“What do you mean someone else is using it?” demanded Sherlock Holmes flatly.
“Someone else has it signed out.” Lestrade shrugged, as if this weren’t a big deal.
“Well, they can’t use it,” said Sherlock. “We need to use it.”
“That isn’t how it works.”
“Do they know who I am?”
“I have no idea. And I don’t really care.”
“Surely it’s more important that I be on the ice than them. Whoever they are.” Sherlock paused and narrowed his eyes. “Is it Moriarty?”
“It’s not Moriarty.”
“It’s probably Moriarty.”
“Why would it be Moriarty?”
“Why wouldn’t it be Moriarty?” Sherlock sulked. “He’s trying to deprive me of the gold.”
“You’ve always seemed to be perfectly capable of doing that all on your own.”
“Thank you,” Sherlock scowled.
Lestrade shrugged again.
Sherlock decided he hated him. He was a terrible coach. Well, no, he was an excellent coach, because Sherlock didn’t need a coach, he just needed someone he could ignore easily, and normally Lestrade was perfect for that purpose. Right now Lestrade was failing him in the only thing Sherlock had left up to Lestrade, which was to get him into the rink in the middle of the night so that he could practice for hours and not deal with reporters and other teams and people.
Who else would want to practice that way? If it wasn’t someone who was trying to thwart him, then it had to be someone…interesting.
Sherlock never met interesting people.
The Olympic Village was quiet as Sherlock walked through it, heading for the ice rink. Partly that was because it was still early in the week and many of the athletes hadn’t bothered to arrive yet, since the Opening Ceremony was still days away. And partly it was because it was three o’clock in the morning. Those who were partying were still out at the bars, and the parties in the Village hadn’t started in earnest yet, since there wasn’t enough of a population to sustain them. This was Sherlock’s favorite part of the Olympics. The Village was nice before it got too crowded, too full of idiots who treated it like a two-week party. Exhausting and stupid.
Sherlock basically hated everyone at the Olympics, and especially whoever had signed the rink out at three o’clock in the morning.
The back entrance to the rink wasn’t locked, and Sherlock didn’t even bother to be stealthy as he moved through the training rooms and then out next to the ice. The lights were on, bright off the white of the oval, and Sherlock took a deep breath of the cold, sharp air. And he leaned against the boards, trying to determine who it was who was skating on the ice. A hockey player, judging by his skates. Short, compact, graying blond hair that had been combed too carefully and with not enough flair. He was skating in street clothes, making slow circles at the far end of the ice. As Sherlock watched, he shifted to skate backwards, still in careful circles.
Sherlock leaned and watched and didn’t say a word. And that went on for twenty minutes, until the hockey player started skating back toward the training rooms and finally saw Sherlock, startling on the ice. Sherlock watched him thoughtfully, watched him frown heavily and pick up the pace of his skating, throwing up shaves of ice in his annoyance.
“Who the hell are you?” he demanded, as he got to Sherlock.
“It’s psychosomatic,” Sherlock said.
He blinked. “Sorry, what?”
“Your injury. That’s what you’re worried about, isn’t it? Whether it’s going to keep you from skating. It’s psychosomatic.”
He paused by the boards, eyes narrowed. His eyes were dark blue, Sherlock noted. “Who are you?” he said.
Sherlock smiled at him. He was actually, unexpectedly, enjoying this. “I normally practice in the middle of the night. If you’re just going to skate in circles, you’re welcome to share the ice with me.” Sherlock pushed off from the boards and began walking away.
“Practice what?” he called after him.
“Skating,” Sherlock called back, unhelpfully.
“But what kind?”
Sherlock smiled and enjoyed not answering.
John was trying not to stress out too much over the injury. He’d been told to rest, told not to worry. He had come out ahead of the rest of the team and had promised he was just going to hang out until they showed up and practice and training started in earnest. But he’d been unable to resist just testing it out, just seeing.
How was he supposed to know that some insane guy was going to show up and give him frankly unhelpful advice?
John quick-changed out of his skates, but the mysterious stranger was gone by the time he got outside. When John got back to his room, he was far too keyed up from the skate—which had seemed cautiously promising—and from the mysterious stranger who had scared the hell out of him when he’d spotted him. So when he got back to his room, he spent his time on the Internet, Googling “British skater Olympics” and scrolling through the Images results. He didn’t have to scroll very long. Sherlock Holmes. Figure skater. John sat and read basically his entire biography, every news article he could find. It was his fourth Olympics. He’d been very young at his first and had surprised everyone by basically crashing into a bronze. He’d been in his prime and heavily favored for both his second and third Olympics and had won silver in both, after an explosive dramatic meltdown in the first and then a listless apparent lack of interest in the second. He was considered over the hill now, in the brutal way of figure skating, and, although he’d been the top qualifier from Great Britain, he hadn’t been on the podium on an international stage in the past two years. He was considered a very long shot, skirting the edges of possibility but mentioned far below the younger skaters who had come up in the intervening years.
When John was finished reading about him, the day was already more than half over.
John didn’t intend to go to the rink again. But he was wide awake at 2:30 in the morning, and he thought this was foolish, and he wasn’t doing anything better. So he grabbed his skates and went to the rink.
Music was blasting its way through the rink, something violent and dark, all angry string instruments. John leaned up against the boards and watched Sherlock Holmes, who was working his way around the rink, dressed all in black. While John watched, he launched himself into one jump and then another, and to John, who didn’t tend to do twirling jumps on the ice, it all looked very impressive.
Sherlock stopped before the music ended, skating over to where John was watching. He was breathing hard, but it didn’t stop him from snapping, “Well, don’t just stand there.”
“You didn’t need to stop on my account,” said John.
“I didn’t stop on your account,” said Sherlock, sharply.
“Okay,” John said, agreeably, because clearly Sherlock wasn’t pleased about something but he doubted it was him.
“Well, go on,” Sherlock said, as his furious music finally came to an end and silence fell over the rink.
“Skating,” said Sherlock, scathingly. “Didn’t you come here to skate?”
“Tell me something,” John said, casually, as he headed out onto the ice.
Sherlock looked at him expectantly.
John grinned at him. “Are you always so pleasant?” And he skated away, down to the other end of the ice.
After a moment, Sherlock’s music started up again. John tried to stay out of his way, although Sherlock didn’t seem to be skating the whole routine, just practicing one specific part of it over and over. The same jump, which he kept landing beautifully to John’s eyes, although he kept practicing it, with different entry and exit moves. John wasn’t sure why he needed to have the terrible music on for the practicing, really.
John waited through it several times before saying, “Is this the music you skate to?” He had to practically shout it across the ice.
Sherlock frowned at him briefly. “It’s Wagner, you know.”
“Okay,” said John.
Sherlock skated away, then skated back. “He’s German,” he said.
“I’ve heard of him,” John assured him.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes, as if this was unexpected, and then skated backwards, away from him. He said, “Your leg’s better tonight.”
It was. The night before, it had been practically shaking from just the little bit of a workout he’d been giving it. But tonight it was much improved.
“Psychosomatic,” Sherlock said. “I’ve been distracting you.”
“Are you going to skate your free skate during the hockey game?” joked John, to cover the fact that he didn’t want to talk about his psychosomatic injury.
“This is my short program I’m working on,” said Sherlock.
“Ah,” said John, because he honestly didn’t know what that meant. So he told him that. “I don’t know much about figure skating.”
“Hmm,” said Sherlock.
“I’m sure you don’t know much about hockey.”
“I know about hockey.”
“Did you used to play?”
“No. I read about it last night.”
“Last night? You read about hockey last night?”
“When I looked you up.”
“You looked me up.”
“Of course I did. Don’t pretend you didn’t look me up.”
“Yeah, but you were easy. I just had to Google ‘British skater Olympics’ and look at the images until I found you. How did you find me?”
“I Googled ‘American hockey player Olympics injured.’”
Injured. Even though he was literally trying to fix his injury at that very moment, John still didn’t think of himself as being injured. “Right,” he said, because now he felt like an idiot.
“You’re here just hoping to see a minute of playing time.”
John bristled. “It’s the Olympics,” he said. “And we didn’t all pick sports where we’re the star all the time.”
“Poor planning on your part,” remarked Sherlock. He was still skating backwards lazily. John was skating forwards, not pursuing him, but keeping them close enough for the conversation.
John decided to change the subject. “So what are you working on here?”
Sherlock didn’t answer.
Ah, so that’s how it was, thought John. He was totally okay with talking about John’s sob story, but not willing to share his championship secrets. “Never mind,” John said, trying not to sound annoyed, because he shouldn’t be annoyed. He’d known this guy for all of twenty minutes, basically, there was no reason he should expect them to be sharing confidences like best friends.
But Sherlock said, “I’m not happy with this routine.”
“I don’t like anything about it.”
Sherlock sounded frustrated and annoyed. John said, “You like the music.”
“I do, yes.” Sherlock paused and looked at John closely. “Do you?”
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. “You’re lying.”
“Sherlock, what does it matter?”
“You don’t like it,” said Sherlock. “Tell me why not.”
John hesitated, then ventured, “It’s a little…angry, isn’t it?”
“Angry? You think it’s angry?”
“It sounds angry, and you look angry when you’re skating it.”
“Oh, and now I suppose you feel qualified to judge the mood of my skating?”
John didn’t much like that the conversation had devolved so quickly. He wanted to go back to the easier conversation. “Let’s change the subject.”
“I suppose you’d rather I skate to Tchaikovsky. That’s Lestrade’s opinion.”
“Your coach?” John guessed.
Sherlock nodded briefly.
John wanted to ask why Sherlock’s coach never seemed to attend any of his practices, but he decided he didn’t want to embark on another touchy subject, so instead he said, “Can I see the whole routine?”
Sherlock blinked at him. “You want to see the whole thing?”
“Yeah. I’ve only ever gotten to see one jump, basically. I mean, if it’s not going to throw off your practice schedule or anything…”
“No, it’s fine,” said Sherlock, and skated over to the side of the rink where he was controlling the music, and John skated off to get out of his way. He was incredibly excited about this for some reason, thrumming with anticipation.
Sherlock skated to the middle of the rink, and the music started, the violins unexpectedly gentle at the beginning, not yet built up to the angry crescendo. Sherlock skated gently at the beginning, too, matching the music. John would not have supposed he’d be so incredibly light on the ice. John didn’t think anyone could look as light on the ice as Sherlock did. And yet he leapt into spins and jumps with a remarkable power. It was an artful balance of nimbleness and determination, and John watched, transfixed, until the music reached its violent violins. Sherlock finished his routine with some sort of slashingly violent spin, which made John feel dizzy and ended with a dramatic shower of ice and Sherlock’s toepick stopping his momentum just as suddenly as the music did.
After a moment of silence, John started clapping. Sherlock skated over, pushing his hands through his mop of dark hair, which was damp with sweat. John could see why. He wouldn’t have been able to do any of that stuff, despite spending most of his life on skates.
“That was fantastic,” John said.
Sherlock looked genuinely curious. “Did you think so?”
“Of course,” said John, not knowing how to react to Sherlock’s reaction. “It was extraordinary.”
Sherlock looked briefly pleased. Then he said, stepping off the ice, “Actually, it was rubbish.”
“Rubbish?” John repeated, shocked. “I couldn’t do any of that.”
“Of course you could. You just learned to skate a different way. It’s all a matter of working with your edges. And you’d not get anywhere without a toepick.”
“Well, I’d like to see you teach me any of that,” said John.
“Maybe after the competition,” said Sherlock, and John blinked at him in surprise, but Sherlock was already moving away from him, back towards the changing rooms.
John followed him after a moment. Sherlock was removing his skates, leaning over as he unlaced them. Sherlock was tall, and his legs were long, and for a second John just watched him. His fingers were long, too, and they tugged at the laces elegantly, and John felt like he could have just watched Sherlock’s fingers for ages. And then John startled himself out of that thought, because what the hell? He felt as if it was possible Sherlock had cast a spell over him during the course of his routine, and now John felt slightly drunk on him, a bit bewitched.
“Are you done?” Sherlock asked, as he pulled his skates off. He sent John a querying glance from under his tumbled curls. He had great hair, really, thought John. Great eyes, too. John stared at him, mouth dry. “John,” Sherlock said, looking almost amused.
“Yeah,” John said, almost physically shaking himself. “Yeah, I’m done.”
“Then you need to take your skates off, you can’t walk back with them on.” Sherlock stood, swinging his skates over his shoulders.
“Right,” John said, and sat. He was conscious of how short and stubby every bit of him felt next to Sherlock’s lithe leanness. It was almost annoying. Except that it made sense that Sherlock had ended up spinning around on the ice to violins like some beautiful exotic bird while John muscled his way through fights and blood and bruises.
Sherlock leaned against the wall, watching him, which only made John fumble more over his laces.
“You don’t have to wait,” John said, sounding a bit short, but he was feeling flustered. He could hear Sherlock breathing over there, he could physically feel his gaze.
There was a moment of silence. “Oh,” said Sherlock. “Right. Sorry. I thought—”
And now he’d been rude to him. Damn it. “No,” said John. “I just meant you didn’t have to wait if you’d rather—”
“I just thought we could walk back together. But you’re right. I don’t even know where you’re—”
Somehow the conversation, as awkward as it was, had given John the ability to stop being frozen and to finish switching out of his skates. “Well, now I’m ready,” he said, standing up, and decided to try to pretend he was breathless from skating slowly in circles twenty minutes ago and not because of whatever was going on in the changing room.
“Right,” said Sherlock, after a second, and straightened from the wall, and they walked out together.
John tested the door to make sure it locked behind them.
Sherlock said, “It doesn’t matter. I could pick that lock in a heartbeat.”
“I could,” Sherlock said, as they began walking.
“Were you a burglar before you became a figure skater?”
“No, I’m a detective on the side. Kind of a hobby.”
“Really?” John looked at him in surprise.
“Is that strange?” Sherlock sounded defensive.
“No, I think it’s neat. What do you detect? Is that the right term?”
“I help the police sometimes. When they’re out of their depth.”
“The police? Really? How often does that happen?”
“Oh, they’re always out of their depth,” said Sherlock, casually.
“So. Hang on. Do you even have that rink signed out, or did you just break in tonight?”
Sherlock chuckled. “Relax. We haven’t broken any laws.”
“Not exactly reassuring,” remarked John, and Sherlock chuckled again. Sherlock’s laugh was warm. Warmer than the rest of him, really. It provoked a pleasant sort of buzz in John, unexpected but delightful, like really good whiskey settling in his stomach. John wanted to make him laugh again but couldn’t think of anything witty to say. So instead he said, “Is that why you practice in the middle of the night? So you can keep your lock-picking skills up to par?”
Sherlock laughed again, and John flushed with pleasure, because he hadn’t thought he’d said anything clever enough to deserve that. “No,” answered Sherlock. “Why do you practice in the middle of the night?”
“Because I’m not supposed to be practicing at all,” John said. “I’m supposed to be ‘resting.’” He used extravagant air quotes around the word.
“You’re terrible at resting. I’ve known you a day and I know that. Is your coach an idiot?”
“No, my coach is more worried about the players who can actually play and might actually contribute to the team. And that sounded bitter. Sorry. I’m not bitter. I’m just happy to be here.”
“Please, the reason for doing this in the middle of the night is that it means you don’t have to talk in respectable sound bites. Of course you’re angry to have finally got here and be injured. Even if the lingering injury is psychosomatic.”
“Well, that makes it worse, doesn’t it?” said John. “There’s nothing wrong with me at all, I just can’t skate anymore.”
“Not so. You’ve been skating perfectly well the past two nights. And if your injury weren’t psychosomatic, I wouldn’t be able to help with it.”
John turned over in his head that Sherlock had decided that he was going to help him with his injury. After knowing him a day. When he was trying to focus on a gold medal that all accounts said was going to be hard on him. John didn’t even know what to say to that. So he said nothing. He tried to keep his breathing even, as if he hadn’t just been blown away by that simple statement.
Sherlock said, “I don’t like people watching me.”
John could see that. It was annoying to have all those eyes on you all the time, criticizing every single movement. “And no one’s caught on yet?”
“Well, I practice during the day, too, of course.”
“When do you sleep?” asked John.
“Sleep is boring,” said Sherlock.
“Okay,” said John, unsure how else to respond to that. And then, “This is my stop,” as they drew up outside of his house in the Olympic Village, which in a couple of days would be overrun with hockey players but right now was his and his alone. John suddenly found himself swallowing thickly, like a lunatic, like he should maybe ask Sherlock in for coffee.
Sherlock didn’t even pause. He just said, “See you tomorrow night,” and walked off into the night, black outfit blending quickly.
The next night Sherlock was not working on his angry violins routine. He was working on something else that also had violins but was very, very pretty. And he was working on spins. Spins, spins, spins, spins. John, skating in his lazy circles, watched him and tried not to find it all very hot. He was clearly losing his mind. He had slept most of the day in order to make up for his two consecutive late nights and hadn’t even pretended that he wasn’t going to meet Sherlock that night. Of course he was. If he was honest, he’d been nervous with excitement all evening over meeting Sherlock again; the clock had crawled its way past midnight.
John was glad there was currently no one sharing the hockey house with him; he had no idea how he would have explained his starry-eyed schoolgirl crush on a random British figure skater he’d happened to run into.
Sherlock spun and spun and spun. Eventually John stopped the pretense of skating and just leaned against the boards and watched him. He was all in black again. Of course he was. Sometimes he remembered to put the music back on, but most of the time he forgot all about it, concentrating on the spins in silence, the only sound his breathing—very regular, very rhythmic, and John wondered if he timed his spins by it—and the silver slicing of his skates on the ice.
Finally Sherlock seemed to have enough of the spinning. He skated over to where he’d left a water bottle and then over to John with it in his hand, leaning up against the boards with it.
“What routine is that?” John asked.
“Free skate,” Sherlock said, and drank from the water bottle.
“What’s the music? It sounded familiar.”
Sherlock paused. “Swan Lake,” he said.
John thought. “It’s Tchaikovsky, isn’t it?”
Sherlock looked disgruntled, like he hadn’t expected John to know that. “Yes.”
“You did listen to your coach.” John tried not to grin at him; he didn’t think he succeeded.
“For this program, yes. But this is a good program. The choreography’s good. I couldn’t really sulk about that one. He wanted me to do a bloody Nutcracker thing for the short. Double Tchaikovsky. And the Nutcracker to boot. There was no sodding way.”
“At least it’s not Andrew Lloyd Webber,” said John, amused.
Sherlock looked at him, aghast, and John laughed.
They walked back together, and Sherlock said, “Who will you have to room with?”
“The rest of the hockey team. They’ll take over the whole house.”
“When will they get here?”
“In a couple of days. The day before the Opening Ceremony.”
Sherlock made a face. “It’s all about to get miserable here.”
John smiled. “The Olympic spirit in action.”
“You’ll see,” said Sherlock, sourly. “Wait until the snowboarders start roving about. You can tell where they are from the cloud of marijuana smoke coming at you.”
John laughed. “I bet their house must be fun. Do you room with the other skaters?”
“Yes. It’s tedious.”
In two days of acquaintance, John was already aware that Sherlock found most things tedious, so he didn’t bother to pursue that further. “So are you happy with your spins now?” he asked instead.
“I was working on my algorithms.”
“For the rhythm of the spins.”
“Figure skating is a lot of math, huh?”
“If you do it properly,” said Sherlock.
John wanted to ask so many questions. He wanted to know everything. How did Sherlock get into figure skating? What sort of person did amateur police-work as a hobby? What had happened in his previous two Olympics, and how nervous was he about these Olympics as a consequence? What was his favorite type of music? Why did he hate Tchaikovsky so much? What was his favorite color? What did he look like in the morning? How did he kiss? What did his hair feel like? What did he taste like? Did he drink coffee or tea? Was he left-handed or right? What was his favorite book? John’s mind was whirling with all the things he wanted to know about Sherlock Holmes, the list spinning out endlessly.
They had reached the hockey house now, and Sherlock actually paused this time. He wasn’t looking at John. He was looking everywhere but at John. John stared at him, his heart pounding wildly, and had no idea what to do. It was a terribly awkward moment and John felt paralyzed and then Sherlock cleared his throat and looked at him from underneath his hair and said, “Tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” said John, breathlessly, and cleared his throat and tried again. “Yeah.”
Sherlock smiled a little bit, and there was another pause, and John tried desperately to figure out if Sherlock had looked down at his mouth or if he’d just imagined that, and then Sherlock took a very deliberate step back and walked away without another word.
And John couldn’t figure out if his mistake had been giving away how much he’d been lusting after Sherlock or not reaching out and grabbing him and pulling him in.
“You’re not using again, are you?” Lestrade asked it bluntly, as they were walking back from the rink.
Sherlock had been thinking that it was already becoming unbearable to make the walk back from the rink, that there was too much press and too many people around. Lestrade’s question startled him into a “What?” Which was something he almost never said.
“If you are using, I will call your brother and I will have you put back in rehab, do you hear me?”
“Is that supposed to encourage me to tell you the truth?” asked Sherlock, wryly.
“It had better,” threatened Lestrade, darkly.
“I’m not using,” Sherlock said, calmly. “Stop being so dramatic.”
Lestrade frowned and fell silent.
Sherlock sighed. “You’ve got questions.”
“You’re so calm. I thought you were going to be a basket case.”
“Thank you, Lestrade, for that vote of confidence.”
“This isn’t like you. You’re usually right on the edge of a nervous breakdown at any given moment. So tell me what’s different this time.”
“It’s my last one, Lestrade,” Sherlock said, tightly. “I’m not going to ruin it the way I ruined the last two.”
“Suddenly, fifteen years into your skating career, you’re turning over a new leaf?”
“All you do is tell me to find a way to stay calm. Now I decide to stay calm and you decide to be annoyed about it. Really, Lestrade, you’re impossible to please,” said Sherlock, affecting boredom.
“So you’re really not going to tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“What it is that you’re doing differently this time.”
“There’s nothing to tell, Lestrade.”
Lestrade didn’t believe him. He made a skeptical sound and said, “Well, whatever it is, keep doing it, yeah? As long as it’s not drugs. Because I could get used to this version of you.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes and disappeared into the British skating house and then into his room, where he closed the door and sprawled on the bed and stared at the ceiling and thought of John Watson. Thought of how the Opening Ceremony was the day after tomorrow. Which meant the rest of John’s hockey team would be arriving tomorrow. Which meant that tonight would be the last night of practice together.
Three straight nights of having company for his late-night practice, and Sherlock had grown very used to it. Two nights ago, there had been that odd, tense moment outside of the hockey house, as if John might actually want to kiss him, and then Sherlock had panicked and thought he’d been reading that wrong, which was silly, because he usually read people effortlessly. But he had little experience with that sort of reading of people, people didn’t usually look at him like that after they’d had a conversation with him, and John had had several conversations with him and was still looking at him like that. It made no sense.
And Sherlock had already realized that he had grown strangely dependent on having John in the rink. John’s presence, silent and watchful, was steadying in a way Sherlock couldn’t explain. He needed to keep it around. Lestrade clearly agreed.
So, last night, Sherlock had been careful not to pause by the hockey house, had been careful to just breezily call back that he would see John again. He hadn’t wanted to disturb anything, hadn’t wanted to frighten John away from coming back tonight.
Tonight. Their last night. Which meant Sherlock was facing once again the yawning blackness of solitariness at the rink, coupled with more people arriving, with Moriarty arriving, as he hadn’t yet because he was arrogant. Because that was the way you felt when you were young and in the prime of your career and everyone told you the gold was yours, that you could sleep-skate your way to it. Sherlock knew that very well indeed.
Sherlock turned his thoughts away from Moriarty, which was not a good direction for them, turned them carefully back to John Watson. Closed his eyes and let himself drift into John Watson, the way he smiled at Sherlock, asked him curious questions and listened when he answered, skated with an absent grace that Sherlock knew he didn’t realize he possessed. John Watson didn’t think he was amazing and remarkable, Sherlock had seen that immediately, and John Watson was absolutely wrong about that. Sherlock had never met anyone half as amazing and remarkable, and Sherlock had met far too many people over the course of a lifetime, he knew how rare a person like John Watson was.
John Watson, thought Sherlock. One more late-night practice before the entire world crashed in on them. Which meant he had nothing to lose tonight.