It was two months after the burial of Mary Morstan Watson, and John Watson was seated in his leather chair at Baker Street, deep in thought on an April evening. A book was face down on his lap. A tumbler of whiskey at hand. He didn’t know he was deep in thought, but he was.
John’s mind had been slowly rotating in silence since the coffin containing the wax replica (very convincing) of his wife had been lowered into the ground, and the Cessna containing the real woman (heavily disguised) had left for parts unknown.
“It’s better that you do not know,” Mycroft had told John out on the tarmac, with that exquisite, uniquely Mycroftian blend of pity, irritation, and smugness that made one think of an expensive wine that was not very tasty, but certainly unique.
It was a cold, grey day, rather like the day that Sherlock had almost flown away.
Mary had thrown her arms around John one last time, buried her face in his neck, and whispered “Ecuador,” before boarding the plane. John and Sherlock stood side-by-side, in a perfect turnabout from that day when Sherlock had boarded a flight to what would almost certainly have been his death, (“Six months, Mycroft told me. And Mycroft is never wrong, John.”)
But on this day, it was Sherlock at John’s side, and Mary going away. And this time, the plane did not turn around.
Death was much easier, John reflected, staring into the fire on this cool April evening two months later, when you are in on it.
Still, John felt that his life had become ridiculously circular. He’d thought—once—that Irene Adler was dead, and that Sherlock was grieving. She wasn’t, and Sherlock had probably known. Then John found out that she was alive. Then Mycroft told him she was dead. Later, Sherlock revealed that she was alive yet again. Then Sherlock had tipped off the roof at Bart’s, leaving John in Hell for two years. But he was, of course, alive. Then Moriarty, whom he’d thought was alive, turned out to be dead. Then he’d seemed to be alive again. But, no, he was apparently dead.
Now Mary was “dead,” but at least this time John had been included in the machinations. Indeed, they’d met, the four of them, Sherlock, Mary, John, Mycroft… to decide how to ensure the safety of Mary and the unborn baby, given that Sebastian Moran was intent upon punishing the sniper who had failed to fulfill her contract. Sherlock was alive. John should be dead. Mary had not fulfilled that contract at all.
When Mycroft informed them, weeks later, that Moran had been neutralized, he had queried whether John would like to join his wife. John surprised both Holmes brothers by declining. Let sleeping dogs lie, he’d said, and Mycroft and Sherlock had looked at each other in a rare moment of fraternal confusion, whether at John’s unexpected denial, or at the colloquialism, it was hard to tell. But John enjoyed watching those two long necks turn for a moment, and those two distinctive noses pointing at one another.
And now it was April, and John was by the fire, in his chair. Sherlock was by the window with his violin in hand, and John was thinking of his circular life, and how to stop this feeling of slowly spinning.
“Is it over? I mean… is it finally over? Really over?” John asked suddenly.
Sherlock, turned, poised with his violin. He hadn’t started playing yet, was picking at the strings, turning the little knobs (John had no idea what the parts of the violin were called.) He paused and looked at John, grey eyes intent.
“I believe so,” Sherlock said, his voice deep and soft.
John was still staring into the fire, but he finally drew a deep breath and looked up at the slender man by the window.
“Because everything that has happened in my life in the last four years has been… one way or another… because of Moriarty. And … I just want to know… you know… Is it over?” John asked quietly.
Sherlock’s head drew back slightly, as if he were offended, but determined not to show it.
“I thought everything that happened was because of me,” he remarked, drawing the bow across the violin, and bringing forth a faint wail. He focused on the violin, aware of John’s eyes on him.
John stretched his legs a bit and fingered the tumbler of whiskey on the table by his chair. “I suppose it is,” he agreed. “It all started with Carl Powers, didn’t it?”
Sherlock lowered the violin to adjust a string further. It was dark outside, and John could see Sherlock’s reflection in the glass. That the detective was standing so casually at the window, backlit by the lamps and firelight of their cozy, slightly messy Baker Street sitting room, assured John that Sherlock had no fear of residual snipers.
“So it’s over.” John repeated. “No more … no more leaving me out of important decisions.”
Sherlock glanced at John and lifted the violin again. “I assure you, John.”
“Because you don’t have a good track record, Sherlock,” John said, taking a sip of the whiskey.
“You kept everything from me regarding Irene Adler, you faked your own death, you left me alone, you came back in time to stop me from marrying the sniper who was tasked with killing me… but you didn’t stop me. Or tell me. Or let me in on your little plot with Mycroft to resurrect Moriarty long enough to arrange for your pardon, and you didn’t tell me about Moran, and you… frankly, you’ve deceived me so many times I’ve lost track.”
John said these things matter-of-factly, without much rancor, but firmly enough that a whiff of Captain Watson was in the air.
Sherlock hesitated, and then his eyes met John’s in the reflection on the window. “I promise, John.”
John regarded him with shadowed eyes and said nothing. Sherlock turned again to look at the man in the chair. “Do you believe me?” he asked.
John’s demeanor did not soften. “If you were John Watson, would you trust Sherlock Holmes again?”
Sherlock seemed to stop breathing for a moment, and then he resumed with a deliberate sigh. “I do promise, John,” he said softly, and then lowered his eyes and began to play the golden instrument in his long hands, carefully stroking out a melancholy tune that, John thought, suited the mood.
The evening continued. Sherlock turned back to the window. John turned back to the fire, but his mind was still circling.
Why is my life like this? Is it because of Sherlock, or because of me? Am I drawn to dangerous people? Sarah wasn’t dangerous. In fact, she was endangered because of me and Sherlock… but Mary, well. Can’t deny it about Mary…
It was blooming like a flower in John’s consciousness that any woman he got involved with was going to be either a Sarah or a Mary. This was not a pattern he wanted to repeat. He certainly didn’t want any more Sarahs being put at risk. And as for Mary, well. Here’s the thing. She shot Sherlock.
John glanced back up at the man playing gracefully by the window. Mary and Sherlock, two of a kind, apparently… and yet, one gave him up to save him, and the other would have killed to keep him. No, John thought, he did not want another Mary.
If he wanted love at all… there was only one place to obtain it. It wasn’t a safe place, because the two of them were inherently unsafe. The sociopath and the soldier, John thought, and then amended it. There were no sociopaths here. There were just two addicts who need a little danger, a little excitement, and probably could use a little affection at the end of the day. Why include any more third parties?
John took another sip of whiskey and resumed brooding, watching Sherlock play, letting the music flow around them both. He reclined back in his chair and let himself imagine that he and Sherlock were a couple, just being together alone in their flat at night. Just think like that for a bit, he told himself. Not so bad. His stomach was doing a bit of a slow revolution, but he let it revolve and imagined that they were… yes, okay, that was…
Suddenly John was aware that the inside of his chest felt like a sky that was lightening with a coming dawn. Felt a little… floaty. He finished his whisky and waited till Sherlock came to the end of his melody. After an appreciative silence, John stood, feeling that he really needed time alone to contemplate... things.
“Guess I’ll turn in,” he said casually, and made his way toward the stairs leading up to his room.
“John,” Sherlock said, and John looked back at him, a study in bony, black and gold elegance in the firelight. “I do promise, John.”
John gave him a long look.
“I’ve deceived you in the past, but I’ve never broken a promise,” Sherlock said. His voice was calm but his eyes were... almost pleading.
John nodded. “That’s true,” he acknowledged, and suddenly the half-formed notion within him became a very solid possibility. Solid enough to nudge John into a sort of abrupt, battlefield-planning mode. Which he needed to be alone for. He bade Sherlock goodnight and went up the stairs to his room.
The next day was Friday, and John didn't have a shift at the clinic. Sherlock had gone uncharacteristically early to Bart’s to see about some samples of blood tainted with Ebola, of all things, and John was in the kitchen, still in pajamas, waiting for the kettle. Still brooding intently.
“I don’t want to blunder into anything else,” John suddenly spoke aloud. No one there, you can think out loud, he told himself. Hopefully Mycroft hadn’t replaced those microphones yet. But here, think about it, he mused. He’d met Sherlock five years ago, and been swept away immediately. Sherlock had said to meet him at 221B and John had come. Sherlock sent him hither and yon, and John had complied. John had followed Sherlock everywhere he led, and when Sherlock had jumped… John had come to a screeching halt. No one to follow, no one to adore.
Then Mary had come and simply, carefully, took John in hand. Well, her job HAD been to keep an eye on him. She’d kept an eye on him alright. She’d kept her mouth on him a bit too, John smiled to himself. Then his smile faded. He fixed his tea automatically, and stared at his life as it played across the worktop before his eyes.
“Why is this always somehow my fault?” He’d roared when it all came apart, and Mary had nearly killed Sherlock, and even Mrs. Hudson seemed darker than usual.
Was it his fault because he’d been so easily led? First Sherlock, then Mary?
Could he stop this trend?
John sat down with his tea at the kitchen table. He dismissed the notion that he had chosen Mary because he’d somehow secretly wanted to be married to a killer. Really, she had chosen him. Got a job where he worked, teased him and cosseted him and… just paid him attention when he was despairing over the loss of Sherlock.
But of the two of them, Mary and Sherlock, it was clear who was the.. uhm… better man. He who saves.
And now you’re back with him, John told himself. He asked you to move back in and you did.
But did Sherlock want more? That was the thing, and John had no indications that Sherlock wanted them to be more. Friends, colleagues, partners, flatmates… it seemed to be enough for the detective. Sometimes. Other times it wasn’t so clear.
However it may be, John decided at that moment, with his tea in the kitchen, it wasn’t enough for him. He, John Watson, needed more.
“If I do this,” John spoke aloud again, “It’s me doing it. I’m not following, I’m not being drawn in, I’m doing this. I want this, this is my choice, I’m doing it.”
John Watson straightened in his chair. Alright. That was it then. He was going to make Sherlock Holmes his lover, or at least give it a sporting chance.
That feeling of floating rose up in him again. Mostly in his chest and throat. His heartrate sped up. He drank his tea and began to plot. How does a (mostly) straight man seduce a (possibly) asexual man who was, by the way, a genius and could spot any maneuvering a mile away?
John smiled into his tea, a bit of a thrill creeping up over him. Well, he thought, what would Sherlock do?
When Sherlock returned from the lab, John was showered and dressed, and staring at the screen of his laptop. He’d spent nearly an hour contemplating how to even go about getting his thoughts in order. Because this was one dance where John Watson was going to lead. And that required a plan. And planning, for John, meant a stated objective with at least a preliminary goal or step put into words. He didn’t have a Mind Palace, or an Appledore. John needed things written out where he could look at them.
But if Sherlock suspected John was up to something (and let’s face it, he’s going to suspect within the next couple of hours) he would be nosing around John’s laptop in no time. No word document titled What Would Sherlock Do needed to be sitting in the documents folder for the detective to peruse. No email was safe. No new website where John could anonymously post his thoughts would be safe because Sherlock was terribly good at browser history. He couldn’t exactly go on Reddit /r/relationships and post How do I [M41] seduce my genius flatmate [M37] or at least figure out if he wants to seduce me?
John had paused, imagining Sherlock seeing that, creating a user name, and giving him advice on how to seduce him. It might actually work out, except that then, once again, Sherlock would be leading and John would be following. Got to break that pattern before we both go off a roof, he thought.
Finally it had occurred to John that while Sherlock always read John’s blog, he rarely seemed to notice the comments section. John’s exchanges with fans bored him. Accordingly, John went to the comments section of one of the older blog entries, and set about editing one of his replies to someone asking a question about whether her co-worker was stealing from her.
John wrote: First, let’s see how he reacts if you seem to assume that he, and everyone around you, knows what you want from him. Then, let him discover that you fully intend to get it.
There. That was Step One of his Plan A. The woman he replied to would likely not see that his comment from months ago had been edited, but even if she did, it was only mildly odd.
Thus, when Sherlock returned, John was contemplating the sentences he’d written. This meant that Step One was to immediately cease and desist from any “I’m not gay” protestations in public. If someone assumed they were lovers, John would act like that assumption was either true, or about to be true. After all, Sherlock never denied it. How would he react if John ceased to deny it?
With a touch of amusement, John noted that one might expect things to go in the opposite direction: that they would succumb to the closeness of their relationship in secret, and keep it hidden as long as possible. He rather liked the idea of doing it backwards. Sherlock wouldn’t expect that. He hoped.
John closed the laptop and realized that Sherlock had come to a halt on his swoop through the sitting room and was staring down at him with that eye-narrowing intensity that indicated his antennae were already up. He can probably tell by my cuffs or my shoelaces, John thought, but decided that this could possibly work in his favor. Remember, John told himself, sentiment is not his area. Even if he understands, it won’t mean he’ll know what to do.
Bravely, John lifted his head, stared Sherlock in the eye, and said (in his mind) You’re going to be my lover.
Sherlock’s eyes widened a touch, as if he’d heard it. His long throat tightened in a swallow, but he said only, “Lestrade would like us to come down and fill in the paperwork on that-“ he flapped a long hand and shifted his weight uneasily on his legs.
John said, “With the bird and the--?”
“Necklace,” Sherlock muttered, “right.”
“Let’s go, then,” John said, and putting the laptop aside, he rose and passed Sherlock to pluck his coat off the hook by the door. Good, he thought. Good opportunity to begin Step One of Plan A of Operation Seduce My Best Friend. SMBF. That was not catchy. He needed a better acronym.
They descended the stairs in silence, and out on the curb, Sherlock hailed a cab. One pulled up and they slid in, and the ride commenced. John was gazing out the window, mulling acronyms for Plan A.
Operation Shag Sherlock. Hm. No. Operation Bugger BFF. BBFF. That wasn’t bad. Operation Up Yours, Sherlock. John’s lips twitched as he tried not to grin. No, no, this was going to be more than just that. Might even be less than that, he wasn’t sure sex had to entail going all the way up Bum Alley. Maybe they’d both be content to keep things more… around front. Hard to say. Operation Hard to Say. Hard. Heh heh. Operation Hard to Stay. Now that actually made sense, and was amusing. Because the point was that they would stay together. Alright then. Step One of Plan A: Operation Hard to Stay. Oh, that rhymed.
Hard to Stay…
John let that march through his head a few times and then began musing on a little tune to set it to. Suddenly he became aware that Sherlock was staring at him most uneasily.
“John, is there something you want to say to me?” Sherlock asked, with the air of a man biting the bullet. His head was held very high.
“No,” John said, feeling the amusement in him like a bubble rising. Nervous, aren’t you, he thought. On an impulse, he reached over, put his hand on Sherlock’s hand, and gave it a warm, gentle squeeze. “No, not at all.” He said again, and then let go of Sherlock’s hand and turned back toward window. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sherlock’s other hand gingerly touching the place where John’s fingers had just been.
Yep. I’m going to get you, John sang to himself. Step One, Plan A, Op-er-a-tion Hard to Stay.
John followed Sherlock mildly into Lestrade’s office. Lestrade looked up from his monitor, grey hair on end as if he’d had his hands in it. Sally Donovan was just turning away from his desk, and her lips gave a bit of a quirk at the sight of them. Sherlock’s return from the dead and subsequent events had taken the edge off of her dislike (bit of guilt there, Sally?) but she still wasn’t likely to throw him a birthday party.
Lestrade, however, was clearly relieved. “There you are! Listen, I have at least two more you might be interested in. How about if John fills out the paperwork on this one and you take a look at this?” Lestrade jumped up from his desk and came round to hand a file to Sherlock. He glanced over at John. “You don’t mind, do you?”
Before Sherlock could speak, Sally spoke up mockingly. “Oh, John would do anything for Sherlock, wouldn’t you, John?”
John felt that automatic resistance and then, consciously, tamped it down. Plan A, folks.
He smiled slightly. “Yes, I would.” He said calmly, and stepped around to Lestrade’s desk and sat down, turning his attention to the screen. There was a meaningful silence, and John tried to look unconscious of it as he brought up the file and began filling in the required fields of the waiting online forms.
Sally’s eyebrows traveled toward her hairline. Lestrade’s eyes darted to John, and then around him as if he were reading invisible text. Then he cleared his throat and then turned to lead Sherlock over to the conference table where papers and photos spread themselves out like a buffet.
Sherlock stood for a long moment, his chin high over the collar of his coat, eyeing John. John ignored him and continued tapping in their statement. Slowly, Sherlock turned toward the table, and the cases Lestrade had waiting.
All right, thought John. That was good. Good old Sally, she walked us right into it. After the awkward pause had seemed to dissolve, Sally left the room, but not without one last speculative look in John’s direction. It occurred to him only then that all of New Scotland Yard actually did NOT think they were shagging. Might have, once, long ago, before Mary… but now it was just a running joke, a way to poke at John. His response clearly set Sally back on her heels a bit. And suddenly, this was a delicious feeling! All this time poor old John has been one step behind, following and reacting, following and reacting. Struggling to keep up.
Having an agenda of his own was rather liberating! John finished the required statements and looked up to see Lestrade and Sherlock hovering over the photos on the table. Sherlock asking sharp questions, Lestrade giving indecisive pro-and-con sorts of answers.
John sat back in the chair and eyed Sherlock. Time for Step Two. He had turned the tables on the old “tease John about being gay,” game that everyone around them seemed to relish. The next thing to do would be to see if Sherlock would be… what… suddenly more aware of John.
Well, he was certainly aware. The hairs on his neck went up an hour ago and hadn’t gone down yet. But… was he sexually aware of John, or just mildly paranoid that John was up to some revenge scheme to pay him back for years of deceptions?
Was he sexually aware?
What would Sherlock do if he wanted to check someone’s response to him? What would he look for? John thought back to Irene Adler. Pulse.
Right, pulse. But he couldn’t just reach out and take it, Sherlock would know exactly what he was up to. John needed to be able to see the pulse in Sherlock’s neck. Up close and bare. And he needed to do it in such a manner that Sherlock couldn’t see John staring. Ergo, John should be behind a seated Sherlock, leaning slightly over the taller man so that he could move in close, and hover over him the way Sherlock hovered over John when he was blogging at the kitchen table.
And he had to make sure Sherlock couldn’t see him… think now, John told himself. What are ways that Sherlock sees people without them being aware? Reflections, usually. Reflections in mirrors, windows, and metallic objects… John looked around the large office. If Sherlock were sitting facing the windows, he might see John’s reflection. No, he certainly would. So John needed him sitting over… there. With no coat and scarf.
Right then. John took a deep breath and launched himself off the chair. He ambled over to the other two men. “Going to be a while, are we?” He asked Lestrade, knowing Sherlock would be too deep in thought to answer.
Lestrade nodded absently. “Probably. Well, it’s a kidnapping, so—“
John nodded reasonably and unzipped his coat decisively. “Might as well get comfortable,” he remarked, and took his coat off, tossing it over the chairs where he did NOT want Sherlock to sit. Then he turned to Sherlock, held out his hand and said “Sherlock. Scarf.”
Sherlock’s attention drifted up from the photos of the victim’s car as it stood, door ajar, in the lavish circular driveway of a country estate. He blinked several times to see John standing, his face set in determined lines, his blunt hand reaching for the soft blue scarf around Sherlock’s throat.
“Scarf,” John repeated firmly, and locked eyes with Sherlock. Mustn’t look at the throat. Mustn’t look at the throat.
Sherlock’s pale eyes flicked confusedly from John’s hand to his face and back, and then with uncharacteristic obedience, he unwound the scarf and handed it to John. John turned away, placed the scarf on a chair, and came back for the Belstaff.
With nary a word of explanation, he simply removed it from the detective’s narrow but ropey shoulders (so neat beneath the dark tailored shirt) and swept it from him, laying it across yet another chair.
Now the only chairs available did not face the windows. (Do not look at the windows, John reminded himself. Sherlock would know.)
Lestrade was still pushing papers about on the table, unaware of anything odd in the atmosphere. “Now here you can see why the camera in the bushes by the garage couldn’t get a clear shot,” he was saying.
Sherlock was treating John to another narrow-eyed stare. Clearly he knew something was up, but wasn’t sure what it was.
John felt a thrill that went from his throat to his stomach to well-you-know-where. Yes, this was fun. Operation Hard to Stay. He turned to the discarded coat, removed Sherlock’s phone from the pocket of the overcoat and brought it to the detective, sliding it into the breast pocket of his shirt with familiar ease.
“I’m just going to nip down to the canteen and get us all a bit of something. Coffee or tea?” John asked Lestrade, who glanced up, a shock of grey hair falling over his brow. “Oh, great. Coffee… great,” and went back to the photos.
John held up his phone. “Text me if anything dramatic happens in the next 10 minutes,” he told Sherlock, who was still staring at him like a dog who’d picked up a scent it didn’t recognize.
Then John left the room, humming his little tune to himself, and headed for the elevator. He passed Sally on the way, who whispered to him, “He’s still a freak.”
“You have no idea,” John replied with a slight twitch of his eyebrows. Her eyes widened. Yes. This was enjoyable. He felt positively buoyant as the elevator doors closed before him, blocking out Sally’s astonished gaze.
Down in the cafeteria, John mixed the creamer and sugar into the three different cups as per the recipients taste, and mulled over his next step. Get Sherlock sitting. Lean over chair. Watch pulse. Apply casual touch. Watch pulse again. If head moves, Sherlock is seeking reflective surface to check and see if John is watching pulse. Got it.
When John returned to the office, he was gratified to see that Lestrade and Sherlock were now sitting in the chairs that John had designated for them. He entered the space, carefully sat down the paper cups with their coffee near them on the table, well away from photos and print outs, and then positioned himself behind Sherlock about two paces back.
First, check out the parameters. John knew he couldn’t do this as effortlessly as Sherlock could. Man must have an IQ over 160. For John, it was more a deliberate, plodding sort of thing, but not unlike a military maneuver. First, reconnaissance. Are there any reflective surfaces previously overlooked that Sherlock could study John in? He looked around. No, only the windows to their left, which looked out over the cubicles. But the far wall beyond the glass was dark, so they made a handy mirror. John stood well back, looking at the reflection of Sherlock’s pert, oddly angelic profile. From the side, he looked so innocent. That tipped nose. Long, slightly receding chin. Such a harmless profile. Those murderous cheekbones didn’t show so much in profile.
Suddenly, John caught Sherlock sneaking a peek toward the windows. Ah, on the alert already! John casually focused his gaze several feet to the right, as if checking the clock on the wall out over the cubicles. Then he made a show of looking down at his wristwatch, as if comparing the time.
One definite advantage he had was that Sherlock was almost guaranteed to underestimate him.
John committed himself to waiting for one more minute before he would step up and—
Sherlock reached casually into his breast pocket as if checking the time on his phone. Then he laid the phone on the table between himself and Lestrade, and John watched as the elegant fingers gave a few quick, subtle taps. Then he laid his long hand half over it, curled carelessly, so that the screen was partially obscured.
Camera! Sherlock was setting up his camera to watch John through the phone. John almost snorted laughter into his coffee. If he hadn’t been plotting, he’d never have noticed it. Alright, then! Slight alteration of plans… John would have to hover while blocking the phone. His heart started pounding… no wonder Sherlock enjoyed these little maneuvers. John stepped up behind Lestrade and picked up a photo.
“Hm. This is the chauffeur, then?” He asked, moving to stand directly behind Sherlock. Holding the photo so that it was just over the phone, John stared down at the long, white neck merely inches from his own hips. Yes, there was the pulse. He leaned in closer. Yes, it was speeding up. John let his free hand rest lightly on Sherlock’s other shoulder. Pulse sped up more… and now the skin on that neck was flushing, just slightly pink. Oh yes. Yes, there it was. John was ebullient!
And the coup de grace came when Sherlock turned his head slightly, obviously returning to the reflection in the window, as the photo in John’s hand blocked the camera phone. John deliberately turned his head also, and locked eyes with Sherlock in the glass. The detective’s entire body lifted slightly with the deep breath he took.
John stepped coolly away and returned the photo to the table. “Looks like every chauffeur I’ve ever seen,” he admitted.
Sherlock’s eyes went into that thousand yard stare for a moment before his head snapped up. “Twins. Lestrade, does the chauffeur have a brother?!”
Of course he did.
John retreated to a chair on the other side of the table and sipped his coffee in contented silence as Sherlock and Lestrade dove into the computer files and made hurried phone calls.
John let them work while he sat and thought of other scenarios in which he could display to Sherlock that he no longer objected to people believing they were a couple. Where else had this cropped up? Work… and whenever they were alone in public together. Eating, that was a big one. Dinner.
Four hours later, they were in an alley. Nothing dangerous, necessarily. Kidnapping case solved, now onto the matter of the blackmailer and the celebrity. Just another stakeout in an alley. And John was paying attention, he was, but another part of his mind was working on Step Three of Plan A, Operation Hard to Stay. He was working through it methodically, as was his way.
First, he recognized the nature of this endeavor. It was a battle plan, and in battle, one cannot make all the moves. There were bound to be counter-moves.
What might Sherlock’s counter-move be? John considered. What would Sherlock do? What would Mycroft do? Hell, what would Moriarty and Irene Adler and Mary and practically everyone except John do?
John shifted in his hiding spot near Sherlock, behind the bin, in the alley, in the late afternoon, and commenced sorting through the facts and possibilities.
Fact: Sherlock was aware that John had ceased resisting the public assumption that they were lovers.
Fact: Sherlock was very aware of John, and it was probably sexual. If he were merely afraid of John, he wouldn’t have drunk the coffee.
Fact: Sherlock knew John was up to something.
Opinion: Sherlock might well have suspected that John was eyeing his pulse.
Opinion: Sherlock might well have suspected that John used the photo to block the camera phone deliberately.
Fact: Sherlock must realize that John knew Sherlock was looking into the glass to observe him.
Operating Theory: Sherlock must suspect that John was starting upon a path intending to lead them into relations of an intimate nature.
If Sherlock had an operating theory, what would Sherlock do?
John almost chuckled to himself. That was easy: Sherlock would run an experiment.
John mulled this over and nodded slightly to himself. A few meters away, Sherlock glanced over at him and seemed to be chewing on his lower lip. Yes, that was the experiment-pending look.
This experiment would likely be testing the possibility that John was no longer shrinking from intimacy. How would Sherlock try to test this without revealing that he was testing it?
Knowing Sherlock? Engineer a situation in which they would be in close proximity, likely one in which they would have to be intimately entangled in a sexually suggestive position. And now look, here they were in an alley, on “stake-out.” It occurred to John suddenly that the whole thing was a set up. Soon, they’d hear footsteps and Sherlock would fling himself at John and grapple him into some compromising position in order to “deflect suspicion” from their supposed quarry. But really, he’d be checking John’s reaction to the—
“Here he comes!” Sherlock whispered, and launched himself at John like a huge bat, his black coat flying back like wings. “Quick—“ he breathed, and curled himself around John in a loverly fashion, burying his face in John’s neck.
John couldn’t stop the smile that overspread his face. My God, he’d called it! For a moment John was overcome with the heady realization that deducing was grand fun, and being right was the most fun of all!
Then he set himself out to ensure the outcome of Sherlock’s little experiment.
John slipped his hands around the taller man’s narrow waist and pulled him tight against his own belly, then held on firmly.
The footsteps approached and John decided to go Sherlock one better. He dropped one hand down to that rounded, firm arse that (admit it) he’d noticed many times over the years as it flounced away under silk robes or tailored trousers. It was certainly unnecessary for the benefit of the person passing by; John’s hands were under Sherlock’s coat, and more or less invisible. But let’s make this as realistic as possible! John thought, and cradled that plush cheek tightly and firmly, burying his face in Sherlock’s neck and gathering him in even more forcefully.
Sherlock froze and John was certain he felt a tremor run through his friend.
The footsteps faded. John withdrew his hands slowly, trailing them across the other man warmly before letting go. Then he pulled back a bit and looked Sherlock calmly in the eye.
“Are we following him?”
Sherlock swallowed, lips parted. His eyes looked stunned and a bit glassy. “Oh. No. I think I .. know enough from… the footsteps are… there’s no limp, it’s not him.” He stammered, and then righted his coat with a jerky tug at the open edges.
“Home then?” John enquired politely, and Sherlock gave a quick nod that made the curls over his forehead bounce just a bit.
John stepped forward, placed a gentle hand on the small of Sherlock’s back and guided him out of the alley so they could catch a cab. While they waited, John looked into the picture window of the shop across the street at their reflection as they stood side by side on the curb. Sherlock was casting several glances at John, and blinking often.
Of course, it was only a moment before Sherlock’s gaze followed John’s, and their eyes met again in the glass. Behind it, a closed-circuit camera gazed at them broodingly. John wiggled his fingers at it. “Hello Mycroft,” he breathed, and Sherlock gave a gasping laugh, and followed it with a mildly despairing “Oh—“
Then the cab pulled up, and John held the door for Sherlock in a courtly fashion. Sherlock slid in, looked up at John uncertainly, and John leaned over him.
“Budge,” he prompted, and Sherlock slid further in so John could enter after him, and close the door.
John settled in and ignored Sherlock, brooding about the next step. What did he want now? John wondered. It was undoubtedly his turn again. Sherlock would be processing the results of his experiment for a good 8 hours, if John knew anything about Sherlock and sex. He’d retreat into his Mind Palace, probably on the couch,and re-evaluate every time they had touched over the last four years. That would give John about 8 hours to … uhm…. Well, better not get ahead of yourself, John decided.
What he wanted next was… dinner. Something romantic. John re-lived that moment he’d had Sherlock’s prize-winning arse in his hand. Dinner with a candle on the table, that’s what. Before Sherlock had a chance to retreat into his own head, John was going to have dinner with a candle on the table. Yes. A meaningful symbol for Sherlock to add to the din in his brain that John sincerely hoped he was creating.
Where would they get a candle on the table? Angelo didn’t do that anymore, he apparently thought John’s marriage had put paid to that, so they’d need to go somewhere with a romantic setting, where the candles would already be… oh, French restaurant.
Alright. John pulled his phone out and began hunting French restaurants within a 4 kilometer radius of Baker Street.
At his side, Sherlock stared at the seat between them, clearly monitoring John out of the corner of his eye. For them to be in a cab, and John the one tapping away at his phone without a word of explanation, was unheard of. After a moment, John located what he was after. A nice little French restaurant they’d never tried before about 15 minutes away by cab. Suddenly, it occurred to John to ask himself again: What Would Sherlock Do?
He might check to see if his quarry was onto him.
“Sherlock,” John began, and Sherlock lifted his head with a wide-eyed, innocent, nonchalant “Hm?” as if he’d been lost in thought and had completely forgotten John was at his side. Ha, thought John. He held the phone so the screen was hidden.
“Can you deduce what I’m searching on this phone?” John asked.
Sherlock’s head snapped around and he stared at John as if his puppy had grown antlers. Then he took a breath and began deducing, although it did seem to John as though his tone was not quite as confident as it usually was.
“We’ve finished one case and a stake-out, and all you’ve had to eat was a sandwich from the canteen. You’re undoubtedly hungry and searching a restaurant. But we have plenty of restaurants we go to on a regular basis—“ Sherlock’s gaze grew distant and inward, and his confidence returned as his brain went into automatic. “—therefore you must be looking for either a specific restaurant or something we have never tried before. If it were a specific restaurant you would ask me first if I knew of it so you must be looking for something new. But your search was direct and to the point, so you had something in mind, a type of restaurant, a sort… something that was inspired by a recent occurrence, otherwise you’d have looked it up while we were still at Lestrade’s office, therefore something inspired by—“
Sherlock seemed to lose his courage. John smiled at him. “That was amazing.”
The detective opened his mouth and closed it again.
“Can we try this one?” John took advantage of the silence to show the screen of his phone, and Sherlock gave a quick glance and shrank into the opposite corner of the cab.
“If you like,” he said airily, but his fingers began a nervous drumming on his thigh.
John smiled and leaned forward to give directions to the cabbie. Then he sat back and called the restaurant to see if a table for two was available in 20-35 minutes.
Really, in some ways it was just like dating a woman.
John made the reservation and then ended the call, slipping the phone into his pocket. He gazed out of his window, and Sherlock stared, looking rather shell-shocked, out of the window on his own side of the cab.
John began to worry about his ability to stay one step ahead. Sherlock was already onto John’s new habit of observing him. He’d glommed into that gaze across the street… where they saw the camera—
Mycroft. John thought, remembering the camera, and hearing in his mind again that despairing little “Oh,” Sherlock had uttered. Because why?
Oh. Because they should both be thinking: What Would Mycroft Do?
John sighed irritably and walked through it mentally. Mycroft sees John and Sherlock emerge from an alley. Sherlock looks flustered, John looks smug. The only person who would naturally be one step ahead of Sherlock, is Mycroft. Therefore, if Sherlock suspected John was intent upon his seduction, Mycroft would KNOW it.
And Mycroft would want to make his views on the matter known to John. The only question was, would he pounce after they ate, or wait till tomorrow and try to get John alone?
John tried to put himself in Mycroft’s very expensive shoes. The cab was even now pulling up to the intimate French restaurant. It fairly screamed “take your date here and you will definitely get laid tonight.” John paid the cabbie, exited the cab, waited for Sherlock to join him, and decided that the only way to know when Mycroft would pounce was to push the man to panic, and ensure he pounced immediately.
“Is there a table by the window?” John asked the pretty young hostess, and refrained from giving her even the barest appreciative survey. Sherlock licked his lips as if they’d suddenly gone dry.
When they were seated, John opened the menu (all in French), and pretended to peruse it. When their server arrived, John closed it and smiled into the gray eyes of the man across from him. “You order for me.” He said, and put the menu down as if the matter was settled. Then he sat and played idly with the candle, listening admiringly as Sherlock uttered whatever it was in French, and the server withdrew.
Both John and Sherlock seemed hypnotized by the candle. John continued to fondle it and Sherlock couldn’t drag his gaze away from the candle-fondling. It occurred to John that he’d never really leveled his Three Continents Watson persona in Sherlock’s direction.
After a moment, Sherlock cleared his throat. “John—“ he began.
“Yes.” John said, and he didn’t say it like a question. He said it like an answer.
Sherlock got that deer-in-the-headlights look again, and John decided to grant him a reprieve. “So who is blackmailing the actress?” He asked, and after a moment, Sherlock slotted back into character and began.
“Oh, no one’s blackmailing her, she’s doing it herself for the publicity, there is no sex tape,” he rattled off. “Her sister is on it and they undoubtedly took the cellphone pictures together in order to leak images that would look incriminating but will later prove to be completely innocuous, but only after the tabloids have made her out to be the most outrageous vixen since Mata Hari--”
“And you knew this because no limp.” John said, and Sherlock gave him another cornered look.
John leaned back and smiled.
Sherlock foundered for a moment, his brain clearly racing. “Yes, the… footprints outside the window on the rainy night she claimed the man broke in indicated someone with a limp, and the man she cast the most suspicion on had no limp, and so—“
“But if she and her sister did it, then those footprints meant nothing,” John pointed out.
Heartbeat. Then “Right! Exactly! Oh, here’s the appetizer, do you know I believe I’m actually famished,” Sherlock said quickly, and poured the wine for them both as soon as it was opened.
They settled in to eat, and John wavered between two courses of action. Did he want to leave no doubt in Sherlock’s mind as to his intentions, or was that unwise? If Sherlock was unsure, he’d spend the night in his Mind Palace, and John would have more time to plot. If Mycroft was unsure, however, he’d not confront John until tomorrow, and John preferred to have it out of the way immediately.
After all, if there was one sure way to propel Sherlock into John’s arms, it was to know for certain that Mycroft did not approve.
Sherlock was very fond of doing things of which Mycroft did not approve.
So the trick was to convince Mycroft without convincing Sherlock. Then John could deal with them one at a time. Mycroft tonight, Sherlock in a day or two when he’d got himself sorted.
For the rest of the evening, John played a careful game. He had no doubt Mycroft was observing them via camera, or perhaps he was even alarmed enough to be idling in a comfortable car across the street. John didn’t look, however. Like Sherlock, Mycroft counted on John being absolutely oblivious. Therefore, absolutely oblivious John must appear to be. So. No looking out the window searchingly. No observing Sherlock in the reflection. He’d done that enough for one day, and it wouldn’t do to make Sherlock too certain.
No, the game was as follows: loving glances at Sherlock when he was in profile (but not facing the window), cool indifference when Sherlock was actually looking at him. At one point, John was given a Golden Opportunity that he hoped he used well. Sherlock slipped away to use the loo, and John avoided looking longingly after him, certain Sherlock had scoped out every mirror in the place and was watching John as he moved away. John maintained a studied indifference for the count of 20. Then, when a quick glance assured him that Sherlock was in the men’s room, John heaved a heartfelt sigh, and slowly reached out and traced one finger lovingly down Sherlock’s wine glass. He added a slight lip-lick. Look, Mycroft. Guess what I’m imagining.
He could almost see Mycroft’s hands seizing around the handle of his umbrella.
Best not to overdo it. John returned his attention to his plate and even managed to be texting Harry when Sherlock returned. Just a mate waiting for his friend to come back from the loo so they could settle up and leave.
“So. That was good,” John remarked as they pulled their coats on and made for the front entrance.
“Mm.” Sherlock said noncommittally.
John couldn’t resist the urge to show off a bit. “Shall we hail a cab or just let Mycroft take us home?” He asked.
Sherlock stared down at him in true alarm. The black car pulled up behind him and John smiled. “Ah, there he is.”
Sherlock whirled, gaped, and for a moment his back and forth glances between the car and John had the air of a spectator at a tennis match on which he’d bet his life savings.
John maintained the blandest air he could and stepped past Sherlock to enter the posh, leather cocoon and face Mycroft.
It was the most surreal yet satisfying ride of John’s life. The air was full of I know that you know that I know that he knows that you know that I know that you know that I am going to ravish your brother. But it was a delicate business. John kept his eyes trained on his hands, and his hands in his lap, and held the attitude of the dim-witted sidekick for most of the way home.
Mycroft glared at the top of John’s head for nearly six blocks before transferring his warning gaze to Sherlock. Sherlock slipped on his most indifferent mask and stared back. Mycroft tipped his head sympathetically to indicate that Sherlock was going to get his heart broken. Sherlock lifted his chin to indicate that he had no idea what Mycroft meant by that. Mycroft pointed his nose at Sherlock in a clear call-out at the studied attempt at innocence, and Sherlock returned it with a clenched-teeth glower that indicated defiance for defiance’s sake. They both glanced at John. John picked at the seam in his jeans to indicate that his IQ had just dropped to 85 and all he was thinking about was using the toilet. Exasperated, they returned to jousting with each other.
By the time they pulled up to Baker Street, Sherlock was pouting, Mycroft was seething, and John was holding very still, waiting for that moment when Sherlock was getting out of the car and unable to see either Mycroft or John directly or in any reflective surface.
As Sherlock heaved open the door and plunged out, John raised his eyes to Mycroft, gave him the most direct and meaningful Oh Yes I Will look he’d ever given, and then dove out of the car before Mycroft could do more than suck air and blink an outraged death threat.
Sherlock was so keyed up, he actually unlocked the door to 221B himself rather than wait for John to do it. John stood behind him and gave his arse another appraising glance before shooting one more look in Mycroft’s direction. The car pulled away, heavy with disapproval, and Sherlock stormed up the stairs with a look on his face that boded ill. John followed with a satisfied stroll.
Oh yes. Once Sherlock had come to the conclusion that Yes, John wanted to shag him, and No, Mycroft did not approve, John would have to fight him off just to get a decent night’s sleep.
Halfway up the stairs, John stopped in his tracks, aware of a sudden rise of unease in his gut. Had he overplayed it? He’d reached the end of his plans. If Sherlock was ready tonight, he would take the lead, John would fall into his usual following role, and… well… he just wasn’t ready for that. The last ten hours of plotting and planning had been heady. He felt like the Evil Seducer of the Hapless Deducer, and he’d enjoyed every last minute of it.
But it was exhausting, trying to stay ahead of Sherlock. The only three things John had going for him in this regard were Sherlock’s still rather adolescent grasp of his own emotions, his almost certain sexual inexperience, and his tendency to underestimate John Watson.
And he was losing advantage number 3 very quickly. John looked up. Sherlock was at the top of the stairs, looking down. In that tense moment, John felt advantage #3 evaporate completely.
Sherlock sank his hands into the deep pockets of his coat. “Are you coming up?” he asked with eerie politeness.
“… we’re out of bread.” John said. It was the only thing he could think of.
Sherlock raised one eyebrow, staring him down.
“…and milk.” John added. “I’ll just pop over to Tesco.”
Sherlock turned and swept into the flat without another word. The door closed with just enough of a bang to indicate displeasure without actually bringing Mrs. Hudson out to investigate (fine line, that.)
John turned back, exited 221B, and headed for Tesco. Slowly.
Okay, he said to himself. There are two possibilities. You come back and he’s deep in Mind Palace. If so, you have some time, you go upstairs, you move on to Step… 4? 5? What step are we on? John shook himself and realized he’d stopped walking. He started again, scolding himself to not worry about what step he was on. If Sherlock is in the Mind Palace, just get your arse upstairs and think.
But if he’s not. If I come home with bread and milk and there he is waiting. Then what?
John tried to reason it out. If he’s waiting and ready, I’m fucked. I’ll either have to live up to the decision or chicken out. If I retreat… John halted again. Retreat and you won’t get another chance, his mind warned him. Sherlock would see it all laid out before him, the advance, the hesitation, and the ultimate cowardice and rejection.
If Sherlock is ready tonight, either he leads or it all falls in. If he’s checked out for the evening, I still have a chance.
We are not really out of milk and bread.
John realized his blunder too late. If Sherlock looked into the refrigerator and realized they weren’t out of milk and bread, he would know for certain John was stalling. If John was stalling, it was because he was afraid. Would Sherlock know the nature of his fear?
Suddenly John looked about him. He was still only steps from Baker Street. If he looked up right now, Sherlock might well be in the window, watching him stand and stare at his feet in indecision. If Sherlock knew they were not out of milk, he would come to the window. If he came and saw John frozen there, all would be revealed. And then the only thing left was to decide… should John retreat and let Sherlock believe his fear was some sort of heterosexual crisis? Or advance and let Sherlock resume his natural role as leader? Because even inexperienced as he was, Sherlock would lead, and John would follow. Oh, the sex might end up with Three Continents Watson teaching the Virgin a thing or two that would send shivers down that long spine… but ultimately, Sherlock would lead.
John took a deep breath. Then his shoulders relaxed. This was mentally exhausting. He’d managed for 10 hours to keep Sherlock Holmes in a state of nervous, uncertain arousal. That had to be some sort of record. Perhaps he should be content with that.
He’d made his point, after all. And Sherlock had made a promise. He always kept his promises.
John turned slowly and looked up at the window. Sherlock was staring down at him. They locked eyes for a long, expressionless moment. Then, finally… I surrender, John thought, and he squared his shoulders and turned back to 221B.
He entered calmly and marched steadily up the stairs. He let himself into the flat, shucked off his coat, and hung it up near the door. Then he toed off his shoes and lined them up carefully along the wall, and finally looked up at Sherlock.
“We aren’t out of bread and milk,” he admitted.
Sherlock’s beautiful lips curved slightly as he turned away from the window. “No,” he said.
John came forward a few steps and stopped. Meet you halfway, he thought. He opened his hands and turned them slightly outward in a clear but unthreatening gesture. “Well?” He asked.
Sherlock took a deep breath and advanced toward John, but at the last moment veered slightly to perch himself on the arm of John’s chair. It put their eyes almost on level, with John slightly taller. Sherlock planted his feet rather wide apart. There was a distinct opening between them for John to step into.
So John stepped into it. They gazed into one another’s eyes for a searching moment. Then Sherlock tipped his head back slightly, offering his parted lips. The command, Kiss Me, was obvious. John smiled a little to himself. Yes, Sherlock leads, and I follow, he admitted. He took that long, slim, beloved face in his hands, tipped his head, and sank into those lips as if he was falling off a roof.