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Some weeks after… well, after, when the bruises have healed and a criminal has been locked away and things have quietened down, Sherlock and Joan go to the cinema.

Or rather: Sherlock is bored out of his mind and Joan hasn’t been to the cinema in ages (not since that awkward date thing with Sam when her mind was solidly elsewhere); if she’s honest, has no-one else to go with, really – hasn’t really seen Sam much, since they broke up and her housemates aren’t an option. In any case, it’s Orange Wednesday, tickets are two-for-one and there’s that new Tintin film out that she’s been wanting to see.

So, she drags Sherlock to the nearest Odeon after lectures that afternoon, after he’s spent the entire day texting her with complaints about how bored he is, shoving a Cookie Dough-Flavoured tub of Ben and Jerry’s into his hands to keep him quiet.

‘Mycroft thrives on this,’ Sherlock sneers, inspecting the tub from all angles as though there’s a poisonous spider in it – actually, he’d probably be overjoyed at that, wouldn’t he? Joan considers this; decides Mycroft would be more likely to go for the posher brands. Green and Blacks, maybe.

‘Behave, Sherlock. Eat up before it melts.’

‘Maybe then I can pour it on that revolting couple in front,’ Sherlock hisses; Joan winces, has to agree with him on that one when she glances at the pair two rows down who seem stuck in a permanent lip-lock. Normally, Joan wouldn’t mind, but the loud slurping and smacking noises are enough to put her off her popcorn.

‘Not fans of this film, clearly,’ Sherlock mutters in her ear and she leans in a bit, not wanting to start a riot in the middle of the theatre, ‘forbidden from seeing each other by their parents. Snuck out for the evening; this isn’t a hard film to get into, considering it’s animation, so it was their best bet for a bit of alone time.’

‘Why can’t they go to the sodding back?’ Joan hisses, feeling supremely awkward; it’s not exactly crowded in here and they’re hard to miss. Sherlock smirks.

‘Ever so slightly voyeuristic, I think. Anyway, they’re clearly not expecting to be found in here and they’re so keen to get their quite-literally grubby mittens on each other they ran into the first empty row they came to. Simple.’

Joan clears her throat, slightly nauseous and Sherlock nicks a piece of her popcorn, which he had actually brought for her while Joan was in the loo (‘It’s the normal standard cinema snack, isn’t it?’ he had asked blithely on her return and Joan could only stare at the huge, expensive tub he was holding out to her, the largest size they had available, complete with a Diet Coke and genuinely didn’t know whether to laugh or cry) suddenly entirely at his leisure. A few deductions always do him good, it seems; take the edge off.

‘They won’t stay all night,’ he promises, ‘they’ll get bored, once the thrill wears off.’

As it turns out, he’s right. Joan, though, isn’t paying attention when the couple leaves an hour later; she’s too engrossed in the film. The Adventures of Tintin was always a bit of a staple in their house, something on the telly that kept her and Harry quiet for half an hour or so and the crime-solving never hurt – so, seeing this new film, The Secret of the Unicorn, is nice. Nicer, still, that she’s not watching it on her own, even if she had to frogmarch Sherlock through the door (‘Consider this a lesson in popular culture, okay?’). But, he’s not complaining that much and he did buy her the popcorn (enough to last her a week) so she chalks it up as a win.  

The film is actually really good; the animation is impressive and Joan finds herself reeled in very quickly by the fast pace and fast-moving plot, action at the heart of many scenes. Sherlock, unbelievably, stays quiet. Joan glances at him once or twice and is surprised to see his eyes, bluer than blue and always glinting, fixed on the screen, even as he spoons ice-cream into his mouth. Every now and then he reaches out, almost mechanically, for a piece of popcorn and she lets him take it, angles the straw of the coke in his direction so he can take a swig, glad he’s eating for once (his stomach had been gurgling when they met up earlier and the temptation to hit him for failing to feed himself again was overwhelming).

When they reach the scene where Haddock retells the story of the Unicorn, Sherlock immediately straightens up in his seat and watches the battle, the crew of the Unicorn verses the pirates who invade their ship. It’s full of gunfire and explosions and clever manoeuvres of the rigging and Joan follows it with her heart in her mouth; she can’t be sure, but she’s convinced Sherlock makes some sort of noise, a reaction, to the moment when Sir Francis, Captain Haddock’s ancestor, manages to disentangle the rigging of the two ships by coolly running up a pillar and cutting the rope with his cutlass. She glances his way for confirmation but he’s watching the screen, leaning forwards, his face rapt, attentive, eyes as wide as windows. His hands, long and decisive, are gripping the arm-rests.

The scene ends with an explosion, treasure spilling into the sea and they’re taken to newer, calmer landscapes, the promise of fresh adventure in the present. Joan relaxes into her seat – a glimpse at Sherlock shows his shoulders dropping, easing, leaning back. Joan hesitates – puts a hand on top of his and raises her eyebrows questioningly at him: are you okay?

He nods, once – perhaps embarrassed that she’s seen him like this? Joan really can’t tell – so she simply squeezes his hand once and then busies herself with her popcorn. The film carries on, leading into an impressive chase scene, Tintin and Captain Haddock racing off in a motorbike to reclaim the parchments that will lead them to the treasure.

‘Oh, please,’ Sherlock snorts in an undertone, when Tintin’s motorbike becomes an impromptu zipwire, the most impressive five minutes of the film broken down in his eyes as the most ridiculous. He doesn’t go anywhere though; puts his feet up on the empty chair in front and stays with it. Joan hides her smirk in her popcorn; it’s only fiction, after all.

Sherlock stays like that for the next ten minutes, right up until the moment when the villain of the film, believing he’s won, taunts Captain Haddock over his supposed victory, mocks him for his drinking. Sherlock’s feet promptly slide off the chair; he leans forwards in his seat, eyes narrowed, some silent outrage on his part that Joan can sense across the armrest, remembering Sherlock’s own addictions.

Remembering Jeff Hope under the lights of another theatre, a syringe and a gun in his hands and the weight of his words, his simple conviction that Sherlock could and would give in.

She bites her lip, puts a hand on his arm, just lightly; next thing she knows, Sherlock has snatched up her hand, is holding it firmly in his own on the arm-rest between them, his need for reassurance clear in the suddenness of the movement and matched by his refusal to look at her. Joan doesn’t mind; she rubs Sherlock’s hand soothingly with her thumb – it’s alright, we’re fine, everything’s okay – and he gives the slightest squeeze back as Tintin and Haddock come out on top, celebrating their discovery of the treasure’s co-ordinates, dancing, hugging and laughing on the deck of the Captain’s ship.

They stay like that for the last fifteen minutes of the film.

When it ends, abruptly, on Snowy’s eye and the credits roll and the lights come up, Sherlock blinks, his hand slowly unravelling from Joan’s as people start gathering up their coats around them.

‘They ended it like that?’ he exclaims; Joan shrugs, rubbing her eyes against the lights.

‘Got to wait for the next one, apparently.’

‘And… when will that be out?’ Sherlock asks.

‘Erm… couple of years, maybe?’ Joan shrugs; she’s not quite up to speed. ‘I dunno.’

Sherlock groans out loud. ‘Who the hell makes their fans wait two years for the next instalment?’ He follows it up by resting his head heavily against Joan’s shoulder, sulkily shuffling back down in his seat; slightly surprising as it comes out of nowhere. Joan is startled – then she slowly grins.

‘Did you actually enjoy that?’ she asks the top of his head.

‘There are worse ways to spend a Wednesday,’ Sherlock doesn’t move, eyes on the credits, before shifting his head, as though finding something fascinating about the empty chair next to theirs. Joan thinks for a second that he’s watching the other patrons leave the theatre, but then he mumbles something and Joan jogs him gently.

‘Sorry?’

‘I like pirates,’ Sherlock tells her, still looking the other way and Joan is left staring stupidly at those magnificent dark curls because wait, what?

Then she thinks about it again – thinks about him, all dark coat and dashing about, solving problems; the way he couldn’t look away from screen during the pirates’ battle – and bites back a grin and rests her cheek on his hair briefly, feeling him shift a little underneath her.

‘Couldn’t agree more.’ She plants a kiss on the top of his head and there’s no mistaking it: he definitely nuzzles into her this time and her heart melts like a Cadbury bar under a hot sun. ‘Thanks for coming with me, yeah?’

Sherlock grunts, his head falling back onto her shoulder, muttering something that sounds suspiciously like ‘Thankyou,’ in return and of course, Joan thinks, of course. This may be the first time in a long time that anyone’s taken him somewhere as basic as a trip to the cinema.

They sit in a shared silence for a few more moments and in the middle of a busy week full of assignments and lectures and essays and late nights, it’s nice, Joan reflects, to just sit and be with a becalmed Sherlock Holmes. A Sherlock Holmes who brought her popcorn, she thinks, glancing guiltily at the still half-full bucket.

‘Perhaps the good Captain will have conquered his drinking in the sequel,’ Sherlock comments eventually, lifting his head slowly, unfolding himself from her, voice heavy with thought.

‘Maybe.’ Joan shrugs, decides not to point out that part of the Captain’s idiotic charm is being a drunkard; Sherlock is clearly not all that familiar with the franchise. Maybe she can find a few of Harry’s old comics to lend him. ‘Guess you’ll have to come back with me to find out.’

Sherlock turns his head to stare at her – right before an usher, armed with black plastic bag and dustpan and brush, walks in and clocks them.

‘Come on, guys,’ he calls to them, sounding impatient, tired and frankly rather rude, ‘we need to get this place ready for the next showing, you can’t stay here.’

Sharing a look – Joan knows Sherlock enough by now to realise he’s already rolling deductions around in his head – the two of them stand, Joan on somewhat wobbly feet before Sherlock grasps her arm, helps her stay upright.

‘Should’ve put them up like mine,’ he comments lightly and then with a look at the usher, who’s gazing impatiently, pointedly, at his watch, strides down the steps while putting his coat on, leaving Joan to shuffle somewhat stiffly behind with her half-full popcorn bucket under her arm. On reaching the bottom, Sherlock looks back and then offers his hand, guiding her onto flatter ground; a little embarrassing, as Joan doesn’t much like feeling as though she needs help with something like that, as though she’s a delicate 1920s lady, but appreciated all the same. With a false, bright smile at the usher, who is possible is scowling at them even harder, Sherlock puts an arm to her back, his palm warm even through her jacket and guides her out of the theatre.

‘Looks like someone was turned down by the object of their affections,’ he whispers to Joan as they head through the doors, ‘that look he was giving you when I helped you down; common courtesy, but he’s angry he can’t do that for his own would-be intended and it doesn’t help seeing the size of that popcorn bucket, either.’

‘You brought it for me!’

‘Yes, and it’s big enough for two, one of the romantic clichés of our time; hence his irritation and irrational jealousy. Rather sickening romantic tendencies, considerably stalkerish, if you ask me. No wonder he got turned down.’ Sherlock puts his coat collar up, glancing around at the small groups of people, either waiting or departing, as they head towards the exit. ‘I imagine he’s got a lot of fuel for antagonism tonight; I suppose this…Yellow Wednesday thing is the ideal date night for...for couples looking to save a few pounds, hm?’

‘Orange Wednesday. Mm-hm,’ Joan echoes, humouring him, not missing the way he very noticeably tripped up on the word ‘couples’ as she falls into step beside him, still feeling an odd kind of thrill that someone was envious of her. Of them. ‘I guess so. Tuition bills aren’t cheap.’ She meets his eyes with a tilt of the mouth: I heard you. Sherlock holds her gaze, pinkness dusting her cheeks and she reaches out a hand, rubs her palm down his back comfortingly. I heard you. I understand.

She excuses herself to go to the toilet once more before they leave – the diet cola was massive, after all – and when she returns, Sherlock is waiting in the foyer, her popcorn bucket in hand, collar up, hair tumbling over his smoothly pale face. Just because, Joan offers him her arm as she takes the tub back; Sherlock, currently tugging his phone out of his pocket, blinks, his eyelashes like butterflies and then accepts it, tucks their arms together firmly and steadily like two curling pieces of ribbon. He’s checking his texts for messages as they leave the cinema and a sneer twists his lips as he reads the first one.

‘Mycroft,’ he explains to Joan; she bites back a smirk, a small part of her kind of enjoying the two Holmes’ brothers back and fourths, even if it annoys Sherlock. ‘He wishes us a very pleasant evening and congratulates me on my first excursion to the cinema in years without killing anyone.’

Joan snorts and hides it in his coat. ‘Sorry.’ She was right about that, then and she wonders: how old was Sherlock the last time he came somewhere like this? What did he watch; did he get to choose? Did Mycroft bring him? His parents – or a nanny? Or did he sneak out, come on his own?

‘Hm.’ Sherlock walks them on down the pavement while she’s still considering whether or not to ask him; there’s a homeless man up ahead, shivering in a blanket, leaning against the wall, sitting on cardboard. Without a beat, Sherlock reaches across and takes the half-full popcorn bucket out from under Joan’s free arm, stops in front of the man and bends down with it. Slightly startled, Joan watches the exchange; the man’s hands, dirty and clad in fingerless gloves, stretch out gratefully to grasp the bucket, along with a bottle of water that Sherlock must have brought while she was in the loo, a mumble of thanks slipping through the scarf covering his face.

‘I’ll try and get you something more substantial next time,’ Sherlock tells him in a low murmur, ‘but this should get you through tonight.’

‘Haven’t had popcorn in ages,’ the man gasps out, voice husky and rough, almost misused. ‘Ta, Mister Holmes.’

Sherlock smiles; a brief, quick thing and then stands. ‘You’re welcome. Goodnight, Billy.’ Turning, he gestures over his shoulder. ‘Come, Joan, you have demonstrations tomorrow.’

Joan’s eyes linger on the man, now tucking into the rest of her popcorn with a glee that speaks of a cavernously empty stomach and thinks how close she was to throwing it away. Rubbing the back of her neck, she jogs to catch up with Sherlock.

‘That was…’ she draws level with him, eyes on his face which is fixed directly ahead as he walks, ‘that was really nice of you.’

‘He’s hungry,’ Sherlock replies shortly and then he stops short, feet crunching on the gravel. ‘Wait. Did you want the rest of that popcorn?’ He turns, as if prepared to go back and retrieve it and Joan quickly stops him by grabbing his hand.

‘No, Sherlock, it’s fine. It’s fine, really, I couldn’t have finished it. Just.’ She closes both her hands over his, between his palms. ‘That was,’ she glances backwards at the distant figure hunched against the wall. ‘Good. I mean, I know there’s more to it than that,’ she adds, remembering Sherlock’s use of the homeless network in the weeks before, when a young woman’s life was at stake. ‘But…’ She parses it, what she’s trying to say, wonders if she’s making a mountain out of a molehill, here; a bigger deal of it than she should be. ‘It’s just.’ She shrugs at him, falling silent in the face of his rapid stare and then busies herself with looking ahead. ‘Shall we go?’

‘Yes,’ Sherlock replies, as if taking pity on her, and they wander on down the pavement, just like they always do. The only difference is that this time, Joan’s hand doesn’t leave Sherlock’s.

When they arrive at Joan’s some time later, Sherlock lingers outside while Joan unlocks the front door. She hesitates, wonders – wouldn’t say no to him sticking around, but –

‘I won’t come in,’ Sherlock fills in for her, generously. ‘You have to be up early.’

Oh. Well. Tough, but there you go. Joan squeezes his hand once and lets it go, gesturing him closer. Stepping onto the doorstep to give herself better height, she places a palm carefully against Sherlock’s neck, bending down to give him a firm kiss. Sherlock responds instantly, lifting both hands to carefully frame her face and it makes Joan smile against his mouth, drawing breath to kiss him again.

It’s long and lovely and Joan’s aware she probably tastes a little like popcorn, but Sherlock doesn’t seem to mind, keeping Joan close to him, his thumbs brushing her cheek like he’s coursing them gently through the very surface of a river. When they do finally part from the kiss, he looks hesitant, then leans forwards and steals another at the last second, apparently emboldened by a split-second of decision, colour high on his cheekbones.

‘See you tomorrow?’ Joan manages, breathing out, very aware of her own heart hammering. Bloody hell.

‘Yes,’ Sherlock manages. ‘After your five o’clock lecture. On-campus. I’ll meet you.’ He sounds as if he’s quickly scrambling his words together after a computer malfunction, trying to pass himself off as working perfectly efficiently.

Tomorrow, yes. Logically, Joan knows that works. She’ll see him tomorrow. That makes sense; that’s a plan, one they can work with and it’s what they’ve always done. It does nothing, however, to stop the small, ever-subtle tick-tock in her head; the counting down of the hours until she can see him again.

It doesn’t even feel unfamiliar; it’s only more recently she’s allowed herself to acknowledge it.

‘Okay,’ she agrees, wonders if Sherlock notices the breathless flounder in those two syllables. There’s a split-second of silence and then Sherlock is walking forward, Joan is meeting him halfway and holding that lovely face with beautiful eyes that just half-an-hour ago looked on a man who had nothing and treated him like an equal.

‘Get those assignments finished, Doctor,’ Sherlock purrs against her mouth and Joan’s knees absolutely do not buckle as he determinedly steps away, putting his collar back up. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’

‘Not a doctor yet,’ she calls after him, in some strangled resolve to have the last word as he strolls away down the street; he glances over his shoulder, a pleased, half-tilt of a smile. ‘Text me when you’re back in Oxford.’

He sends her a wink and Joan watches until he’s whipped away around the corner. Shutting the door, she wanders through the flat, into her room, with a massive grin over her face that she realises she was probably wearing from the second Sherlock walked away and rolls her eyes at herself. Picking up her phone to set the alarm, she jumps a little as it buzzes; a text from Sherlock.

Was that what you might call a date night? S.

His use of that word, the d-word, causes a swoop in Joan’s stomach as though she missed a step going downwards and doesn’t even mind where she’ll end up. Trust Sherlock to be the one to ask and through a text-message, no less. In the last few weeks when they haven’t necessarily labelled anything, when they’ve just been being…it does something to Joan and she taps the phone, parses how best to answer that. After all, do their endless nights of wandering around the campus, wandering around London, grabbing dinner, making deductions, count as dates?

Possibly, she types slowly, a sudden worry gnawing at her insides. Not good? J.

Hesitating, she sends it off. This might, after all, possibly be something Sherlock could be repelled by just for the sheer boring normality of it. Too…everyday; something he may not have the time or the inclination for, in the long run. In any case, she needn’t worry, because Sherlock’s next text puts her mind at rest.

Very good. I liked it. S.

Bloody hell, there you go, Joan thinks faintly. It’s official: Sherlock Holmes is a strange, bizarre, yet utterly charming cock. She types back So did I, considering the weight of it and the real possibility that she’s flirting here, that they both are; makes herself put the phone down and get on with some work, very aware she’s in very real danger from that ever-growing shift of her heart and frankly not all that bothered about stopping it.

Seized by a sudden inspiration, she opens up a new textbox, starts typing.

Well, if you like pirates that much, there’s a new film about pirates coming out in the spring – its by the same people who made wallace and gromit? Never mind you probably don’t know what that is. Want to go? J.

There’s a lengthy pause between her pressing send and the time it takes Sherlock to respond; by which time Joan has settled down with her textbooks, having decided that he’s either a) got no reception on the train or b) possibly panicking. When he does respond, she finds herself feeling slightly anxious as she checks the phone.

Yes, I would. Thankyou. S. It’s weirdly, tellingly polite in the way only Sherlock can be, but it makes Joan smile; she can sense a definite enthusiasm there, a willingness to see more pirates.

Ok then. J.

Okay, then. She puts her phone down, still smiling turns to her textbooks and laptop, focuses on the workload for the rest of the evening. When she finally drags herself into bed just after midnight, it’s to a text from Sherlock telling her he’s back safe and sound.  

Sleep well, Doctor, Sherlock types and Joan shakes her head at the screen, pointedly types back NOT A DOCTOR YET in very deliberate capitals; puts the phone carefully aside with a small smile and settles down against the pillow. Closing her eyes, she is asleep within seconds: a sleep that is deep, and dreamless, and brilliant.

*