one really able to see a clear trail or path. Still, Napoleon remained true to his name and surged forward, eager to lead the march into the early morning. John and Sherlock fell in behind Greg’s friends, sticking to single file until they could actually see.

It was quiet in the pre-dawn, but not silent. Crickets chirped and there were a few birdcalls as the earth woke up. John could smell the crisp scent of dew-covered grass and watched the lightening of the sky, the deep purple turning to navy to light blue as the sun rose above the clifftops and the day began.

About half an hour in they came to a wider trail, the slope evening out so that they could ride side-by-side. Elmer and Sherlock stepped up to match pace with Pip, the big grey holding back a touch to match Pip’s slightly shorter stride.

“Is this…all right?” Sherlock asked.

“Is what all right?”

“What…how we are right now.”

John turned to smile at him, yet again not wearing a helmet though John had to admit that they way the sun caught the glimmers of red and purple in Sherlock’s hair was quite nice. “Yes, this is all right.”

“Good.” Sherlock nodded.

They were coming to the end of a large meadow, snuggled between two great cliffs. Greg pulled Napoleon up, the Appy tossing his head and snorting.

“All right. Let’s see who’s got the best legs,” he grinned.

“I am not racing on this thing,” Janine piped up, looking down at the old bay.

“Scared?” Greg laughed but turned to Sherlock and John. “Show us how it’s done?”

“Really,” Sherlock began, but John had already kicked Pip into a canter, quickly letting the horse out into a full gallop. He heard Elmer’s hooves close behind after a moment, the wind whipping against his face and through Pip’s black mane as the horse went flying across the meadow. The grass was slightly damp but not slick enough to worry and John felt himself let go, letting the horse beneath him pick the pace as he simply held on and enjoyed.

Within a few seconds Elmer was beside them and John looked over to catch the grin on Sherlock’s face. Very rarely did he let Elmer out in his full run, and then it was only for practice and hardly for fun. They’d raced a bit half-heartedly through the fields and trails around Baker, but nothing was big enough to be a safe galloping race. This however, was perfect. Perhaps a kilometer long and wide open, no ditches or hidden logs in sight.

John leaned further over Pip’s neck, letting out more rein and clucking the horse along. Pip’s ears twitched and there was a slight hitch in his stride as he lengthened it, hooves reaching out for the grass before pushing off once more, snorting with each stride.

He felt Elmer and Sherlock speed up as well, keeping pace with them, the grey’s ears up and what John would have sworn was the equivalent of a horse grin on his face. The two horses flew across the grass, wind howling in their rider’s ears. Elmer began to edge ahead and Pip, not quite liking that, threw himself forward even more, John laughing at the horse. They passed Sherlock and Elmer with ease and, when they were about a hundred meters from the end of the meadow, John sat back and pulled the horse up, going from a bouncy trot and finally down to a walk. He gave the slightly damp neck a pat, cooing at the horse.

“No offense to your warmblood,” he said when Elmer and Sherlock pulled up beside them, “but he’s an Appendix.” He gave the horse another pat and Pip let out a satisfied snort.

Sherlock rolled his eyes but the grin on his face was apparent. “And now poor Pip is depleted of his energy and will have to drag his arse back home.”

“Sore loser.”

“Competitive twat.”

John laughed, not sure if he was more entertained by the cursing or the teasing.

They spun the horses around, allowing them each to stretch out on the buckle, catching their breath as they walked back. Pip seemed very proud of himself. Sherlock kept the grin on his face all the way back across the field. John initially snuck glances at him but eventually gave up, turning to face the other man. His dark hair was tousled from the wind, swept back across his forehead and his cheeks were pink with the wind and adrenaline. John lingered on his lips, pink and plush and perfect, and marveled at the alabaster skin and stunningly clear eyes. Eyes that were now turning to meet his. He felt his cheeks flush and turned forward like a bloody schoolboy.

It really wasn’t fair that Sherlock was so…pretty.

“I think the windswept, happy-to-be-alive look is good on you,” Sherlock said softly.

John shook his head with a laugh. “Trust me, you wear it better.”

Sherlock licked his lips and rubbed Elmer’s neck, stretching along the dark mane to scratch just behind the horse’s ears. Even in jeans his ass looked great on a horse. And off a horse. Pretty much everywhere, actually.

“Little guy’s got some go,” Greg laughed when they were back with the group.

“Don’t sound so surprised,” John said.

“Elmer, you’re letting us all down,” Molly said, blushing a bit when Sherlock looked up at the nickname. But he didn’t protest and favored her with a small smile.

“Then keep the Baker name in contention,” Greg said, nodding her and Janine forward.

“Really, I’m out,” Janine protested, looking down at her old bay.

“Aw, I’m sure he’s got a bit of spunk,” John said.

“How long have you worked for us? You know this is about as fast as he goes.” She was standing still.

“All right, Dimmock, show ‘em what you got.”

Dimmock moved his red bay next to Molly, bowing to her before spurring his horse into a gallop. Molly urged her mare into a canter, making sure that she was paying attention before letting the horse open up. The group cheered as she caught up with Dimmock.

John smiled as the pair took off and gave Pip a pat on his rump, hands running over the smooth fur and warm skin. Bart had always pranced and spun before competitions, but Pip was happy to remain still, nose to nose with Elmer as Sherlock watched the race.

Bart hadn’t been as fast, but he’d held his own in lower competition and, despite his short stature, had cleared everything John had put in front of him. John himself wouldn’t have been able to take the horse up to four-star level, but he’d had hope the young horse could go on to perform internationally.

Now the gelding was gone and, though he had Pip, John was far from considering competition again. He wasn’t sure if it was some twisted loyalty to a dead horse or his fear of losing another, but he knew he wouldn’t compete again. Not in eventing at least. He had to admit that the excitement from a full show schedule had started to affect him. It was always a thrill to watch Sherlock ride (and win) and occasionally John remembered his own spots of glory (minor though they had been) when it had been him winning the blue ribbon after a clear round.

He was happy to be part of those wins for Sherlock, but he could only hope they would get another. The biggest win they could. Without Moriarty, the competition would be a breeze. Perhaps not devoid of any competition at all, but free from anything Sherlock couldn’t beat. And that was the thing, they didn’t know if he could be Moriarty. The snake had scratched their only pre-Reichenbach match up and John had no idea how they would do face-to-face.
Of course, he could almost guarantee Sherlock a win if he let him turn Moriarty in.

But with what evidence? After more than a year and based on mere speculation from a few photos taken at the time, Sherlock was far from holding any hard-evidence that it was Moriarty’s doing. But for some reason John believed him. Wanted to believe him desperately. He’d held Bart’s death as his own fault. But up until that jump, it had all been going well, better than well. Everything felt right. Everything had clicked into place, and then they’d jumped and only John had made it over.

There wasn’t enough to flat out eliminate him, but investigate him sure. His barn had already been caught doping and it wasn’t as though he was an unsuspicious character. The entire riding community knew he was a bit shady, but he’d never been out-rightly caught in anything. His groom had seen better days, but that wasn’t enough if Moriarty made the decision to employee him.

No, Sherlock could report him after, if then. It was in the past and, though John couldn’t figure out why on earth he’d been the target, it hadn’t happened again. Unless it had…there were always a few tragic accidents in the eventing world, but they couldn’t possibly all be conducted by one man…

“John?”

John jerked at the sound of Sherlock’s voice, looking up to meet the light blue gaze, concern sweeping over him. “Sorry. Just…lost in my own head.”

“See that you don’t get lost,” Sherlock said, though his eyes seemed to be analyzing John’s brain, pupils darting over his features before settling.

“I’ll try not to,” John said. He shook his head and turned to Molly and Dimmock as they returned, clapping along with the others.

Chapter Text

They took a different route back, the horses energized from the run and prancing beneath them. Pip hadn’t been this spirited for years and John couldn’t help but smile at the horse. Pip wasn’t old, but he certainly wasn’t young enough to be flat out bouncing beneath him.

They paused at a stream, allowing the horses to drink. The small strip of water fed into a larger pond and John steered Pip away from the group, trying to urge the horse to settle down and drink from the pond’s edge. They’d been walking all morning, surely the horse was thirsty. Trying not to think of the old adage, John let out the reins to encourage Pip to stretch his head toward the water. The buckskin did, nostrils flaring as he blew out a breath across the water, sending ripples across its surface.

“Just drink,” John said.

But Pip, apparently, wanted to do much more than that. Suddenly charging into the pond, the horse pawed at the water, sending up great waves, the droplets hitting John’s knees. John gathered up the reins, trying to pull the horse back to the edge. They were in the water up to Pip’s chest now, John dropping his stirrups and holding his boots above the surface. He heard Greg laughing as Pip continued to strike at the water, almost shoveling it out.

And then the damn horse tried to roll.

There was a second, just before John hit the water, when he realized what was going on. Time slowed and he saw the water getting closer, felt Pip drop his shoulder and head. But there wasn’t anywhere for John to go, no shore to emergency dismount onto, and with his feet held up out of the water, he wasn’t able to kick Pip forward and stop him from going down. So John went down with him.

He rolled over Pip’s shoulder, splashing into the pond just as Pip did, immediately standing up and shaking water from his dripping hair. The water was freezing and a chill immediately set in through his drenched clothing.

“You son of a bitch!” he snarled, grabbing up Pip’s reins. The horse had dropped all the way in, John’s tack completely soaked through (and quite possibly ruined) and John admittedly jerked on the reins a bit harder than he needed to, dragging the horse to a stand.

He could hear a few snickers from the bank and growled when he slogged his way out of the pond, wringing out his shirt and jumper and pushing his wet hair back from his face, water dripping from his chin and the tip of his nose.

“You’re glue,” he said, glaring at Pip.

Pip just gave himself a good shake, stirrups and leathers smacking against his sides as he sent the saddle flaps shaking and more water splattering onto John.

“All right?” Greg asked, walking up to him.

“Killing this horse tonight, but fine.” He flipped the reins over Pip’s head. It wasn’t like he could walk all the way home. Great, now he had God knew how long sitting in a wet saddle, soaked to his bones with wet denim and fleece glued to his body. His boots would take ages to dry out and his tack might very well be unusable by the time they returned.

Greg looked him over but turned Napoleon and headed for the trail they’d been on. “We need to get back,” he said.

The others nodded and started to form a line, following the Appy down the path. Sherlock had dismounted now and stepped toward John, holding out the jumper he’d been wearing earlier. “It’s too warm for you to freeze at the moment,” he said, “but do be careful.”

It had gotten progressively warmer as the day had worn on, but John knew the chill would set in by sunset and they were pretty close. Torn between not wanting to ruin Sherlock’s jumper and wanting to curl up beneath a mountain of blankets, he reluctantly took the offered clothing, passing Sherlock Pip’s reins before stripping off his own soggy jumper and replacing it with Sherlock’s.

Sherlock wordlessly passed back Pip’s reins, waiting until John had mounted before getting back on Elmer. Pip, possibly sensing what he’d done, was quieter now, his coat damp and his tail still dripping. His ears kept twitching back to John as they walked, as if checking up on him. A time or two he turned his head, nosing at John’s ruined boots.

“Yeah, all right, I won’t kill you.”

Pip huffed.

“Yet.”

John shivered in the saddle, shoulders hunched around himself to keep in every ounce of warmth. The wind occasionally blew, sending another chill through him though it was probably drying out his clothing a bit. Sherlock and Elmer stayed close by, Sherlock not speaking though John could feel the ice blue stare glued to him.

By the time they returned the sun had set and John was shaking, teeth gnashing together as he hunched his shoulders against the wind and flexed his fingers on the reins, trying to get some feeling back in them.

“You are the stupidest horse I know,” he said, teeth chattering.

“Get inside,” Sherlock said, taking the reins from his frozen hands. Somehow the man had already dismounted Elmer.

John blinked. Perhaps he was already getting hypothermia. “Okay.” Numbly he dropped his feet from his stirrups, dragging his leg over the saddle before sliding down. Sherlock’s hand was on his back and he wobbled a bit.

“Go get in the bath,” Sherlock said, waiting until John was stable before flipping the reins over Pip’s head. He gave John one last appraising look before leading the horses into the barn. Huh. Sherlock was doing John’s job now. John laughed, aware that it really wasn’t all that funny but unable to stop himself. Right. Hypothermia. Abort.

Wrapping his arms around his frozen body, he quickly went back into the house, forcing his slow, stiff limbs up the stairs and down the hallway. He didn’t stop by the room for clothes, more concerned with not losing his fingers and toes to frostbite. Shutting the old door (devoid of a lock and therefore putting all inside at the mercy of manners) he quickly turned on the taps of the giant claw foot tub, stripping his wet jump over his head and nearly tripping as he tried to toe off his boots and peel the soaked denim from his legs. His socks hit the tile floor with a thump and he stood, naked and shivering, until the steam began to rise from the tub. It would take forever to fill, but John fully intended on sinking into the bath and never returning.

Once the water had reached about halfway and the steam had warmed him slightly, he stepped over the rim, hissing as the water scalded his frozen feet. After a second of holding still he sat down, equal parts in pain and relief as the hot water washed over him, skin nearly numb with chill.
That was the last time he took Pip near any body of water. Ever.

As the tub filled his shaking abated and, once the water nearly lapped the rim and he was sure he’d used up the entirety of the tank (unless they’d wrangled some fancy system out here in the middle of nowhere) he shut the water off, sinking up to his chin as the steam enveloped the entire room. Lulled by the water and soaking in nearly every ounce of heat, he almost missed the soft twist of the knob and Sherlock’s entrance. John kept his eyes closed. Who else would come barging in without permission?

“Still alive?”

“Barely,” John said.

He felt Sherlock rather than heard him as the man settled against the side of the tub. It should have been awkward, what with everything they’d gone through over the past few days, but it was nice. Not quite as comforting as the hot water cradling his body, but pretty damn close.

“Janine’s checking out Pip. Seems fine though.”

“Would serve him right.” John pried open one eye.

Sherlock was sitting on the floor, looking down at his hands, chin just about even with the edge of the huge tub. “He ever done that before?”

“What do you think?”

Sherlock gave a soft laugh. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Kept all my fingers,” John said, holding them up to demonstrate. The water gave a soft splash when he moved.

Sherlock looked up, apparently counting that John did, in fact, still remain in possession of all ten of his fingers. Then his eyes raised and met John’s, both now open. The steam had sent the ends of Sherlock’s curls into an even wilder fray and John could smell the mixture of dirt and horse and Highland air wafting off him.

“I’m stealing all the blankets tonight, just so you know.”

Sherlock grinned. “You always steal the blankets.” He lifted his arm to rest atop the porcelain, chin propped on his forearm. John had to resist the urge to reach out and ruffle his hair. Instead he leaned forward to kiss him.

“Wasn’t expecting that?” John laughed, Sherlock still looking a bit startled. John settled back in the water, finding that he didn’t care at all that Sherlock was sitting there, quite capable of scanning John’s entire body through the clear water. But he knew Sherlock wouldn’t do that (not that he would mind). Sherlock simply…wanted to be near him. Huh.

“I’m not objecting.” Sherlock went back to his earlier pose, staring at John then letting his eyes flit about the room, looking rather like a small puppy as he did so, hair falling in his eyes and curious look on his face.

“What are you analyzing?”

“I’m not analyzing anything. I’m looking around the loo.”

“Which you’ve been in every day we’ve been here.”

“I was trying to be polite.”

“Why?”

“Because I didn’t think you’d want me staring at you.” Sherlock met his eyes once more, the blue bright and interested.

“Why on earth would you want to stare at me?”

Sherlock didn’t respond but his eyes softened and the corner of his mouth turned up into a small grin. “Relax.”

John watched him for another minute, trying to see if he could weasel out an answer just from looking as Sherlock so often did, but nothing was forthcoming and the hot water made his body heavy, his bones feeling as if they were about to melt. He closed his eyes, absorbing the warmth.

Eventually Sherlock stood and left, shutting the door softly behind him. He returned a moment later with John’s towel before disappearing once more. John stayed in the tub until his fingers were pruned and his skin wrinkled and pink. He reached for the towel and dried off, feeling more human as he did so.

Towel wrapped around him, he darted back across the cold hallway and into their room. The fire was crackling in the grate and Sherlock was sitting before it on the floor, one eyebrow quirked at John and the duvet on his lap. John grinned. He wasn’t exactly up for a fireside shag, but the promise of warmth and Sherlock were just what he needed.

Quickly dropping the towel, he snatched up a pair of pants and his pajama bottoms, tossing on a t-shirt before plopping beside Sherlock, immediately burrowing into the duvet when Sherlock handed it to him. He covered his head for a moment, happy to cocoon himself in the fire-warmed blanket before he peeked his head out once more, Sherlock watching him with an amused grin.

“Cold?”

“Shut it,” John said. He adjusted the duvet, wrapping one side around Sherlock and scooting even closer.

“Oh, needing extra body heat?” Sherlock asked, tucking one end around him so that they were wrapped up together.

“Something like that,” John said.

For the first time in hours he wasn’t shaking and the glow of the fire seemed to force any last shreds of chill from him. He sighed heavily, jaw sore from his teeth chattering and muscles tight from the strain of shivering for so long.

They sat that way for a while before Sherlock adjusted the blanket, wrapping his arm around John’s shoulder. It was surprisingly bold for him and John took advantage, resting his head on Sherlock’s shoulder, happy to have his cheek against Sherlock’s warm skin.

“Never took you for a cuddler,” John said.

“Nor did I.”

John grinned, turning from the fire to stare up at Sherlock. He reached up, kissing the pale jaw before Sherlock turned, sliding their mouths into place. It was tentative at first, as so much would be now, but John pressed back, sliding his tongue over Sherlock’s bottom lip. They could play the game, retrace their steps and try to start from the beginning. But John knew that wouldn’t work for them, not with all that they’d gone through. Besides, their beginning was somewhat of a lie and far from a foundation. No, it wouldn’t make sense to go backwards, so forwards it was.

“It’s nice when you’re not being a prick,” John said, pulling back just slightly. Their breath still mixed, the warmth making his lips tingle.

“Doing my best.”

“You know, it could have always been like this.” The ‘but you made sure it wasn’t’ went unsaid.

“It will be. From here on out,” Sherlock said, voice low and rumbling through his chest. John leaned closer, capturing his lips once more before pulling back. “If you’ll let me.”

“I said I would.”

Sherlock kissed him again, slow and deep, and John felt himself melt a bit. He grinned up at Sherlock before leaning back down against his shoulder, exhausted from the day and never wanting to move again, despite the fact that Sherlock was incredibly bony.

“May I ask a question?” Sherlock said.

“Course.”

“Can we go back to having…other conversations?”

“What do you mean?” The fire gave a sharp snap and John stared at the flames for a minute before focusing on Sherlock.

“Well, recently all we’ve really talked about is…this.”

“Our relationship?” John sat up to look at him. “Yes, communication. We need that, remember?”

“Yes, but must we constantly discuss it?” Sherlock made a face and John couldn’t help but laugh.

“Oh, tedious is it?”

“Yes, actually. I understand we must…clarify things to a certain extent, but really.”

John rested his head once more, pulling the down cover closer around him and, by proxy, Sherlock. “All right, what else do you want to talk about? Climate change? World peace? How I like my eggs?”

“Whatever you want,” Sherlock sighed.

John nuzzled into Sherlock’s neck before turning back to the fire. Sherlock’s arm was warm and secure around him and he knew that this time Sherlock genuinely wasn’t trying to weasel out of something, but that he was simply bored. John had to admit being a little exhausted of the subject himself. There was really only so much they could say after all.

“My saddle is going to be a bitch to clean tomorrow.”

Sherlock chuckled, chest vibrating with the sound. “Yes. Yes, it will.”

Chapter Text

After a while growling stomachs forced them to venture down for dinner. Greg gave John a once over, determining whether he’d adequately survived, before nodding and turning back to Dimmock. Molly gave him a smile as they sat down.

“All right?”

“I’ll live,” he said, reaching happily for the beer that Janine had set in front of him.

Sherlock sat down beside him, looking at something on his phone. John felt his gut clench but he forced himself to look away for a moment. When he let his eyes turn back, the phone was nowhere in sight.

“Training schedule,” Sherlock said, picking up a fork and flipping it through his fingers.

John nodded and forced his stomach to calm. Trust. They were trying out the whole trust thing now.

As the group ate, they were joined by their host, who was then regaled with the entire John-taking-a-swim story. He gave a laugh but looked at John apologetically.

“We both survived. My saddle might not have,” John said.

“We’ll take care of it,” their host replied, smiling.

“Up for a ride tomorrow?” Greg asked.

“Actually I might pass,” John said. “Think I’ll just stick around here if that’s all right.” He might have warmed up, but he knew his bones would be aching come morning and it would take at least three hours to work his tack back into useable condition.

“Fair enough,” Dimmock said.

“Sherlock?”

“I’ll stay,” he said, stabbing the wooden table with the tines of his fork. John handed him a piece of bread and glared until he set the fork aside and started to pick at it.

“Leave the place in one piece, yeah?” Greg laughed.

The group finished, John heading upstairs for bed, exhausted from the early start and unplanned swim. Sherlock followed him a few moments later, curling up in a chair with his phone. Too tired to bother and working on that whole trust and letting go thing, John didn’t ask, letting himself fall into bed and blissful unconsciousness.

When he woke the next morning, his entire body was sore. He couldn’t help but let out a groan as he rolled to sit up in bed, feet dangling over the side. Gently stretching, he stood slowly, trying to twist some of the stiffness out of his back. He was alone in the room but wasn’t surprised or worried. He hadn’t really expected Sherlock’s sleeping habits to change from what they were before.

John changed into barn clothes and wandered downstairs. Sherlock wasn’t in the kitchen and, not hungry, John ventured out to the barn. Pip and Elmer had been let out into the small front pasture and both looked up when John whistled.

“I still hate you,” he told the buckskin cheerily.

He found Sherlock in the barn, rifling through the old tack room. There were a few harnesses and old pieces of equipment hanging in the corner, dusty and molded.

“Morning,” John said.

Sherlock turned to him them, smiling. “I see you can still move.”

“Barely,” John said. He leaned forward, pulling Sherlock toward him for a kiss.

“You really won’t shave?” Sherlock asked, wiping at his cheek when John pulled away.

“Oy, it’s holiday.”

“So I must suffer.”

John made a face at him but could see the glint in Sherlock’s eyes. He turned to the Baker tack then, the majority of the saddles and bridles gone with the group out on the trails. Sherlock’s dark tack was stored away neatly, all supple and soft. John’s own saddle, technically one of Mrs. Hudson’s, was in a state of abysmal disarray. Heaving a sigh, he pulled it down off the wooden saddle rack, the leather now dry and cracked and stiff. Sherlock rooted through their supply trunk for the saddlesoap and oil.

John took the saddle outside, setting it on the elevated log used for an outdoor washrack. The saddle creaked when he set it down and he begrudgingly accepted the rags and cleaning supplies from Sherlock.

“Think you can bring it back?” Sherlock asked skeptically. He reached a hand out to run along the cantle of the saddle but immediately pulled his hand back as though he’d been burned.

“Yes. Though it will take forever.”

“Good luck,” Sherlock said, making a face.

“You could help me you know.”

“We’re on holiday. I’m meant to relax.”

“Then get on Elmer and go catch up.” John filled a water bucket from the hose, setting it up beside him with the rag and soap.

Sherlock heaved a sigh.

“Look, I appreciate the fact that you want to spend time with me or whatever, but you don’t always have to follow me around and it wouldn’t kill you to be useful.”

“You’re the one being paid to be useful.”

“And you’re paid to ride expensive horses over tall sticks so at least tell me the Reichenbach game plan.” John dunked one of the rags into the water, squeezing it out before coating it in saddle soap. The leather seat immediately soaked up the moisture as he rubbed the rag across it.

Sherlock walked a little ways to the black mounting block their group had brought, dragging it over to sit a few feet away from John. He pulled out his phone, pulling up a number of documents by the taps he made.

“First off, when do we leave?”

“We’ll send Elmer a week beforehand, so a little over two weeks from today. I have to do press in London that day, so you’ll travel there with the horses and I’ll fly out to meet you later.”

John moved to the stirrup leathers, going back and forth between the water bucket and the soap, working out the pond scum and dirt that had stuck to the leather. “All right. Greg said that Sally will be joining us as well.”

“Heaven help us all.”

John gave a snort but was secretly extremely grateful for the support. Each of the horses at the trials would have a full security team as well as their grooms, but having another hand meant he could switch off rather than being on duty 24/7.

“As for training at home, we’ll get back to grid work once we’re at Baker. I don’t want him jumping trial height until the week of but we need to keep up with dressage work. His turns have gotten sloppy.”

John looked out at the horses, both still happily grazing in the pasture about fifty meters away. “Any more trail work or long gallops?”

“Perhaps another gallop or two, as he’s clearly not up to pace as of yesterday.” There was a small grin that disappeared a second after John caught it.

“Relax, Elmer’s in better shape than Pip’s ever been.”

“As he should be.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” It wasn’t as if John had worked the horse for years, but he was a little offended by the comment.

Sherlock rolled his eyes and continued scrolling through his phone. He listed out his day-to-day goals, John taking mental notes of what grain to change when and that they needed more Showsheen and Absorbine before they left. He’d also have to put in a special order for Elmer’s (and Pip’s if it all worked out) hay and feed so they had enough while overseas. By the time Sherlock finished with his list, John had moved on to the first coat of oil, the leather of the saddle greedily soaking it in, the material going dark with the moisture.

Sherlock stood, stretching a bit before going over to stand beside John. He took the oiled rag from him, pushing John toward the mounting block he’d just vacated. “Sit.”

“I’m sorry, you’re now doing my work for me?” John asked, wondering if Sherlock was still somehow trying to apologize for…well, everything.

“You’ve been standing for nearly an hour.” Sherlock gave him another push.

True, John’s back and feet were starting to ache, and the soreness in his body had increased with the exercise, but that was part of the job. Then again, they were on holiday and if Sherlock was willing to do the work for him…”You do know how to clean a saddle, right?”

“Believe it or not, I do,” Sherlock said, pouring more oil on the rag before rubbing it into the skirt flaps.

John sat heavily on the mounting block, sighing as the pressure on his back lessened and his feet were allowed to breath. He was used to days of non-stop work, but it was hard when he started the day sore and finished even worse; he wasn’t in his twenties anymore. He rolled his neck and shoulders, trying to loosen the muscles. He watched Sherlock work for a while, noting the ease and familiarity going into the work. It looked as though Sherlock actually had cleaned a saddle before. John couldn’t imagine when, but perhaps Mrs. Hudson had taught him when he was younger and out from under the influence of his mother.

John had the sudden urge to ask about Sherlock’s parents, but held his tongue. He’d heard no mention of a father and knew that Sherlock wouldn’t willingly talk about his mother. Mycroft kept his distance unless threatening John (which he, surprisingly, hadn’t done in weeks) and he didn’t seem any more forthcoming with the information than Sherlock.

“What are you thinking?” Sherlock’s voice startled him and John blinked.

“What?”

“I can hear you thinking from here.”

“You can’t hear someone think. And it’s nothing.”

Sherlock paused with the cloth, watching him. “Communication remember? I thought we were trying it.”

“On your end certainly.”

“Oh, am I the only one who has to work at this now?” His voice was steady but there was a slight hint of steel to it.

“No, you’re right. Sorry. But it really is nothing.”

Sherlock pursed his lips but didn’t say anything, going back to the saddle.

“Okay, I was just…thinking about your parents.”

“My parents?”

“Well, you never really talk about them.”

“Neither do you,” Sherlock said, rubbing the oil in a little more forcefully than necessary.

“My parents are dead.”

Sherlock looked up. “Oh. I…I didn’t know that.”

“It’s fine,” John said. He shrugged and met Sherlock’s eye. “Happened a long time ago.”

“Car crash?”

“I won’t ask how you know.” John reached down for a piece of hay on the gravel, running the slightly barbed blade between his fingers.

“You indicated that it happened to them both simultaneously and statistically that makes sense.” Sherlock picked the saddle up, flipping it around so that he could do the other side.

“Well, you’re right.” John twisted the hay around his finger. He hadn’t actually thought about his parents much. Both he and Harry had already left home by that point. They’d simply gotten a call from their aunt, gone to the funeral, read the will, and moved on. Harry wasn’t one to sit and cry about it (and she was too slobbering drunk at the funeral to do so) and John wasn’t much for talking about things that nothing could be done about. He’d got on with his life just as he had been and hadn’t done more than visited their graves a time or two. He did wonder what his parents would have thought of Sherlock. They weren’t privy to the whole bisexual thing, but he couldn’t imagine a dinner with the four of them.

“Do people usually laugh when thinking of their dead parents?” Sherlock asked.

John shook his head. “No, sorry. Was thinking about something else. You, actually.”

“And I’m funny?”

“Thinking of you at a family dinner is, yes.”

Sherlock made a pained face and John laughed again. “I was never much for family affairs.”

“So I gathered,” John laughed. But he tossed the hay to the side and stood, picking up an extra rag and running saddle soap over the girth, stretched out beside his saddle.

“Father disappeared when I was six.”

John looked up. Sherlock’s voice was quiet and flat, no emotion in it at all. He was stating facts, but John tried to find some hint of feeling on his face. “I’m sorry.”

“Mycroft said it was better that way. He was thirteen at the time so I suppose he understood more about it than me.”

“So the equestrian thing is all from your mum?”

Sherlock hummed in agreement, running his oiled rag over the girth once John finished. “She pressured both Mycroft and I, though clearly I was always better.” Sherlock gave a wolfish grin. “She was raised in the south of France, rode all her life.”

“You’re half French?” John asked, a bit startled. Really, he couldn’t fall for a Frenchman.

“Less, really. English grandfather, French grandmother. All British on my father’s side.”

Okay, well that John could deal with. “So why ride for Britain?” He knew for a fact that a number of French riders were getting paid quite well on the international stage.

“Better coaches.”

“Yes, because you take so well to coaching.”

“Well, Mrs. Hudson got her claws in me.”

John smiled, setting down his rag and taking Sherlock’s from his hand. “You called her recently?”

“Spoke with Sally this morning. She said all was well and that she hates us for taking holiday without her.” Sherlock rolled his eyes but at least seemed happy to hear that Mrs. Hudson was doing all right. “Now, what are we to do today?”

“Well, that saddle will need at least two more coats, with drying time in between. Why don’t you get on Elmer? I’m sure we can do something with him around here.”

Sherlock seemed to hesitate for a moment, staring at John. He licked his lips and took a breath but caught it, nodding instead and turning toward the pasture where Pip and Elmer grazed. John collected the bucket, oil, and soap, setting them to the side along with the now greasy rags. He went back into the barn to pull out Sherlock’s tack, setting it on Elmer’s stall wall.

The big horse walked in a moment later, Pip nickering at him from the field. John smiled when he saw the grey, giving the dark nose a rub before Sherlock led him into the stall, spinning him around to tie him to the hundred year old peg on the front of the stall. “Archaic,” he muttered.

“Cool,” John corrected.

Sherlock tacked up while John began mucking out the stalls. The rest of the team had done enough for him in the past few days, he was starting to feel guilty about not pulling his weight. He’d gotten through a number of the stalls when Sherlock led Elmer out of the barn, this time wearing his helmet. John gave a slight sigh of relief. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Elmer or Sherlock, it was the fact that horses often decided that grass was going to eat them and didn’t care to let their rider know beforehand that they were going to spin and bolt.

“Whatever are we supposed to do?” Sherlock asked, dragging the mounting block over and getting on. Elmer fussed with the bit, looking back at where Pip was trotting along the paddock fence.

“Get over it,” John called out to the horse, both irritated and pleased that the two animals were becoming so attached. At least he and Sherlock didn’t have to argue about the children. To Sherlock he said, “just hack him around. Let him see everything.”

“He’s already used to new situations,” Sherlock protested, but nudged Elmer forward toward the wash rack with John’s saddle.

John wandered over as well, checking that he could apply a second coat of oil. The leather was still stiff and now dark with the much needed moisture. Still slightly tacky to the touch, he hoped two more coats would be enough. Still, if he needed to break into the really good stuff once they were home, he knew where Sherlock kept the expensive products.

Elmer nosed at the bottle of oil when John picked it up, and John let the grey sniff at it, pushing his face away when he lipped at the saddle. Sherlock gave the horse his head, allowing him to get in John’s way as he tried to work.

“Work your horse rather than annoying me,” John suggested, holding Elmer away with one hand and massaging the oiled rag onto the leather with the other.

“If you insist,” Sherlock said, pulling the horse away.

John dropped his (sore) arm and continued working, occasionally glancing up to see what Sherlock had gotten up to. Naturally, he was unable to lack focus in his work and put Elmer on a circle in the area between barn and pasture. Pip stayed close to the gate, clearly hoping to join them, but he quit calling as Elmer stayed in view. Sherlock let the horse stretch out at the trot, allowing them both to get a feel for the uneven ground. John was personally quite pleased with the amount of terrain work that Elmer had gotten over the past few days. He knew the added stretching and strength just might put them onto a win in Switzerland.

The sun was now peaking in the sky, warm on John’s back as his hands became slippery with the dark oil. The leather began to smell richer, intensified by the restoration as it softened beneath his hands. Elmer’s hoofbeats were quiet, dulled by the grass, but John could still tell what they were doing by the sound, looking up when Sherlock asked for a canter, extending and collecting as they went around their circle.

Elmer’s mane and tail were free of braids and picked up by the wind as he moved. Sherlock’s hands were soft and sure on the reins, Elmer just collected enough without full contact. The horse’s ears were up, twitching back and forth as Sherlock signaled. They were in perfect balance, out here in the middle of nowhere in the Scottish Highlands, both horse and rider obviously in their prime. Sherlock’s tan breeches and black tall boots clean and neat, Elmer’s dark grey dapples shining. And behind them, Pip, standing golden in the sunshine, watching his friend work. And then there was John, hands covered in oil despite his attempts to wipe it off. He knew he wasn’t quite as magnificent as the three in front of him, but somehow he belonged with them.

Sherlock pulled Elmer down to a walk, giving the horse a pat as he loosened the reins. He looked over at John, smiling. It was then that John realized he’d forgiven Sherlock and would, in fact, forgive him anything. He could see and acknowledge the frankly horrible things that Sherlock had done in the past, but he could also see the good intentions for the future. He knew that Sherlock regretted it, knew that all of his apologies had been true. He knew, also that Sherlock’s indirect declaration of love was real as well, just as real as the hammering of John’s heart and the hitch in his lungs when Sherlock looked at him. They still had to work, he understood that, just as he understood that being with Sherlock would never be easy. But, despite it all, he understood that they had to be together. For whatever reason, he knew. He hadn’t left that night he’d discovered Sherlock’s plan, and he wouldn’t leave now, wouldn’t leave ever. He was happy here, with Sherlock and Elmer and Pip and even Greg and Janine and Mrs. Hudson. He’d found a home at Baker, however few months he’d belonged there, but that’s where he would stay unless Sherlock decided to move. Because he loved the bastard, erratic and egotistic and insane as he was.

“What are you grinning at?” Sherlock asked, pulling Elmer up in front of John.

John looked up, shading his eyes a bit. He could feel the dopey smile on his face but couldn’t be bothered to school it into something else. “Everything,” John said, reaching out to grip Sherlock’s knee. It was warm from the sun and the workout and, though Sherlock frowned a bit at him, he saw his pupils dilate and the corner of his mouth twitch. John laughed and turned to look at Elmer, the horse having turned his head to see what was going on. John reached his other hand out to Elmer, letting the horse nuzzle at him, looking for treats. “Just…everything,” John said.

Chapter Text

John eventually managed to return his saddle to a usable state, though it would take another few weeks of riding and oiling to get it back to where it was. Still, it allowed him to join the group for the following day’s ride, the last of their trip, and he was thankful for that. Their last morning they set up a few makeshift jumps, bales of straw and a few stumps and chairs created the small obstacles. Sherlock scoffed and barely trotted over the jumps, Elmer’s ears twitching in disgust at the small height. Napoleon took them seriously, heaving himself to a good half meter above their actual height. Greg rode him well though, staying low and tight and allowing the horse to jump as he wanted.

John thought about holding back, having not seriously jumped Pip for years, but Sherlock raised an eyebrow at his refusal and John knew he would never hear the end of it. He shook his head and trotted Pip a bit away, circling him around to face the little line of makeshift jumps. They weren’t all that big, but they looked unstable and he wasn’t sure if Pip would shy away from them or not. Dropping his heels and closing his leg, he collected Pip up, nudging the horse into a canter.

“Slow,” he growled when Pip nearly shot out from beneath him. He half-halted the horse back down to an even hunter canter, looking for his take-off spot.

Pip, in his excitement, took the jump long. His ears forward and his pace increasing just a bit as he collected himself. John felt the horse’s weight shift back and decided to go with the motion, knowing Pip would clear the fence easily. He closed his hip angle, folding forward as Pip rose, take the jump clean and wide. John collected him on the landing, pulling him up and taking a harder feel of his mouth for the second fence. He let himself follow Pip’s motion again as they took the second fence at a much cleaner spot, horse and rider arcing over the jump in a clean bascule before cantering away.

John grinned and gave the horse a pat, easing him down to a walk. Greg and Molly were clapping and Dimmock was lining his bay up. Pip would never have the power and tight knees of Elmer, but he was smooth and consistent and John was rather pleased.

“We’ll work on your leg,” Sherlock said when John rode up beside him.

“Thanks for the support,” John said. Dimmock took the fences much faster than John and Pip had, but his bay somehow managed to keep his legs underneath him, sailing over each fence.

“You did well,” Sherlock said, voice quieter so that only John could here. He was smiling when John turned to look.

“Still need to work on my leg.”

 

They packed up that afternoon, Molly and Janine offering to take the slow drive behind the trailer so Sherlock and John could get back earlier. Sherlock wasn’t about to complain and John was secretly thrilled that they offered, even though he felt guilty over the fact that he’d basically done nothing the first half of their trip. Still, the girls seemed to believe that emotional turmoil was excuse enough and happily waved them off as they drove away.

The drive, though shorter, was still long and somewhat tense since Sherlock made a point of only checking his phone once or twice. He twitched though, fingers moving toward his pocket then tapping at the car door and window.

“You’re fidgeting,” John said.

“I am not.”

“You’ve done nothing but practically dance in your seat for the last half hour.”

“I would have thought you to prefer that rather than my being on the phone.”

“True,” John said, passing a rather slow moving car, “but that was when you were using your phone to plot against Moriarty.”

Sherlock scoffed. “There’s nothing wrong with plotting against that snake. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s created a masking agent for all the drugs he pumps into his poor horses.”

“He’s a terrible person, yes. But it was the plotting.”

“The plotting involving you. Yes.”

When Sherlock didn’t speak for a minute, John turned to him. His brows were furrowed and his lips pursed. It was so rare that Sherlock looked utterly unsure of himself that John savored the moment before responding.

“The phone is fine I just…get a bit nervous.”

“Understandable,” Sherlock replied, but he didn’t take his phone out.

“You don’t need my permission, you know,” John said, taking pity on just how uncomfortable the rider looked.

“I’m well aware of that, thank you.”

John sighed and changed the radio station, leaving it when he came across something classical. Sherlock was rich, he would like classical music, right?

“We’re not about to play your game again, are we?” Sherlock asked, twisting in his seat until he was comfortable again.

“What game?”

“You’re question game.”

“First of all, it’s not a game, it’s a conversation, and second of all, what’s wrong with it?”

“Inane.”

“Interesting.”

“God, what could you possible want to know? My birthday? My hometown?”

“I know both. I googled you.”

Sherlock blinked for a moment before giving a low chuckle. “I guess we’ve both covered those bases then.”

“Something like that. But it’s fine, we don’t have to talk if you don’t like it. We’ve been over this before.”

Sherlock sighed. “I know, I know. ‘Silence is fine.’”

“Well,” John said. “It is.”

“You’re so predictable.”

“One of us has to be.” And Lord knew that was the truth. Though he’d settled a little, Sherlock was still erratic in his ways, even to the point that Elmer was sometimes confused as to why they were practicing when they were. But John really didn’t mind the silence. He knew Sherlock was most likely thinking over every single time he didn’t do something perfectly and how he would do it perfectly the next time.

John himself tried not to think too much. It was easier, really, to just stop thinking. He felt all right. Felt a little burst of warmth when Sherlock kissed him or went to bed with him even if he wasn’t tired. He knew it felt right, being with Sherlock, and thinking about it wasn’t going to change that. At least, he didn’t want it to. He’d done enough thinking for a while. He knew continuing their relationship was worth it and dammit if his brain kept trying to get in the way. No, he would focus on Reichenbach now. Focus on the present.

It was nearing sunset when they finally returned to Baker. Both men gave a sigh as they passed through the gates, John parking alongside Sherlock’s Jaguar before stepping out of the Jeep and stretching. They grabbed their bags and walked through the hedge fence, emerging before the barns. There was a rider in the dressage ring and a small class finishing up in the jumping arena.

“Mrs. Hudson will do the laundry,” Sherlock said when John began to head toward the barn to drop off his things.

“She’s resting.”

“She’ll make someone do it.” Sherlock nodded his head in the direction of the house, setting off without waiting to see if John was following.

John heaved a sigh, walking after him. “It wouldn’t kill you to do your own laundry, you know.”

Sherlock turned to roll his eyes before stepping into the house. John, it seemed, would be doing a large load later on. It was the least he could do though, basically moving into Mrs. Hudson’s house without full permission. Not that she’d ever complained.

They found her in the living room, sitting up on the couch and sharing a cup of tea with Sally. “Boys, you’re home!” she said, smiling brightly at them both.

“And you’re looking better,” John said, stepping over to squeeze her hand briefly before dropping his bag by the stairs.

“Sally,” Sherlock said, not looking at her.

“Sherlock, dear, so good to see you,” Mrs. Hudson said, smiling as Sherlock bent down to kiss her cheek. John hid his own smile but put a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder as he walked past to the kitchen to fill the kettle.

“So,” Sally said. “How was Scotland?”

“The horses were fine and John fell into a pond.”

“Oy!” John set the kettle to boil and returned to the kitchen entryway. “That was not my fault.”

“Wasn’t mine,” Sherlock hummed. He was sitting beside Mrs. Hudson, looking through the pill bottles on the coffee table.

Sally laughed but tried to cover it and Mrs. Hudson smiled.

“Pip tried to roll and…oh, forget it,” John said, turning back to the kitchen. The echoes of laughter followed him and he put ‘privacy’ back on the list of things to discuss with Sherlock.

Once the tea was ready, he brought the two mugs out into the living room, handing one to Sherlock before taking the large, overstuffed chair.

“Well I’m glad you two had a good time. Lot to prepare for now,” Mrs. Hudson said.

“You helping with chores at all or should I just count you out?” Sally asked, frowning at John.

“Of course I’m helping.”

“Until you leave for Switzerland.”

“It’s my job.”

“Sally’s just jealous she never got the chance,” Sherlock said, eyes narrowed on her.

Sally glared and set down her mug of tea. “I better get back to work,” she said, emphasizing the last word. She stood quickly, showing herself out with Sherlock glaring at her back the entire time.

“That wasn’t very nice,” Mrs. Hudson said, though she didn’t indicate who she was talking about.

John didn’t comment, taking a sip of the still hot tea.

“She’s insulting and pathetic,” Sherlock said, seemingly content once again. He settled back into the couch cushions, more relaxed than John usually saw him.
Mrs. Hudson hummed and set down her empty cup. “It is good to have you both back now.”

“Only so much frivolity one can take,” Sherlock replied.

“Yes, dear,” Mrs. Hudson said, patting Sherlock’s leg.

John leaned back and closed his eyes as Sherlock began to tell Mrs. Hudson about the trip. Occasionally John heard bits of information about the horses and the trails, but he wasn’t all that bothered to listen. They were back to the warmth of the end of summer and early fall but the sitting room, as always, was cozy and warm. The tea at the manor had been good, but not his preferred brand (the same one Mrs. Hudson used) and John felt rather content now, filled with good tea and listening to the deep rumble of Sherlock’s voice.

He was eventually roused by Sherlock ending his story, handing Mrs. Hudson a bottle of pills and walking over to pull John off the chair. John groaned but stood. They still had to prepare for the rig and finish the evening’s chores.

“Toss everything in the wash,” Sherlock said, kicking his bag by the sofa and nodding at John’s by the stairs.

“You do it.”

“Sherlock, seriously—“

“You boys leave it to me,” Mrs. Hudson said.

John turned to face her. “No, you’re resting you’re not going to do our laundry.” He turned to scold Sherlock once more but found the man gone. John groaned and, resigned, grabbed their bags.

Once finished with the domestic chores, he wandered back to the barn, helping Anderson with the last of the feeding. The truck and trailer rolled in not long after and they unloaded the horses, all snorting eagerly once they recognized home. John pulled the shipping boots from Elmer and took him and Pip out to what was quickly becoming ‘their’ pasture. There were three other horses that shared the space (all geldings, thank God) but they usually left the other two alone. Elmer pranced and kicked once released, nipping at Pip’s neck until the buckskin agreed to play.

Horses put away for the night, they began to unload the trailer. Anderson willingly helped them but Sally disappeared into her office. The tack was unloaded quickly and Molly even helped them muck out the trailer, thanking them all for taking such good care of the horses. It was the first time John had been thanked for doing his job. No wonder Janine didn’t mind tagging along to help Molly at shows.

Once the chores were finished and the rest of the staff had gone home (save Greg, who was back in full barn manager mode) John headed back up the house to check on the wash and find Sherlock, who had disappeared for the last few hours. Mrs. Hudson was already in her room and the house was dark when he entered, treading quietly so he wouldn’t wake her. Once he’d hung up the clothes to dry, he wandered upstairs to see if Sherlock was in his bedroom.

To John’s shock he was, asleep on the bed, curled up into himself with his phone clutched in his hand. The bedside lamp was on and the yellow light softened his sharp features. John pulled his phone out of his pocket, snapping a quick picture before carefully taking the phone from Sherlock’s hand and setting it on the bedside table. Sherlock was still in his jeans, but John knew he would wake up if John tried to take them off. Instead, he kicked off his shoes and curled up behind Sherlock, not tired at all but happy to watch the man sleep since he so rarely did.

Tomorrow would mark the start of their final few days of training and John wasn’t entirely sure what would happen after that. They’d been so focused on getting to Reichenbach and winning that John hadn’t thought beyond it. Obviously he would continue on as Sherlock’s groom, but winter marked the off season and they would be stuck on the farm for months. And so much of their relationship was based on what had happened in preparation for the trials, John wasn’t entirely sure what they would have afterward. Of course, he still cared about Sherlock beyond the job security he offered as a top rider, but this would be new territory for them. There would be absolutely no doubt that Sherlock was using John to get ahead as he would have nothing to get ahead in. So what would happen then? Sherlock had arguably only been initially interested because he’d seen John as useful. But John had believed it was something more that caused Sherlock stay in the relationship. But, when he thought about it, he realized there had always been some doubt, no matter how happy he was, that Sherlock was in it for all the wrong reasons. True, they’d talked and cleared the air a bit, but it still felt…somehow off. Not forced, but tainted. The trials would, essentially, clean all of that up.

And thinking about it, John wasn’t sure if he wanted it to.

Chapter Text

Once home, travel preparations immediately distracted John from all else. Sally and Anderson were taking a few days off and John was back on night duty, finding himself in his little apartment at night more often than not.

Sherlock rode twice a day, usually early in the morning and then later in the afternoon. It was still warm and the humidity lessened as they moved into fall, but Sherlock decided to body clip Elmer for the trials. Naturally, Elmer hated the clippers and John ended up spending four hours on the strip clip with Elmer prancing and pulling, flaring his nostrils every time the trimmer was turned on. By the time he’d finished (and all but thrown Elmer back into his stall) John was behind on stalls, had been called in to Greg’s office, and had fourteen horses that needed to go in or out.

He stopped by Greg’s first, figuring he could get it out of the way the quickest. Greg looked just as haggard as John expected he himself did. Greg ran one hand through his grey hair as he flipped through a pile of papers on his desk.

“Ah, John.”

“Greg.”

“Get Elmer clipped?”

“After a fight,” John said.

“Should have warned you about that. He was always a bit feisty.”

“No surprise there.”

“I’ve got the passport requests here,” Greg said, shuffling through the papers before he pulled out a thin red folder. “Elementary Solution, approved and ready to go,” he said, handing John the equine passport. “Five Orange Pips still awaiting completion.”

“Sherlock was on the phone with Ariat, seeing if they’d pay the fee,” John said, glancing over Elmer’s papers to make sure everything was in order. He’d have to make more copies of the horse’s coggins as well, just to be safe.

“Well I’m tempted to say the farm will pay it if it keeps Elmer calm.”

“He’s been fine so far,” John said.

“You haven’t flown him yet,” Greg replied. He frowned as a new email chimed on his computer before looking back up at John. “I’ll talk to Sherlock, see if we can’t get it sorted by the end of the day.” He dismissed John with a nod.

Greg had already made copies of the passport, so John took the documents to the tack room, pulling the key to Sherlock’s lockbox out of his pocket and securing the papers away. He made a mental note to collect his own passport and credentials, as he would be flying out with the horses, unfortunately alongside Magnussen and Irene’s teams. He wouldn’t at all be shocked if they each brought along an entire squad of grooms. Though a few of the farm staff would be joining him once in Switzerland, it was up to John to get the horses there safely. He’d flown horses before, but never as head groom. Hell, now that he thought about it he’d never actually been head groom. Not that Sherlock exactly had a team (which had struck John as odd until he’d met the man) but if he ever expanded, John was certainly the one who would take charge.

John’s own paperwork had been sent in along with Sherlock’s once they’d been sure of Sherlock’s spot, but his flight tags had yet to arrive in the mail. He had to confirm the time and arrival plan with the airline and Janine, who was going to the airport with him to bring the rig back to Baker.

“All geared up, Watson?”

John turned at the call. “Stamford?”

“Thought I’d stop by.”

John grinned at his friend, giving him a brief hug before pulling back. “All right?”

“All well,” Mike said. “Didn’t know when I’d see you next so I wanted to wish you luck.”

“Could have done it over the phone.”

“And miss a chance to see the famous Holmes-Watson team in action?”

“Oh yes, we’re quite the pair,” John said. He led Mike down the barn aisle, figuring the man could be useful during his visit.

“He riding today?”

“Tonight, ‘bout seven.” John pulled a few of the school horses from their stalls, handing them off to Mike and retrieving Scarlet for her daily turnout. The two walked the horses out of the barn and around the arenas to their paddocks.

“Think he’ll mind if I watch?”

“Haven’t seen him yet today so Christ knows,” John replied, releasing Scarlet as Mike let the two geldings out. He took the halters from Mike and turned back toward the barn.

“Thought you two would be rather inseparable.”

“Because Victor Trevor suggested it?”

Mike frowned. “Because last I saw you, you were so gone on him you could hardly stop smiling.”

John rolled his eyes at Mike but hid his face quickly, a slight sense of unease filling his gut. He shook his head. He didn’t really have time to think about it now. Besides, their last day in Scotland had been rather pleasant and there wasn’t a whole lot he could do now.

“Don’t blame you,” Mike continued, “that equitation…”

“He’s high ranking for a reason,” John said.

“And I do believe that will work in your favor at Reichenbach. I assume he’s been keeping tabs on the others?”

“Since he was born, I’m afraid.” They were back in the barn and John handed off the next set of horses to Mike, taking out Molly’s mare.

“He’s gonna win it, you know.”

“The paycheck would be nice.”

“What is it this year?”

“200 grand.”

Mike gave a low whistle as he followed John back out to the pastures. They finished up the turnout and Mike leaned against the barn wall as John began to muck his row.

“Haven’t seen much of your string,” John said, grunting at the mess a few of the horses had made. His back already hurt from contorting to clip Elmer and he hadn’t been able to sleep the night before due to a second cutting of hay coming in for their trip that wasn’t up to his standards.

“They’re doing all right,” Mike said, nodding as one of the school’s riders walked by. “Mostly young ones this year, training them up as we go.”

“How many foaled?”

“Three fillies, one colt. Here?”

“One of each. Not much of a breeding farm.”

“Probably because Hudson never sells.”

John had to agree with that. It was the most popular route to take for top stables – get one or two internationally ranked riders, take on a string of horses, a group of students, and sell the foals for profit. Mrs. Hudson had tried it, she’d said, with a friend’s stallion and her own old show mare, but she’d grown too attached to the resulting filly and hadn’t been able to sell. John had always wondered if Sherlock would venture into the breeding game in the future, but the man would barely tell him his daily plans as it was and something in John made him not want to ask too much about the future where the horses were concerned. Going on Sherlock’s non-conventional cross-discipline career so far, John doubted Sherlock himself had thought much beyond Elmer’s retirement.

Greg appeared in the aisle just as John was rolling the wheelbarrow out to the next stall. “John, ten tomorrow morning still work for the vet check?”

“Ten’s fine,” John nodded.

“What’s at ten?”

John turned at the familiar voice. Sherlock was making his way down the barn aisle, dressed in breeches and a dark shirt.

“Vet check,” John said, continuing to muck.

“Got Pip all set up?” Greg asked, looking at Sherlock.

“Taken care of,” Sherlock nodded.

Greg went back to his office then, clearly lacking time for small talk, as was usual.

“Stamford, good to see you again,” Sherlock said.

“Same here. Good luck at the trials,” Mike replied.

Sherlock nodded in acknowledgement. “John, I was hoping to ride closer to five this evening.”

“Fine,” John said, checking his watch. If he blew through the stalls he’d have just enough time to get Elmer ready and set up the jumps in the indoor since they’d last been taken down for a dressage lesson.

“If it’s not too much trouble,” Sherlock said.

John paused, looking up at Sherlock through the open stall door. “Sherlock, it’s fine. It just took a little longer to clip than I was expecting. I’ll have him ready.”

Sherlock nodded, standing hesitantly outside the stall. That hadn’t seen much of each other in the past few days and Sherlock had been quiet. John wasn’t sure if it was the stress of the trials or the mess of their relationship. It wasn’t uncommon for Sherlock to withdraw before a show, but John got the vague sense that Sherlock would much rather be with John than alone in the house. Then again, John wasn’t an expert on Sherlock’s moods and wasn’t sure he could withstand rejection if he’d guessed wrong. The entire thing was ridiculous, but he didn’t have the time to worry over it. A few quick wanks in the shower and he could ignore it all and do his job.

“Mike, you’re welcome to stay,” Sherlock said.

“If you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.” With that Sherlock left.

“That was…interesting,” Mike said.

“Him being polite? It was indeed.”

“Don’t be an arse.”

John finished the stall, setting his rake in the now full wheelbarrow. “Sorry, just busy is all.”

“Uh huh.”

A few minutes before five John was just setting up the last fence. Mike had offered to help him, setting the cups at the right height and taking the poles as John lifted them down from the wall mounts with the tractor. Sherlock led Elmer into the arena just as John and Mike were finishing.

“Thank you,” Sherlock said quietly when John walked over to hold Elmer’s head and check his girth.

“Of course,” John said. He made a point to keep the exhaustion and stress from his voice.

“I…don’t entirely understand what’s happening,” Sherlock said. He slid his foot into the stirrup, hoisting himself into the saddle and collecting up the reins.
John sighed, stroking Elmer’s neck while Sherlock made his adjustments. “I’m sorry I just…a lot’s going on.”

Sherlock nodded, jaw set as he nudged Elmer into a walk. John stepped back, watching them move away before joining Mike at the side of the ring.

“Everything all right?” Mike asked, leaning against the railing.

John ran a hand through his hair, bits of hay and dust falling onto his shoulders. “Just…it’s fine.”

Mike turned to look at him but didn’t push.

They watched Elmer and Sherlock work. John could tell that Sherlock was still over-thinking, could see the set of his shoulders and the tension in his elbows. Elmer’s ears flicked back and forth at his rider, lips worrying the bit as he picked up on the stress. If they didn’t solve whatever it was that was going on between them (which boiled down to the fact that their entire relationship was based on a lie) then there was a chance it would be entirely John’s fault that they blew the trials. No pressure.

John slumped against the arena railing, fighting with himself to both think and stop thinking simultaneously. He cared about Sherlock deeply, probably more than was good for him, and therefore he didn’t want to end things. But if Sherlock was riding like shit and distracted, perhaps it would be better if they did. But John was selfish and didn’t want to. But he was also still hurt and angry. No, he wasn’t angry, just unsure. Logic and emotion were the biggest bitches of all.

 

That night before John and the horses were flying out, Sherlock knocked on his apartment door, much as he had after their first show. John forced himself out of bed and answered, bleary eyed and wincing at the soft glow from the barn’s emergency lights.

“Yeah?”

“May I?” Sherlock asked. He was still in his suit from the interviews he’d been doing in London all day. John had hacked Elmer that morning and jumped on Pip that afternoon to keep them loose before the day of travel.

John nodded and stepped aside, reaching for the floor lamp before shutting the door and cloaking them in darkness. The soft yellow glow softened the black suit Sherlock wore, his crisp white shirt losing some of its starkness.

“You’re leaving tomorrow,” Sherlock said.

“In about five hours, yeah,” John said, looking at the clock by his bed. He walked into the little kitchen, filling a glass from the tap.

Sherlock nodded, still standing stiffly in the middle of the room.

“You’re welcome to stay,” John said, finishing off the glass and setting it in the sink. He walked back over, taking Sherlock’s hand and gently tugging him toward the bed. They had hardly seen each other, much less felt each other since their return from Scotland.

Sherlock stepped forward, stopping at the end of the bed as John sat on the rumpled sheets. He let go of John’s hand, sliding his jacket off and tossing it on the chair near the bed. “I…” he sat down carefully, facing John.

“Mucking it up, aren’t we?” John asked quietly.

“Mmm,” Sherlock replied, long fingers picking at the dark sheets. “You have every right to hate me.”

“I don’t,” John said quickly, reaching out to still Sherlock’s hand.

“Then why…” Sherlock paused again, gritting his teeth.

“Come on, I need to sleep,” John said, pulling Sherlock closer.

Sherlock looked at him in the semi-dark before toeing off his shoes and settling against the headboard. “I’m confused.”

“Welcome to the club,” John said. He reached up to undo the buttons on Sherlock’s white shirt, tugging the fabric away and settling his palm on Sherlock’s bare skin. Sherlock’s breathing was shallow and he held still. John let his hand roam lower, tugging at the fly of Sherlock’s trousers and slowly stripping him.

Once they were both suitably bare (John already in his boxers) he pulled them both beneath the covers, settling his cheek on Sherlock’s shoulder, inhaling the deep, warm scent ar Sherlock’s throat as he wrapped a hand around Sherlock’s waist. It took a moment, but Sherlock eventually responded, his body softening as he tucked one ankle around John’s and settled his hand around John’s shoulder.

They both let out a sigh, content to once more be skin to skin. John closed his eyes and forced himself not to think. Thinking had gotten him in enough trouble before. He’d leave the thinking to Sherlock, it was easier that way.

Sherlock was still asleep when John’s alarm went off a few hours later. John quietly extracted himself, brushing the dark curls from Sherlock’s forehead before he pulled on jeans and the official Baker Farms polo he’d be wearing for the journey. His bags were already by the door and he slid his phone into his pocket before leaving the apartment.

Janine smiled blearily as he met her at the truck. She was gripping a large travel mug and John could smell the strong coffee within. He tossed his bags in the cab before going to the barn, Janine hooking the rig up while he got the horses.

Both Pip and Elmer seemed confused at the early hour. John whispered apologies to them, slipping thick sheepskin halters over their heads. He tied Elmer in the aisle first, settling a dark blue sheet over the grey and securing the tall shipping boots around the legs that would hopefully bring back a title and 200 grand in cash. Pip was next, staring at John, querying, as the boots and sheet were secured.

“Guess you haven’t traveled in awhile,” John said, rubbing Pip’s dark nose. “It’s okay, Elmer’s going too.”

The horses snorted in the cool morning air, the sun just a suggestion on the pale grey horizon. Janine held Pip as John secured Elmer in the trailer, making sure the horse had plenty of hay in the haynet before going to get the buckskin. Once they were both in and the trailer secured, he and Janine climbed into the cab and headed to London and the awaiting plane.

Chapter Text

The process of getting two horses out of a trailer, into a flight box, and onto a plane took hours. Paperwork checked and John’s flight tags scanned, the official part was over, but John still had an anxious warmblood on his hands as the truck neared to lift the horses’ shared box into the waiting jet.

Because Pip was the calmest, their box was going in first. Irene’s three grooms were currently coaxing her grey mare into the box while the three-year-old she was training pranced and spooked at the end of his lead.

“Come on Elmer, we’ve done this before,” John said, trying to calm the horse. Elmer kicked at the front of the box and slammed his body into the partition that separated him from Pip. “Look, Pip’s right here,” John said. He stepped over to give Pip’s nose a rub, the buckskin focusing on him and the familiarity of his smell in the shocking loudness of the runway and the commotion below the plane.

Elmer kicked once more but turned to look at John rather than the plane. Though John wasn’t sure exactly how many flights the horse had been on, he knew it was far from the horse’s first time. He held out his palm for Elmer to sniff, trying to focus the horse on what was familiar.

“There you go. Short flight, we can do it,” John said.

Elmer’s nostrils flared but he touched his muzzle to John’s palm.

A few moments later the man operating the lift that would place the box stall into the plane stepped up to John’s side.

“All right?” he asked, nodding at Elmer whose ears were flicking at the man, eyes rolling to show the briefest flash of their whites.

“Will be,” John said.

The man nodded, stepping around the box to do one last check. Both of the horses were still in shipping boots and sheepskin halters, additional poll guards now settled over their ears. Once satisfied, the operator stood back, nodding at John before climbing into the little car that controlled the whole thing.

John sent up a brief prayer to whoever was listening before stepping back, twisting his hands nervously as he watched the lift grumble to life. Elmer tossed his head and Pip’s nostrils flared but neither of the horses reared as the lift creaked, slowly raising them up the initial few feet. The lift moved as steadily as possible, thankfully not bouncing when Elmer moved to the side and back. Pip looked down at John, sending him a look that seemed to ask what he’d done wrong to deserve such strange treatment.

Once raised to the full height, the whole thing began to move, lining up with the open door of the plane. Other operators were waiting within the jet to detach the crane and lock the stall into place. John moved with the machine, heading toward the steps. As the box stall was setting down into the plane, he trotted up the steps, coming over to watch as the two women unhooked the lift and slide the stall into the tracks. Elmer kicked at the stall again and tossed his head but the cargo hold was tall and he flicked his ears when John spoke to calm him.

Though it took an hour, the Baker horses were finally loaded, locked into the back of the line as the crane returned to bring in Irene’s horses. There was a line of seats across from the stalls along the plane walls, but John stayed with the horses for now, stroking Elmer’s face to calm him and giving Pip a few of the carrots he’d kept in his pocket. He heard one of Irene’s horses scream and kick before huffing.

“Easy boys,” he said, trying to keep all of the horror stories he’d heard out of his head. Though it was a short trip across the continent, John would much rather fly and have the option to emergency land than be stuck in the middle of the English Channel then in a lorry across France for hours.

The horses began to settle into their stalls and though Elmer glued himself to the partitioned wall that separated him from Pip, he finally seemed to calm. Pip bobbed his head and began looking for treats in John’s pocket and Elmer lowered his head a bit for John to scratch his ear. He tried to keep their attention on him when Irene’s box was loaded, her mare prancing at the three-year-old wildly kicking at the metal box. Elmer flinched at the sound, snorting, but John pulled out another carrot and Pip must have done something because the horse remained calm, though wary, of their new traveling companions. It was another story when Magnussen’s horse was loaded. Alone but for his goat companion, the tall, thin horse was quiet. Merely look around, sniffing once, and calmly waiting for the plane to take off. It was a little alarming that the horse didn’t seem to mind at all.

Once settled, the crew closed the doors and the plane began to move. The takeoff was smooth and Elmer and Pip stayed calm, despite Irene’s mare kicking the stalls and her grooms doing nothing but yelling at the horse. John frowned at them but otherwise didn’t react, keeping to himself as they leveled out. Once allowed, he got up to tie the hay nets on the outside of both horses’ doors. Pip immediately began to eat, happily tearing out chunks of hay but Elmer merely lipped at it before losing interest, perking his head up to look at the other three horses. The ride was tense but relatively short, their landing only slightly bumpy with more thrashing from Irene’s stall and quiet from Magnussen’s.

It took another hour to deplane all of the animals, but they all seemed happy to be on solid ground once again, Elmer tossing his head once back out in the sunlight and Pip nickering when they were finally let out of the stalls.

The stable hosting the trials had sent a large eight-horse trailer to drive them and John’s horses were the last to load. He and the other grooms were ferried to the stables in a van that followed the trailer and he was grateful to keep an eye on it. Their supplies and tack had been carted into a waiting truck and the entire procession slowly made their way to the stable outside Zurich. By the time they reached the expo center, the sun was beginning to set, casting the fields around the large concrete and glass building in golden light and brightening the dark wooden fencing. Every pasture was a neat square, one or two horses turned out in each. Graceful heads rose as the new arrivals pulled in. John recognized a few of the equines, though only one was a trial opposition.

Though the final class was the one that counted, the entire show would last two days and host a number of lower division championships as well as a few demonstrations and clinics. John had briefly glanced at the lineup and was interested in the four-horse-team driving demonstration, he knew he would hardly have time to sleep, much less have free time for watching.

The trailer stopped before a big wooden barn painted green and pinned with a banner announcing the trials. The stable manager came up to the grooms as they stepped out, telling them in perfect English where their stalls were located and the number of their turnout pastures should they desire them. An assistant stablehand came out to take Pip while John let Elmer look around before leading him toward their stalls. The roomy box stalls had already been liberally spread with pine shavings and John stripped off their boots and poll guards before leaving them to inspect the new digs. He left their halters on for the time being, mostly to protect Elmer who had a knack for getting too nosy in a new place.

It was another two hours before he finally had the space set up as he wanted. They had been allotted an end block of stalls, four in total, so that they could use one for tack and feed and Sherlock could use the other as a changing room (though John would be using it as sleeping quarters until Janine arrived). Once the Baker Farms tent was tossed across the top and front of the tack and changing rooms, he went to inspect the pasture they’d been assigned.

Irene’s horses were out, galloping around the field and trying to reach across into the other pastures and nip the neighboring horses. The Baker lot was thankfully far away from Adler’s, with the grass mowed and the fencing secure. He’d keep them in tonight, but after the long day of travel, he decided to send them both to the hotwalker.

Elmer was no stranger to the round track and easily walked on when John clucked. The soft piping that hung down behind each horse to encourage them to move forward bopped Pip before he startled and trotted forward, settling to a walk when he encountered the next set in front of him.

“They won’t jump at you, I promise,” John said, leaning against the outside rail and watching them. No new arrivals had appeared after them and it was dark and quieting on the property. There were only a few lights on outside the expo center and floodlights were installed on the front of each barn, but it was still dark enough that John had to squint when the horses were on the opposite side of the walker.

It wasn’t til about ten that night that he was able to finally rest. Both of the horses were now back in their stalls, the sound of their hay munching was soft and steady and John lay on his back on the little cot he’d set up. There was a perfectly good hotel room waiting for him just down the road, but he would remain with the horses until another Baker Farms employee was around.

He slept lightly, alert to the new sounds of the barn, and rose early. Leaving Pip with his breakfast, he brought Elmer out, letting him get a proper look around the barn and the hustle and bustle of the center. Elmer kept his great head high, ears moving as he picked up each new sound. He took a couple great snorts as a new trailer pulled up, but he stood quietly and observed rather than bolt. John led the horse around, letting him graze at the edge of the drive. Running his hands over Elmer’s back and legs, he felt for any heat or tightness from the transport. The horse’s legs were fine and he stretched his back a little as John ran his hands over the grey sides.

“You can do this Elmer,” he told the horse. “You’ve got to do this.”

 

When Sherlock arrived at the barn, he gave John a soft smile. John smiled back at him and led him over to the horses, Elmer immediately sticking his head out of the stall to see Sherlock.

“How was your flight?”

“Fine,” Sherlock replied, checking over Elmer and petting his neck.

“He was a little stressed with the plane ride over, but he’s settled just fine.”

“I imagine Pip had something to do with that.” Sherlock’s lips twitched.

“He took it like a champ.”

“No surprise there. I’d like to ride this afternoon.”

“I’ll have him ready,” John promised.

Sherlock nodded and left to complete his check in and make sure everything was in order.

Their first ride that afternoon Sherlock took it slow. Elmer was using the new location as an excuse to bring his head up and lose focus. Sherlock quietly and steadily corrected him every time, working the bit to bring the grey head back down and leg yielding him to and from the rail when his attention strayed. They hacked around the warm up ring, only a few other riders sharing with them, before going over a few low jumps. They finished an hour later and John took Elmer’s bridle as Sherlock dismounted outside the ring.

“How did he feel?” John asked, patting the grey as they began to walk back to the barn.

“A little tight, but he’s been off for a few days.” Sherlock pulled off his gloves and shoved them in the pocket of his jacket.

“Are you staying here tonight?”

John nodded. “Until Janine arrives, I don’t feel right leaving them alone.”

“Put him on the hot-walker again tonight and we’ll work in the morning.”

“You want him out tonight?”

“Might as well, let them loosen up.”

“Okay,” John said. They’d reached the barn and John paused at the entrance to Elmer’s stall, Sherlock looking around their set up. “Do you…do you have a minute once I’m finished?”

Sherlock glanced up at him sharply, eyes wary. “Of course,” he said.

John smiled at him briefly and led Elmer to his stall, pulling the tack and rubbing off the light sweat along the clipped hair of his neck and thighs. Sherlock had disappeared to the tack stall, on the phone from the sound of it, so John led Elmer back out into the weak sunshine of the day and let him graze along the side of the barn and tried not to think about what he had to say to Sherlock.

Once satisfied with Elmer, he met Sherlock in the tack stall, letting the curtained doorway close behind him. The barn was getting busier as each rider arrived, but everyone went about their own business, paying the others no mind. As it was, their converted stall was about as private as they could find on site.

“Elmer cooled?” Sherlock asked, though they both knew the answer.

“Sherlock…”

“Don’t,” Sherlock said, squeezing his phone in his hand, eyes downcast. “I know what you’re going to say and I’m begging you not to.”

John paused. Sherlock didn’t beg. Not for anything.

“Not now.”

“If not, when?” John asked, feeling his throat tighten. He flexed his fingers, pulling them into fists at his side.

Sherlock didn’t reply, simply kept looking down and rocking the heel of his right boot into the rubber matting of the stall.

“Sherlock, I think, I think it’s better if we don’t…not now at least.”

“Stop it.”

John swallowed hard, trying to quell the roiling in his stomach as he forced the words out. He’d tried to ignore it, tried to focus on the good, but he couldn’t. Not now when everything was at a head, not when Moriarty was set to arrive the following day and Irene’s grooms sent him scathing looks each time they passed by. Sherlock was already distracted, already stretched to his limits, despite his calm exterior. He could act all he wanted on the ground, his riding didn’t lie.

“We can’t, not now. Not with Moriarty and the trials—“

“And how am I supposed to win them now?” Sherlock growled, eyes darting up to meet John’s. His own hand had balled into a fist at his side, his phone still clenched between fingers white with force.

“You were a great rider before me and you’ll continue to be so.”

“But you’re still here.”

“Yes.”

“So there’s no ‘after you,’ it’s still different.”

“Surely I’m not that important to your world standings,” John said.

“You are now.”

Sherlock’s eyes had gone from pale grey to frigid blue, the ice cutting straight through John. He blinked and looked away, unable to meet the hurt and desperation in Sherlock’s eyes. He’d thought about it enough, worked out his entire speech in his head the night before. It would be better for them both. Sherlock would be able to focus solely on winning the trials and maybe they could revisit things later. John’s stomach twisted and his chest tightened. His skin crawled with heat.

“John, I…I care about you. I don’t care about people, I never have, and for some reason, some inane, inexplicable reason, I care about you. More than I like to admit.” Sherlock’s eyes were wild and he seemed to grow taller as he stepped closer to John, skin white though his cheeks were flushed.

John gulped again, wishing he could shut his ears against the words. “But it’s better—“

“It’s not.”

“We can’t,” John shook his head, stepping back and staring at his boots, trying to will himself to continue. “It wasn’t right to begin with and it sure as hell isn’t right now.”

“Who the hell says it has to be right? John, it is.”

John looked up at that, unable to deny the blood pulsing through his body and the slight light-headedness he always got so near to Sherlock.

“Just don’t,” Sherlock continued, face contorting as his eyes darted around the wall behind John, “don’t tell me it’s not.”

John’s mouth went dry and the entire breakup speech he’d had prepared drained from his mind. He had been trying so hard to look at it logically, to see the ‘intelligent’ thing to do. He’d been lied to and used, but, looking back on it now, he’d also been loved. And loved back. True, there was no reason for him not to hate Sherlock and what he’d done, but John found that he couldn’t, not really. He’d tried to be mad, tried to leave before, but he’d ended up staying. They shouldn’t be able to work it out, shouldn’t be able to build something on the lie that had started it all, but then again, the two of them shouldn’t have even gotten along in the first place. Sherlock was snobbish and rude and hardly kept consistent hours. He ignored John for weeks then spent an entire night carefully memorizing every part of John’s body, pressing soft kisses to his flesh in the dark.

No, Sherlock and John shouldn’t make sense together.

But they did. And that had to count for something.

Sherlock’s eyes closed as John looked up at him, stepping closer. He raised one hand, shaking though it was, to Sherlock’s face, bringing their foreheads together. He closed his eyes as well, his breath leaving him in little gasps as he felt Sherlock slump against him.

“All right,” he said quietly, breath ghosting out a steadier beat.

“It’s my fault,” Sherlock mumbled.

“Forget it. Let’s start over yeah?” John wasn’t surprised to hear the words come out of his mouth.

Sherlock sucked in a breath, skin pressing more firmly to John’s as his long fingers wrapped around John’s hand, loosening the fist at his side.

“Yes. Please, God, yes,” Sherlock said.

John gave a soft chuckle. “Didn’t know you believed in God.”

“I think I’m starting to,” Sherlock sighed, nuzzling his nose against John’s.

They stood silently for another moment or two, both trying to stop the shaking that wracked their bodies and John feeling the slow release of the knots in his stomach and the tightness in his chest. Start over. He could do that. They would get through the trails, survive Switzerland, and start over at home. He ran his fingers through Sherlock’s hair, pulling him closer.

Chapter Text

That night they parted on much better terms. John was still staying with the horses, and he went to bed a bit more disheveled than he had the previous night. Sherlock wanted to ride early the following day and John was up before the sun, brining both of the horses back into their stalls.

Elmer tore at the hay John gave him before the ride, waiting for grain until Sherlock had finished and John had cooled him down. Pip nibbled his own, waiting for his grain as well so as not to make Elmer jealous. While the horses ate, John curried Elmer, the grey coat already gleaming. The horse would be getting near daily baths now to keep him looking his best. Thankfully their appointed pastures were grass with very few spots for them to get dirty when rolling. Back at home, the horses had torn up dirt patches for just that purpose.

Sherlock arrived just as John was tightening Elmer’s girth. John felt his gut warm as Sherlock stepped closer, wrapping an arm around John’s waist and kissing his temple before going to greet Elmer.

“They were out all night and he was moving well this morning,” John said, stepping over to grab the dark brown bridle.

“Good. Hopefully he’s settled in a bit more now.”

They joined the rather large group of riders in the outdoor ring that morning, horses blowing in the morning mist, clouds of steam rising from their nostrils as they worked. Sherlock mounted in the corner, John checking over their tack before stepping back to the gate with a few of the other grooms. It wasn’t part of his job to watch, but he wanted to be close.

Elmer worked quietly, moving along at a steady pace, circling and stepping where Sherlock led. Eventually steam began to rise up from his back, dirt kicked out behind him as they cantered a tight circle in the far corner, Sherlock spinning the horse as fast as he could go without falling apart. The jumper course at Reichenbach was known for its tight turns and timesaving but risky lines.

About forty minutes passed before Sherlock let the horse have the buckle, following the great swing of Elmer’s stride with his hips as he let the horse relax and catch his breath.

The days followed much the same: Sherlock riding in the morning and sometimes the afternoon. More riders and horses filed in as the two-day show approached. The press began to arrive, snapping photos of the expo center and trying to snag interviews with each of the top riders. Sherlock blatantly ignored them, breezing past when they approached him and sending them cold stares if one dared to photograph Elmer or John. They’d get their photos at the jog out and actual competition, and while they weren’t technically barred from being around the barn, it only took a few days for them to stay away from the Baker Farms section.

Janine arrived on a Tuesday, breezing into the barn with a wave just as John was leading Elmer out to the washstalls. Sherlock nodded at her, standing by their tack stall and running his hands through his sweaty curls. He’d taken Elmer out to the cross-country field, doing a few short gallops to keep up the grey’s speed for Saturday.

“How’s our star?” Janine asked, looking into Pip’s stall before spinning to watch John lead Elmer away.

“Just fine, Janine,” Sherlock said, setting his helmet down. “I’m going to look at the course set up,” he said, nodding to John.

John hosed the grey down, watching the white bubbles of sweat rise to the top of his coat and wash down his dark legs. He pressed the back of his hand to Elmer’s chest, feeling for heat. The stallion was still warm so John sweat scraped him before hosing him once more. By the time the horse was cooled and back in his stall, Janine had already started pulling out the evening feed.

“Ta,” John said, releasing Elmer into his stall as Janine poured his grain into the rubber feeder on the floor.

The two horses eagerly munched away at their grain, Elmer not even eating around his supplements. John cut open a new bale of hay, inspecting each flake for dust and dirt before stacking them up and tossing a few flakes in for each horse.

“I’ll stay here tonight,” Janine said, leaning against the tack stall when John finished up. “Figure you haven’t been sleeping in your fancy hotel room.”

“Not about to leave these two.”

“Well I’ve got them tonight, you take it easy.”

“Cheers,” he said. “Sherlock wants to ride at eight tomorrow so I’ll be back around six.”

“Sounds good,” Janine said, smiling.

“Right,” John said. He stood for a moment, not sure what to do. He hadn’t left the barn for a single moment since arriving in Swizterland, sleeping in the barn and taking his meals with the rest of the grooms in the center’s cafeteria.

“Go,” Janine laughed, pushing his arm.

He nodded and spun on his heel, making his way out of the barn. He found Sherlock just outside, leaning on a sleek black car and texting.

“Hi,” John said.

Sherlock looked up and smiled. He was still in his tan breeches and tall boots, a navy fleece unzipped over a grey polo. “Thought you might want a ride.”

“You didn’t have to wait around.”

“I don’t mind.” Sherlock slipped his phone into his pocket and held the door open for John.

“Driver and everything,” John said, settling into the plush dark interior.

“I’m an internationally ranked equestrian, haven’t you heard,” Sherlock said, grinning as he joined him in the backseat.

“Mmm,” John said, watching as the fields disappeared as they drove out of the complex. “How lucky I am.”

Sherlock slid closer, his pinkie resting against John’s. Though he didn’t look over, John settled a bit into Sherlock’s warmth, for once simply enjoying the moment rather than fighting with himself. Without an internal struggle, it was easy to go back to the comfort and connection they’d had before.

They were staying at the same hotel, each of the Reichenbach farms kept at the same place though it seemed every hotel within a hundred miles of Zurich was booked for the event. It was dark when they arrived and John checked into his room, but followed Sherlock up and to his own. He dropped the duffel bag he’d packed on the floor by the bed, glancing around the suite. It had a small kitchen, all stainless steel, as well as a king sized bed and an entire sitting room of furniture. He turned to Sherlock, raising an eyebrow.

“Famous, remember?”

John chuckled and nodded toward the tiled restroom. “You can have the first shower.”

“It’s fine,” Sherlock said.

Sweaty and covered in dirt and hay, John didn’t argue, digging out fresh clothes from his bag and stepping into the massive collection of tile and glass.

A hot shower and fresh pair of pants did wonders and John stepped out feeling clean for the first time in a week. Sherlock passed him as he stepped out of the steam and back into the room. John ran a towel through his damp hair before tossing it over a chair and dropping onto the bed. It wasn’t until he’d hit the soft mattress that he realized how much his body ached from the nights on the cot. He rolled onto his back, hands behind his head.

He must have dozed off because the next thing he realized Sherlock was climbing over him, hair dripping down onto John’s chest as he kissed along John’s stomach, working up until their mouths met. John sighed, sinking deeper into the bed as Sherlock settled on top of him, hands warm and soft as they ran along John’s sides and up to his arms, pulling his hands from behind his head and locking their fingers together.

“I missed you,” Sherlock whispered against his lips.

“Missed you too,” John said, sighing as Sherlock dropped more of his weight onto John’s chest. John turned them over, resting on their sides. He slid his fingers from Sherlock’s, wrapping his arms around Sherlock’s neck and sinking his fingers into the damp curls at the base of Sherlock’s skull.

Sherlock’s mouth left his, moving to kiss and lick at his neck and John couldn’t help the moan that escaped him. Christ, it had been a long time. Letting one hand slide down Sherlock’s side, he toyed with the hem of Sherlock’s t-shirt, tugging at it until they broke apart long enough for John to pull it off. Sherlock sat up a bit, pulling at the track pants John had tossed on, dragging his pants down with them.

Sherlock’s mouth met his once more, seeking out every inch of him hungrily. John responded in kind, wrestling away the last of Sherlock’s clothes, palms skimming strong thighs while his teeth nipped at Sherlock’s plush bottom lip.

This. He’d waited so long for this. For it not to be done out of anger or deceit. It was just the two of them now, bodies close and hearts pounding, nothing hovering over them or waiting in the background. This was how it should have been from the beginning. But he had it now, and he was damn sure he’d hold onto it as long as he could.

 

They arrived at the barn early the next morning, Janine just bringing Elmer in from the field. Pip was already in his stall and Elmer looked around for grain, snapping his head up when there wasn’t any.

“Not fond of waiting,” Janine said, sliding the stall lock into place.

“Never was,” John replied, stepping into the tack stall to grab Elmer’s groombox. “What day are Greg and Mrs. Hudson coming in?”

“Thursday evening. I’m fetching them from the airport.”

“I thought we were sending a car?” Sherlock said. He was looking over Elmer as the grey stood in his stall but turned to Janine with a frown.

“We are, but Mrs. Hudson wants to take a tour of Zurich beforehand and Greg won’t do it alone.”

“Figures,” Sherlock said, turning away. “John, have you checked on Pip this morning?”

John came out of the tack stall. “No, why?”

Sherlock slide open the stall door, and stepped inside. John looked at Janine who frowned and went to look in. John joined her, dropping the groombox before going over to Pip. The buckskin stood with his head in the corner of his stall, lazily flicking an ear toward Sherlock as he ran his hands over Pip’s sides. John stepped up to check his eyes and nose.

“Pupils a bit dilated.”

“And his muscles keep twitching,” Sherlock said, standing up straight. “Janine, call the vet.”

John felt his stomach drop and he ran his hand over Pip’s neck, feeling the slight twitching along his crest.

“Anything in the fields?”

“No, I walked the whole thing before I let them out. Feed’s our own, haven’t given them anything different.”

Sherlock nodded and stepped out of the stall. John followed him to where they were storing the hay. Sherlock flipped over the bales, sniffing each.

“They should be clean, it’s from our regular supplier.”

“Nothing there.”

John swallowed and stepped back out to Pip, just as Janine and the on call vet appeared. He led the vet inside, rubbing Pip’s nose as the vet began his inspection. John answered his questions numbly and wished that he’d been in the night before, allowing them a bit more information to go on. Pip couldn’t be persuaded to move from his corner and he barely batted an eye at John, much less searched for carrots.

“We’ll draw blood, do a full work up.”

John nodded, stroking Pip’s nose as the vet pulled out a needle and three vials, filling each with a quickness drawn from years of experience. He packed his things away, promised to be back soon, and headed out.

“It’s not colic, so nothing immediate,” Sherlock said, hand on John’s shoulder.

John nodded and continued petting the horse.

“I’ll get Elmer ready,” Janine said quietly.

“That’s not necessary,” Sherlock said.

“Yes it is,” John told Janine, nodding at her. He looked up at Sherlock. “Ride. That’s what you’re here for. Pip will be fine but I’ll stay with him.”

Sherlock pursed his lips, about to argue, but let it drop, nodding before following Janine over to Elmer’s stall.

The vet returned not long after, carrying the bloodwork results into the stall where John was still standing with the listless and shaking Pip.

“Nightshade.”

“How?” John asked, trying to rub away the chills along Pip’s neck. “There was nothing in the pasture.”

“Hay?”

“It’s all from our own supplier.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. We’ll give him charcoal and put him on fluids.” The vet handed the bloodwork papers to John and pulled open his pack.

“Do you know how much he ingested?” John had looked through that hay more thoroughly than usual and they had never had issues with their supplier. There wasn’t a way that Pip could have even gotten near something so poisonous. But John or Janine had been with both horses every night since they’d arrived. And God, if Elmer had gotten some too…

John couldn’t help but let his mind wander back to Moriarty. If he’d harmed a horse before, would he do it again? Was it even possible that he’d gotten to the horses? They’d have to keep an eye out every hour of the day now. And while he hadn’t seen the slimebag of a rider around yet, he knew that they’d arrived a few days ago.

The vet pulled out a long strand of tubing, handing John a silver metal bucket to fill. He did so quickly, returning with Pip’s halter and leadrope. Baker hadn’t undergone any server colics so far, but this was far from the first time John had witnessed a horse’s stomach pumped or medicines administered. It was a damn shame horses couldn’t just throw up like everything else in the world.

Pip stood still as the vet began to work. John had slipped the halter over his head and held the horse tightly, standing across from the vet and stroking Elmer’s neck as the tubing was moved up his nose and down his long esophagus. There was maneuvering and gentle pushing and finally the tube was in place and the vet slowly began pushing a mix of charcoal and water down to Pip’s stomach. Pip leaned into John but stayed still despite his shaking limbs. The process was slow and obviously uncomfortable, the vet sometimes pushing on the tube to get the charcoal down faster. John had to look down and remind himself that they could fix this. At least with Bart it had been quick.

Once satisfied, the vet began to slowly pull the tube back out, coiling it around his hand as he braced against Pip’s nose and worked the tubing back out. Pip pulled his head back, eyes rolling back, but John held tightly to his halter, keeping Pip as still as he could until the tubing slid free, a line of light liquid spilling out of Pip’s dark nose for a moment.

“I’ll check back in an hour. See if you can get him to drink something but call me if he gets worse,” the vet said.

John nodded and did his best to smile in thanks as the vet gave Pip a pat, packed up his things, and went off to clean out the tubing. John wrapped his arms around Pip’s neck, pressing his face into the warm fur and trying to ignore the little tremors that passed down Pip’s crest.

Some time later he heard Elmer and Sherlock reappear, Janine suddenly stepping in to take care of Elmer. Sherlock must have simply handed him off as John was immediately wrapped in long, strong arms.

“Nightshade poisoning,” John said, pulling away from Pip’s neck.

“How is that possible?” Sherlock asked, arms tightening around John.

“He needs to try and drink,” John said, waiting until Sherlock had released him to step back and take Pip’s lead. The horse hadn’t moved an inch since the vet left.
Sherlock frowned but helped John try and coax the horse toward his water bucket. Their clucking and pulling did nothing and Sherlock eventually unhooked the bucket from the wall, carrying it over and holding it below Pip’s nose. John dipped a hand in, splashing a bit before dribbling a bit of the water over Pip’s nose. The dark nostrils flared and his head dipped a bit, velvety lips hovering over the still surface of the water.

“Come on, boy, drink,” John said, twisting his wet fingers into the black mane.

Pip dipped his head lower, nosing at the water and taking a tiny slurp. John watched as the swallow made it’s way down the long neck. When Pip didn’t take another sip, Sherlock gently set the bucket down and to the side. Reaching out to rest a hand on John’s shoulder.

“He’ll be all right. Charcoal, I assume?”

“Yes, and no doubt an IV if he won’t drink more.”

“We’ll stay with him tonight.”

“Sherlock, you have to focus. You and Elmer have the bloody trials in a few days,” John said, turning to stare up at the light blue eyes. Sherlock still had his helmet on and hadn’t even taken off his gloves.

“This is more important.”

“No,” John said. “You have to win.”

“It's not about winning.”

“You’re not losing because of me.” John shut his eyes against the thoughts that surged through his mind at that. No, Sherlock would win or lose this on his own, but John was damn sure he would try and make it as easy as possible in every way.

“Hush. There are still a few days and Pip should be feeling better by the morning. He’s only ten after all.”

“Older than Bart,” John said.

Sherlock exhaled deeply at that, shoulders sagging and chin dropping to his chest. He pulled the leather gloves off his hands, one finger at a time, his skin even more pale against the black material. “Pip is not going to die.”

John blinked and tried to hold Sherlock’s gaze when the blue rose to meet him. He felt the drop in his gut as the memories rose up, wrapping around his already pounding heart and threatening to blind him. He took a shaky breath, twisting his fingers even deeper into Pip’s mane.

Sherlock’s hand on his shoulder remained solid and steady, anchoring John to the moment. He was with Sherlock, they were at the Reichenbach Trials, and Pip would be okay. He had to be okay.

“Elmer is on the hot walker and I’ll take care of feeding tonight,” Janine said quietly, appearing at the still open stall door.

Sherlock nodded at her and stepped closer to John.

“Is there anything I can do? Would a mash help?” she asked.

“No, we’re all right,” Sherlock said. He waited until Janine had disappeared before squeezing John’s shoulder. “I’ll be right back,” he said, ducking out of the stall.
Sherlock returned, sans helmet and with work boots rather than tall boots, and handed John a fleece pullover. It had grown nippy, an autumn storm rolling in, and John hadn’t noticed he had goosebumps until Sherlock handed it to him. Of course, he couldn’t tell if those were because he was chilled or frightened.

Janine quietly returned Elmer to his stall once the stallion was cooled and she refilled water buckets, set out hay, and grained. She brought a flake of alfalfa into Pip’s stall, setting it by the door in case he decided to eat. Giving John a sad smile, she silently departed.

The barn was falling silent now, most of the riders finished for the day and grooms swapping shifts for the night. Horses were now contentedly munching on hay or being led out to their pastures for the evening. The barn was equipped with night-lights along every block of stalls and the eerie blue glow appeared as the sun sank. Only a few stalls from the door, the Baker quarter still got the residue light from the expo center’s floodlights.

The vet returned, pinching Pip’s flesh to check for dehydration and flashing a light into the still dilated pupils. He inquired after the horse’s eating and drinking habits and said to keep water nearby. He would set up an IV drip in the morning if there were no signs of improvement. Thankfully Pip’s muscles had stopped spasming as much, the shaking down to minor twitches. At least he hadn’t fallen down dead. Thank God for that.

Sherlock fetched one of Pip’s stable blankets from the tack room, spreading out the green material on the ground against the wall that was shared with Elmer’s stall. The grey was standing along the wall, staring into Pip’s stall, no doubt wondering why his friend wasn’t eating his hay with his usual gusto.

John attempted to get the buckskin to drink once more, rubbing wet fingers over fuzzy lips to try and coax the horse. Pip, mostly for John, took another small sip before pulling away, water dripping from his muzzle.

“Sit down, you both need to rest,” Sherlock said, tugging John’s sleeve.

Sherlock had closed the stall door behind him but John still kept a hand on Pip’s lead, not that the horse had moved. Reluctantly he sat on the blanket, resting his back against the wall alongside Sherlock. Long fingers reached for his wrist, sliding down to take his hand. Water and alfalfa rested near Pip’s nose and the horse had dropped his head, eyelids dropping as he began to doze.

“He’ll be all right,” Sherlock said, voice quiet and deep in the stilling air. “Everything will be all right.”

Chapter Text

The next morning Pip was responding well to the charcoal, his eyes no longer as glassy and half his bucket of water gone.

John stood from his slumped position, hobbling over to Pip and stroking the buckskin neck. His joints popped as he realigned from his night of fitful sleeping and it wasn’t until he’d checked Pip’s dehydration level and watched for any muscles spasms or twitching that he noticed Sherlock wasn’t there. He heard a hushed voice outside the stall and gathered up the blanket, stepping out.

“Sherlock?”

Sherlock was on his phone, voice low but strong. He looked up when John spoke, cutting off the call without saying goodbye.

“Everything all right?”

“How’s Pip?”

“Better. Looks like he drank and he’s not shaking as badly.”

“Good, good.” Sherlock fiddled with his phone and gave John a large, fake smile.

“Did you want to get on Elmer this morning? Janine can watch Pip while we work—“

“No.”

“What?”

“I mean, yes, I want to ride. But why don’t we bring Pip out with us, let him graze a bit.”

John felt a headache growing behind his tired eyes and he frowned a bit. There was absolutely no need to bring an extra horse to the warm-up rings and Pip would be better off with stall rest anyway. “Why?”

“It’s sunny today,” Sherlock said, failing to elaborate.

John was too tired to argue the point though, moving past Sherlock to prepare breakfast for the horses. Elmer had remained as close to Pip as he could the entire night and now, seeing that his friend was better, he was eager to carry on with getting his breakfast.

Sherlock didn’t say much as he changed while John tacked up Elmer. He’d given Pip a mash that would be a bit easier on his stomach than sweet feed and had shaken out a few flakes of hay so they were easier to eat. He handed a tacked and ready Elmer over to Sherlock and clipped a leadrope to Pip’s halter, grabbing a stiff brush on their way out. He still wasn’t sure what good it would do to take Pip out, but maybe Sherlock thought it would calm Elmer, having his friend there.

Sherlock had been right about the sun, the crisp autumn air warming with its rays. John had to admit the warmth felt good on his face as he emerged from the barn after what felt like years. Pip’s ears pricked a bit as they stepped out. Perhaps Sherlock was right, the sun would do the horse good.

The warm-up ring was crowded, almost all of the horses and riders that planned on competing over the weekend were there, working their mounts and calling to coaches across the ring. John found a grassy spot not too far away from the ring, letting Pip drop his head and lip at the green grass there. He didn’t show too much interest in actually eating it, but going through the motions was promising. Sherlock brought Elmer over to them, dropping his stirrups and checking the girth. He hadn’t even mounted before Moriarty showed up.

“Sherlock, dear, so wonderful to see you.” The voice was high and lilting, his tongue sliding along the ‘s’ like a snake.

“James,” Sherlock said through his teeth. He’d stepped around to the other side of Elmer to see the notorious Irishman.

“It is brilliant to see the four of you here. Shame we couldn’t fly over together, though I heard you shared a plane with Irene.” He flashed his teeth. “John, darling, you have met Sebastian, haven’t you?”

John looked across at the bulky blonde groom that held Moriarty’s horse, the little black thing squirreling around, though Sebastian’s grip never changed, nor did his attention leave his boss.

“Yes,” John said tersely, stepping a bit closer to Pip.

“Your buckskin doesn’t look so good. Terrible that your horses never seem to last,” Moriarty said, smiling the entire time.

John hissed but before he could speak Sherlock had stepped forward, placing a hand on his arm.

“We know you are at fault for that,” Sherlock said, voice quiet and deadly. The line of his shoulders had gone taut and Elmer’s ears were twitching, picking up on the tension.

“Can you prove it?” Moriarty taunted, a laugh in his voice.

“Solid enough to get you eliminated,” Sherlock replied, a smile on his face as well. They were far enough away from the other riders and coaches that their words would easily be lost.

“And how would that accusation sound coming from someone with a history of doping?”

John looked at Sherlock. Doping? He hadn’t read anything about Sherlock being caught doping. He would never, he loved his horses too much. Besides, the payoff was never worth the risk.

“That charge fell with my mother,” Sherlock hissed.

“Sherlock?” John stepped closer, Sherlock’s hand still on his arm.

“Old history,” he said, but Sherlock didn’t let his gaze leave Moriarty’s.

“Is it?” Moriarty asked.

John kept his mouth shut though his mind was bursting. Sherlock’s mother had gotten caught doping their horses? John could only imagine a young Sherlock discovering that his mother had been harming his beloved ponies. Even now ancient Scarlet was at home at Baker Farms, happily grazing her days away.

“You still killed my horse,” John said. Seeing Moriarty’s smiling face now left him, without a shadow of a doubt, believing that it had been the Irishman’s fault.

“Dear me, John, you were just the trial. It was a mere happy accident that we took you down.”

Sherlock’s long fingers wrapped themselves like steel bands around John’s elbow. It was the only thing that kept him from throwing himself at Moriarty. His chest heaved and he took huge breaths through his teeth. “How dare you.”

“Easily,” Moriarty said, glancing over at his flighty horse before looking back at Sherlock and John. Sebastian’s face hadn’t changed since the conversation began.

“You’re a disgrace to the profession,” Sherlock said, fingers still locked around John’s arm. The pressure hurt, but it reminded John to keep his head. He only wished that others were overhearing their conversation, Moriarty’s confession. But he knew no one could hear. And he knew that Moriarty wasn’t the only one who cheated to get what he wanted.

“And yet I still intend to walk away from this competition ranked higher than you. I might let you come in third after Irene.”

Sherlock growled but didn’t say anything, twisting his fingers in Elmer’s reins.

“Well, boys, it’s been a great chat. Do check the latest Chronicle when you get a chance. Ciao.” He jerked his head toward the ring, Sebastian brining the horse along as Moriarty led them to the mounting block.

Slowly Sherlock’s fingers released John’s arm, the blood rushing back in hot and warm. John twisted his other hand into Pip’s mane, taking deep breaths.

“I’ll kill him,” Sherlock said, leaning against his saddle and pretending to check the stirrups if anyone was watching.

“You can’t ride horses in jail,” John reminded him, though he had a feeling he and Sherlock would have been sharing a cell. “But you can kick his ass this weekend.”

Sherlock looked over at him, his eyes a flat grey with anger. He was still, almost frighteningly so, but he blinked at John, face softening. “Yes, let’s do that.”

He pulled out his phone though, Elmer’s reins looped over his arm. John stepped closer, watching the little screen as Sherlock pulled up the latest Chronicle of the Horse, opening to the front page (and most-viewed) article, an interview with Moriarty.

John couldn’t read the tiny words on the screen so Sherlock read them aloud, voice growing tighter as his anger burned brighter. The interview made Moriarty come off as bright and charismatic, a leader in the industry and an unbeatable rider. When asked about Sherlock as his biggest competition, Moriarty had sniffed and said “he’s only got the one good horse,” before going into odd (and tainted) path of Sherlock’s career. John burned with questions about Sherlock’s mother and Sherlock’s career as a pony rider, but they were forgotten when they got to the end, the article mentioning John and the suspicions Victor Trevor had raised. “oh yes,” Moriarty had said, “they’re very much together. Though I am a bit worried that Mr. Watson will be a bit of a bad luck charm.” When asked to explain, he’d reminded the interviewer of Bart, saying that he believed it was John’s “poor horsemanship and terrible riding” that had brought the great horse down. The article ended with the writer’s guessing at the final results and speculation on whether John was a “toxic” presence in Sherlock’s team.

“Destroy him, please, for the love of God,” John said, clenching and unclenching a fist.

Sherlock silently put his phone into his pocket, the black screen taunting John before disappearing. “Ignore it,” he said.

“Yes, ignore the fact that all of the press and everyone who read that article is now questioning my ability to care for Elmer as well as your mental capability of riding him.”

“They’re idiots.”

“I know that, but it doesn’t mean they won’t talk.”

“People do little else,” Sherlock said, watching as Moriarty trotted around the ring. A few spectators were now gathered at the rails, watching the pros hacking around.

“Sherlock…” but John couldn’t even speak anymore. The entire road to Reichenbach had been one setback after another. Challenge upon challenge and now, just hours away from the trials, it was getting even worse.

“John,” Sherlock said, turning his full attention on him. “You are not bad luck. You did not kill that horse nor did you make Pip sick. These things are happening to us, they are not our fault.”

John dropped his gaze to the grass beneath his booted feet. “You have to beat him.”

“We will,” Sherlock said, and his voice was so strong, so steady, that John almost believed they would.

Sherlock quickly mounted Elmer, moving right into a trot once they entered the arena. John stood still for a few minutes, watching the large grey and his dark rider before half-heartedly dragging the stiffbrush across Pip’s golden coat.

Riders moved in and out of the ring and John had almost tuned them all out until the lilting voice caught his attention once more. “Shame about the nightshade.”

 

Greg was waiting at the barn when they returned, Janine nowhere in sight. “Taking a few days off,” Greg said when John asked.

John looked over at Sherlock but Sherlock just shook his head and led Elmer into his stall.

“Schooling well?” Greg asked, watching as Sherlock and John untacked the dappled horse.

“A bit distracted, but to be expected,” Sherlock replied, easing the bit out of Elmer’s mouth.

“Seems to be moving all right,” Greg said.

“Footing is good too, should be a fast round.”

“Here’s hoping,” Greg said. He kicked the toe of his boot against the concrete barn aisle before speaking again. “Read the article.”

“Who hasn’t,” Sherlock said.

“Hell of a liar.”

“That’s all he is.”

Greg looked over at John and John did his best to blink defiantly rather than look away. He hadn’t killed Bart, he knew that now, and he hadn’t made Pip sick. But that didn’t mean that the entire world would believe it. Sponsors had been known to break contracts on less.

They finished with Elmer, John rubbing down the grey’s legs and brushing out his mane and tail before tossing a light sheet over the horse. Greg and Sherlock went to watch the ring set up and John elected to stay in the barn, not wishing to let either of the horses out of his sight. Of course just as he and Sherlock began to mend their relationship, the rest of the world would come crashing down on them. Just a few more days, John reminded himself. Just a few more days and then they would take the horses home and not compete until January at the earliest. He closed his eyes and leaned against the stall, listening to Elmer and Pip move about their stalls, the rest of the chaos of the barn filter through the sounds of the Baker section. They’d made it this far, they would make it a few days more.

Chapter Text

Before he could process it, the day of the trials had arrived. They’d watched a bit of the show the day before, but John hadn’t quite let it sink in yet that today was the day they’d been preparing for for months.

He’d heard other grooms and riders whispering about Sherlock and Moriarty, about the trials and who was pegged to win. Most of the crowd had shown up, eager to watch the top riders go head-to-head. It wasn’t the biggest winning check in history, far from it actually, but it was still a show notorious for changing the world rankings in a heartbeat.

They were up early for the jog out, John grooming Elmer until he shone, polishing his bridle and braiding his mane and tail. He led the horse out into the cloudless day, the sunshine glistening off the dappled rump and shoulders. Sherlock was waiting just outside the barn, looking smart in a dark suit and deep purple shirt, all clean lines and poise.

They hadn’t talked much the night before. John was still exhausted from staying up worrying over Pip, and Sherlock, while he didn’t usually sleep much, had simply wrapped himself around John’s arm, not speaking or moving. Earlier Sherlock had told him that Mycroft, git that he was, had demanded that Janine fly back to England when his own groom, Anthea, had to leave for a family emergency. He wasn’t showing or anything, simply couldn’t be bothered to do the work himself. Greg had already told them both that he would be watching the horses the night before the show, and he’d quietly slipped into helping John with nursing Pip back to full health and keeping Elmer in top shape.

Now Greg dragged a Showsheen soaked rag over Elmer’s rump before Sherlock stepped up.

“He looks good,” Sherlock said, taking the reins and tickling Elmer’s bottom lip.

“So do you,” John said, giving Sherlock a grin. He was determined to think of nothing other than doing his job today. The rest he would leave up to Sherlock. And possibly a god of some sort, if anyone was paying attention.

Sherlock’s lip twitched at the compliment and he and John walked side-by-side as they led Elmer toward the paddock. They were early for Sherlock’s time and watched a few of the other horses and riders go. It was always odd to see riders in formal clothing and sans helmet. John hardly recognized a few of them, only knowing which horse belonged to which rider.

Once it was their turn, John stepped back, allowing the vet to begin her check. She nodded at Sherlock and he clucked the horse into a trot, the two of them floating down the paddock and spinning to return. The click of cameras followed their path.

The vet drew blood, ran her hands over Elmer’s legs, and made her notations. The pair was dismissed and John joined them for the walk back to the barn. The Reichenbach classes were starting at three that afternoon and, as it was only just passing ten, they returned Elmer to his stall, John leaving the braids in and hoping that he wouldn’t have to redo them while knowing that he would.

Sherlock ducked into the change stall to pull on breeches and John took the moment of free time to check on Pip. The horse was still a bit off, but his ears perked up when John entered the stall and his eyes had lost the glassy look completely. Both John and Sherlock had been checking on Pip’s hay and grain, Greg even tossing out a bucket of water because he was worried about the quality. John dug a carrot from his pocket, holding it out on his palm. Pip snatched it, velvet lips tickling John’s palms while he crunched.

“Oh, boys, this is so exciting!”

John turned to see Mrs. Hudson and Greg enter the barn. Sherlock was just stepping out of the change stall and bent to kiss Mrs. Hudson’s cheek.

“How are you? Nervous? Elmer looked good at the jog-out,” she said. She put a hand on Sherlock’s cheek and John couldn’t help but smile at the motherly gesture. Knowing now what Sherlock’s mother had done, he was rather glad that she had been replaced by the retired trainer.

“We’re fine, Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock said.

“Good, good. And Elmer looks great, John.”

“Ta,” he said, leaving Pip to step into the barn aisle.

“Oh, I’m just so proud of you both,” Mrs. Hudson said, looking at John fondly and clapping her hands together. “My champions.”

“We haven’t won yet,” Sherlock reminded her.

She waved her hands as if this was only a minor issue.

“We’ll leave you be,” Greg said, putting a hand on Mrs. Hudson’s shoulder and steering her back out the barn. He nodded at the two of them and hummed at something that Mrs. Hudson said, their voices faded as they walked further away.

John tossed a flake of hay to Elmer and went into the tack stall, sitting down on a small three-legged stool and resting Sherlock’s saddle on his knee, pulling out a rag and oil.

Sherlock followed him in, running his fingers over the bridles hanging on the stall wall.

“Nervous?” John asked, keeping his eyes on the saddle. So long as he kept his hands busy he could ignore the nerves and anger swirling inside him.

“Not sure,” Sherlock admitted quietly.

John looked up at that. Sherlock was usually blustering with confidence, if he even admitted he had competition in the first place. “Well, I’m proud of you.”

Sherlock looked down at the words, scuffing his boot on the stall floor. John knew that Sherlock would easily accept compliments on his riding and his horses, but it seemed to be much more difficult for him to hear John speak. It wasn’t just a “your leg looks good” kind of passing comment, but rather a personal one, one that didn’t really have anything to do with his riding.

“I am, you know. I highly doubt your mother ever said it and you brush it off when Mrs. Hudson does, but I want you to hear it. No matter what happens today, you’re still the best rider and horseman I’ve ever met,” John said. He stopped in his cleaning, looking up at Sherlock and waiting for the ice blue eyes to meet his.

Sherlock nodded a bit and looked up, finally facing John. “Thank you,” he said quietly.

John smiled up at him then proceeded to oil the saddle on his knee.

“And…thank you,” Sherlock said, “for believing me.”

John looked back up, unable to keep his mind from slipping back to Scotland. He nodded, swallowing hard. Their relationship was still far from perfect, but he knew they were right in continuing it. “Of course,” he said.

Sherlock gave him a small smile, looking away when his phone chimed. He glanced at the screen and stepped out into the aisle before answering it.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in preparation. Sherlock went off to walk the course and John discovered that Elmer had, of course, rubbed out half of his braids. He dragged over a stool, tied Elmer up, and proceeded to pull out the mangled braids before redoing them. He gelled the braids down, keeping any stray hairs from popping up, and put a big of gel on his tail braid for good measure.

A second grooming, small spot bath, and final adjustments to his tack and Elmer was ready. Sherlock had returned a little while before, changing into his show shirt and doing a last polish on his boots.

“Ready?” Sherlock asked, watching a few of the other horses come and go through the barn.

John pulled Elmer out into the aisle and applied one last coat of hoof polish before standing. “He’s ready.

Sherlock placed his number on his back, twisting the black string through the buttonholes of his coat and tying them off before closing his jacket and adjusting. The black jacket was perfectly fitted, the light blue silk inside appearing when the wind blew the tails of the jacket up.

“221? Wasn’t that your number at our first show?” John asked.

“It was indeed,” Sherlock said, looking over his shoulder at the number.

“Good luck then, yeah?”

“Let’s hope so.”

John ran a soft brush over Elmer once more, the already gleaming coat impeccably clean. John grabbed his groombag and slung it over his shoulder, tucking a clean rag into his back pocket and holding out Sherlock’s spurs while Sherlock pulled on his tall boots.

Sherlock took them, slipping the silver over his heel and buckling them tight. He stood, looked at John, and nodded. “Shall we?”

John led the big grey toward the warm up ring, cameras flashing as they walked out of the barn. A small crowd followed as they made their way to the ring, Sherlock fiddling with the helmet in his hands and John keeping an eye on Elmer, watching to see if any of the chaos was bothering him. Champion that he was, Elmer simply swung his great head, taking it all in and only snorting when he saw the horses in the warm up ring.

Sherlock buckled his helmet, tucking away the dark curls, before mounting Elmer outside the ring. Irene was already working her little white mare and John recognized two other riders from the seventeen-entry class.

John hung by the rail of the fence as Sherlock let Elmer stretch, giving him the buckle and encouraging the horse to swing his neck and move forward. They continued their warm up, Sherlock not working the horse too hard to save his energy. They took a few of the low jumps set in the middle of the ring as the first few riders left the ring for the Reichenbach class.

Sherlock was set to go second to last, Moriarty running third. John could see the grandstand’s electronic sign from the ring, each horse and rider’s name flashing up with their turn, their times appearing once they completed the course. So far the first two riders had taken the course in 90 seconds and 88 seconds and John watched as Moriarty’s name appeared on the screen, the name of his horse, Eat Your Heart Out, showing up beneath.

The black horse and his disgusting rider had been walking out of the warm up just as Sherlock had started his trot work and both John and Sherlock had actively avoided being anywhere near the man. His groom had sneered at John and nearly run into him when leading the prancing horse out, but John had bit his lip and turned his head to watch Elmer moving around the ring.

Magnusson appeared, as did a few of the other riders Sherlock had faced throughout the season. John did his best to ignore them, keeping an eye on Sherlock and the big screen, mentally marking the fastest time. Eventually, Sherlock pulled the horse to a walk, heading back out of the ring, John meeting them to rub the slight sweat marks from Elmer’s coat.

“Holmes,” the warm up gate keeper called. “On deck.”

John looked up, caught the steel in Sherlock’s eyes, and took hold of Elmer’s bridle to lead the pair to the start gate.

The audience was huge, the grandstand full to bursting and John felt his heart skip a beat at the magnitude of the class. He looked up at Sherlock, the grey eyes focused on the gate, his mind no doubt running over the course they would be tackling in moments. It was a hard one, a fast but long minute and a half of tight turns and angled jumps. There was a water obstacle followed by a long oxer, an in-and-out and short, high verticals. Both John and Sherlock knew the course backwards and forwards.

There was a burst of applause from the crowd as Irene, going right before Sherlock, finished her course. John looked up to check the time: 87.36 seconds, placing her second behind Moriarty. The bastard had put in the fastest round so far, a clean 86.42 seconds.

“Sherlock,” she said, trotting her white horse out of the ring. Her groom ran up to grab the horse’s bridle and bring her to a walk. Irene smiled at Sherlock as she dismounted. She pulled off her gloves, looked at John, and nodded at the two of them before grinning and walking away.

“Ignore her,” John said, watching the grimace on Sherlock’s face. “Just remember, eyes up, heels down.” He grinned and squeezed Sherlock’s knee.

Sherlock nodded, gathering up the reins as John ran a towel over his boots one last time. John had done all he could do, had prepared the horse to the best of his ability and had led horse and rider to the gate. The rest was up to Sherlock.

Sherlock nudged the horse into a trot, the pair stepping through the gate and into the ring. Applause burst out and John couldn’t help but smile as their names flashed across the grandstand screen: Sherlock Holmes and Elementary Solution. Months of training for this and he had 86.41 seconds to win.

Sherlock picked up a canter, moving up into three-point until Elmer settled into a long stride, ears twitching back and forth as the crowd hushed and Sherlock turned the horse’s attention at their first fence.

A single vertical, it was a harsh introduction to the course. Three strides out and the clock started. Sherlock sat deep in the saddle and rode Elmer to the base of the fence before popping the grey over it, landing with a turn, already looking for the next fence. John nodded, almost feeling the ride himself.

Horse and rider moved on to the next obstacle, Sherlock choosing to take the fence at an angle, lining them up for a quicker approach to the next one. Elmer’s hoofbeats reverberated off the grandstand, the soft footing not doing much to dampen the thunderous approach the pair took to the water fence. Elmer balked a bit, Sherlock’s spurs digging into the horse’s side as they took a long spot, seeming to almost hover midair over the fence before landing hard. John hissed and twisted his hands together.

With the hesitation, Sherlock bumped the horse’s head up, collecting to a shorter, faster stride before taking the in-and-out. Elmer took the jumps clean, knees tucked up and back legs snapping out behind him as they landed. The next fence was across the ring and Sherlock stepped the horse into a gallop to make up time. They pounded around the ring, Elmer’s nostrils flaring with each stride as they came around to the oxer. By far the most imposing jump on the course, John felt his own heels squeezing as Sherlock rode into the base, holding the horse back from a long spot. The jump was short and tight, Elmer’s hooves just barely grazing the top pole at the back of the jump. John held his breath as the pole swayed in its jump cups. It held and John closed his eyes briefly before watching the pair move to take their last two fences.

The way the course was designed, Sherlock could take a longer, safer route, or spin the horse on his hindquarters and nearly jump from a standstill. John forced himself not to look at the clock, knowing that Sherlock was well aware of the time.

Elmer landed long on the second to last jump and even from the gate John could see Sherlock half halt, sitting back and pulling Elmer’s head around. The grey nose came up, teeth chewing at the bit as he half-reared to make the turn, long body scrunched up before surging out in the new direction, taking one long stride to reach the fence. They took it clear and galloped toward the line, clock stopping as they flashed past.

Both John and Sherlock looked at the clock simultaneously. 86.42.

Unless the last rider beat the time, there would be a jump-off.

The last rider received a penalty for having a pole down, but his time wasn’t even close to begin with. Elmer, sides still heaving, flicked his ears as John hand walked him around the warm up ring. Sherlock and Moriarty had been called to talk with the show-runners and complete a coin toss to see who would be riding first.

The new course was being set up and on one of his passes, John saw a Puissance wall being erected on the far side of the ring, closest to the larger part of the grandstand. Elmer puffed beside him as they walked, John trying not to let the nerves in his stomach win out over the logical part of his brain just trying to do his job. It wouldn’t do to get Elmer and Sherlock riled up, being calm was the best thing John could do for the both of them now.

He looked over Elmer, checked his eyes, his gums, listened to his gut sounds, and checked for any signs of swelling. Not once in the past 72 hours had Moriarty had a chance to even come near Elmer, but John still worried. He hadn’t expected Moriarty to make a win easy, nor did he trust the man not to fight dirty.

“All right, Elmer, just one more time, yeah?” he said, rubbing a towel over the sweat marks on the dappled coat.

Elmer huffed in response, ears twitching forward when Sherlock returned.

“I’m going second.”

John nodded and led Elmer over to the mounting block. Sherlock gracefully remounted and dropped his stirrups, letting his long legs stretch as he kept Elmer walking, trying his best to keep the horse from getting stiff.

Moriarty and his black horse appeared, the bulky Sebastian giving the Irishman a leg up. Moriarty grinned down at John as he slid his booted feet into shining silver stirrups. John glared, daring the man to come any closer.

“Well, that was a good round, eh Johnny?”

John didn’t reply, just adjusted the strap of his groombag and looked back at Sherlock and Elmer.

“Best of luck, dearest,” Moriarty called to Sherlock. A few of the photographers and reporters had gathered closer to the ring, as far as they were allowed to come.
Cameras clicked as the two riders waited for the jump-off course to be finalized. A few reporters were furiously jotting down Moriarty’s every word.

Sherlock, aware of the cameras, nodded at Moriarty before his eyes searched for John. Jogging over, John again toweled at Elmer’s chest and neck.

“I don’t think he’s done anything to Elmer, but did he feel all right?” John asked.

“Yes. Moriarty wouldn’t hurt Elmer. Not now.”

“How can you know that? He almost killed Pip!”

“No, Janine almost killed Pip on Moriarty’s orders,” Sherlock’s voice was hard, coming out from between his teeth.

John paused at that, looking up. “Janine poisoned him?”

“Did you really think my brother had encountered a grooming emergency? He’s lazy, I’ll grant you that, but even he knows how to tack up a horse.” Sherlock sent a glare toward Moriarty.

“Right,” John said. He looked down at the towel in his hands. His stomach dropped even more, thinking of all the times he’d actually felt fond of Janine. She’d always taken the upmost care of the horses at Baker. “Was she…?”

“Not from the beginning, no.” Sherlock said. “But I’m not sure what he has over her.”

John nodded, clenching the towel before forcing his fingers to release it. He ran a hand over Elmer’s damp neck and took a deep breath. There would be time for dealing with that later. Right now, they had to win.

The course was completed and Moriarty called to enter the ring. Sherlock and John walked over to it, standing at the gate to watch Moriarty’s round. A show-runner handed Sherlock the new course and John stroked Elmer’s neck and held the grey’s bridle as Sherlock looked it over.

“Jump big, Elmer,” John whispered, rubbing the horse’s ears. The grey was still a bit out of breath, and John could see that Sherlock, though keeping it together, was a bit strung out himself.

Sebastian was waiting a little ways back, clearly not interested in watching his boss’s go ‘round. John, however, couldn’t look away, one hand on Elmer and the other clenching the towel still in his grasp.

The little black horse was shiny with sweat, obviously pushed hard during their first round. The second course was shorter, including only seven jumps, though the Puissance stood imposingly, easily taller than the rest of the fences.

Moriarty stepped his horse into a canter, a quick, springy motion that quickly brought them across the start line and over the first fence. The small rider spurred his horse on at the landing, urging the little thing into a gallop toward the next fence, taking it on a sharp angle before a tight turn to the next one. The horse’s short legs ate up the ground beneath them and he quickly leapt through the rest of the course at a blistering pace, nostrils blown so wide that red was showing from their depths. John winced as the pair made their way past the start gate to set up for the final wall; the horse was gasping and Moriarty did nothing but cluck him on.

Even without looking at the clock, John knew they were setting a hard time to beat. They had one fence left, and John could only pray they got a fault. The wall loamed up before the little horse and he took it long, black knees snapping up to his ears, Moriarty pressed close to his neck. But their long spot wasn’t enough and the top layer of foam blocks came down with horse and rider, Moriarty smacking the horse with his crop as they galloped toward the finish.

Moriarty left the ring with a grin for the cameras and a gnashing of teeth for his horse. He threw the reins away and leapt off, hardly waiting for Sebastian to collect the animal. Puffing, the horse was led away while Moriarty spun to look at his final time. 60 seconds even showed on the clock, even with the fault.

Moriarty smiled at the time. “Just try and beat it, dear,” he sung in Sherlock’s direction, walking away to discuss his round with a reporter.

The gatekeeper stood by, waiting for the jump crew to redo the wall. John turned to look up at Sherlock, the blue eyes turned to ice as he stared out at the arena before them.

“Hey,” John said, stepping over to squeeze Sherlock’s knee. “You can win this.” It wouldn’t be easy, but John knew they could. If anyone could win, after everything that had happened in the past few months, it was Sherlock and Elmer, with John right there watching.

Sherlock looked down then, eyes unfocused for a moment before narrowing in on John’s. He held his gaze before suddenly bending down, wrapping one hand behind John’s head and kissing him hard. He pulled back slightly, still staring down at John, his face not betraying the myriad emotions playing through his eyes.
“Eyes up, heels down,” John said, grinning up at the mad man he’d chosen to love.

Sherlock smiled back at him, nodded, and took up the reins. John stepped back to let them walk forward, only just then catching sight of the cameras clicking furiously in their direction. He felt a blush burn his cheeks and quickly turned back to the ring to watch Sherlock’s round. He had less than sixty seconds to get around the course and they all knew he had to go clear.

Elmer’s ears twitched at the crowd and the new course and Sherlock allowed him a large circle, keeping the horse at a long, slow canter as they both collected themselves. Even from the gate, John could see Sherlock inhale a large breath, exhaling it slowly as his shoulders came back and his heel sunk just a bit lower. Collecting up the reins, he turned Elmer to the first fence.

They soared over the oxer, landing hard and moving up into a gallop to get around the ring for the next fence. John forced himself not to look at the time. Instead, he rode the course with Sherlock, watching each tiny movement Sherlock made in the saddle, almost feeling the shift in speed as Elmer gathered himself, flew over a fence, and landed ready for the next one. John knew the horse was tired, knew that Sherlock was stressed with the pressure, but the pair looked flawless.
Somehow Elmer seemed to know the game was on, Sherlock sitting light, allowing the horse to stretch out to his full length, eating up the ground as they soared over one fence and then another.

Dark tail sweeping out behind him, Elmer sped along the course, chest and thighs dark with sweat though his ears were up and his bascules neat. Sherlock looked perfect, comfortable in the saddle and equitation as exquisite as always. It wasn’t common for jumpers to be that focused on position and John had to admit the pair looked a lot more put together than some of the riders that had gone before them.

In what seemed a matter of a few seconds, Sherlock and Elmer were facing down the wall. It was higher than anything else on the course and at this point Elmer was tired, his stride a bit shorter and choppier than usual. The approach was long, almost the entire length of the arena, and Sherlock sat back, building the horse’s momentum. A stride out, Sherlock dug in his heels, Elmer springing at the fence. Folded over the neck, Sherlock, dark and sleek, rose with the horse. Knees nearly over his ears, powerful hindquarters thrusting away from the ground, Elmer soared.

They seemed stuck, hanging in midair just before the fence. If they knocked it now, there would be no chance of winning. John held his breath, his heart leaping in his chest as he watched horse and rider.

Elmer tucked himself into an arc, front hooves high above the top of the fence. His back legs tucked up before snapping back on landing, they pair cleared the fence, not a single foam block out of place.

They landed, Sherlock letting out the reins and leaning low over Elmer’s neck, letting the horse gallop for home. John turned to look at the clock just as they crossed the finish line.

59.1 seconds.

They’d won the trials.

Chapter Text

Two weeks later John was finally finished packing, setting both his and Sherlock’s suitcases by the door. He’d left the actual trip planning to Sherlock, who had decided that “Ibiza is nice this time of year” and had no doubt booked them into an incredible posh hotel. Still, John couldn’t complain about going on holiday; anywhere off the farm was good enough for him.

He wandered back out to the barn, unable to stop from smiling as Sherlock scolded one of the students participating in the clinic he’d been forced to teach. Turned out that Mrs. Hudson, anticipating a win, had made all of the arrangements weeks beforehand, even setting up the board stalls on Baker property and the nearby Turner farms. The twelve students were in the outdoor jumping ring, six working on the rail and six standing in the middle. John went to the arena fence, leaning against it beside Molly who turned and gave him a grin.

“Never thought I’d see the day Sherlock Holmes taught a clinic,” she said.

John turned to look into the ring, watching as Sherlock rolled his eyes at one girl’s position. “I think we should take him on the road, share his calm, easy-to-please demeanor.”

Molly laughed. “He could charge a handsome fee, that’s for sure. Still can’t believe he actually agreed to do it.”

“Not much to be done once the trailers start pulling in. Besides, Mrs. Hudson can be very persuasive.”

Molly hummed in agreement. “You two leaving right after?”

“That’s the plan. Pretty sure he’s happy to go as soon as possible.”

The students were told to canter on a circle, each picking up a line of poles down each long side of the ring. Sherlock watched them all, barking when one got something wrong and pursing his lips when a horse misstepped or lost rhythm.

“Consistency,” he yelled across the ring.

John was pretty sure he saw a few of the riders jump, but all of them did their best to comply. He wasn’t entirely sure how much they were paying for their two-day clinic, but he was almost positive that the combined total was more than his yearly salary. Of course, the added check from the Reichenbach win that Sherlock had split 50/50 with him hadn’t hurt his bank account, but it hadn’t been what he’d thought about when Sherlock and Elmer walked out of the arena.

Upon seeing his time on the screen, Sherlock had immediately dropped the reins, patting both sides of Elmer’s neck enthusiastically, the horse twitching his ears as he realized that he’d done well. John was pretty sure that he’d pumped a fist in the air and possibly leapt in joy, but the only thing he could do when Sherlock had walked out of the arena was grin so hard his entire face hurt.

Sherlock stayed mounted, waiting for the official ribbon ceremony, while John emptied out his pockets, feeding all the carrots he had to Elmer as they walked the panting horse, Sherlock dropping his stirrups and reins, continuing to pat the horse, the usual small smile on his face after a win a much broader grin this go round.

Moriarty, for his part, had immediately come stomping up to them, already done with his losing horse, who was being walked in the warm-up ring by Sebastian. “Well, Sherlock,” he’d said through his teeth, beady black eyes flicking between Sherlock and John. “I suppose you win this round.”

“Won the whole season, actually,” Sherlock said, smiling down at him as cameras clicked. “Just secured my rank as number one in the world.”

John, who hadn’t known this but probably should have (he blamed his excitement on his inability to do the math) reached back to squeeze Sherlock’s booted calf before turning back to give Moriarty a haughty smirk.

Moriarty clenched his jaw, rolling his head a bit on his neck like some kind of reptile. “Well,” he said.

Sherlock, Moriarty, and the rest of the top ten were called in for the ceremony and John watched as the Irishman threw himself into the saddle, spurring his poor, exhausted horse back toward the ring.

The ceremony was brief, John and the other grooms watching from the gate as each rider was presented with their ribbon. Sherlock was handed a silver plate and long, streaming ribbon while Elmer seemed more than happy with the blue sash placed around his neck. Quite taken with the gifts bestowed upon him, Elmer snapped his knees and held his head high as they led the victory lap around the ring.

John was surprised to find himself called into the ring as well, suddenly accepting the grooming prize. He hadn’t even been aware the Trials had one, considering most were self-entered classes. Still, he walked out to the ring, accepted his gifts, posed for a thousand pictures with Sherlock and Elmer, and led the grey out of the arena amidst the flashes of cameras and an uproarious round of applause.

Sherlock was soon whisked away for interviews and John led Elmer back to the quiet barn, hanging his prizes on the stall door and giving the tired horse a long shower before grabbing Pip and letting the two hand graze side-by-side. Sherlock didn’t return until late into the evening, grabbing John, planting a kiss on him, and spinning back around to go shower and change at the hotel, required attendance at the Reichenbach gala part of his sponsorship deals. But John didn’t mind as it gave him time to absorb everything that had happened. Elmer, braids pulled and legs rubbed down, was happily dozing in his stall, leaning against the panel that separated him from Pip, the buckskin doing the same on the other side.

Greg and Mrs. Hudson were returning to England that evening, Sherlock, John, and the horses following the next day. Because of everything that had happened with Janine, John would once again be spending the night in the barn, but he didn’t much care, still floating a bit with the fact that they’d actually done it. They’d won the bloody Reichenbach Trials.

Sherlock texted to let John know he wouldn’t be able to escape until past midnight and John, suddenly exhausted with it all, told him to just head back to the hotel and that he’d see him in the morning.

It wasn’t until the day after, once they were safely returned to England and the horses once more in their own stalls, Mrs. Hudson out to dinner with the girls, that they were finally able to reconnect. And, after what felt like years, when John slowly entered Sherlock, rolling his hips as they both settled for a moment, he reached down, pressing his lips to Sherlock’s neck. Thrusting once, twice, he made his way up to Sherlock’s jaw, running his tongue over the light stubble there before pressing their lips together, Sherlock gasping into his mouth, hard against his stomach and writhing for more friction.

They were quiet, each breathing into the other as Sherlock’s dark hair grew damp and John felt the sweat pool in the hollow of his neck and back. Sherlock wrapped a leg around his hip, thigh pressing, pulling them closer together. John groaned and moved faster, feeling the fire at the base of his spine, watching as Sherlock’s face contorted in pleasure, his breaths shorter, harsh in the small space they’d created between them. John kissed him then, both so close, and continued kissing him as he lost control, mind slipping into the white-out bliss, Sherlock biting his lip as he followed.

They came down slowly, lazy kisses and soft touches as their panting slowed. John rolled to his back, wiping the sweat from his forehead before forcing himself out of bed, shuffling to the loo and cleaning himself up before bringing back a warm flannel for Sherlock. Cleaned and collected, John settled the duvet over them, both exhausted despite the still early hour.

Sherlock rolled to his side to face John, wrapping an arm around his waist and pressing their foreheads together. John sighed, snuggling closer, and kissed one of Sherlock’s sharp cheekbones.

“Thank you,” Sherlock said, voice already slow and soft with sleep.

“For what,” John said, running a hand through Sherlock’s damp curls.

“Couldn’t have won without you.”

“Course you could,” John said.

Sherlock mumbled something, arm tightening around John.

They stayed that way, warm and tucked close together, until John was almost asleep, the tension of the weeks prior finally leaking from his bones.

“Love you.”

John woke back up, pulling back a bit so he could see Sherlock’s face. The ice blue eyes, still glowing in the dark light of their bedroom, flicked up to meet his.

“I mean it,” Sherlock said, fingers clenching and unclenching on John’s bare back.

John looked at him, the insane, manic, obsessive man he suddenly realized he’d devoted his life to. He ran a hand through Sherlock’s hair once more, resting his palm on the smooth, pale skin of Sherlock’s cheek.

“I know you do,” he said softly, thumb stroking Sherlock’s cheekbone.

Sherlock seemed satisfied with this, eyes dropping again, fingers lightly tracing patterns on John’s skin. John shivered at the touch, both hot and cold where Sherlock’s skin met his own.

“And I love you, too.”

Pale eyes darted up once more, scanning John’s entire face, no doubt looking for the lie.

“I mean it.”

Sherlock huffed, looking down once more at whatever he saw on John’s face. He ducked his head, tucking it underneath John’s chin and pressing their chests together, wrapping one long, muscled leg around John’s. “I don’t deserve it.”

“Don’t say that,” John said. “You don’t ‘deserve’ love, you just get it.”

Sherlock puffed a breath across John’s chest.

“I love you, you idiot. Deal with it,” John said.

Sherlock’s chest rumbled with laughter, causing John to start his own. “I suppose I can learn to live with it,” Sherlock said, sighing dramatically.

“Such a hardship,” John said, wrapping an arm around Sherlock’s shoulder and breathing in the mix of sweat and shampoo lingering in Sherlock’s silky hair. “But I believe we can muddle through. Together.”

“Together,” Sherlock repeated, the word barely a whisper.

They slept for nearly twelve hours, both utterly spent from the Trials and everything that had led up to them. Mrs. Hudson, wonder that she was, had tea and breakfast waiting for them when they eventually made their way downstairs the next day and she’d casually asked when John would be moving his things in as she wanted to hire a new stablehand to replace Janine and would he mind ever so much if she offered them the barn apartment. Besides, wouldn’t he rather share night duty?

And now John’s things, few though they were, had been moved in with Sherlock’s expansive wardrobe and ridiculously expensive toiletries. It wasn’t a huge transition, he’d spent many a night there before, but Anderson rolled his eyes and Molly gave him a wide smile when he made it down to the barn the following day. It was rather hard to discreetly move belongings in front of every co-worker in the barn.

John left the arena rail and made his way to the barn to check on Pip and Elmer as Sherlock wrapped up the lesson outside. The two horses had been fine on the flight back, this time paired with three horses belonging to one of the riders in the next lowest division at the show along with Magnussen’s eerily quiet horse and goat friend once more.

Pip nickered when he saw John arrive, once again back to his old self. The buckskin still had a mouthful of hay hanging from his muzzle, munching while he stepped up to see if John had brought any treats.

“Spoiled rotten, the lot of you,” he said, pulling out the small apple treats he had in his back pocket.

Noticing the activity, Elmer pushed his nose into the corner of his stall closest to Pip’s, trying to reach John’s hand.

“Wait your turn, Elmer. Just because you’re a world champion doesn’t mean you always get treats first.”

Once giving Pip his allotted treats and checking on his water, John moved to Elmer, rubbing the grey’s ears as he eagerly took each treat John gave him.

“Getting a bit rude, isn’t he?”

John turned at the deep voice. “Thought you’d be longer.”

“If they can’t cool down on their own, it’s a lost cause,” Sherlock said. He gave Elmer’s neck a pat, holding out empty hands to show he had nothing before Elmer quickly turned back to the more exciting John. “All packed?”

“Yes, did yours too considering you hadn’t yet bothered.”

“I was going to get around to it.”

“When? Our flight leaves in two hours and you’re technically still teaching a clinic.”

Sherlock waved a hand, already bored with the conversation. “I’ve done my duty.”

“Still can’t believe you did,” John said.

“I’m full of surprises.” Sherlock smirked at him, the skin around his eyes crinkling as John shook his head. “Mmm, so if we’re to take this unnecessary holiday, should we at least plan to catch our flight?”

“Oh, now you’re eager to go.” John gave Elmer one last pat before closing the stall door.

“Well, I do believe it might have its advantages.”

“And what might those be?” John asked.

Sherlock wrapped a hand around John’s waist, stepping closer so their bodies were flush. “Well, this for one,” and he leaned down, pressing his lips to John’s, tongue sliding across the seam of John’s lips until they fell open on an exhale, allowing entry.

“That I can get behind,” John said, flushed, when Sherlock finally pulled back.

“Two weeks is a long time away from the horses…don’t suppose they could come too,” Sherlock said.

John laughed. “No, I rather think they’ll be happier here.”

“Right.” Sherlock stepped back, clapping his hands together. “Off then?”

John nodded and looked back at the horses once more.

“They’ll be fine,” Sherlock said, voice quiet.

“I know. It’s just…nice that everything’s over.”

“For now at least,” Sherlock said. “Have I mentioned that I might like to try out for the Olympics?”

John rolled his eyes and heaved a sigh, not entirely sure that Sherlock was kidding. “Whatever you want, love.”

“Are we doing pet names now? How pedestrian.”

“Christ, are you really going to fight about that, too?”

“No, of course not, darling. Now, we’ve a holiday to take!” Sherlock grabbed John’s shoulders, pressed a quick, loud kiss on his lips, and spun around to waltz out of the barn.

John glanced at Pip and Elmer. “That’s who we choose to love, boys. Crazy, aren’t we?” Then he shook his head, laughed, and followed Sherlock out of the barn.