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the physics of motion: falling (in love) and catching (a break)

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“I got ahold of your mother. She thinks we are correct in insisting you finish out the year in your physical education period.”

“Mycroft Holmes is authorized to make guardian decisions in loco parents,” Sherlock sneered at the dean of academic affairs a surprising amount of disdain for someone who also had a mouth full of braces. “Call him, not my mother.”

“If your mother hadn’t been available, we would have, Sherlock.” the dean said, “Just because your brother can authorize emergency treatment in case of medical need doesn’t mean we skip over your actual parents in the chain of command because you want your big brother to save you.”

The dean was actually scowling at him. Sherlock felt overclocked, suddenly, with the outrage and unfairness of it all. “I can’t imagine what you must have told her for her to agree with you. Perhaps you left out the bit where I was assaulted.

“Now Sherlock,” he said, in his calm, let’s-be-reasonable voice. Adults liked to use it on him before he started wreaking havoc, but they tended to lose it around the point where he made up his mind to stop faffing about and bring actual destruction. “Assault is such a strong term. Many boys your age go through one form of teasing or another. If you would make a statement to myself or Mr. Richards, the boys involved would be reprimanded. Until then, my hands are tied.”

Sherlock leveled a glare at him. “Excuse me, I think we’re done here.”

He meant to swivel out on his heel like his father used to, but he botched it by checking his hip against the table as he stood, wincing as he moved across the threshold. He was almost 180 centimeters tall, which was new, but hadn’t been as immediately useful to him as he had always fantasized.

*

The phone was in the commons, and one of the other boys who had been lounging on a sofa nearby gave him a raised eyebrow as he passed. Mycroft always said people were conditioned to stop staring when they felt caught by the object of their gaze, usually occurring during a returned stare. Sherlock employed that now, but St. James just kept looking at him as he punched in a number he knew by heart.

He had to call twice before he got an answer. “I’m sorry Sherlock,” his brother said, already sounding weary. “Your mother called me almost immediately after she herself received a call.”

Mycroft and Sherlock often foisted ownership of their mother to each other with pronouns. He’d usually be more amused. “And?”

“You do sound terrible,” Mycroft said. Sherlock could imagine the wrinkle forming prematurely between his brows and relax a fraction, knowing if he could hear it, his brother was suitable furious on his behalf. “Water damage?”

Sherlock had been nursing himself from a cold with precise doses, but Mycroft must have heard the hoarse edge. He lowered his voice to just above a whisper. “Something like that.”

Mycroft said, “I will be down in the morning.”

*

Sherlock spent most of his non-lesson time in his room when he was away at school. The tried-and-true method of avoiding everyone he knew had worked well for him for the entirety of his boarding career, and he’d only relaxed his policy a bit this year in favor of collecting data samples from some of the nearby ferns. The school grounds seemed to be full non-native frogs, and out of sheer boredom during his last year, Sherlock had decided to investigate. On his third night out after dark, trying to catch a live sample with only a small torch, he’d been overwhelmed by three of his year mates.

The attack hadn’t been sexual, Sherlock could realize later, but it had certainly seemed so when he’d been stripped of his trousers and then pants, blindfolded and manhandled in the dark, his torch dropped when he’d startled.

They’d bound him at the joints and tossed him in the pool, still blindfolded where he’d spluttered and bobbed for an unknown length of time before he’d made his way out, and was subsequently found on his way back to his room by Mr. Richardson.

Before then, it had always been tedious, but harmless enough exclusion and minor setbacks. None of that had bothered him because he himself excluded all other life forms but his older brother Mycroft, and frequently implied and outright said all manner of things that made his unbearable classmates squirm: about themselves, their parents, and their sticky-fingered help.

After, Sherlock had felt humiliated, both that it had happened, and that his had reacted with such indignity, hiding out and missing all of his divs the next day to lick his wounds like a kicked dog.

It had taken him almost a full day to figure out how to turn the situation to his advantage. He had always hated compulsory sport, and having just turned sixteen this year, Sherlock would still be required to participate in it through the end of the school year.

*

Mycroft arrived early and vicious, like he’d promised, knocking on Sherlock’s door as the sun began to slant through his blinds.

“I had to threaten to pull you out,” Mycroft said. “And murder all three of the boys involved.”

“Surely you didn’t threaten murder,” Sherlock said, doubtfully, but starting to cheer up all the same.

“I might as well have,” Mycroft said, and his shoulder moved and halted.

Sherlock calculated that Mycroft had started to reach out and ruffle his hair, but had stopped himself because the two of them were much too old for that kind of display, and the thought warmed him the rest of the way. “So,” he said, rocking onto his toes in an unconscious impulse to be eye-level with his brother. “What’s the verdict?”

“You are going to spend the period engaged in the theoreticals of a sport. Or an equivalent measurement of time,” Mycroft explained, fixing him with a serious look. “You’re going to present a paper on some aspect at the end of term. I don’t want your professor to be able to get through the abstract without a headache. Do you understand me?”

Sherlock saluted, as he had in the past to his father, and Mycroft’s lips twitched in reckless amusement. Anyone else would have called it a grimace.

“All three of them will find themselves expelled before the end of the year,” Mycroft assured him.

“Four,” Sherlock said, half-gleeful with the knowledge that his brother had missed something.

Mycroft looked him over for a long moment before nodding. “All four,” he acknowledged.

*

Sherlock chooses football, because it is the only sport that none of the boys he wants to avoid play.

He sits in the stands while they play, six on six sometimes, and full teams others, and Sherlock keeps a careful eye on the angles and musculature of the boys’ bodies, the force of the ball and the movement of the goalkeeper.

One of the players draws his eye, because he is compact, but fleet and wry. He seems to use his body in intelligent, strategized ways.

After hours of research, complete with diagrams and 2D renderings of musculature and a precise practical application of graduate level physics, Sherlock is most intrigued by the finding that John Watson is kind of undersized. The revelation is utterly horrifying.

Sherlock is not sure why he notices this: John is in his last year, and certainly Sherlock has seen him before, around the school; he’s never seemed extraordinary. Sherlock tries to divide his attention evenly, keeping something broad in mind and reminding himself that it isn’t a case study.

*

Sherlock always attempts to leave as practice ends, getting back to his room quickly to make sense of his scrawled notes.

Two weeks after he starts observing the evening practices, it ends more suddenly than he is ready for, and he scrambles to collect his scattered pages and stuff them back into his bag.

“Hello,” John Watson says to him with a hand extended. “I’m John Watson. You’re Sherlock Holmes.”

Sherlock blinks at the boy before him, hand coming up clumsily to touch his. He’s smaller up close, his brain helpfully supplies. John Watson is one hundred sixty three centimeters if he’s a meter. “Interesting introduction,” Sherlock says, because John’s already commandeered his line, so he’s at a loss.

John grins wryly. “Sorry mate. For one thing, it’d be silly to pretend that everybody doesn’t know who you are, and for another, with your reputation, I wasn’t sure you’d respond to a proper introduction.”

Over John’s shoulder, Sherlock can see the rest of the boys who had gathered to play the little pick-up game starting to take their bags and move inside. They keep glancing back at the two of them, like timid children getting on a train.

Sherlock frowns at John Watson for a moment, sizing up his fraying football kit, cuticles dry from over-washing, precise haircut. He tries not to let his gaze linger on his musculature or facial structure. There had been pins in his leg at some point, but he’d started using it before it was fully healed, Sherlock could see it clearly. “Now that you’ve told me who I am, shall I return the favor?” Sherlock challenged, raising an eyebrow.

John grinned. “Go ahead.”

*

John seemed to be impressed with Sherlock’s deduction, and hadn’t hit him, which was puzzling.

John followed him back to his room, seemingly naturally falling into step with him on the way back to the school, but it quickly became apparent that he was going in a direction that wouldn’t take him back to his own.

When Sherlock asked him about it, John said, “Sorry. Actually, I was supposed to tell you something.”

“Well,” Sherlock said, icily, feeling the strange easiness fade away as anxiety pushed into him like a tidal wave. “Go ahead with it.”

“Well, the lads think that you’re…” John fumbled uneasily, hoisting his bag over his shoulder. “Well, they’re wondering why you’ve been watching practice.”

“Bugger off,” Sherlock said, sharply veering to the left, his meaning immediately apparent.

“No,” John backpedaled, tailing him closely. “I’m not saying it’s a problem.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Sherlock mocked, using his new legs to his advantage. He may not have regained his old grace yet, but he had sheer length in his favor. He could hear John behind him, following at a canter.

“I thought, if you wanted to learn, or you’re shy...”

Sherlock whirled around, mouth hanging slack. “You think I watch football practice because I’m shy?

“Well,” John said, suddenly unsure. Sherlock tried his best not to be aware of the way John’s fair hair was sticking up on one side like a patch of rumpled feathers while the other side followed the contours of his skull, made malleable by damp. “You’ve been watching for three weeks now. I thought maybe you wanted to play but were, uh, you know…”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow, and John finished: “Yeah, shy. I guess that’s the best I’ve got.”

“I’ve got no interest in your ridiculous sport besides the academic,” Sherlock said loftily.

It was John’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Academic, eh? How’s that work out?”

“Not that it’s any of your concern, but I am doing a paper on the physics of the game.”

“Instead of playing?”

Sherlock scowled. “Yes.”

“Well, are you planning on putting your data to practical use?”

“No.”

“What a shame,” John said, giving him a grin. “Well, I’ll see you around, Sherlock Holmes.”

*

The next time he watches a pick up game, held unofficially on Wednesday between the team’s biweekly practices, John wasn’t playing. The other players gave him the side eye, but he focus on their bodies and velocity. Someone’s momentum from a kick pulls them all the way around and Sherlock laments not asking Mycroft to send him his camcorder because he needs to see that again.

He leaves before the boys do.

*

That friday night when he was finished with his divs and back in his room skipping dinner, there was a knock on his door.

Sherlock was not accustomed to having visitors, and went wearily to the door. Sherlock was secretly pleased and dismayed in rapid succession when he opened the door to find John Watson (the pleased floods his chest embarrassingly) with a split lip and bruised temple.

“Watson,” Sherlock barks. And he meant to say what the hell happened to you but instead he said, “What are you doing here?”

Sherlock can see the what the hell happened to you in the fact that John was still in his football kit and the angle of the bruise on his temple (curved from the side but not from above, which doesn’t make sense because John is the shortest in his year unless…) and the way he is walking, like an impacted hip or tailbone.

“Good evening,” John said, smiling through his battered mouth. At some point, blood had burst in his mouth; Sherlock can smell it on his breath. “Missed you at practice today.”

Sherlock grabbed him by the back of his collar and hoisted him bodily into his room.

John balked. To be fair, Sherlock had potted ferns laid out on a grid on the floor to take stock of their reactions relative to the daytime sunlight he gets during the day, there were papers on every surface of his room, his bed was filled with stacks of books, open and in piles, except the corner he squished into to sleep and there was a giant corkboard on his free wall to keep track of his most recent project which was, of course, football.

“Why was someone with so much muscle mass sitting on your hips, assaulting you?”

“Assault is kind of a strong word,” John shrugged, and Sherlock flinched. John scratched the back of his neck in a boyish gesture. “Ah, shit. I mean, uh. Not to trivialize getting punched, but.”

Sherlock noticed his hands just then. “I see. You didn’t start it, though,” he said.

John shrugged. “Depends how you define starting.

Ambiguously started. Started the argument? Sherlock thought it over as he turned John’s hand over in both of his own, scraped knuckles and dented flesh.

“My sister’s gay. Too young for her to be worrying about it, but I’m fairly certain. And half of the blokes here suck each other off after-hours to slough off the tenstion but by God, have any actual suspicious, and they’re having five-alarm fires.”

Sherlock narrowed his eyes. “Are you trying to tell me that you started this fight because the your football mates think…”

“Does it matter? I just came to tell you I don’t think you should watch them practice anymore. I, ah. I won’t be attending practice, either.”

Sherlock was struck dumb. “You… Quit?”

“Who needs it, you know? I’m in my last year – I could use the extra time to keep up with my studies, anyway. It’s not required, anyway.”

“You’re really disappointed. You like it a lot, and you like being liked. You’ve always known you play with wankers, but it’s never been so overt before. You’re disappointed they couldn’t wait until after graduation to show you.”

John’s scraped knuckled clenched and unclenched as if he was warming them up from the cold, or holding the reigns to his temper as if it was a physical beast. Sherlock was deliciously intrigued. “Anything else you want to say?”

“Yes. You’re a King’s Scholar; I’ve seen you headed from that direction. You love football, but you’ve never seen a match.” If there was a time to get punched in the face, balance of probability would say this is it: the moment ofter Sherlock deduced someone else’s relative povery had always been a dangerous one.

John clenched his jaw.  “And?”

“Would you like to?”

*

John’s lip healed up nicely, and his hands, although two points of contact seem like they might leave a scar for the foreseeable future.

True to his word, John stopped playing pick up games with the football lads and started rowing. He’s got short arms, but after two weeks, John stops mentioning the perpetual soreness in his shoulders. Sherlock accidentally potices that they will shape up nicely.

At some point, Sherlock started being mindful of keeping at least one chair free of debris so that John has somewhere to sit when he visited, which became less and less of an oddity in a relatively short time.

Sherlock wrote to Mycroft, in his best penmanship and on actual stationary, which is the surest way to soften Mycroft to his will. Dearest Brother, he wrote, smirking in the way he learned to show haughty amusement without exposing his braces.

“What are you writing?” John asked, from a chair that used to belong to Sherlock’s microscope and slides when they weren’t in use. When John isn’t sitting in it, it houses a silly Union Jack pillow that seemed to have migrated into Sherlock’s room from somewhere outside of Sherlock’s room without his consent.

Sherlock’s face shuttered. At some point he’d grown accustomed to John’s presence, and John gained the ability to surprise him with a simple reminder of his continued existance. The whole thing is ridiculous. Other people, ordinary people seem to have the innate ability to manage more than one friendship at a time but Sherlock is suddenly in possession of one and he finds himself suitably overwhelmed. Something about John Watson’s presence, mundane as it is, throws off his internal temperature. He wants to run studies on the phenomenon of his own biochemistry reacting to someone else’s, but he is unable to do that while also trying to ignore it with every fiber of his being.

“Oh, nothing,” he dismissed, tapping his fountain pen (again, if he wants anything from Mycroft, and he doesn’t have any recent malicious damage against his person to do the trick, he has to be on his best behavior) against some of his spare notes.

“Not nothing,” John said, flicking through his textbook with intent, “you were smiling.”

“Was not,” Sherlock argued, and then felt silly. “I’m writing a letter. To my older brother.”

“How chummy of you,” John said, trying to stifle his smile. Which was ridiculous, of course. John’s smile was a little feral under the surface. Sherlock secretly thought of John as a wolf, playing about being domestic, with his perfect canines wrapped up in the most unassuming, friendly mouth. “Harry would be jealous.”

“I am not writing to chat, John!” Sherlock said.

“Heaven forbid,” John said, rolling his eyes. “You don’t have to sound so scandalized.”

Sherlock quieted John with a wave of his hand as he returned to his letter, and John obliged. It was one of his many tolerable qualities. My grasp of this ridiculous sport is limited by my ability to only watch schoolboys at it. I would be much obliged if you could arrange for myself and my research partner further insight. I had hoped…

*

Mycroft wrote back promptly on his own stationary, From the desk of Mycroft Holmes to tell him he was sending a a car to pick them up over the long weekend, and Sherlock fretted in front of his wardrobe for ages like a wilting flower. He tried on three shirts before he heard a knock on the door, which lately only meant one thing.

“Intrude!” Sherlock called out cheerfully.

Sherlock’s room was usually a perfect storm of organized chaos, but he kept his closet meticulously organized by fabric. John let out a long peal of laughter, his eyes flicking between Sherlock’s rumpled wardrobe and the pile of shirts discarded haphazardly on his bed.

Sherlock scowled at him. “I don’t know what you could possibly find amusing.”

John caught his breath. “Sorry. Something in my throat,” he peterd off with a fake wheeze, and elbowed his way past Sherlock. He flicked through his clothing, quickly dismissing three quarters of his wardrobe, murmuring noises of dissonance under his breath.  John was dressed in denims with loose turn ups, because he is ridiculously small, and a shirt that Sherlock can only surmise is the color of one of the teams playing. John looked excited, practically hovering on the toes of his scuffed trainers. “As I suspected, Sherlock Holmes, you do not own anything appropriate to wear to a match.”

“I—” Sherlock started to protest, but finished: “am realizing that now, actually.”

John dug into his messenger bag. “I had a bit of a suspicion. Try this on? You’re stupidly tall, but you’re also sixty-five percent legs, so it might fit almost okay.”

“I’m roughly sixty-five percent water, actually,” he said, staring dumbly at the cotton John had shoved into his hands as he turned back to Sherlock’s clothing, seemingly looking for his least expensive pair of trousers.

“Ha! Ha!” John said, in short staccato bursts, looking between two pairs he seemed to find almost suitable. “I should have made that into a joke!”

It had taken Sherlock a few times to realize that John was laughing at him but not really laughing at him when he was too literal, namely after he’d seen an incident where John had demanded he sit to eat with Victor Trevor, another boy in John’s year he was friendly with, and Victor had pointed out something about John’s size, which was possibly an allusion to the size of his genitals. Victor had certainly had a lecherous smirk when he’d mentioned that he was positively tiny. Just as Sherlock was about to cut Victor to the quick with a vicious deduction (falling behind in his studies to become entangled in a distance-courtship with a woman who was likely using him for his status and funds, and the care packages from his mother all actually being assembled by her PA, etc) John let out a short bark of laughter, clapping his admittedly small hand on Victor’s shoulder. “Your girl doesn’t mind,” he’d grinned, and Sherlock’s desire to draw blood receded as his annoyance that someone else had made John Watson laugh had spiked.

“Put that on, please.”

Sherlock looked pointedly at John without answering. It didn’t give the full effect, as John continued frowning at Sherlock’s trousers until he chose one and turned to him. 

“Go on,” John said, wigging and impatient.

Sherlock kept looking at him. “Ahem,” he said.

John’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline in amusement. “As you wish,” he said, and turned around.

Sherlock put on what John probably considered his least posh trousers (he was wrong, in terms of expense) and John’s own t-shirt. It was a shade of deep plum that probably made him look washed out, and was tight across his shoulders, but thankfully made it all the way to the waistline of his trousers, with a few millimeters of overlap.

John was facing away from Sherlock, both hands over his eyes in an exaggeratedly childish pose. “You may turn around,” Sherlock said, haughtily.

“You look… casual,” John said, bringing up his hand to brush out a wrinkle from Sherlock’s shoulder, and his heart sat in suspended animation. His mouth dried up. Sherlock had no idea how lesser beings handled having even one friend, let alone several. Friendship wreaked havoc on Sherlock’s body.  

“Come on, your brother said there’d be a car here at ten after and it’s half past.”

“I try to keep my brother waiting.”

*

To Sherlock’s utter, complete shock, Mycroft was waiting in the car. Sherlock clammed up and almost dizzy with panic. John had to introduce himself, and offered his left hand to shake, because Mycroft’s right hand was wrapped tightly around his umbrella. Sherlock couldn’t decide if his brother was also feeling anxious, or if he was just trying to put Sherlock at ease with a show of empathetic anxiety.

During the drive, Mycroft maintained the burden of small talk. He’d learned to interact with people (most of whom he considered mental goldfish) in a way Sherlock never had, and he asked John a myriad of questions he could probably see clearly cut into his shaggy hair and premature worry lines, hands dry from fussy over washing and the colors he wore to support his team. (Sherlock hadn’t had to ask what John would study at uni, he thought petulantly. He made it a point to inform John of the information that was of interest to him, and let him correct him if he missed a bit. There was usually something.)

As they got closer to their destination, Mycroft’s questions drifted into sport almost exclusively, and John crossed one ankle over his knee, jerking his foot up and down almost unconsciously, in a way that put Mycroft on edge. Sherlock felt amusement and fondness in equal measures.

“I’ve never actually been to a match, before,” John said in a conspiratorial voice, biting his bottom lip.

“You don’t say?” Mycroft said, looking at Sherlock and Sherlock tried not to laugh.

*

As Sherlock knew he would, Mycroft had really delivered, and had procured for them excellent seats. Sherlock had fantastic vision, and wasn’t impressed by their proximity to the wildest fans in the stadium, but John was positively luminescent.

“Sherlock!” he said, tapping him to get his attention. He pointed out individual players, pouring out useless trivia that Sherlock let stream through his brain for a pleasantly tedious white-noise in the background, but he didn’t save anything for the long term.

In return, as the game started, Sherlock leaned in, indulging in his own running commentary, acceleration, gravitational potential energy, escape velocity.

“Now you’re just teasing,” John said at the last one. His face was flushed. “I’m not you, but I’m not stupid. That ball is not going to make it into space.”

Sherlock laughed into his wrist.

“You shouldn’t do that,” John frowned.

Sherlock didn’t know what he meant, what he shouldn’t do, so he focused on the game until John looked away.

Mycroft, on his other side, was frowning, and his grip on his umbrella this time was unquestionably his own.

*

Sherlock supposed the right team must have won, because John leapt to his feet at the end of the match, sticking two fingers into his mouth to let out a piercing whistle. Sherlock clapped along, calculating roughly fifty-five percent of John’s enthusiasm.

“Shall I take you both back to Windsor now, or would you like to have dinner first?” Mycroft said, as they got back into his sleek car.

“Actually,” Sherlock said, feeling emboldened by John’s elation. Everything he said today sounded like laughter. Sherlock had decided that his favourite days were the days that he treated John to sporting events, and mourned the fact that when his project was over, it wouldn’t be practical to trick John into attending them again.  “I was thinking that you could take us back home?”

Mycroft didn’t look surprised to a goldfish’s naked eye, but Sherlock wasn’t a goldfish. He and Mycroft were hardly even human. “Certainly you should have consulted with Mr. Watson prior to leaving Eton.”

“He brought a spare set of clothes in case the match was rained out. How much more warning could he possibly need?” Sherlock said, beginning to pout.

“Oi!” John said. “I’m actually present, and I have ears.”

Mycroft, curse him, looked like the thing he’d been waiting for had finally come to pass, and he was about to witness the other shoe to drop. Sherlock briefly hated him.

“Like a question, Sherlock.”

Sherlock spoke through tight teeth, his jaw cramping up: “John, would you like to spend a day at my parent’s estate?”

“I would love to,” John grinned, feral points and his tongue darting out to touch his lips. Sherlock felt his throat tighten, dry and painful, and nodded swiftly.

*

John sat through dinner nervously, but gracious in the face of his mother. She was embarrassingly prying with John, and she was clearly torn between her suspicion and elation. Mycroft had excused himself without getting out of the car as he dropped the two of them off, and Sherlock hadn’t been able to successfully get them to Sherlock’s part of the house without rousing her attention.

“Sherlock?” she’d called from the belly of the house.  “Mycroft? You said you wouldn’t –” and emerged, fresh from the kitchen, with flour on her blouse. She looked positively shocked.

It was all downhill from there, and by the time they were dismissed from dinner, Sherlock wanted to die of shame.

Sherlock took him up to his bedroom, which was actually fastidious. John looked surprised, but Sherlock explained to him that there was no reason to keep his disused room in the sort of chaos he needed to think in his day to day life.

John had said once that Sherlock’s lack of manners excused him from the rules of polite society in his dealings with Sherlock as well, so he moved over to his things to peer at them intently. “Do you play?” he said, nodding towards his violin. He didn’t touch it though, which Sherlock appreciated, because even he had limits.

“I do,” Sherlock said, inclining his head. “I do not bring it to school because it’s been called disruptive. Also because it is… my most prized possession.”

“I love that I know that,” John said, grinning. “I bet you only play old classics. Vivaldi and Bach. You should play something new.”

“Something…?”

“You know,” John said, cheeky, making a scruffy approximation of a violin noise for a few bars of a song Sherlock didn’t recognize. He must have looked blank.

“You know—” John insisted, and then began to sing in a smiling, only half-serious voice. “Sherlock, I know you’re lonely, but I can’t come home right now… me and the boys are playing, and we just can’t find the so-o-ound…” John trailed off and Sherlock gave him a doleful look.

“Ehm. Nevermind,” John said, ducking his head.

Sherlock didn’t like lingering on about things he didn’t know a thing about, and popular music was definitely one of them, but he was certain enough that there weren’t any songs with his name in them, which meant that John had altered a song to be about him. “Do you want to go kick around a football?” Sherlock asked.

“Is that something you know how to do?”

“You don’t have to sound so surprised,” Sherlock scolded, “I am incredibly well aware of the theory.”

“In theory,” John grinned. “Also, it’s almost midnight.”

“Scared of the dark?” Sherlock teased.  

*

Sherlock led John to the shed behind the back garden, the motion-sensitive floodlight flickering on at their approach, where he had some ancient relics of a childhood where his parents had assumed or hoped he might be content to be occupied with sports. He found a ball and an old goal stand, small because he had been the last time he’d seen it. The twine had all but disintegrated in the past decade, but as a shape, it did its duty.

As Sherlock went about setting it upright, John peeled off his shirt and dropped it in a heap by the lamppost, pushing back the night in Sherlock’s sprawling country green.

“Ah,” Sherlock said, full of inarticulate fear, suddenly.

“Keep yours on,” John said, teasingly. “Shirts and skins.”

Sherlock could recognize a taunt when he heard one, friendly as it was, and pulled off his own shirt. John had looked cool when he’d removed his top, gripping the fabric behind the neck in a blokey way Sherlock had never mastered. He felt silly pulling his own up from the hem, because it belong to John Watson and fit him like lycra. He folded it carefully, setting it atop John’s rumbled shirt.

Sherlock set the ball on the ground in front of himself and made a shooing motion, and John backed up fifteen meters or so, looking doubtful.

Sherlock fumbled with the ball for a few moments, thinking about angels and inertia and how much different it was to try to bring his body into alignment than it was to see it on a three dimensional plan in his head. He reeled back, and kicked.

To his utter despair, Sherlock’s foot grazed the ball, tangent to its surface. “Wait,” Sherlock said, savagely, and closed his eyes to tune out John Watson’s chaotic effect on his thoughts. He was like having a tuning fork nearby at all times. He visualized, calculated, brought in an imaginary Mycroft to consult.

“Come on,” John said, “I’m open.”

Sherlock opened his eyes, lined up his body, and sent the ball like a sailing bullet at John’s open palms. John laughed loud, delighted: “You’re on!”

*

Afterward, Sherlock sat with John in the grass, damp with clean sweat and panting softly.

Sherlock felt hollow inside, devoid of blood or vital organs, filled with only the trembling desire to push himself into John Watson’s space.

Neither of them had put their shirts back on, and instead, they’d laid back on them, looking up at the sky.

“Can I tell you something?” John asked, and Sherlock didn’t say anything because he was trying to train John out of asking stupid questions. John went on after a moment. “I wish I had a family like yours.”

Sherlock snorted.

“Really,” John said, and they’d been still too long: the light from the lamp dimmed in the space of a second. No one moved. “Your mom is so worried about you I thought she was going to thank me for existing, and your brother is like, the coolest man I’ve ever met. He’s obviously in MI6. And he stopped to take you to a football match.

Sherlock didn’t often think about it in those terms. He almost wen to argue with John, but the defense that sprang to mind was only because I’d asked him to, which honestly didn’t sound too convincingly anti-Mycroft. The sweat was cooling on his body and there was an insect chorus in the distance. “It didn’t do me any good,” Sherlock admitted, shrugging, which felt strange to do from a reclining position, cool dirt and damp grass against the skin of his scrawny shoulder blades.

“I don’t know how you do it,” Sherlock admitted.

“Do what?”

“Have more than one friend.”

John sat up, suddenly, laughing. The light sprang on again and Sherlock could see it reflecting off the inside of his cheek and was suddenly massively interested. “For the past few months, I don’t think I have actually. There’s mainly just you.”

John sat there, grinning down at him and Sherlock felt something mortifying happen. He willed John to be still as he realized with intense shame that his penis was reacting to the adrenaline from exercise. John, well muscled and thrown into chiaroscuro in the light, smelling like sweat and dew and the stupid hair product he used in the mornings would get the wrong idea.

Sherlock felt his pulse go erratic as John stilled, and a mad hope surged in him that the light would turn off and stay off long enough for Sherlock to get himself under control. This whole situation was ridiculous.

“But… what do you mean? You don’t know how I do what?”

Sherlock swallowed painfully against the lump in his throat, and thinking about his stupid, bloody arousal, an obvious reaction to downswing of physical activity, is not helping it go away. “It’s just… it’s hard enough keeping track of my one friend. I can’t even imagine wanting to catalog the pulses of a whole football team. Or broaden my awareness of people’s whereabouts to an entire div.”

“You want to… catalog my pulse?” John said, and the yard went dark again. “And. You are aware of my, ah, movements?”

“Ridiculously much,” Sherlock said. “Honestly, I don’t know how people who aren’t as brilliant as I am can manage their time effectively. How do ordinary people even have time to revise for exams?”

John got very quiet, but then, the whole world was very quiet. “Sherlock. I don’t think you’re describing friendship.”

Panic gripped Sherlock around the chest like a vice, and between that and his absurdly swollen cock, Sherlock feared he might go into cardiac arrest. “No?” Sherlock asked, as casually as he could manage.

“No. See what I think you’re describing is something a little different.”

Sherlock’s eyes began to adjust to the dark; his pupils must have been enormous. The sky was so vast above him that it called to him like an equal and opposite force to gravity. His skin felt tight, and his pulse fluttered at the tip of his tongue.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” small, unassuming John Watson said, and leaned down from where he was hovering above Sherlock to press their mouths together. The light flooded down and Sherlock had to slam his eyes shut; John bumped into his mouth, clanging his lip against Sherlock’s braces. He backed away, laughing and touching his mouth.

Sherlock felt disappointment settle low and heavy in his abdomen. “Sorry,” he said, eyes down. Even now, full of shame and now acutely concious of something that he couldn’t have but hadn’t even been aware of before, he cannot get his genitals to stop being unruly.

“Can I have a do over?” John Watson said, and Sherlock scrambled up to sit with him face to face, and clumsily steered John over by the sides of his face. Complete imbeciles do this all the time, he knows.

He was  still for a moment, mouth pressed to John’s gently as he moves his hand from the swell of John’s shoulder to his elbow, which is a very discrete place to press his finger against an artery. “Oh Sherlock,” John said, practically into Sherlock’s mouth, and all Sherlock wanted to do for the rest of his life is hear that sound, reverberating through his own mouth.

John moved in again, and this time he didn’t sit still with Sherlock: John nuzzled his face, kissed a rapid, silly line from the crest of his cheekbone to the corner of his mouth, wound both hands into Sherlock’s curls and licked Sherlock’s bottom lip fondly. He kissed into Sherlock’s mouth for long minutes, and he didn’t seem to mind his braces, like he’d always wondered with (casual) interest, when he’d imagined such a thing happening to him.

When John pulled away from him, the vortex between them created a suction noise.

John was ridiculous. John was infuriating. And Sherlock was hopelessly smitten with him. The explanation almost made sense, now.

“I… guess you’ve found an explanation of all of the facts,” Sherlock said, tugging on John, suddenly aware that he could have the skin of John’s chest pressed against the skin of his chest. John complies, sitting practically on his lap, and – oh. “Ah, sorry,” Sherlock apologized, moving back.

John seated himself firmly in Sherlock’s lap, bringing their torsos together and curling both legs behind Sherlock. Sherlock was shocked and delighted to feel the poke of John’s flesh against his stomach, almost a mirror of the friendly nuzzle John kept giving his neck. Sherlock hadn’t had a chance to collect data directly, but it seemed hard and compact; John sized.

Sherlock put his hands everywhere he could touch, in the backyard of his childhood home, with his first friend who was now something else.

“Are you gay?” John asked, and Sherlock could feel the smile against his neck. “Because I find that a very important quality in a potential boyfriend.”

“If you laugh one more time tonight, I am going to reach escape velocity,” Sherlock said, “or else die. And also, ah, I don’t know.” he squirmed.

John laughed, and it echoed all the way down to Sherlock’s cock. “Do you want to be boyfriends, then, you nutter?”

“I can think of no one factor more crucial to my continued existence on planet earth.”

“If gravity won’t keep you down,” John grinned, “I suppose the responsibility falls to me.”

And pinned him very securely, just in case.