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A Study in Winning

Chapter Text

*-*-*

‘Tennis has been my life for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of Dad taking me to the local park to play a little knock around on the concrete courts with those huge wooden rackets we would later use as snow shoes the January after the almost white Christmas. I must have been a natural because Dad kept taking me back and Harry showed her displeasure by aiming tennis balls at my head from close range. She has always been the more violent of the two of us. Her aim was always great back then but it did mean I became very good at dealing with tennis balls hurtling towards my head. Facing a hundred and forty mile and hour serve from a professional player has little on the fierce temper of my sister. Still, without her I wouldn’t be where I am today.’

Which was where exactly?

He stared at his laptop screen, or more accurately at the flashing cursor at the end of ‘today’ and bit back a sigh. The literal answer was in a small bed-sit near his training ground, sitting at the small desk, fingers hovering over the keyboard, ready to succumb to the pressures of his painfully slow two-finger typing. His shoulder ached, his leg ached, both ankles ached, his back felt sore, his neck stiff and he could do with another long massage and hot shower. He was basically falling apart.

“Face it, Watson,” he said with a stretch and a sigh, “you’re a washed-up almost-was with no career and no life.”

And wasn’t that the truth. He should have retired years ago, after that injury to his shoulder, but faced with the prospect of long painful physiotherapy and retraining, or finding something else to do with his life, he had chosen the former. Even his therapist had thought him crazy, reminding him that he wasn’t alone, that there was life after tennis, but then again she was his therapist, of course she thought he was crazy. That was why he was sat staring at that screen now, because she had suggested that writing about his life would either make him more enthusiastic about it, rekindling his love for the game, or enable him to finally be able to let it go. So far it was achieving neither. It was just making him more depressed.

He closed the laptop lid with a sigh. His life was over, he was sure of it. Or if it wasn’t yet, then it would be over in less than a month. Hell, not even that. Three days to Queens and then on to Wimbledon where it would then be all over, no question about that. Out in the first round? Perhaps the second if he was lucky and his shoulder held up. So about eighteen days then.

Eighteen days and then the end.

His shoulder throbbed in sympathy.

Christ, he should have become a doctor.

*-*-*

“Just tell me how bad it is,” he groaned, pressing his face into the towel covering the medical examining bench.

He tried not to groan again as thick fingers prodded at his shoulder muscles, shooting pain down his spine and across his neck.

He should have said no to Queens. He wasn’t as young as he used to be, but they had given him a wild card and it was traditionally one of the last major tournaments before the green, green grass of SW19. Now he was suffering.

Still, he’d made it to the second round before being steam-rolled by the tournament’s eighth seed who had been ranked thirty-first in the world.

“Little bit of muscle strain,” his doctor – Mike – told him in a voice that was far too cheerful, but then again it had been Mike who had put him back together again after the accident, so he had seen far, far worse.

“Nothing to worry about. We’ll have you fixed up in no time. Should I send Günter in to loosen you up a bit?”

“Please,” he said, his voice still muffled. A good, firm rubdown was exactly what he needed right now.

“I’ll go find him then.”

Nodding, he closed his eyes as the door opened and closed. He waited. And waited. And waited. In fact he was waiting so long he was tempted to go out and find out where everyone was.

Eventually, just as his temper was started to overcome the lethargy of his muscles, he heard talking by the door. It was hard to tell, but he was almost certain that it was two male voices and that they were speaking German.

“Sorry for keeping you, Mr Watson,” he heard Günter’s voice say as the door finally opened and warm, strong fingers dug into his shoulder. “I was just finishing off Mr Holmes.”

He winched and sucked in a deep breath as Günter worked out a particularly hard knot. So was that who Günter had been talking to?

“Sherlock Holmes?” he asked between gasps. “I thought…” wince, “he was…” whine, “French.”

“Ja,” Günter said, “but he speaks very good Deutsch.”

Somehow John was not surprised. Everyone knew about Sherlock Holmes. Currently ranked third in the world, he was an English born, French raised, bilingual star on the courts, who despite having an English father had horrified the British press by daring to become a potential world champion under a different flag. Not only that, but the French Tricolour (the traitor!). And all due to having been trained in France from a young age by his French Grandmother. As such the British press had initially been torn between wanting to embrace him as a prodigal son, or vilify him. Luckily for the press he had taken that decision out of their hands by being arrogant, abrupt and downright rude at times, three things the British and the English in particular greatly abhorred. So that was that, Britain would have to look elsewhere for their Wimbledon hopeful.

Well, John thought as his pains and cares were forcefully and efficiently manhandled away, at least they were no longer looking at him either.

*

‘Johnny, it’s Harry. Look about the tickets, you were joking right? You are gonna get me some. You know how much I enjoy watching you play, and if this is going to be your last, well then… and you promised you’d keep in touch. Sucks having to find out how you’re doing from the newspapers. You know what they’re like. Anyway, call me.’

He sighed and hit three to delete the message. No tickets, that was what he had told her the last time they had spoken, well argued. He had no desire for her to come only to eat the strawberries and drink the free booze, because they both knew what would happen after that. It was a miracle Clara was even still speaking to him after what Harry had put her through. Well, actually she wasn’t, but that was more down to him than his uncontrollable sister.

The cab finally stopping for something other than the London traffic, he made sure to check he had everything before bailing out. It wouldn’t do for him to forget something important, like his rackets… again.

Clothes, check. Laptop, check. Half a pharmacy in acceptable drugs, lotions and muscle relaxant, check. Rackets and other sundries and accessories, check.

Grabbing his wallet from his pocket he paid the cabbie and made his way to his new temporary home. The Dorchester Hotel. Yeah, it was as grand and imposing as he remembered, although he wasn’t sure he recalled quite so many security guards. Blimey some of those men looked imposing.

“Welcome to the Dorchester, Mr Watson,” the woman on the desk smiled as she handed over his key. “Your room is on the third floor. Enjoy your stay.”

He would, he just doubted it would be a particularly long one.

Sighing, he made his way through the crowds, past a number of faces that he recognised. Andy Roddick, 2003, second round Rogers Cup, three sets disaster. David Ferrer, 2006, US Open, third round, painful disaster. He really needed to stop remembering all this, it was hardly helping.

Was that Maria Sharapova?

“Sorry. I’m so, sorry.”

And now he had done it. Distracted as he was he had ended up walking into someone, someone with dark hair who was dressed incredibly smartly in a dark suit and white shirt, both of which were undoubtedly designer. The man looked incredibly familiar, but fumbling for his dropped key and bags he made his apologies and disappeared as soon as he could.

It was only later when he got to his room, sorted out his things and switched on the telly that he realised who it had been.

“Damn,” he said sinking onto the bed. Of all the people to have literally walked into.

‘So,’ he typed a little later having decided that he might as well try and settle his mind with a spot of introspection and self-therapy, ‘the day before my last tournament and I’m here, by myself, in my room, in a huge hotel, basically talking to myself. Christ, nothing ever happens to me. Except tennis of course. There’s always tennis, although not for much longer. Sod it, I’m going to the courts for a last final practice’.

*

Arm up, ball up, racket up. Racket down, ball down, beer can… not quite down.

Damn.

He watched as the ball bounced a few more times before rolling to a harmless stop at the far end of the court. The beer can, however, remained obstinately upright.

“Right,” he muttered to himself and went back to the baseline again.

This time the ball clipped the can but the can still remained upright.

“Old injury to your left shoulder, slight tightening of your serratus anterior, partially from overuse, most probably picked up at Queens. Out in the first, no second, round, beaten by someone younger, fitter, faster, but not necessarily better. Wild card entry here, partly due to Queens, mainly because you’re British. They’re desperate and love an underdog. Once ranked as high as 15th in the world, but that was years ago now. This is it, your last tournament. You’re worried you’ll go out in the first round, and unless you change something then I admit there’s a very good chance that you will. You’re just not sure what you need to change.”

He stared in blatant shock at the tall, slight figure leaning casually against the fence behind him. His face fell half in shadow due to the angle of the sun, but there was no mistaking the tousled curls of his dark hair. His image was well known, plastered across billboards, posters, busses, while his name was mentioned practically every time there was a major tournament being discussed. Anyone who knew anything about the sport had heard of –

“Sherlock Holmes,” he man said pushing off from the fence to close the gap between them. “I don’t believe we’ve had the honour.”

No, that was one thing that he did know, they had never faced each other across a tennis court, Holmes’ recent, almost meteoric rise to the top having come after his injury and equally spectacular fall from household name status.

“Yes,” he said nodding as if he understood what had just happened, “I recognised you, although your accent’s different.”

Holmes cocked his head slightly but made no effort to explain, rather a different question emerged. “And you are?” he asked.

John blinked, absently turning his racket in his hand. “John, John Watson,” he said, “but you must have already known that, you know, what with everything you just said.”

“Hardly,” Holmes said. “Everything I said I gleamed simply from my observation of you just now. While from your equipment I can gather your initials to be either JHW, or the slightly less likely due to an inconsistency in capitalisation, MHR, your precise name needed more information than I have in front of me, information you have just now supplied.”

He stared. “You… you don’t know who I am?” he asked slowly.

The other man made a motion that could almost be a shrug. “Should I?” he asked casually.

“No, uh, I guess not,” he conceded.

“Sherlock!”

They both looked up as another man suddenly appeared on the other side of the fence. Older than them both, his dark hair was peppered with white and he had the look of someone who was clearly annoyed.

“What are you doing?” the newcomer said in an exasperated tone. “You know you’re supposed to be back at the hotel room. You have an interview in twenty minutes or did you forget?”

“I didn’t forget, Lestrade,” Holmes bit back. “I said I’ll be there, so I’ll be there. Laisse-moi, vas-t-en!"

The other man – Lestrade? – looked even more annoyed at that if his scowl was anything to go by, but he left without another word.

“Agent or trainer?” John asked, watching as Holmes bounced a ball twice before executing a text book serve that sent the beer can flying.

“Neither,” Holmes said tossing him a spare ball. “Try not to tense your arm and you should be fine.” He pointed to the next beer can along.

John raised his eyebrow but executed the serve anyway. He missed.

“On better thoughts,” Holmes said, “pack it in, take a long shower, get a back rub and spend the evening watching something mindless on the telly.” Then he walked away, just like that.

Bloody hell, John thought. He had literally no idea what had just happened. Was that what people meant when they said that Holmes was abrupt and strange? And why had he come over here in the first place? What had been the point? What had been his motivation?

Shaking his head he shrugged his shoulders and rolled them a few times before retrieving another ball. Arm up, ball up, racket up. Racket down, ball down, beer can… down.

Blimey.

*

“Hello and welcome to day one of the Championship where the weather is fine and we’re expecting a full and exciting day of tennis. On Centre Court we have Rafael Nadal, Venus Williams and British hopeful Andy Murray. Other Brits in action include Laura Robson and journeyman veteran, John Watson. On the red button you will have a choice of court, including Number One Court where first up is the number three seed, Sherlock Holmes, in what promises to be an explosive opening match.”

Explosive? It was little short of a massacre.

John stared at the TV in silent fascination and horror as Holmes – cool as anything – pulverised his opponent. Actually it was less of a decimation and more of a careful dissection of his opponent’s game. Two games all in the opening set and it looked reasonably straight forward, then it was as if Holmes stepped up a gear, breaking serve and then dominating.

The first set went to Holmes 6-4. The second 6-2.

By the time the third set started it was clear to everyone that it was already all over and the result a foregone conclusion. Nothing his opponent tried worked and his head dropped with every error, missed shot or ace.

Just sixteen minutes into the third set and it was finally over, Holmes had won; 6-4, 6-2, 6-1.

“Yes, ah had a good metch,” Holmes told the reporter afterwards in his usual French accented brisk tone. “It was, uh, nice, eazy. Not so much of a challenge.”

“You looked very comfortable out there,” the interviewer said. “Do you think it could be your turn to lift the trophy this year?”

“Bet of course,” Holmes replied as if it was a ridiculous question to ask. “Ah would not be playing if I beleeeved, uh, differently.”

John didn’t bother to watch the rest, he had his own match to prepare for. Three o’clock, court eleven, against a kid almost young enough to be his son. Oh god, he even looked young enough to be his son. Wasn’t there a rule against looking that young? He shouldn’t be wielding a tennis racket, he should be at home playing Mario Power Tennis on the Wii with his mates.

He was getting too old for this.

Nonsense, Watson, he told himself firmly as he completed his stretches, it’s simply up to you to give him a firm introduction to his first grand slam. Keep calm, keep relaxed, and show the kid what it is really like to play with the pro boys.

Ten minutes later he was undergoing the long walk to court eleven, a new crisp white shirt on his back and his racket bag slung over his right shoulder. This was it, he realised, twenty-five years of training, a thousand balls a day, three hundred and sixty four days a year and it was all going to end in front of a minimal crowd, on a far flung court against a kid who was just starting out.

He took his seat and retrieved his first racket, knocking it against his hand to test the strings.

No, he thought. No.

He got to his feet and started his warm-up. The kid was good but he wasn’t that good. He was young and fast but lacked experience and precision. Return his serve, keep him off balanced, get him frustrated and the match was in the bag.

It was time to start and having lost the toss he was receiving first.

Come on, Watson, he thought, his racket spinning as he watched the boy bounced the ball once, twice and then it was hurtling over the net towards him.

He returned, down the line, it was good.

Love – fifteen.

Good start. Excellent start. Got the point, some more just like that and the match would be his. Keep focused, keep alert, keep relaxed.

The ball flew over the net towards him. He hit it back, again… and again… and again.

He won. 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

Yes!

He was still in the game.

*

He hated press conferences, always had but they had gotten progressively worse over the years as it became shockingly clear that he was never going to live up to the hype placed on him by eager Brits desperate to find some sort of sporting hero. The one thing the British press enjoyed as much – if not more – than thrusting someone into the dizzy heights of potential stardom was ripping them down again when it became clear they could not live up to the expectations heaped on them. It hadn’t taken them long to realise that he was at best going to be the runner-up and never the winner.

“Since this is probably going to be my last ever Wimbledon press conference,” he said keeping his gaze ahead but not focussing on anyone in particular, “I would like to take the opportunity to formally announce my retirement from the game, effective immediately this tournament ends.”

There, he had said it and the press had hardly been bothered. They had been more interested in the arrival of the American number two seed that happened to walk past as he had been speaking. It was somewhat crushing of course, but he had had worse. Choking in the semi-final of the French Open and losing despite having been two sets up certainly sprung to mind. He had never been allowed to forget that one.

Escaping the conference he headed back to his hotel by taxi, glancing at his mobile to see what he had missed.

‘You have two new messages.’

‘Hi John, Mike here. Congrats on the win. Shoulder’s looking good. Don’t forget to put something on it. Call me if you have any trouble.’

‘Johnny, it’s Harry, you still haven’t called. Good result by the way, second round here you come. Keep playing like that and who knows, you could even make the second week, then you’ve got to get me tickets. Call me.’

He saved the first but deleted the second.

The press were all over the front entrance to the hotel when he got there, although they showed no interest in him, which was more than fine. Slipping past, he made his way up to his room and then froze in the doorway.

The figure stretched out on his bed barely reacted, just glanced up and then returned to whatever he was doing on the laptop.

“I see you managed to relax your shoulder,” the intruder said after a few moments. “Not a bad win, although your backhand slice could do with a little work. You’re turning your wrist a fraction too much, means your returns end up in the net more often than not. And you might want to consider coming in. Standing in the corridor gaping really isn’t a good look for you.”

Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock bleeding Holmes, was in his room, giving him advice. Bloody hell.

Stepping in, he let the door close behind him and carefully placed down his bag and rackets.

“Mr Holmes,” he started as calmly as he could.

“Sherlock, please,” the other man said, “and you’re John, unless you prefer Watson.”

He blinked. “Uh, John,” he said.

“John it is then,” Holmes… Sherlock said.

Right. What had he been saying? Oh yes. “What the hell are you doing in my room?”

“Bored,” Sherlock said, his fingers still tapping away.

Tapping away?

“Wait,” he said with a frown, “is that my laptop?”

“Yes,” Sherlock said without an ounce of embarrassment. “Mine’s in my suite.”

“But… but it’s password protected.”

“And it took me less than two minutes to crack yours.”

Bloody hell! Finally spurned into action he crossed the room and snapped down the laptop lid, removing it from Sherlock’s lap. Putting it down he turned back to stare at the Frenchman.

“Seriously,” he said, “what are you doing here, in my room, on my bed, using my laptop?”

The look he received was incredibly similar to the one the reporter had got after asking if he thought he might win the Tournament. “I told you,” Sherlock said, slipping his long limbs from the bed to stand and stretch, “bored. Everyone around here is so dull, but you seem at least mildly distracting, so I thought I’d come here and wait for you.”

“Right.” In a strange, twisted sort of way that almost made sense. “Thanks, I think. Wait, how did you get in?”

The Frenchman just smiled. “I’m thinking dinner,” he said instead. “I know this great little Italian place. Meet me at the rear entrance, seven thirty.”

Then he was gone.

John stared at the door as it closed. What exactly had just happened there?

*

Seven thirty gave him just enough time to shower, brush his teeth, grab some new clothes, decide he didn’t like those clothes, put some more new clothes on, look in the mirror, decide he preferred the first clothes, change again, berate himself for being an idiot, check he smelt fine, flatten his hair and get down to the rear entrance only to find that Sherlock Holmes was nowhere to be found.

Brilliant.

Shifting from foot to foot he stuck his hands in his pockets and tried not to look too obvious, or too nervous, or too obviously nervous, or, blimey, he was babbling in his own head now. That was not a good sign.

He checked his watch. Seven thirty-five, five minutes past their assigned time. He bounced slightly on the balls of his feet. Maybe the mad Frenchman had changed his mind. Maybe it had all been an elaborate joke in the first place. Maybe he was being…

“Evening.”

Jumping he turned to find Sherlock practically behind him. How had he managed to get there?

“Took me longer to escape the clutches of my entourage than I planned,” he said without any further apology. “Come on, I’ve got us a cab.”

Not a hoax then. Wordlessly he followed the Frenchman out, noting that he too had changed and was now in an elegant black jacket and trousers, and a crisp white shirt open at the collar. He looked… he looked good, like a model. No wonder he seemed to have so many sponsorship deals.

There was indeed a cab waiting for them and he followed Sherlock in trying to catch the address that was given to the driver. It sounded a bit like Northumberland Street but he couldn’t be certain and his knowledge of London was patchy at best. Deciding it wasn’t worth worrying about he sat back and glanced across at the man beside him. He certainly wasn’t what he had been expecting. In fact he hardly seemed like the man he had seen in interviews on the telly at all. If it wasn’t for the obvious, the dark curly hair, the almost catlike blue eyes and the body build of an endurance athlete, he wouldn’t have realised it was the same man at all. He was also frowning at something on his mobile, his lips thinning as his fingers darted across the screen.

“Okay, you’ve got questions,” the Frenchman finally said slipping his mobile into his pocket.

John tried not to look startled, or at least too startled. Was he really that obvious?

“Yeah,” he said as a multitude of possibilities raced through his mind, including ‘why me’, ‘what is going on’ and ‘what’s up with your accent’ being three considered and discarded before he finally settled on, “Where are we going?”

“Small place I know called Angelo’s. Next.”

“Why are we going there?”

“Because I’ve been reliably informed that eating is good for you, and because, as I said before, you’re marginally more interesting than anyone else I’ve met so far and I find eating alone tedious to the extreme.”

He nodded and glanced out the window. “Yes,” he finally said, venturing to mention one of the other questions that had been plaguing him for a day now, “I wanted to ask you about that. Yesterday on the practice courts, how did you know all those things about me? My shoulder. Queens. Oh and congratulations on winning that by the way.”

“Oh,” Sherlock said almost a touch taken back, “thank you.”

“So, did you see me there or something?”

“No,” Sherlock said simply, “or if I did I’ve deleted it. No, everything I said was pretty obvious just from looking at you.”

He frowned. “How exactly?”

“Easy. Your serve told me about your shoulder. Obviously a new injury or you would have been less angry and more resigned about it, but one that exacerbated an old injury that you picked up playing a few years ago. Your shirt and shorts were both new but with a faint grass stain down one side, so purchased and worn recently, but where? They’re good quality, although not the best, but not the sort you would buy just for training or practice, so a tournament then. A recent tournament, on grass where a fall might have caused some damage to your shoulder. Queens then. Could have been Eastbourne but you would have needed to have rested it for longer before coming here.

“Your frustration with your serve suggests you picked up the injury in the match you went out on, but the fact you ended up on your side says you were already losing. Had you been winning you would have let the shot go and simply lost the point. So you were getting desperate. Every point counted. Your opponent was obviously younger and faster than you, but not necessarily better because otherwise he would have killed the game dead before you resorted to acrobatics.

“Then there’s your hair.”

“My hair?”

“Along with your clothes, equipment and style it all screams British. British, at Wimbledon and you’re being ignored, so not a high rank then. No one expects you to do very well. You’re careful with your equipment and clothes because most of them you buy yourself rather than being sponsor given, so not even in the top hundred, probably not even top hundred and twenty, hundred and thirty. Wild card then, issued by the organisers partly on your surprise first round win at Queens, which reminded them that you existed, and partly due to sentimentality. Gone out in the first round and they might not have bothered. Sentimentality is important though, the British like a good reminisce which means you must have been good once, but a long time ago now, at least in tennis years. Not top ten, but high enough for them to have once been hopefully, so probably about fifteenth in the world then.

“Then there’s your attitude.”

“My attitude? What about my attitude?”

“The slump of your shoulder and the way you hold yourself suggests weariness and defeat. You can’t keep doing this indefinitely, as reminded by your shoulder, so you’ve finally made up your mind to throw it in, and where better to do so then at Wimbledon, on grass, in front of your home crowd.

“So, how did I do?”

John stared at him in all astonishment before needing to look away and settled instead on focusing on the seat in front of him.

“That,” he said slowly, “was amazing.”

“Do you think so?”

“Of course it was. It was extraordinary, quite extraordinary.”

There was a slight twitch to the Frenchman’s lips. “That’s not what people normally say.”

“What do people normally say?”

“Piss off!”

They shared the humour between themselves for a moment and John found himself relaxing for the first time since he had found the Frenchman on his bed. On his bed? Best not think about that too closely.

“Did I get anything wrong?”

He pulled a contemplating look as best he could before answering. “I did go out in the second round at Queens. I did pick up an injury to my shoulder there. This is indeed my last tournament.”

“Spot on then,” Sherlock said a slightly smug, slightly proud smile on his face. “I didn’t except to be right about everything.”

“Except my old injury, the one from years ago that almost ended my career, was very much not caused by playing tennis.”

Sherlock tilted his head. “Really? Interesting.”

“And I once reached eleventh in the world, not fifteenth.”

“Ah.” Sherlock reached into his pocket as his phone bleeped again. “A grave underestimate on my behalf. Please accept my sincere apologies.”

The strange thing was that he sounded genuine. Amused, but genuine.

Lips twitching, John decided it wasn’t worth dwelling on and clearing his throat opted instead to change the subject.

“Anything important?” he asked, nodding to where Sherlock was busy texting.

“As usual,” Sherlock replied, hitting the send button with a flourish, “most decidedly not.”

The phone bleeped again signalling another text.

“They seem very insistent,” he remarked.

“Insistent, yes,” Sherlock said. “Also irritating, frustrating, et très, très ennuyeux.”

He wondered if the other man realised that he had slipped into French at the end. It was slightly odd hearing him do so, but at the same time rather attractive. He mentally shook himself for that ridiculous thought, being as it was neither appropriate not helpful, although technically correct.

Stop it!

“Fortunately,” Sherlock continued back in his crisp English tones, “they’re also reasonably easy to take care of.” He slid the phone shut again and returned it to his pocket. He flashed a brief smile. “We shouldn’t have any further interruptions. In fact, it appears we’ve arrived."

The moment the cab stopped, Sherlock was out the door and thrusting the driver the fare. Following, John found himself on the pavement by a cosy looking restaurant. Well, he thought looking at the name across the front, this must be Angelo’s.

*

It was rather pleasant inside, busy but not crowded, with a warm friendly atmosphere. John found himself liking it immediately, especially when they were quickly shown to a nice reserved table by the window.

“I took the liberty of calling ahead,” Sherlock said, unbuttoning his jacket as he took his seat.

He didn’t get the chance to respond before a large cheery man came to greet them.

“Sherlock,” the man said in a low voice, “anything on the menu, whatever you want, free on the house, for you and your date.”

John started. “His date?” he asked eyes wide and eyebrows shooting towards his hair line as he twisted to look at his companion.

“This man got me off a murder charge,” the man continued obviously not paying any attention to what John had said.

“This is Angelo,” Sherlock said with a wave of his hand.

Of course it was Angelo, John thought, because naturally Sherlock Holmes would be on a first name basis with the restaurant’s proprietor.

“Three years ago I proved to the police at the time of a particularly vicious triple murder that Angelo was elsewhere, house-breaking.”

“He cleared my name,” Angelo said.

“I cleared it a bit,” Sherlock corrected, “and you’re incredibly lucky that it was my flat you chose to break into.”

“Something I’m grateful for every day,” Angelo said. “If not for you I’d have gone to prison.”

“You did go to prison.”

Angelo winked. “I’ll get a candle for the table. It’s more romantic.”

“I’m not his…” John started to say automatically before stopping, because actually, despite his questions in the cab, he still wasn’t too sure what this was. He looked across at the Frenchman who was only paying attention to the menu. He was known for being odd, and this was all rather odd, and….

He looked up as Angelo returned with the candle and John thanked him absently before burying his head in his own menu.

“You, ah, come here often then,” he ventured, then mentally cursed himself for what sounded like an absolutely terrible chat up line. Fortunately his companion failed to notice.

“When I can,” Sherlock replied vaguely before placing down his menu, “which is probably more often than you would think. The food’s good. I would endorse anything on the menu, or if there’s anything else you desire I’m sure Angelo will accommodate it.”

“Hmmm, yes,” John replied still perusing through the names of the dishes. “He does seem very accommodating.”

“We have an… understanding,” Sherlock said with a brief twitch of his lips. “Although most of it is his doing. He is also remarkably discreet, something I more than appreciate. Have you decided yet?”

He confirmed he had and Sherlock signalled the waiter, giving his order in what sounded like fluent Italian, before looking at him expectantly. He stammered for a moment before not even bothering to attempt an Italian accent, while his companion watched with a mild look of amusement.

“So,” he said briefly clearing his throat. “House-breaking. You keep a house here then?”

“Obviously,” Sherlock said in that slightly sharp manner he had. “Despite my French nationality and citizenship I am English you know, born and bred.”

“Which explains your accent,” he said finally venturing onto one of the things he was most curious about.

“Naturally,” Sherlock replied. “I was wondering when you were going to ask about that again. I’ve watched the question cross your face a couple of times now.”

John shifted slightly in his seat, not wanting to imagine what else the Frenchman had seen of the thoughts crossing his face. “You obviously speak fluent French,” he said, “and your English is perfect, so why do all your interviews in a French accent and broken English?”

“Why do you think?” Sherlock asked an amused look in his eyes.

He shrugged. “To annoy the press? To avoid having to do long and in-depth interviews?” He tipped his head slightly. “To have a little fun with them?”

Sherlock’s lips twitched. “Very good,” he said, “but only partially right, I’m afraid. While it is undoubtedly rather amusing to have a laugh at the expense of the international media and the British press in particular, and it does certainly prevent them from asking too many questions or expecting too much in return, it mainly started out due to a matter of identity and self-preservation. I am an Englishman playing under an adopted flag. The French need to see me as one of theirs, and if the British think of me as being French then I court less controversy.”

“You don’t like to remind us too much that you’re a traitor you mean,” John said holding back only half the smile.

“Quite,” Sherlock said. “The French want me to be French, the British need me to be French. So I maintain their illusion and everyone is happy.”

“And the self-preservation?”

Sherlock smiled, his face changing slightly as the next words he spoke came out in his French accented broken English. “With ah racket and ah Franch accent I am world famous tennis player Sherlock Holmes.”

“And with no racket and no accent,” he said.

“Then I am just another posh spoken Englishman who bears an uncanny resemblance to someone you might have seen on the telly.”

“That’s brilliant,” he said before he could stop himself.

Sherlock blinked obviously taken back by the statement. “You really think so?” he asked.

“Absolutely. But why didn’t you use the accent with me?”

“Should I have done?”

“No, but…”

“Good. Ah, here comes our food. Bon appétit, Jean.”

The food was indeed excellent and they ate in comfortable silence interspaced with casual and easy flowing conversation and some laughter. John couldn’t remember the last time he had had such a relaxed and pleasant time. It was only when their cleared plates were taken away and the candle replaced with a new one that he was reminded why.

“Sherlock,” he said awkwardly, leaning forward slightly.

“Hmmm,” the other man said turning his face from where he had been looking out of the window.

John fidgeted slightly. The next words out of his mouth had the potential to ruin what had so far been a lovely evening, but… and but was the point.

“Is this,” he stopped but then forced himself on. “Is this, you know, a date?”

Sherlock frowned. “I believe it’s pasta,” he said with no other expression.

John sat back slightly, unsure what to make of that. Everything he knew about the man, really knew about him he had found out in the past few hours. He was, after all, well known for not talking about his personal life.

“No, really,” he said motioning around them, to the table, the drinks, the candle. “Is this some sort of,” he cleared his throat, “you know.”

Prim, poised and looking like some kind of model, Sherlock just continued to regard him before finally consenting to give him an answer.

“John,” he said perfectly calmly, “while I may look and sound like a quintessential Englishman, I was raised in France. Therefore, let me assure you that if this was, as you so eloquently put it, a date then you would be under no such doubts.”

Oh. Right. Good. He licked his lips absently while mumbling something that no doubt made sense, or at least he hoped made sense.

“You, uh, don’t talk about your personal life at all,” he finally heard himself saying.

“If you’re referring to interviews,” Sherlock replied, “then no, I don’t on account of it being personal and therefore not relevant to my tennis.”

“Right,” he said. “So, uh, do you have a girlfriend then?”

“Girlfriend? No, not really my area.”

Right. Right! Oh. He swallowed unsure quite what to make of that.

“A, uh, boyfriend then?” he tentatively tried. “Which is fine, of course,” he hurriedly added more than aware that homosexuality and sport did not necessarily mix well, especially with male sport personnel. There was still a certain amount of homophobia around, even in tennis.

“I know it’s fine,” Sherlock said back in a brisk tone.

John almost winced, getting the impression that he might have struck a nerve there but wasn’t too sure what. “I’m sorry,” he said raising his hand. “It’s obviously none of my business. Just… forget it.”

“Hmm,” Sherlock said obviously agreeing, “while you are correct there, just so we are under no mistaken illusions, I do not have a boyfriend.”

“Oh, good,” John said breathing out. “You’re unattached then, like me. Fine. Good.”

Sherlock’s eyes narrowed and he looked away before oddly looking back.

“John,” he said slowly, “if that was your attempt at a romantic proposition then I have to tell you that it’s a wonder you Brits ever….”

“No!” he said quickly, suddenly desperate to stem that flow of thought. “I’m… not asking. Just, no.”

Mercifully his companion stopped talking and just seemed to be watching him closely. Whatever either of them might have found to have said next was interrupted by the appearance of a young girl, hands clasped behind her back as she looked at them shyly.

“Excuse me,” she said as Sherlock looked away from her, “I’m sorry and my daddy thinks I’m being silly, but I think…” she bit her lip, “you look just like, uh, are you John Watson, the tennis player?”

John blinked, having really not expected that one, especially from a child when he was far removed from his usual setting.

“Uh, yes,” he finally said with a slight laugh. “Yes, actually I am.”

The girl’s face lit up. “Really?” she said as if she didn’t believe him.

“Really,” he said with a laugh. “I would prove it but I don’t have my rackets with me unfortunately.”

Hearing Sherlock snort he was almost tempted to kick him under the table. The girl didn’t notice being far more intent on meeting someone apparently famous.

“I told Daddy it was you,” she said excitedly. “He said it wasn’t, but I knew I was right, cause you look like you and everything. Can I have your autograph?”

“Of course,” he said and was handed a napkin and a pen. “What’s your name?”

“Rachel,” she said watching with wide eyes as he carefully wrote out ‘To Rachel’.

“And how old are you, Rachel?”

“I’m eight.”

“And do you play tennis?”

She nodded. “I’ve just started taking lessons and I’ve got posters and everything. Mummy told me about you. She said you were really good and then you had an accident or something.”

He smiled weakly. “Have you any favourite players?” he asked instead.

“Oh yeah,” she said. “Andy Murray of course.”

But of course.

“And Nadal, he’s cool. And there’s this French player I saw on the telly, he’s good and really funny when he talks.”

John pressed his teeth against the inside of his mouth, glancing briefly to the side to see if he could make out Sherlock’s reflection in the window.

“Would that be Sherlock Holmes?” he said mildly.

“Yeah, that’s him,” she said excitedly. “He’s so cool. I bet you know him and everything.”

“I’ve met him,” he admitted. Smiling he handed back the now signed and messaged napkin just as a man he took to be her father approached looking like he had just returned from the back, the toilets no doubt.

“I’m sorry,” the man said, “I only left her alone for a few minutes. She seems to think you’re some tennis player. Silly I know.”

“But he is,” the girl said showing the napkin. “Look.”

Her father smiled awkwardly and gripped her shoulder, throwing John a look as if to say thank you for playing along. John bit back a sigh and just nodded in acknowledgement. He knew he had a generic sort of face and even while he had been at the top of his game he had still been able to get on with his normal life with very few interruptions. It had been nice to be recognised again, if only briefly.

“Come on, love, let’s leave the gentleman alone to enjoy his meal.”

Yup, definitely didn’t believe.

“Excusez-moi, monsieur,” a deep voice suddenly said in a very recognisable French accent, “but ah can assure you that this is indeed Monsieur John Watson, tennis player extraordinaire. Your yung ladiee is quite correct on zis account.”

The man stopped and gaped, and he wasn’t the only one. John found his eyebrows shooting towards his hairline as he stared across at his companion who within the twitch of his shoulder had changed his entire posture, appearance and accent. It was almost as if he was looking at a completely different person, as if he was looking at the tennis player and not the man.

“You’re,” the man said, “you’re….”

“Sherlock Holmes,” he said reaching to pluck the napkin and pen from the girl’s grasp. “Rachel,” he said as he wrote, pronouncing the name the French way. “You ah a viry smart yung ladiee. You observed and saw my friend here for who he is. This is a viry important skill. Do not forget it.”

He signed his name with a flourish and handed both pen and napkin back. John smothered a laugh as he noticed what the other man had written. ‘Rachel’, the napkin now also said, ‘you were right, and my accent is funny. Sherlock Holmes’.

“Thank you,” she beamed. “Thank you so much. Daddy, I was right.”

“Yeah,” the man said. “So you were. Uh, sorry again,” he added to them still smiling in an astonished awkward way as he led his daughter back to where they had been dining.

“You didn’t need to do that,” John said softly once they were gone. He fiddled slightly with his napkin.

“Nonsense,” Sherlock said once again very much the Englishman, “that man was clearly an imbecile. Now, what do you say we ask Angelo if his generosity extends to low fat desserts.”

*

They weren’t interrupted again, being as they were politely ignored by the other diners in a way only the British could do. A still delighted Angelo fixed them a generous mascarpone fruit salad which they shared between them mindful of the alcohol and calories, enjoying it slowly as they regained the easy conversation of before.

Finally finished, Sherlock slipped a generous tip under a plate and they headed out into the still warm, light night. For a moment John thought he saw a look of hesitation cross the Frenchman’s face, but then they were climbing into a taxi and on their way back to the Dorchester.

“John?”

“Hmmm?”

They were standing alone by the lift in the hotel, the next closest person to them being a black-suited security personnel some way down who was pointedly ignoring them. Glancing up, John was startled to find his companion closer to him than he had been expecting, head tilted down as his voice dropped in volume.

“I believe it only proper to inform you that while I don’t do dating on any account, I do on occasion, however, do coffee.”

John swallowed, his heart suddenly pounding as the doors of the lift opened with a ding. “Oh right,” he managed as he was followed in. He carefully pressed the button for his floor.

The lift doors slid shut. He stared at them for a moment, hands clasped behind his back, his mind in a strange state of both action and inaction.

He cleared his throat.

“In that case,” he said carefully, “would you care to join me for coffee in my room?”

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.

Lips twitched. “Delighted to.”

The doors slid open.

They walked down the corridor to his room and stood patiently while he fiddled with the keycard. The door finally open they entered.

Their lips met with almost bruising force the moment the door clicked shut behind them, hands scrabbling for purchase in clothing as their mouths opened and their bodies pressed together in an almost unseemly manner. Christ, he was hard already and they hadn’t even managed to get any clothes off yet. Sherlock’s body was warm against him, lean and firm and felt so shockingly good against him, that he would have wondered why he hadn’t considered this sooner if it weren't for the fact his brain was currently incapable of thoughts more complex than, ‘bloody hell, yes, god yes!”

“You bastard,” he managed, gasping for breath as the extremely talented lips left his to seek out the newly discovered realms of his neck and throat.

Sherlock hummed against him, consenting for his jacket to be pushed to the floor before nipping gently at a rather sensitive spot behind his ear.

“No marks,” he spluttered after a slightly unmanly yelp before wrapping his fists in expensive material and pulling the Frenchman’s lips back to his. Tennis, it turned out, was not the only thing Sherlock was good at, or put another way, lawn tennis was not the only type of tennis he was an expert at. It appeared, he realised as the warm, very agile tongue wreaked havoc against his own knowing just where and when to flick, rub and caress, that the French really were masters of the type of kissing attributed to them.

He giggled, finding himself leaning against the wall, shirt unbuttoned and half off his shoulder while nimble fingers were making short work of his jeans belt.

“Something amusing?” There was a quirk to Sherlock’s lips, lips now a touch plumper and noticeably pinker than they had been earlier in the evening. It was definitely a good look for him, a touch dishevelled, his shirt untucked and showing the signs of manhandling.

“Mad, totally mad,” he said, sliding a hand up the near hairless chest to test the sensitivity of a nipple.

Sherlock’s eyes fluttered and then a hand pushed open his flies and John groaned as long, agile fingers cupped his length. His hips thrust forward automatically, his eyes sliding shut at the sensation even dulled as it was by his underwear.

“Oh God,” he said grasping at the top of the arm teasing him to distraction.

“If you like,” said the deep voice, head bending so he could feel the words against his check, and then his mouth was claimed again, wet and wide and deep.

It had been years since he had been snogged so thoroughly and even longer since it had been by another man. He had almost forgotten the feel of slight stubble against his skin, the smell of the more earthly aroma of male cologne, the feel of a powerful thigh between his….

He pulled away, pressing his nose against the long neck on display in front of him and breathed deeply. “What cologne is that?” he asked.

The lips were again on his neck, teeth nipping playfully at his skin.

“Hmmm? Oh, Dolce and Gabbana.”

“Aren’t you the face of one of the others?”

There was another hum, a slight chuckle and then a squeeze of the hand that had his knees momentarily wanting to buckle. Any and all thoughts about cologne, sponsorship and being a traitor flew out of his head and batting the hand away decided it was quite time he became more of an active participant in the current proceedings.

With a firm hand he pushed the Frenchman back before kicking off his shoes and stripping away his shirt. By the time he had made short work on his jeans, pants and socks he had a naked and very aroused Frenchman in front of him. Then his back was somehow hitting the bed and everything got considerably warmer and more intense.

God Sherlock was good. It was as if he knew exactly where to kiss, to lick, to touch; and that mouth, god that mouth should be considered illegal, because although it might have been a while for him it surely had not felt quite like this before, not with a new partner at least.

A new partner?

Oh. Christ. Damn!

“Uh, Sherlock.”

He tapped the broad shoulder and tried again when he didn’t get a response more than a quick nip against the skin on his ribs and a hand curving around one of his balls.

Jesus! He jerked upwards at the light squeeze, one hand scrambling in the sheets as the other pressed into the man’s shoulder.

“God, no, Sherlock, we haven’t, uh….”

He stopped as the small blue packet almost hit his chin.

“You were saying,” the deep voice rumbled in the chest pressed against his side and leg.

“Oh god, you knew, you planned this,” he said his head falling back weakly.

There was a chuckle. “This…” the hand on his balls finally moved up to tighten around his cock, the thumb flicking across the pre-come gathering at the tip in a way that made his hips jerk and embarrassingly high sounds escape his throat, “was always a possibility, yes.”

Then the hand was a fist and was moving up and down at just the right speed with just the right amount of firmness, and… and… oh, yes, that was good, so very, very, very….

He whined as the hand left. He couldn’t help himself. He wanted, he needed….

“Sherlock?”

The condom had been plucked from where it had fallen to the sheets and was now being carefully opened.

“Wait,” he said, “I… I don’t…” he started and then swallowed because how do you explain in this sort of situation that it’s been such a long time since you’ve been ‘on the bottom’ that you’re not too comfortable doing it now, especially as they were in the midst of a tournament. Fooling around was one thing; running the risk of being unnecessarily sore in a delicate place was completely another.

“Yes,” Sherlock said his tone firm but brisk, “but I do,” and with that John watched in mild surprise as the condom was rolled onto him.

“Now, if you’re quite prepared,” Sherlock continued, moving to straddle him, his own cock hard and leaking against his stomach. “I believe the phrase is, ‘lie back and think of tennis’.”

The bastard had even brought lube with him.

John felt his mouth fall open with a gasp as in one steady but smooth movement Sherlock sank onto him, taking him deeper and deeper until there was nowhere else to go. It was so hot and so tight and so fucking, fucking good that his hips jerked just in case there was more to be had.

“Fuck!” he said, hands scrambling to grasp at the narrow hips, and then Sherlock shifted, gradually leaning downwards until their lips briefly met, eyes hooded but alert.

“I do believe,” the Frenchman said breath warm against his lips, “that that’s exactly what we’re doing.” Then his lips had curved into an elegant but teasing smile and he was moving, just slowly at first, but up and down, thighs flexing, head falling back. It was an incredible sight, absolutely fucking incredible. Forget tennis, this was a far more enjoyable type of bouncing.

“Mon Dieu, that’s good,” Sherlock breathed shifting his hips just slightly on the down stroke, back arching as he obviously found his prostate. His cock bobbed with his movements, slapping wetly against his stomach, hard and incredibly enticing.

Jerking his hips in time with the thrust down, John moving his hand from where it was gripping the beautifully shaped thigh to stroke his fingers down the offered cock. He almost laughed when Sherlock’s rhythm faltered for a moment, a growl coming from deep in his chest. Taking pity on him, he wrapped his hand around the erection and stroked in time, gasping himself at the rewarding extra squeeze around his own hard length on a rather forceful down.

Christ it was all so good, but he already knew it wasn’t going to be enough for him, not unless it went on for the duration of a set and he doubted that would do either of them any good.

Smiling slightly, he continued to enjoy the rise and fall until finally he reached his limit. Using Sherlock’s own momentum, he twisted his hips and in a move he had perfected over the years, reversed their positions. It was a far from perfect execution, but Sherlock’s surprise had given away to a look of pure desire that he didn’t care that it hadn’t been particularly graceful and had ended with him slipping out.

“Now,” he said, holding himself over the other man, caging him in with his limbs, “what were you saying about lying back and thinking of tennis?”

Re-angling his hips, he pressed his lips against his partner’s and swallowed the resulting gasp as he pushed back in. The strong thighs moved to once again grip at his waist, hips shifting up for a better position.

“Oh, god, yes,” he gasped as one particular thrust had the body below him arching in a way that was almost indecent. “That’s it, isn’t it? That’s the one.”

Another thrust, another arch and he knew he was hitting the prostate virtually every time. He was also hitting all his triggers, not helped by the fact the man below him was watching him opened mouthed and clearly enjoying the proceedings.

He really wasn’t going to last much longer like this. Not with the tight heat and the firm thighs and the way Sherlock’s knuckles were now knocking against his stomach having wrapped those long fingers around his prick and was pumping in time with every thrust.

“Plus fort,” he heard breathless but demanding. “Plus fort, Jean. Comme ça. Oh oui. Encore… Encore, Jean… Mon Dieu, oh… oui!”

And then the Frenchman was arching against him, thighs flexing, head back as he came.

That was all John needed, and as Sherlock’s body clenched around him he thrust once, twice more, buried himself in as deep as he could be, and let go.

*

“That was ridiculous. That was the most ridiculous thing I have ever done.”

Condom dealt with and his muscles sinking into a pleasant state of unresponsiveness, he flopped back on the bed, the back of his wrist pressed against his forehead. He barely managed to get his words out from between the giggles he was being subjected to. Oh god he was giggling, actually giggling. He hadn’t done that in years. He really shouldn’t be giggling, it was bad, giggling bad, oh god he couldn’t stop.

“And you posed naked for a photo shoot.”

Oh god. His arm fell into his eyes.

“Charity,” he managed,” and that wasn’t just me.” He really shouldn’t have told him that story over dinner.

At the sound of running water he finally opened his eyes, stretching out as he contemplated whether he should be pulling his clothes back on. What was the standard protocol for when you’ve just had a jolly good shag with someone you’ve basically only just met.

“Here.”

He looked across to where Sherlock was emerging from the small bathroom and tossed him one of the hotel’s handtowels that had been dampened slightly.

“Thanks,” he said, wiping it down and across his chest and groin. His companion had obviously already done so but was now moving around the room still completely naked and not appearing to be bothered by that in the slightest. Well, why should he be? He had the loveliest of bodies. Well shaped thighs, a perfectly shaped bottom, trim waist, flat stomach, broad shoulders, and arms that suggested both strength and agility. His chest was defined but not overly so, and was almost hairless save for the dark patch that ran from his navel to his crotch.

Oh his crotch.

Flaccid, his penis was nothing particularly special but he was obviously more of a grower because when erect he had nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing at all. The man looked like some kind of model, albeit one with differing tan lines across his body, but they only seemed to add something.

“So,” he said because he felt he should say something, “do this sort of thing often?”

Sherlock bent down to retrieve his jacket, or at least something from his pocket, his mobile from the looks of it. “Please refrain from asking questions you don’t really want the answers to,” he said.

Oh. He scratched absently at his belly. Sherlock was reading something on his phone.

“This going to happen again?” he asked because well, it was good to know those sorts of things. It usually meant far less confusion in the long run and he wasn’t about to claim that it hadn’t been an enjoyable experience. It had certainly been that. If nothing else it had been a long time since he had been with another man, and there was no way that he would believe that Sherlock hadn’t enjoyed it just as much. The man had practically shattered apart beneath him.

“I don’t shag before a match.”

“Right, just after one then.”

“Of course.” Sherlock looked up from his phone long enough to flash him a brief smile.

“So did you talk to me yesterday just on the off chance I might shag you through the mattress today?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I told you, you seemed interesting. It was your serve and not your sexual prowess that attracted me.”

He laughed slightly. “My serve? You expect me to believe that?”

“I expect you to believe whatever it is you want. I may be considered strange if not weird by many, but not even I am likely to proposition a fellow tennis player on the off chance he’s not a raving heterosexual. I do have a modicum of self-preservation and sense despite what some believe.”

“So when you invited me for dinner….”

“It was for the purpose of sharing food with not totally imbecilic company. It was only your comments throughout the evening that led me to believe you would not be totally averse to a quick rough and tumble between the sheets.”

“My comments….”

“Well, that and the porn on your laptop.”

“Oh god!” He covered his face, feeling his skin heat up beneath his touch.

“Nothing to be ashamed of,” Sherlock continued. “You have half decent taste in porn, although the one with the two guys over the front of that….”

“Shut up!” It was all he could do not to toss the nearest pillow at the bastard’s head. “Can we please not talk about this? It’s bloody awkward as it is.”

Sherlock cocked an eyebrow. “Why? Is it because we’re both unclothed still? You needn’t worry, I’m sure you’re more than aware that you are an attractive man. I am quite enjoying the view if you must know.”

“Oh god, stop, please, just stop.”

“Interesting. Are you aware that when you blush it goes down to your chest as well?”

He groaned, scrubbing his eyes with his hands. “Do I need to find something else to occupy your mouth with?”

Sherlock’s lips twitched. “If you’re referring to a second round of horizontal tennis then I will have to decline. While I don’t have a match tomorrow I still need to retain my stamina and we certainly don’t need to do anything that might damage that shoulder of yours. No, I should take my leave and let you do whatever it is you do before retiring. You’ve no doubt got plans for tomorrow.”

Oh. He swallowed, finding that far more disappointing than he would have thought he would.

“Yeah,” he said staring up at the ceiling. “You might want to get dressed first though. People might talk.”

“People do little else. But you’re right, not even my eccentricities will allow for me to be able to walk through the hotel au naturel. And by all means, feel free to stare at my bum as I continue to pick up my clothing.”

Groaning he returned to staring at the ceiling trying to ignore the now silently dressing Frenchman. It was weird to think that less than half an hour before they had been panting into each other’s mouths and sharing bodily fluids.

“Good night, John.”

Fully dressed again in his suit and shirt, the man looked just as delectable but somehow far more untouchable.

“Au revoir, you mean,” he said with a slight smile.

“Quite,” and then the Frenchman was gone, the door clicking shut behind him.

Flopping back on the bed John tried to figure out what to do next. Sleep would be good he knew. He had had a long and surprisingly eventful day, but he doubted he would be able to sleep quite yet.

His eyes fell to his laptop.

Getting up he pulled on his pyjamas bottoms and switched on the computer. For the first time ever he felt inspired to write but sighed when he realised he couldn’t. After all what would he say? Won a match, was taken out to dinner by a mad Frenchman who I then shagged through the mattress. No, really not.

He sat for a moment staring at the blank screen, tapping his fingers absently against the table. Then he smiled.

Turns out I’ve still got it, he typed and left it at that.

Although he also thought it wise to change his password. Just as a precaution.

*

End of Part One

Chapter Text

The day was dry but typical British overcast. He, however, barely even noticed. To him it could have been the brightest, loveliest early summer day for the way he was feeling and acting.

He had awoken relaxed and refreshed, feeling more alive than he had done in a long time. He had a long shower and a light leisurely breakfast where he even checked out the sports pages of the newspaper. Obviously, despite his announcement the day before, he had only managed to get seven lines at the end of the main tennis report, but at least the seven lines had included details of his victory.

In comparison, Sherlock managed to get seven paragraphs. Well, short paragraphs, but seven none the less.

Smiling slightly he shook his head and turned over to find out what else was happening in the world.

“Well, you certainly look happy.”

Midmorning and he had made it down to the club for a cursory appointment with Mike just to check that everything was still working properly with his body.

“Who was the lucky lady? Anyone I know?”

“Hmmm?” he asked and then reddened slightly when he realised what Mike was referring to. Apparently he still had some light scratches across his back.

“You know I don’t kiss and tell,” he joked before slipping his polo shirt back on. “So how am I? How’s the shoulder?”

“You tell me. How do you feel?”

How did he feel? He swung his arms and twisted at the waist.

“Good,” he said. “Pretty good, actually.” And he did, surprisingly.

“Excellent then,” Mike said with a broad smile. “She had must been good for you. She doesn’t happen to have a sister does she?”

He laughed. “Sorry, mate,” he said although it did then occur to him that he actually had no idea, but no sisters had ever been mentioned.

“Pity.”

He took lunch at the club, keeping one eye out for whoever was milling around. He was not, he told himself, hoping to see a particular tall Frenchman, and he was certainly not disappointed when he failed to show. He did end up talking to Hilton Soames, an old acquaintance and player he had trained with in the past, but then his friend had to go prepare for his first round match. He was just contemplating going to maybe watch when his phone chimed.

Practice Court 5 the text message said. Come at once if convenient. SH.

He stared at it in surprise. How had Sherlock managed to get hold of his mobile number? When had Sherlock got hold of it? Why was he even thinking such questions considering what had happened in the past forty-eight hours? Should he even be surprised?

The phone bleeped again.

If inconvenient, it said, come anyway. SH.

Right. Demanding then.

The phone bleeped a third time.

Bring your rackets. SH.

It took him less than ten minutes to retrieve his spare rackets from his locker and head over to the practice courts. Wimbledon was, as expected, bustling with afternoon activity and he knew the practice courts would be busy with those warming up and those like him getting in a little play on their day off.

He found Sherlock talking rather animatedly to the man he had seen yesterday. Lestrade wasn’t it? Sherlock was dressed in a smart, undoubtedly specially designed mid-blue and white tracksuit top and bottoms, while Lestrade was in a black jacket and white shirt looking rather harassed. They were also talking in rapid French, quite passionately it appeared.

John hesitated, not wanting to interrupt. Rather he did the British thing of hovering and waiting to either be discovered or taken pity on. After a few moments, some rather sharp words – Sherlock – and some agitated arm in the air throwing – Lestrade – it became clear their conversation was over and Sherlock was turning to him.

“Arrête!” Lestrade said catching Sherlock’s elbow. “C’est qui?”

Even having forgotten the best part of five years of secondary school French, John could figure out that Lestrade was asking about him.

Sherlock’s response of, "Il est avec moi,” was harder to understand but he got the general gist.

Mais, comment sais-tu qu’il n’est pas..?” Lestrade said.

Parce que je sais,” Sherlock said. “Bonjour, Jean.“

“Bonjour,“ John said automatically much to Sherlock’s obvious amusement.

“Sherlock!”

“Au revoir, Lestrade,” Sherlock then called back.

Lestrade huffed and threw back some rapid French that John had no chance of getting but which caused Sherlock to respond with, “Oui, oui,” and a dismissive wave of his hands. Clearly realising he was on a losing streak, Lestrade gave up, muttered something that sounded vaguely rude and then stormed away.

“What was that all about?” John asked mildly.

“Usual disagreements,” Sherlock said switching easily to perfect English. “Nothing important.”

There was a pause, Sherlock’s gaze drifting to the nearest practice court where two male players were knocking the ball between them. He seemed to watch them with interest, his gaze primarily on the closer of the two, or more accurately on the man’s arse and legs.

John awkwardly cleared his throat, not sure that Sherlock was even aware of what he was doing or how obvious he was being. He knew he had no right to feel jealous or anything, but really, did it have to be here and now?

“Well,” he said, “you asked me to come. I’m assuming it wasn’t to watch you stare at another chap’s arse.”

“Oh… what?” Sherlock said finally tearing his eyes away to look at him.

John motioned to the other player. “You were checking him out,” he said pursing his lips together.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock scoffed. “His shoes. I was looking at his shoes.”

“His shoes?” John didn’t bother to hide his disbelief.

“Of course. You can learn a lot from a player’s shoes. Despite them being only a few months old his are noticeably more worn on the front left which means he’s often running into the net for a backhand. See.”

They both watched as the player did exactly that.

“Obviously a weakness in his game and one that can be exploited.”

“His shoes, right,” John said. “Not something else then?”

“Of course not. Why would you… oh.”

He watched as the Frenchman’s eyes widened, his mouth forming a near perfect ‘o’. “You thought I was… John Watson, were you jealous?”

No. God, no. Absolutely not, no.

“Of course not.”

Sherlock smirked at him clearly not believing for one moment. John wasn’t surprised, he wasn’t sure he would have believed either if he’d been in that situation.

“So,” he said, “why am I here?”

“I thought you could partner me for a bit of a knock around. Nothing too strenuous. No point in jeopardising your shoulder after all.”

“You just want me to be your practice partner?”

“Of course,” Sherlock said. “Problem?”

“No, no, well,” he said. “I have only just had lunch you know.”

“Not a problem. The court is booked from two anyway. Plenty of time.”

He glanced at his watch. It was ten past one. “You said to come at once in your text,” he said. “I thought it was urgent. Why didn’t you just tell me the time as well?”

“Because it was urgent,” Sherlock said. “It gave me the perfect excuse to escape the clutches of my minders. You just saw Lestrade. I’ve had to put up with him and his demands all morning. It’s enough to drive anyone to violence or in my case some rather underhand dealings. And besides, it’s not as if you have anything more interesting to do.”

Unfortunately Sherlock had a point.

“Fine,” John found himself saying. “But I would have thought a player like you, you know, of your level, would have a coach or practice partner already.”

Sherlock looked at him. “I’m a rude, abrupt, arrogant Frenchman known for my sharp tongue and even sharper forehand. What man would ever put up with me?”

What man indeed.

“Point taken,” John admitted. “So what do you propose we do while we wait?”

*

Two o’clock exactly and Sherlock was striding across to practice court five. They had spent the time before dissecting the skills and weaknesses of the other players around. In all that time John continued to be amazed by how correct Sherlock was, the Frenchman having drawn his conclusions from little more than shoes, or the wear of a tennis racket handle, or the colour of a t-shirt.

Now he found himself tagging along partly out of curiosity, partly because he actually found himself wanting to spend more time with the man. That alone was quite a surprise. In the past he had gained a reputation – well one of his reputations – for being somewhat of a loner. Especially more recently. Trust issues his therapist had said. Well, considering how burnt he had been in the past how could he not?

Mary’s kiss and tell story sold to The Sun had taken care of that. It was hard to trust anyone after the one person you had most loved and confided in had sought to make money out of you. At least with Sherlock he wasn’t about to run that risk. The Frenchman stood to lose as much, if not more, from whatever it was that had happened last night.

There were two players on the court when they got there, one man, one woman, probably a mixed doubles pair. They looked familiar but he didn’t know them.

Walking to the side of the net, Sherlock stood silently and watched until an undercut forehand slammed into the net.

“Oh great, it’s the freaky frog,” the woman said her words cutting. “What you doing here, freak?”

“Ah have a booking,” Sherlock said in his French accent. “And ah beleeeve you are on ma court.”

“Well, you know what I think, don’t you?”

“Ov course, Sally. Ah even know you’re going to looose your first round metch. Straight sets.”

“How could you… you here on your own then? Can’t even get someone to play with you?”

“Au contraire, ah am not as repulsive as you beleeeve. Ma tennis is after all rather good. This is John Watson. Watson, Sally Donovan and her doubles partner, Anderson.”

John nodded politely to Sally who looked at him with a mixed expression of surprise and pity.

“What did he do? Threaten you or something?” she asked as they were joined by Anderson who glared at Sherlock as if he was some kind of French demon.

“Thought I made it clear you were to stay away from us,” Anderson said.

“Ah would,” Sherlock said, “except you’re on ma court.”

“Your court?” Anderson said. “Typical frog, think you own everything. Just because you’ve won a few tournaments. Just remember, you haven’t won here. Come on, Sally.”

Enough said, John watched as they grabbed their bags and equipment and left the court.

“What was that about?” he asked.

“Oh, just some old friends,” Sherlock said reverting back to his usual English accent now they were alone again.

“They don’t seem to like you very much.”

“No. Well, I may have helped break up Anderson’s marriage.”

“Really?” John raised his eyebrows then frowned. “You don’t seem like the sort to sleep with someone’s wife.”

Sherlock snorted. “Hardly,” he said, “but I may have drawn some attention to the extra off court practice he and Sally had been getting up to.”

“Oh god.”

“Not my finest hour, I admit, but they were hardly discreet.”

“No wonder you’ve got such a reputation,” John said.

“Believe it or not,” Sherlock said unzipping his top to reveal a pale blue Ralph Lauren polo shirt, “only some of it isn’t warranted. Come on.”

After a warm up they played some gentle rallying and John quickly came to realise why Sherlock was rated the third in the world. He could be positively lethal, combining natural talent with an uncanny ability to play a precise strategy. By the time they called it a day John was sweating while Sherlock barely looked ruffled.

“You play far too safe, John,” Sherlock said, tossing him a new unopened bottle of water. “You should trust your instincts more.”

Funnily enough Sherlock wasn’t the first person to have told him such a thing. He nodded but decided not to comment on it.

“Dinner, tonight?” he asked instead. “I can’t offer you candle lit Italian, but I may be able to stretch to fish and chips.”

Sherlock zipped up his racket bag. “No,” he said simply but firmly, “I told you, not before a match.”

“Oh, right,” John said wondering if he should mention that he was fine with just dinner and nothing more, but something stopped him. “Well,” he said instead, “I guess this is goodbye then. Good luck with your match tomorrow.”

“Yes,” Sherlock said still fiddling with his bags.

“Thanks for the practice.” He turned to go.

“John.”

He turned back at the sound of his name. He found Sherlock standing again, looking almost uncharacteristically awkward. It was a strange but almost endearing look. “Yes,” he said.

Sherlock seemed to frown then. “You’re a better player than you believe,” he finally said. “You made this practice tolerable.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Thanks, I think,” he said.

Sherlock scowled. “There is no reason why you should not proceed to the third round,” he said and then he was lifting his bags onto this shoulder and walking away.

That, John realised, was probably the closest Sherlock Holmes got to giving a compliment. He laughed slightly and shook his head. He supposed it wasn’t all bad then.

*

“Welcome to day three of Wimbledon where this morning’s light showers have cleared leaving a fresh but hopefully dry afternoon.

“Today sees the start of the second round matches for the Men’s and Ladies’ Singles, and the first round of the Men’s and Ladies’ Doubles. So far we haven’t had any great upsets with all the top seeds making it safely through. Andy Murray will be playing on Court Number One later this afternoon, while Centre Court will see action from Roger Federer, Sherlock Holmes and Jelena Jankovic.

“Other Brits in action include veteran John Watson, retiring after these championships, but first taking on Italian Alessandro Giordano currently ranked fifty-second in the world on court number nine.”

John found that he felt unbelievably good. He had got a good night’s rest and was contented and remarkably relaxed. Any residual stiffness disappeared with a hot shower and a brief warm up. He match wasn’t going to be easy, but for the first time in longer than he could remember he felt as if he could win it. No, that he would win it.

They were due second on the court which meant not quite so long to wait and get nervous in. Running through his pre-match preparations he made sure he had everything and was ready, then closing his eyes leant back and took deep breaths.

He felt rather than heard his phone go off. Half expecting it to be from his sister he glanced at the screen only to realise that it definitely wasn’t.

‘His backhand is weak,’ the message said, ‘and he tends to favour playing down the line. SH.’

He blinked in surprise then huffed with amusement, replacing his phone in his jacket pocket before returning to his pre-match meditations.

Twenty minutes later he was walking onto court nine to the polite applause of the crowd. He acknowledged his opponent and the umpire before taking his seat and retrieving his racket. A poor backhand, he thought swinging his arms. Interesting.

He’d won the toss and had the opening serve.

Blocking out all the sounds, all his anxieties and all his distracting thoughts, he bounced the ball twice before thundering it across the net. His opponent’s return ended up in the net giving him the first points of the match.

Fifteen – Love.

He moved to the other side. A weak backhand? He hammered the ball right by the edge of the middle line. The ball was returned but not well placed needing just a deep ball down the line for him to take the point.

Thirty – Love.

His next serve clipped the net and rolled back, but he still managed to take the point from the rally that ensued following his second serve.

Forty – Love.

He lost the next point to a brilliant forehand, but for once he was unconcerned.

Forty – Fifteen.

Twisting his body he put power and speed into this next serve. His opponent had little chance.

He took the first game.

The second game his opponent held onto but John was a touch amused to realise that Sherlock had been completely right. His opponent’s weakness was the backhand and he seemed to favour the down the line shot rather than cross court.

With that in mind he held his serve in the third game and then took his chance to break in the fourth before holding his serve once more in the fifth. His opponent held the serve in the sixth, and due to a lapse in concentration almost broke him back to take the seventh, the game going to deuce before John managed to pull it back. His opponent kept serve on the eighth, but it was of no issue, all he had to do was retain his serve on the ninth. Which he did.

“First set Watson, six games to three.”

Right, he was so doing this.

*

The resulting press conference was unsurprisingly busier than before, the sight alone making him feel a little giddy. He was already a little bubbly from the match as it was. It was almost like his birthday. He had forgotten what it was like to have the backing of the crowd, limited although it had been, and then to come away winning. Oh it was better than a birthday, it was like his birthday and Christmas all rolled into one.

“Don’t expect you thought you’d be seeing me at another one of these,” he said fighting to keep his grin down to an acceptable level as he took his seat.

The reporters laughed all ready to start asking questions. He recognised a few of them as being from the BBC, ITV, a few of the newspapers but he couldn’t remember the last time the majority had been in the same room as him at the same time.

“That was a good win over someone over eighty places better than you,” one started, “how does that feel?”

“Good,” he said and leant back with a smile. “Very good. It’s always a pleasant feeling to walk off a court the winner. Even better when you beat someone apparently much better than you.”

“I suppose that’s not a feeling you’ve had many times in the past few years,” another voice asked.

“No,” he said, “no, it’s not, so if you don’t mind I plan on enjoying it while it lasts.”

“Was your decision to announce your retirement brought on by your previous inability to win, and if so will you reconsider your plans should you progress further in this competition?”

Leaning forward he crossed his arms on the table in front of him. “I would be lying,” he said, “if I claimed that my decision to retire wasn’t at least partly motivated by my recent match history, but if that was the whole story I would have retired years ago.”

He let them laugh.

“Win or lose, I just feel that now is the right time to finally hang up the racket. I’m getting on in tennis years as my body frequently reminds me, but that’s not to say that I don’t want to first go out with a bang.”

“What do you think of your chances of getting through the next round are?”

He flashed a smile. “Depends on who I’ve got.”

“You don’t know?” the reporter said almost surprised.

“I’ve been a bit busy,” he admitted. “Haven’t had a chance to check, but I’ve got a feeling you’re about to tell me.”

“It’s your old training partner,” the reporter replied, “D. I. Dimmock.”

Oh. Right.

*

Daniel Ian Dimmock, or D.I. as he liked to be called, had been his training partner for a few years until they went their separate ways once it became painfully clear that Dimmock was on his way up while he had been on his way down. He hadn’t blamed Dimmock for their parting, the young man had needed someone better than him, or at least someone who wanted it more than he did. That had always been part of the problem he knew, after the accident, despite what he had gone through with the physiotherapy and retraining, he just hadn’t wanted it as much anymore.

“Hey mate, I hear we’ve been drawn against each other in the next round.”

“Yeah,” he said tearing his eyes away from the screen to offer Dimmock the spare seat. He didn’t look that much different from the last time he had met the Canadian, although that wasn’t too surprising as it had only been a few months since they had last bumped into each other.

“Congratulations on your win earlier,” he continued, “I hear you knocked out a seed.”

“Yeah,” Dimmock said stretching out his legs, “twenty-third seed and he’d had a long first round match, but a seed none the less.”

“Still,” John said, “good result. What rating are you at the moment?”

“Forty-third,” Dimmock said. “You?”

John made some sort of vague noise. “I’ve lost track.”

Dimmock flashed him a smile. “That good then.”

“Hmmm,” John said his eyes flickering back to the screen where a very familiar Frenchman was collecting balls from a ball girl.

“Who’s on?” Dimmock asked following his gaze.

“Gregson – Holmes,” John said watching as Sherlock’s serve thudded across the net for his fifteenth ace of the match clocking in at an impressive hundred and thirty-two miles an hour.

“Blimey,” Dimmock said. “Holmes winning then?”

“Yeah,” John said. “One game all, third set. 6-3, 6-4 to Holmes in the first two.”

“Sounds like his then. Not surprising, but Gregson’s going to be annoyed. When we played in Australia he told me he was hoping to at least make it to the third round here. Probably didn’t expect to pull Holmes in the second round though. That man…” he made a noise of admiration. “You ever played against either of them?”

“Gregson,” John admitted. “Knocked me out first round of the US last year. Won the first set, crashed out on the rest. You?”

“Both,” Dimmock said. “Played Gregson about nine times now. He’s winning six matches to three unfortunately. Holmes, I’ve only played him once. French Open, this year, the one he almost won. Got him in the second round. He literally sliced through my game like a warm knife through butter. Slippery fellow, virtually impossible to break down. His game and style changes with every person he plays. Makes it hard to find his habits or weak spots. Can’t believe he lost that final though, in front of his home crowd and all. One hell of a match though. Smart money’s on a Holmes - Nadal final here. If so, wouldn’t want to call that.”

“No,” John agreed watching as Sherlock broke Gregson’s serve to take the score to three – one in the third.

“How’s your shoulder?” Dimmock asked shooting him a slightly wry grin.

“Good,” he said. “How’s your knee?”

“Better than ever,” Dimmock said, “thanks for asking.”

“Excellent.” He glanced back at the screen and they watched for a bit. It looked like Sherlock was about to take the fifth game, and he did, finishing the point with a well-placed forehand drive that Gregson had no hope of getting.

“I’ll leave you to it then,” Dimmock said getting to his feet. “See you Friday then. Don’t be late.”

He rolled his eyes but went back to watching the game. Gregson was on serve again but it was clear the fight had gone out of his game, Sherlock returning the serve cross court then coming in to volley the return taking the score to fifteen all.

Gregson’s next serve went wide, his second serve was slower and gave Sherlock plenty of time to back hand the winner down the line. Gregson pulled it together to offer a serve that Sherlock could only net taking the score to thirty all, but it was clear he knew it was almost over.

The game went to deuce, but a double fault gave Sherlock the advantage and a neat little drop shot gave him the game taking it to five games to one, third set, Holmes to serve.

He did so quickly and efficiently, twice literally into Gregson’s body, once to his backhand before closing the match with another ace. Game, set, match Holmes, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.

John nodded in acknowledgement of a match very well played. Gregson looked drained and weary as he shook hands with Sherlock over the net. John didn’t need to imagine what that felt like, he had experienced losing in such situations many, many times before. Knowing Gregson he would either hide himself away to lick his wounds or drink himself into oblivion.

“Freaky frog won again?”

He turned at the sound of the female voice and found himself facing the woman he had met on the practice courts the day before.

“If you’re referring to Holmes,” he said as mildly as he could, “then yes, he has.”

She looked at him, a frown on her face. “You’re not his friend,” she said bluntly. “He doesn’t have friends. So who are you?”

Who was he? Well, he couldn’t exactly admit that he had been the one balls deep inside the Frenchman less than forty-eight hours before, and anyway, what did that even mean?

“I’m… I’m nobody,” he said basically truthfully. “I just met him.” Which wasn’t exactly a lie either.

“Okay,” she said moving a little closer, “bit of advice then. Stay away from that guy.”

He frowned, tipping his head slightly. “Why?” he asked.

“You know why he’s disliked? It’s because he uses people. He gets to know you, finds out your weaknesses and then bang, drops you just like that. And you know what, he gets off on it. The closer he gets to someone the more he enjoys it. He’ll make you think one thing then once he’s got what he wants he’ll turn on you fast as anything.”

“Why would he do that?” he asked with a frown.

“Because he gets bored. He doesn’t care about anyone but tennis and himself.”

“Sally!”

She looked up as her name was called.

“Coming,” she shouted back before giving him a sharp look. “Stay away from Sherlock Holmes,” she said, then she left.

He sat there for a moment, his mind churning over what she had said. Sherlock cared about nothing and no-one except tennis. Well, yes, he could believe that, especially from what he had seen of his interviews or reports in the press, but then again he had also seen another side to Sherlock Holmes. The side where he had warmly greeted a man who had once tried to nick his possessions. The side where he had shed his anonymity to prove a young girl right and save the blushes of a virtual stranger.

Yes, so their whole not a date night out had ended up with them playing tonsil tennis, but that probably would have happened regardless of whether Sherlock had stuck his neck out or not. He hadn’t asked him to and he certainly hadn’t expected it, and the Frenchman had clearly known that.

So was Sally right? Was he just being used and would be dropped again as soon as? Well that was always the possibility, but it wasn’t as if he hadn’t also got something out of it. If nothing else it had been the best shag he’d had in a long time, and who knew, maybe the Frenchman would be up for a little second round celebration tonight.

He looked at the screen where Sherlock was now being interviewed by a BBC presenter. His face was a touch flushed, his dark curls sticking to his forehead. It was a good look for him.

Stay away from Sherlock Holmes he thought with a small smile. Not tonight. Tonight he planned on getting incredibly close to the controversial Frenchman.

*

“Hi, Sherlock, it’s John. Just thought I’d call to congratulate you on your win. Pretty impressive. I believe I offered fish and chips, and you know, whatever comes with that. Call me. Or text if you’d prefer. Either way you have my number. Bye.”

Bye? He pressed the call end button and frowned. What was he, a twelve year old school girl with a first crush? This was embarrassing, but needs must. He was already eager just from replaying scenes from the other night. Maybe this time he’d have the chance to do more exploring. There were still plenty of places on the Frenchman’s body that he hadn’t had the chance to become fully acquainted with yet.

He passed some more time wondering around the players’ and members’ area waiting for his mobile to buzz. It did once but that was just his sister. Dutifully he answered this time, although he had his responses ready to hand. Yes, he was fine. Yes, that included his shoulder. Yes, he was into the third round. No, he wasn’t going to get her tickets. No, calling him a lousy brother was not going to help her case. No, he hadn’t seen Clara. Yes, he was busy thank you very much, so no, he wasn’t about to go hunt down her ex just because she asked him to. Yes, he probably did need to get laid more but that wasn’t the point, and talking to her was hardly going to help his case. Yes, he was going to hang up now. Really, yes, goodbye.

He hung up. Somehow talking to his sister always took more out of him than playing a game of tennis. He needed a drink but he knew he shouldn’t. He might not have a match tomorrow, but he preferred to stay clear headed for everything and anything that might happen tonight.

Half an hour later and there was still no response or any sign of Sherlock. Seeing a face he knew, he made a beeline over.

“Sarah,” he said greeting her with a smile. “How are you?”

“John,” she said returning the smile and allowing him to give her a quick hug. “Wondered if I would see you here. You’re looking well and from what I’ve seen and heard you’re playing well too.”

He nodded and thanked her, spending a few minutes talking about his matches and then her own. Apparently she had unfortunately lost her ladies’ singles second round match that afternoon but was due to be playing in the ladies’ doubles first round the next day. He wished her good luck with that, glad that she had found a suitable doubles partner after the disaster of the time they had tried to be a doubles partnership. Of course their disaster on the court had been matched by their disaster off it. Their almost relationship had sparked briefly into life before spluttering to a damp end when it became clear they were far better off as friends. So friends they still were. Well, sort of. At least she was one of the closest friends he had on the circuit, so that certainly counted for something.

Eventually he found the opportunity to ask his question.

“You haven’t, uh, happened to have seen Sherlock Holmes around, have you?” he said.

“Sherlock Holmes?” she said although with less surprise and more curiosity than he might have expected, especially from her. “I thought I heard rumours that the two of you had been seen together,” she said watching him closely. “Anything you’d like to tell me?”

For a brief moment he wondered how she might have known; about Angelo’s, about the shagging, about what he was hoping for tonight. Then he briefly panicked regarding who else might know before realising that she knew nothing about that and that her question was rather more innocent.

“It was just a knock around practice,” he said correctly realising that she was referring to their time on the practice courts the day before. “Neither of us have practice partners here, so it made sense. That’s all.”

“And now?” she asked raising her eyebrows.

He gave her what he hoped appeared to be a reassuring but somewhat innocent smile. “Thought I’d congratulate him on his win and ask if he wanted to do the same tomorrow since we’re both through and both have days off.”

She looked at him closely but finally seemed satisfied. “You just missed him,” she said. “I saw him leave in a black car about half an hour ago.”

Half an hour ago? Damn.

He rose to his feet.

“John.”

“Hmm?” he said stopping.

“Be careful,” she said. “I don’t know what you’re thinking or planning to do, but be careful with him. I’ve heard things, things that aren’t necessarily good. I wouldn’t want you to be the latest to fall prey to his ways.”

He frowned slightly but nodded, patting her on the hand. “You know me,” he said. “You really think I’m going to fall for any of his crap?”

She smiled but let him go without another word on the matter, wishing him luck on his next round draw.

Exiting the club he returned to the Dorchester, but there was no sign of Sherlock anywhere, nor had there been any messages or texts to his phone. Dammit.

He hovered in the foyer for a few minutes pondering his next move. There was a thin line between polite interest and stalking, he knew, and he had no plans to be on the wrong side of it. On the other hand he didn’t even know if Sherlock had got his message. Then again he could well have done but was ignoring him… it. Damn again. The problem was he didn’t even know where Sherlock was staying. He recalled mention of a suite but not of the name or number. If he knew that then maybe he could….

He spotted the main reception desk. Maybe he could just ask, he realised.

Plan in hand he walked up to the desk and put on his best polite smile.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“Probably,” he said brightly. “I was hoping you could tell me in which room Sherlock Holmes is staying.”

Her smile seemed to falter slightly but then she was turning away and tapping something into her computer.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said looking back up, “but there does not appear to be anyone staying here under that name.”

What? He frowned. “Are you sure?” he asked. “He has a suite. Could you check again, please.”

“Certainly, sir.” She resumed her tapping and then returned with her apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, sir.”

“Really?” he said. “Frenchman, about six foot tall, dark curly hair, blue eyes, wears either sports gear or a suit.”

She shook her head. “Maybe he’s staying somewhere else,” she said, “but we haven’t had any bookings under that name.”

He was about to ask about any other names that might be similar, or even under that other gentleman’s name – Lestrade wasn’t it – when he became aware of an imposing black suited figure beside him.

“Is there a problem here, sir?” a gruff voice said very firmly.

He turned to find himself eye to chest with one of the security personnel, an imposing figure whose neck seemed about the same width as John’s thigh.

“Ah, no,” he said quickly taking a step back. “I was just going. Thank you for your time,” he said shooting a smile to the receptionist before backing away.

Well that was… unexpected. He frowned trying to figure out just what had happened and what was really going on. Was Sherlock really not staying here, or was there something more?

Looking up he suddenly saw a familiar figure not too far from the lifts who was also looking at him with a strange expression. The man turned away when their eyes met, but John wasn’t about to let him go that easily.

“Lestrade,” he called darting across the foyer. “Wait.”

It was with great reluctance that the other man stopped and turned back to him, jaw tightening.

“What’s going on?” he asked. “I’m looking for Sherlock but they’re telling me that he’s not staying here. Do you know where he is?”

The other man looked at him blankly before replying, “Désolé, Monsieur, mais je ne parle pas anglais.”

John rolled his eyes. “Don’t give me that,” he said, “we both know that’s not true. You spoke English perfectly well the first time I saw you when you were shouting at Sherlock on the practice courts, and I know for a fact you’re just as French as he is.”

Lestrade pulled a face but seemed to take the effort to check to see who else was around before lowering his voice and pulling him to one side.

“Okay, fine,” he said in perfect English with a faint trace of a West Country accent. “But I’m not about to tell you where he’s staying. Trust me, that’s more than my job’s worth. But I will say this, for your own good I would advise you not getting involved with him. Or at least not more involved than you already are.”

He opened his mouth to say something but was quickly cut off.

“No, don’t give me any BS. I know what the pair of you have been getting up to and I really don’t care about that. You’re both grown men. But you seem like a decent chap, I wouldn’t want you to get burnt over this. Sherlock Holmes is a great tennis player, but as a man he isn’t so good. So for god’s sake, forget about him and just concentrate on your tennis, because god knows if it comes down to a choice between anything or the tennis, and I literally mean anything, he’ll pick the tennis every time. Got that?”

He nodded unable to even think of anything to say against that.

“Good,” Lestrade said. “And I’m sorry, I really am, but it’ll be better that way. You’ll see.”

“Right,” he said and swallowed dryly. Lestrade nodded and clapped him once on the upper arm and then left him there.

If there was one thing he had heard over and over again it was to leave Sherlock Holmes well and truly alone. Shit, he really wished he had known that before all of this had started because he had a funny sinking feeling in his stomach that it was already almost too late.

Damn it to hell!

He took the lift up to his room, his mind whirling. Maybe it was just the sex, he thought. Maybe that was simply it. The sex had been good – no, bloody brilliant – so of course he would want more. But even as he thought that he knew it wasn’t totally true. In truth he had enjoyed himself when he had been with Sherlock. He had laughed and relaxed and felt better than he had in a long time.

Christ this was a mess.

Reaching his room he fumbled for his key-card before opening the door.

There was no one in there.

*

He knew all about post-match emotional crashes, having experienced quite a number in his life, but this was the first time he’d had such a serious one coming off the high of a euphoric win.

Sighing he entered the room and stowed his bags and rackets carefully out of the way. The room phone didn’t have any messages on it and his mobile was staying stubbornly silent. Sitting on the bed he switched on the telly just in time to see the tennis highlights, but switched it off again after a few minutes.

What to do now?

He lay back on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. It wasn’t as if he had expected to still be here by this point. Through to the third round, whoever would have thought that? And he was playing better tennis than he had done in a long time. Dimmock next and there was always the possibility that he would beat him. Then what? The fourth round. He hadn’t seen the fourth round of a competition in years. That would be nice. But no, he wasn’t about to get ahead of himself. Dimmock would be a challenge. He mustn’t take that one lightly.

Sighing, he rolled off the bed and stretched. The adrenaline and endorphins from the match had finally worn off leaving him to finally feel the cost of the win to his muscles. Win or lose he certainly wasn’t bouncing back as he had done when he was younger, but at least it didn’t feel as if he had damaged anything. He couldn’t risk stiffening up though. Maybe another shower would do him good; the heat would help his muscles and the whole thing would take his mind off everything else.

His room might be smaller than most in this hotel, but the shower was heavenly. He lost track of how long he stayed in there, only knowing there was condensation everywhere by the time he emerged. Drying himself with the first towel, he wrapped the second around himself and wandered back into the cooler air of the main room.

He stopped in surprise. Okay, a bit more than surprise.

“Hope you don’t mind, but I thought I’d occupy myself while you were otherwise indisposed.”

Sherlock Holmes was once again stretched out on his bed, his laptop perched on his thighs, black-socked toes wiggling while he looked very relaxed and very much at home. John tried not to gape but knew he failed horribly. For a moment he wanted to ask what the other man was doing there but discarded it as a pointless question. He closed his mouth and instead ran his hand through his damp hair.

“You’ve changed your password,” Sherlock commented, not even bothering to look up as he waved briefly to the laptop before typing something incredibly fast. “PissoffSherlock, not the most imaginative, but points for style. Although, I admit I started with fuckoffSherlock but it’s pretty much the same thing.” He then looked up with a slight frown. “While I appreciate the sight of you in just a towel, you may want to get dressed before we go out.”

He blinked finally getting enough act together to move fully into the main room.

“Where exactly are we going?” he asked.

“Fish and chips,” Sherlock said simply. “I believe it’s a British delicacy you wished to treat me to. Then I thought perhaps a walk, see some of the greener London sights, and then back here so you can bend me over this bed and give me a good seeing to. How does that sound?”

“Ah, good,” he managed suddenly aware that his curious onset of light headedness was most probably due to a certain amount of blood rushing elsewhere, namely downwards so to speak. Dammit, he wasn’t fifteen.

Breathing in deeply and trying to think of something, anything else, he licked his lips and cleared his throat. “Sounds good,” he finally managed. “Uh, yeah.”

“Excellent,” Sherlock said. “Which means you might want to start moving, and don’t mind me, I’ve seen it all before.”

Well that was true, he had to admit. Pulling himself together, he crossed over to the chest of drawers to pull out a pair of pants. Then without a shred of embarrassment or hesitation he dropped his towel in order to pull them on. Next he found a decent enough shirt – one of his checked ones – a pair of non-white non-tennis socks, and finally his jeans.

“Has anyone told you,” Sherlock said having not even so much as moved an inch, “that you have the most gorgeous bottom.”

He laughed slightly buckling his belt. “Yes, actually,” he said. “Although not recently.”

“Criminal,” Sherlock said finally closing the lid of the laptop and rising from the bed, “because it really is something that should be appreciated more often.”

The hand that sneaked round to squeeze his arse did so without hesitation or compunction.

“Hmm, yes, definitely,” Sherlock said giving him a light squeeze, “but later. Come on.”

The hand tapped his behind firmly before Sherlock turned away to slip on his shoes.

“And don’t forget your wallet.”

They ended up finding a fish and chip restaurant that did take-away not too far from the hotel. Laden down with the hot food and a couple of bottles of mineral water, they wandered back to Hyde Park where they sat on a bench and watched the evening draw in and the people pass by. The food was pretty good and they talked casually. It turned out that Sherlock knew very little about films or TV programmes, looking blank when John mentioned James Bond. Apparently if it didn’t concern tennis then Sherlock wasn’t hugely interested.

After the food they strolled through Hyde Park while Sherlock pointed out what he could deduce about the people they passed. It was all rather pleasant, more than pleasant in fact, and in direct conflict with everything he had been told that day – by Sally, by Sarah, by Lestrade.

“I bumped into that chap of yours,” he said after a few moments of silence. “Lestrade. In the foyer of the hotel.”

“Hmm, yes,” Sherlock said mildly, “he mentioned something of that.”

“Did he tell you what he told me?” he asked.

“Not exactly,” Sherlock said, “but I can deduce. No doubt you had been asking questions of my whereabouts and he’d taken it upon himself to remind you that I care for nothing and no-one except my tennis. Am I right?”

John confirmed that he was.

“And yet we both know that already,” Sherlock continued. “I shag, I don’t date. At the end of this tournament we will go our separate ways. You know what that means. Until then I enjoy your company – which cannot be said for most of the people I ever meet – and I will physically take whatever it is you want to give. Any issues with that then you should walk away, but I’m not about to pretend that this is any more than that.”

That was… pretty much what he had expected; a brief fling, a bit of company during something that could otherwise be rather lonely, and some rather memorable sex. Yeah, he could do that. And if he won more matches along the way then so much the better. He had wanted to go out with a bang anyway. At least this would be memorable.

“I can live with that,” he said bluntly.

“Good,” Sherlock said. “Was there anything else?”

“Yeah,” he said, “that other tennis player, Donovan, she says you get off on this.”

Sherlock raised his eyebrows. “I’ve just told you that, and here you still are.”

He quirked his lips. “Coffee?” he said.

Sherlock smiled. “Thought you’d never ask.”

*

Feeling Sherlock’s arse stretch around him was just as good as the last time.

Easing his way in, John paused to allow Sherlock to adjust to his size while he admired the gorgeous sight beneath him. Bent forward over the bed, Sherlock’s back was stretched out before him, a multitude of tan lines from various clothing. His bare arse was the palest, protected from the sun by a variety of shorts, his back a touch darker from where he must have been practicing topless. His arms were the darkest although still not as tanned as he might have expected. He was, however, fucking gorgeous all over, and currently very much at John's mercy.

“Hope you’re not waiting for an umpire before you start,” the deep voice grumbled beneath him, the body shifting impatiently.

“Hush,” he said gripping the narrow hips tighter. “Trust you to be impatient.”

Leaning over he pressed his mouth to the smooth skin, breathing out against it before curling his lips into a soft kiss. His body was screaming at him to get on with it, to slide himself in and out of the tight heat currently clenching him, but he forced himself to wait. He was going to take this slow. He was going to take it so slow that Sherlock was going to be begging him, begging him to move, to go faster, to fucking hell let him come.

The soft kiss curved into a smile. Oh yes, they were going to do things his way. They had the time after all, and there was no telling if he would ever have the chance to have the Frenchman like this again.

A whine from beneath him had him pressing his teeth into the kiss, nipping gently but warningly at the soft skin. The wiggling ceased with a heavy outward breath and he giggled slightly before running his tongue up the curve of the spine, pressing further into that delectable arse as he stretched up.

“Move, please,” he heard from beneath him, said in such a way that it shot right to his cock.

God that voice.

“Okay,” he said because that voice was just so damn hard to ignore, and slowly pulled out until only the head of his penis was inside. Then he pushed back in nearly as slowly.

“How’s that?”

He repeated the motion a touch faster, this time chuckling at the slight moan he got for his trouble.

Shifting his feet wider he moved again and knew the instant he found Sherlock’s prostate.

“Oh yes,” he breathed as the body flexed beneath him. “That’s the shot.”

He sped up a touch giving in to the desires of his own body, but kept his strokes long and steady in what he knew would be a pleasant but slightly maddening way. It was certainly both for him, his eyes falling briefly shut as he breathed in and relaxed into the sensations.

Christ it had been a long time since he’d had a long slow fuck. The last time they had done this had been fucking gloriously brilliant, but there was something to be said about taking the time to build things slowly.

“You know, you left marks on me last time,” he said as casually as he could, punctuating the sentence with a stronger than usual thrust at the end.

“Did I?” the Frenchman said, his voice not quite as steady as he might have been aiming for.

“Hmm,” he said. “On my back. Mike, my doctor, commented, wanted to know who the lucky lady was.”

“Ah!... oh yes, there. God, John, do that again!”

He sped up briefly giving half a dozen faster, harder thrusts that had Sherlock groaning in appreciation. Oh, yes, he could groan so nicely. Then he slowed down again, chasing back his instinct to turn this into some quick, fast romp that would be good, very good, but over far too soon.

“Bâtard!” he heard Sherlock mutter. He didn’t know what he meant but he could give a very good guess.

He chuckled again, sneaking a hand round to play with an offered nipple.

“Hmm, yes,” he said. “It was your fingers actually. Left lines down my back.”

“Long…hmmm… thin fingers. Yes, there! Mon Dieu! Good for the violin.”

“You play the violin?” He nipped at the curved back and pinched the nipple between his fingers.

Sherlock jerked, clenching around him at the sensation.

“Hmm, yes,” the Frenchman finally managed after a number of deep breathes. “Violin. Yes.”

“A man of many talents.”

“A man… hmmm… who will only take… putain!... oh, yes… so much… teasing.”

He could feel the tension in the body beneath him, the growing desperation in wanting more, in wanting something, anything to touch his swollen cock, but being denied.

Shifting his weight forward he finally gave in and sped up, pressing more force into each thrust, pushing up onto his toes as he did. Sherlock’s head dropped, his shoulders sloping in relief as his thrust back against him, hips jerking, mouth gasping.

“There you go,” he said entranced by the curve of the Frenchman’s back, the warm embrace of his arse. “Oh god, that’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”

“Oui… Mon Dieu, oui,” he heard, a jolt shooting through him and directly to his balls at the knowledge that he had reduced Sherlock back to French. “Plus fort, Jean. S’il-te-plait! Tout cela…Baise moi! Baise moi, Jean!”

“Oh god, you have no idea what you sound like, how good you feel.” He pressed his lips against that back again throwing in three quicker, shorter thrusts directly against Sherlock’s prostate, marvelling wide eyed at the way the body beneath him jerked.

“So fucking gorgeous,” he breathed out. “Can you come from just this?”

“Non,” came the reply, breathy with just a hint of desperation. “Touche-moi. Je t’en prie, Jean… touche-moi!”

“Hmm?” he asked having a good idea what was being asked of him but really wanting to see what Sherlock would do next.

What happened was that the body shifted and a hand scrambled to grab one of his, tugging it impatiently to where Sherlock’s cock had so far been neglected. Smiling, John obediently wrapped his fingers around it, a single pump causing Sherlock to buckle with a long and hard appreciative groan.

“God you’re so hard,” he said sliding his hand up and down it in time with his thrust. “Not going to last long, are you?”

Hell, he wasn’t going to last much longer either, not with the way Sherlock’s hips were now buckling and a stream of broken French was flooding from his lips. His hands were sliding now, struggling to keep a grasp, one from the thin sheen of sweat coating each of their bodies, the other from the pre-come on the hard, aching cock.

“Oh god, so close,” he gasped pressing his forehead into Sherlock’s back as he felt the heat build-up in his own groin. Oh Christ that felt good.

He forced himself in harder and deeper relinquishing all pretence of maintaining a tight control. He wanted this, god he wanted this so much. The warm body beneath him, the tight burning clasp round his cock, the erection sliding back and forth through his fingers, thick and wet. Oh god he wanted to taste it.

“Oui!” he heard the Frenchman gasp beneath him, the rest of his words sliding together into an indistinguishable babble, hips thrusting back and forth with an almost desperate drive. “J’vais… j’vais….”

And then he was there, back arching, arse clenching as John felt the cock in his hand momentarily harden impossibly further as then Sherlock came with a groan barely short of pornographic, stripping John of any and all control he had left.

Jerking his hips faster, he squeezed his eyes shut and gave into all the sensations, wringing out some last breathy groans before burying himself in deep and letting the orgasm roll over him like an unstoppable tide.

It was so good, so fucking, gloriously good, the pinnacle of a brilliant day. His body shook, his mouth falling open as he sucking in air, his head falling to rest on the smooth skin, rubbing his cheek against the dampness of the back.

When he came back to himself he found himself draped over Sherlock’s, the Frenchman’s arms shaking slightly from the exertion of keeping them from plummeting head first onto the bed.

“Jean,” he heard and then a firmer, “John,” which had him drawing back and apologising as he carefully slid out mindful of the condom.

Sherlock didn’t move for a moment, his head still hanging between his shoulder blades, his breaths deep, his now softening cock partially coated in the remains of their activities. He looked wrecked, absolutely fucking wrecked, stripped away of everything people knew him as. Then he was standing up, head up, shoulders back, suddenly looking completely in control despite the mess of his stomach and crotch.

“Wait, ah, let me get you something,” John said suddenly finding it imperative to put a little distance between them.

Heading to the bathroom, he quickly located a spare flannel, dampened it and then returned to the main room, wordlessly handing it over.

Sherlock’s wiping down of himself was quick and perfunctory before he tossed the cloth back into the bathroom.

Now it was over John found he wasn’t too sure what to do or say. This wasn’t a relationship, that had been made very clear. There wasn’t about to be some post-coital cuddling or emotional whisperings in each other’s ears. They had already eaten and the only distractions in the room were the telly and his laptop. They were also both still naked, although being athletes both were used to nudity, except not exactly in this situation. Should he say something? Do something?

“Oh for god’s sake stop looking so bloody awkward,” Sherlock snapped from where he was now reclining on the bed. “I can practically hear you thinking from here. Put some pants on if it makes you feel better, and if you want me to leave just say. I won’t be staying too long anyway, but if it’s a choice between you and Lestrade you’re infinitely less irritating. Oh, and pass me my phone while you’re thinking about it.”

The phone was in the pile of clothing that had been quickly discarded before Sherlock had handed him the condom and lube and promptly bent over the bed, pale arse high.

“Looks like you’ve got some messages,” he said handing it over and finding somewhere safe to perch on the bed.

Sherlock snorted as he flicked through them. “Lestrade, mainly,” he admitted.

“Oh,” John said. “You know you haven’t actually told me what he does, other than bombard you with texts that is.”

Sherlock tossed the phone down. “Glorified babysitter mainly,” he said scornfully. “Apparently I require looking after. He organises everything; hotels, clothing, interviews, what I do, where I go, who I do and don’t see.”

“Oh, right,” John said.

“It’s hateful,” Sherlock said, “but it could be worse.”

“Worse? How?”

“He could be harder to walk over.”

“So, is he the reason I couldn’t find out which room you’re staying in?” John asked. “That is, I’m presuming you are in fact actually staying here, in this hotel.”

“Suite 212,” Sherlock said, “but you don’t want to go in there. Much prefer it down here. Better… view.” Sherlock’s gaze spread appreciatively across John’s body causing him to blush again and clear his throat.

“So,” he finally managed, “practice again tomorrow?”

“I’ll let you know,” Sherlock said, before his mouth quirked up into a strange half smile… “Although, after tonight’s performance, I can attest that there is absolutely nothing wrong with your stroke play.”

*

End Part Two

Chapter Text

Day four brought with it rain, about forty minutes of pale sunshine, and then more rain. Unsurprisingly very little tennis was played for much of the afternoon with the exception of Centre Court where under the roof some of the best players in the world underwent their challenges.

John contented himself with the players' and members' area, switching between looking at the big screen, watching the rain and talking with some of the other players that he knew. Sherlock wasn’t there of course, but he received various texts throughout the day from the Frenchman, most on the theme of BORED or VERY BORED. He smiled when he read each and offered responses, but it was clear they would not be meeting up that day.

He spent some time chatting to Sarah, who had had her doubles match postponed, and since he had no other plans that evening agreed to join her and her doubles partner for dinner back at the Dorchester.

The rain cleared by mid-afternoon and he stood on the balcony and watched as Sarah and her partner finally got to play. They worked well together, something he was quite glad about.

He was momentarily interrupted by the officials asking for a urine and blood sample as part of their random drugs testing. After that he returned to his hotel room and tried to relax. Grabbing his laptop he spent time updating his blog, sometimes answering some of the comments, deleting a couple of rude ones from his sister. On a whim he took the opportunity to read up on Sherlock Holmes, eyes widening as he tried to reconcile the public persona with the man he had been getting to know. It was interesting none the less.

Dinner was pleasant and he was once again glad that he and Sarah had managed to part on good terms. Sherlock was only mentioned briefly and in passing. The man himself was not seen at all.

It took a while for him to fall asleep, but he drifted off in the end and awoke to a somewhat drier, somewhat more action-packed day.

*

“Welcome back to a hopefully drier day at Wimbledon. Clear blue skies and temperatures of nineteen degrees mean we should have a long and eventful day of tennis. As play resumes across the other courts we’ll be looking forward to what we can expect from Centre Court and Court Number One which will include play from Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick, Serena Williams, Sherlock Holmes, Caroline Wozniacki and British hopeful Andy Murray. While our other men’s single player still in, John Watson, takes on his former training partner D.I. Dimmock on Court Number Four later this afternoon. Stay tuned because we have a lot for you.”

The bad weather the previous day had pushed his match back, something that only helped to make him feel that bit worse. It had been such a long time since he had reached the third round of any competition and here he was, about to face down one of his oldest and once closest friends, where the prize was to reach the second week of Wimbledon.

The second week of Wimbledon? Christ! No, he could do this. He knew Dimmock’s style, his strengths, his weaknesses. All he had to do was to keep his body together, keep his serve strong and fight, fight for every point.

*

He ached, he ached all over, but it was almost a pleasant kind of ache. Oh yes, a pleasant type indeed.

Closing his eyes he relaxed into the comfortable heat of the steam room, welcoming the pleasant relaxing stretch of his muscles as he lay face down resting on his folded arms.

*

“And warming up on Court Number Four now is former British number one, John Watson, who has already gone further in this competition than anyone could have possibly expected. Can he win for a third time this week? His opponent is none other than his friend and former training partner, D.I. Dimmock, who has already seen off a seed to reach this far.”

*

The heat was seeping through his muscles and bones, making him almost drowsy.

*

“And it looks like Watson has come out fighting. He is really attacking that ball. Long forehand from Dimmock, returned crosscourt by Watson who is moving forward, and yes, brilliant forehand volley from Watson following Dimmock’s backhand. Dimmock really had no chance of getting that.”

*

He should probably get Mike to check out his shoulder again. It had starting to feel a little off again towards the end of the match. Hopefully it wouldn’t be anything serious, although there was the chance he would feel the strain in his leg tomorrow.

*

“Watson is dominating. Who would have expected that?”

“Oh absolutely, such a change from his usual play, but he really is taking it to the Canadian. Dimmock to serve and he really is the one on the back foot here. Oh and another excellent return from Watson. Backhand from Dimmock, returned by Watson, Dimmock trying to drive the ball deeper, but Watson is right there, and an excellent backhand from Watson which Dimmock can only get half a racket to and Watson’s taking the point. Fifteen, Forty, Watson is really forcing Dimmock to move now, literally bashing him around the court.”

“Dimmock looks like he’s really starting to feel it. Did you see how he stared at his racket after that last ball?”

“Like a man searching for answers where there aren’t any. Nice serve by Dimmock, forehand return, Dimmock trying everything now. Watson matching him stroke for stroke. Backhand from Dimmock and…oh yes, an almost cheeky little drop shot there from Watson who takes the point and has just broken Dimmock’s serve.”

“That really was some clever play by Watson, you can see it on Dimmock’s face.”

*

Maybe he should get a massage. That might help to loosen him up a bit more. Or he could just continue to lie here, eyes closed, breathing deeply.

*

“And Watson has done it. Whoever would have guessed before this match started? 7-5, 6-3, 6-3, Watson is through to the fourth round of a major tournament for the first time in how long?”

“Over five years at least.”

“For the first time in over five years. And he certainly looks happy about it. There will be celebrations tonight.”

*

“It was a lot closer than it looked,” he said prying open his eyes when Dimmock came to join him on the neighbouring table. “An inch here or there and it could have been a whole different story.”

Dimmock snorted, stretching out on his back to stare up at the ceiling. “You’re a horrible liar, Watson,” Dimmock said. “I know when I’ve been beaten and today you trampled over me like a man possessed. I haven’t seen you play with that amount of passion and aggression for years, not since well before, you know.”

His accident. Yes, he knew.

He turned his head away to the other side.

“So, what’s bitten you?” Dimmock asked.

John wasn’t sure he wanted to think about that answer and Dimmock definitely didn’t want to hear about the mouth of a certain Frenchman. So he just shrugged and then shook out his shoulders. “Oh you know,” he said vaguely before carefully turning onto his back. “Last tournament and all that, guess I’m throwing everything at it.”

“Well just make sure not to throw your shoulder out,” Dimmock warned. “You’ve got Trevor in the next round.”

John grunted. “You heard the results of any of the other matches?” he asked.

“Djokovic’s just taken down Albert Montañés. Roddick’s one set all with Philipp Kohlschreiber. Murray’s through.”

“Sh-Holmes?” he asked.

“Just warming up."

Right. Smiling slightly he closed his eyes and wondered how long it would take Sherlock to take down another player.

*

The press swarmed like flies the moment he stepped out of the dressing rooms, voices overlapping with questions like, “How do you feel?”, “How do you rate your chances?”, “What was it like beating your old practice partner?” merging with the click and flash of the cameras.

He held his hands up to his face to shield his eyes and was guided through the throng to a table he could at least half hide behind.

The press conference was only the start of it though. Once he got through that he was pulled into interview after interview, first with the BBC and then with a handful of other TV networks suddenly interested in the wild card entry who had somehow managed to make it through to the second week of the most famous tennis tournament in the world. He tried to keep each one brief until he was finally told by a pretty dark haired young lady that there was just one more and to follow her. Still very much going with the flow he did so, attempting some small talk as she showed him to a small private room. Of course he was rebuffed, but at least she offered a polite smile as she did so. Well, he thought with his own small smile as she held the door open for him, you couldn’t win them all.

“Ah, please do come in and take a seat, John.”

The room was small but pleasant looking, with a large window at one end that overlooked some of the higher numbered courts. It was by this window that a man in a suit stood looking out, the handle of his umbrella curved over his arm.

“I must congratulate you on your most recent victory. It vos quite the spectacle. You must be positively delighted,” the man said turning to face him. He was wearing a smart, tailored three piece suit, finely cut with a handkerchief in his breast pocket. He looked like the epitome of an English gentleman, although his accent said differently, a slight hint of Central Europe about it. Not German but perhaps Czech.

“Thank you,” he said, glancing around, but could not see any cameras or recording equipment. “Sorry,” he said, “but where did you say you were from? Which, uh, paper, magazine?”

The man gave a very small half smile. “I don’t believe I said,” he replied crossing over to where two comfortable-looking seats stood facing each other. He sat down, carefully leaning his umbrella against the chair’s side and motioning to the other chair. “Do sit, John, you must be tired.”

Still wondering if he was missing something, John sat.

The man nodded in approval. “You could say I’m an independent,” the man said.

“Oh, right.”

“And I have been following your progress vith quite some interest. It has been quite… fascinating.”

John flashed a smile. “Thank you.”

“Tell me though, John, how vould you currently describe your relationship vith Sherlock Holmes?”

He gaped. “I’m sorry?” he managed, not sure he had heard correctly.

The man chuckled. “No need to be coy,” he said, “it vos a simple question. Sherlock Holmes, how vould you describe your connection to him?”

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!

He tightened his hand into a fist and tried to control his rising panic. It was a simple question after all, probably really innocent. They had probably just been spotted together practicing or something. This man was no doubt just digging. Nothing to it. Nothing at all.

“I don’t have one,” he said as casually as he could, keeping both his gaze and his voice level. “I barely know him. I met him… Sunday.”

All true, well mainly, or at least all that this man was going to be told. Freelance journalist or not, he wasn’t going to find out anything that could be sold.

“Mmm,” the man said, “and since Sunday you’ve trained vith him, dined vith him, and engaged in sexual relations vith him… twice.”

What the hell? How? How did this man know this?

“Might ve expect a happy announcement by the end of the tournament?”

Shit, shit, holy fucking shit!

He rose to his feet hand still clenched. “Look,” he said, “I don’t know who you are or how you think you know this, but whatever your game is this interview is over. I’m leaving and if I see just one word of this in print or anywhere else, then I’ll sue. You got that?”

“Sit down, Mr Vatson,” the man said. “I have no desire for this information to go public. That vould not be in either of our best interests I assure you. But valking out of that door now vould also not be in yours.”

He hesitated by the door, staring at the handle that his hand was gripping. Taking a deep couple of breathes he finally turned back around. He knew that leaving would be the most sensible cause of action, but the voice, the man, this whole set up – how had he gotten this room? – they all stopped him.

“Who are you?” he asked with a frown.

“A fan,” the man said after a moment of consideration.

“A fan?” His frown deepened. This man certainly didn’t look like the type and certainly not the sort to be interested in a tennis nobody like him. Oh, of course. He tipped his head slightly. “A Sherlock Holmes fan,” he said.

“Indeed,” the man confirmed. “In fact if you vere to ask him he’d probably say his biggest fan.”

“You mean stalker,” John said. Brilliant, he was talking to an absolute nutcase.

“I like to think of myself in less… derogatory terms,” the man said. “Do you plan to continue your association vith Sherlock Holmes?”

“I could be wrong…” he said slowly, “but I think that’s none of your business.”

“It could be.”

“It really couldn’t. Now excuse me.”

“I am not concerned vith your private actions, Mr Vatson, but I am by his tennis. Sherlock Holmes does not need a distraction and I fear, John, that you are a distraction.”

Shit. Shit. Shit!

“Are you threatening me?”

The man chuckled. “Not at all. But should you cease your contact vith Sherlock Holmes I’d be happy to pay you a meaningful sum of money.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re not a vealthy man.”

That was true, but that wasn’t really the question he had been asking.

“Is this… blackmail?” he said.

The man laughed. “Oh no, nothing so sordid. A business transaction, that is all. I imagine that people have already varned you to stay away from him. I am merely villing to make zat more zan vorth your vhile.”

“No.”

The man’s head tilted to the side in obvious surprise. He didn’t blame him, hell he was surprised. Not surprised by his response – blackmail, bribe, business transaction, didn’t matter, he wasn’t interested – but surprised by the little thought he had given it before responding in the absolute definite. He simply wasn’t interested.

His hand tightened back into a fist.

“Interesting,” the man said slowly. “Most very interesting.”

“Are we done?” he snapped, “because I really have better things to do than listen to you.”

“Oh, no doubt,” the man said, “but it is remarkable none the less.”

He pursed his lips together. “What is?” he forced out.

“Most people… are under the impression that you lack the necessary passion, the drive to truly take on this game. Vhen Sherlock Holmes plays, it is easy to see that fervour, the battlefield of the court. You’ve seen that in him, haven’t you? The vay he fights for every point.”

“What are you saying?”

“I see that in you now. Your fist, your shoulders, the vay you’ve clenched your jaw. Fight or flight, Mr Vatson… you’re standing your ground. The posture of a vinner.”

The man smiled.

“Velcome back.”

It was a smile hard to determine, not one of pleasure or delight, not exactly mocking or derisive, nor of satisfaction or contentment, yet the ends of his lips were raised and John felt himself being considered far more closely than he would have liked.

Opening the door he walked out. The noise and bustle struck him immediately, washing over him in an almost overwhelming manner after the quiet stillness of the last room.

Christ!

He ran his hands over his face. What the hell had that been all about? What the fucking hell was going on?

He could feel himself shaking, the come down after an intense encounter, like the crash after a match once the adrenaline had worn off. Fucking, sodding, fucking hell, he needed a drink, and he needed to get out of here, fast, but first a drink.

He made it to the players and members area and searched for something, anything that wasn’t bloody Pimms.

The big screen was on.

Downing half his beer in one he collapsed onto a chair and looked up, bottle by his lips. Fucking hell it was showing Centre Court and of course Sherlock was the one playing. And he was winning. Of course he was winning. Had almost won in fact. Christ that man could hit a ball. His fan was right, it was like a battlefield and Sherlock was taking no prisoners.

He sat in silence as the last set was played out, Sherlock producing some breathtaking shots. Then finally there came the winner, a backhanded volley that sent the crowd cheering. Sherlock won – 7-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Christ he had to get out of here.

*

He took refuge in his hotel room, having managed to avoid the press and bystanders in the process to do so. Despite the passage of time and the drink he was still a little unnerved, his epic win that afternoon pushed aside by his most recent encounter.

A fan? Fuck! Whoever that man had been he had been as creepy as hell. Was that what Sherlock had to put up with? If so it was no wonder he didn’t check into hotels under his real name and had a glorified babysitter. If Lestrade wasn’t at least part bodyguard then he should hang up his racket now. In fact, was that why Lestrade had appeared when he had been asking the girl in reception where Sherlock was staying? Had she alerted him or something?

Christ, this was a mess.

Grabbing his mobile he checked it and then checked his room phone. There was no contact from Sherlock. Well, there wouldn’t be, would there? The guy was probably still in the shower or having to face his own press. Or his stalker. Bloody hell he needed to be warned.

He quickly dialled Sherlock’s number. Unsurprisingly it went to answerphone.

“Sherlock, it’s John. Uh, congrats on your recent win. Look, I need to talk to you. It’s pretty urgent actually, and important. Call me when you get this.”

He hung up and stared at it, but it adamantly refused to ring.

Bugger it to hell. Christ he could do with another drink.

The knock on his door had him springing to his feet and yanking it open. It had to be Sherlock and he was ready to grab him and pull him in, but froze when he realised it wasn’t the lanky Frenchman. In fact the person in front of him wasn’t lanky, wasn’t French and was most decidedly not a man.

“Clara?”

“John.”

They ended up downstairs in one of the opulent lounging areas, seated opposite each other across a small round table. Clara wasn’t particularly different from the last time he had seen her, which had been about a year earlier following her rather vocal break up from his sister. Her hair was shorter, now cut elegantly to her jaw line, and she was dressed in a nicely cut dark suit that brought out her hazel eyes.

“Harry’s not here,” he said once they established that he wasn’t interested in ordering any of the hotel’s Wimbledon themed cakes or drinking their no doubt excellent tea.

“Yes, I know,” she replied sitting back with her own cup of Earl Grey. “It wasn’t Harry that I wanted to see.”

He sighed. Yes, he had suspected as much. “You’re not still my agent are you?” he said, “because I was quite sure that when you and Harry split I got the toss as well.”

Clara smiled a little tightly. “Of course you didn’t,” she said, “that would have been highly unprofessional of me.”

So, arguably, had been shagging his sister, but he didn’t raise that because in truth they had been good together. Well, at least until the arguing and Harry’s drinking of course.

“You didn’t return any of my phone calls,” he said, “or my emails come to think about it. You can see how a guy can get the wrong impression.”

She ground her lips together and put down her cup. “Fine, alright,” she said, “I haven’t exactly been in communication.”

He snorted. “Oh please, you dumped me.”

“Yes, alright,” she said, “but that was because of you and not because of Harry. Look John, I like you and all but I can’t promote a non-entity. A year ago you were nothing. Hell, a week ago you were nothing, but here you are existing again and I want to take full advantage of that before you disappear again.”

“Oh god, you’re here to make money.”

“And you’re here to play tennis. With my help we can do both, and god knows you could do with the money.”

Well that was true. Tennis didn’t pay for itself and there was only so long that the prize money he had managed to accumulate by reaching later stages of major competitions early in his career would last. In fact he was pretty much at the end of it. Really at the end of it. That was one of the reasons in truth that he was hanging up his rackets, because he simply couldn’t afford to play – and lose – anymore.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

“Oh nothing major right now,” she admitted, “but there are some prize-givings I could get you. Minor sponsorship. Question of Sport.”

“You’ll have to cut your commission,” he said.

“Oh no,” she said firmly, “the fee is non-negotiable. Everyone pays ten percent.”

He eyed her suit. It was a very nice suit. Hand made it looked like, and her watch was nice, new too, expensive. You can tell a lot about a person from their hair, clothes, shoes and watch. Christ he was already starting to sound like Sherlock. But none the less, Clara did appear to be doing well for herself. She could afford to take less. She owed him.

“Five percent,” he said firmly. “Argue and my next offer will be four.”

He watched her hesitate, her eyes flickering over him, her lips twitching into a sort of smile.

“Five percent,” she said with a nod and held out her hand for him to shake. “You are a changed man, John Watson. You’ve toughened up. I think I like it.”

He smiled and shook her hand.

“Excellent,” she continued. “Now, first things first, Slazenger are this evening hosting a cocktail party. You’re going, don’t argue with me. They’re eager to meet you for the very first time… again. Anyone who is anyone will be there. Murray, Nadal, Djokovic, Holmes, Williams, both Williamses in fact. Lovely girls. I’ll introduce you if you want, or I’m sure I can find you a pretty Russian if that’s more your style. Now don’t look at me like that. Your reputation is of your own making. Now go, change, for god's sake shave and remind me why I stuck with your arse for all those years.”

Put like that he knew he really didn’t have much of a choice.

*

He didn’t have much choice regarding his clothing. He, he hadn’t exactly packed with formal functions in mind. At worst he had figured he would go out in the first round, at best he was a tennis player, he didn’t do dressing up.

He ended up in his smartest trousers and the shirt he had worn to Angelo’s, having had the foresight at least to have put it through the hotel’s laundry service. He showered, shaved, tried to do something with his hair and on a whim splashed himself with some cologne he had in his wash bag. Looking in the mirror he had to admit that he looked… well, good enough. He was an impoverished tennis player after all, not a model.

Christ, Sherlock was going to look stunning, wasn’t he?

He still hadn’t heard from Sherlock, but that had ceased to surprise him. His anxiety had lessened slightly with the passing time as the memory of just how creepy that stalker had been started to fade from his mind. He also figured that Sherlock already knew about the stalker, hence the security and secrecy. Lestrade and co would be able to deal with it. He doubted that anything would go to the press and anyway, no one would print it, and it would be their word against that weirdo.

No, no, it would be fine. He still needed to talk to Sherlock though. Hopefully more than just talk, but first things first.

He was pleasantly surprised to find that they had laid a car on for him, and it wasn’t too long before they were pulling up near the London Eye. It looked like quite the do with nice outfits and the silver lights. Blimey did he feel out of place. Oh look, there was Maria Sharapova again.

Steadying himself, he then entered the throng.

He was far from being the most interesting person there, not when there were some of the top tennis players in the world beside him, but he found himself being acknowledged at least, a few nods from players, some polite comments from agents or sponsors. Get to the semis or even the quarters he was told, and he could get a deal with Robinsons. They were one of Wimbledon’s official sponsors after all. It could be his face across the squash bottles for a while, although he suspected that was only because he was British and Andy Murray would be far too expensive.

“John!”

Looking up he found Clara coming his way, glass of something in her hand.

“John, excellent, you’re here. Let me introduce you around.”

The next… well, far too long really, consisted of him being introduced to apparently important people, none of whom really interested him, but he smiled and nodded as was required. The only person he really wanted to see was… Christ, he was looking good.

Sherlock Holmes, it appeared, knew exactly how to dress for one of these. He was in an excellently cut dark suit, with a positively stunning dark purple shirt that brought out both his tan and his eyes. He looked like… well, yes… he looked like a model.

Of course Clara noticed where his attention had gone to and a few minutes later he was being introduced to Sherlock Holmes. That was when it all went a little strange. Sherlock was polite of course (and French accented), but he was also quick to excuse himself and move away.

“Yeah,” Clara said once Sherlock had disappeared into the crowd, “he’s always like that.”

It was, John realised, the first time he had really been treated to the Sherlock Holmes that everyone else seemed to go on about; the rude, abrupt Frenchman who had a habit of looking bored and not caring what people thought of him. It was a surprise, to tell the truth, not that he had expected the most passionate of acknowledgements, but really.

With little else to do he made his way into one of the London Eye pods, taking a position near the far end, away from the door, staring out across the city. A few people spoke to him as the pod rose up, but few were really interested and it wasn’t long before he found himself alone, just him and the beautiful night view of London.

“Stunning, isn’t it?”

He almost jumped when he heard the familiar rich deep voice, no trace of the French accent.

“Oh god,” he said with a gasp, turning slightly to find Sherlock very close behind him. “Did you have to do that?”

The Frenchman quirked his lips, his eyes dancing with amusement.

“I got your message,” he said. “You wanted to talk to me?”

“Oh, yes,” he said momentarily distracted by the way Sherlock’s collar was open.

“Just talk?” the Frenchman said in a voice that was far, far too seductive for the time and place. “I’m disappointed, John. Or is that what you Brits are calling it now?”

Oh god, he really needed to pull himself together. This was bordering on embarrassing and they were in public for goodness sake. He really should not be having fantasies about slowly unbuttoning that shirt and running his tongue across that gorgeous collar bone.

“Yes! No!” he managed before gritting his teeth together in an attempt to ground himself and his thoughts. “That too. Of course. Yes. Very much. But I need to talk to you about something else, someone else. It’s important, but not here. I’m….”

“Ah Sherlock,” an almost sing song voice said from behind them. “Bonsoir. Tu es un homme très difficile à contacter.

They both turned, automatically moving away from each other as they came face to face with a well-dressed man in a suit that was unmistakably bespoke. He was also a very familiar face, although not someone John knew personally, although from the look on Sherlock’s face he did, and was not best pleased by that fact.

“Jim,” he said shortly, his expression oddly closed off. “Goood eeevning.”

Jim tutted at the French accented words. “Rien de cela, Sherlock," he said in fluent French. “Tu sais que je ne suis pas comme les autres.

“Maybeee,” Sherlock replied obstinately in English, “but ma Englessh obviously needs more practice then your francais, and as they say, ‘si fueris Romae, Romano vitito more!’

“As you wish,” Jim replied in a soft American accent tinged with a hint of Irish. “I left you my number,” he said a touch peevishly, “I hoped you would call.”

“Ah have been bizzy,” Sherlock said. “And we ave been playing on different days.”

“Yes, unfortunate that,” Jim said his eyes flickering across to where John was watching the exchange more closely than he perhaps should have been.

“Ah, how careless ov me,” Sherlock said. “Ah should introduce you. John Watsen, Jim Moriartaay. As ah am sure you are aware, Jim is currently ranked seckond in the world.”

“Pleasure,” John said with a small. “Although we’ve kind of met. I bumped into Mr Moriarty at the hotel before the tournament started, quite literally actually. Sorry about that.”

Jim nodded, his smile a little tight. “No, no, no apology necessary. There was no harm done. At least I wasn’t wearing the Westwood.”

His smile held a slight hint of something darker.

“John has just reached the, uh, fourth rooound,” Sherlock continued. “That is quite goood for an Engleeshman, no?”

“Oh, very good,” Jim said with obviously forced delight. “Oh,” he suddenly said eyes flickering between them. “So he’s the one who’s stolen your attention.” He threw his head back and laughed. “Oh to think I thought… no matter. My, my, Sherlock, you have been slipping. You’ve always had strange tastes in pets, but really.”

“Hey,” John said finally having had enough. This was the second time today his not quite relationship had been thrown in his face and he was getting quite sick of it. Not including the fact this Westwood suited, second in the world arsehole had nothing – nothing! – on the demented fan with the umbrella, and he had had enough.

“Listen, mate,” he said quietly but forcefully as he stepped forward. “I don’t know what you think is going on, but….”

“Whoa, whoa,” Moriarty said raising his arms to stop him from getting close enough to touch him and his suit, “having your little pet fight your battles for you now? Tut, tut, Sherlock, he’s like what, a hundred and thirty in the world. He must be one pretty good lay, because that’s all there is for you, isn’t there? The winning and the screwing. Everything else is….”

The sentence didn’t have a chance to be finished as all the pent up emotions – the anxiety, the anger, the confusion – finally came to a head and reaching back, John then punched his fist forward, his knuckles colliding forcefully with Moriarty’s jaw. Fight or flight, as fan man had so succinctly put it. But bugger it to hell, that hurt more than he had expected.

“John.”

He looked up to find Sherlock staring at him wide eyed.

“Yeah,” he said shaking his hand and trying not to wince.

“If you’ve quite recovered… run.”

They ran for it, pushing their way through the other people and out the pod just as it reached ground level. Cameras flashed around them but they didn’t stop, Sherlock leading them through the groups and out onto the road, John on his heels, a grin plastered on his face.

“Taxi!”

They piled into the first cab they could find, Sherlock snapping some address to the cabbie and then they were off, escaping the flashes of the media, leaning back in their seats and then laughing… and then kissing.

*

The kiss… snog… oh god, that tongue… only stopped when their mutual need to ravish each other’s mouths was overwhelmed first by their need to breathe and then by their need to laugh.

Breaking away, John sucked in a deep breath, his hand fisted in dark purple silk as Sherlock’s forehead rested against his shoulder, chest first heaving and then shaking as they both gave way to their mirth.

“Oh god,” he gasped, head tilting back and not caring in the least about how debauched and wild they must look to the cabbie. Oh hell, who would have ever thought that he would care so little about being seen snogging another man? What had Sherlock Holmes done to him that he would first deck a world-famous tennis player in front of the national media and then escape in a cab only to then stick his tongue down another man’s throat?

While he had accepted his bisexuality years ago, neither the world of sport nor the press had always been as accepting or opened-minded. Therefore it had always been easier and simpler to be publicly seen with a woman and he had done nothing to dispel the image others had assigned to him as being a ladies' man. He was a ladies' man, but one that also like men. Or at the moment, one man in particular.

“Are you okay?”

He felt the words as they were muffled into his shirt, Sherlock’s head still buried on his shoulder.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he managed between the giggles. “I’m fine.”

“That, er… thing that you… that you did… with your, um, fist… that was, um… good.”

At the word good Sherlock finally pushed away from him, collapsing back on his side of the cab, cheeks flushed, lips delightfully pink.

“Oh god, they all saw that, didn’t they?” he said closing his eyes and trying not to imagine what the headlines might be. Tennis brawl – British nobody punches world number two!

“Me, punching him. I’ll be the talk of the night.”

“Best thing that could have happened. Made the whole event far more… interesting.”

“Did you see the look on his face though?”

He laughed as Sherlock mimicked the look of surprise that had crossed Moriarty’s face, the opened mouthed ‘O’ of pure shock.

“Oh god, he’s going to hate me now,” he said.

“Better than the alternative,” Sherlock said in an off handed manner, but in a way that suggested there was a lot he wasn’t saying.

“Calls you a lot, does he?” he asked.

“He is… persistent,” Sherlock said glancing away in a fashion that said he didn’t want to talk about it. “Still,” he added after a pause, looking back to shoot him a flash of a smile, “at least now he’ll be more reluctant to approach me.”

They shared an amused grin and sank into a pleasant mutual silence until the cab finally stopped. Looking out, John was surprised to find that they weren’t back at the hotel as he had expected them to be, but rather in a quiet London road, outside what appeared to be a small café. He frowned slightly as Sherlock leant over to pay the cabbie and then hopped out without a word.

“Where are we?” he asked following.

“Baker Street,” Sherlock said moving up behind him to practically breathe those words into his ear. “221B to be precise. My own flat, and where I plan on rewarding you greatly for defending my besmirched honour with your noble fist."

“Oh god,” he groaned as the lips brushed against his neck and the sensitive skin behind his ear. He could feel the warmth of Sherlock’s body through their clothing and he was already itching to be able to feel all that bare skin against his, to kiss and lick and breathe against it, against the lips, into the mouth. He hadn’t felt like this in… hell, he couldn’t remember feeling like this for anyone, let alone for someone who was literally an extended one night stand.

“Jean,” he heard whispered softly, “que m’as-tu fait?”

He had no idea what that meant but it sounded good.

It sounded very good.

Turning, he twisted his head up to catch those seductive lips with his own. Oh, he could spend hours, days, weeks simply kissing that mouth, running his tongue over the lips, the teeth, sliding in and out of that warmth.

He felt Sherlock stiffen in surprise, as if he hadn’t expected to be kissed here, now, on the street, in the middle of London, under the orange glow of the street lamps. A long few seconds passed and then he seemed to melt, his shoulders and head dropping, meeting the kiss but keeping it gentle and unhurried, even as his hands came up to pull their bodies closer together.

It was different from their other kisses, John realised, his left hand sliding into the hair at Sherlock’s nape. It was no less passionate even as it was less frantic, causing his toes to curl and the moment to last forever. He wasn’t a romantic and this was hardly the basis of some kind of rom-com, but this was….

He pressed deeper into the kiss, pulling the taller man closer, tongues moving from caressing to battling. Oh yes, that was it as well, the power, the intensity, the need to shed clothing.

Sherlock ripped his mouth away, panting hard, his eyes bordering on wild.

“In, now,” he said and for a moment John was confused but then he was being pushed up to the front door and then through it, urged bodily against a wall as the door was forcefully shut behind them.

“You… are… a marvel,” he heard and then he had the long, firm body pressing into him, a strong thigh thrust between his legs, flexing against the straining hardness in his trousers.

“God, yes,” he gasped as lips latched onto his neck, kissing, sucking and nipping as he turned to thrust his hands under that gorgeous shirt and racked his fingers down that back.

“Fuck,” he muttered, grasping as a hand somehow managed to shove their way past the fastenings of his trousers and curve around his length. “Fuckity, fuck, fuck, fuck!”

“Perfectly sound analysis,” he heard by his ear, “but… I was hoping… you’d go… deeper.”

Deeper had him groaning and jerking against the hand.

“Stop it,” he hissed trying to bat the hand away. “Or I’ll… I’ll come. Sherlock!”

“There you are, Sherlock, dear… oh my, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

They froze at the sound of a female voice, eyes widening in alarm. Pressed as he was against the wall by Sherlock’s larger body, John couldn’t see too much but could make out the vague shape of an older quite small lady.

“I thought I heard noise, but only wanted to say that I did what you requested, Sherlock, and there’s milk in the fridge should you need it, and other items as well, but I’m sure you’ll find it. Well, I’ll leave you to enjoy yourselves.”

Then she was gone and John found his head burying on Sherlock’s shoulder.

“Oh, god,” he said knowing he was blushing. “Who? What?”

“Mrs Hudson,” Sherlock said breathing by his neck. “Landlady.”

“Christ!”

“Hmm,” Sherlock said and then they were laughing, because it was funny, embarrassing and far too like being caught by your mother.

They pulled away, hands retreating out of clothing, eyes darting to anywhere but the other’s face.

“Well,” Sherlock said clearing his throat, “I’ll show you up.”

Up involved seventeen stairs and a door that led into a cosy but cluttered main room. It was undeniably Sherlock’s. Tennis equipment and paraphernalia littered the room. Tennis balls lay abandoned against walls and under chairs, rackets were discarded on the table or sofa, some of them with broken strings. A skeleton stood in one corner, a paper racket clasped by its bony fingers. Boxes sat everywhere, some opened, some not. Clothes, shoes, racket covers, books, trophies.

“Is that a skull?” he asked pointing to the mantelpiece.

“Training partner,” Sherlock said. “Well, when I say partner.”

They were some signs of tidying, plates and mugs having been moved into the kitchen. Pre-planned he realised. Sherlock had called ahead, had known they would end up back here. Had intended for them to do so.

He swallowed.

“There’s a second bedroom upstairs,” Sherlock said not quite looking at him. “You know, should you… require it.”

That was an invitation if there ever was one.

“It’s fine,” he said licking his lips as he raised his eyes to meet the Frenchman’s gaze full one. “It’s all fine.”

Sherlock’s lips curved up into a grin. “Good,” he said, and then he pounced.

*

“Fuck me.”

The words slipped out before he had a chance to register them, register what they meant, but even when his brain caught up he somehow knew that he meant them.

Sherlock froze from where he had been layering kisses down his back, hands stopping to simply cup his arse.

They had ended up in what John took to be Sherlock’s bedroom. It had been the closest, most accessible place, and it had a bed. To his surprise it was also relatively bare compared to the rest of the flat.

Stripped of his clothing he had been pushed front first onto the bed by the Frenchman who seemed determined to kiss or lick every inch of his skin, starting at the back of his shoulder and working down. It felt glorious, adding to his growing arousal the closer the Frenchman got to his arse.

It had been years since he had been penetrated, years since he had even wanted that, but somehow he wanted that now, wanted Sherlock to take him, to slide in and make him feel that burn of being filled.

“No.”

He opened his eyes in surprise as Sherlock rolled to lie on the bed beside him. That was really not the answer he had been expecting. He twisted his head to look down just to check. Sherlock was hard, very hard, his erection straining with that slight curve that he knew would feel brilliant against his prostate.

Scrambling across, he caught the erection in his hand, smiling when Sherlock’s hips twitched, thrusting up into his fist with a gasp.

“Why not?” he asked stroking rhythmically, desire shooting through him when Sherlock did nothing to stop him, just turned his head so they could share another kiss.

“Because,” he heard breathed out against him, hand reaching out to finally grip his upper arm. “If you’re serious… ask me again… tomorrow.”

Then Sherlock was rolling away, passing over the lube and a condom before settling on his stomach, knees spread beneath him. It was a gorgeous sight, but not the one John had been hoping for.

He stared for a moment, pressing his lips together. He wanted to ask why not, why Sherlock wouldn’t just fuck him. He wanted it. He couldn’t imagine that Sherlock didn’t want it, so why was he denying them?

“Fine,” he said slapping a hand down to squeeze that rather shapely arse, “but I want you on your back.” If he was going to do this then he was going to watch the Frenchman come apart beneath him.

Sherlock nodded and made to roll over again.

“Wait,” John stopped him. “In a moment. First,” he bent over to press a kiss to the small of the back as he uncapped the lube bottle, “I’m going…” he ran his tongue down the back to the first swell of the arse, “to do this…” he pushed Sherlock’s thigh up so it now lay at a right angle, “my way.”

He pressed his lube coated finger to Sherlock’s entrance, tracing it slowly round and round until the muscle slowly began to relax. From their previous encounters he knew that Sherlock didn’t need much preparation, but he wanted to do it this time and make sure it was thorough. It would need to be for what he was planning.

He pressed a little harder and watched as the tip of his finger popped in.

“You know, you don’t have to…” he heard the Frenchman say but he ignored it in favour of pushing in a second.

Sherlock sighed, pressing back against him until both fingers were as far in as they could go. He twisted his hand, finger tips brushing against the hard nub they found.

“Oh… oui,” he heard, the voice partially muffled by the pillow. Sherlock’s eyes were closed, his face relaxed in a way John had not seen before. He looked almost younger, far more vulnerable than he would have imagined.

He added a third finger, stretching and twisting, watching as Sherlock’s mouth fell open and he rocked back and forth as if searching for something more.

“Gorgeous.”

The word slid past his mouth with little input from his brain – it appeared to be that sort of night – and then those eyes were flicking open, unfocussed for a moment and then narrowing.

“Gratifying,” he said, “but meretricious.”

John groaned pulling out his fingers. “Only you would use such a big word while being fingered. Roll over.”

Sherlock did so, stretching up before relaxing, his legs falling unashamedly open.

“How flexible are you?” he asked as he slid on the condom.

Sherlock smirked, his eyes lidded. “Very.”

“Good.”

Sliding back between the legs, he caught his arm under Sherlock’s knee and pulled it up, propping it over his good shoulder. “Because I intend to test that.”

He pressed in, not stopping until they were as close as they could get.

“You may want to hold onto something.”

He set a firm, steady but fast pace, watching with satisfaction as Sherlock’s head fell back, eyes closing as a satisfied gasp slid from the Frenchman’s mouth.

Oh… oui. C’est bien. C’est très bien, Jean.

Neither of them were going to last long, their foreplay having basically have been played out over many hours, but that didn’t mean he was going to make it easy.

“No,” he said, slapping Sherlock’s hand away from where it had moved towards his heavy cock.

The Frenchman glared for a moment before letting his arm fall back to the bed, reaching back to grip the headboard, hips lifting into the next thrust.

They were going to do this his way, dammit, and that meant Sherlock was just going to have to wait until he was good and ready to let the other man come. He groaned as that thought alone caused him to drive in more frequently.

“Jean.”

He twisted his head away, pressing his lips to the skin of the thigh still over his shoulder. He could smell him, that ridiculously earthy cologne, that musk of arousal.

Jean. S’il-te-plait. Touche-moi.

He looked back down, to where Sherlock was opened mouthed, to where one fist was desperately tight around the bed headboard, the other tugging at the bed sheets. He looked down to where the cock was bouncing against the bare stomach with every stroke. It was all he could do to stop himself from coming, or worse from saying something he would really regret, some sort of hormone fuelled confession that would shatter what they had, what they were doing. This wasn’t the time or place for some sort of ridiculous emotion driven sentiment, this was a time for fucking, for taking the gorgeous creature below him until he shattered apart.

“Jean. Please.”

It was the slip back into English that had him growling, the desperation clear in Sherlock’s eyes. Giving in, he finally wrapped his hand around Sherlock’s prick.

“Putain!”

“Fuck!” he gasped as the Frenchman arched against him, a stream of French coming from the mouth as a hand shot up to scrape across his shoulder.

Mon Dieu… Jean… S’il-te-plait…j’vais…oui… oh….

And he came, head thrown back, hips snapping up, eyes closed, mouth open, breathlessly riding the crest as John felt the contractions around his own cock and then he was coming too. Two short thrusts and he let Sherlock’s spasms take him over, all the fight, the emotion, the fear of the day shooting out from him, leaving him limp and sated, barely able to dispose of the condom before he collapsed on his back beside Sherlock, panting and drained.

That had been one hell of a fuck, hard and fast and so good. Beside him Sherlock lay staring up at the ceiling, both legs now flat on the mattress, stomach a sticky mess. They should do something about that, he thought, but for the moment he could barely move.

“Sherlock?” he said softly after a few moments. He reached out a hand but the Frenchman pulled away, rolling over to swing his legs over the side of the bed and sit for a moment with his head bowed.

“Sherlock?”

“I’m fine,” the Frenchman suddenly said, his tone sharp but softened by either tiredness or something else. “I’m….” Then he was on his feet and walking away.

John watched for a moment, not entirely sure what to do as Sherlock left the room. Following him was not an option, the other man clearly needing a moment alone, but leaving wasn’t much of an option either.

Damn. Bugger it. Sodding, bloody, bastard hell.

Grabbing a tissue from the box beside the bed, he scrubbed it over his stomach, cleaning himself as well as he could before flopping back down onto the bed. He waited, but after a few minutes it became clear that Sherlock might not actually be coming back.

Fuck it.

Scrambling off the bed he searched for his clothing, finally finding his pants, trousers and shirt. He also got one sock, but there was no sign of the other one. His shoes and jacket were in the main room. He just hoped he had enough cash on him to make it back to his hotel. He didn’t even know what the time was.

There was no sign of Sherlock when he finally ventured out of the bedroom, and the rest of the flat was dark. He was reluctant to switch on any of the lights and couldn’t decide whether Sherlock’s absence was a good or bad thing. He didn’t think he had hurt him in any way, not physically at least. He had sat up, stood up and moved easily enough while saying that he was fine. So it must have been something else.

Slipping on his shoes, he cast another quick eye around for his missing sock but it was to no avail.

“Right,” he said, “right.”

“John.”

He jumped at the soft voice, startled to realise that Sherlock had been standing in the shadow of the window all that time, a robe wrapped around him.

“John, I…” and then he stopped, a slightly lost, somewhat confused frown on his face, before offering a one word question, “dinner?”

*

End of Part Three

Chapter Text

They ended up at the Chinese down the end of the street that apparently stayed open until two. It wasn’t until Sherlock had mentioned dinner that he realised how starving he was. He hadn’t eaten properly since breakfast, having been too nervous before his match to have more than a smoothie and a health bar for lunch. He would have eaten properly that evening had he not have been forced to attend that party. God that felt like a long time ago now.

He accepted Sherlock’s offer of a shower first, finding a freshly laid out towel waiting for him. He wondered briefly if that had been the landlady’s doing but despite thinking that it was pushed it from his mind as something he didn’t particularly want to dwell on. The shower was quick but he felt fresher than he had been as he stepped back into his now slightly wrinkled clothing.

Exiting the bathroom he found Sherlock waiting for him, now more casually dressed, the black suit and purple shirt having been replaced by dark jeans and a green shirt that seemed to alter the colour of his eyes. Over that he pulled on a dark sports jacket that looked more blue than black. He was certainly back in full control, but still so different from the persona of the arrogant, aloof Frenchman that he often portrayed. Hiding in plain sight, he realised, like a chameleon, subtly shifting to suit each place and situation.

He still hadn’t found his other sock though.

Chinese wasn’t something he had very often, being as it was usually full of sugar and fake foods that did not go well with a sportsman’s diet. Sherlock of course reassured him of the restaurant’s quality, although neglected to explain just how it was possible to tell a good Chinese by the bottom third of the door handle. One thing was certain though, Sherlock certainly knew his way around the menu, ordering a whole heap of food that was both nutritious and delicious, even if half the time they were having to avoid the fried foods and the sauces.

“So,” Sherlock said once they had finished the soup, “you wanted to talk to me about something.”

It was funny, in everything that had happened that evening he had almost forgotten about his ordeal with the mysterious stalker.

“Oh yes,” he said poking at a spring roll. “I met a fan of yours today.”

Sherlock looked at him blankly. “A fan?”

“Your biggest fan actually, according to him. He knew all about us, from the food out to the, uh, you know.” He cleared his throat. “He seemed like a real nut job stalker. Do people still have stalkers?”

He watched as Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. “Did he offer you money?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“To spy on me?”

“No. Opposite really. He seemed quite keen that I leave you alone.”

“I take it you didn’t accept.”

That wasn’t quite the reaction he had been expecting. “Uh, no.”

Sherlock eyed him speculatively. “You could have done with the money.”

He opened his mouth to protest, to point out that no amount of money would have persuaded him to keep away. Well, no amount from that nut job at least, and then he was going to protest that he couldn’t believe that Sherlock thought so little of him, but something in Sherlock’s expression made him stop, because it was almost as if the other man knew, or at least understood.

“Who is he?” he asked instead, because it was obvious that Sherlock knew exactly who he had been talking about.

“The most fanatical man you’ve ever met,” Sherlock said, “and not our problem right now.”

Fair enough, he conceded. They were away from the hotel, very few people knew where they were, they should be fine.

“I looked you up on the internet the other day,” he said instead.

Sherlock’s lips pursed together in what he was coming to recognise as a cross between vague annoyance and slight surprise.

“Reading my wiki page does not constitute ‘looking me up’,” he said.

He wasn’t about to rise to that one. “True,” he said with a slight smile, “but it was pretty interesting anyway.” He leant forward slightly, as if they weren’t basically the only two people on this side of the restaurant. “Was it true about you and Irene Adler?”

Sherlock’s lips twitched. “You tell me, three continents Watson.”

He sat back with a slight embarrassed groan. “You read my page as well.”

“Naturally,” Sherlock said with that smile of his. “It was most informative.”

“You know most of that section is exaggerated or incorrect.”

“Of course,” Sherlock said. “I, for one, saw no mention of your obvious bisexuality, while your exploits with women were delightfully diverse and distracting. You appear to have built up quite the reputation as a ladies' man and have done little to dispel it.”

He raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t see anything about the real you on your page either,” he pointed out, deciding that attack was the best form of defence. “Although, pulling a sensation like Irene. You two looked good together.” And they certainly had. Irene with her dark hair and big eyes, all legs and alluring smile against his cheekbones and eyes, tall and elegant with his arm around her waist at some film premier or such event.

“Should hope so,” Sherlock said, “that was rather the point. We each needed something that the other could provide. It was mutually beneficial.”

“So you weren’t…” he motioned with his fork, having already given up on the chop sticks.

“Oh, god, no,” Sherlock said.

“But your wiki page….”

“Well of course it does,” Sherlock said cutting him off. “I practically wrote the thing. Better to be an arrogant Frenchman with a rod up his arse and his arm around one of the most captivating and sought after women in the world, than an arrogant Frenchman with a cock up his arse and only a tennis racket warming his bed.”

John tried not to wince, partly due to the words and partly due to just how close to home they had hit.

“You must have read about me and Mary,” he said deciding that a slight change of topic would be good.

Sherlock tipped his head slightly. “Kiss and tell, Sun exclusive.” He pulled a slight face. “Tell me, what hurt more, the screwed emotional break-up, or the way she went on to screw you in front of the world?”

It was… actually he wasn’t sure what sort of comment that was. It wasn’t malicious or purposely hurtful, at least it didn’t sound like it. It sounded more bluntly curious than anything, something just so… Sherlock.

Leaning back in his chair he raised his hands over his face and then found himself starting to smile, and then to laugh. Then he found he couldn’t stop. After a moment he heard Sherlock join in as well and for the first time since the whole messed up ordeal he felt relaxed enough to let go and release the emotions and tensions he had somehow held onto. Months of counselling and therapy where he had barely been able to talk about it and here he was laughing as if it was the most hilarious joke he had ever heard.

Oh god that felt good.

They finished their meal in good humour, trading comments, some more barbed than others, one-upping each other with each story until they finally staggered home barely able to say more than a few words together without giggling and losing their train of thought.

They ended up kissing of course, and then falling onto the bed before it became clear that neither of them were up for the return match, both physically and mentally worn out and really only looking for sleep.

“Do you… should I…” he started motioning vaguely to the door in a way he trusted the Frenchman would understand despite already looking to be more than half a asleep, relaxed and stretched out in only his boxer-briefs.

“No,” he heard the muffled voice say, a strong hand reaching out to grasp around his waist. “Stay.”

It was a bad idea, he was sure of it, an intimacy they had so far avoided, but neither of them had a match the next day and it was nice here in this big comfortable bed and he didn’t want to have to move.

“Okay,” he whispered bending his head to press a kiss to the slightly freckled shoulder closest to him. Stripping off his shirt he kept his pants on and stretched out beside him, pulling the sheet back over them. In the darkness he could just about make out the small smile on Sherlock’s face. Then he closed his own eyes and drifted off.

*

He awoke to find himself lying on his back, the morning sun starting to stream through the window. Looking down he realised that the weight across his waist was Sherlock’s arm, stretched out sideways from where the other man was lying asleep on his front, sheet kicked down to just reveal the band of his underwear. Armani black boxer briefs, really? No simple Marks and Spencer’s finest for him then.

Smiling, he lay back and closed his eyes, enjoying the momentary lull and the pleasant warmth from the body beside him. It had been a good number of months since he had last actually shared a bed with someone and he had forgotten both just how good and how awkward that could be. Sherlock’s arm was nice, comforting and very slightly bordering on possessive, so he was loath to disturb it, but in a while his bladder would force him to move and he would have to attempt to escape without waking his bed partner.

In the end he managed to take advantage of Sherlock’s own movements and succeeded in slipping out without any problems. Standing, he stretched and yawned, wincing slightly when he felt the tightening in his right thigh and slight stiffness in his shoulder. He had feared as much following the last match. He would have to be a little careful, make sure not to overdo it or pull anything.

Glancing around he spotted a clock and confirmed that it was still early but not outrageously so, which would give them plenty of time for a proper wake-up in a bit and another doze before life in general forced them out of bed and into the real world.

Padding to the bathroom across the hall he relieved himself and washed his hands before deciding it would be best to steal some of Sherlock’s toothpaste. He didn’t have his toothbrush with him, nor was there, as he expected, a spare, but he did his best with the paste and his fingers, feeling at least a little bit cleaner.

Finished, he figured a drink would be good, so went to the kitchen, slipping in the side door, and looked around to see if he could spot a glass or other vessel suitable to drink from. Preoccupied, he almost missed the faint rustling of a newspaper, but froze at the sound of a heart stopping familiar voice.

“Good morning, John.”

Horrified, he spun round to find his worst nightmare and the last person he would have expected calmly seated facing him on one of the armchairs, newspaper in hand, umbrella propped up against the coffee table next to a half drunk cup of tea.

Cup of tea?!

He stared, his brain seemingly incapable of processing the fact that somehow this man had broken in – BROKEN IN – while they had been asleep, made himself a cup of tea – TEA – and was calmly waiting for them as if it was a perfectly normal – NORMAL – thing to do. What his brain did finally clue him into was that he was currently stood in Sherlock’s kitchen wearing nothing but a pair of pants while this crazy, insane, bloody jail-escaped loony simply raised his eyebrows in a questioning manner.

Shit. Crap. Fuck. Buggery hell.

Turning, he did the only thing open to him.

“Sherlock!”

He didn’t bother with any niceties, no gentle wake up calls, he simply called the other man’s name the moment he got back into the bedroom. His voice sounded as if it was bordering on hysteria, but he didn’t care as he leant over to slap at Sherlock’s bare shoulder with one hand while he attempted to yank on his shirt with his other.

“Sherlock!”

It turned out to be harder to wake the Frenchman than he had feared just fifteen minutes before.

“Sherlock, for god’s sake, wake up. You have to get up, Sherlock!”

The Frenchman groaned, muttering something that might have been, “five more minutes,” in a garbled mix of languages, before a rather sharp poke in the back had him blearily opening his eyes.

“Putain!” he groaned in what John was starting to think was a universal French curse word. “Please tell me the world is ending, or all the best shags in the world are not going to put me in a good mood.”

“He’s here!” John said only just managing to keep his balance as he pulled on his trousers. “He’s fucking well here and sitting in your fucking main room, drinking your fucking tea.”

He wasn’t usually that free with curse words – well, outside the bedroom setting anyway – but this seemed to warrant it.

“Who’s here?” Sherlock asked infuriatingly not moving.

“Your fan, that’s who,” he hissed. “He knows where you live. Well of course he knows where you live, he’s your biggest fan apparently, but that somehow seems to give him permission to break in and… Sherlock?!”

He stared as Sherlock simply rolled onto his back and groaned.

“What are you…” he started until the words somehow got lost from between his brain and his mouth. “Sherlock! Are you even listening to me?”

Sherlock groaned again, scrubbing his hands over his face and muttering something about it being far too early to deal with this, and there John lost him in a stream of French, before finally Sherlock sat up, kicked his feet over the side of the bed and said something about needing a drink.

“Wait? What? Sherlock,” he managed as Sherlock pulled on a blue dressing gown and knotted the tie around his waist. “You can’t go out there like that. He’s….” but apparently Sherlock could and he did.

Feeling sort of helpless, John followed behind, stunned when Sherlock made a point of ignoring the man in the main room in favour of filling the kettle and rummaging around for two clean mugs.

“Sherlock, John,” the fan said still sat where he had been but now carefully folding down his newspaper. “I trust you both slept well.”

John wasn’t sure he liked the sight of that appraising look, or the tone of voice. And when it came to it, when had the man lost that slight Central European accent? How comes he now sounded perfectly English? More than perfectly English in fact.

“Another important publicity event avoided; you do make a habit of this, Sherlock. That little stunt has even managed to make it into the papers. Not the printed ones of course, it had fortunately been too late for that, but the online versions have it. The Daily Mail is positively gleeful about the whole ordeal.” His lips curled in a look of disgust. “You do make things so hard for yourself, don’t you?”

Sherlock sighed, he actually sighed, as if finding your stalker in your main room first thing in the morning was not an unusual occurrence. Oh hell, thought John as he stared at them, it was an unusual occurrence, right?

“What are you doing here?” Sherlock said turning to lean again the kitchen cabinet, running another hand down his face.

“As ever, I’m concerned about you.”

“Yes,” Sherlock said a bit more sharply, “I’ve been hearing about your ‘concern’.”

“Always so aggressive,” the fan said obviously disapprovingly. “Good for the courts, not so good now. Did it never occur to you that you and I want the same thing?”

“Oddly enough,” Sherlock said, “no.”

“We have more in common than you’d like to believe. This petty feud between us is simply childish. Your tennis will suffer. And you know how it always upset Grand-mere.”

Sherlock’s eyes goggled. “I upset her?” he said as if that was the most outrageous thing he had heard all week. “Me? It wasn’t me that upset her, Mycroft.”

Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no, no! Oh what the bloody, blimey, bleeding hell.

“No. No, wait…” John managed eyes darting between the pair of them. “Grand-mere? Who’s Grand-mere?”

The kettle clicked off behind him.

“Grandmother,” Sherlock said. “Our grandmother. This is my brother, Mycroft.”

Turning, Sherlock grabbed the kettle, pouring the steaming water into the two mugs he had found from somewhere.

“Putting on weight again?” he asked.

“Losing it, in fact,” the stalker, fan, man, person, brother, hell, said, rising primly to his feet, tugging down his waistcoat before bringing over his now empty cup.

John stared. “He’s your brother?” he finally managed, eyes desperately scanning between them, not sure if he was searching for signs of similarity or for this being all one big joke.

“Course he’s my brother,” Sherlock said fishing out the tea bags and dumping them on the draining board.

Right. Brother. Right. Oh. “So he’s not….”

“Not what?” Sherlock asked, moving him out of the way to get to the fridge.

“I don’t know…” he managed, “mad lunatic stalker?”

He wordlessly accepted the mug that was pushed into his hands.

“Close enough,” Sherlock said motioning to the cup.

John dutifully drank and found it to be a remarkably good cup of tea. Actually pretty well spot on how he liked to take it, even down to the amount of sugar. He blinked and was about to ask how Sherlock had known, but then the other man was turning away and Mycroft – Mycroft? What was it with these names? – was protesting about not apparently being a mad lunatic stalker.

“Don’t listen to him. He knows more about me than I do so of course he’s my stalker,” Sherlock said scornfully, “when he’s not too busy being my agent, manager, publicist, trainer, events coordinator, accountant, president of my fan club, oh and holding a minor position on the ATP’s Board of Directors.”

Sherlock stalked to the sofa, put his tea down before literally lounging himself across the seat, staring up at the ceiling as his legs kicked off the end.

“Goodbye, Mycroft. Try not to scare the neighbours on the way out. You know how they hate that.”

John watched as the man who most probably was Sherlock’s biggest fan, although not apparently a lunatic stalker, pursed his lips together and then very deliberately went to the sink to wash and rinse his cup. He looked as if he was quite used to this sort of behaviour from Sherlock, although he quite obviously didn’t like it.

“So,” John said because he felt like he should say something as it was clear the other two weren’t going to continue, “when you said you’re concerned about his tennis, you actually are concerned?”

“Yes, of course,” Mycroft said as he deliberately dried his hands.

“I mean,” he tried again, “you actually are worried that I could be a distraction for him, away from his tennis.”

Mycroft placed down the tea-towel. “I meant what I said, John. You seem like a decent man, more decent than most it transpires, but this is Sherlock’s Wimbledon year. After the French Open I had hoped that… well, you don’t need to know about that. Just tell me, what was it like to punch James Moriarty?”

That was not the question he had been expecting. “Fine,” he said truthfully. “Uh, more than fine in fact.”

“Good,” Mycroft said, “that’s good, isn’t it, Sherlock?”

Sherlock merely grunted from where he was still on the sofa.

“Am I to presume that we have confirmed the identity of your…aficionado, Sherlock?”

“Yes, it’s Moriarty,” Sherlock said vaguely waving a hand. “Just as I said it was, so we knew that already.”

“No, we suspected that, there’s a difference. The poor man does seem to have a rather unhealthy obsession with you.”

Sherlock made a dismissive noise and muttered something in French that had Mycroft frowning. Then he swung his legs back over to the floor and sat up.

“Still here, Mycroft?” he said. “You’re disturbing my rest day, and I’m sure you’ve got far better things to do. Lestrade is probably bored without me, go and bother him. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to see you.”

Mycroft’s lips narrowed, but he calmly walked to the armchair to retrieve his umbrella. “I’m sure you’ve already deduced what’s in the bags and boxes, but I’ll confirm anyway.”

Looking round, John noticed the extra boxes and bags for the first time, wondering how he might have missed them, but they did blend in rather well with the other boxes and bags strewn around the place.

“Changes of clothing,” Mycroft continued, “for both of you; practice clothes, smart wear, casual wear, nightwear… should you require it. Clean underwear, wash bags, spare toothbrushes.” At that he tipped his head in John’s direction. “Rackets, balls, and so on. Fresh fruit, vegetables, staple foods, milk, juice and other perishables. Do remember to put the relevant items in the fridge. Both of your laptops, mobile phone chargers, Sherlock your violin, and I do believe Lestrade has included some items to keep you both relaxed and entertained, should you desire it. Please excuse the fact we had to gain access to your hotel room, John, but we determined that the situation rather warranted it.”

“Oh, right,” he managed, “thanks.”

Mycroft nodded. “Sherlock, I expect you back in your room by seventeen hundred hours tomorrow. We have some things that need to be discussed. In the meantime, please refrain from damaging yourself, and do try to keep out of the press.”

Swinging his umbrella, Mycroft made his way to the door. “Oh, I am also delighted to say that both your test results came back clean. I thought you would appreciate knowing that. Use that information wisely and do be careful.”

Then he was gone. John stared at the door.

“Test results?” he said finally looking back to where Sherlock was now poking through one of the boxes, frowning as he held up a James Bond DVD. “He’s talking about drugs, right? The tests from the other day?”

“STIs, John,” Sherlock said simply. “He’s confirming that we’re both clean for STIs.”

“How?”

“The blood test. You didn’t think that was standard did you?”

“Oh god.”

“Relax, that’s just his way of giving his blessing. I do believe he rather approves of you.”

That was… that was good he supposed. He rather thought he would prefer to be on Mycroft Holmes’ good side rather than his bad.

“So, what now?” he asked watching as Sherlock critically studied the bananas and other fruit he had retrieved from the box.

“Well,” Sherlock said, “breakfast would appear to be on the cards, courtesy of my brother, but first I was weighing up the possibility of you joining me in the shower.”

John raised his eyebrows, keeping his expression straight as he sipped his tea.

“Just a shower?” he asked.

“Well, shower and a shag,” Sherlock said.

“Ah,” John said. “Well, I suppose I’ve got nothing better to do.”

*

The shower wasn’t huge, but there was enough room for Sherlock to stand behind him and torture him with a good, firm, but slow hand job that had him gasping while the Frenchman whispered filthy things in his ear and made love to his neck with his mouth. Apparently it was pay back for leaving him hanging so long the night before. As paybacks went this was one he could live with.

After the shower he discovered that his bag did contain everything he could need and more, and was rather relieved to be able to pull on a fresh pair of pants and jeans. Sherlock, however, appeared to prefer a t-shirt and a pair of pyjama bottoms over which he pulled his dressing gown and promptly went to town on the fruit with the blender. It turned out he made a pretty good smoothie.

He accepted it with a smile while sorting out another cup of tea and some toast – jam for him, honey for Sherlock.

The morning was spent in a haze of lazy domesticity. After the events of the previous day Sherlock seemed content to do very little, lounging around first with his laptop – snorting at the reports of the previous evening in the tabloids – and then with his violin. He turned out to be a rather proficient player, not concert standard, but more than able to zip through both some classical pieces and some more popular ones.

For the most part though John was ignored. Realising that the Frenchman wasn’t being rude but rather needed time to himself, John happily left him to it, then decided it was pointless to be surprised when on opening his laptop discovered a post-it note with the internet password for the flat on it.

He spent the morning checking his emails, writing his blog and laughing at the youtube video of the cat falling off the shelf. His blog took most of his time since he felt it only fair to talk about the fantastic week of tennis he was having. Of course he completely neglected to mention the fantastic week of sex he was also having. There was only so much other people needed to know about. He even responded to a message from Harry, although he didn’t tell her about having seen Clara. That wasn’t something he particularly wanted to go into right now.

Lunch consisted of whole wheat pasta salad knocked together from the foods in the box, followed by a lovely fruit salad that Mrs Hudson kindly brought up for them. His second meeting with her was decidedly less embarrassing than the first, although he hadn’t been able to stop the blush when she pointed out as a matter of fact that she had seen it all before anyway, and that she was their landlady not their mother. Sherlock, of course, took it all in his stride, placing an affectionate kiss on her cheek before stealing a strawberry. It was a little strange seeing him be so demonstrative, especially as he was so well known for his cold persona, but John had to admit that it seemed to suit him.

“Ah, here they are,” Sherlock suddenly said triumphantly, pulling an envelope out of one of the boxes. “Tickets for the semi-final and final.”

“For me?” Mrs Hudson said obviously delighted.

“Naturally,” Sherlock said accepting her hug.

“Well then,” she said, “I shall expect to see you both there then. Oooh, wait until I tell Mrs Turner next door about this.”

“That was good of you,” John said once she had disappeared down the stairs.

“Mrs Hudson is one of my most loyal supporters,” Sherlock said waving it away. “She keeps my secrets, I keep hers. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

“Still,” John said flopping back down onto one of the armchairs, “you’re planning on making the final then.”

“I’m planning on winning the final,” Sherlock corrected. “It’s my time, my year, my trophy.”

“Well,” John said with a small smile, “won’t be easy. You’ll have to get past the likes of Federer, Djokovic… Moriarty to do that.”

“Exactly.” With that Sherlock took refuge on the sofa, stretching out, fingers pressed together as in prayer. There he stayed, silent and still for the best part of an hour.

“You didn’t mention yourself.”

John almost jumped when the silence was finally broken and looked up from his laptop to find Sherlock now looking at him, eyes narrow.

“Sorry, what?” he asked getting the distinct impression that an entire conversation may have happened that he had not been aware of.

“When you listed the players I would have to beat to take the trophy,” Sherlock said, “you didn’t mention yourself.”

Ah, no, he hadn’t. “Well, you know the draw,” he said, “we’re at different ends. The only time we would meet would be the final, and if that happened then it would mean Nadal, Murray, Trevor had all gone out.”

Sherlock grunted. “Could happen.”

But not likely though.

“I hear the big money is on you versus Nadal,” he said.

“We’ll see,” Sherlock said. “Switch the telly on will you. BBC2. I have some research to do.”

The one o’clock match from Centre Court was the third round draw of Moriarty versus Thomaz Bellucci. Sherlock scowled when the commentators went on about how good the American was, how it could possibly be his year this time, but seemed to perk up when he spotted the faint bruising across Moriarty’s jaw.

“You going to tell me what’s really going on between you and Moriarty?” John asked, handing Sherlock a cup of tea.

“Would you tell me how you got that scar on your shoulder?”

John stiffened before forcing himself to relax, taking a seat to watch the match. “You’ve read my wiki page,” he said.

Sherlock made a noise in the affirmative. “I’ve also read between the lines of your wiki page,” he said, “but I would much rather hear it from you.”

John pressed his lips together. He rarely spoke about his accident, glossing over it in most cases, avoiding it all together the rest of the time. It wasn’t anybody’s business but his own and anyway it was hardly the easiest of topics to relive.

He said nothing but got the impression that Sherlock was neither surprised nor offended by that, and before long the match was in progress and Sherlock’s attention was fully diverted.

Moriarty won of course.

By mid-afternoon John felt himself getting restless. While he hadn’t minded being in one place for the day he felt a little lazy and really wanted to go outside.

“Right,” he said rising to his feet and stretching. “I’m going for a run.”

Sherlock rose to his feet. “Good idea,” and then he disappeared into his bedroom.

John went to change in the bathroom and emerged to find Sherlock lacing up his trainers waiting for him, dressed in an old t-shirt and a loose pair of jogging bottoms. Naturally he looked good in them, but there was probably very little that he didn’t look good in.

“Ready?”

He nodded and followed Sherlock out the door.

It turned out that they were very close to Regent’s Park and it was clearly a route that Sherlock knew well. A couple of people glanced in their direction as they went, but little else. They stopped after eight miles or so and stretched out again, Sherlock keeping up a running commentary about some of the people they passed. Then they headed back, a little slower this time, Sherlock taking them up random back streets and alleyways until they eventually ended up back at Baker Street and the flat.

Another shower later – not shared this time – and John offered to make dinner himself rather than go out again. Sherlock accepted and after some persuading reluctantly agreed to be introduced to the phenomenon that was James Bond via the classic that was Goldfinger. Lestrade at least appeared to know his Bond having provided a choice of Goldfinger, From Russia with Love, Dr No, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Goldeneye.

For the most part Sherlock endured it with reasonable humour, commenting only when he couldn’t help himself – “Pussy Galore? That’s not even subtle!” – and the evening passed pleasantly into the night.

“I still want it you know,” John said softly once the film was well and truly over and even Sherlock had run out of ways of insulting it.

“Hmmm?” Sherlock asked turning his head.

John looked at him. “Yesterday you told me to ask you again tomorrow. Today is tomorrow, so… I would rather like it if you would take me to bed and fuck me.”

Sherlock looked at him for a long moment, unblinking. He met the gaze and held it, refusing to look away. He was serious and he wanted Sherlock to know that. In the cold light of day he still wanted Sherlock to take him.

“Okay,” Sherlock finally said with a short nod, and with that it was settled.

*

It had been a considerable number of years since he had last been penetrated by a man, more than he really cared to think about. It had nothing to do with him being uncomfortable with his bisexuality, an accusation that had been thrown at him in the past, it was more that he simply hadn’t desired it. His relationships – such as they had been – with men had always been few and far between, content as he had been to date and sleep with women, and few of his so-called dalliances with other men had lasted long enough for it to have become a problem. Actually, since Mary, he hadn’t exactly held down any significant relationships at all for very long, his thing with Sarah being the only possibly exception. Then again, his relationship with Sarah had started and ended with little more than friendship.

He couldn’t explain why Sherlock was different, why what was obviously little more than a holiday romance had led him to want to lie back and be taken, but it did and he did, and by god he wanted it.

“You’re tense.”

Sherlock had taken charge the moment they had reached the bedroom, crowding into him to strip him of his shirt and kiss him to within an inch of his life. It felt good. Of course it felt good, this was Sherlock, this was a man who knew how to wield his tongue as well as he wielded a racket, and yet he could do very little but grasp the Frenchman’s upper arm and go along with the ride.

The lips broke away long enough to move around his jaw and onto his neck, tipping his head slightly even as the words were whispered into his ear.

“Relax.”

The word sounded surprisingly seductive, murmured by his ear as a hand snaked up his back, long fingers toying with his neck and sinking into his hair. He groaned softly when the mouth moved to gentle nipping, tipping his head back to get more of the sensation but seemingly unable to loosen the grasp of his hands.

“I know it’s been a while, John,” the voice continued, “but you have to relax. Trust me. Let go.”

Closing his eyes he tried to loosen his grasp even as the lips met his again, his mouth opening to let in the tongue.

They stayed like that for what seemed like forever, lazily caressing their tongues together, sneaking in quick breaths as one of Sherlock’s hands continued to stroke at his neck and hairline, the other running slowly up and down his bare back. His own hands finally moved to explore the Frenchman, one getting lost in the loose curls, the other sliding down to unbutton the jeans and to slip down beneath the waistband to caress the top of the shapely arse.

They hadn’t kissed like this since their first time of coming here, since they had practically fallen into each other outside this very flat and… Christ. He gasped as a powerful thigh pressed between his legs, moving against the bulge in his trousers.

“Fuck,” he managed, tipping his head back as he rocked against the leg.

“That’s the idea, yes,” he heard Sherlock say and then he was being manhandled to the bed and pushed back onto it, quick fingers delving for his flies. His jeans and pants were quickly stripped away before the long, masculine form of the Frenchman moved over him, head dipping to once more assault his mouth.

“No… wait,” he finally managed, angling his head away in an attempt to escape the pleasures of that tongue. “Socks,” he finally managed, “got to remove… socks.”

Sherlock stopped long enough to raise his eyebrows and then cast his gaze down their bodies to where he was still black socked, and the Frenchman was still in possession of all the clothing for his lower body. It looked ridiculous of course; ridiculous and funny and surprisingly hot.

He pressed his toes against the jean clad legs and offered an apologetic smile. Sherlock didn’t say anything in return, just leant over him and pressed open mouthed kisses first to his shoulder, then to his chest, and then lower and lower, skirting his groin before working down one leg. He had a somewhat crafty expression on his face as he caught the tip of the first sock between his teeth and then slowly pulled upwards, the sock coming with him. Then leaning over he did the same on the other side, dropping both socks over the edge of the bed before getting to his own feet and hooking his fingers into the waistband of his already unbuttoned jeans, and slowly pulling down.

It was hardly the most seductive of strip teases, but John found himself unable to do more than stare as the blue jeans gave way to pale skin and an erection he was suddenly so desperate to get a hold of.

Picking his moment, he shifted his hips and caught the Frenchman between his legs, tugging him back down, bare skin against bare skin.

“Tease,” he declared, pressing his hips up so their lengths rubbed together, delighted when Sherlock’s mouth fell open in a soft exhale.

“Always,” Sherlock said and then they were tumbling over, bodies rubbing in delightful friction as John forced his way on top, capturing Sherlock’s hands in his, pinning them to the bed just above the mop of dark curls. Shifting his weight, he ground down with some satisfaction as Sherlock stared up at him, mouth open, eyes very much wide and intense, while clearly curious to see what he would do next. It was incredibly arousing knowing that he has such a powerful body between his thighs to do with as he pleased.

He shifted until he was happy with how their bodies were aligned and then he leant back down, weight on his arms, mouth pressing first to the tip of the Frenchman’s nose and then to the slightly swollen lips.

“I believe,” he said rocking their hips together, “that you were,” he swallowed the gasp as the hips beneath him jerked up, “going to,” he met that gaze, “fuck me.”

He ground down again and the body beneath arched. Then they were rolling over again, the Frenchman on top, all long limbs and warm skin pressing him into the mattress, breathing into his mouth.

“Yes,” he heard… felt… breathed in, and then their lips were meeting with bruising force. He surrendered, slinging his arms around Sherlock’s body, raking his fingers through that hair.

“How do you want it?” he heard as the lips broke from his to run a tongue against the day old stubble on his chin. “Hard and fast? Slow and deep? Close and… intense?”

“Yes,” he gasped, screwing his eyes shut, not caring about what was being said, only that it kept being said.

He heard Sherlock chuckle, felt the vibrations in the other man’s chest, and then Sherlock was rolling away, reaching for something and then returning to scatter hot opened mouthed kisses against his neck and chest, gradually getting lower and lower until it all suddenly stopped.

Catching his breath, he opened his eyes, looking down to find Sherlock crowded over his lower body, an almost smug expression on his face. Then the head lowered and the next thing he knew of was the warm heat of that mouth engulfing the head of his penis.

Christ!

His hips jerked automatically, his cock sliding further into that wet heat, even as hands gripped at him to control his movements. It was… it was… oh god, they hadn’t done this yet, and a small part of his brain remembered about the clean test results, but most of his mind was just sinking into the sensations. He didn’t even notice when the first finger slipped passed his ring of muscles and buried itself inside him.

“Holy…” he arched gasping as the first realisation of what was happening hit him with the flexing of the finger directly against his prostate. His hand flew to his mouth, fingers curling into a fist as he inhaled sharply and fought not to bite down. He had forgotten what that had felt like. How could he have forgotten? The shock of pleasure that felt so unlike anything else, colliding so forcefully with the wet suction around his cock.

“Fuck!”

A second finger slid in as Sherlock hummed around him. He could feel the stretch this time, a slight burn, but that quickly gave way to more pleasure, another flick at his prostate, another particularly hard suck.

He shoved his free hand into the bedding, clenching it tightly as he dared to look down to where Sherlock’s head was bobbing, cheeks hollowed, eyes bright. It was a sight more magnificent than anything from his most wildest dreams, and if not for the slight discomfort of a third finger being added he was almost certain that it could well have ended right there and then.

“Sh-Sherlock!” he managed, pushing a hand into the soft curls to tug him up.

A long suck and then he was being released, Sherlock’s fingers slipping from him as the Frenchman consented to being pulled back up for a proper kiss.

“Baise moi,” he whispered with his best French pronunciation, having correctly deduced the meaning of the phrase.

Sherlock’s gaze faltered for a moment, but then he was scrambling back, grabbing for a condom from the handful scattered on the side.

“Wait,” John said catching Sherlock’s wrist when he saw what the other man was doing. “We don’t… that is….” Damn it, they were both clean after all.

Sherlock hesitated for a moment before purposefully, carefully tearing into the packet. “Next time,” he said slipping the condom onto himself and then coating the outside with a generous amount of lube. “Want this to last. Need this to last.” Then the Frenchman was back over him, grabbing pillows, carefully angling his better leg over his arm and leaning down to press a soft kiss to his lips. “Tell me if you want to stop. Just… tell me.”

He nodded, pressing upward to meet those lips again before lying back to allow Sherlock to scoot back down his body. He was about to be fucked, he realised. He was really about to be penetrated by another man’s cock and to….

He winced slightly as Sherlock pressed in, the familiar burn as his body stretched and then continued to stretch as Sherlock moved until finally the moment when the widest part had been accepted and swallowed and he had Sherlock there, in him and over him.

He squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating on the strange sensation of fullness and the slight discomfort it brought as Sherlock stopped. It was obvious he was waiting for something, waiting for him to say or do something. He nodded, not trusting himself to speak, one arm reaching down to try and pull Sherlock closer, get him to go deeper.

His wishes must have been obvious as the other man started to press in again, that fullness moving deeper and deeper until it touched his prostate, his hips beyond his control as they jerked upwards to take the entire offered length.

“Putain!” he heard breathed over him and then he was pulling that head down, pressing their open mouths together and ordering him to move.

Sherlock moved and he gasped. It felt… oh god… he could barely think about how it felt. At its most basic it was warm and wet and he was saying something, words were spilling from his mouth but it hardly mattered because all that mattered was that Sherlock kept moving those narrow hips and that pert bottom of his just like that… yes, that… there, god, don’t stop… never stop… those whispered French words which had never sounded so unbelievably fucking filthy… and breathing against him, with him, in him, until all he could do was to lift his leg higher, to cling on tighter, and to murmur the words faster, harder, deeper, until his world condensed down to skin and heat and the cock driving into him.

“Sherlock!”

They had never been as close as this, in all their fucking, never this close, breathing the same air, lips barely an inch apart, eyes glued together, building… building until finally he heard his name, felt fingers wrapping around his cock, a hand pulling his legs up that desperate bit higher. Throwing his head back he let his mouth fall open, raked his fingers across the sweaty shoulder… once, twice, and then… came.

*

“It was a car accident,” he finally said.

It had been the best part of forty minutes since Sherlock had arched over him and shuddered his way through orgasm. It was by far the greatest number of words either of them had said in that time, certainly in one go, most probably combined.

Shaking through the last vestiges of their climax they had clutched at each other wordlessly, the only sound the harsh panting as each tried to suck in enough air to fill his abused lungs. It was a moment, it was a thousand years, and then Sherlock was softening within him. The dark head of faintly damp hair lowered and he felt the warm breath against his shoulder before the brief soft caress of the Frenchman’s lips. Then Sherlock was pulling out, pulling away, dealing quickly with the condom before it became an issue.

Sherlock then disappeared, but returned shortly with a damp towel and a neutral but relaxed expression. He cleaned them both before straightening the bed covers somewhat and crawling in beside him, tugging the top sheet up and over them. There they lay, both thinking, neither speaking, the initial no touching turning into careless brushes until finally Sherlock’s fingers reached over to trace the faint scar on his shoulder, running along it and then back.

He could feel the unasked question, but in the growing dark and with the lethargy in his bones he had no way of fighting it, or at least no reason to. So closing his eyes he let the fingers trace their path and started to talk.

“But you already knew that,” he continued. “Everyone knows that. I was in a car accident and I almost completely wrecked my shoulder. I was out for a year and when I came back after months of rehabilitation, retraining and therapy, I was never quite the same. John Watson, the almost was.”

He let his voice trail off as the memories threatened to overwhelm him. The fingers though didn’t stop moving and focusing on that he pulled himself back.

“I crashed the car,” he finally said. “Everyone calls it an accident, and it was, I certainly didn’t plan to crash, but you never really plan these things, they just happen.”

Sherlock said nothing. He was glad for that, it was easier this way.

“His name was Bill. He was a friend, just a friend mind, but a good friend. My closest mate perhaps. We met randomly, through a friend of a friend, you know how it is. He was fun, the life and soul, larger than life sort of guy. We did stupid things together, pulled pranks, drank too much, that sort of thing. He was my wingman. Then I started to make it with my tennis and Bill qualified as a nurse, but we kept in touch. Went out for drinks when we could. He’d tease me about anything, asked me to set him up with a pretty blond Russian, that sort of thing. Then he surprised us all when he signed up for the army.”

More than a surprise, but that was Bill for you.

“We kept in touch still, then one day when I was back from having made it to the quarter finals in Australia, he told me they were shipping him out to Afghanistan and how fucking hilarious was that? Him in Afghanistan?

“We laughed about it, slapped him on the back, bought more drinks and life went on. I went to France, he went to Afghanistan. I played tennis, he saved people’s lives. I knocked balls around courts and complained about dodgy line calls, he knocked ration packs around and dodged bullets.

“Then I remember I was eleventh in the world and was about to break into the top ten for the first time. I was through to the last eight at the Valencia Open and everything was going well, then I got a phone call from Fiona, Bill’s long term girlfriend. Bill had been killed while travelling from Kandahar to Kabul.

“I remember sitting there with my phone in my hand no idea what to say. I mean, what do you say to something like that? Bill was dead and there I was alone in a bloody posh hotel room in Spain. I ended up hitting the bottle, because I had no idea what else to do, and because it’s always been a habit in my family. Have a problem? Drown it in alcohol. But even that wasn’t enough and I just needed to get away.

“I grabbed the car keys. It was a hire car, German make probably, can’t remember and it doesn’t matter. To make things worse I was tired, grieving and not exactly cold, hard sober, although it had only been the one beer. I really knew that I shouldn’t but I was alone and needed to escape and there was no one there to tell me how stupid I was being.

“Thank god there was no one else around. I knew the moment I lost control. In that split second as the car started to spin I knew that that was it. I was certain I was about to die. In that instant I remember saying, ‘Please God, let me live.’ Then the car smashed into that tree.

“They told me I was lucky it was just my shoulder I busted. Serious but there was every chance I would recover enough to play again. Play again? As if that was the most important thing. Bill was dead and the most important thing in my life was how well I could hit a yellow ball with a racket. I suppose that was when I lost it. Tennis didn’t mean quite so much anymore. Not compared to life and death. I only went back to it because I had nothing else, it was everything I knew. So here I am, finally at the end of my career and I have no idea what I’m going to do.”

He scrubbed his hands across his face.

He had never told anyone all of that, not Harry, not Mike, not even his therapist. They all knew the facts of course, but no one had ever put the whole thing together. Tennis was his life, had been for 25 years, it just wasn’t, well, life or death.

Sherlock’s fingers left his shoulder and he felt the other man shift against him. They lay like that in silence, in the dark, close but not quite touching.

“Jim Moriarty is the reason for all my security,” Sherlock finally said breaking the stillness. “He’s the reason for most of my brother’s concern. He’s the reason I lost the French Open.”

John remembered the French Open final. It had been Sherlock versus Moriarty, with the Frenchman tipped to win in front of his home crowd, wanting to win, expected to win. Instead Moriarty had won, beating Sherlock in four sets, the last one completely destroying the Frenchman’s game.

“I’ve been receiving phone calls, letters, notes, messages, texts, everything. It’s like he’s obsessed with me. Ever since…” his voice trailed off.

“A few years ago he approached me with a proposition. He wanted the two of us to team up as a doubles pair. It was only a few months after I had parted from my previous doubles and practice partner. I, of course, told him I wasn’t interested. I wanted to concentrate on my singles play. Doubles had given me more exposure in competitions, and as such more experience, but once I was reaching quarter and semi-finals I didn’t need it any more. It had become more of a hindrance than a benefit. So I declined his offer. It was hardly a difficult choice. He, however, has apparently taken it rather badly. He is under the impression we would have been unbeatable, dominating the doubles and topping the world ratings for both doubles and individuals. He is possibly correct, but one of us would have had to have come second. Something that neither of our egos would have been able to cope with.”

His voice trailed off and they continued to lay there, each minute that past drifting them closer and closer to sleep.

“John?”

He pulled himself just far enough out of sleep to respond with a, “Hmmmm?”

There was another pause where he wondered if Sherlock had changed his mind or had maybe fallen asleep himself. Then he heard it.

“Thank you,” he heard softly. “For telling me about your shoulder.” And then that was it.

“That’s okay,” he mumbled in return. “It’s okay,” and then it was over, their conversation in the dark over and they finally succumbed to sleep.

*

“Victor Trevor,” Sherlock suddenly said out of nowhere.

They were in the main room, Sherlock having been seated in an armchair, his fingers steepled beneath his chin in silence for the past half an hour at least.

“Hmmm, yes,” John said, carefully putting down the mug of tea he had just made the other man. “My next opponent. What about him?”

He took a seat in the other chair, sipping his own drink. He was feeling remarkably fine following the events of the night before, any residual twinges or discomfort having already faded, partially helped at least by the proficient blowjob Sherlock had treated him to that morning. He had wanted to return the favour but Sherlock had said it wasn’t necessary and not on the day before a match anyway. That had at least confirmed it to be their last sexual encounter of the weekend, although he deeply hoped it would not be their last ever. That, on the other hand, could well depend upon him managing to beat his next opponent, one Victor Trevor.

“What do you know about him?” Sherlock asked.

He shrugged. “Australian. Twelfth seed. Right handed. Two handed backhand.”

“Hmmm,” Sherlock said. “Ever played him?”

“Couple of times.”

“And?”

“He beat me, both times.”

“Surface?”

“Hard, I think.”

“You think.”

He stopped himself from rolling his eyes. “Alright, yes, fine, hard, both times.” Once in Australia, once in Toronto if he recalled correctly.

Sherlock’s lips curled up. “Good,” he said. He went back to his thinking before suddenly getting to his feet, crossing the room and riffling through a box. After a moment he seemed to find what he was looking for, pushed up the sleeve of his shirt and slapped something onto his forearm.

John stared not quite believing what he was seeing as Sherlock then flung himself back down, fingers once more back under his chin.

“Is that,” he started, “is that a nicotine patch?” He hoped it was because the alternatives were far, far worse.

“Yes,” Sherlock said bluntly. “Helps me think.”

Right, he thought, tapping his fingers against the chair arm. “You smoke?” he said more out of surprise and the need to say something that anything else.

“No, I patch,” Sherlock said. “Impossible to sustain a smoking habit in professional sport now days.”

“So you, uh, used to smoke?”

“Remnants of a misguided youth. I fortunately discovered a rather different and more pleasurable distraction before I could succumb to experimenting with harder and more dangerous drugs than tobacco.”

“Harder drugs?” he repeated. “What like heroin or cocaine you mean?”

“Cocaine most probably,” Sherlock admitted easily. “Heroin has never interested me.”

“Right,” he said. “Had much of a wild youth then?”

“Not compared to some and hardly as wild as it could have been.”

“And the distraction you found?” he asked. “Tennis?”

“Sex.”

“Right.” He really shouldn’t have asked. “Okay.”

“Victor Trevor.”

He blinked as his brain took a moment to follow Sherlock’s change in topic.

“Twenty-seven years old, six foot one, no Grand Slams but finalist in Australia in 2002 and 2004. Nine career titles, highest ranking fourth in the world, 2004. Good accurate serve but not the fastest, so therefore returnable. High first serve percentage, quick player with good overall court skills and excellent long forehand. Weaknesses include close net play and frustration leading to unforced errors in longer rallies. Prefers hard courts, not the best history on grass but will be going into the match the clear favourite and therefore expected to win. That can be used against him, but it could take time and perhaps luck, but is by no means impossible.”

Sherlock returned to his fingers to under his chin.

“That’s brilliant,” John said, tea forgotten as he stared at the Frenchman.

“Obvious,” Sherlock said.

“Maybe, but how do you know all that?”

“I am very familiar with his history, style and game,” Sherlock said. “For a while we were partners.”

Partners? “Uh, when you say partners, is that practice, doubles or uh, you know, off the court.”

“Yes,” Sherlock said in what he was obviously meant to take as the answer to all three. “Problem?”

“No,” he said quickly, perhaps a little too quickly. “So you’re giving me advice on how to defeat your ex?”

Sherlock made a disagreeing sound. “Stop sentimentalising it. This is to do with benefits and convenience. It is in both of our best interests that you win and proceed to the next round. Who your opponent is is of little relevance in this respect. Don’t cloud it with unnecessary emotion. To do so is both distracting and dangerous.”

“Okay,” John said. “So tell me, how would you suggest I beat him, taking into consideration that he’s younger, fitter and faster than me.”

“But not necessarily better,” Sherlock added. “He is faster yes, but he will tire and when he does he makes mistakes. Play short shots, pull him into the net where he is weakest. Make him play the game he doesn’t want to. Be patient in rallies, don’t go for the quick risky shot, play safe and steady. The longer the rally goes on for the more likely he is to try something and make a mistake. When you find what works keep doing it. Try always to return, this will frustrate him, but return only within reason. There is little point in exhausting yourself senselessly. Frustrate him and when he finally cracks, watch his game deteriorate and drive home the advantage.”

When he said it all like that it sounded so very simple.

“I’ll bear that in mind,” John said. “Thanks.” Then, “Who are you playing?”

“Jefferson Hope.”

The name rang a bell. “Small guy, crafty, plays as if you have an option of shot but somehow always seems to know which one you’re going to make?”

“Hmmm,” Sherlock said clearly in thought.

“Every played him before?”

“First time for everything.”

“Think you’ll beat him?”

“Undoubtedly. I just have to figure him out.”

With that Sherlock grabbed his laptop and started pulling up video files, scribbling away on a notebook with a frown.

John left him to it, interrupting him only to put a Greek lettuce and couscous salad with a selection of cold meats and cheeses in front of him for their lunch. Sherlock’s thanks was vague, consumed as he was with his work, but he ate the whole lot, washing it down with a large glass of water and then a strawberry and banana smoothie.

“That’s it!” he finally said, little short of an exclamation.

“What?” John asked looking up from the book he had borrowed off Sherlock’s shelf. It was mid-afternoon by now, the time rapidly approaching when they would need to leave. Conscious of that he had already made sure to pack up all this things, although he could not help but wonder how they would be getting everything back to the Dorchester, but more than that, how they would be able to manage it without being spotted. Having run away from the Slazenger party together was one thing, reappearing two days later still together would only raise more questions or speculation.

“That’s how he does it,” Sherlock said, now perched almost excitedly with his feet on the armchair. “Like a spider to the fly, he lures you in and then beats you at your own game. Loses unnecessary points on purpose, makes unforced errors, tricks you into thinking he’s more tired than he is, then bang, he snaps back, catches you unaware, makes those shots and suddenly you’re losing but you have no idea how or why. And after that it’s easy. Devious.”

Some of that, John theorised, probably made sense. In short, it seemed that Sherlock had figured out the key to beating his opponent, and that was all that mattered.

Sherlock returned to muttering, but smiling as he did so, quite clearly pleased with himself and shaking his head with a certain amount of fond amusement. John returned to reading The Hobbit.

Mrs Hudson popped up shortly after bearing a selection of homemade low fat flapjacks which turned out to be very nice indeed.

“What have the pair of you been doing?” she said chidingly, “punching that young man like that, and at a party and everything.”

“Hmmm?” Sherlock said finally looking up as he stole another flapjack from the plate.

“It’s all in today’s newspaper you know,” she said bringing over a copy of The Mail On Sunday, which had in fact run the story, augmenting their previous online story with reports from “witnesses”, quotes apparently from “close friends” of those involved, before finishing with a picture of them taken the day before when they had been in Regent’s Park, laughing as they stretched following the first part of their run. The picture had been taken from a distance and then zoomed in by the editors, but it was undoubtedly them.

Apparently reports suggested that currently Anglo-French relations were surprisingly good, while Anglo-American ones were bruised. Well, John had to admit, it could have been worse.

“You really shouldn’t believe everything you read,” Sherlock said casually, “especially in something like that.” He crinkled up his nose.

“So that man didn’t deserve a punch then?” she said innocently.

“Oh, no,” Sherlock said mildly, “he certainly deserved that.”

“Well good then,” Mrs Hudson said. “I’m sure Mrs Turner will be relieved to know as well. Good luck on your matches tomorrow, boys, I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

Then she was gone. John could see how Sherlock could like her.

“So, uh,” John said, “what time will we be leaving and how will we be getting back? Taxi?”

“Car,” Sherlock said absently. “Mycroft will send one.”

Mycroft did in fact send one, accompanied by Lestrade.

“Why are you here?” Sherlock asked, shutting away his laptop and zipping up the bag.

“You know why,” Lestrade said. “After your little stunt at the London Eye. I knew you’d come here, you know. Bloody obvious. You both packed? John,” he said in acknowledgement.

Sherlock made some kind of disgruntled but affirmative noise.

“Good,” Lestrade said. “Let’s get things in the car.”

“John,” Sherlock said once Lestrade had disappeared down the stairs with the first of their bags. “This weekend has been… well, anyway, urm… what I mean is, urm….”

“Sherlock,” John said painfully aware of how awkward Sherlock was appearing, “it’s fine, really.”

Sherlock nodded before motioning to the partly read book on the coffee table. “Take it,” he said, “I’m sure you’ll find the opportunity to read it at some point.”

“Oh, thanks,” he said. “That’s very good of you.”

“Nonsense,” Sherlock said. “I am hardly going to want to read it any time soon. Oh and before I forget, about that sock of yours.”

“Sock?” John asked.

“The… misplaced one. The one from the first night. I tend to find looking up and sometimes behind you rather enlightening.”

John blinked as Sherlock then grabbed one of the bags and swept off down the stairs. Up and behind? He turned and then shook his head ruefully. Behind the door, on a small cupboard, at the base of the tall lamp, lay his missing sock.

*

End Part Four

Chapter Text

For a Sunday afternoon there was a surprising number of reporters hovering outside the entrance to the hotel.

“What’s all that about?” John asked as they circumvented the front and rather pulled in at the rear entrance.

“You should check your mobile more often,” Sherlock said tapping away on his own phone.

Slipping his mobile out of his pocket John looked at it in surprise. Apparently he had eight missed calls and eleven texts.

The car stopped before he had a chance to see more and Sherlock was already out of door.

“Go to your room,” Lestrade said leaning over from the front passenger seat. “If asked say nothing. We’ll get your stuff sent up later. Alright?”

John nodded decided it wasn’t worth questioning. He got out of the car. Sherlock had already disappeared but that was hardly surprising. Grabbing just his main holdall he made his way in.

The hotel wasn’t particularly busy, thank goodness, and there were no reporters inside, but he did notice a few odd looks from the people he passed.

“How’s the hand?” someone asked him as he waited for the lift.

“Uh, fine,” he said.

“Good to hear,” the stranger said. “Would hate for anything to disrupt your game tomorrow. Good luck with that by the way.”

“Thanks.”

He made it to his room which was pretty much as he had left it, small, somewhat basic, but a little tidier and lacking in a lot of his personal belongings which were still in the car downstairs. The phone in his room was blinking red with messages. Curious, he pressed it.

“You have twenty-eight new messages.”

“Mr Popular,” he muttered moving to the small fridge to retrieve one of the cold beers.

“Mr Watson, Daniel Harris, Daily Mail, any comment on the punch?”

Beep.

“Emily Lovett, The Sun, congratulations on reaching the second week. Any comment on why you hit Jim Moriarty? Is this some kind of rivalry?”

Beep.

News of the World. Are you shagging Sherlock Holmes?”

Beep.

“Harris, Daily Mail again. We’d like to offer you an exclusive. Your side of the story. The Passion of Wimbledon. Call us.”

Beep.

News of the World. What about James Moriarty? Are you shagging him?”

Beep.

“John, it’s Clara, what the hell were you thinking and where the hell are you?”

Beep.

“Mr Watson, this is George D’Silva from The Observer. We would be most interested in an interview. Do you think you can beat Victor Trevor?”

Beep.

Daily Express, we want your story. Money no issue.”

Beep.

“John, it’s Harry. Answer your bloody phone before I go to the press and make up some stories about you.”

Beep.

“John, are you with Sherlock Holmes? Something going on that I should know about? Look, I’m doing my best to smooth this over, but Moriarty’s people aren’t exactly happy. Call me. It’s Clara, by the way.”

Beep.

Daily Mail again…”

He deleted the rest, almost dreading to look at his mobile. Unsurprisingly most of the missed calls and messages were from Harry and Clara, although there was also one from Mike. He sighed and flopped back onto the bed. Great, just what he needed.

He toyed with which one to call first and settled on Mike. The good doctor was his usual cheery self, didn’t ask too many questions, and quickly agreed to a pre-match check over in the morning.

Harry though, was not so straightforward, calling mere minutes after he finished talking to Mike. She was understandably cross; that he hadn’t returned her calls, that he had punched a player without her permission, that he was through to the fourth round and yet he still hadn’t gotten her any tickets to his matches. He managed to not mention Clara as he could definitely not have heard the end of it if he had.

For the most part he half listened, offered the right noises at the appropriate time and just let her talk. It was usually better that way anyway. Eventually it was the knock at his door that gave him the perfect excuse and having gotten in a few words quickly ended the phone call.

He had expected the knock to be about his bags being brought up. He was wrong.

“Now can we talk about it?” Clara said, a no nonsense expression on her face and her eyebrow raised.

He let her in because there was no way he was having this conversation in anywhere that could be classified as even slightly public.

“I trust you had a good weekend,” she said walking in and taking a seat on the one chair in the room.

“Yes,” he said closing the door and retreating to perch on the bed. “It was good, yeah.”

“And how is Sherlock Holmes?”

He kept his expression blank. “Sherlock Holmes?” he asked.

She pressed her lips together and made it clear that she did not believe his innocence trick. “If I had known what would happen when I introduced the pair of you I would have thought twice about it.”

He said nothing.

Her eyes narrowed.

“John H Watson,” she said, “that wasn’t the first time the pair of you had met, was it?” She leant forward suddenly far too interested in his response. “Go on, tell me the truth, how long have you known him?”

He held her gaze and protested, but his words died with the realisation that he was not about to get away with this one.

“Sunday,” he finally said. “Last Sunday. I’ve known him a week. Just a week, alright.”

“A week?” she said and raised an eyebrow. “And exactly how well do you know him?”

“Clara.”

“What?” she protested. “I know all about you, Three Continents Watson. He’s handsome, enigmatic, dangerous and something has gotten into you this week. You haven’t played with this much conviction, passion, belief, in, well in a very long time. Is it him? Has he gotten into you? Oh god, tell me you’re not shagging him. Or if you are, tell me it’s going to continue.”

“Clara.”

“If I’d known he was your type I would have introduced you years ago.”

“Clara!”

She finally stopped talking.

“There’s nothing between me and Holmes. Alright? For the first time in a very long time my game is going well. Do you really think I would jeopardise that by getting involved with an arrogant, self-absorbed Frenchman, especially after my track record?”

“Yes.”

Her bluntness almost knocked him off guard. Dropping his head, he massaged his temple and sighed. “Look, Clara, what is it you want, because I have a crucial match tomorrow, which could well be the most important or at least the last of my professional career. I need to be prepared with my head in the right place.”

She looked at him, her expression virtually blank, at first saying nothing until her face seemed to soften slightly. “John,” she said, “what I want is to be able to put some money in both of our pockets, for you to keep playing like a demon, and for you to hold onto whatever it is that has put this fire back into you. But most of all, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, what I want is for you to be happy. Understand?”

He went to say something but found himself without words, so he just nodded instead.

“Good,” she said, “and if we can combine all of those things, then all the better.”

He breathed out in amusement, shaking his head. “Goodbye, Clara.”

“Alright, alright,” she said rising to her feet and holding up her hands. “I’m going, I’m going. But seriously, yeah, next time you want to punch someone and then run off into the night with Sherlock Holmes, give me some warning first. A few good pictures and we could have made a mint selling those to the tabloids.”

“Out!”

She went.

Twenty minutes later his bags were delivered, complete with a note on top of the DVDs which were decidedly not his. ‘Thought you might enjoy them more than me. And remember what I said about VT. I’ll see you tomorrow to celebrate reaching the quarter finals. SH’.

Shaking his head, he grinned to himself, ordered room service and settled in for an evening watching Sean Connery as Bond.

*

“Good afternoon, and welcome to Magic Monday, the biggest day of the competition. Today all the fourth round singles matches will be battled out; thirty-two players, sixteen matches and only eight men and eight women will make it through to the coveted quarter finals. Epic clashes, mighty battles, bloody massacres, we’ve had it all here over the years. Favourites have stumbled, outsiders have prevailed, championship form has been discovered. Today past performance, ability, rank don’t matter; only the tennis counts.”

*

He left the hotel early, partly to avoid as much of the press as possible and partly because there was only so long he could spend by himself in his room. He was too distracted to read and there were only so many times he could flick through the telly channels.

A car and driver had been provided for him, although he wasn’t too certain whether that was down to Wimbledon or Mycroft, although admittedly those weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive things. He still got snapped of course by the reporters, but he managed to get into the car without incident.

*

“If we look at the men’s first, there are some interesting draws there.”

“Oh absolutely. All the top four are through, in fact the top six, and so far they’ve all come through unscathed.”

“Who do you think has looked most impressive so far?”

“Nadal has been on fine form. World number one of course. For me he’s the man to beat. He’s strong, excellent all round play, confident, looks unstoppable.”

“Could he be stopped though? Who could beat him? Moriarty? Holmes? Murray?”

“Holmes, definitely. He’s the only one Nadal has lost to this year.”

“The French Open semi-final.”

“Exactly. That was one of the most epic games I’ve seen in a long time. Some of the finest tennis as well.”

“And yet Holmes then lost to Moriarty in the final. What was that? Tiredness? Nerves? Pressure? Did it get too much, especially in front of his home crowd?”

“Who knows. Who knows what was going through his mind. Maybe it was the thought that it would be his first Grand Slam victory. Maybe it was the pressure. Tennis is such a mental game as well as a physical one. In the end it simply comes down to you, the racket, the ball and the net. Nothing else really matters."

*

Wimbledon was perhaps at its quietest. Fans were queuing for tickets to get in and the stewards were out, but compared to the afternoon it was quiet.

He managed to slip in and made his way to the changing rooms, stowing his practice rackets, clothing and other equipment before making his way to the gym. He spent time slowly warming up, getting the blood pumping around his body, stretching his muscles and making a note of what hurt, twinged, felt stiff, where and how much. Over all he felt good, although obviously not perfect. At least the weekend’s athleticisms hadn’t damaged him in any way.

Right, Watson, he told himself, get through this and you get to celebrate and you know what that means.

*

“Holmes will of course be facing Jefferson Hope today. First time they have ever met. What do you predict?”

“Holmes, all the way, although that’s not to say it won’t be a bit of a challenge for him. Hope has been underestimated by a number of good players already. One moment he’s being smashed round the court, barely in the game, the next he’s picking out surprising winners and taking the match.”

“Could he do that here? Possibility of an upset?”

“Possibility, yes, in all likelihood though, I don’t think so. Holmes has a talent for beating you at your own game. My money’s on him, straight sets, a fourth possibly at a push.”

*

“Any problems? Strain? Stiffness?”

John shook his head a Mike finished looking over his shoulder.

“And the hand, quite recovered from punching Moriarty?”

“It’s fine,” he said pulling his shirt back on.

“Haven’t seen that temper of yours in a while,” Mike said. “Something he said?”

“Something like that,” John admitted.

“Ooh-ooh, not going to tell me. Don’t blame you. You need to go out there and win.”

*

“Of course that Andy Murray match will be later this afternoon, but before that we have another Brit in action. John Watson, once ranked British Number One and a wild card entry here, is taking on twelfth seed, Australian Victor Trevor on Number Three Court, the former Number Two Court, known as the Graveyard of Champions. Tim, could we have an upset here?”

“I don’t know. I would love to say yes, but we’ve got to be realistic. Trevor is a great player who has shown some class so far. I fear he may be too good for Watson to overcome.”

“John Watson’s progress has been somewhat surprising. You’ve played with him in the past; where do you think this sudden form has come from?”

“It’s hard to tell. He was a great player in his day, and then of course came his accident. It’s tough recovering from something like that.”

“Many thought he would retire from the game then.”

“That no doubt crossed his mind too. He’s found something here though. It’s his last tournament, maybe that is it. The one last push.”

“He’s certainly been pushing indeed, but can he push his way past Victor Trevor? Or is the twelfth seed going to be too much for him? We’ll be bringing you all the updates as they come. Now, over to Centre Court.”

*

His stomach was dancing. After the pleasant relaxing weekend, he now felt anything but. The muscles the massage had loosened were tightening with anticipation, and the realisation of the situation was dawning on him. Sherlock was under the impression he could beat Trevor, but it was clear that no one else was. He wasn’t even too sure that he wsd.

Closing his eyes, he hung his head and tried to breathe deeply. It was just another tennis match, one he could win. One he would win. He would win this. He would.

*

“And over to Number Three Court where play is about to start very shortly. How are the players looking?”

“Trevor’s looking relaxed and rather stress-free, practicing his serve away to my left. Watson, on the other hand, looks tense and keeps rolling his shoulders as if trying to loosen them. He doesn’t look happy.”

“And what’s your prediction for the match?”

“Same as everyone else I would think. Trevor to win, straight sets.”

“No chance of an upset then?”

“Not with the way Watson looks. He’s had a brilliant Wimbledon so far, but this is the first seed he’s had to face. This will most likely be his last professional tennis appearance.”

*

Come on, Watson, remember what Sherlock said. You can do this. He’s just another player and this is just another match. Don’t do anything rash, play him at the rallies, force him close to the net and keep returning the ball.

“Time.”

Picking up his racket, he took a deep breath and got to his feet.

*

“And let’s go back to Number Three Court. Richard, what’s going on over there? Any good news?”

“Not if you’re a British tennis fan, Ann. Trevor has just taken the first set six games to three. Watson was broken in his second service game and never really looked like recovering. Trevor is clearly the better player, although not dominating as much as some predicted. Watson’s shoulders have slumped again. I’m not sure he believes he can win. That could make all the difference. He’s never beaten Trevor; that’s surely got to be preying on his mind.”

*

Partners, Sherlock had said. Trevor and he had been partners in all meanings of the word.

Pressing the lip of his drink bottle to his mouth he glanced across at where Trevor was sitting. He was just as he remembered him; tall, well built, handsome, tanned. Damn it, he and Sherlock must have looked good together, quite the striking couple.

Oh for god’s sake, stop thinking like that. He’s not the one shagging Sherlock now. Yeah, but if he didn’t win he wouldn’t be shagging Sherlock any more either.

Damn it.

He pursed his lips together. It might be the first time he had dropped a set this tournament but that was hardly a reason to raise the white flag. Sherlock would never let him hear the end of it if he cracked and buckled now.

That is if he ever saw the Frenchman again.

Damn it. Damn it. Damn it to hell.

He could win this match. He could!

*

“And back to Number Three Court, Richard, what have you got for us?”

“A tie break in the second set, Ann. Eight points each with Watson having the slight advantage of it being his service game. He’s about to serve from the deuce court… and it’s good, forehand return from Trevor to Watson’s backhand, backhand return down the line, Watson returns, Trevor… Watson’s there… Trevor. Oh, he’s netted it. Watson wins the point, 9-8. Trevor to serve, set point to Watson.”

“Bit of a fight back from Watson then?”

“Absolutely. It looks like he came out and stepped up a gear from that first set. It’s like he’s given himself a good talking to, picked himself up, dusted himself down and come out more determined. Just a moment… an excellent serve from Trevor, but somehow Watson gets his racket to it. Trevor anticipates at the net… and oh, he’s hit it long. Half the court to choose from and Trevor has hit it long, which means Watson has managed to take the set, 7-6, 10-8 on the tie break. Would you believe it? One set all. We’re going to four sets.”

*

Yes!

Jogging back to his seat he grabbed his towel, drying himself as much as he could. It had been a long hard set, but it had paid off. It was one set all and the momentum was very slightly in his favour. Trevor would be kicking himself for that last shot, but sometimes that was all it took; a little bit of luck and an awful lot of perseverance.

*

“Moriarty has just taken the second set, he leads here on Centre Court two sets to love, 6-2, 6-3, while over on Number Three Court you have a potential upset brewing on your hands, Richard.”

“That we do. You can probably hear the crowd. It’s one set all, nine games into the third set and John Watson has just broken Victor Trevor, fighting back from thirty love down to take the game on deuce from right under Trevor’s nose. He now leads the set, five games to four and it’s his turn to serve.”

“And he serves… and gets the point as Trevor’s return just clips the net and rolls back. Fifteen love.”

“Has that happened a lot, Richard?”

“More so recently. Luck it seems is on Watson’s side, as is the crowd. They’re really getting into this match now. Watson serves again, Trevor returns this time but to Watson’s strong forehand, crosscourt, Trevor gets there, Watson backhand, he’s coming into the net and volleys Trevor’s return and there was no chance of Trevor getting that. Thirty love.

“Do you have time to stay with us, Ann?”

“We do, Richard.”

“Excellent, because this is turning into one surprising fight. Watson serves again but it’s wide. Who would have thought we would be in this position an hour ago? He’s bouncing the second ball and… second serve is slower, Trevor has time to pick out a spot and that’s an excellent return from Trevor. Thirty-fifteen.

“Do you think Watson could win this?”

“If he holds his nerve now, anything is possible, Ann. This I think it is the most telling moment so far. Trevor looks like he’s starting to flounder, but he’s come back from worse than this. I wouldn’t write him off just yet.

“Watson serves, Trevor returns to Watson’s backhand, pushes the ball deep, Trevor down the line but Watson’s there, returned by Trevor, another safe shot from Watson, Trevor crosscourt, Watson forehand, Trevor forehand, and it’s just too long. Would you believe it, any other time and Trevor would have made that shot, now it’s forty-fifteen and Watson’s on serve with two set points.

“He collects the balls from the ball-boy, tests them, pockets one, throws away the third. He’s taking his time, collecting himself. He bounces the ball, throws it high… and it’s an ace. Watson takes the third set 6-4 and he leads two sets to one. Just listen to that crowd!”

“First upset of the day, Richard?”

“Could well be. Could well be.”

*

Trevor was angry, it was clear from his body language. That was good. He could work with anger. Anger meant loss of control, loss of control meant silly mistakes, silly mistakes meant easy points.

He was winning, he was actually winning. Sherlock, the bloody brilliant bastard had actually been right. Although overall victory was far from a forgone conclusion, it was decidedly closer than it had been an hour ago.

Stay focused, stay calm, for god’s sake don’t think about all the times you got so far and then choked. Oh and remember that every point you take from Trevor could translate into a kiss from a certain Frenchman.

*

“Forget Centre Court, forget Number One Court, Ann, the real match is here. Number Three Court where we’ve been treated to over three hours of glorious, nerve-wracking tennis and just when you thought it couldn’t get any better something else happens.”

“So what’s happened?”

“Everything! Watson started on serve only to have Trevor break him in the third game. Then believe it or not, Watson broke him straight back, taking it to two games all. He then held his next service game and his nerves to take the fifth to make it three games to two. Trevor made it three all, clearly shaken but managing to hold on. Then Watson made it four three, and then would you believe it, he broke Trevor again and we’re about to go into the ninth game of the fourth set, Watson 5-3 ahead and with serve. He’s literally just four points away from a place in the quarter finals.”

*

Come on, Watson, you can do it. Four points, that’s all you need. Four points and then you’ll get your shag. I wonder if Sherlock is watching you beat his ex?

He threw the ball up in the air.

*

“Trevor, waiting for the serve, now plays a backhand return, Watson down the line, forehand return from Trevor, backhand from Watson, Trevor forehand, and the winner from Watson, down the line, beautifully placed with just the right amount of pace.”

“Trevor really had no chance there.”

“Wonderful play from Watson, and you can hear the crowd. They know that something totally extraordinary is going on here. It’s thirty-fifteen and Watson’s first serve has just gone into the net. He’s bouncing the second ball slowly again. Got to wonder what’s going through his mind right now. And the serve is good, Trevor returns, Watson plays it short forcing Trevor in, Watson knocks it back, Trevor with the forehand volley which lands out. Yes, it’s out. Trevor is protesting but there’s no hawkeye here and both the linesman and the umpire have confirmed. The ball is out and it’s forty-fifteen. Watson with two match points.

“He’s looking rather calm about it, pretty much ignoring Trevor’s protests. He’s bouncing the ball up and down… and serves, returned forehand, backhand Watson, another forehand, forehand chip from Watson, Trevor coming in, Watson volley, Trevor volley, down the line and Watson has done it. He has actually done it. He’s taken the game to Victor Trevor and after a shaky start has beaten him at it. 3-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3. John Watson, wild card entry, is through to the quarter finals. Would you believe it?”

*

If he had thought he had been popular before that was nothing compared to what happened after that match.

The press descended the moment he stepped off the court, or actually even before that. The cameras were certainly flashing as he stopped to sign autographs, voices calling for him to look their way, to smile, to wave. By the time was he walking back to the changing rooms they were swarming, shouting him questions, some about the match, some about his prospects, some about Moriarty and the punch. He smiled but shook his head, refusing to speak to them until the official press conference.

“Watson.”

Reaching the changing rooms relatively unscathed, he turned as he heard his name called, surprised to find himself face to face with a serious looking Victor Trevor. He gave a small smile and a nod, commenting on the good game and wishing him luck in the future, but it wasn’t the game that Trevor appeared interested in.

“Look, mate,” Trevor said in his characteristic soft Australian accent, “be careful.”

He tipped his head questioningly.

“I know what he’s like. He has a way of sucking you in until you think… well, just be careful. Don’t let him break you. And good luck in the next round.”

He took refuge in the steam room, letting the heat soak away the aches and pains following the match, slipping into a daydream of what he and Sherlock might get up to that night.

The quarter finals. He was actually through to the quarter finals of a Grand Slam. It had been years since he had gotten that far. The last eight!

Finishing his warm down with a shower he composed himself as best he could for the press conference that was to come. Finding his mobile he glanced at the notice that said he had three missed calls – Clara, Harry and Sarah – and eight texts – Harry times two, Clara times two, Sarah, Mike, Dimmock and a blocked number that wasn’t Sherlock.

John, the message said, congratulations on your well fought victory. When they ask, the punch was a mild misunderstanding now resolved, you had a quiet weekend and if they want to know anything about Sherlock Holmes they should ask him instead. Regards, Mycroft.

He sucked in a deep breath and then went to face the press.

“How do you feel about your victory?”

“Good,” he said flashing them a smile, “bloody brilliant if you must know.”

“How’s the shoulder?”

“Still there.”

“You’re playing with more passion and confidence than you have in years. Any reason for that?”

“Success, I suppose,” he said. “It’s hard to be confident when you’re being run off the court by kids a decade your junior. This is my last Wimbledon, it seems I’m refusing to go down without a fight, but if I knew what the reason for my winning streak was I’d try to bottle and sell it. Would at least make a fortune.”

They at least laughed, although he suspected it was at least partly down to politeness rather than really finding it funny.

“You’ve been spotted with Sherlock Holmes, could he be part of it?”

He made sure to keep the small smile and not react to the question. “Sherlock Holmes is a great player,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have learnt a lot from him over the past few days,” and learnt a lot about him as well, he added mentally. “It’s hard to spend any serious time with him and not come away feeling either horribly inferior, or greatly inspired. Fortunately for me, it’s been the latter.”

“He’s known for being fastidious about who he works and trains with, why do you suppose he’s picked you?”

He forced a smile. “Haven’t the foggiest. You’d have to ask him about that.”

“Why’d you punch Moriarty?”

Ah, he had been waiting for that question. In all honesty he was surprised they had taken so long to get to it.

“Misunderstanding,” he said running his hand down his thigh as he recalled the text message. “Not something I’m proud of and not something I’m planning on repeating.”

“You were spotted afterwards leaving the party with Sherlock Holmes, where did you go?”

“I decided a quiet weekend was on the cards,” he said. “A friend offered me the chance to stay at their place, I took them up on the offer.”

“Did Holmes go with you?”

“I’m sure Holmes has better places to be than trailing after me.”

They laughed again.

“You’ve got Andy Murray in the next round. They’re calling it the Battle of Britain. Do you think you can win?”

Murray next? Hell. There was no way that could possibly end well. Either he would go out and that would be the last he would see of Sherlock Holmes, or somehow, by some miracle he beat the British number one then there would be a good chance that the general public would hate him for knocking out Britain’s best hope for a Wimbledon Champion. Bloody, bugger, bollocks, hell.

“Well,” he said, “in a game of tennis, if you don’t go in thinking that you could walk away the victor then you definitely won’t. Trust me, I know all about that.”

They let him go not long after that and he did his best to slip back into obscurity, hiding away to get a long massage, desperate to alleviate the tightness in his shoulder and back partly caused by the match, partly by the press conference.

By the time he emerged, the press had other people to occupy them and he went to find some food and check on the other matches. Murray beating Querry first on Centre Court he already knew about – thank you, the British media – but on Number One Court Moriarty had beaten Ferrer, with Federer and Melzer due to play after the women had finished there. On Number Two Court Djokovic had beaten Hewitt, and Roddick was due to be playing there later. Holmes and Hope, like Federer and Melzer, were yet to start.

His phone bleeped.

John, go back to the hotel. He will join you later. Mycroft.

He stared at it, the number once again having come up as blocked. Of course the message was right. There was little point in waiting around here. He wasn’t about to see Sherlock in person or anything, and nor did he think the Frenchman would be happy to see him anyway, and yet he didn’t want to move. The hotel was simply too far away, too removed from the action.

Pocketing his phone, he finished his food and decided he might as well grab a beer while he was at it. The ladies fourth round tie of Serena Williams versus Maria Sharapova was just finishing on Centre Court, which meant that Sherlock would be up next.

“John Watson, you can be an infuriatingly hard man to contact.”

He looked up as Clara took the seat next to him, still looking as attractive and well turned out as ever.

“But for once,” she said, “I bloody well forgive you because somehow you’ve gotten that cute little arse of yours into gear and are winning some matches. Although that could quite probably come to an end next round, but I fully intend on taking advantage now before you become known as that English guy who beat those other guys, only to lose to the Scottish guy in the quarter finals.”

Sherlock was now walking out onto Centre Court, head high as usual, ignoring everything as he made his way to his chair. Beside him was the smaller, older figure of Jefferson Hope, somewhat unkempt looking, especially against Sherlock’s easy elegance.

“…of course if you bothered to return my calls once in a while you would know that I’m close to cutting you a deal with Robinsons, oh and Radio 5 Live want you for an interview.”

They were warming up now, practicing their serves. Sherlock looked self-composed as he bounced the ball and then seemed to uncurl like a spring as he thudded it across the net.

“…Question of Sport is practically guaranteed, and it’s a shame Hole in the Wall has been cancelled, but there are some things that… John!”

“Mmmm?”

“Are you even listening to me or is… ahhh.”

Tearing his eyes from the screen he found Clara looking at him, her lips pressed quite tightly together.

“You were, uh, saying?” he said shifting slightly in his seat.

“Why are you here, John?” she said after a moment.

He frowned. “What? Uh, to play tennis?”

She shook her head. “No. I mean here, now, through to the quarter finals of Wimbledon, day off tomorrow. You could be in your hotel room, out with friends, in a proper bar, in a steam room, finding someone to shag, so why are you here, still at the club, quite clearly only interested in a certain Frenchman.”

He fidgeted slightly while telling himself to stay still.

“Clara,” he said warningly, ready to throw the usual spiel at her, anything to deflect her away from the truth.

“Do you even know?” she asked her tone more curious than accusing.

He looked back at the screen where the first set was now underway. Sherlock’s racket was flying as he powered the ball back across the net, his whole body focused, committed, no doubt, no hesitation, just him, the racket and the ball.

“Clara, I….”

“Watch the match, John. Watch what the man does, how he plays. Watch and try to figure out why you are watching.”

She patted him on the arm, and then left him there. For the rest of the time he watched alone. The match was a long one and incredibly tight. It was clear that Sherlock was the technically better tennis player, but Hope was tough. It took some brilliant returns from Holmes to eventually break down Hope in the first set, a grim look on the Frenchman’s face as he sat down having taken the set 6-4, but he had been forced to move around the court to do so.

The second set was even tighter, where although Sherlock won considerably more points, Hope took his crucial ones, taking the match into a tie-break. They were incredibly evenly matched, Hope refusing to give an inch while Sherlock stood his ground, expecting everything that was thrown at him as Hope made shots he had previously missed. It was a long hard battle that had John wincing at moments, until finally – FINALLY – Sherlock with some superbly brilliant but basic play, broke through and the set was his 7-6, 16-14 on the tie-break.

John blew out a deep breath as the players returned to their chairs. They had been playing for over two hours now but Sherlock was winning. That was the test, John realised. Hope had a habit of losing the first set and then winning the next three, but Sherlock had stood firm, refused to be dragged into his game, and gone for simplicity over show.

The third set was far shorter. At two games all it became clear that the life was draining from Hope’s game. His returns were that little bit slower, little bit less well placed than previously.

Sherlock broke him in the sixth game and again in the eighth to finally win the match; 6-4, 7-6, 6-2.

It was all that John could do not to punch the air. Instead he collapsed back in his seat with a relieved laugh, pressing his hand to his forehead and smiling far too broadly. He had done it, they had both done it. They were both through to the last eight.

On screen Sherlock had stopped to sign a few autographs, a French Tricolour thrust at him with a thick pen, before he was pulled over to do an interview for the BBC. He looked sweaty, drained and very slightly relieved.

John watched for a few more moments until the cameras switched to Number One Court. At that he got to his feet. It was time to go back to the Dorchester. Sherlock would be another hour or two at least, and there was no point waiting here. Not now anyway.

They were both through. Another day, another round… another evening they could spend together. This was… this was good.

*

He grabbed hold of Sherlock’s arm and tugged him into the room the moment he identified the Frenchman as being the person on the other side of his door. He didn’t bother with a verbal greeting or word of congratulation, just pressed the other man into the nearest wall and dragged his head down to mesh their lips together. Despite the abruptness Sherlock came willingly, hands reaching up to grasp at his waist as mouths opened and tongues flicked.

“God,” John growled pulling away long enough to grab a breath and pull the shirt out of the waistband of Sherlock’s jeans. “You are… you are… you are something else entirely,” he said, and then pressed back to capture those lips again.

It had been over three hours since Sherlock’s match had ended, two and a half hours since John had made it back here to the Dorchester and over fifty minutes since he had started to obsessively look at his watch. He had sent a text of course, but knew that Sherlock very rarely replied. He had considered sending another one, or even calling in fact, had actually gone as far as pulling up the number, but had stopped himself. Sherlock had said he would join him. Mycroft had said the same thing, so there was no point in badgering him with texts and coming off as either clingy or needy.

“You’ve been drinking.”

Sherlock’s observation came with a lick of the lips after they had finally parted again, hands taking the opportunity to rid each other of the fiddly clothing. Sherlock smelt of shower gel and deodorant, and very much of himself, not overpowered by cologne or some other ridiculous scent. It was good, and John couldn’t help but press his nose into the chest and neck before him, breathing deeply, his hands running up and down that slim and finely sculpted torso.

“It was a very dramatic match,” he said. “The tension was almost… unbearable.”

He pressed up close, pushing in his hips to show exactly how dramatic he had found it. Sherlock’s head fell back, not resisting as he was pressed into the wall, his hands moving up and down John’s back.

“You watched it?” he heard Sherlock say.

He snorted where he was pressing kisses to Sherlock’s clavicle. “Of course,” he said running his hands down to flick open the flies on the other man’s jeans. “I had a vested interest after…” He stopped as his brain finally caught up with the messages being sent to it from his fingers and pulling away he frowned. Despite his obvious interest, Sherlock did not appear to be… well, interested. The cock beneath his fingers twitched to half-mast under the pressure but definitely wasn’t its usual straining self.

Shit.

He let go, taking a step back, his brain finally engaging and running through the facts. He was the one who had grabbed the Frenchman. He was the one who had initiated the kissing, pressed him again the wall, started ridding them of their clothing. Sherlock was the one who had been delayed, who had only managed to turn up some considerable time after he had been expected. What if he didn’t actually want this? What if he had only come here because he had said he would? What if….

“Sherlock…” he said, not entirely sure how the rest of that sentence was going to proceed. “Are you… uh, that is, we don’t….”

“I’m fine,” the Frenchman snapped. “I’m here, aren’t I? Just… give me a moment.”

He quickly held up his hands taking another step back. “Look, we really don’t need to do anything you know. If you’re not….”

“I said I’m fine,” and then those long nimble fingers were catching him round the waist and pulling him back in contact. Sherlock’s lips were more forceful this time, as if that would convince him where the Frenchman’s words and body had failed.

He met the kiss full on, one hand snaking up to tug the other man’s head down a little lower, but another part of his mind couldn’t help but think that maybe there was something more, something he was missing. It could simply be down to general tiredness he supposed. It had been a difficult match and by far Sherlock’s longest in the competition. It would be understandable if it was just physical exhaustion that was affecting him. And yet he wasn’t so sure.

“Fuck me,” Sherlock murmured as their lips parted once more. “I need… I need you to… please.”

It was the please that finally did it. Whatever was going on, and he was almost certain that something was, the please was enough to persuade him of Sherlock’s sincerity.

By the time he rid them of their clothing and pushed the Frenchman back onto the bed, Sherlock was at least looking as if he was wanting it, his cock now fully hard and leaking slightly, his chest flushed and heaving, his lips pinker due to the kisses.

“Right,” he managed as he finally tore his eyes away from the sight. “Condom? Lube?”

“Jacket pocket,” Sherlock said.

He grabbed the discarded jacket, bringing it back to the bed. Mobile, folded piece of paper, room keycard, his fingers finally curled around the tube of lube but he frowned, searching the other pocket as well for a small blue package.

“Condom?” he asked questioningly.

Sherlock shook his head. “Want to feel you,” he said.

Oh god. Had Sherlock come here knowing that was what he wanted, planning that, purposely not bringing a condom with him?

“Are you….”

“Of course I’m sure,” Sherlock said sharply cutting him off. “I want you to fuck me, John Watson, to slide that hard, gorgeous cock into me, without barrier, so I can feel every single inch, every single bump and ridge knocking against every part of me. I want to feel you, all of you, on me, in me, over me, until I can feel… until I can think of nothing else.”

He stared and then Sherlock was spreading his legs and it was the single most sexy, most erotic, most arousing thing he had ever heard, ever seen.

“Yes,” he said, sliding between those legs, pressing his lips hotly against the mouth where those words had come from. “Absolutely, yes.”

As usual Sherlock needed very little preparation, which was good, because he was in little mood to do anything more than the cursory check. A quick slick of himself and then he was sliding in, gasping at the increased heat, at the tightness, pressing his forehead to Sherlock’s chest as he finally reached the hilt. He could feel a hand moving over his back, down to his arse, gripping it as if urging him in deeper.

“Move… John,” he heard, the command ghosting against his hair.

He moved and it was glorious. The tightness shifted as Sherlock’s knees rose, gripping his waist, deepening the angle.

“Oh yes,” he hissed, drawing out the last syllable.

Sherlock in turn stayed surprisingly quiet, sighing and muttering every so often, raising his hips to meet each thrust, but doing little else.

Slowing, he levered himself up onto his arms, slipping a hand between their bodies to grasp Sherlock’s cock.

“Don’t stop,” the Frenchman said snapping his hips to try and regain the rhythm. “Want you… want you to come. Let me feel it.”

“Oh god,” he muttered, gasping as surprisingly everything suddenly tightened further around him. “Sh-Sherlock. Are you… close?”

He was close. The warmth, the rhythm was driving him closer and closer to the edge. Knowing that he was about to come, unimpeded by latex, was playing havoc on his self-control. He wanted it. He needed it. And yet.

He felt himself pulled back down, his hand batted away from Sherlock’s cock.

“Want to feel you,” he heard Sherlock say, the words so deep and so close to his ear. “Want you to come. In me. Deep in me. Mark me. Bury yourself in me. Make me feel it. You feel so good. Ah yes, putain, there. Deeper. Want you. Harder. Harder, Jean.”

It was like liquid porn. The rolling words streaming into his ear, through his brain, down his body into his cock, while the long, strong legs that pulled up even higher, forcing him in deeper, urged him on, the warm tight flesh gripping him. Too much. So fucking much.

“Sher- I’m gonna,” he gasped between breaths, between thrusts, “I’m gonna….”

So close. So very close.

“Yes,” he heard breathed into him. “Yes, that’s it. Let go, John. Let go.”

Yes!

He came with a gasp, his head thrown back as his mouth opened to force oxygen into his lungs. His orgasm swept through him and over him, and he could feel the wet heat that erupted from him.

Bloody hell. He was shaking. He was actually shaking as he fought not to collapse, slipping out of Sherlock’s body to roll onto the other side of the bed. Oh god that had been… he swallowed. Intense sprang to mind. Tight. Hot. Fucking intense.

He smiled, glancing across to where Sherlock lay sprawled, eyes closed, chest rising and falling heavily… his cock still hard against his stomach.

Shit.

So caught up with his own desire, his own wants he had forgotten about Sherlock and his needs, the need that was now hard and dark, standing to attention.

Reaching down, he gripped it with his hand, the hips jerking as they eyes snapped open.

“John, you don’t….”

“Shhhh,” he whispered, leaning over to press a kiss to those lips. “Let me.”

There was a moment where their gaze met and held, staring at each other, into each other, and then Sherlock’s eyes slid shut again and he relaxed with a nod. That was all the invitation John needed.

Keeping a steady, firm pressure on the erection, he first pressed his lips against the slightly flushed skin on Sherlock’s chest, kissing and licking in equal measures, moving downward until he lay on his front between those legs and blew gently on his target.

Sherlock’s eyes snapped open and he groaned as he looked down at what was happening. “John, you don’t….”

“I want to,” he said interrupting and then he lowered his head.

It had been some years since he had last pleasured a man orally, but it was like riding a bike; not something you’re particularly interested in doing until you suddenly find the one machine you really want to ride.

He had been wanting to do this for days, to wrap his lips around the cock, sucking strongly until the body arched in confusion as to whether to move closer or further away.

“Jean.”

The hand that sneaked down buried itself in his hair, but remained remarkably static, neither pushing nor pulling, just resting there. It felt good, long thin fingers sliding through his fine hairs, closing the circle between then as he rewarded it with a stronger than usual suck.

He didn’t try to take too much in, he had never managed to succeed at deep throating, but he wrapped one hand round the base to massage and hold as he bobbed up and down, running his tongue over the silky skin, flicking against the more sensitive parts.

“Jean.”

He looked up, smiling slightly to see Sherlock finally giving in, sprawled boneless, eyes shut, mouth half open. Shifting, he used his free hand to grip at a stray thigh, awkwardly moving it until finally he had it over his good shoulder, freeing his hand to first explore the heavy balls and then push further back into the slick and loosened hole.

Sherlock groaned as he pushed two fingers in, flexing them until he found the sensitive nub, rubbing them backwards and forwards until the hips buckled forcibly. Lifting his head, he released the now saliva slicked cock, stroking calmly with one hand as he teased slowly but mercilessly with the other.

“Shhhh, there now,” he murmured. “You’re almost there. Gonna make you come, just like this. God, you should see yourself. So sexy. So very sexy. I can feel my come in you you know, all warm and slick. I can’t believe you let me do that. So fucking amazing. Going to suck you until you come, in my mouth if you want. Do you want that, Sherlock? Do you want to come in my mouth?”

The heavily lidded blue eyes stared down at him, pale and unfocused, darting back and forth as he played with the prostate.

“So fucking hot.”

“Jean,” he heard Sherlock whisper, the fingers in his hair momentarily tightening.

That was all he needed to know.

Dipping his head, he first pressed a kiss to the thigh and then slid his mouth once more over the damp cock.

“Merci…” he heard whispered, the voice sounding a little hoarse, a little broken, “…bien, Jean.”

And then with one particularly strong suck, Sherlock came, his hips lifting clean off the bed, his eyes screwing tightly close, his head turning away.

*

“At the risk of sounding clichéd or too much like a nagging spouse, you going to tell me what that was all about?”

He stood in the doorway to the bathroom having taken the opportunity to wipe himself down and rinse out his mouth. Sherlock in turn was now sitting up, propped against the headboard, a distant look on his face. Whatever he was seeing or was considering with that mind of his, John really didn’t think it was the doors to the wardrobe that he was pointed towards.

“What? Oh?” Sherlock said, blinking a few times and then offering a smile that he could tell was hardly genuine.

He frowned, walking back in to perch on the chair, leaning over the back of it to face the bed. “You seem distracted,” he said. “Something happened?”

He had been late after all. Perhaps he had been held up by something. Maybe he had been waylaid by reporters. Maybe Moriarty had….

“Nothing,” Sherlock said firmly. “Nothing important.” Then, “I’m hungry through. Have you eaten? You don’t appear to have, except what you obviously had after your match at the club. I’m a bit too tired to go out to tell you the truth, but if you have something in mind….”

“Sherlock.” He held up his hand to stop the stream of words that were being thrown at him.

Sherlock at least halted, his mouth snapping shut as his eyebrows momentarily pulled together.

“Room service will be fine,” he said. “More than fine and probably quicker than anything else and I’m starving. How about I call down and order us a selection while you grab a shower and you know…” compose yourself, hide behind your masks again, “…freshen up. If after you find you want to tell me what’s going through that brilliant head of yours, then that’s fine. If not, well then, that’s also fine. I’m sure we’ll find plenty of crap on the telly you can insult and we can try to not get too many crumbs on the bed sheets. Alright?”

There was a pause as Sherlock watched him closely then the lips pressed together and there was a small nod.

“Red meat is good,” Sherlock said rising to his feet, “vegetables, carbs, not too much sugar, and no caffeine, or we’ll be up all night.” He flashed a brief smile. “Which while fun would be rather unhelpful at the moment.”

John refrained from pointing out that he already knew how it all worked, thank you very much, and simply let Sherlock pass on the way to the shower.

He let out a sigh when the door clicked shut. Something had happened; that much he was certain of, but for the life of him he didn’t know what. He had never seen Sherlock like this before. He was distracted, almost agitated, his mind certainly hadn’t been fully on the sex until the end, and he had been quieter, much quieter than usual.

Rubbing at the back of his neck, he glanced across towards the bathroom when he heard the shower start, before getting up to find a menu to search through. The water was still running when he finished calling down to place the order. Inevitably he had probably ordered far too much, but that couldn’t be helped, after all he had to ensure there was enough food there that Sherlock would like and eat.

Job done, he wandered around picking up their respective clothing, putting it into separate piles and trying to shake the wrinkles out of Sherlock’s shirt. After all he would need that to wear back to his room and they certainly did not want to start more rumours than there already were about them.

Realising that it probably wasn’t ideal to answer the door in the nude while at one of London’s top hotels, he pulled on a pair of boxers and a t-shirt, clothing he could at least sleep in and that covered up all the vital parts. Now, all he had to do was wait.

He ended up on the bed flicking through the tv channels. Sherlock in turn was apparently attempting to turn into a prune in the shower. Either that or he had somehow fallen and hit his head and was now drowning helplessly. No, no, he could hear some movement, Sherlock was apparently still alive and well.

In the end the food arrived before Sherlock reappeared, pushed into the room on a posh looking service trolley.

“Will sir be requiring anything else?” the waiter asked, obviously politely ignoring the fact there was more food than one person could possibly eat, the bed sheets were noticeably dishevelled and the shower was running.

He kept his expression blank and confirmed that everything was good before showing the man out. Moving to the bathroom door, he tapped on it, calling Sherlock’s name. The shower switched off so he knew he had been heard, and he went to start serving out some of the food.

Sherlock’s skin was flushed, his hair still wet when he emerged, the hotel-provided white bathrobe wrapped around his body.

They talked about nothing in particular while they ate, enjoying the good food. Every so often Sherlock would glance at his mobile with an expression that said he was either daring it to ring, or daring it not to. It bleeped the once, near the end of their meal, mid-way through a random discussion on which was better, London or Paris – Sherlock said London, he said Paris. Snatching it up, Sherlock's fingers flew over the screen until finally his body relaxed a little, although his lips remained somewhat thinly pressed together.

“Problem?” John asked.

Sherlock grunted, tossing the phone back down onto the bed between them. “Lestrade,” he said, “telling me there’s been no progress.”

“Progress?” John asked raising his eyebrows slightly.

Sherlock fell silent for a moment, obviously once more lost in thought. John said nothing, figuring that silence was probably the best option. Either Sherlock would tell him, or he wouldn’t. Badgering him wouldn’t make him speak.

After a long moment Sherlock picked up the phone again, tapped away and then handed it to him. On the screen was now a picture of a pair of shoes, a pair of white Adidas tennis trainers to be exact.

“What do you make of those?” Sherlock said.

He looked at them. They looked pretty normal to be honest, well-worn but looked after, white with dark blue Adidas stripes, about a size ten he would guess, older style, probably late 90s, early 2000s. He told Sherlock as much.

“Mmmm,” Sherlock said. “They were delivered to my room this evening in a box. The hotel staff are not aware of who they are from, and the only thing attached was a note.”

Moving to his jacket, Sherlock went through his pocket and pulled out the piece of paper, handing it over. Taking it, John turned it over a couple of times before folding it out.

“’God pity you both!’” he read, “’and pity us all!’”

He looked up in confusion. “Is that it?”

“Hmmm, yes,” Sherlock said returning to the bed, “but it is more than enough.”

“Right,” John said, “uh, care to tell me why?”

“’Why’ indeed,” Sherlock said, “and a very pertinent question but perhaps the first question should in fact be ‘what’. What are they?” He picked the phone up again to flick through the pictures. “You’re perfectly sound in your analysis,” he continued, “although lacking in detail. They are indeed a pair of Adidas white tennis shoes, manufactured between 1997 and 1998. Size ten, men’s, well-worn on grass and hard court, but especially on clay as you can see by the slight discolouring towards the bottom. They were looked after but from the back you can see they were often toed off a little carelessly. The owner is a professional tennis player, at that point though little more than a junior. He had other pairs of course, but inexplicably he had an emotional attachment to these. Partly because they had first been a present from someone he had greatly cared for, and partly because he had worn them when he won the junior single’s title at the French Open. From the wear it is clear he didn’t compete in them anymore, but he often wore them around casually.”

He stared as Sherlock stopped speaking. “That’s… incredible,” he said. “You got all that from the shoes?”

“Yes,” Sherlock said. “From the shoes…and from the fact I know the owner.”

“Who?”

“Me. They’re my shoes.”

This, he supposed, was the great revelation, but he was unsure what it meant, certain he was missing something. Something that was no doubt rather obvious. “So,” he tried a little slowly, “they’re your shoes, but who sent you your own shoes? And what about the note, what does that mean? How did they get them in the first place? And, uh, why?”

“’Who’, I already know,” Sherlock said. “The note told me that even if the appearance of the shoes had not. ‘How’ involves an explanation which I will go into in a moment. As for ‘why’, I have my theories and none of them suggest they were sent to me for my own health and wellbeing.”

Wiping his fingers on a napkin, Sherlock tugged the collar of the bathrobe further around himself and settled back, his gaze appearing to fix on something only he could see.

“The ‘why’ is simply for no good reason. A warning perhaps, certainly from the note it’s supposed to act as a reminder. At very least it could be an attempt at unbalancing me, or it could simply be a form of revenge.

“The ‘how’ can only be explained by going back some years now to my first year of professional tennis. Believe it or not I was young, rash and no doubt somewhat foolish. This was before my brother started to provide a full entourage and I would often find myself left alone in the evenings in hotels such as this, bored restless. It was on one such tour, the Stockholm Open in fact, that I was introduced to a rather charming and captivating young man, another tennis player like myself, of similar age and style. I knew him from the junior circuit; we had in fact played against each other a couple of times, but had never met socially.

“He was… interesting. He made me laugh, we had a lot in common, and he made the gaps between matches far less boring. I was flattered by his attention of course and found myself attracted to his smile, his eyes. My sexuality had flourished late - I'd never really been interested in anything but tennis before then - but my infatuation with him helped cement a long running belief of mine that I was more attracted to the male form than the female, although that is by no means exclusive.

“He kissed me first, and I regret to say that I reacted more with my body than my mind and so kissed him back. It wasn’t the most polished, but it got the job done, and the next thing I knew I was on the bed and my clothes were being undone and hands were moving across my bare skin. Overwhelmed, I will admit that I basically panicked, not ready for such intimacy, and when he tried to persuade me otherwise, I grabbed my jacket and fled the room, leaving behind my prized shoes, which I had taken off earlier in the evening.

“The next day I lost my match, due partly at least to a lack of concentration, and since then I have never engaged in any sexual activity right before a match. I, of course, returned to France and I never went back for my shoes, giving them up for lost and blaming it on my own naivety and cowardice.”

His voice trailed off but his gaze remained resolutely ahead until it shifted momentarily to the picture and the mobile and then to the piece of paper.

“The note is no doubt a reminder of what happened. It is a misquote from a line of poetry by John Greenleaf Whittier, called Maud Muller. You’re probably not aware of the whole thing, in fact I had to look it up to check. The poem is about a man and a woman – Maud Muller obviously – who despite being smitten with each other never voice their feelings and therefore move on, both to marry others, but throughout their lives each reflect upon their meeting and what might have been. You would probably recognise the end of it though, it is rather well known of course.”

“The end?” John asked.

“God pity them both! and pity us all, Who vainly the dreams of youth recall; For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”

A reminder then, of what might have been.

“As for ‘who’,” Sherlock continued, “who would send them to me, who had the other player been… it was Jim, Jim Moriarty.”

John sucked in a breath. He had had his suspicions as to who it had been while the other man had been talking, but it took mention of that name to really drive home the consequences. Oh god, that explained so much. The tension between the pair of them, the rivalry, the jealousy. He ran a hand through his hair and then over his face.

“Christ,” he said, “no wonder you… Christ.”

“I had believed he had forgotten about the incident, or moved on,” Sherlock continued, “but after Victor and I parted company, he came with his proposition and I started to think otherwise. Recently though he has stepped up his campaign. Letters, emails, texts, although he has always been careful that they could not be traced back to him, but there was never any doubt in my mind. There was no one else that it could have been. Mycroft has been dealing with it as best he can, my security detail has been increased, and Lestrade now watches me constantly, but somehow he always gets to me, just like he did in Paris.”

“Paris?” he asked. “You mean the French Open. Was it the final? You were winning that. Did he say something to you? Is that what happened? What did he say?”

Sherlock lifted a hand as if to wave the questions away. “What he said is of no consequence,” he said, “but yes, his words were the cause of my distraction and my loss of form.”

“Jeeze,” he let out virtually through his teeth. “And have you reported any of this?”

Sherlock frowned. “To whom? It would only ever be my word against his.”

“But….”

“No, it cannot be dealt with that way. Mycroft will handle it and that will be the end of it.”

“Oh god, no wonder you were so distracted tonight.”

“Yes, that was regrettable, but I appreciate your dedication to my pleasure, it was very much….”

“Appreciated?”

“Quite,” Sherlock said with the flicker of a small smile. “Now though,” he said, “it’s getting late and I should be returning to my own room. Thank you for the room service, it was… well chosen.”

“Oh, yeah, right,” he said with an amused smile. “But… uh, you don’t have to go,” he continued, his mouth working fasting than his brain.

Sherlock stopped with a frown.

“If you want to you can, you know, stay here tonight. Sleep here. Just sleep, I swear. If you’d, you know, feel more comfortable here than in your own room.”

Sherlock looked stunned for a moment, his eyes flickering as the rest of him froze. “I, urm,” he started, his eyes glancing towards the door before back to the bed. Then, as if he had suddenly made up his mind, he straightened up and cleared his throat. “Yes,” he finally said, “yes, thank you, that would be… I would like… yes, thank you.”

And that was settled.

*

End Part Five

Chapter Text

The first time he awoke, it was to Sherlock’s arm once more across his chest and their legs touching, threatening to entwine. It felt rather nice actually, a little strange for Sherlock to be there in that hotel room and bed, but nice none the less. His bladder on the other hand reminded him that not everything was nice and cosy after all.

Sighing softly, he carefully made his way out, Sherlock barely stirring, and went to relieve himself. It was still early, very early in fact and after he finished he returned to the bed and slipped back under the covers.

The second time he woke it was to find himself on his side, breathing in and out a mop of dark hair, his arm flung around the other man who was also on his side, facing away from him. Spooning, he realised once his brain had adequately kicked in, they were practically spooning. Any closer and he would be rubbing his morning erection against the other man’s arse.

A little disconcerted he rolled over onto his back, bringing his arm, leg and erection with him. He felt the loss of contact immediately, but it couldn’t be helped, it wouldn’t have done for Sherlock to have woken up with him plastered to his back like a limpet.

“I can do something about that if you’d like.”

Sherlock’s deep, sleep-affected voice startled him for a moment. “What?” he managed absently, his brain slowly catching up with the fact that Sherlock could well have been awake the whole time he had been nuzzling at his neck and hair and holding him like a spoon. Oh god.

Sherlock turned, shifting first onto his back and then onto his side to face him. He looked surprisingly alert for the first thing in the morning and pre caffeinated beverage of any kind. His eyes were also flicking down to a specific part of the sheets that covered a certain part of John's anatomy. Finally the meaning of the words sank in and he felt the heat rise up on his face.

“Oh, uh,” he said clearing his throat, the memory of the last time Sherlock had ‘helped him out’ in such a situation springing to mind. “That’s nice, but uh, not necessary.”

Sherlock’s lips curved up. “Just nice?” he asked leaning over to flick his tongue across a particularly sensitive part of his neck, his hand sliding under the covers. “Sounds like I need to work on that then.”

The fingers ran across his cock – which was by now desperately trying to persuade him that it was better than just ‘nice’ thank you very much – before grasping it firmly just the way he liked. His hips jerked automatically and he let out a hiss.

“It’s uh, more than nice… yes… oh… but you don’t… don’t have to… yes….”

“Yes,” Sherlock replied dragging out the word as he drew a particularly long, slow stroke upwards, “but I want to. And I always tend to get what I want.”

With that he disappeared from view.

Oh god. Sherlock really was quite talented at that. Ridiculously talented in fact. Extraordinarily… yes, there god… talented, and always one… holy bloody bleeding hell… to set out to… ah, yes, ye-ess… prove his… yes… talent. Christ, yes, that had been good.

He blinked as Sherlock’s head reappeared, licking his lips with a somewhat smug expression on his face. Arrogant, big headed Frenchman! He fell back against the pillow and rubbed his eyes. As wakeup calls went that had certainly been enjoyable.

“Still just ‘nice’?” Sherlock asked slumping against him.

He looked across as Sherlock stretched, looking remarkably like the cat who had just… he stopped the simile there and rolled his eyes. “Shut up,” he said. Sherlock just grinned.

Once again Sherlock declined all offers of reciprocation – “I don’t do that, not the day before a match, remember” – and it wasn’t long before reality encroached in on them.

“Mycroft,” Sherlock said studying his new text message. “Unfortunately it seems that I must depart, but meet me at the club at twelve. We’ll grab something to eat, discuss our relevant game plans and then head over to the courts for a knock around.”

“Sure,” he said, watching as Sherlock tugged on his jeans and shirt from the night before.

“Who’ve you got in the next round?” he asked, curious because he hadn’t exactly bothered to check.

“Federer,” Sherlock said, his lip curling somewhat.

Blimey. John raised his eyebrow. “What about the others? I know He-Who-Should-Be-Punched-Again went through. He’s got Djokovic, hasn’t he?”

Sherlock nodded pulling on his socks.

“Which leaves Nadal and….” He paused and frowned. “Actually I don’t know who won that other match in the end. Roddick was leading, but did he win? Who’s Nadal playing?”

Sherlock pressed his lips together as he grabbed his shoes. “I believe Roddick lost. Nadal is playing Moran.”

Moran? Nadal versus Moran, that would be an interesting match.

“And you’ve got the Battle of Britain,” Sherlock said as he reached the door. “Let’s hope you don’t get shot down.”

He took breakfast downstairs, flicking through The Telegraph to find he had made the back page. Not the headline of course, that was still all Andy Murray, but a decent spread documenting his come back and speculating as to the cause of his sudden increase in form. Fortunately there was no mention of Sherlock, or at least no mention of them being linked, or of anything more.

The reporters were waiting for him when he left for Wimbledon. He wasn’t surprised by that, although he was then taken aback by the question as to why he wasn’t surprised by that. When had being followed, snapped and hounded by the press become such an ‘everyday’ experience? And to think that just a few weeks earlier he had been lying, licking his wounds having crashed out of Queens. How much had changed. How little time it had changed in.

The weather was a little cooler than it had been, dry but somewhat overcast. Almost typical English weather, although the report he had caught suggested that it would not stay like that indefinitely. It was to get warmer apparently. That would be fine provided it didn’t get too hot. He didn’t perform well in sweltering weather and there were only so many times you could wipe your brow with your sweat bands or towel and change your shirt before it became ridiculous.

He was now due to meet Sherlock at the practice courts at one o’clock, having received a text informing him of the change of plan but not telling him why. Today was of course traditionally Women’s Tuesday, dominated as it was by the Ladies’ Quarter Final matches. While the men got a day off, the women – who played fewer sets, best of three rather than best of five – followed straight on from their fourth round matches the day before. Other matches taking place included the ladies doubles, although he wasn’t too certain what round they were now on.

Leaving the main block, he made his way down to the practice courts, stopping to sign a few autographs along the way. He was early when he got there, which meant that unsurprisingly Sherlock was not yet there. Much to his delight though, he found that Sarah was there, practicing her serve alone.

“John,” she said as she spotted him. Coming over, she greeted him with a pleasant smile and a “Congratulations. Quarter finals?” she said. “You’re having one hell of a tournament.”

He smiled. “You playing today?”

“Third round,” she said. “We’ve got Petrova and Stosur on Number Two Court, third on though, so still a while to wait yet. Thought we’d get some practice in first.”

“Where’s Molly?” he asked referring to her doubles partner.

“Running a little late,” Sarah said, “although she should be here soon. She’s not going to be happy to see you though.”

He frowned in surprise. “How comes?” he asked. As far as he was aware he and Molly had gotten on fine. It was less than a week since he’d spent a very pleasant dinner with the two of them.

“Well,” Sarah said, “you did punch her boyfriend.”

“I what?” he said. “Of course I haven’t punched her… oh,” he stopped, his eyes widening. “Moriarty,” he said. “She’s dating Jim Moriarty?” Quiet little Molly?

“It’s not really public knowledge,” Sarah said, “so don’t go spreading it around, but yeah. They haven’t been together that long though.”

John stared at her. Molly and Moriarty? That wasn’t… surely that wasn’t possible. Not after what Sherlock had said, and Sherlock wasn’t exactly likely to lie. Was he?

“But I thought,” he said and then quickly found himself foundering.

“What did you think?” Sarah said a little more sharply. “That Molly’s too quiet, or plain, or timid to attract someone like Moriarty?”

“No, of course not,” he said. “It’s just I was under the impression that he was, uh, actually, never mind.” He had been about to say ‘gay’, but then a number of thoughts and images had flashed through his mind, including the phrase that included the words pot, kettle and black.

“They’re very happy together,” Sarah continued. “Certainly Molly is at least. Why? You’ve got this funny look on your face. What exactly aren’t you telling me?”

“Nothing,” he said, because really what could he say? Your doubles partner may be involved with one of the most dangerously unhinged men around, let alone on the tennis circuit, who could well be using her as some kind of beard while he obsessed over another man. Yeah, that wasn’t likely to go down well. “Just, uh, tell her to be careful,” he said. “He has a, uh, reputation.”

“Bit rich coming from the man who is reported to be hanging around with one Sherlock Holmes,” Sarah said and for a moment he was a little caught off guard by the comment before realising that she was teasing him rather than being malicious.

“Yeah, well, you know,” he said. “I’ve always been a bit of a masochist like that.”

Sarah laughed. “Don’t bother,” she said, “you forget I know you too well. You’re not a masochist. Adrenaline junky, yes. Masochist, no. Anyway, you do know he’s over there, don’t you,” she said nodding to a place behind his left shoulder.

Turning he found that Sherlock was indeed over there, flanked on either side by big men in dark suits wearing ear wires, and a weary looking Lestrade who had his arms crossed.

“Blimey,” Sarah said, “he must be up himself to think he needs that amount of security, and he certainly doesn’t look happy about something. Hope it’s not you.”

Sarah was right, Sherlock didn’t look happy, although he was sure that had more to do with the black suited minders surrounding him than anything else. It looked as if Mycroft was taking no chances.

“I’ve got to go,” he said quickly.

“Try and stay in one piece and don’t take any crap from him.”

He flashed a smile and then made his way over to where Sherlock and Lestrade were arguing in rapid French again. John didn’t bother trying to make any sense of it. The bodyguards were blatantly ignoring it, but he hadn’t missed the way they had checked him over as he had approached. He had half expected to have been stopped or questioned, but in the end they didn’t even move. Obviously they had been informed as to who he was and he was deemed ‘safe’. He honestly wasn’t sure how that made him feel.

“Salut, Jean,” Sherlock said still obviously in French mode after he had finished with Lestrade.

“Yeah, hi,” he said before moving closer. “Look, is it safe to talk, you know, about You-Know-Who?”

Sherlock looked momentarily surprised before casting his gaze around, at the bodyguards, at the Wimbledon staff, at the few reporters milling around, at the ticket holders who had come down to the practice courts in the hope of seeing some of their favourite players in action, at all the other players around.

“Come on,” he said softly and led them down to what appeared to be their practice court, to the place most secluded and away from everyone else. “Well?” he said.

“Did you know he’s apparently seeing someone? You know, romantically.”

Sherlock’s eyebrows pulled together. “Who?”

“Molly,” he said. “Molly Hooper. She’s….”

“Yes, I know who she is,” Sherlock said. “Ranked seventy-ninth for singles, about eighteenth for doubles, small, quick, accurate, a little timid but very proficient. Currently partnering Sarah Sawyer, old flame of yours, well, when I say flame, more of a glowing ember with the occasional spark. You had dinner with them at the Dorchester last Thursday. It was… pleasant. You hadn’t really met Molly before that, but you got on well enough, although that could well have changed now considering you punched her boyfriend in the jaw.”

John stared at him. “Wow,” he said, “that was… wait, do you have information like that on all tennis players?”

“Some,” Sherlock admitted. “If I deem it relevant to me or my tennis.”

“But you didn’t know who I was when we first met.”

Sherlock raised his eyebrow. “At the time you were hardly what I would consider relevant.”

John wasn’t sure how to respond to that, particularly as he was fully aware of how ‘not relevant’ he had been in the world of tennis. “And Molly is relevant?” he asked instead.

“She is now,” Sherlock said. “But why Molly Hooper?”

He was frowning as if he couldn’t fathom why someone like Moriarty might go for someone like Molly.

“Maybe he just likes her,” he offered. From Sherlock’s look though he concluded that this was perhaps not the best thing to say. “Look,” he said, “whatever little game he’s playing, just, you know, ignore it or something. You’re not going to figure it out now, so let’s warm up, get some practice in and take it from there.”

Sherlock looked at him for a considerable moment, an inscrutable look on his face. Then he nodded. “Yes, you’re right. Come along, John. The game is on.”

*

Sherlock certainly didn’t hold back during the practice, powering the ball back faster and harder until they built up quite the little audience who watched fascinated from behind the fence. They even attracted the attention of someone with a microphone and a BBC badge, which pretty much confirmed that they would be unable to deny their acquaintance any longer.

“It’s just a practice,” Sherlock said after he raised the subject while they took a drinks break. “It’s hardly anything new. How’s your shoulder? From your serve it looks as if your serratus anterior is tightening up again.”

He shoulder was certainly starting to remind him that it was still there. Despite a thorough warm up he could feel the muscles starting to pull again. It wasn’t anything major – he was old, his body was old, at least in tennis years – and it was rare that he managed to get through anything, even the most simple of practices, without something tightening, seizing or aching.

“Mm, yes,” he said rolling his shoulders. “It’s alright though. Can keep going if you want.”

“Nonsense,” Sherlock said, “anymore and you will be barely fit to play tomorrow. You’ve done more continuous competitive playing this tournament than you have done in years. I say steam room, showers and a massage.”

He nodded. “Yup, okay, sounds,” …hot, sexy… “good,” he finished off. “Then you can tell me how long Murray’s going to take to beat me.”

“So defeatist,” Sherlock said. “Miracles can happen. Come on.”

As usual Sherlock was absolutely right, there would have been little benefit in continuing any longer, but there was one thing he hadn’t considered and that was being in close proximity in the steam room, let alone in the showers or during the massage, but it was the steam room that John realised he would have to get through first. Apparently the sight of a certain person all flushed and wrapped only in a towel was giving him ideas, which was odd because he had never had a problem like this before. Steam rooms were for relaxation and were associated with sport and physical exercise. He wasn’t one particularly turned on by the semi-nude male form, he saw it enough after all, and yet, this was Sherlock, and that apparently made all the difference.

Sighing, he opted to lie on his front and closed his eyes which gave him the advantage of both not having to see Sherlock and of being able to hide better should any part of his body suddenly decide to, uh, perk up a bit.

“Murray’s a defensive counter-puncher,” Sherlock said.

Fortunately for them they were currently the only people in the steam room, which at least meant there was no need for that ridiculous accent.

“He is one of the top returners of the game, has excellent reach and can block back nearly any serve, so don’t expect to ace him. He has a very good first serve, a low error rate groundstroke and his switch from defence to offence can be done extremely fast."

Yes, brilliant, just what he wanted to hear. “So,” he said his voice slightly muffled, “in short I should enjoy the match, enjoy the day, enjoy Centre Court, because it will be the last of my career. Well,” he concluded, “there are worse ways of ending one’s career than going out to the British Number One and world number four, in front of fifteen thousand people, Centre Court, home crowd, at the most famous tournament in the world.”

He actually meant it, because hell he would have jumped at that chance only a few weeks before. In fact forget the quarter finals, ten days ago he would have happily taken it had it been the second round. But now it felt tainted somehow. As a way of finishing he could think of nothing better, but that also meant that this wild little love affair – love affair? Lust or sex affair surely? – would come to an end and he wasn’t sure he wanted that.

“He has his weaknesses of course,” Sherlock said. “Prefers hard to grass, tends to play passively and can lack in offensive strokes.”

“So he can be beaten then.”

“He’s the fourth in the world,” Sherlock said with a certain amount of scorn in his voice, “of course he can be beaten. Anyone can be beaten.”

“Even you.”

Sherlock made an extremely negative noise. “Of course I can be beaten.” He didn’t need to include the words, ‘you idiot’, John could clearly hear them anyway.

Opening his eyes, he turned his head to where Sherlock was lying on his back on the next bench along. He had his hands clasped together and appeared to be thinking hard. Perhaps too hard from the tension in his body. His arms, however, were free from any nicotine patches.

“You shouldn’t be concerning yourself so much with it,” he said resisting the urge to do anything stupid like reach over and rest a hand on that shoulder. “Worry about your own match. You’ve got Federer after all. I’ll worry about Murray, and what will be will be.”

There was no point in remembering that one way or another, whether they won their matches or not, this little excursion would be coming to an end soon anyway.

He went to take a shower, the water slightly cooler than he normally would have it, using it to douse the whole torrent of emotions currently swirling around in him. Then came the massage, which Sherlock mercifully left him alone for. By the time he had had his shoulders, back and legs pummelled into submission, he was feeling relaxed and loose, or at least he was until he remembered he was playing Murray the next day.

Emerging, he found Sherlock now dressed in a smart black jogging suit and talking quite animatedly on his mobile in something that seemed to change language every couple of sentences. He was sure he heard German, Italian and possible even Russian mixed in with the usual French.

“Mycroft,” Sherlock said once he had finished as if the single word summed up everything, and in fact it could well do.

“Sounds important.”

“Interfering more like. Something to do with extra security and my room. Damn it, he’s interrupting my preparation time. Is that what he wants? Is that part of his plan? Did he know Mycroft would stick his big nose in?”

John was lost. “Wait, who?” he asked.

“Moriarty of course,” Sherlock said. “It’s obvious. Do keep up. He sent me those trainers on purpose. He’s trying to…” he stopped and then looked at him, eyes narrowing. “You’ve got a laptop. I could use yours instead.”

Wait? What? Huh? “My laptop?” he asked. “You want to use my laptop?”

“No, I want to throw it to the ground and jump on it,” Sherlock said with a pronounced roll of the eyes. “Of course I want to use it.”

John refrained from snapping something particularly rude back. Sherlock was stressed, he could be forgiven a certain amount of rude arrogance – wait, was this what everyone else experienced? None of the good stuff, just the abrupt demanding side?

“Ever stopped to think that maybe I will want to use my laptop. You know, to do my own research.”

“Pointless,” Sherlock said. “There is nothing you could find out about Murray that I can’t tell you. I do have experience at playing him after all.”

“Yeah, and I have experience of getting my arse kicked around the court by him as well,” John said, although that had only been the once but Murray hadn’t even needed to work particularly hard to beat him. “It’s still my laptop, and while you seem perfectly at ease requisitioning it for your own needs, it would be nice to be, you know, asked.”

Sherlock’s expression, as blank as it was, did show the barest hint of surprise, a dash of confusion and a little bit of something else. He seemed to consider for a moment before saying, “John, I would very much appreciate it if in the light of current circumstances you would consent to loan me your laptop so I can continue with my pre-match preparation.”

There was no sorry, no please, the words were a little clipped but John had no problem seeing it for what it was.

“Of course,” he said more softly than he had spoken before. “You can use it in my room as well if you don’t want to go back to yours.”

“That would be… good,” Sherlock said. “Yes, I would, uh, appreciate that very much.”

They returned to the Dorchester together, trying to avoid the bulk of the press, Sherlock’s entourage following behind, looking intimidating if someone dared to come close to them. Back at the hotel, Sherlock disappeared to his suite before returning twenty minutes later having changed from his sportswear into jeans and a casual shirt. With him he brought a variety of notebooks and pens, a selection of healthy snack foods and a promise that later, if John wanted, he was not against watching another of those ridiculous spy movies.

“Are you going to criticise it again?” John asked.

“Of course,” Sherlock said with an expression that asked what else he was expected to do.

“Alright,” John said with a slight smile, mentally reviewing which film would be most entertaining with Sherlock’s running scathing commentary. Distracted, he was surprised when Sherlock handed him a specific notebook. “What’s this?”

“You need to open it and read,” Sherlock said.

He opened it and was faced by the words, ANDY MURRAY.

“Is this….” he started.

“Quite,” Sherlock said, “my notes, observations, deductions and analysis of Murray. It goes back a few years of course, although we have met half a dozen times in the past two years. You might want to focus on those more recent experiences in particular. I thought it would be helpful for you, although I apologise for the combination of the languages.”

“Uh, right, thanks,” he said flicking through, noting hand drawn pictures and diagrams, and writing scrawled in a mess of French and English. “This is good, yeah, very good. Thanks.”

Sherlock nodded and settled himself onto the bed with the laptop, pulling up video files and opening his notebook. They stayed like that for the rest of the afternoon, in pleasant company, followed by food and The Spy Who Loved Me.

*

“It’s Men’s Quarter Finals Day here at Wimbledon. The skies are blue, the temperature reaching into the mid-twenties and you can practically taste the excitement in the air.”

*

Sherlock had gone back to his own room the night before, leaving behind his notebook on Andy Murray and the unspoken expectation that he would collect it after their matches. That was the closest, John supposed, that either of them had come to wishing the other good luck.

He had a sinking sensation, however, that it wasn’t luck that he needed but a bloody miracle. Beating Trevor was one thing, but the man was on his way down having already reached his peak. Murray was ranked fourth in the world for a reason and was only getting better. Murray had been expected to reach the semi-finals here, if not the finals. He had been expected to go out in the first round, or if he was lucky, the second.

If this was going to be his last professional tennis match, well, at least let him go out in style.

*

“Starting from one o’clock we have Moran versus Nadal on Court Number One, followed by Holmes versus Federer. While Centre Court first gets to see the World Number Two, Jim Moriarty take on World Number Five Novak Djokovic, followed by that all British clash, Andy Murray versus John Watson. The question is… where exactly do you start?”

“Four incredible matches, Ann, the top six all in action, while ninth seed Moran has had a brilliant tournament so far, played superbly in the last round to knock out Andy Roddick, thoroughly deserving his place in the last eight.”

“And then there’s John Watson. By any measure he’s had an astonishing Wimbledon so far.”

“Astonishing barely covers it. Before it started most people had forgotten who he was, and even the most optimistic of fans wouldn’t have put him down as progressing further than the second round. I watched him at Queens just a few weeks ago and he looked tired and jaded. His games were mediocre at best, no fire, no spirit, no passion, and then he’s come here and he’s like a new man. He decimated Dimmock in the third round, and somehow found a new gear to come back from a set down to beat Trevor in the fourth when everyone, including myself, was ready to write him off and applaud the match as the last of his professional career. Yet here he is.”

“There are a lot of rumours flying around, but he has been seen quite a considerable amount in the company of Sherlock Holmes. They were out on the practice courts together again yesterday. Do you suppose this seemingly unlikely acquaintance has contributed to the change in Watson?”

“You’re not the first to have asked that, Ann. Watson himself mentioned in an interview that he’s been inspired by Holmes. It’s clear he’s getting something out of it, if only confidence and a positive outlook. Neither of them have coaches or trainers here with them, so maybe they’re getting the support and advice from each other. Sometimes confidence and encouragement is all you need and in a game like tennis can often make all the difference.”

*

He didn’t sleep particularly well, but that was hardly surprising. His mind was too full of rackets and nets and yellow balls and crowds and flags and Sherlock. It was strange how Sherlock had somehow managed to creep in there, weaving in and out of his thoughts and dreams.

He wasn’t playing until late, three, three thirty at the earliest, as he doubted Djokovic was the type to simply roll over. The pundits were predicting Moriarty to win but with the possibility of it going to four sets. Then again they were the same pundits who were predicting him to lose in three straight sets. The top four, the newspapers had decided were the ones most likely to meet each other in the semis; Nadal versus Murray in the first, Holmes versus Moriarty in the second. The most likely upset appeared to be the possibility of Moriarty losing to Djokovic, or as an even slimmer possibility, Holmes losing to Federer. No one was suggesting that he had a hope in hell of beating Murray.

He took his breakfast downstairs, needing to be away from his room. He noticed a few glances in his direction, a few ‘good lucks’ as he walked through from the hotel staff, but for the most part people left him alone.

“John.”

He had just finished his eggs when Sarah spotted him and made a beeline over. Rising to his feet he greeted her with a kiss on the cheek and asked her to join him. She did so, but only briefly as she was due to be meeting Molly.

“You look terrible,” she said scrutinizing him. “Don’t take that the wrong way though, but pre-match nerves? Didn’t get much sleep then? It’s not like you to worry.”

That was true, he supposed, but then again it had been years since faced with a match of this importance and magnitude that he really wanted to win, and he was on Centre Court. Centre Court! It really had been a long time since he had played there. Did they still need to bow to the royal box? Hell, was there going to be any royalty there?

“Congratulations on your win,” he said instead turning it round to her and Molly’s victory the day before.

They talked about that until Sarah spotted Molly. John followed her gaze and froze as beside Molly was none other than Jim Moriarty. He of course looked cool and refreshed, no pre-match nerves for him, and before John knew it the pair were beside his table.

“Sarah,” Moriarty said smoothly, “you’re looking as lovely as ever.”

He gritted his teeth as an odd sensation over took him. Moriarty! Jim Moriarty himself. The man who had dared to cause Sherlock so much strife. The one who dared to consider himself worthy enough for a place in Sherlock’s bed, let along in Sherlock’s life and affections. The man he currently despised most in the world and hadn’t even realised it until that very moment.

“And John Watson,” Moriarty said smoothly, “such a pleasant surprise to see that you’ve reached this far. Could it be that Sherlock Holmes is rubbing off on you?”

There was nothing about that sentence that he even came close to liking.

“Moriarty,” he said as calmly, as neutrally and as politely as he could considering that all he wanted to do was to punch the arrogant smug git in the jaw again. He tried not to clench his fist. “One o’clock match on Centre Court, isn’t it? Do try to warm the crowds up properly for me. Excuse me.”

He nodded to Molly and then made his escape before Moriarty could respond. God he loathed that man. He wouldn’t call himself a violent person by nature, but there was something about Moriarty that brought out his more basic instincts. That man deserved another punch. To think that he had ever dared to lay a finger on someone like Sherlock, especially a younger, more naïve version of Sherlock, was nauseating.

*

“How’s the celebrity watch going on out there, Ruth?”

“Fascinating so far, Richard. I’m currently out on Henman Hill, but before that I spotted Sir Michael Cain, Sir Cliff Richard who is well known as being a Wimbledon fan, and that tall ginger one from Harry Potter.”

“Rupert Grint?”

“That would be him. I’ve also heard rumours that David Beckham will be here later, and probably someone from the Royal Family.”

“Not the Queen, surely.”

“No, not the Queen. Most likely it will be the Duke and Duchess of Kent, although I have heard rumours that it could even be Prince Harry or Prince William.”

“And what’s the feeling like on the hill?”

“The atmosphere is electric, Richard. People have been queuing for days to get tickets, especially for Centre Court. There are so many flags around, banners, painted faces. Just a moment. Hello ladies, could I just ask, who are you most excited about seeing today.”

“Oh definitely Murray-Watson.”

“Yeah, Murray versus Watson all the way.”

“And who will you be cheering on?”

“Murray.”

“Yeah, Murray.”

“Any reason? Why not Watson?”

“Well Murray’s the better player, isn’t he? He’s got a better chance of getting to the final.”

“And what about you, sir?”

“Murray.”

“And what about this group here?”

“Watson all the way. Go Watson!”

“And who do you think will win?”

“Murray.”

“Murray.”

“Yeah, probably Murray.”

“Murray, although I hope it’s Watson. It would be cool if he did, but I don’t think that’s likely.”

“Murray, yeah.”

“Watson.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, well, gotta have faith, and he’s English. We like an underdog.”

“So there you have it, Richard. Murray to win and the crowd will be watching every moment.”

*

The cameras flashed the moment he stepped out the door. Covering his eyes he dived into the car and slammed the door shut. Right, this was it. Off to Wimbledon. Pick up his match rackets and try not to collapse with nerves and or worry.

He fiddled with his mobile phone, turning it over and over in his hands. He had received lots of supportive texts from so many people, including one from Harry where she didn’t complain about the lack of tickets. Of course he hadn’t heard a word from Sherlock, but then he hadn’t expected to.

Turning his phone over and over again, he sighed before pulling up a new blank text message. Good luck he wrote, found the right number and hit send.

All he could do now was go through his pre-match rituals and then wait.

*

“And it’s one o’clock here on Centre Court where world number two, Jim Moriarty, and world number five, Novak Djokovic, are warming up, while over on Court Number One, Sebastian Moran and Rafael Nadal are going through their own final preparations. So, Tim, John, what are your predictions?”

“Well, Ann, Moriarty and Djokovic could well be a close one. They are both excellent players, both on fine form, both hungry to win. If we’re looking for an upset, this could be the one. Moriarty is of course coming off the back of his victory in France, but grass and clay are rather different. I don’t think he’s going to find Djokovic all that easy to get past.”

“Tim’s right, Ann, of all the matches, this could be the closest, although Holmes-Federer later has the possibility to be a shock, but Moriarty shouldn’t underestimate Djokovic. He does have the advantage of course. What is it, four wins in the last five of their meetings, but it’s so easy to get arrogant. All you need is a little bit of luck and some near misses and you have a whole new game on your hands.”

“And what about Moran versus Nadal? Any predictions there?”

“Nadal, definitely. He’s been on fire all this tournament. Moran’s played some brilliant tennis, but technically wise he’s just not in the same league as the world number one.”

“Nadal all the way. On a court, with a racket, a day like today, Nadal is virtually unstoppable. Straight sets, Nadal.”

“Straight sets, Nadal.”

“And Moriarty-Djokovic?”

“Moriarty. Four sets.”

“With the possibility of a fifth, but most likely four.”

*

Wimbledon was heaving. It felt as if half of London had squeezed their way through the gates, and it had been a long time since he had seen so many familiar non-tennis faces. Was that David Beckham over there? Surely not.

There were union flags everywhere, and even some Saint George’s crosses, although there were just as many, if not more, of the blue and white of Saint Andrew’s cross. Within a few minutes he really wished he had Sherlock’s bodyguards, just so he could keep moving and make his way through the crowds of people.

Was that someone from Girls Aloud?

He managed to take refuge in the changing rooms, sitting on the long wooden bench to compose himself. Right, he could do this. Andy Murray, brilliant player, but beatable.

Take deep breaths. Check you have everything. Remember you will have to eat something whether you like it or not. Go and find somewhere quiet. Enjoy the day.

Enjoy the day. Right.

*

“Can you believe what you’re watching, Richard?”

“In all honesty, Ann, we’re as surprised as anyone, but Moran is really taking this match to Nadal and now the world number one looks a little bit lost out there. He may have won the first set, but by the time Moran took the second on that tie-break the momentum has fully swung towards him. Now he’s taken the third set and Nadal looks shaken. It’s two sets to one to Moran here and we could well be about to see the exit of the favourite.”

“We certainly could indeed, while over here on Centre Court things have been up and down too. Tim, John.”

“Up and down, Ann, but it seems to be back on the level again. Moriarty is very much back in control.”

“That he is, Ann, and… ooh, that was an excellent shot by Moriarty to take the point. He’s recovered brilliantly after losing that second set, but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t take this one, and if he does break Djokovic, as he looks as if he’s about to, then I have to say that the match is pretty much his.”

“It’s 15-40, three games all here on Centre Court, third set, one set all between Moriarty and Djokovic… and yes, Moriarty has just broken Djokovic to go four games to three up, his serve to follow.”

*

He forced himself to eat, taking small bites and chewing slowly. He would need the energy later. Not long to go now. In a short while he would go to the gym to start a very slow warm up, make sure he got all those muscles stretched properly. It really wouldn’t do to injure himself part way through the game.

He wondered where Sherlock was and what he was doing now. Probably going through his own pre-match rituals, waiting for that Nadal-Moran match to finish.

*

“And Moran has done it, would you believe it? Sebastian Moran, currently ninth in the world is through to the semi-finals having beaten the number one seed, Rafael Nadal, 3-6, 7-6, 7-5, 6-4.”

“Now that is a shock. Of all the upsets today this wasn’t one that we were expecting. You can see the pain on Nadal’s face. This was his year. That trophy should have been his, and now it’ll go to one of his competitors and with the way the points system is, he could well find himself losing that number one spot come next Monday.”

“Beaten by Holmes in the semi-finals of the French Open, beaten here now in the quarter finals of Wimbledon, this has not been the best few months for Nadal, but for Moran it simply gets better and better. It was as if he knew exactly how to take apart Nadal’s game, knew exactly where all his weak spots were. In a moment we will have an interview with Moran, and we’ll be back here later to tell you all about the Federer-Holmes match that will be starting here soon, but first back to Centre Court.”

*

One match finished, one still just getting to the end. Wherever Sherlock was he hoped he was properly prepared and fired up for his encounter with Federer.

Oh what was he worrying about? Of course Sherlock would be fine. He was always fine. This was Sherlock Holmes.

“Watson.”

He looked up as a steward’s head pocked around the main door to the changing room. “There’s been a break. Looks like you’ll be on soon.”

Oh god. He nodded and swallowed firmly. If the match was going to end soon then there was little point in asking who the break was for. That was pretty obvious.

*

“And Moriarty has pulled it together and finally seen off the late challenge by Djokovic to march on to the semi-finals; 7-5, 6-7, 6-4, 7-5. The world number two, the new favourite to win after the shock defeat of Nadal at the hands of Moran, is safely through, which means the match we have all been waiting for will be starting shortly. Scotland versus England. The Battle of Britain. Andy Murray versus John Watson for that coveted spot in the semi-finals. Don’t go away, because this is not one to be missed.”

*

Centre Court was bigger than he remembered, louder and definitely more intimidating.

The cheer went up the moment they exited the tunnel and stepped out into the hot afternoon sunlight. He could see lots of British flags and a mixture of red and white, and white and blue. He had no way of knowing, but he had a feeling that more of the crowd were there to support Murray than him, but that was hardly surprising. Before this tournament he was surprised he had had any fans at all.

He took his seat and tried to block everything out. Right, he had a game plan. It wasn’t a particularly comprehensive one, but a plan none the less. Beat Murray, shag Sherlock, punch Moriarty. He knocked his racket against the palm of his hand. Simple, but then again, the best plans always were. They only became more complicated in the execution of them.

He got up to practice hitting the ball, checking he was loose and that he hadn’t somehow forgotten how to play the game. Good, his serve was still working. Excellent.

“Time.”

Oh god, this was it.

*

“Game, Murray”

“Lovely forehand down the line there from Murray.

”Murray leads, four games to two. First set. Murray to serve.”

“Really that shot just summed up what we’ve been watching. Ever since the first game Watson has basically been outplayed. He only just held his second service game, but this break by Murray was inevitable. He’s been chipping away at Watson, taking more and more points, and now he’s taken the opportunity and you can see from Watson’s face when that ball bounced in that he had been expecting it.”

“Good serve from Murray, Watson backhand, Murray down the line, Watson stretching and an easy ball to put away for Murray.”

“Fifteen – Love”

“Murray is very much is command here now. Watson’s barely had a look in.”

“Murray’s serve is long. Second serve… Watson returns, Murray backhand, Watson driving him back but he’s left far too much room and Murray easily knocks it into the empty court.”

“Thirty – Love”

“Watson’s trying but he just isn’t finding it. Murray’s a much better player than Watson has faced here and the difference is really showing.”

“Murray serves. Watson returns… but it’s long.”

“Forty – Love.”

“Watson looks a bit annoyed at that last one. The idea was there but it’s like he’s trying too hard.”

“Good serve Murray. Forehand Watson, forehand down the line, returned by Watson, forehand crosscourt Murray, Watson makes it and a cheeky little drop shot from Murray to close down the game. Watson can do nothing but watch as it bounces past him, an almost resigned expression on his face. He knows he’s being beaten by a better player and the crowd knows it too.”

“Game, Murray. Murray leads five games to two, first set. Watson to serve.”

*

Murray wasn’t just better than him, he was much better than him, in everything and there was no-one who was watching this match who would not now be aware of it.

Somehow he had managed to hand in on his first two service games, the second having been particularly close, but being broken in his third one had been horribly inevitable. Damn this, it didn’t matter how much you planned or prepared, sometimes there is simply nothing you can do when faced with a better player.

He slowly screwed the lid back on his second drinks bottle.

“Time. Second set. Murray leads one set to love.”

Of course there was always the difference between going down and going down fighting. If this is going to be it, then he was going to make Murray work for it.

*

“And what’s happening next door on Court Number One? Richard.”

“We’ve finally had a break in this first set and it’s unsurprisingly gone to Holmes. Both players have been playing well, challenging for every point, but it is Holmes who has finally made the break through, taking that game on deuce, pulling out a tremendous crosscourt sliced forehand to take the lead five games to four, Holmes to serve in what could be the last game of the set unless Federer can somehow find the weakness and break him back.”

“Thanks, Richard. We will of course be back there soon, but meanwhile here on Centre Court, Watson is attempting his own fight back after losing the first set, but it’s only been marginally successful. Tim.”

“That’s right, Ann. He’s trying to challenge Murray, but although he’s holding his serve better he isn’t really challenging Murray’s. Best he can hope for is… oh my, Murray’s down, and….”

“He’s clutching his ankle. The crowd are on their feet and Andy Murray, the British Number One, is on his back clutching at his ankle after what looked like a very awkward fall while stretching for a return. The replay clearly shows him rolling onto it and, yes, they’re calling for a doctor.”

“I can’t believe this. Murray is on the floor clearly in pain and look at the pure shock on Watson’s face. Like the rest of us he can only look on and wait to find out what will happen. The doctor has reached the court.”

“Drama all round here on Centre Court. Murray is gritting his teeth while the doctor investigates. This could be bad.”

“This could be very bad. Murray’s not someone who calls a doctor for a minor complaint. It did look as if a lot of his weight went onto that ankle. The doctor’s taking his time examining it. This could be the end of the match.”

“No, wait, the injury is being sprayed with something. Probably a painkiller.”

“Almost certainly, Ann, which means that Murray means to continue.”

“And he’s up, on his feet, clearly in some pain, but he’s walking on it, so it can’t be too bad.”

“Wonder what’s going through his head. Murray’s been injured before. He knows how to play through the pain. The question is, can Watson take advantage? He hasn’t showed that killer instinct in years. Could he do it now and book his way into the semis?”

“It’s four games to three here to Watson in the second set, but we’re on Murray’s serve and he’s leading the game thirty-fifteen. Murray serves but it’s slower than usual. Watson returns tight by the far line and there was no way Murray was going to reach that.”

“Thirty all.”

“Guess that’s our answer. If I were Watson I would keep doing just that, keep the ball away from Murray, make him move, and then collect the points.”

“Murray serves, again slower. Watson returns into the body, Murray, and the drop shot from Watson, short and soft, in at the net. Murray just stares at it.”

“Thirty – Forty.”

“Without getting the push from that ankle, Murray’s first serves are now the speed of his second serves. That’s far from good from his point of view.”

“Murray’s serve is long. This has completely changed the match.”

“That is has. If I were Murray I would be praying for the end of the set, for a chance to sit down and really see what the damage is. Maybe even get an injection if he means to continue.”

“Murray serves, Watson backhand down the line, Murray read it, returns, Watson’s there, Murray forehand, Watson, Murray backhand and a change in speed and direction gives Watson the point and the game, and possibly the set as well.”

“Game, Watson. Watson leads five games to three.”

*

That was… that was… well, that was a busted ankle.

Returning to his seat he grabbed his towel, throwing it over his head so his face was covered. Bloody hell. Of all the things to happen. It wasn’t nice to get injured during a match, he knew because he had had that happen to him before, but this was Murray. Murray! British Number One, and now he was taking advantage of an injured man.

One set all.

Pulling off the towel, he glanced across to find that Murray was in deep talks with the doctor. They appeared to be giving him an injection. Painkiller probably, so he planned on continuing then. They would strap the leg up and hope for the best. He had to take advantage now, not let Murray get back into the match. That was one of Murray’s weaknesses, collapsing when put under pressure. Well, he would just have to exert a lot of pressure.

He chewed on his banana and thought back to Sherlock’s notebook. It had all been in there, now he just had to put it into practice.

*

“What a fight we have on our hands here. When the set started I don’t think we knew what to expect, but of all things, this is a battle and a bloody one at that.”

“Advantage Murray.”

“Neither of them want to give in.”

“Murray serves, Watson with the long forehand that bounces just in, Murray returns, Watson powers back, Murray down the line, Watson backhand, Murray backhand, sliced forehand Watson, clips the net and it’s gone over. Murray can only watch as somehow that ball rolls over the top of the net and falls down on his side of the court.”

“Deuce.”

“Luck. That was pure luck. No player plans for such a thing, but you certainly take them when you can.”

“Tim’s right, the number of times that’s happened to me, both ways. You win some, you lose some.”

“Murray serves, Watson returns, Murray forehand, backhand Watson crosscourt, Murray read it, gets there but the ball goes into the net.”

“Advantage Watson.”

“Murray knows that the match could well hinge on what happens here, and so do the crowd. You can feel the anticipation. Everyone is holding their breath.”

“Murray serves, Watson just gets there, Murray forehand, Watson down the line, Murray returns, Watson plays it short, Murray runs in, Watson, oh and a beautiful midcourt crosscourt forehand from Watson gives him the point, the game and most probably the set.”

“Game, Watson. Watson leads six games to five, third set.”

*

He had done it. He had attacked everything Murray had thrown at him and he had stood his ground.

“Watson leads two sets to one.”

It was obvious that the injection had done its job, but that didn’t make the ankle better, just not hurt quite as much. Murray was still slower, wasn’t getting the power in the shots and was clearly getting more and more frustrated. If John could keep this level of play up then it was possible that he could do it, that he could win.

He could win. Bloody hell, he actually really could win.

*

“There’s been a bit of a turn around here as well, Ann. After winning the first set and dominating the second, Holmes has just lost the third. That’s the first set he has lost all tournament and he doesn’t look happy. In fact he looks downright angry. At himself, at the court, at his racket. He all but threw that racket down when the ball went out. We haven’t seen much of that Holmes temper this tournament, but it certainly came out then. I don’t speak much French, but I’m sure the words he was muttering when he returned to his seat were not particularly polite.”

“And what about Federer?”

“Buoyed by that last set win of course. He took a bit of a battering in the second set but now he must be thinking that Holmes can be beaten. We could be facing a bit of an upset here.”

“And Holmes, how do you think he’s going to take it?”

“Uncertain at the moment. He’s still leading of course, but we’ve seen him collapse for no reason before, although he doesn’t look as shaken as he did in France. How he comes out to play in a moment will set the tone for the remainder of the match.”

“Thanks, Richard. We’ll be returning to Court Number One in a short while, but at the moment all eyes are firmly fixed on the dramatic storyline unfolding here on Centre Court. If you’re only just joining us, maybe you’re just in from work, then we’re about to enter the fourth set of a whirlwind match. Against all pre-match predictions, John Watson, who started this competition as a wild card, is leading two sets to one against British Number One, Andy Murray, who having won the first set in great style, went over on his ankle during the second set, which Watson promptly took advantage of, closing out that set to make it one all. After injections on that ankle, Murray came back in the third set with what can only be described as the fight of a wounded lion, but Watson held his ground, took advantage of Murray’s reduced speed and strength to take the set.

“Now we are having a short break before the fourth set. Murray is receiving more treatment and Watson has disappeared for a bathroom break. Tim, John, well, what can we say? Where will this match go from here?”

“It’s hard to say. It really depends on that ankle. If Murray can get it numbed and strapped up he could come back. He is clearly the better player, but Watson has the advantage and not just in terms of score. He has the mental edge as well. He’s on top. He’s won the last two sets, but the longer this match goes on for, the worse Murray’s ankle is going to get.”

“Yeah, Murray’s in a real bind here. He knows he has to close the game down quickly. To win he has to take this next set as fast as he can. The longer Watson can drag this out for, the more likely Murray is to succumb to the pain and pressure. Murray’s going to come out in this set and he’s going to hammer Watson with everything he’s got. He’s going to tear around that court and Watson is going to have to plant his flag in deep if he’s going to survive.”

“So you think Murray has a chance then?”

“Murray’s always had a chance, but he has a bad habit of choking, especially in situations like these. The next few games are going to be crucial. If Watson can survive them then the match is basically his.”

*

He had known Murray wouldn’t go down without a fight. He had no idea how bad the ankle injury was, but it was clear that Murray had called for a doctor while he had been having a bathroom break. The ankle had been re-strapped and he’d probably had a new injection in it. He would have if it had been him. It was only sensible.

Being two sets to one down Murray had very little to lose. The injury also meant that any chance of winning would fade the longer the match went on for. So he had known that Murray would come out roaring. He just hadn’t expected it to be quite like this.

“Game Murray. Murray leads three games to one, fourth set. Watson to serve. New balls please.”

He was a break down. Somehow Murray had already broken him. How had he allowed that to happen? Okay, okay, so it hadn’t really been a case of ‘allow’, and he had been there so he was fully aware of how Murray had broken him, but even so.

Concentrate, Watson. It’s not the end of the world. There is still another set even if Murray wins this one, and there’s nothing to say that Murray is going to win this one. All you need to do is break him back. Yes, you’re tired, your shoulder hurts, your back isn’t great and even your goddamn leg is starting to complain, but he has got to be more tired and in more pain. Remember that, and remember that if you win you might even be able to get Sherlock to kiss all your aches and pains better. That was a nice thought, if only a little unbelievable. Hey, maybe they could kiss each other’s aches and pains, or at least just kiss. That would be nice. Kissing was nice. Kissing Sherlock was always very nice and there wouldn’t be much more of that to come. Better take advantage while you can. Win and do lots of kissing.

He collected the balls he needed to serve with. New ball. New beginnings. New changes.

He walked to the baseline and prepared himself.

Kiss away the pain.

He bounced the ball.

He liked the sound of that.

He tossed the ball into the air and hammered it across the net.

*

“He’s stepped up a gear. Watson has found something extra and now he’s taking the match right back to Murray.”

“Did you see that smile he had when he held his serve?”

“Complete satisfaction.”

“Absolutely.”

“Would love to know what went through his head before that game because he came out a new player.”

“Murray serves, Watson returns, Murray hits deep, Watson crosscourt, Murray slice down the line, Watson reaches, Murray backhand, Watson… and a brilliant stroke from Watson to take the point.”

“Thirty – Forty.”

“Murray’s shaken. He knew he had Watson just a few games ago, but Watson’s back and stronger than ever. Such determination.”

“Murray’s serve… and it’s long.”

“This is going to be an important point.”

“Murray serves, Watson’s right on it, backhand Murray, Watson’s come in. Murray forehand, half volley Watson, Murray gets there, but the smash from Watson into the empty court and that could be the key point of this match.”

“Game, Watson.”

“That’s the break back Murray was fearing.”

“Three games all.”

“Sorry to interrupt, but we really do need to go to Court Number One. Richard, what’s going on over there?”

“Well, it’s all over, Ann. After losing the third set and his temper, Holmes came out here and simply powered his way through to take the fourth set. Federer barely knew what hit him. At times Holmes’ game was brutal, so different from his usual display of technique and precision game strategy. He was like a bull, his shots hard, fast and deadly. He’s through to the semi-finals; 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 6-2. He’ll be facing Moriarty in the replay of the French Open Final.”

“Thanks, Richard. That’s three of the four semi-finalists now confirmed, but of course we’re still waiting on the outcome of the match that is simply gripping the nation. England versus Scotland. Veteran versus Youth. Watson versus Murray. And we’re going right back into the action.

*

Come on, Watson, you’ve broken him once, you can do it again. Close this game out, win, get off the court, grab a shower and later you can celebrate. Just win now. Dig deep, fight, like you used to, like you need to, like you want to. Fight and win.

“Fifteen – Forty.”

“Watson has two match points here. He’s all over Murray, countering everything that has been thrown at him and returning it.”

“Murray serves, Watson backhand to Murray’s forehand, Watson’s stretching but the shot goes wide.”

“Thirty – Forty.”

“One match point saved by Murray but look at that expression on Watson’s face. He wants this.”

“Determination. Sheer determination.”

“Murray serves, Watson returns, Murray down the line, Watson counters, Murray with the slice, Watson makes it and a beautiful shot there from John Watson, a neat little forehand that bounces just in and you can hear the crowd. They can’t believe it. They have witnessed a monumental match today, with brilliant play from both players, but in the end that ankle injury made all the difference. Today, given the chance, John Watson, on the cusp of retirement, stepped in and stepped up, and he has won; 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

“John Watson is through to the semi-finals.”

*

End Part Six

Chapter Text

It was all he could do not to drop his racket and fall down. He had beaten Murray. He had beaten Murray. He had beaten Murray. Oh god, he was through to the semi-finals. The Semi-Finals. Wimbledon. Him. Oh god.

The next however long was a bit of a blur. He shook hands with Murray. He grinned inanely at the BBC camera courtside and he told the accompanying interviewer something about how delighted he was. He waved to the crowd. He grabbed a drink. He signed some autographs on his way out.

He was sure the grin didn’t leave his face for a moment.

It was a miracle that he made it through his shower without choking since his mouth was still open in that grin for most of it. He had a brief moment of fantasy that included a proud and naked Sherlock coming up behind him and taking the shower gel from his hands to carefully and thoroughly smooth it all over him, while whispering something about the need for him to be thoroughly clean for what they were going to be doing later and then sinking onto his knees, water running through his dark curls, dripping down his forehead onto his eyelashes as he leant in, his mouth opening, warm and wide and… ah, oh, not good, not yet. Sherlock wasn’t here. He had been there, he recognised the smell of shampoo that still lingered, but he wasn’t here now, on his knees or otherwise.

He turned the shower to a much cooler setting. That was better.

He got a brief massage, loosening those muscles, stretching out his shoulder in particular, and then he dressed to go meet his awaiting crowd. The press room was packed. He answered the questions in a light, cheery way, expressing regret over Murray’s ankle before wishing him a speedy recovery.

Escape couldn’t come soon enough, but eventually he found himself in the car on his way back to the Dorchester. As usual, Sherlock wasn’t answering his phone, but he had various other messages to listen to, all ecstatic, all congratulatory, all put aside for when he actually wanted to deal with them properly.

“Congratulations, Mr Watson.”

He smiled at the young lady on the main desk and then made his way up to his room. Provided Sherlock could be found, and he did have a talent at turning up when he was least expected, then the evening would be spent in a most pleasant way, probably involving a bed, and a distinct lack of clothing. Definitely a distinct lack of clothing.

Of course that was when reality very rudely overtook his fantasies.

“John. Congratulations.”

He sighed as Clara seemed to miraculously appear from nowhere, well dressed, mobile in hand.

“Clara, hello.” Damn, he had been hoping not to have to deal with all the additional things until the next day at the earliest.

“Hello, indeed. Now, we need to talk. This Morning have been on the phone, they want an interview. A Question of Sport is a go. Celebrity Total Wipeout are interested. How’s your general knowledge because there’s always Celebrity Weakest Link. No money in that of course, well, not much, but if you win you get to name the charity of your choice. Oooh, Top Gear have been on the phone. You’ll get to drive around their track, but we may need to limit Clarkson’s comments regarding your accident. And there’s a new sports centre opening in Harrow. They need someone to cut the ribbon and that someone could be you….”

“Clara!” Reaching his room, he finally halted and tried to stop her too. “I’m really not in the mood to deal with this now, and I’m not agreeing to anything until I’ve had the chance to think about it.”

“Yes, but….”

“No, buts.” He opened the door. “Goodbye, Clara. Tomorrow.”

He should have known she was hardly going to leave it there, and he really shouldn’t have opened the door with her still there, and he really, really shouldn’t have given her the slightest chance of getting into his room, because really that was never going to end well, and by the time all of that had happened she was past him and he was finally registering the long-legged figure stretched out on his bed using his laptop. In any other situation that sight would have been nice, good, bloody brilliant, but now it was all about to turn into… shit… he had no idea.

Once in the room Clara of course stopped, her expression surprisingly neutral considering everything. Sherlock glanced up from the laptop, pressed his lips together and then went back to whatever it was he had been doing.

“Good evening, John,” he said mildly. Far too mildly. Mild and almost bored sounding. “The press have been hounding your room phone again. You really should do something about that. It’s hardly professional. Twenty-seven messages and counting, although at least this time it is due to your on-court antics rather than your off-court ones. Your sister called, twice. Apparently you’re not answering your mobile either. The second time she sounded somewhat inebriated. You may want to send her a text. Your agent called as well, but I see she’s managed to locate you already. Clara.”

“Mr Holmes.”

“Also, I hope you don’t mind but I’ve ordered dinner. Angelo has agreed to do a delivery. He’s going to call before bringing it here. I figured you would want to eat in rather than out, avoid the press and all that, although we can go out if you would prefer.”

He was being calm, ridiculously calm, ridiculously calm and extremely English.

“Ah,” he said wondering what on earth he was supposed to say to any of that and Clara was looking at him with an expression of, well god knows what, he really didn’t want to know what her expression was. “That’s fine,” he said at least managing that much. “Eating in is fine.”

“Good,” Sherlock said looking up again, his eyes narrowing. “Clara, in answer to most, if not all, of those questions currently racing through your head right at this moment; yes, I have a room key. Yes, we are shagging. Yes, tonight as well, should everything go to plan. Yes, of course we knew each other before you introduced us last Friday. No, neither my sexuality nor my sexual preference are of any concern of yours. Yes, believe it or not, despite what others choose to believe, English is my first language and I speak it like a native, and in most respects, better than the majority of natives. I choose to do otherwise because it amuses me and generally gets people to leave me alone. Yes, most of my reputations are correct and well earned. And yes, I can confirm that John’s reputation of being more than capable in bed is very, very much true. Now, while this is all rather fascinating and no doubt at least partially surprising, I believe we all have places to be and things to do this evening. So, if you will remove yourself from this room, I will assure you that John will be in contact tomorrow.”

He turned back to the laptop.

John stared at him, part in shock, part in wonder, part in pure horror.

“Clara,” he said turning to where her eyes were flicking between him and Sherlock, an odd expression on her face that reminded him of someone trying not to laugh. “I, uh, I can explain.”

“There’s really no need,” Clara said finally turning to him and holding her hands up. “I believe Mr Holmes has already said it all. Enjoy your evening, gentlemen. I will see you tomorrow, John, when I’m sure we’ll be able to catch up fully.”

There was an amused little smile on her face. Yes, definitely laughing at him.

“Mr Holmes.”

“Clara.”

She shut the door behind her.

He tried counting to ten. He got as far as six.

“I can’t believe you said all that to her!”

“Relax,” Sherlock said shutting the lid on the laptop and placing it out of the way. “A lot of it she already knew and most of the rest she worked out herself from the moment she entered the room. She’s also your agent, so she is hardly going to tell anyone. That would not be professional.”

“Yes, but that’s… that’s not the point. You can’t just go around saying things like that.”

There was a pause, then Sherlock blinked and glanced away. “Just watched the highlights of your match. Lucky with that ankle.”

Pressing his lips together, John breathed out a sigh before slipping onto the bed, stretching out to lie down. “Yes, I know,” he said. “Would have lost otherwise.”

Sherlock made an agreeing sound.

“Hear your match wasn’t exactly plain sailing. Dropped a set? That’s not like you. Well, not here anyway.”

“Yes, well, it happens,” Sherlock said. “Even to me.”

“Well, good. I’m glad we’re agreed on that.”

“You’re angry with me.”

“Yes, I’m angry with you!”

No, wait, that wasn’t what he had been meaning to say, and he couldn’t help but notice the brief flash of something – hurt? – that crossed Sherlock’s face before his features settled on something far more neutral and somewhat closed off. God damn it, this wasn’t what he had been wanting.

He pressed a palm to his forehead, rubbing at it as if that would wipe it away, his eyes squeezing shut. Wipe away the last ten minutes, yes, that would be helpful. If only.

“Look,” he said, “I didn’t mean it like that, alright? I’m not angry at you. I’m just….”

“Angry?”

He offered a small smile. “Emotional,” he said, “although that’s hardly better. Christ, I sound pathetic.”

“You’ve just under gone an extremely physical ordeal which you’ve survived and conquered at great cost to yourself both physically and mentally. The adrenaline rush is over but you still have a wave of sensations rolling through you but now without an outlet. You feel as if you want to hit something, to shout, to scream, but you have neither target nor sufficiently low inhibitions to overcome your inherent Britishness to simply channel the sensations elsewhere and take what you need. I, on the other hand, know exactly how… to… take.”

He missed the signs, the build-up, so caught up in, well, himself, that he was taken completely by surprise by the long warm body that moved like quicksilver, pinning him firmly and comprehensively to the bed. He pushed back automatically, struggling against the hands that restrained him, but it was futile. The hips and legs refused to budge. Oh god. The weight shifted pressing him even further into the mattress.

Stopping his efforts, he stared up, his chest heaving as the pale blue eyes looked back at him, holding him in place as surely as the hands and body. His heart pounded in his chest but not once did he give in and totally relax and they both knew it. Sherlock’s smile told him as much.

Fight or flight.

“Take me, John,” he heard, felt, saw. “Fight me if you want, but take me. Take what you want.”

He let the words float over them, let them settle and sink in, then when he couldn’t wait any longer, he surged upwards, pressed his lips firmly against Sherlock’s… and took.

*

He had never wanted anyone as much as he wanted Sherlock right at that moment.

The lips parted against his. Pressure? Delighted surprise? A smug smile? He didn’t care which, only that they were finally kissing. God, he wanted that mouth, and that body, and Sherlock, he wanted Sherlock, all of him, now, forever, writhing under him, swollen lips, hooded eyes, his, only his.

Growling, he ripped his hands away, taking advantage of Sherlock’s momentary lapse in concentration to push himself up and flip them over. It wasn’t smooth, it wasn’t pretty, but it ended with him being the one on top, pelvises pressed together as he caught the long wrists in his hand and pinned them to the bed above the mass of dark curls. He predicted the resulting struggle, but held fast, tightening his grip warningly.

Sherlock stopped, his body tense but his eyes and expression screaming ‘go on then’.

He did.

The kiss was brutal, hot, messy and practically a battle, their tongues the weapons, their mouths the combat zone. He had thought about that mouth, fantasised about it, taken inspiration and comfort from it and now it was his. He could feel the surrender and then the challenge, the challenge to take.

To the victor go the spoils.

“I’m going to fuck you.”

He murmured the words by the offered ear. Pulling from the kiss, but not from the hold, Sherlock had turned his face away, eyes closed as he panted to gain back his breath. They were hard, they were both so fucking hard that it was a wonder their clothes hadn’t torn under the pressure or melted due to the pure heat.

“I’m going to push my cock into your arse and my tongue into your mouth until you can’t even remember which language you are supposed to be speaking.”

The hips jerked beneath him, a soft exhalation of breath.

He pressed his mouth to the neck, the cheekbones, the ear itself.

“Been thinking about this,” he continued. “You, like this. Your body. Your mouth.”

Shifting he used his free hand to turn Sherlock’s face back to him, stroking down the cheek before pressing under the chin. The lips parted greedily and then they were kissing again, the hand finally breaking away from his to grasp at his clothing, holding him close, pulling him closer.

Not close enough. Naked, they had to get naked, to feel that skin against his. The clothes had to go. Now, now, now.

Rearing back, he impatiently tugged at his polo shirt, pulling it over his head even as Sherlock stared at him, lips parted, drinking in the sight.

“Jean.” The hand that reached out brushed against his chest, his ribs, before gripping his hips to pull him back down for another kiss.

It still wasn’t enough. Too much clothing, not enough skin, not enough of anything.

“Strip,” he gasped as they parted again. “Now!”

“Yes,” Sherlock said, his voice more gravelly than usual. Then he was all movement, all but throwing him off as he rose from the bed, fingers frantic and fumbling as they made short work of his shirt buttons and then onwards, downwards to his belt and flies, pushing his trousers, pants and socks off in one go. He was fully erect, long and almost painfully hard.

Yes, that was it. Yes, yes, yes.

Scrambling forward, he forgot about his own trousers in lieu of slipping off the bed and reaching round to grab an arse cheek in each hand. Yes. Yes, yes, yes! Oh, god, yes. His mouth opened with very little thought and then he was gagging as a jerk of the hips and his own eagerness forced in more than he could comfortably manage.

He pulled back, coughing slightly before taking the head back in, his cheeks hollowing as he sucked.

“Jean. Mon Dieu, Jean. Bien… merci bien."

Sherlock’s breathy sighs gave way to indistinguishable babble, the words smoothing over him like silk, fingers flexing through his hair and then the word stop, once, then repeated firmer but more desperately, the fingers trying to pull his head back and away.

He moved back, releasing Sherlock with a slick pop before looking up. The lips were parted again, eyes a touch unfocused, a flush of arousal darkening his chest and creeping up his neck. Debauched. Desperate. Dishevelled.

Getting to his feet, he pulled away long enough to finally rid himself of his trousers. Pulling Sherlock back, he tugged his head down, grabbing another kiss, sinking into the sensation as the strong hands came up to hold him in turn.

“What do you want?” he mouthed against the neck as they were once again parted due to a need for oxygen. “How do you want it? Tell me. Tell me.”

“You,” he heard back. “You decide. I… fuck. Fuck me, John.”

“Yes,” he said, breathing out heavily through his teeth. “Christ, yes. Lube?”

“Jacket.”

It only took him seconds to find and then he was grabbing another kiss and pushing Sherlock back onto the bed. It was a question of position now; face to face had the bonus of both kissing and being able to see each other’s expressions, while hands and knees meant greater depth and more force.

The decision was taken from him when Sherlock rolled over and spread his legs, presenting his still gorgeous arse.

The preparation was quick but enough, and then he was sliding in, holding still for a moment as he fought every instinct to just take, take and keep taking until one or both of them collapsed from exhaustion.

Then Sherlock shifted and that was all it took.

It felt good, so good, so fucking good, that he wanted to go on forever. Please let this last. Don’t let it be over too soon.

He could feel it building already, hardly a surprise, but not what he wanted. Not yet. Not yet!

“Lie down,” he growled, pushing at the small of Sherlock’s back to make sure he complied. The new angle was different, but they were physically closer now, him plastered across Sherlock’s back. It still wasn’t right though, not enough.

Pulling out, he turned them onto their side, spooned behind Sherlock and slid back in. Oh, yes. He was lacking the depth and ease of motion but that didn’t matter. He was on the edge anyway and from the tensing of Sherlock’s stomach muscles, so was he.

He rocked back and forth, revelling in every gasp, every sharp intake of breath, every broken word. He could feel Sherlock with every ounce of his body, chest to back, legs entwined, nose pressed between the shoulder blades. He had one arm trapped, but the other was free to roam, to explore, to tease. Between his body, his hand and his cock, there was nowhere for Sherlock to go.

“Jean…” he heard as he flicked at a nipple. “Oui,” at a particularly well timed, well angled thrust. “Putain,” when he finally reached down to stroke the bobbing, spit coated cock. Then Sherlock’s body was curving in, pulling him with it. So close, he could feel it in Sherlock’s muscles, hear it in his babbling, smell it when he pressed against that back and breathed in deeply.

Plus fort. S’il-te-plait, Jean…. J’vais… j’vais….

And then like a coil released, Sherlock came. Mouth open, head falling back, leg straightening as he shuddered and gasped and gave himself over to the sensations.

That was enough, more than enough for John, and with a groan he pushed in as far as he could, tightening his arms around the still shaking body that was his world, and of everything else, he let go.

*

Nothing in his life had ever really gone to plan. As a child he had once had a dream of growing up and being able to help people, save people, even protect people, probably brought on by too many cartoons and superhero comic books. Then he had discovered tennis and everything had gone from there.

Believe it or not, even when he had been starting on the junior circuit, he had been giving thought to what else he could do with his life. At that point they had been unsure whether he had enough talent to make it in the sport professionally, or if he had the type of body that would be able to endure the amount of strain and pressure that would be continually inflicted on it day in, day out. So it had been sensible to come up with a plan B.

He was a bright lad, at least that was what his teachers and tutors had told him, although it wasn’t something he could easily verify himself, as, for a while, he had rarely been around children of his own age in an academic setting. He had been accepted into a grammar school though, and one of the top ones at that, so he couldn’t have been thick. Then again he hoped that it hadn’t been his skill with a racket that had gotten him in. He didn’t think so, although the doubts always remained. With all of that, his fall back plan was to become a doctor; not an easy choice and a lot of hard work would be involved, but then again the same thing was needed for the tennis.

It turned out, though, that he didn’t need a plan B and tennis became his life.

He had planned on becoming the best in the world, of winning Wimbledon, of being the player that everyone else had to beat, the big name, the famous face.

He had planned on finding the right woman to marry, the one who would follow him around as he toured, his own personal supporters club. He had planned on having a few houses, each in a place that was particularly nice; New York or Florida perhaps, Paris, London, somewhere in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean. He had planned on having a couple of kids, maybe a dog, and a nice car or three. He had planned on helping out his parents, of treating Harry, but then his parents were suddenly gone and Harry needed more than a ‘treat’.

So many plans, so many dreams, so many endings. Bill and Afghanistan. Harry and the bottle. His accident and tennis. Mary and The Sun Newspaper. Plans had turned into smoke as they had burnt on the furnace of reality. Then it had dawned on him the running constant through all of his plans; they had all contained him. He was the flaw, the problem, the reason why everything usually ended going tits up. Him and only him.

Fuckity fuck.

Which was why when he found himself staring at the sleeping form of Sherlock Holmes, he knew with utter certainty that whatever plan he might have started their whole acquaintance with was doomed to complete and absolute failure. But more than that, he would only have himself to blame when it did.

He should have been asleep. He had been asleep, but an early morning trip to the bathroom had left him alert enough to want to look upon the other man, and in the early morning pale light to see the truth that he had been missing for so long.

Sherlock was gorgeous, but not just in the obvious physical way, although with his hair and his eyes and his cheekbones he was that too. He was gorgeous because he was Sherlock Holmes – abrupt, arrogant, sometimes rude, but at the same time, clever, insightful and witty. His mind was as sharp as his forehand, his gaze as piecing as a fully body strike, his tongue as quick as his serve. Sherlock Holmes had, before now, also never featured at all in any of his plans. After all, who would ever think that someone as talented, famous and stunning as Sherlock Holmes would ever even spare him a single glance, let alone a second, or anything more?

And yet, here he was, Sherlock Holmes, in his bed, stretched out and asleep, and he could think of nowhere he wanted to be more.

Oh god, he was so far gone it was like a bad joke. It had only been, what, ten days? Ten days of knowing each other and already he knew that ten years would not be enough time to quench his… what? Aches? Desires? Needs? Wants? Lust? Lov… No!

He shook his head and slid back under the covers.

He wanted Sherlock, that wasn’t exactly news, but now it was dawning on him that he didn’t want to let Sherlock go either. The mere thought of anyone else – of Moriarty – being here instead of him, lying next to the other man, of touching him, filled him with bile and turned his stomach.

No, Sherlock was his, and only his.

But soon, far too soon, he would have to let him go. He would be forced to say goodbye.

Lying on his back he stared up at the plain ceiling.

They had had one of those pleasant evenings again, comfortable, relaxed, easy. How had he not noticed how easy it had all become? Had he really been that caught up in everything that he just hadn’t noticed?

He scrubbed a hand across his face, pressing the palm of his hand into one of his eyes.

This was not what was supposed to happen. It should have been just shagging. Stress relief, companionship, something mutually beneficial, short term before they both moved on and got on with their lives. But of course he couldn’t even keep to that plan. He just had to go and get it all messed up and confused, and now all he wanted to do was to slide an arm across Sherlock’s body and hold him tight.

He pursed his lips together.

No. No. He was not about to act like some love-sick fool with his first crush. He was a grown man, a professional tennis player, and he was through to the semi-finals of Wimbledon. Tonight he had a beautiful man in his bed and later, after they awoke properly and got up, they would spend more time together, training, talking, sitting in silence in each other’s company. The next day would be their matches and anything could happen. That was the future, this was the present, and in his present he had to stop worrying and get some sleep, because the morning would come soon enough.

*

“Rough night?”

John figured it wasn’t worth rising to the less than subtle tease and just took the offered seat. He already knew he didn’t exactly look his best, but that was as much down to the amount of competitive tennis he had played at a high level over a reasonably short amount of time as it was to anything else. Admittedly though, the somewhat broken sleep hadn’t helped, although he doubted that was what Clara was alluding to.

He flashed a smile. “Not in the way you’re thinking,” he said.

“So it wasn’t a certain handsome Frenchman keeping you up that’s put that expression on your face then?”

He fought the instinct to groan and roll his eyes. “What’s it going to take for you to never mention that again to anyone, to me included?”

“You wound me,” she said. “It would be unprofessional of me to ever reveal details of a client’s personal life and if it means that much to you I will refrain from saying anything more on the subject, well, other than to add that you, John Watson, are one lucky bastard. I swear, from how he was looking last night, if that had been my bed he had been waiting on, then well, I certainly would have been tempted, wrong gender be damned.”

“I’m sure he’ll be delighted to know that,” he said dryly.

“From a professional point of view though,” Clara continued, her expression suddenly that little bit more serious, “I do need you to be open and truthful with me. Can you honestly tell me that your… acquaintance with him has not affected your tennis? Two weeks ago you were a wild card, three weeks ago you crashed out of Queens in the second round, now you’re through to the semi-finals of Wimbledon. People suddenly remember who you are, newspapers are following you. You know, I’ve had six more requests for interviews with you just this morning. You’re hot stuff. The fire is back in your game and it’s because of him, isn’t it?”

Of course it was because of him – Sherlock. He could hardly deny it, not anymore.

“Clara,” he started but she held up her hand to stop him.

“No, no don’t,” she said. “The answer is pretty bloody obvious regardless of what you say. I guess what I really want to know is, what’s going to happen when this is all over? When is this all going to end? And what are you going to do then?”

It felt strange in that for the first time someone other than him was the one asking those questions. The answers though, didn’t change regardless of who posed the questions.

“It’s a knockout tournament,” he said as lightly as he could manage. “That means this whole thing could end at any time,” and statistically probably tomorrow. He had done the maths. At the most basic level they each had a fifty percent chance of winning their matches, and of course equally a fifty percent chance of losing each of them. Together that gave them just a twenty-five percent chance of both of them making it through to the final, a fifty percent chance of one of them making it through, and a twenty-five percent chance of neither of them making it through.

Of course that statistic had been the same all the way through the tournament for each round as it did not take into consideration the skill and ability of the players taking part, but suddenly the numbers felt very much more real. He was, after all, very much the underdog, and for the first time ever in this tournament this year, Sherlock wasn’t necessarily the favourite to win his match either. After France, Moriarty held the edge, however slight, but most the time a slight edge was all it took.

“Come on,” he continued, “you know the maths. Not even I would bet on the odds of both of us getting through to the final. So you know, it could well be goodbye Wimbledon tomorrow and that’s that. He goes off to the US and I retire to figure out what the hell I’m going to do with my life.”

“You won’t reconsider your retirement plans?” she asked.

“Should I?”

“Semi-final, Wimbledon, John. You can’t tell me that when you decided and announced your retirement it wasn’t motivated by a losing streak as wide as the Pacific. First round, second round, then goodbye Wimbledon, goodbye tennis.”

“Alright, yes,” he said, “but that wasn’t the only reason. I’m old, Clara, in tennis years at least. My body is falling apart. I’m lucky to have gotten this far without my shoulder or my back or my leg giving out on me. I lost interest in the sport some time ago, and in all honesty I can’t afford to keep playing, to keep training. Air fares, hotels and equipment don’t pay for themselves you know.”

“Yes, I know,” she said, “which is where I come in. We’ll renegotiate your sponsorship deal with Wilson, get you as the new face of Robinsons, and see if one of the tabloids would be interested in an exclusive, behind the scenes of Wimbledon deal.

“No. Absolutely not.”

“We’ll repackage you and send you onto the US a new man, a new player. You wouldn’t even have to do all that well there, but keep your form and your inspiration and who knows, third round, fourth round, quarters, semis, the chance to meet up with a certain Frenchman for a little tête-à-tête. The sky’s the limit. You’ve still got the rest of the season in you, if not more. You’re not going to be significantly older in a month or two’s time, so take advantage while you can. Don’t throw away what you’ve done here, what you’ve achieved, and if it’s money you’re worried about, even without the sponsorship, you’re through to the semi-finals of Wimbledon. Even if you go out tomorrow, that’s prize money of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. That should tide you over for a little while.”

He had forgotten about that. Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds? It had been so long since he had last gotten anywhere close to the semi-finals of a Grand Slam that he had forgotten just how much prize money could be won. In fact, all things said, he had to admit that Clara had a point. Things were going well, he could still play tennis at a high level, so why should he hang up his racket? He was playing brilliantly, and if he went to the US for a tour and then on to the Open, then what reason would he have not to be able to hook up with Sherlock again. They could continue this little thing there. They would be able to spend more time together and then maybe they might discover that whatever this thing was between them that it meant more than they had initially thought, and then maybe….

He slammed a brake on those thoughts.

No. No, no, no, no, no. He was retiring and that was that. He had decided and that was it. All of this was just a fluke. It was like lightning. Just because it had struck him here at Wimbledon did not mean that it would happen again anywhere else. The US was a whole new kettle of fish. It was hard court for one, faster and decidedly less forgiving on the knees. No, he had made up his mind and had done so for good reason. Better for him to go out now, at the top – even if it was a fluke – than to crash and burn afterwards.

“I don’t know why I even let you try to convince me,” he said.

“Maybe because you know I’m right,” Clara said with a small smile. “Come on, John, don’t walk away now, not when it’s just getting good.”

He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Clara. It’s tempting, yes, but my performance here doesn’t change anything. It’s time for me to go and nothing you can say can change that.”

She wanted to test him, he could see she wanted to push him, wanted to say something more, probably to call him lots of names – she probably was calling him lots of names in her head anyway, and no doubt rather creative ones – but much to his relief, she nodded and backed down.

“Watson stubbornness,” she said. “I remember that well. Okay, how about this then, you keep what I’ve said in mind and after the tournament we’ll have another talk about it. You might feel differently after your last official competitive match. Agreed?”

“Alright,” he relented. “But no promises.”

“Of course,” she said. “Now, about your immediate plans.”

“Tennis,” he said simply and very firmly.

“Naturally,” she said without missing a beat. “Now, the world and their dogs want an interview with the giant-killer.”

“No.”

“But you haven’t heard what yet.”

“And still I’m not interested,” he said. “No interviews while I’m playing, with the exception of the usual BBC stuff and the press conferences. That’s not open to negotiation. I’m here to play tennis, not to be passed in front of one camera after another. Once I’m out of this competition, then if they’re still interested I’ll do a few, but I’ll pick which ones.”

“Newspapers?”

“Some. Except no exclusive interviews with any paper owned by Rupert Murdoch. I still haven’t forgotten what Mary did with their help.”

It brought a shiver over him even now. The horror of finding his personal life splashed across The Sun for everyone to see.

“Fair enough,” Clara agreed, her expression clear that she too remembered exactly what The Sun had published. “The Times included?”

“Preferably.”

“Noted. And if Sherlock Holmes’ name gets mentioned?”

He had to stop himself from tightening his hand into a fist.

“We’re friends and sometimes practice partners,” he said neutrally.

“And if anyone alludes to the pair of you being more than just friends?”

He raised an eyebrow. “With our reputations?” Who was really going to believe that he and Sherlock were together. Sherlock had a history of dating beautiful women and he had the nickname Three Continents Watson for a reason. “Ask them if they’re serious or something. I’m sure you can do scornfully dismissive.”

“And are you serious?” she asked a touch softer than usual. “Do you want it to be serious?”

He forced a smile onto his face. “You know me,” he said lightly, “when have I ever managed a serious relationship?”

*

“Sebastian Moran.”

He looked up from the remains of his chicken salad and refrained from making the obvious quip about mistaken identities. Instead, he raised his eyebrows and said, “Interesting. Is that a statement, question or excuse?”

Sherlock’s lips twitched before he pulled out the chair opposite and smoothly sat, long legs stretched out slightly to the side. He was of course late, and having planned on meeting for lunch, John had given up and gotten his own food while waiting for the other man to grace him with his presence. No doubt an interview had overrun, or he’d had an argument with Lestrade, or something. As long as James Moriarty was not involved then everything was fine.

“Your next opponent,” Sherlock continued smoothly. “Tomorrow, Centre Court, two pm.”

“Yes,” he said with a brief smile. Of course he had already known all of that, although even if he hadn’t had the time confirmed that morning, the other details were predictable. The semi-final matches were always played on Centre Court and they were always one after the other. His match with Moran was to be first and then Sherlock’s match against Moriarty would follow. A big day of tennis according to the BBC sports presenters.

“Six foot three, right handed, South African,” Sherlock continued. “Seeded ninth, highest ever world ranking was sixth in 2008. Serve and volley. First serve can be as fast as a hundred and thirty-five miles an hour with a reasonable accuracy rate. It is his greatest weapon, but he is more than proficient close to the net as well. A strong, powerful player who hits hard and fast. Brutal, commanding, dominant, his game is one based on overwhelming and overpowering the opposition.”

Yes, John remembered all too well. It had been a while since he had last played Moran but he certainly remembered the sheer force and speed the ball had flown back over the net at him. At six foot three, Moran would always be a commanding presence, especially when next to someone like him, and his height was only enhanced by the amount of muscle Moran had managed to pack onto his frame. Close up to the net as he liked to play, the man was a colossus. Not the ideal player to come up against and not helped by the fact he had never performed particularly well against a serve and volley player.

“And the bad news?” he joked when Sherlock paused.

Pressing his lips together, Sherlock acknowledged the attempt at humour – poor as it had been – but simply folded his hands neatly in front of him. “He can, of course, be beaten.”

“That’s certainly good to know.”

“Indeed. A great baseline player will always beat a great serve-and-volleyer; his returns will, by definition, be impossible to hit for winning volleys.”

Yes, he of course knew that theory, but serve-and-volley had, no pun intended, served some of the best recent players of the game extremely well. Henman, for example, Krajicek, Rafter, and of course Pete Sampras.

“Tilden,” he said instead, referring to Bill Tilden, the great former player and author of the theory Sherlock had just paraphrased.

“Naturally,” Sherlock said and then leant forward. “You are a great baseline player, John, when you believe it, and like any other player, Moran has his weaknesses. His ground shots are weak, notably his backhand. His bulk makes him slow to move. He has power but little agility and his game plan is basic at best. He will go in to overwhelm you and when you are still reeling from the strength of his attack he will attempt to land the winning blow.”

“You do realise those are boxing metaphors you’re using there,” he added in amusement.

Sherlock sat back. “They seemed appropriate. Whether a tennis court or a boxing ring, it is still a fight.”

“So I’m to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee then,” he said.

Sherlock looked blank before waving it away. “I believe it is no coincidence that Moran has progressed this far. My delay in meeting you was partly due to some information gathering. It seems that earlier this year, possibly in Australia, Moran and Moriarty struck up an unlikely acquaintance.”

It was a good thing he had stopped eating and drinking because that could have been embarrassing. “When you say ‘unlikely acquaintance’ you don’t mean, you know.” He waved his hand vaguely between them hoping that Sherlock would catch on.

“Oh no,” Sherlock said after a moment, his face taking on the look of someone who had just bitten into a lemon. “God, no. I’ve not heard nor seen anything even remotely to that effect. What I mean is that Moriarty is very much like me in that we both spend considerable time analysing the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents, finding ways of breaking them down and changing our strategies accordingly. We are both very good at it. Moran has never been known to employ such tactics - that is clear from his match history, until rather more recently. I believe that Moriarty may be sharing some of his skills in observation with Moran.”

Oh god. That didn’t bear thinking about. And he was supposed to face this man tomorrow?

“You mean like you are with me,” he said slowly wanting to make sure he wasn’t missing something.

“Quite, I’m afraid.”

“But why?”

Sherlock’s face narrowed into a frown. “That I haven’t yet deduced. But I have reviewed key moments of Moran’s match against Nadal and it is clear that he knew exactly how to exploit Nadal’s weaknesses.”

“Oh right,” John said. “Excellent. Right. So, uh, what do you suppose Moriarty has told Moran about me? What are my weaknesses?”

He was mildly surprised when Sherlock paused, taking the time to simply look at him, but not in a ‘I’m trying to deduce you’ sort of way he had seen him do to others, but more of a ‘I don’t have to rake my eyes over you to check because I already know everything about you’.

He tried not to shift too much in his chair.

“Your weaknesses are threefold,” Sherlock finally said, still holding his gaze. “They are obvious, simple, and you hardly need me to point them out, you know them all already.”

He pressed a small smile to his lips. “I’m tired, I’m old and I have no bloody idea how I’ve managed to get into the semi-final, well, other than down to your suggestions and pure luck?” he suggested.

“Mmmm,” Sherlock said pressing his fingers to his chin. “Not exactly how I would have put it, but not that far incorrect.”

He fidgeted slightly, unable to stop himself but tried to cover it by raising an eyebrow. “Go on then,” he said, “how you would put it then?”

Sherlock tapped his chin with the tips of his fingers.

“Your three weaknesses, John, are quite simply age, injury and confidence.”

He blinked. “Right,” he said.

“Age is obvious. You’re physically past your peak. You tire more easily and you take longer to recover, especially from long matches. Already you are showing the physical signs of prolonged intense play, even if those signs are only slight. Moran need only force you around the court and after a time your energy levels will drop and with it your shot accuracy will decrease also leaving him with easy winners. That said, with his bulk and mass, if you did the same to him he could well tire before you.

“Now injury. This one ties in with your age. Your body is prone to injury and you are already carrying more than the average player. You do not need me to tell you that your shoulder and back are your biggest weaknesses, but your legs and knees, particularly your right, could also become an issue. He will force you to move and twist, playing on the chance you could exacerbate an existing injury or create a new one.

“Which leaves confidence. Before this tournament you had lost twenty-two of your last thirty matches. Only once in the previous eighteen months have you progressed into the last eight of a tournament, in that case a minor ATP 250, twice past the second round in a ATP 500 or 1000 tournament, and more often than not only made it to a Grand Slam on a wild card, if at all.

Yes, he was more than a little aware of that and it was not something he particularly wanted to be reminded of, even by Sherlock Holmes. He cleared his throat. “I hope this isn’t you attempting to address my confidence issues,” he said critically, “because, well, in truth, you're rather crap at it.”

Sherlock’s gaze flickered and then he was raising his chin, his lips momentarily pressed tighter together.

“Tennis is a game of confidence,” he said after a moment. “To win you must first go out there believing that you can win.”

He frowned. “So what? I stopped believing and so stopped winning?” It was far more complicated than that.

“You’re a brilliant tennis player, John Watson. You have the mind for strategy, excellent hand eye co-ordination and can play all round the court. A player is only as good as their weakest stroke and your stroke play is more than good. On the day you could beat anyone.”

Anyone? Really? Well, provided his body held up and he didn’t get injured and he wasn’t playing someone who knew him better than he knew himself. His lips twitched. “What about you?” he asked. “Could I beat you?”

He already knew the answer to that, they had played against each other in practice. He had seen what Sherlock could do to someone else’s game and what Sherlock could do to his own. He was under no illusions of what would happen should they meet competitively.

“Even me,” Sherlock said much to his surprise.

He laughed. “You’re lying,” he said. “Come on, if we both get through to the final do you really think I would stand a chance of beating you. Really?”

“There is always a chance,” Sherlock said. “And yes, there is always the possibility that in a competitive match you would beat me. After all, you did the last time we met each other.”

“Last time we… what? Wait, what? When have we ever played each other, I mean competitively?”

If Sherlock didn’t look so attractive when slightly smug the whole thing would have peeved him more than it did and it was bad enough as it was, especially as Sherlock appeared to be taking a certain amount of delight in the situation.

“Rotterdam, 2002, first round. You beat me in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3.”

“Really?”

“Hmmm, so I have been reliably informed.”

No, really?

“I don’t remember,” he tried instead. He honestly didn’t remember and he was sure he would recall playing someone like Sherlock, but then again he had played so many people over the years and the early rounds did tend to blend together, especially in minor competitions like Basel, Valencia and, of course, Rotterdam.

“No reason why you should,” Sherlock said. “You got to the final. Why would you remember the skinny, short haired French kid you breezed over in an early round?”

He cracked a grin trying to imagine what Sherlock might have looked like in 2002. All he was managing to picture was a skinner, wider-eyed version of the man currently sitiing in front of him. “Skinny, short haired French kid?” he said.

Sherlock scowled. “I was seventeen and had recently taken to wearing my hair rather cropped. I was under the false impression it made me look tougher. Fortunately, both my hair and I quickly grew out of that.”

“Seventeen? A mere baby.”

“And I had a harsh reality wake-up to the speed and force of a hard court against a player with very few weaknesses.”

“Hmmm, so you remember it then?” And yet he hadn’t mentioned it before now.

“Oh. No, not exactly. Deleted it of course, but I have recently been reminded of it though.”

Deleted? Okay, fair enough, it wasn’t as if he remembered either, which was a shame as 2002 to 2004 had been by far his best years.

“The point is, John, you are a brilliant player, but you need to remember and believe it. Moran is going to attack you hard and fast, break your rhythm and your spirit. Hold in there, wear him out, wear him down and you will win. After all, tennis matches are not won by big shots. They are won by getting the routine serve returns in court, making the easy volley and hanging tough through the match.”

He smiled recognising a quote when he heard one. “Tilden again?” he asked.

Sherlock smiled back. “Allen Fox.”

Fair enough.

“Here,” Sherlock said pulling a notebook out from the inside of his jacket. “Sebastian Moran, all I have on him.”

The notebook was rather thin compared to that of Andy Murray. Somehow that wasn’t surprising.

“Thanks,” he said. “You, uh, got plans for this evening?”

“Preparation,” Sherlock said, his eyes flickering. “Moriarty.”

John nodded. “Yes, of course.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Sherlock said as he got to his feet. “After we’re both through to the final of course. Gotta dash, left Lestrade in charge of my match rackets. Your shoulder looks a little stiff. Forget a practice, you don’t want to strain it. Steam room, deep muscle massage and a decent night’s sleep.”

“Yeah. Alright.” Of course he would have noticed his shoulder. “Good luck for tomorrow.”

Sherlock paused to offer a small smile and then he was gone.

John let out a deep breath and turned over the thin notebook. It was still warm.

*

The hotel room felt too empty. He might have used the word ‘big’ but it was hardly a large room, and yet it felt as if there was something missing from it.

Flopping down on the bed he knew exactly what – or more accurately – who that was, and it was ridiculous, utterly ridiculous that within a matter of a few days Sherlock Holmes had wormed his way into his life so firmly and thoroughly that John was now physically missing his presence. Damn it. Ridiculous!

Rolling over, he stared up at the ceiling. Funnily enough it hadn’t changed since the last time he had stared at it, but this time he wasn’t sharing a bed with someone else. Now even the bed felt too big.

“Come on, Watson,” he growled, “get a grip.”

Grabbing the TV remote, he flicked through channels and settled on some comedy repeats on Dave. They at least added some noise and laughter to the room but he wasn’t interested enough to pay too much attention. It certainly didn’t take too long for his mind to cycle back to the two things most demanding his attention; Sherlock and Moran.

Tomorrow was going to be horrible. He just knew it. At best the match was going to be a long and painful one. He could hardly hope that Moran would pick up an injury like Murray had. Lightning didn’t strike the same spot twice. He would have to battle his way through and hope he came out the other side in one piece and preferably the victor, although not humiliated would also be acceptable. If he was going to lose then at least don’t let it be a total embarrassment.

No, stop thinking about this.

He pressed his palms against his face. It was no good thinking about it because he would just get himself stressed and agitated. He had to stay relaxed. He had his game plan, he had read Sherlock’s notes on Moran as thoroughly as he could – there were places in the notebook where Sherlock’s handwriting was almost as poor as his own grasp of French. When it came to Moran he knew what he was doing, which was more than he could say about what he was doing with Sherlock.

Christ, that was a mess. He was actually missing the stupid bugger, and miss him not in a sexual way – as in come here, I want a shag – but miss him in a companionship way. He actually wanted to spend time with Sherlock even if it was in near silence. What sort of madness was that?

Okay, he knew exactly what sort of madness that was, but being able to identify it was not helping in the least.

Oh he needed a drink. Except alcohol was the last thing he truly needed.

Bugger, fucking, blasted hell. He needed to do something, desperately needed a distraction.

Grabbing his mobile, he flicked through the numbers. He wasn’t yet desperate enough to actually want to phone Clara. He had already spoken to Harry that day and any more would lead to her knowing that something was up. Dimmock, no. Mike, no. His finger hovered briefly over Sarah’s number but dismissed it.

Sherlock.

Just great. Everything always seemed to come back to him.

“Fine. Fine,” he said, and grabbing his room key and wallet he gave in and went for a walk. It was no accident that his walk left him outside Suite 212.

Steeling himself he figured what the hell and then knocked.

He waited. There was no answer.

He knocked again. He had the right room, he was sure. He considered calling Sherlock’s name but didn’t want to draw that much attention. It would be just like Sherlock not to answer the door just as he never answered his phone. Damn, he wasn’t answering his mobile either.

He ended up down in reception.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“Oh, yes,” he said smiling at the young lady at the desk, a different one from the last time he noted. “Suite 212,” he said, “my friend is staying there. Could you give him a call and check if he’s in there. He’s not answering his mobile.”

“Certainly, sir.”

She quickly tapped at her keyboard. “I’m sorry, sir, but the room is currently vacant.”

“Vacant?” You mean he’s not currently there?”

“No, sir, I mean the room is not in use. Mr Bell and party checked out this afternoon.”

Mr Bell? Oh yes, Joseph Bell, Sherlock’s current pseudonym. Checked out this afternoon? Right. Oh.

“Thanks. Did they say why they were checking out?”

“No, sir.”

“Right.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No, thank you.”

“My pleasure, sir, and good luck tomorrow.”

Her smile was broad, bright and genuine. She knew exactly who he was and was wishing him pure and honest best wishes. Blimey, it had been a while since he had had that.

“Thanks… Stephanie,” he said glancing at her name badge.

Right, so Sherlock had checked out. Where exactly would he go? Oh, it was so obvious.

Grabbing his mobile he quickly tapped in the number for directory enquiries.

“Hi, yes, telephone number for 221B Baker Street, London, please.”

“Please hold… I’m sorry but there is no number listed.”

Of course not. Why would Sherlock have his number listed? It had been a stupid idea.

“Would you like to try for another number?”

“No… no, wait, yes, can you try 221A Baker Street.”

“Please hold… number found. Would you like us to put you through?”

“Uh, yes.” Please don’t let him be making a huge mistake.

“Hello?”

“Mrs Hudson?”

“Speaking.”

Brilliant. “Sorry to disturb you, Mrs Hudson, but it’s John Watson, Sherlock’s friend. We met over the weekend.”

“Oh of course,” she said actually sounding rather pleased to hear from him. “Congratulations on your wins. I’m going to be there tomorrow to cheer you both on. I’m ever so excited. Mrs Turner next door was ever so jealous.”

“Uh, thanks,” he said trying to cut her off before she got onto some kind of roll. “Look, I was just wondering, is Sherlock upstairs? It’s just he’s not answering his phone.”

“Oh, the silly boy. Yes, he’s upstairs. I think him and Lestrade are having a bit of a set-to. I could hear balls being thrown at the wall earlier. It’s the match tomorrow I suspect. He always gets worked up before a big match. Needs someone to steady him, he does. Do you want me to go and get him for you?”

“No… I, uh, do you think he would mind if I, uh, popped in for a bit. I know it’s getting late, but you know.”

Well, he hoped she knew because he all honesty he didn’t have a clue.

“Oh no, I’m sure he won’t mind a bit. It would probably do him the world of good, help him unwind and take his mind off tomorrow. Poor boy, always thinking too much, except when he’s ruining my walls. Do you want me to let him know you’re coming?”

“No, I’ll… it’ll be a surprise.” A good surprise or a bad one, but a surprise nonetheless. “Although, could you let me in when I get there? It’s just he’s not likely to answer the door. I’m sorry it’s a bit late.”

“Oh nonsense, dear, of course I’ll let you in. I won’t be going to bed for a while anyway, not with my hip and all the noise they’re making.”

“Thank you. I won’t be long.”

He hung up and made his way out of the hotel before he could change his mind and tell himself he was being stupid. More than stupid. Oh he was almost giddy with excitement.

“Taxi.”

Baker Street wasn’t actually all that far from the hotel, close enough for him to have been able to walk it, but hell, a taxi was right there and it would be faster.

“Uh, Baker Street,” he said as he closed the door. “Two, two, one.”

“Right you are.”

He was going to be there in a few minutes. He tried not to fidget although his thigh was bouncing a little too much.

“You look familiar,” the cabbie said glancing in his rear mirror. “Do I know you? ‘Ere, you wouldn’t be that tennis player, would you? The one who beat Murray?”

“Uh, yes,” he said caught momentarily off guard.

“Thought so. Seen you on the telly. Not a huge fan of tennis me-self, prefer football, but it’s Wimbledon. Gotta support the Brits at Wimbledon. You playing tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Uh, semi-final.”

“Well good luck with that. Win and you’ll be in the final. An Englishman in the final. Gotta love that. Here you go.”

He hopped out when the cab stopped before handing over the money.

“Good luck, mate.”

He nodded and shut the door.

221B Baker Street. He stared at it for a moment. Now he was here he was having second thoughts. What if Sherlock wouldn’t want to see him? What if Sherlock got angry? Could he handle an angry Sherlock? Oh hell, it wasn’t as if he was here for sex or anything. He knew where Sherlock stood on that and the thought hadn’t even crossed his mind. No, he was here because anywhere else didn’t quite feel good enough, and in some respects, that was worse.

Damn, damn, Christ, damn.

He reached up and pressed the bell for 221A.

*

Mrs Hudson let him in, taking delight in telling him that it was lovely to see him and that it was a good thing he was here because Sherlock, the poor boy, was in one of his moods and poor Lestrade was bearing the brunt of it.

“I’m sure he’ll be better now you’re here,” she said. “He needs someone like you. You go and distract him from whatever is going on that head of his. All this shouting, banging and crashing, whatever will the neighbours think?”

Practically ushered upstairs, he climbed the seventeen steps to 221B and slowed when he got to the top, not sure what he would find or what the reaction to his presence would be.

If it were possible the flat looked even more untidy than the last time he had been there, which had unbelievably only been four days previous. There were more bags all over the place, probably from where they had checked out of the hotel. The piles of books and paper had been disturbed and there were more tennis balls haphazardly lying around from where they had most likely landed or rolled having collided first with the wall.

Sherlock himself was sprawled on the sofa dressed in a pair of pyjamas bottoms and a t-shirt, wrapped in his blue dressing gown. He appeared to be having harsh words – in rapid French of course – with Lestrade who was stood by the kitchen looking more haggard and more frazzled than John had yet to see him. Whatever the perks of the job were for Lestrade, John hoped that they were bloody good, because dealing with a Sherlock like this didn’t look like fun.

The conversation – if it could be called that – seemed to end with Sherlock snapping something that sounded somewhat insulting. Lestrade threw his hands up in the air in response before rubbing them across his face, obviously not bothering with a reply.

“Knock, knock,” he said a little tentatively, taking advantage of the pause. “Uh, hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

Sherlock’s head snapped up from the sofa, eyes first widening and then narrowing when they looked at him.

“John… what are you doing here?”

Ah, there was the frown.

“Mrs Hudson let me in,” he said moving forward so he was now out of the landing area.

“Yes, obviously,” Sherlock snapped. “Not what I asked.”

Oh. He had never seen Sherlock like this before. He looked so tightly sprung, like a coil that could release or break at any moment.

“Oh, uh, the hotel said you’d checked out. You weren’t answering your phone. I thought I’d check that you were alright, that you were, you know, Moriarty and all that.”

“Oh.” Sherlock’s expression tightened for a moment and then relaxed. “No, I’m fine,” he said. “Nothing’s happened.”

“Sherlock,” Lestrade said quietly.

“Alright, fine. He sent a card to my suite. It was decided it best that we therefore vacated the room and rather than take a new one I agreed to come here instead.”

Well, yes, that made sense, or at least some of it did.

“Anything I can do?” he asked, the words forming before the thought did.

“No,” Sherlock said at virtually the same time Lestrade said, “yes.”

“You can keep him company for a bit,” Lestrade said. “Do what you like, but I’ve had enough. I’ll be upstairs, but unless the place is on fire I’m not interested, okay. And no setting the place on fire, Sherlock.”

Sherlock scowled.

“Good luck, mate,” Lestrade said clapping a hand briefly to John’s shoulder. “Won’t blame you if you bail quickly. He’s unmanageable when he’s like this.”

Then Lestrade was out of the room and making short work of the stairs to the upper floor bedroom.

“When you’re like what?” John asked turning back to Sherlock. Okay, so it wasn’t hard to see that Sherlock was in some kind of mood, but it was good to know what type and what had caused it. He was usually so much more… controlled.

Sherlock huffed and went back to stretching across the couch. With no answer immediately forthcoming, John took a seat on the nearest armchair having first cleared it of notebooks and pens.

“You always like this before a match, or is it because of, you know, tomorrow’s match?”

Semi-final. Wimbledon. Moriarty.

Sherlock didn’t respond immediately and when he did finally speak his words were slow and precise. “What are you really doing here, John?” he said.

“I, uh,” missed you, wanted to see you, needed to see you, have no idea other than the fact I wasn’t thinking and now I want to touch you, run my fingers through your curls, help you relax and believe it or not that’s a very scary thought because it means that somehow, somewhere along the line I’ve fallen for you, hard, and tomorrow could be the last time we ever see each other and that thought just kills me, so I’m sorry that I’m here, but it’s your fault because if you had never invaded my life then I would have gone out a week ago and would now be in a bar drinking, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life rather than sitting here in your flat trying not to think about what it would be like to spend the rest of my life with you.

He clenched his hand into a fist.

“If you’re here for sex then I told you, not interested.”

Sex? Did he really think that little of him?

“Of course I’m not bloody well here for sex you egotistical bastard,” he snapped getting to his feet. “It’s not all about bloody sex you know. Did it never occur to you that maybe I really was worried about you?” Care for you. Miss you. Want you. “You know what, this was obviously a mistake. You’re fine, you’re obviously fine. You have everything under control. I should go, get a good night’s sleep, like you said. I’ll see you tomorrow. Good luck and all that.”

“John.”

He got as far as the door before Sherlock’s voice called him back. He hesitated then, part of him telling him to get the hell out of there, another part screaming at him to stay. He stopped and slowly turned back, his fists still clenched. He found Sherlock sitting up, a slightly confused and somewhat vulnerable expression on his face.

“I… I can’t stop my brain,” he said. “It won’t stop. It just keeps going round and round and round. It’s frustrating. All I can think about is Moriarty, and the French Open, and the trainers, and… this is what he wanted. He sent me a postcard of Paris. Paris, John. And the only thing he wrote was Nous Aurons Toujours Paris across the back.”

John frowned.

We’ll Always Have Paris,” Sherlock supplied before scrubbing his hands through his hair. “He’s playing with me, knowing my brain will want to analyse every single little thing and I can’t make it stop. I can’t.”

For the first time ever he saw just how young Sherlock really was, that under all that confidence and talent was a young man facing perhaps the biggest and most crucial match of his adult career. It was no secret that the victor between Moriarty and Sherlock would be the one automatically tipped to be lifting the Wimbledon trophy, so this match was huge and Sherlock was feeling every inch of the pressure, and to make it worse, Moriarty was playing dirty.

Part of him wanted to go over there and gather Sherlock into his arms, to press a kiss to his head, but as much as he might desire it, they weren’t like that. Whatever this was, it was not a relationship.

“Yes,” he said, “that happens. Pre-match anxieties and all that.” And he knew all about that and having to find ways of combating it. Unfortunately for his tennis, his most recent method had involved reminding himself it was only a match, it wasn’t life or death. No wonder he had always expected to lose.

“Sounds like you need some sort of distraction,” he continued.

Sherlock looked intrigued as he swung his legs over to sit up. “What do you suggest?”

In the end they managed to find an acceptable movie on ITV 3 and settled down to watch George Clooney and Brad Pitt (neither of whom Sherlock knew anything about) rob a Vegas Casino. Of course it led to a whole host of different discussions – how plausible the movie was, whether the plan was even possible, most shaggable character – which were mostly restricted to the advert breaks but it wasn’t long before they continued talking into the rest of the movie as well. Sherlock was scornful of a lot of the film but admitted to appreciating some of the physical acrobatics and smirked at the changing disguises of a number of the characters.

By the time the plan had worked and the team were standing by the fountain – “Oh, Clair de Lune, dull.” “Hmm?” “The music. Debussy’s Clair de Lune from Suite Bergamasque. Overrated, overplayed, overused.” “Oh.” – it was rather late and both were slouched on the sofa, relaxed and barely awake.

Stretching, John caught a glance at a clock and groaned. He really should have been in bed. So much for the early night.

“Better go,” he said. “Important day tomorrow… today… later. Bugger.”

“Hmmm,” Sherlock said and then reached across to catch his hand and lace their fingers together. “Stay.”

And like that it was decided.

*

End Part Seven

Chapter Text

Sherlock was still asleep when John pulled his jeans back on. Sprawled on his front, Sherlock was already unconsciously stretching into the warm spot that John had only recently vacated. His curly hair obscured much of his face, but he looked so relaxed and peaceful that John found himself wishing that he could stay and watch him, but knew beyond certainly that for so many reasons that would not be a good idea. Nor would it be good thing to give in to his urge to lean over and press a kiss to Sherlock’s head.

Buttoning his shirt, he took one last look – please don’t let this be the last time he would ever see such a sight – before making his way out.

It was early but not that early. London was already wide awake and busy with activity, but 221B wasn’t yet stirring. That was hardly a surprise. Sherlock had the later match and needed as much sleep as he could get and Lestrade was probably taking advantage of the respite. He, though, had to get back to his hotel to shower and shave before starting his own pre-match preparations.

“Good morning, John.”

Oh god, not again.

He tried not to jump as once again he found Mycroft sitting comfortably in the main room, fully dressed in a white pinstriped dark blue three-piece suit - although his jacket lay across the back of the other chair - this time flicking through one of Sherlock’s many notebooks rather than a newspaper.

“Mycroft,” he said as he retrieved his trainers. “Uh, been here long?”

Mycroft’s lips twitched his eyes flicking briefly to the stairs behind him before he replied. “I’m an early riser.”

Tying his laces, John didn’t bother asking what that meant or wonder if he was missing something. If it involved Sherlock’s brother then he was probably better off not knowing.

“Oh, right, well, I’d best be off then.”

“Mmm,” Mycroft said as if in agreement before rising to his feet. “Yes, a rather important day today. I believe a twofold congratulation is in order.”

“Thanks,” he said then frowned. “Twofold?”

“Of course,” Mycroft said placing down the notebook which remarkably – and surprisingly – had John Watson scrawled messily across it in Sherlock’s distinctive handwriting.

Wait, Sherlock had a notebook on him? Why? They hadn’t played against each other in over eight years. He had been a non-entity up until a week ago. He had only got into the competition on a wild card anyway. So why would Sherlock have started a notebook about him, unless, oh, the final. Sherlock was making preparations for the final, taking apart his game, figuring out the best way of beating him just as he had done with everyone else. In the end the tennis was the most important thing. He supposed he should have been flattered. Sherlock at least did honestly think that he could beat Moran.

“Rather fascinating read, I must admit,” Mycroft said obviously following his gaze to the notebook. “But separate from what I was referring to. A twofold congratulation as I said, firstly on reaching this stage of the competition and secondly on being the only person to have ever shared my brother’s bed without the incentive of intercourse.”

Without the incentive of… oh, right, uh, he really wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say to that.

“You are a rather remarkable man.”

And also one who was having a discussion about his sex life, or lack there was, with the brother of the man whose bed he had just platonically left.

“I’ve, uh, got to go. Nice seeing you again.”

“You too, John. And good luck.”

Yes, well, it sounded as if he needed it.

Making sure he had everything, he bolted for the door and down the stairs. He had a hotel to walk back to and a match to prepare for.

*

“Welcome back to a bright and sunny Wimbledon. It’s Men’s Semi-Finals day and the place is packed with tennis fans from all over, but clearly dominated by the white and red of the Saint George’s Cross, out in force as in less than one hour, John Watson, the unlikeliest of British hopes, bids to become the first British player to reach a Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin in 1938. The man looking to stop him is of course Sebastian Moran, who has already seen off some stiff competition to reach this far, including the top seed going into this competition, Rafael Nadal. We will of course be bringing you all the build-up as it happens, as well as the comments from our panel of experts and later the commentary itself.”

*

Confidence. Sherlock had said that his third weakness was a lack of confidence. Well, he couldn’t exactly do anything about his age or the physical weaknesses of his body, but he could wrestle with that confidence issue. He just had to remember that he could win.

He could win.

Stepping onto the treadmill, he started his warm-up.

He could win.

No, he would win.

*

“So, Tim, John, let’s talk about the first semi-final. Sebastian Moran against John Watson. Two very different players.”

“Absolutely, Ann. Watson’s a classic all-rounder who much prefers the baseline game. A precise, intelligent player who is able to use both fast and slow shots, while Moran is one of the last of the old school serve-and-volleyers.”

“Like you, Tim.”

“Yeah. He’s a big, powerful player who hits hard and has an excellent first serve. It’s going to be an interesting match.”

“Tim’s right, they’ve got two completely different styles. Moran has shot up the rankings in the past few months, while Watson, well, we already know that he’s literally come from nowhere to get here. It’s Moran’s first Wimbledon semi-final and Watson’s first semi in any competition since the accident which almost finished his career. That was what, five years ago now his injury?”

“Over six years.”

“And that’s a lifetime in tennis. Neither of them have ever been in the final of a Grand Slam, which means either way, whoever wins, it’s going to be a first. That’s gotta be on both of their minds.”

“So who’s going to win then? Tim?”

“It’s difficult, but I’m going to have to say Moran. Watson’s shown some great form here, but he got lucky against Murray while Moran took out Nadal fair and square. For me Moran’s the stronger player, even just taking into consideration this tournament, and Watson has never done well against a serve-and-volley player, even when he was at his peak. We used to joke about it whenever we played each other. So I’m going to have to go with Moran.”

“Okay. What about you, John? Watson or Moran.”

“Hey, I’m gonna stick my neck out on the line here and say I think Watson can do it. In terms of technique he’s probably the better player. His rank doesn’t say that but he’s found something here, something he hasn’t had since his injury. Somehow he’s been turned into a winner and he’s on a roll. It’s like by winning he’s remembered how to win. A switch has been hit and I think he’s going to fight for this one. I think he can do it.”

“Well, there you have it. We’re going to go to the travel report now, but we’ll be back here shortly. Don’t go away.”

*

Expect hard, fast serves. Play to his weaker backhand. Push him to the baselines. Don’t be afraid to come in to the net on occasion. Don’t be intimidated by his sheer size and figure. And whatever you do, keep fighting and don’t you dare give up.

He glanced at his mobile for what felt like the hundredth time. There was still no message from Sherlock, although that didn’t surprise him. He had had texts from a number of other people though; Clara, Sarah, Mike, Dimmock and of course Harry who said she would be watching her baby brother whether he liked it or not. It had at least brought a smile to his face.

But no Sherlock.

He sighed and went back to his stretches. He couldn’t afford to tense up now.

*

“And what’s it like up there on Henman Hill?”

“Ann, the atmosphere is electric. Everyone is anxiously waiting for the players to emerge. There are so many flags, one or two of them the green horizontal “Y” of South Africa, but by far the vast majority are either the British Union Flag or the red cross of Saint George.”

“And who do the fans think is going to win?”

“Most are unsurprisingly saying Watson, although it’s hard to tell if that’s a rational prediction or the emotional backing of the Brit. But either way, the Hill is all set ready to cheer Watson on.”

“Thanks, Ruth. So Henman Hill, Murray Mount, we don’t yet have a name for Watson. Any suggestions?”

“Uh, Watson Rise?”

“Tim?”

“I still like Henman Hill.”

“Well of course you do, but I’m sure you won’t mind sharing it for a short time at least. So Watson Rise, I’m sure we can do better than that. So, if any of you listeners out there have any suggestions as to what we can at least temporarily rename Henman Hill to, then why don’t you drop us a message or a text or a tweet.

“In the meantime, it’s two o’clock, the sun is shining and the players are emerging onto the court for their pre-match warm up. It’s Moran versus Watson in the first of the Men’s Semi-Finals here at Wimbledon. Get ready and stay tuned."

*

Centre Court again. That wasn’t something he had thought would happen to him again, to be playing on Centre Court twice in the same competition. Hell, he had given up on dreams of playing on Centre Court at all years ago. It had been a bitter blow to have gone from being a name to watch to realising that he was never going to reach that level again after his injury. Now, though, he was back for the second time in a week, and this time all the British and English flags were there for him and him alone.

Oh god.

Right, ignore them, ignore Moran, just concentrate on you and your tennis and block everything else out. Towel, spare shirts, sweat bands for his wrists, cap for when he was playing into the sun, drinks bottles all carefully lined up to go in the chiller cabinet, rackets, trainers properly tied. Okay, he could do this.

Hard and fast. Moran will come at him hard and fast.

Racket in hand he got up to finish his warm up, practicing his forehand and backhand swing before moving onto his serve. The first one hit the net. Of course it did. The second one sailed over.

Concentrate and relax.

“Time.”

Right. This was it. Semi-final. Wimbledon. Come on, Watson.

*

“And it’s Moran to serve first and get this game underway… and his first serve is good, Watson barely managed to get a racket to it.”

“Fifteen – Love.”

“There’s that Moran fast first serve. Watson’s got to get to grips with that if he is to have any control in this match.”

“Moran lines up for his next serve… which goes into the net.”

"Moran's serve could well be the deciding factor during this match."

“Second serve… slower this time. Watson returns, Moran with the volley, Watson backhand but it’s into the net.”

“Thirty – Love.”

“Watson read it well, but he needed to do better with that backhand. It looks like he knows it as well.”

“Moran to serve… and it’s an ace.”

“Forty – Love.”

“A hundred and thirty-eight miles an hour. Moran really does have one of the fastest serves on the circuit at the moment. It hard to appreciate just how fast that ball is moving when you’re watching on telly, or even from the crowd, but trust me, when its coming towards you over that net you know about it.”

“Moran serves… Watson forehand, Moran volley, Watson down the line, Moran backhand but it’s out.”

“Forty – Fifteen.”

“Better play by Watson there but he’s got to do a lot more of that if he’s going to break Moran.”

“Moran serves and it’s straight into Watson’s body.”

“Oooh, that has got to have hurt.”

“It looked like Watson managed to get his racket between him and the ball striking at his stomach, but at that speed, that’s not pleasant.”

“Game, Moran.”

Watson doesn’t look happy about it, but he’s up and now it’s his turn to serve.”

*

Bloody hell those balls were fast, he could feel it in his wrists as he stroked them back. And the one to the kidneys, he had been lucky not have felt the full force of that one. Moran was not going to go lightly, but he had already known that.

*

“Game, Moran.”

“And there’s the break we’ve been expecting.”

“Moran leads five games to four. First set.”

“Watson’s struggling against Moran’s powerful returns, although he was unlucky in that game with that double fault and that one that was just long. He seemed to lose whatever momentum he had there. But he also isn’t finding his way through past Moran’s volley. It’s not that he’s playing badly, he’s just not quite playing well enough.”

*

“Game and set, Moran. Six games to four.”

Damn, blast and bugger it.

He wiped his wrist band across his forehead as he retreated back to his chair, taking refuge under the shade of the umbrella that had been brought out by one of the ball boys.

One set gone and he was losing. The dropping of his last service game had shaken him, but he needed to pull himself together. If he wanted to win this then he had to go out there and fight. What was it Sherlock had said, that Moran would go in and attempt to overwhelm him with power and strength, he just had to weather that and then make Moran play the sort of game he wanted to play rather than have the game plan thrust on him.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

“Time.”

Tennis court or boxing ring, he was going to fight.

“Second set. Watson to serve. Moran leads one set to love.”

*

“And it’s in. Moran can’t believe it, but it was definitely in.”

“Deuce.”

“Watson has never had a better chance in this match to take that crucial break, and you can hear the crowd behind him, cheering him on.”

“Quiet, please.”

“Moran serves and it’s just a touch wide.”

“He almost seems shaken, Moran. After pummelling Watson with hard, fast balls in the first set with very little reply, he’s come out here to do the same again but Watson is standing firm. In fact, Watson has come out in the second set knowing exactly what was going to happen but this time rather than being passive and dealing with what is thrown at him, is actively hunting down the cracks in Moran’s armour rather than waiting for the South African to make a mistake.”

“Serve goes in from Moran. Watson forehand, Moran backhand volley, Watson drives it crosscourt, Moran forehand, but Watson is there at the net with a cheeky little volley that Moran had no chance of getting to.”

“Advantage, Watson.”

“He’s definitely taking the game to Moran now. A lot of players would have withered under Moran’s relent bombardment, but Watson is holding firm, showing that never say die attitude he’s been playing with all tournament.”

“Moran serves, Watson returns, Moran with the volley, Watson forehand but it clips the net and goes out.”

“Deuce.”

“Watson’s got to be careful not to give points away, especially crucial ones like that. He’s not going to get too many opportunities, but he needs to make sure he gets all his returns in. Get them over the net, get them in and then worry about the next ball.”

“Moran serves, down the centre, Watson with the forehand which he pushes away from Moran, just out of his reach and bounces….”

“In.”

“Brilliant shot there by Watson, but Moran is querying it.”

“It was certainly a close one.”

“He’s calling for Hawk-eye.”

“I’m sure it was in.”

“Well the replay is just coming up on the screen now and, oh, that was close but it was definitely in.”

“A matter of millimetres, but definitely in, Ann. Excellent call from the line judge.”

“Advantage, Watson. Moran has one challenge remaining.”

“Moran has got to put that behind him now and play on.”

“Moran has returned to the baseline, preparing himself for his next serve… which goes long.”

“That wasn’t anywhere close to being a good serve. He really needs to compose himself. This could be a very crucial point.”

“His second serve is good. Watson backhand trying to find a way past Moran’s volley, Watson forehand, Moran down the line, driving return by Watson, Moran returns hard, but it bounces wide and finally Watson has the break he’s been looking for.”

“Game, Watson. Watson leads four games to three, second set. Watson to serve.”

*

“Set, Watson. Six games to four. One set all.”

Yes! Okay, concentrate. No need to get overly excited. There’s still a long way to go yet. But come on, Watson, you did it, you broke him. You broke Moran which means you can do it again.

Confidence, it’s all about confidence and hanging in there. You hung in there and now you’re back level. You can do this!

*

“While the players stop for a bathroom break we’re going to go across to Henman Hill. Ruth, what’s it like out there?”

“Deafening, Ann. You should have heard the cheer that went up when Watson got the break and the second cheer when he took the set. There is definitely an air of excitement here. An Englishman in the final of Wimbledon? Well, there’s a long way to go before that, but if cheering is going to help him then most of the people here would willingly scream their loudest.”

“Thanks, Ruth. Now, what do we think so far? One set all, who do you think has the upper hand? John?”

“Watson, definitely. After that first set he’s kept his head and he’s come back with his racket swinging with absolute purpose. If he keeps playing like that then the match is his.”

“Tim, you’re shaking your head. You disagree then.”

“I think it’s still too early to say. This is the third match now where Watson has gone a set down, but in all those matches he’s come back to win both the second and the third sets. Against Trevor he seemed to step up a gear. Against Murray he practically got handed the set due to the ankle injury Murray picked up. He’s certainly found something here again, but I think the next set is key. If he can win that then I’d say the match is his. If he doesn’t, then I’m not sure he’ll be able to come back again.”

“So there you have it. Ultimately it all rests on the next set. Now keep sending in your suggestions as to what we could rename Henman Hill. So far suggestions include Watson Rise, Watson Ridge, Hamish Heath, playing on Watson’s lesser known middle name there. Watson’s Folly. Breakback Watson, a clever play on the film Brokeback Mountain.”

“Breakback Mountain might work.”

“And when the players come back it’ll be the start of the third set, with Moran to serve first.”

*

Remember that Moran is now going to come back at you with everything he has. Hang in there, force him to move around the court. Sure he’s a big guy, but that also makes him heavy. Play to his backhand if possible, don’t let him dominate you. And remember, you can do this.

*

“…And it’s Watson with the forehand. Moran tries to lob and the smash from Watson into the empty court and you can just hear the crowd roar. They know that Watson is just two points away from going a break up and with that probably a set up as well.”

“Fifteen – Thirty.”

“He’s so close, Ann. He’s been slowly chipping away at Moran’s serve, snatching points here and there, but this has been the best chance so far. If he could break him now he just has to hold his serve and the set is his.”

“Moran serves. Watson drives it back, Moran with the volley, Watson forehand, Moran volley, but he’s off balance and Watson gives him no chance.”

“Fifteen – Forty.”

“Such a simple forehand there from Watson, but that’s often what the game is all about.”

“Oh, absolutely. It’s about making those simple all important shots and getting the points, and that’s what Watson is doing here. Nothing fancy, just well played standard tennis.”

“Moran serves, and it’s so fast Watson barely had a chance to reach for it.”

“Thirty – Forty.”

“Another example of Moran’s power. Watson had no chance, but it does mean that Moran always has the ability to throw one in like that, to claw his way back into the game.”

“Moran serves, but it’s called out.”

“That was another fast one, or it would have been had it been in, but it gives Watson a chance now. Moran has got to get this next serve in.”

“Moran serves, Watson backhand away from Moran who volleys, Watson forehand crosscourt, Moran chases, Watson with the slice, Moran forehand, Watson down the line, Moran and it’s wide. The forehand from Moran goes just inches wide, but it gives Watson that all important point and we finally have the breakthrough in this third set and it goes to the Englishman.”

“Game, Watson. Watson leads six games to five. Watson to serve.”

“Excellent play from Watson there, not particularly flash or exciting, but he pushed and pushed until Moran made the mistake and just listen to that crowd.”

“The crowd are cheering, they know that we could be finally seeing an Englishman get through to the final of Wimbledon. Incidentally, Watson’s box is virtually empty. What do you make of that? Semi-finals of Wimbledon and there’s only one person in his box. Girlfriend perhaps?”

“Agent I’d say. She looks familiar.”

“So no family at all then?”

“Doesn’t look like it, although that’s probably personal choice. There are some players who travel with the minimum of an entourage, or maybe Watson just doesn’t want them there. He was hardly expecting to reach this stage anyway.”

“And it’s now Watson’s turn to serve. You’ve got to be wondering what’s going through his mind at this point.”

*

You’ve broken him. Yeah, it took six attempts to do so, but you’ve done it. Just don’t screw it up now. Don’t think about the final, just think about your serve. Get your serve in. Play each point one at a time. Don’t try anything flash and for god’s sake don’t panic.

*

“Thirty all.”

“Watson’s got to be kicking himself after that one. A high short ball like that is a gift to someone like Moran.”

*

Don’t panic. For all things sacred, don’t panic, Watson.

He bounced the ball to steady himself.

Serve the ball. Stop bouncing it and serve the goddamn ball, and when Moran hits it back don’t do anything flash. One point at a time.

*

“Good serve by Watson, Moran returns, Watson forehand to Moran’s backhand but Watson reads it well and knocks it into the far corner for the winner.”

“Forty – Thirty.”

*

See, you can do it. Just get the next point and then you can go and sit down. You’ll be able to grab a drink again and try and cool down. Yes, it’s hot, but come on, you’ve played in hotter than this. Remember Dubai. Yes, but you got your arse kicked in Dubai. Okay, not helpful. One more point, sit down and imagine Sherlock massaging your shoulders.

The ball flew up, his body twisted and his arm rose and fell.

*

“Game and set, Watson. Seven games to five. Watson leads two sets to one.”

“Good serve by Watson in that last set. For a moment he looked like he was going to choke and I’ve seen better players than him do just that. Moran was in there for a moment, but then two solid points and Watson’s taken the set.”

“Tim, what do you say? Was Watson in danger there or was it just the usual ups and downs of tennis?”

“I think he was close and he knew it. He stopped and composed himself at thirty-all. He knew he was just two points away from being broken back. Bouncing the ball like that, not his usual move but it obviously worked. He’s on top now. Let’s hope he can stay like that.”

“So we could be just one set away from a Brit in the final of Wimbledon, or two sets from a crushing upset. We’ll know very shortly.”

*

He didn’t need to hear the groan from the crowd to know that that ball had bounced out.

“Game, Moran. Moran leads three games to one, fourth set. Moran to serve.”

Stupid. He should have known that Moran wouldn’t give up that easily. One stupid little mistake and now look where he was. Moran was all over him, choosing the balls to go for, making him chase every point and taking advantage of the fact he was tiring.

Stupid. So fucking stupid.

*

“Game and set, Moran. Six games to three. Two sets all. Fifth and final set. Watson to serve.”

“Well, what can we say about that then? Loss of concentration? Tiredness? Or something else? Tim, John, what happened?”

“He choked, pure and simple, Ann. Watson had it, knew it was within his grasp and then he choked.”

“I’m sorry, but I have to agree with John. Watson has never coped well under pressure. Even at his peak, something would happen.”

“You mean like the French Open in what was it, 2003? Two sets up in the semi-final and then he lost it.”

“Absolutely, Ann. This tournament we’ve seen a completely new side to Watson, but the pressure is still the same and a match can tip on the smallest thing, like a line call or an unforced error or even a stray thought.”

“So what does he have to do then? Can he come back from this?”

“Can he come back from this? Sure. The real question is will he, and I don’t know, Ann. I’m starting to agree with Tim. Watson’s never been known to be able to do it when it really mattered and this is the biggest match of his career. This is the final of Wimbledon on the line. He would be the first Englishman in over seventy years to get that far. That’s got to be preying on his mind.”

“Well, we’ll be back in with the action as soon as the players return from their break. It’s certainly been a rollercoaster ride so far and it’s two sets all with everything to play for in the last and deciding set. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, we’ll be following with the second of our Men’s Semi-Final draw where third seed Sherlock Holmes takes on the second seed Jim Moriarty, where the winner will not only book their place into the final, but regardless of who wins the final will, come Monday, find themselves as the new World Number One. If you’re planning on going out, don’t, because this is one afternoon you will not want to miss.”

*

“Game, Moran. Two games all, final set.”

He was exhausted. Exhausted and drained and his shirt was practically sticking to him. Come on, Watson. Keep your serve and keep hitting those balls back. You have got to do this, then you and Sherlock can joke about which of you is going to win the final, and then you can laugh and kiss and… just come on.

*

“Game, Moran. Four games all, final set.”

“Gotta say this, Watson hasn’t simply rolled over. He’s still there, still fighting. It’s already been a long match and he’s no doubt feeling every single minute of it, but he’s still in there.”

“Moran’s refusing to simply give in either though, but neither can find that little something else that’s going to break this stalemate.”

*

“Game, Moran. Six games all, final set.”

Six games all and no tie break in the final set. Oh god, oh god, oh god. Would this never end?

You just have to break him. You’re serving first so all you have to do is hold your serve and then break him and then it’s all over.

Just don’t choke. You can’t lose it now. You just can’t. Remember those dreams you had as a kid? Wimbledon. You’re so close to the final. First Englishman in the final since 1938. It’s right there, don’t throw it away now. Sherlock would never let you live it down. Think about winning. You want it. Keep focused. Keep playing. For god sake put the bottle down before you drop it. You’re shaking. You’re actually god damn literally shaking.

Just four points taken from his serve.

Just four.

Deep breaths. Relax. It’s your serve first. Just hold your serve and then we’ll see. One point at a time.

Why won’t your hand stop shaking?

“Time.”

Don’t screw this up, Watson. For Christ sake, don’t screw it up. And don’t think about France 04. Oh god. Stop it! Get up, get your racket, get the balls. You can do this. Of course you can do this.

Four points.

Deep breaths.

*

“So we’re entering into what is essentially sudden death for these two players. Since there’s no tie-break in the final set they have to keep battling on until one breaks the other. As Watson is serving first, if he’s the first to break Moran then the match is all over. If Moran breaks Watson first then he will still have to hold his own serve in the next game in order to win. The pressure is well and truly on now.

“So, Watson to serve. He’s bouncing the ball… four… five… six times and now, good serve, Moran returns but Watson knocks it down court for the winner.”

“Fifteen – Love, Watson.”

“Good start from Watson there. He’s got to have so much going through his head right now, but that was a solid serve with a good forehand. He’ll be happy to have got the points on the board.”

*

“Game Watson. Watson leads seven games to six.”

Excellent. Good work. Keep it up. You held your serve and now it’s Moran’s turn.

He scrubbed the towel across his face. Even the towel felt damp. He really needed to change his shirt but he didn’t have the time to.

Come on, Watson, concentrate. Don’t throw it away now.

*

“And an excellent ace from Moran there.”

“Forty – Fifteen.”

“The computer is saying a hundred and thirty-five miles an hour, but Watson’s not responding, just shakes himself slightly and calmly moves to the other side of the court to receive the next serve… and he gets a racket to it this time, but it bounces just wide.”

“Game, Moran. Seven games all, final set.”

“Moran’s going for power. He’s got to know that Watson scored more points than him this match, so he can’t afford to drop his serve.”

“There’s just nothing between them at the moment. Are we going to see another Isner and Mahut?”

“No. Absolutely not.”

“Why do you say that, John?”

“Because Watson’s going to run out of strength and energy well before then. It’s been a long, hard tournament for him already. I doubt he’s got more than a few more games in those legs of his.”

“So Moran’s going to win this then?”

“I didn’t say that. Either Moran will power his way through or Watson may just steal it with some brilliant stroke play. Either way, it’ll all be over before we get into double figures.”

“Well, we’re now back with Watson’s serve. He bounced the ball again, serves, but it’s long.”

“Second serve, Watson.”

“He’s calming himself again and… the serve is good. Moran forehand crosscourt, Watson down the line, Moran backhand, Watson down the line again, Moran pushes Watson wide then comes in, volley’s Watson’s return but Watson read it well and gets the winner.”

“Fifteen – Love.”

“You can hear the crowd, they’re as nervous as the rest of us, literally on the edge of their seats.”

“They know that this could literally go either way.”

“Watson lines up for his next serve, which he nails, Moran backhand, but Watson’s in at the net for a surprising volley that leaves Moran floundering.”

“Thirty – Love.”

“He’s mixing it up a bit, but he knows Moran’s weakest with his backhand, he’s been playing to it all match with good results.”

“Well Watson’s doing okay here so far, but there is still some way to go.”

*

“Game, Watson. Watson leads, eight games to seven.”

Oh that had been close. Thirty-love up and then he’d allowed Moran to come back at him. How had he done that? Why had he done that?

Come on, Watson, you can’t fall apart now.

Please don’t fall apart.

Please.

*

“Game, Moran. Eight games all.”

“Moran just powered his way through that game. Watson barely got a look in.”

“Twice Watson hit the net with his return of serve. He really needs to start getting those returns in or he won’t be able to win. It’s not easy of course, but he really needs to do a little better.”

“He needs to hold his serve first though.”

“That he does.”

*

“Deuce.”

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Take a deep breath, Watson, take a deep breath.

Blowing out the breath he signalled for the balls and caught two on his racket head.

Concentrate, Watson. Don’t you dare throw it away now. You’re so close. So very, very close. What would Sherlock say if you took it this far and then let Moran beat you. You can’t let Moran beat you. You just can’t.

Walking back to the baseline and prepared himself for his next serve.

*

“And a brilliant serve there from Watson, where Moran couldn’t do a thing with it.”

“Advantage, Watson.”

“For a moment there I seriously thought we were about to watch Watson throw it all away, but somehow he’s managed to pull himself together.”

“He’s in his own little world down there, not paying attention to anything, not the crowd, not Moran, nothing.”

“Watson preparing to serve… and down the centre, Moran with the return, Watson pushing long, Moran crosscourt, Watson down the line, Moran backhand, Watson backhand, Moran… and it’s just wide. The ball has gone wide and you can just see the relief on Watson’s face.”

“Game, Watson. Watson leads, nine games to eight.”

“He came so close to being broken in that game, but somehow he managed to pull it out of the bag, took those crucial points and he’s back to being a game up and now it’s Moran’s turn to reply.”

*

You did it, Watson. Somehow you bloody well managed to hold onto your serve. Now you need to go out there and fight for every point, the way you know you can. You can win this.

You can.

*

“Moran serves, Watson forehand, Moran with the volley, Watson counters, another volley from Moran, forehand from Watson, and it’s in.”

“Love – Fifteen.”

“Excellent play there from Watson, Ann. He read it well and pulled it off with the sort of steady precision shot he was once known for.”

“You can hear the crowd as Watson takes the all-important first point in this game. They’re screaming at Watson that he can do it. He needs to hold his nerve and come out and attack Moran’s serves just like that.”

“His nerve’s going to be the key thing.”

“Quiet please.”

“Moran’s at the baseline bouncing the ball. Complete silence now here on Centre Court. Every breath being held. Moran serves…it’s good. Watson returns, Moran with the volley,
Watson whips it crosscourt, Moran returns, Watson with the slice, Moran forehand, but it’s into the net. Watson takes the point and the crowd cheers.”

“Love – Thirty.”

“Watson was lucky there. Some nice play but he left himself open at the end. He can’t rely on Moran making an error next time. But there may not need to be a next time. Just listen to that crowd. They know that this is Watson’s best chance of the set so far.”

“Moran composing himself as he prepares to serves… and it’s an ace.”

“Fifteen – Thirty.”

“Brilliant ace from Moran there to finally get a point in this all important game.”

“That’s the thing about Moran, you can never totally write him off because he does have that utterly soul-destroying first serve.”

“After a brilliant opening to this game Watson’s head has almost dropped a little. He knows that this is where it could all go so horribly wrong. He’s so close. The crowd are shouting at him, desperately cheering him on.”

”Quiet please.”

“Moran serves. Watson gets a racket to it. Moran volley, Watson with a desperate lunge, Moran with the backhand, Watson volleys, Moran with the lob, Watson’s tracking back but it’s behind him and a brilliant over the shoulder strike by Watson that whistles past a surprised Moran into the back of the empty court and listen to that crowd roar.”

“Fifteen – Forty.”

“Henman Hill are on their feet, the crowd here are on their feet, and Watson has two match points, but is the only person not on his feet.”

“It looks like it was the twist of that shot.”

“Could be his shoulder or his back. Both have given him considerable trouble in the past. He could have pulled something.”

“The tournament doctor is now courtside, but Watson’s waving him away and slowly getting to his feet. He’s picking up his racket and giving it a swing.”

“You’ve got to be wondering what’s going through his head. He’s one point away from a Wimbledon final, his first ever Grand Slam final, or just a few points away from throwing it all away.”

“Moran is getting ready to serve.”

“Come on, John.”

“Quiet please!”

“Shout from the crowd there. At least they’re not calling him Tim. Watson settles while Moran bounces the ball, gets ready… and he serves, it’s good, but Watson’s return hits square into the net.”

“Thirty – Forty.”

“Watson’s still got one match point, but he’s grimacing. Probably from pain but that was a poor attempt. What must he be thinking?”

*

Oh god.

Ohgodohgodohgod.

It hurt. It hurt so much. It would just happen to be his shoulder, wouldn’t it. Damn his shoulder, and his back, and his aching legs. One point, that’s all he needs. One point, this point and it will all be over.

He twisted the racket in his hand as he bent down into the receiving position, even that simple movement sending shooting pain through his back and shoulder. It hurt. God it was agony, his shoulder actually felt as if it was on fire.

One point. One point and you’ll be through and you can see Sherlock, and….

The ball raced at him over the net.

*

“The serve is good by Moran. Watson powers it back, Moran with the volley, Watson plays safe, Moran with the backhand, Watson crosscourt, Moran returns, Watson backhand, Moran volleys at the net, Watson drives it back, Moran volleys but… Watson forehand and it’s good. The ball flies past Moran and bounces in at the far corner and the stadium has erupted! Watson drops his racket and falls to his knees, rolling onto the grass and onto his back. He’s covering his face but he’s done it. John Watson, the unlikeliest of British hopes, has just booked his place in the Wimbledon final after a match that was truly astonishing in its ups and downs. Five sets played, nearly four hours of tennis and John Watson has won; 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 10-8.

“We have a Brit in the final.”

*

The sky was clear blue. His shoulder was killing him, he was shaking, he was sure he was shaking, and his hearing was all strangely muffled, but the sky was beautiful and blue, clear, deep and with barely a hint of cloud.

He stared at it for a moment, lost in its depths, but then everything came crashing back. Tennis. Wimbledon. Semi-final. Moran. Winning. God winning. He had won hadn’t he? He had actually done it. They had announced it and everything.

Match, Watson – 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 10-8.

He covered his face, his hearing snapping back in with the roar of the crowd. His name. They were saying his name. He was shaking, he was laughing, he was crying. He was also lying on his back on Centre Court while the world watched on. Is Sherlock watching? No, he’d be getting ready for his own match, here, in just a few minutes. Oh Christ he should move.

Time, sense, pain all reasserting themselves, he sat up and then scrambled to his feet trying not to wince. God his shoulder. What was he supposed to do now? Oh yes, shake hands with his opponent, wave to the crowd, talk to the camera and the watching world.

The final of Wimbledon, oh it was all he could do not to giggle. Mustn’t laugh, it’s an interview. Leave laughing for later.

He wasn’t entirely sure what he said to the lady with the microphone but finally they let him go with a hearty congratulation and another roar from the crowd. He waved, they cheered, and then it was time to leave. He signed autographs as he went until security moved both him and the crowds on. More slaps on the back, more congratulations, more aching shoulders.

“John, excellent match.”

Ah, of course, Clara, and she was already on her phone.

“Get yourself sorted. Doctor, shower, press conference. Go.”

He went. He was too tired, too elated to argue.

“It’s just a strain,” Mike said looking at his shoulder. “Nothing torn or ruptured. You probably could have told me that though. How about the rest of you? Any problems with your back, well the rest of your back?”

His back hurt. Well of course it hurt, he had just put it through a stupidly long and intense work out. Five sets. Five sets! He told Mike as much and let himself be checked over thoroughly, wincing at some of the prods and pokes, his back first and then his legs. He appeared to be fine – well apart from being tired, aching and old. Mike gave him something for the shoulder and then it was time for a shower, a long, hot relaxing shower.

He was through to the final of Wimbledon. Wimbledon final, him. Bloody hell. Bloody, sodding, bastard hell.

By the time he emerged the painkillers were kicking in and his skin was starting to go all wrinkly. He also found Clara waiting for him in the changing rooms, mobile by her ear.

“Really sure you’re not supposed to be in here,” he said mildly, crossing over to his bag and clothing.

Of course she wasn’t supposed to be in there, but this was Clara, she somehow got away with not following the rules of normal convention. She was a bit like Sherlock in that respects.

Shit, Sherlock.

“What’s the score?” he asked as he grabbed a spare shirt to pull on. He really needed to find a telly or something. “Clara! Holmes-Moriarty, what’s happening?”

“Just a moment,” she said into the phone before turning to him. “For god’s sake, John, you’ve got a press conference in a moment. By the way, you’re still happy with Wilson for your racket, right?”

Wilson? Racket? That wasn’t what he wanted to know.

“Clara,” he all but growled.

“Wilson, John,” she replied firmly.

“Yes, fine,” he said sharply. “They’re fine, all fine. The score, please.”

“Two games all, second set. Moriarty took the first set after breaking Holmes in his first service game.”

Shit. Not good, very much not good.

“Press conference, John. Worry about Sherlock later, or let him worry about himself. He’s big enough, smart enough and arrogant enough to do so. He’s got a job to do, so have you, so do it and then you can see the rest of the match.”

Okay, Clara had a point. Come on, Sherlock.

He finished dressing and went to compose himself. Another press conference. He hated press conferences.

Exiting the changing rooms he was besieged by paper, flags and pens being waved in his face. Blimey, was this what it was like to be a pop star or something? He grinned, waved, laughed and signed, and with the help of security eventually managed to get through.

“Remember you’re ecstatic,” Clara said when they reached the room. “You’ll do your best to win the final. No, you’re going to do more than that, because the country deserves a new champion. You don’t mind who your opponent will be. They’re both brilliant players. Also, Holmes has just gone a break up. Now go.”

He went and from what he could tell the press conference went really well. The room was absolutely heaving. An Englishman in the final of Wimbledon. Oh god, he really was through, wasn’t he?

Clara was of course the first person he met when he was finally allowed out. “Score?” he asked automatically.

“One set all, about to go into a tie-break in the third. Very tight match. How’s your shoulder?”

“Still there. Look, is there anything else I need to do or can I go and watch the match?”

She let him go. He ended up in the players and members’ area, grabbing the first drink he could that wasn’t bloody Pimms and tried to find somewhere unobtrusive where he could watch the match.

Sherlock lost the tie-break. Damn. Moriarty was now leading two sets to one. Sherlock didn’t look happy. No, he looked unsettled, there was a subtle difference. Wait, when had he become adept at reading Sherlock’s expressions?

“Come on,” he muttered under his breath. Come on, Sherlock.

The fourth set was another nail biter, although the tennis itself was excellent. There was little sign of Sherlock’s anxieties or concerns as he fought Moriarty for every single point. From a neutral viewer’s point of view it was an outstanding match. From his point of view, not so much.

Two games all.

Sherlock served, Moriarty forehand, backhand chip return, Moriarty crosscourt forehand, forehand down the line, Moriarty return, backhand from Sherlock, Moriarty forehand, returned forehand, sliced backhand, smashed forehand on the bounce from Sherlock for the winner.

Three games all.

Ace from Moriarty. Once hundred and thirty miles an hour.

Four games all.

Brilliant twisting shot from Sherlock to pluck the ball out of the air and send it into the far corner.

Five games all.

A fourteen shot rally that had the crowd breathless and finally, finally gave Sherlock the set break, and then the volley at the net that gave him the point, the game and the set.

Yes!

“Game and set, Holmes, seven games to five. Two sets all. Fifth and final set.”

His phone rang… again. He ignored it as he had gone the last two times it had rung. Whatever it was it wasn’t important. The match was the most important thing at the moment.

“For god’s sake, John, answer your bloody phone will you. I’ve been trying to get you.”

Ah, of course, Clara. He barely glanced across when she appeared beside him.

“Look, unless you can offer me a better view of the match,” he said, “I’m not interested.” Sherlock was going to be serving first for this last, final and deciding set. He couldn’t remember feeling even close to this nervous before about a match he wasn’t even playing in.

“Can do better than that,” she said, a triumphant look on her face, “I’ve got you in.”

Eight minutes later he was in the stands and making his way to a seat by the Royal Box, hoping against hope that everyone would be so enthralled in the match they wouldn’t recognise him.

“Congrats on earlier,” the guy next to him said.

“Thanks,” he nodded. Wait, wasn’t he a famous stand-up comedian or something?

“Which one would you prefer to go through?”

Ace by Moriarty to hold his serve.

“Holmes,” he said automatically.

“Game, Moriarty. One game all.”

The comedian laughed. “Why? Think you have a better chance beating him?”

No, because then he had a better chance of getting to share his bed again. He refrained from replying.

Sherlock held his serve.

“Game, Holmes.”

The players changed ends, passing each other closely and then Sherlock was at the end facing him and he could see more clearly how tight he looked.

John frowned and leant forward. Moriarty’s serve snapped across the net and the game continued.

Moriarty held his serve.

“Game, Moriarty. Two games all.”

Sherlock served. It went wide. He served again. It clipped the net. Double fault. That wasn’t like him.

“Love – Fifteen.”

Sherlock turned away to collect the balls for his next serve, bouncing one of them as he moved back to the service line. He held his serve… just.

They changed ends again.

Moriarty pulled out some fantastic shots to keep his serve and then it happened, Sherlock faltered and Moriarty broke him. It went to deuce but Moriarty broke him. The ball bounced out and Sherlock swore.

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads four games to three, final set.”

John couldn’t watch.

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads five games to three, final set.”

This was it. Forehand. Backhand. Chip. Slice. Volley. Smash. Sherlock held his serve but he looked tight, very tight.

“Game, Holmes. Moriarty leads five games to four, final set.”

Come on, Sherlock, break him back. You know you can.

It was a fight, an honest to god old fashioned dog fight, Sherlock and Moriarty squaring off against each other like racket wielding gunslingers. A fight to the death.

It came down to a brilliant forehand that blistered across the court, low, fast and deadly. It took the point and with it John’s heart.

“Game, set and match, Moriarty. 6-3, 4-6, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4.”

Shit.

*

End Part Eight

Chapter Text

His palms were sweating as he reached up to press the buzzer for 221A before stepping back, his hand automatically going to flatten his hair.

Sherlock had disappeared quickly after the match, racket bags slung over his shoulder, his expression completely closed off as he ignored all requests for autographs and left the court. Moriarty was still being interviewed by the BBC courtside, but John didn’t bother waiting around, just slipped from his seat and tried to follow only to find that Sherlock didn’t even stop for a shower, just bundled into a black car and left.

Shit. This was not how he had hoped the day would go. The euphoria of his victory had crashed into the pain of Sherlock’s defeat leaving him with an uneasy churning feeling in his stomach; disappointment merging with the growing fear that this might be it.

There was no answer when he rang Sherlock’s mobile, but then he had hardly expected there to be.

Floundering slightly, he found himself pushed into an official car by Clara and informed that they were to go back to the Dorchester with his equipment. Caught up in the traffic around the Club the journey seemed to take an age, his thigh jiggling as they went. At the hotel he dropped off his stuff and then ran. It didn’t matter that he had already played a four-hour game of tennis that day, he had to get to Baker Street.

It was only when there was no answer to the door that he realised the flaw in his thinking. Mrs Hudson had been at the matches, which meant she was probably still at Wimbledon, which meant there was no one to let him in, because Sherlock wasn’t exactly going to.

Fuck.

He pressed the bell for 221B. He knew Sherlock was there, he could hear movement and the faint muffle of voices.

“Come on, come on, answer the bloody door.”

In desperation he pressed the buttons for all three flats in the hope that maybe someone would take pity on him. They did. A moment later the door opened and an attractive young lady who looked vaguely familiar opened it, her eyes glued on the BlackBerry in her hand. She didn’t say a word, just stood aside and let him in. He took the stairs two steps at a time.

“Ah, John, come to gloat?”

Sherlock’s words were harsh as he turned from the window and dropped a small stack of notebooks into a box. He was wearing jeans and a shirt and his hair was still wet from the shower he must have recently had.

“No, of course not,” he said frowning, noting that once again Lestrade was slipping from the room leaving them alone.

“Then you must be here for our post match shag then. Sorry to disappoint you but not interested. With your new found fame I’m sure you won’t have any problems finding someone more than willing for you to work off your post match adrenaline on.”

The brief upward twist of his lips could not really be considered a smile and John could only stare as Sherlock then turned away to grab more books to dump into the box. He couldn’t really believe what he was hearing. Surely Sherlock didn’t really think that that was why he was here.

“Is that…” he started then shook his head. “Look, Sherlock, I’m not here for a shag. Of course I’m not. Why would you… never mind. Look, are you alright?”

“Ah, so you’re here for my benefit,” Sherlock said looking back at him. “You’ve…” his lip curled up, “run all this way just to allay your fears and put your mind at rest. Well, as you can see, I’m fine. Yes, I lost the match, it happens. Now you can go back to your life and spare me your meaningless platitudes. You’ve got what you wanted.”

John stared at him. He had never heard Sherlock like this, so cold and detached, speaking words that should have made sense but somehow didn’t.

“Hold on,” he said holding up his hands, “what’s this about? What do you mean I’ve got what I wanted?”

Sherlock looked at him in a way that someone would look at an idiot. “The final. It can’t have escaped your notice but you’re through to the final of Wimbledon. Congratulations. And you’ve had advice, shagging and someone to watch those ridiculous movies with along the way. So what more could you possibly want?”

You, he thought, but managed to stop himself from blurting that out.

“Wait a moment,” he said instead, “is that that what you’ve thought? That I’m only here because of what I can get out of it?”

From Sherlock’s expression it was clear that that was exactly what he had thought.

“Did it ever cross you mind that maybe I wanted to spend time with you, that I liked spending time with you, that it had nothing to do with the sex?”

“Oddly enough, no.”

“Then… then what was last night about then, because that wasn’t about sex.”

Sherlock shrugged. “Boredom. Agitation. Pre-match nerves. You were as bad as I was.”

“I was concerned about you. You’d checked out of the hotel. You weren’t answering my phone calls. I thought something might have happened to you.”

He let the name Moriarty hang there between them unsaid.

“Your concern was noted,” Sherlock said, “but you were only concerned after you knew I wasn’t at the hotel. What prompted you to look for me in the first place? Boredom. Restlessness. Don’t put this all on me, you’re the one who came looking for me. You wanted something.”

Yes, I wanted to see you, he wanted to shout. I wanted to see you because I missed you, because somewhere in this rollercoaster of a fairytale fortnight I have developed feelings for you.

“Then when you got it, you left,” Sherlock said. “You didn’t even bother to say goodbye.”

He frowned in amazement. “You were asleep,” he said. “You needed your sleep and I had the earlier match.”

“You had time to speak to my brother.”

“He was there,” and hadn’t exactly given him a choice. He rubbed at his forehead with his thumb. “Wait, this is going off the point. I didn’t come here to argue. I came to see if you’re alright.”

“And I’m fine. I’ve told you that, so you can leave now and get on with your life.”

“And, what, we never see each other again. Is that it?”

“I believe those were the terms I laid out at the beginning.”

Yes, he remembered, during their walk in the park in what felt like half a life time ago but was only just over a week. A brief fling, a bit of company and some rather memorable sex, and then they would go their separate ways, but it had become so much more than that. Surely even Sherlock could see that. Even by the broadest of definitions what they had had, what they had done, could not be thought of as just a brief fling.

“But,” he tried, “what if I want to see you again?”

“Why would you want to do that?” Sherlock actually looked a little confused as to why he was asking such a question.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “Possibly because I like you, because you make me laugh, because somewhere, somehow I’ve started to care about you and I thought with everything that’s happened between us, everything we’ve shared that maybe you might have developed some feelings for me too.”

There, he had said it.

Sherlock frowned, his eyes scanning over him and then his face changed, his eyes widening briefly before his expression closed off entirely.

“You’re talking about love,” he said blandly as if making a statement about the weather or something equally mundane. “You actually think that this is about more than sex.”

Yes. God, yes. Of course this wasn’t just about sex. This whole thing hadn’t been about sex since the night his fist had collided with Moriarty’s jaw. This had stopped being about sex after they had spent the weekend together, since they had slotted so easily into each other’s lives, since they had lain in the dark and told each other things no one else knew. This was so far past sex that he couldn’t believe how either of them could have missed it for so long.

“People have fallen in love before,” he said quietly, now realising that he couldn’t deny the truth of what he was feeling.

“I don’t.”

Sherlock’s two words were like a dose of cold water, firm, definite and a very harsh wake up call.

He tried not to gape, suddenly angry that Sherlock was obviously denying it. How could he possibly deny it? “What,” he said a little harshly, “like the way you shag, you don’t date?” He could feel his temper rising. “Well, let me tell you something, I don’t know what you think has been going on, but that wasn’t shagging. I know shagging. I’ve done shagging. That was so much more than shagging.”

Sherlock’s eyes flashed but remained as cold as his tone. “Don’t mistake me wanting your cock up my arse as anything else. I. Don’t. Date.”

“Then I have no idea what your definition of dating is,” he snapped, “because a meal, a film, conversation, laughter, company and you know, maybe even sex, that sounds like a bloody good date to me. But you know what, fuck you, Sherlock. Just, fuck you. They warned me. They all fucking warned me not to get involved with you. Lestrade, Donovan, Sarah, your brother, even Victor bloody Trevor. Oh god, I should have listened to him, shouldn’t I? Because he knew didn’t he? He knew exactly what you’re like. No wonder you have a reputation for being cold. I thought they were just wrong, or mistaken, that they didn’t know the real you, the you that I was getting to know, the you that I thought might actually….” His voice broke before he could complete that sentence, and it was a good thing too, because he wasn’t sure he would have liked what he would have said. “I thought you might actually have a heart,” he said instead.

Sherlock continued to face him, with that cold, blank stare. “I have been reliably informed that I don’t have one.”

“Yes, yes,” he said harshly, “I’m starting to see that. It really is only about the tennis with you, isn’t it? Lestrade told me that. That if there was a choice between anything and tennis you would always pick the tennis. You lost the match and now that’s it. Nothing else matters.”

“Tennis is my life. This was supposed to be my year. Three Grand Slams gone, two semis, one final, no championship. Now, sorry if I ignore the sentiments of a man who has spent the last five years merely going through the motions, but would falling in love make me a better tennis player?”

John didn’t respond.

“Then I’ll continue to not make that mistake.”

John stared at him, stunned by the casual dismissal of everything that there was between them. “And you find that easy, do you?” he asked. “Switching off your heart, your emotions. Not feeling anything?”

“Yes. Very.” Sherlock’s eyebrows pulled together. “Is that news to you?”

“No. No,” he said remembering everything that people had said. Donovan saying that Sherlock only cared for tennis and himself. Lestrade saying he wasn’t that great as a person. Mycroft offering him money to stay away. Trevor telling him to be careful.

“I’ve disappointed you.”

No, you’ve sort of ripped out feelings I haven’t even realised I had and then stomped all over them. But at the same time I’m at least partly to blame because I should have known better, I should have listened, and now it hurts.

“Love and tennis don’t mix, John. In tennis love means you lose.”

Yes, he had heard that. Of course he had heard that, it was an old joke, but for someone who knew what it was like to be humiliated on a court, he had never felt as much like a loser as he did now. Not even when Mary had gone public about their breakup. Not even when his friends had paired off and he was left alone.

“Fine,” he said. “Fine. I obviously made a mistake. I’m sorry you lost your match and good luck with the rest of your career. I’m sure you’ll find someone to screw during the US Open. I won’t inflict my presence and obviously unwanted feelings on you any further.”

Turning, he walked out and made his way down the stairs.

“Oh, John, dear,” he heard coming face to face with Mrs Hudson who was just coming in.

Well at least she hadn’t been around to hear that utter humiliation.

“Sorry about the result of Sherlock’s match,” she continued. “I hope he isn’t too upset. But your match was so good. Very exciting.”

“Thank you, Mrs Hudson,” he said forcing himself to grit his teeth and remain stoic.

“Oh, are you alright, dear? Has Sherlock said or done something? You shouldn’t take any notice of him. He doesn’t mean it. He has difficulty dealing with disappointment that one. He’ll get over it.”

He forced a weak smile. “Thank you, Mrs Hudson, but if you’d excuse me.”

Slipping past her, he stepped out into the growing night. The warmth of the day was still there, but he couldn’t help but feel somewhat chilly. Lifting his chin, he pulled his collar further up and swallowed deeply. Right, home, or the Dorchester, or whatever. Just anywhere but here.

*

“Oh, shit!”

Clara’s words pretty much summed up how he was feeling.

Stepping back, he wordlessly let her into his hotel room, a process markedly different from that last time she had been there. Pushing that thought aside, he closed the door and retreated back to where he had been sitting on the bed, feet on the floor, chin up as he stared at the doors of the wardrobe. The doors were in no way extraordinary or even interesting, but were more than adequate for staring mindlessly at while your life fell spectacularly down around you.

He had been back in the hotel for about fifteen minutes and on arriving had avoided the press as best he could and taken refuge in his room, ignoring both his room phone and his mobile. He wasn’t particularly surprised to see Clara, he had thought he had glimpsed her talking on the phone in one of the lounge areas, and in all truth, for all her faults she was far from the last person he wanted to see.

“So what’s the crazy frog done?” she asked taking a seat on the chair nearby.

“Don’t call him that,” he said quietly but even to his own ears it sounded tired and lacked conviction.

“Oh god,” she said after a heavy pause. “You really are in love with him, aren’t you? John, look at me.” Slipping from the chair she moved to sit next to him, placing her fingers under his chin to turn his face towards her. “Oh god. You poor, poor, stupid fool.”

He pressed his lips together at her words, not quite meeting her gaze. This was supposed to be one of the best days of his life, a day he had spent dreaming about as a kid and working towards as an adult, and here he was sitting in a hotel room being called a fool and fighting the urge to shake.

“He… I...” he said turning his head away and then he smiled because it was all so ludicrous and she was so right, he was a fool, but apparently a fool in love, which might have been better than just a normal fool but he couldn’t be certain, which only made him smile more and then laugh and then laugh more, covering his face with his hands and going with the utter ridiculousness of the situation. It was far from a laugh of joy, more like desperation, pain and relief.

“I fucked up,” he finally managed, scrubbing his hands against his face. “I actually thought… we spent the weekend together, he took me back to his flat, we even told each other things, and now….” He bit down on his clenched fist and then sucked in a deep breath. “Oh god, I am a fool. Sex and tennis, that was all it was supposed to be. Hell, I even told you that. But no, I had to go and start developing feelings for his gorgeous little arse. Me? Feelings? Christ, I need a drink.”

“No. No, John, no drinking,” Clara said firmly. “I have enough experience of Watsons drinking to know that’s not a good idea. I take it he doesn’t return those feelings.”

He snorted. “He’s Sherlock bloody Holmes, the guy known for being cold and untouchable. So what do you think?”

“Right. Of course. Shit. Okay then, have you at least eaten this evening. You know, since your match?”

He shook his head.

“Well then, in that case, I’m going to order some room service and check your messages because that blinking is getting on my nerves. You’re going to go and try not to drown yourself in the shower before all your muscles stiffen up completely, and then we’re going to watch something stupid and hopefully funny on the telly. It’s Friday night after all, there’s got to be something on. And if I don’t see you at least cracking a small smile at some of it then I’m going to switch it off and make you listen to my current publicity plans for your cute little arse, something I know you will no doubt hate. Then after we can bitch about men if you want and I’ll threaten to paint your nails or something equally girly, and then eventually your body will remember it is exhausted and succumb to sleep without the need for a psychoactive hang-over inducing depressant. Okay?”

He stared at her blankly, suddenly remembering why she had been his agent all this time and of the bolshie twenty-something he had first met who had blown him away with her straight talk and blown him off when he’d suggested a date and possibly more. She had impressed him then and all things considering, he was rather glad for her now.

“Alright,” he said. “Don’t order too much food and I have the right to decide what we’re going to watch. I haven’t forgotten that time you made me watch that American sitcom, what was it, Will and Grace?” He pulled a face.

She rolled her eyes. “Agreed. Now scram and put on something comfortable when you’re done, but nothing indecent. I have no desire to see you in tighty whities or whatever it is you wear now. Once is more than enough.”

He smiled, surprising himself when he leant over to place a quick kiss on her cheek, something he hadn’t done in years, ducking when she swiped her hand at his head.

He found that the shower helped, the food was good, the comedy ropey but watchable and there was no mention again of nail polish. Clara worked hard to keep his mind focused on anything that wasn’t a particular Frenchman and he found he appreciated it more than he would have imagined.

He awoke the next morning to an alarm clock he didn’t remember setting. It was eight am. He was alone, sober and a rather long note was propped up against his room phone.

Apparently he had had thirty-eight new messages, mainly from members of the press. He had an interview with the BBC scheduled for midday; the car would pick him up at eleven. She had already arranged for his match rackets to be sent to be restrung, ready to be collected the morning before the match. The hotel apparently wanted to know if he would like to move to a bigger room – free of charge even. Wimbledon wanted to know who he wanted on the list for his Player’s Box, with an extra note from Clara reminding him that Harry would never forgive him if he didn’t include his only sister, and then there was another note saying that Harry was apparently already annoyed about the lack of communication from him.

At the bottom she finished by telling him to stop moping about and get his arse in gear because finals didn’t win themselves and if there was one definite way of sticking two fingers up at a certain Frenchman then it was by beating the same man who had knocked said Frenchman out of the competition. Oh and he needed to have a decent breakfast and a shave.

Flopping back on the mattress, he stared up at the ceiling, the same ceiling he had been staring at only three nights before, coming to terms with the fact he was head over heels for the man who had been sleeping next to him while worrying about the future that had now occurred. It didn’t seem fair. He was through to his first, last and only Grand Slam final and he couldn’t help but wonder if he would trade it in for the chance that maybe Sherlock could feel back even half as much as he did.

His phone beeped.

For God’s sake, quit moping and get your arse into gear, the message said, unsurprisingly from Clara. You have a busy day. Move it.

Smiling and sighing, he dragged himself out of bed, into the bathroom where he realised that he really did need a shave, and then finally down to breakfast.

“You’ve looked better.”

He glanced up from his tea and toast to find Sarah standing beside his table. He hadn’t even noticed her appearance. Actually he hadn’t even known she was still around since she and Molly had been beaten in the ladies doubles semi-final.

He offered her a forced smile as she took the seat opposite.

“Late night? Been out celebrating? Congratulations on getting through, that was some match.”

He thanked her, motioning to the nearest staff member for another pot of tea to be brought over.

“Molly still around?” he asked after the usual opening chit chat had finally died.

“She’s with Jim,” Sarah said. “Probably doing their own celebrating. She’ll be staying for the final of course and I thought I’d stick around too since I’ve already seen my folks. Probably watch the match in the players' lounge or something.”

“Well,” he said, “if you’d prefer, you’re more than welcome to sit in my Player’s Box. It’s not exactly going to be full and I like to think we’re still friends.”

“Really?” she said. “Not about the friends bit, of course we’re still friends, but in your box.”

“Of course,” he said. “I’m going to be playing against the new World Number One. I’m gonna need all the support I can get.”

That was true, and he doubted he would need to save one each for Sherlock and Lestrade now. Although he supposed Mrs Hudson might appreciate sitting there, and Mike of course, and Dimmock if he was still around. He made a note to follow that thought up.
“Thanks,” she said. “I’d love to. Be a bit like old times.”

“Oh god, I hope not,” he said with a grimace remembering back to their rather disastrous attempts at dating.

She laughed. “Okay, maybe not that bad,” she conceded. “But it’ll be nice. And you deserve this, John. Whatever you’ve found here that’s put that spark back into your game, you should hang onto it.”

He forced a small smile. “Yeah,” he said softly looking out across over the top of his tea cup. “If only it were that easy.”

*

The press were once again waiting for him outside the hotel, but joining the reporters with their notebooks and the photographers with their cameras were the fans, tennis fans, his fans, who were screaming, being held back by the hotel security. Escaping into the car after a brief wave and a tight smile, he sank into the seats as they pulled away, and closed his eyes.

He was about to be interviewed by the BBC for television prior to the most important match of his career and all he could think about was that the mobile in his pocket was still resolutely silent. He had spent more time than he should have staring at it, willing it to vibrate, wondering if he should simply send a text, but he couldn’t think of anything to say or anything he thought Sherlock would want to read.

There were more crowds outside the main block of Wimbledon of course. It was the Ladies' Final that afternoon amongst other things, but it still meant he got noticed when he got out. He more than understood why players like Federer, Murray and Sherlock travelled around with their own security detail, although he did wish that he would be able to go at least a short while without being reminded of Sherlock bloody Holmes, but that didn’t seem particularly likely.

Stowing his practice equipment in the changing rooms, he made sure he was presentable. Of course, with a limited choice in non-tennis clothing to choose from he had ended up in practically what he had worn the week before at the Slazenger party. The same party that had ended with a punch and with Sherlock moaning and writhing beneath him.

Damn it!

Stop it. Just stop it. Concentrate on being relaxed and cheerful, answer their questions with a smile because they don’t want to know about your screwed up personal life, they want to know that you can become the first Brit in seventy years to win Wimbledon. As if he really had a chance of winning. Really? This was Moriarty he was going to be playing. Moriarty. The new World Number One, the French Open Champion, the person who had just beaten Sherlock to get to the final. That Moriarty. Christ, he’d have been lucky not to lose with a triple bagel, even if Sherlock had slowly and painfully gone through with him all of Moriarty’s flaws and weaknesses. Did the man even have any weaknesses?

God he needed a drink, but Clara had been right on that account. Alcohol and Watsons did not often go well together. Hell, he’d totalled a car and almost his career after having a drink and Harry was lucky that she even had any friends left and that her relationship with Clara had lasted as long as it had considering what she was like under the influence. No, alcohol was a bad idea. He would have to get through all of this without it. Maybe afterwards, after the final and reality had finally popped the bubble of this fantasy world, he would be able to hide away somewhere and drink until he forgot all about a certain Frenchman.

“So John,” he was asked as the interview finally got underway and he forced a smile onto his face, “no pressure, but you know that the entire United Kingdom will be cheering you on. Did you have any realistic hopes a few weeks ago that you would be sat here now, a finalist at Wimbledon?”

Of course not. A few weeks ago he had been a chronic loser, with forgotten dreams and a wild card entry for what he had decided would be his last professional tournament. This, and everything else that had occurred over this manic fortnight, had never even dared cross his mind.

“So what’s changed?” he was asked. “Because it’s obvious that something has. It’s like you’ve finally found something that you were missing.”

“You could say that,” he said still forcing the smile. “Like a lot of sports, and more so perhaps, tennis is about confidence and passion. I’ve been reminded of both of those while I’ve been here. The court is a mini battlefield, which means you need to fight, fight for every point, for every ball, and not give up. I guess I’ve finally found my inspiration to keep me fighting.”

And that just so happened to be a person.

“You’ve spent some time here with Sherlock Holmes, has that had an effect on your game?”

“Absolutely,” he said tried not to shift in his chair. “I would not be sitting here now if it weren’t for him. I know a lot of things have been written or said about him over the years, but he is a brilliant tennis player and a man I’m sorry I won’t have the opportunity to get to know better. He’s been very generous with his time and advice, more so than I deserve, and I wish him the best of luck in the future.”

True, all true, but really only scraping the surface of everything.

The rest of the interview went by in a sort of blur after that. They asked questions and he answered them and then that was that. They wished him good luck and then he was free to go.

Slipping back into the changing rooms he pulled on his practice clothes. He could feel the stiffness in his muscles from the day before and if he wasn’t careful he would be in no fit state to even swing a racket the next day, let along attempt to win.

“Why, if it isn’t my next opponent.”

Jim Moriarty was amongst the last people he had wanted to bump into, especially here and now.

“Moriarty,” he nodded and tried to turn away, lifting a foot up onto the bench in order to tighten his laces.

“Here alone? Has a certain person abandoned you to sulk about being beaten? Oh dear. No little rendezvous last night then? Shame. But then again he always was such a sore loser. But he is rather cute when he pouts.”

“What do you want, Moriarty?”

Moriarty laughed. “Want? Me? Oh lots of things, but nothing that you can give me, clearly. Although I suspect I shall rather enjoy beating you tomorrow, almost as much as I enjoyed breaking down Sherlock one game, one whisper at a time. Actually, I do rather have you to thank for that. It was rather tight there at the end, almost thought he might get the better of me, but then you popped in and suddenly gave me the perfect weapon to bring him down with. He can be so easily distracted at times.”

He straightened up, his mind whirling. “What do you mean?” he asked his voice low.

“Oh come, come, come, even you must be able to figure that one out.”

He narrowed his eyes. “You said something to him. Something about me.” His mind raced. “What? What did you say?”

Moriarty just laughed again, a sound that sent shivers down his spine.

“Oh you’re just so precious. It hardly matters what I said, only that I said something, and you, my dear Watson, were that something. Really I should be thanking you. You guaranteed me a spot in the final, but don’t think that means I’m going to go easy on your tomorrow.”

The smile was both broad and mocking.

“Now, I have an important lunch date with my lovely girlfriend, Molly, while you get to sit and chew over what I’ve just told you. Do make sure to digest it properly. The last thing you need is for you to get ill before I get to humiliate you in front of millions of people. Take care. Beat ya later.”

John stared as the door closed behind him, the words still ringing through his head. Moriarty had used him somehow to get to Sherlock, to distract Sherlock, to beat Sherlock.

Shit.

He felt sick.

Sinking onto the bench he stared blankly at the floor. He was the reason Sherlock had lost. Moriarty had somehow used him to bring down Sherlock, to throw him off his game and to steal the match.

Love and tennis don’t mix. In tennis love means you lose.

Oh fuck.

*

“Sherlock, it’s John. Look, I know you probably don’t want to talk to me, but please just listen to this message before deleting, okay. I just bumped into Moriarty and he said, well that doesn’t matter, but he basically said I was the reason he beat you. If that’s true then, well I’m sorry, I never meant for something like that to happen. Christ, no wonder you were angry. Tennis is your life, I get that, and some minor stress relief I turned out to be. Look, I don’t even know if you’re still around, but if you are, well I’ve got some spare seats in my player’s box, I would, if you’d like, well you’re more than welcome to come and watch me get my arse handed to me on a plate, just so you know. If not, then well, good luck, you know in the US and all that. You changed my life. I won’t forget it.”

Beep.

“To rerecord your message, press 5.”

He saved the message, hung up and dropped his head, massaging his temple with his thumb. He had done it. It might have taken three attempts and nearly an hour of emotional torture, but at least he had finally done that, for whatever good it would do.

Christ, everything was so screwed up. He knew that Moriarty had only told him all that in an attempt to mess with his head, just as he had messed with Sherlock’s, but hell if it wasn’t working.

He got to his feet, moving aimlessly until he reached a wall. It was cool to his touch as he pressed his face against it, unyielding as he slammed his fist against it. Fuckity, fuck, fuck, fuck. A jolt of pain shot through his hand, down his arm and across his shoulder and back. God damn it, pain he could cope with, but this, this was something else entirely. This hurt.

Fight or flight.

He left his gear where it was, just grabbed his cap, suddenly hit with the desire to get out, to get out of the building, away from the crowds, clear his head, anything.

He ran. He settled into a comfortable but quick pace and ran. Past the crowds, the press, the Wimbledon staff, through the streets until he found the Common. Amongst the trees and the grass he slowed but kept moving, his feet pounding along one path and then another and then another. Past the Windmill Museum and then back again, looping round, down towards the golf course and then round, finding another path, another route, on and on until his feet ached and his lungs burnt and then further still. It was as if, if he just kept running, kept moving then maybe he could outrun it all; tennis, Moriarty, Sherlock.

Stopping he sank to the ground by a tree. He was alone and exhausted, his legs starting to ask if he had any idea what he was doing. Of course he didn’t know. He hadn’t known what he had been doing all this week, all this fortnight in fact, and it had never been more obvious than now.

Leaning back against the tree he closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing, anything to help lessen the pained tightness in his chest.

He walked back in the end, his breathing fine but the pain still there. Exhausted and sweaty he escaped to the steam room and lay alone, basking in the heat, trying to empty his mind of everything and nothing.

After a shower he had Mike check him over again and then he had an official car take him back to the hotel. Clara had of course kept him updated as to what she had been doing, organising his life as well as any PA could have and certainly better than he deserved.

There was nothing from Sherlock.

“There you go, sir. Good luck tomorrow.”

He nodded and slipped out into the crowd of reporters still milling around. He offered them a smile before walking in, making his way to the lifts.

“John.”

He turned in surprise at the sound of the familiar and decidedly female voice.

“Harry?”

Dressed in jeans and a smart top, she grabbed her handbag and darted over to him, a broad smile on her face and looking more than decidedly sober.

“Surprise,” she beamed.

He gaped. “How? What? When?”

“Just an hour or so ago,” she said. “Clara called me, said she thought you could do with some company and of course I was to sit in your player’s box, so I should get my arse down here right away. So I did, because you know, I can never resist it when she speaks like that, and anyway, I would have come regardless because you’re my bloody irritating baby brother and god you look like crap. Come on, give me a hug.”

They may have a somewhat turbulent relationship, they may have been standing in the foyer of a grand hotel, and they might have been decidedly British, but in that instant he wanted nothing better than to do exactly what she said. Dropping his rackets and bags, he pulled her into his arms and clung on tight.

“Bloody hell, Johnny-boy, didn’t think you’d be this happy to see me. God, Clara was right, you are a right old mess. Come on, let’s go up to your room and you can tell me all about it, or not tell me if you would prefer. Whatever you want, Mr I’ve-finally-got-my-arse-into-gear-and-a-racket-in-my-hand Wimbledon Finalist.”

It turned out that Harry was staying in the hotel as well, in a room not too far from his. Apparently Clara had arranged it all, even getting Harry’s room on the cheap since she was John Watson’s sister and he’d turned down their offer of a free upgrade.

“So what’s up with you?” Harry said, bouncing down on the bed to lean against the headboard and stretch out. “You look wrecked and not in a good way. And don’t try bullshitting me either. That’s not just pre-match nerves, that’s something else entirely. It’s like you’ve had your heart ripped out and stomped on or something.”

That was the thing about Harry, he remembered. She was both reasonably perceptive and as blunt as a hammer. He had never been able to hide anything from her for very long and once she found out about something she would challenge him on everything and anything, whether he wanted her to or not.

He collapsed next to her on the bed, not bothering to answer.

“Oh bloody hell, you have, haven’t you.” She turned and pulled her legs up under her. “I’m right, aren’t I? So who was she then? Do I need to go and sort them out for you? Do I even know them? Is it another tennis player? Sarah’s not back on the scene is she? You know that always ends badly.”

He sighed. “Look, Harry, I know you want to help and all, but I don’t particularly want to talk about it.”

“Talk,” she said with a slight snort. “Who said anything about talking? I’m not a bloody therapist. You just need to tell me the juicy gossip and then we can get down to the more interesting things, like making sure you’re all relaxed for tomorrow.”

He sighed. “I’m not drinking,” he said. “I have a match tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I know,” she said much to his surprise as he had been expecting her to at least try and persuade him to have one drink, which would inevitably lead to two and so on. “No drinking,” she continued. “I’ve got that. Clara was very clear on that, about both of us.”

He looked at her. “You’re not going to be drinking either?”

“Yeah, that’s what I just said. It was part of her terms and conditions, the ones she made me agree to before I was allowed within fifty yards of you. No drinking and no embarrassing you.”

He shook his head in surprise. “And you agreed to that? Were you drunk at the time or are you still that much into her?”

“Oi,” she said slapping his arm. “We’re talking about you here, not me. So, who broke your heart then? Are they fit and would I like them?”

He pulled a face. While he could honestly say that Sherlock was fit, very fit by all definitions of the word, he could just as equally say that there was a very good chance that Harry would decidedly not like him, in all meanings of the phrase.

“Come on, Johnny, don’t make me wrestle the truth out of you. You know you hate it when I beat you. Tell me and it’ll make you feel better, and then we can argue over which of us has the better taste in women.”

He allowed himself a small smile. He already knew what Harry’s taste in men was like, and Sherlock wasn’t it. That was partly down to the fact Sherlock was in fact a man, while Harry’s taste in men was basically ‘no thanks’.

“Unless you’re willing to admit your taste is usually boringly standard and rather dull, Clara of course excluded, or….” She paused to look at him more closely.

He kept his gaze fixed rigidly in front of him knowing it was only a matter of time before she figured it out.

“Or you’ve been indulging in the dark side again. That’s it, isn’t it?” Her eyes widened with amusement. “You’ve gone back to playing same sex doubles.”

He didn’t need to confirm it, his silence was enough.

“John, you sly thing. So who is it? Is it another player? Obviously you’ve been keeping it a secret, although I have of course been stalking you on google. You should see the stuff that’s been going up on fan sites. There’s a whole community dedicated to your arse. No, seriously, lots of pictures and everything. Oh, and that nude shot you did for charity, yeah, that’s back.”

Oh god, no.

“But enough about that. Who’s your mystery man? It’s not Dimmock is it? I always thought he liked you more than just practice partners. Not that he’s your type and if you were going to go there you would have done it years ago. No, someone else then. The only other news I’ve read about you was about that fight you got into with that Moriarty guy you’re playing tomorrow – you’re going to have to tell me all about that – and that guy you’ve been seen practicing with, what was his name? The French one. Oh yeah, Holmes. Sherlock Holmes. Oh my god, it’s him, you’re shagging Sherlock bloody Holmes.”

“Harry.”

“You are. You so are. Christ, you’re insane. Although he’s kinda hot if you like that sort of thing, which it appears you do, but holy crap, the guy’s an arrogant tosser… And he’s French,” she added after a moment. “At least tell me he’s a good shag. No, don’t answer that. I really don’t want to know.”

“Harry,” he said more firmly, attempting to cut her off before it went too far. He turned to look at her, his expression firm. “Harry, seriously, you can’t mention it to anyone, and I mean anyone. Neither of us can afford for it to come out, and anyway there’s nothing to come out. It’s over and done with. Finished. Gone. Game, set and match. So just leave it because I really don’t want to talk about it, alright.”

She looked at him, the smile slowly fading from her lips. “Oh, he’s really done a number on you, hasn’t he?” She reached across to ruffle his hair in a move he hadn’t liked as a child and liked even less as an adult.

“Get off,” he said slapping her hand away. “Stop it or I’ll throw you out. Anyway you were telling me about plans for tonight.”

“Oh, yeah, tonight. I thought we could go out, find a restaurant or something, my treat, although how much are you getting for this little final? Half a million quid? About time you started raking it in again. Next time you’re paying, but tonight I’ll pay. I think Clara said something about finding someplace. Then I can bitch about my job and you can tell me how you’re going to get slapped around the court tomorrow and then we can argue about nothing particularly important and it’ll just be another of our traditional Watson ‘let’s all pretend to be happy families’ sort of nights. Then back here, some late night telly and all of that without even a drop of alcohol. What do you think?”

He looked at her trying to remember the last time they had spent any decent amount of time in each other’s company. Between his travelling and her, well everything, it had been a while. In fact the last time it had been longer than a couple of hours it had involved both her and Clara, a lot of alcohol and a whole lot of shouting, mainly from Harry, but also from him. That seemed like a long time ago now, and the prospect of spending some time with his sober sister was not nearly as bad as he might have thought.

“Sounds good,” he said. “But when I tell you to bugger off, you’ll scram, alright?”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah,” she said. “Wouldn’t want to do anything that could jeopardise your arse kicking tomorrow. Which reminds me, you want me to shout abuse down the phone to Holmes at all? You know, for fun or something. I could even brush up on my French if you’d like.”

“Harry.”

“Yeah?”

“Bugger off.”

She grinned at him, ruffled his hair and ducked, scrambling off the bed when he made to take a swipe at her. “Alright, alright. I’ll go now. Got some comments to leave on some of your fan sites anyway. Don’t worry, nothing too bad. I’ll see you later.”

He watched as the door shut behind her. He had a feeling it was going to be a rather interesting, but long evening.

*

Baker Street was quiet.

Hands in his pockets, he stopped in the shadows and stared up and across at 221B. It was late and most sensible people were in bed – Harry included – but there was something about Sherlock Holmes that made him abandon sense and do either the ridiculous or the reckless. Standing in front of the flat now he couldn’t decide which this was. Maybe it was both in fact. It was certainly stupid, but he hadn’t been able to sleep and had thought that maybe a walk would help. His feet had led the way with barely any input from his brain, so of course he had ended up in front of Baker Street. He had no intention of knocking, he was just going to stand.

There were no lights on, so it was impossible to tell whether or not anyone was still there. Maybe they were all in bed. Maybe they weren’t even in the country any more.

Sighing, he dropped his head and rubbed his temple. He was crazy, absolutely crazy. He should go and try to sleep. Tomorrow was going to be a long a painful day.

After one last look, he turned and started on the walk back.

*

“Good morning, it’s Men’s Final Day here at Wimbledon and we will be bringing you all the news, gossip and updates throughout this morning and, of course later, the match itself, ball by ball, as British hopeful, John Watson, takes on the new World Number One, Jim Moriarty, here on Centre Court. All the action, all the time. Come on, John!”

*

He took breakfast in his room, forcing the food down out of necessity rather than anything else. He felt sick and heavy, not in the mood to face anyone; not the press, the fans and neither Harry nor Clara. It was the Wimbledon final, something he had always wanted and he was petrified. He could feel his body tensing already and his game plan was basically non-existent.

He had spent the previous afternoon – after throwing Harry out – watching clips of Moriarty playing and from what he could see the man had no weaknesses. He was a brilliant court player. His serves, while not the fastest out there, were well executed with relatively few errors. He had one of the lowest rates of unforced errors in the tournament and had only dropped three sets so far. Two of those had been against Sherlock, and one against Djokovic in the quarter final. He didn’t bother watching the sets against Sherlock, but he pored over the Djokovic one trying to find Moriarty’s weakness. How could he be broken? But there was nothing. Djokovic had won it on a tie-break after some fantastic play. Chances are he wouldn’t even be able to hold Moriarty at bay long enough to even take it to a tie-break.

No, be positive Watson, think positively. You’re in the final. God knows how, but you fought back against Moran, just go out there and fight.

But what was he now fighting for?

*

“And you can see that interview with John Watson again a bit later as we continue with the build-up to this historic match. Now, let’s talk about rankings.

“Coming into this match, Moriarty was ranked second in the world just behind Rafa Nadal, and was also seeded second. Watson was ranked a hundred and thirtieth, and is only competing here because of the wild card he was handed following his performance at Queens. Of course, now that’s all changed. Come Monday, regardless of what happens today, Moriarty will occupy the ATP World Number One spot with Nadal slipping down a position, while Watson, let’s see if my calculations are right here, if he loses he gains 1200 points and move up to twenty-second place. If he wins, he’ll gain 2000 points and moves up to ninth, his highest ever position and the first time he would have ever reached the top ten. Tim, John, what do you make of that?”

“To finish his career with a top ten spot would be wonderful for Watson. He’s played some brilliant tennis in this tournament, with a form and a drive not seen since before his injury. It would be the icing on the cake for him.”

“Let’s not get too carried away here, Tim. He hasn’t won yet, and sorry to burst your British dreams, but he’s not likely to either. We all know that Moriarty is by far the better player, the World Number One and has shown some incredible skill against some very talented opposition, and I’m not just saying that as a fellow Yank. Ferrer, Djokovic, Holmes, in comparison Watson’s route has been so much easier. But I don’t want to take anything away from Watson, just finishing twenty-second would be a major triumph. Back in the top twenty-five for the first time since his injury, back on form and winning. That’s the main thing, the winning. He said as much in his interview. Sometimes all it takes is a little shift in the mind to go from losing to winning and vice versa. But win or lose here today, Watson’s got real reason to be proud. A Wimbledon final, not many manage that in the first place, as I’m sure Tim can tell you.”

“Thanks for reminding me.”

“And on that note we’re going to break for the news headlines and the weather, but we’ll be back shortly with more discussion, more build-up, and no doubt, more arguments. Don’t go away.”

*

“Are you sure you have everything?”

He nodded to Harry as he eyed his bags, equipment and possessions all laid out on the bed. His match rackets were at the club being strung but he was taking his practice rackets for the warm-up. He had his match clothing; three white polo shirts, two pairs of shorts, two pairs of socks, a spare pair of match trainers, two white caps, a white head sweatband should he need it, sweatbands for his wrists – one set blue, one set white – towels and a jacket. Drinks would be provided, but he had food; first his lunch which he would eat shortly after getting to the Club – if he could manage it – and then snack food for during the match. Then there were his miscellaneous items; room key, wallet, Wimbledon pass, mobile, amongst other things.

He was all set.

“Then it’s time to go,” Harry said.

Wordlessly he slung the bags over his shoulder just as he had a hundred times before. He has just never done it in a situation like this before.

“Come on, chin up,” Harry said. “Try not to look like you’re about to go to your execution.”

Problem was, that was exactly what this felt like.

“Here, have a hug.”

The embrace was a little awkward because of his bags, but he appreciated it nonetheless.

“Good,” Harry said drawing away. “Now, go get ‘em, tiger.”

The lift ride seemed to take forever, the lift operator wishing him good luck as they went. Then the doors opened and he stared in shock. The applause started before he had even stepped out into the foyer. Between him and the door, lined up on each side were the staff of the Dorchester, all smiling and clapping, from the young ladies whom he had spoken with at reception, to the staff who had cooked or served his meals, to the porters and cleaners, all of them, smart in their uniforms, there to wish him luck.

He felt Harry’s hand on the middle of his back, pushing him forward and he was startled into action, a touch overwhelmed as he shook some of their hands, ending at the door with a man he could only presume to the manager of the hotel.

“Good luck, sir,” the man said shaking his hand. “We and the nation will be cheering you on.”

It was all a little bit too much like a Richard Curtis movie, he thought as his bags were taken from him and the door held open to reveal lines of flashing cameras and the screams of fans. Was this the point where he triumphed somehow as the underdog against all the odds and then would run out of the stadium and hop into a conveniently waiting taxi that would race him to the airport to catch the man he loved before he left the country? Followed by an emotional, overly sentimental reunion with kissing and a backing track of either Wet Wet Wet, or the Beach Boys?

Or was this the point where he would make a giant arse of himself and be remembered only as yet another Brit who almost was?

Guided to the car by hotel security, he piled in as the cameras continued to flash around him.

“Ready, sir?” the driver said, looking at him in the rear mirror.

“As I’ll ever be,” he said and then they were off.

*

“I can confirm that both players are now on site. With just a couple of hours to go before the match, what do you think is going through their heads?”

“Well, I would think that Moriarty is feeling somewhat confident, or at least as confident as you can be going into a Grand Slam final. He’s already got one Grand Slam under his belt this year, so he knows what it’s like to go out there and win. Watson though, he knows he’s got the weight of the entire nation’s expectations on his shoulders, and I know just how crippling that can be, to be aware that when you walk out there the whole country will be watching you. That’s got to be the main thought running through his head right now.”

“Tim’s right of course, and he should know. Playing in front of your home crowd, there’s nothing like it, whether you win or lose. They can help lift you, or you can feel the weight of their disappointment. You Brits are notorious for building up false hope. You always expect too much. Just look at your soccer team. Look at the sports headlines in the newspapers this morning. A Nation Expects. Win It For Us, Watson. The best thing he can do is to push it all out of his head and concentrate on himself and his game. He needs to stay relaxed and focused. He’ll have his pre-match routine. He’ll need to go through that just the same as he always would. Make sure he eats and warms up properly, and not just think about disappointing anyone.”
“Well, I’ve just heard that Moriarty is out on one of the practice courts, but there’s no sign of Watson. Good thing? Bad thing?”

“Probably neither, Ann. Watson will have his own method of warm up.”

“He may even want to stay away from the crowds.”

“Moriarty doesn’t mind the attention, he’s more of a showman. They’ve got different ways of approaching the match.”

“You’re quite right of course, and now we’re going to go over to Richard who is at the practice courts. Richard.”

*

The massage had been Mike’s idea, and he’d embraced it readily. Anything to get his body to relax. He already knew that time was ticking on. Shortly he would have to start his proper pre-match warm-up, stretching, some light jogging, anything to get the blood flowing around his body.

That was the last thing really. He now had his rackets, his match clothing was all laid out and he’d had his pre-match briefing. He was all ready to go.

Apparently the Queen might be in attendance. The Queen? That was insane. He couldn’t even remember the last time she had actually attended Wimbledon. It was probably before he had even been born.

Christ, this was ridiculous.

The Queen, the Prince of Wales, possibly William and or Harry, various celebrities, sport stars, and yet the one person he really wanted there wasn’t going to be.

Oh god, get a grip, Watson. Get over it. You have a match to play.

*

“Let’s go to Ruth who is on Watson Watch. Ruth.”

“Thanks, Ann. Yes, I’m here on Watson Watch as it has now been dubbed. Behind me the large screen stretches upwards and the hill is of course crowded with fans, mainly British ones, some of whom have been camped out for days in order to get tickets. They’re here fully prepared with sun cream, sunglasses, hats of various shapes, sizes and colours, jackets and umbrellas. They are true British travellers. Ready for all weather. Let’s go and talk to this group first. Hello, where are you from?”

“Colchester.”

“There’s no need to ask who you’re here to support. Where did you get the matching t-shirts from?”

“We made them.”

“Well, she made them, the rest of us are wearing them because they’re cool.”

“They certainly are. So who do you think will win?”

“Uh, well, I really want Watson to win of course. Woo, go John! But I don’t think he will win though.”

“Yeah, we kinda think that Moriarty will beat him.”

“My heart – and t-shirt – says Watson, my head says Moriarty.”

“And what about you?”

“Watson all the way. Go, Watson!”

“Okay, thank you for that. Enjoy the game. Let’s go and ask some more people. What about you, sir, who do you think will win?”

“Oh, it’ll probably be Moriarty.”

“You don’t think Watson will do it?”

“Not this time.”

“Okay, and what about you lovely ladies?”

“I really, really, really want to say Watson, but it’s going to be Moriarty.”

“Yeah, really hope it’s not Moriarty, but I think Watson’s out of his league now. Moriarty’s the best player out there.”

“Fingers crossed, Watson, but I’m prepared to be disappointed.”

“Well, there you have it, Ann. The general consensus appears to be that while people want Watson to win, they think Moriarty will. Of course we’re going to have to wait and see, but the crowd here will be getting behind Watson, watching every bounce of those balls.”

*

He sat on the bench, his hands clutched in his lap, his eyes staring blankly ahead. He felt queasy, his stomach jumping all over the place. The nerves were threatening to make his hands shake, so he kept them firmly gripped and waited.

“I have a new theory on tennis.”

He lifted his head slightly, acknowledging Clara who in a rare move had been sat quietly behind him, silent in support and offering company at this time.

“I know I’m not an expert or anything,” she continued, “but it seems to me that the best game plan you could possibly have is to hit the ball back over the net as long and as deep and as often as possible.”

He smiled tightly and nodded.

“Sod them,” she then added. “Sod them all. You just go out there and play and sod the bloody lot of them. Okay?”

“Is that your professional opinion?” he asked, twisting slightly to look at her.

She half smiled at him. “You betcha, Mister,” she said lifting a hand to his shoulder to squeeze it just as the door opened.

“It’s time, sir,” the steward said, smartly dressed in the Wimbledon uniform.

“Thank you, Harold,” he said and slowly rose to his feet. “Well,” he breathed, “I guess this is it. Wish me luck.”

Clara handed him his bag and then his racket before leaning over to press a kiss to his cheek. “Good luck.”

He nodded and then made his way to the doorway and the beginning of the walk to the court. It was time.

*

End Part Nine

Chapter Text

He could hear the crowd, muffled but obviously a roar.

“Ready for a pounding?”

He refused to turn as Moriarty stopped beside him. He could hear it in the smooth, almost sing-song voice that the man was relaxed and in good spirits, the complete opposite of him.

“Still feeling down after being dumped?” Moriarty continued. “He’s not worth it, you know.”

He tightened his hand into a fist, remembering what it had been like to land one on that smug, arrogant face. He had never really been a violent person, although he had a temper on him, but right now he wished he could smash his fist into Moriarty’s jaw.

“By the way, how’s the weak shoulder?”

“It’s fine,” he bit back. “How’s the ego?”

And then they were off and walking down the long corridor towards the light and the sound. Both struck with an intensity he hadn’t quite been expecting. Even after two previous matches here he still could not get used to the sights that greeted them – the flags with his name on them – to the sounds – the roar that went up as they exited – or the adrenaline that shot round his body as the atmosphere and the reality of the situation struck home. The final of Wimbledon.

He bowed to the royal box, almost afraid to look up and find out which royals were there. The Queen was of course, splendid in sunshine yellow, but the others, well, it hardly mattered.

He looked at his player’s box. There he could see Harry and Clara, Sarah and Dimmock, Mike, Mrs Hudson in purple, but no Sherlock. Well of course not. He hadn’t really been expecting Sherlock to be there, had he? Okay, maybe not expecting, hope, desperately hoping perhaps, but no, apparently that was not to be.

He lost the toss. He wasn’t surprised, he suspected it was going to be that sort of a day. Moriarty of course chose to serve first.

He went to his seat, pulling out his drinks to go through his final preparations. It was warm, but a muggy sort of heat rather than the clean crisp heat of earlier in the week. He would have to remember to drink more in this humidity and he was really going to sweat. The forecast said overcast with showers expected later but in the early evening, the final break in the unusually good weather they had been having recently. Made sense really. Good weather, good play. Poor weather… he decided not to finish that thought.

Stripping off his jacket he unzipped his racket bag and pulled out the first of his match rackets. The large W of Wilson looked back at him from the racket head. Wilson. Watson. Wimbledon. Winner.

Okay, Watson, screw this up and you’ll regret so much of this fortnight for the rest of your life. At least go out there and play like you know you can play. Do that at least.

He got to his feet.

*

“How do you think they look?”

“Well, Ann, Moriarty certainly looks cool and composed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone come out here looking quite so confident. While Watson looks the opposite in all honesty. He looks nervous and tight.”

“Tim’s really hit it there. Watson looks like he knows he’s about to undertake the most gruelling challenge of his career. His head is down. He’s not looking at the crowds. He’s only looked at his player’s box once, so he’s not trying to get any support from them either. While Moriarty, well, just look at how easy he’s flowing just with those practice serves. Not a care in the world. He could be warming up for a casual knock about in the park for the way he’s acting. Overconfident? Maybe. That can be just as much a killer as under confidence, but of the two of them, I think Watson’s the one in trouble.”

“It’s practically time now. The players have finished their warm up and we’re now about to start this Championship match. It’s Jim Moriarty versus John Watson, and it’s the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final. Come on, John.”

*

Okay, keep calm, Watson. It’s a tennis match. It’s just another tennis match.

He barely saw the ball as it whistled over the net.

“Fifteen – Love.”

Right. Not the start you were hoping for, but what were you expecting? This is Moriarty, he’s not going to make it easy on you. Just keep your eye on that ball and remember, you earned your right to be here. You can do this.

*

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads one game to love.”

“A good, solid start from Moriarty there. He hardly gave Watson a look in.”

“From that first serve it was obvious that Moriarty has come out here meaning business. He’s thrown down the challenge, now it’s time to see if Watson is up to facing that.”

“Watson to serve. First serve but it’s into the net.”

“First service match in a game like this is always important. He can’t let his nerves get the better of him.”

“Watson bouncing the ball, preparing himself for his next serve… it’s good. Moriarty forehand, Watson backhand down the line, but it’s just wide.”

“Love - Fifteen.”

“Unlucky there from Watson. Moriarty really blasted that ball back to him, but he has to do better in situations like that. It really needed to bounce in. He can’t afford to give away easy points like that.”

“Watson bouncing the ball and composing himself. He serves, Moriarty returns, Watson crosscourt forehand, Moriarty with the slice, but it’s into the net.”

“Fifteen all.”

“Better play from Watson, driving the ball back fast and deep. He’s going to have to keep playing balls like that if he’s going to win.”

“Watson serves, down the centre, Moriarty with the forehand, Watson pushes deep, Moriarty backhand, Watson crosscourt, Moriarty pushes long.”

“Out!”

“That was a close call.”

“Thirty – Fifteen

“Another deep drive by Watson but Moriarty read it well.”

“Moriarty was perhaps a little unfortunate with that return but Watson took the point.”

“Watson serves, but it’s called long.”

“Watson has to make sure to get those first serves in, he can’t afford to give Moriarty any advantages.”

“Watson’s bouncing the ball and his serve is in. Moriarty thuds it back, Watson crosscourt forehand, Moriarty backhand, Watson returns, Moriarty down the line, Watson forehand, Moriarty backhand, but Watson is there for the winner.”

“Forty – Fifteen.”

“Excellent play from Watson but he has to do a lot more of that now.”

“Moriarty doesn’t appear to be bothered at all. He’s still casual and loose.”

“You’ve got to be wondering what’s going through each of their minds.”

“Watson serves and a brilliant return from Moriarty to take the point.”

“Forty – Thirty.”

“There’s that sharp turn of speed that Moriarty can employ and has done to devastating effect in the past. When he reads the serve inch perfect most of the time you don’t stand a chance.”

“Watson’s got to hold on. He needs this point and then maybe he will be able to relax a little.”

“Watson serves, Moriarty backhand, but Watson’s there with a volley.”

“Game, Watson. One game all.”

“Something a little bit different from Watson there and it paid off, but he’s going to need more of that if he’s going to challenge at all.”

*

Right, he held his serve. That was good, but it was his service game, he was supposed to hold his serve. No, he shouldn’t think like that. He was in this game and it was still a young game. This was the final, he wasn’t about to lose without a fight.

*

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads two games to one.”

“Excellent play there from the World Number One. He’s looking strong and untouchable out there.”

*

“Game, Watson. Two games all.”

“Watson did well to take that point but Moriarty’s not making it easy for him.”

*

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads three games to two.”

“He pushed Watson wide and then smashed that ball into the empty court. Excellent play there from Moriarty. He’s really starting to show the class difference between these two players.”

*

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads four games to two.”

“And there’s the break.”

“And there’s the simply outstanding play that Moriarty is known for. He’s stepped up a gear and he’s now dominating this match. He’s played some brilliant, easy flowing tennis that Watson just can’t respond to, and now he’s taken the break.”

“Watson was perhaps a little unlucky there, but when Moriarty is on form there are few who can stop him.”

*

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads five games to two.”

“Watson never really got close to challenging at all there. Moriarty had complete control. He never even gave Watson a look in.”

*

“Game, Watson. Moriarty leads five games to three.”

“Good fight back from Watson there to stay in the set but Moriarty was all over him.”

“Watson’s played some brilliant tennis to get this far, but he’s looking more than a little overwhelmed today.”

“This isn’t the Watson who struggled to get through the first round of competitions but it also isn’t the Watson who beat Moran or took advantage of Murray’s injury. Whatever he had in those matches, the fight, the sharpness, the determination, he’s just not finding it here and Moriarty is going to take full advantage of that.”

*

“Game and set Moriarty. Six games to three. Moriarty leads one set to love.”

Oh god, this wasn’t good.

Reaching his seat, he collapsed, grabbing a towel to throw over his head. Moriarty was toying with him, he could feel it. Even the small smirky smiles said it. This was just some sort of warm up before Moriarty unleashed the full power of his ability. Oh god, that was going to be horrible. It was already perfectly plain how much better Moriarty was than him. He was faster, sharper, harder, deeper and cleaner than he could ever hope to be. But what had he expected? Moriarty was the best in the world for a reason. Even Sherlock hadn’t been able to beat him.

And thinking of Sherlock, maybe it was a good thing that he wasn’t here to witness him losing. They were only one set down and he could already feel the beginnings of the dull ache across his shoulder and back. Moriarty certainly knew what his weaknesses were and how to play to them. It wasn’t going to be a particularly long match, was it? Moriarty would see to that.

“Time.”

Oh, god, time to face to the music.

*

“Watson really needs to come out here fighting if he’s going to have any chance of salvaging anything from this match.”

“He’s looking over at his player’s box again. He doesn’t have a coach here so he’s not getting any support from there. Have we established who is in his box? Before this match he hasn’t had many people.”

“It looks like Sarah Sawyer and D.I. Dimmock, are there, old friends of his from the circuit. That young lady to the right appears to be his sister, there’s a strong family resemblance. The older lady, maybe another relative perhaps?”

“Well let’s hope that Watson finds whatever he’s looking for from them and it’s his turn to serve first in this set.”

*

“Game, Watson. Watson leads one game to love.”

Yes! He had held his serve and got points on the board. Now to see what Moriarty was going to throw at him this time.

*

“Game, Moriarty. One game all.”

“Come on, Tim.”

“The crowd are desperate to lift Watson but he’s still really struggling against Moriarty’s first serves.”

“He’s certainly not the only player to come up short when faced with Moriarty’s first serves, but that’s the difference between a good player and a truly great one. A truly great one will always be able to dig deep and find something extra, find that sixth gear. Watson has proved this tournament that he’s a good player, a much better player than we all believed, but I don’t think he has anything more to give.”

*

“Game, Watson. Watson leads two games to one.”

“Well, Watson managed to cling on there. For a moment it really did look like Moriarty was going to take it from him.”

*

“Game, Moriarty. Two games all.”

“Lovely ace to close the game. Watson could only watch it fly past.”

*

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads three games to two.”

“And there’s the break.”

“It really was just a matter of time before Moriarty smashed through Watson’s defences and that was it. Watson doesn’t even look surprised to find that he’s been broken. Look at his shoulders. He knew it was only a matter of time.”

“Do you think there is any chance of Watson coming back from this?”

“No. He’s a good player but Moriarty is the best in the world, there is no one better. Watson came out here to give it a go but his body language already says that he’s beaten and he knows it. Unless he’s really got something special hidden away, then no, I think, like everyone else who faces Moriarty, he’ll have to settle for second best.”

“Well, the breeze out there certainly isn’t helping, but it’s Moriarty to serve.”

*

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads four games to two.”

*

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads five games to two.”

“The lack of sound from the home crowd really says it all now. We could be witnessing the near total collapse of a player’s game here. After good start to this set, Watson now looks lost and confused out there as nothing he has tried has challenged Moriarty in any way. The crowd are nearly silent. They can’t believe what they are witnessing.”

“It was always going to be a tough match for Watson but Moriarty is stamping his domination across the game with every stroke he plays. He’s reading Watson like a book before driving home his shots with power and class. Moriarty is so much in command that Watson only managed two points in that service game and he was the one serving. Moriarty is actually starting to look even more casual about the whole thing.”

“It’s almost as if Moriarty is toying with him he looks so relaxed and confident. I really would hate to be in Watson’s shoes right now.”

*

“Game and set, Moriarty, six games to two. Moriarty leads two sets to love.”

Christ, was it over yet? Please let it be over.

Sat back on his chair, he stared blankly up at the sky. It was so dark now, the clouds racing across in shades of grey and black. It was so different from the beautiful clear blue sky he had stared at while lying on that grass just over there having just beaten Moran. Was that just two days ago? Had so many things changed in such a short length of time?

This was just embarrassing now. He shouldn’t be here. It should have been someone good, someone who could have actually challenged Moriarty. Not him. Not someone who has spent his career simply being good at his best and no better, the person who had always rolled over when it most mattered, the person who had basically managed to screw up every aspect of his life from professional to personal.

This was his last professional tennis match and he honestly couldn’t wait for it to end.

He wondered if Harry would come and hit the bar with him afterwards. Probably. She would be in as much need of a drink as he would be. Well, of course unless she and Clara were going to spend some alcohol-free time together.

Christ, what was his life coming to?

He pressed the bottle lips to his mouth and closed his eyes. It was all going to be over soon.

“Time.”

Right, third and unless a miracle happened, the final set. Come on, Watson, at least go out with some sort of a bang.

*

“And we’re about to start the third set with Watson once more to serve. So, what’s the best that we can hope for?”

“That it’s not completely one sided.”

“Moriarty’s dominance has grown so much during this match it’s hard to see how Watson can salvage anything, but for Watson and you Brits it would be good if he could find at least a little something extra, some of that never say die, Dunkirk spirit you’re always going on about.”
“Our ability to turn defeat into victory you mean?”

“Well, victory might be a bit too much to hope for here. Maybe just not a massacre. Although you Brits are also certainly more than used to that on the sporting front.”

“Let’s hope Watson can feel inspired.”

*

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads one game to love.”

Well, Watson, start as you mean to go on, why don’t you. Just look at him. It’s not enough for him to win, he wants to humiliate you as well.

*

“Was that thunder we just heard?”

“Sounded like it.”

“It looks like that storm is coming early, but perhaps not early enough to save this match from the most likely outcome.”

“Moriarty to serve, Watson forehand, Moriarty thuds it back crosscourt. Watson down the line, but it’s out.”

“Fifteen – Love.”

“That forehand really looked tired. Watson’s dying out there, bit by bit.”

“He really does look as if he’s got nothing more to give. He’s tried everything and nothing has worked. He’s probably hoping to get to the end of the match in one piece.”

“Well, the end of the match might not come as soon as he might want because it looks like the rain will get here first. But before that it is Moriarty to serve, but it’s gone into the net.”

“That was definitely more thunder and yup, there’s the rain.”

“The sky has opened here and the covers are quickly being pulled across the court. This isn’t so much of a problem now because of the roof, but it’s still going to take ten minutes to get the roof on and another ten minutes to acclimatise the court. The players have retreated down the corridor to their separate changing rooms. It looks like the match is going to go on just that little bit longer.”

*

He didn’t really see the need to run. He was already drenched with sweat, a little bit of rain was hardly going to make a difference. The day couldn’t exactly get much worse. He just wanted to curl up and for it all to be over.

Sighing, he pushed open the door to the changing room and then he froze as a tall, achingly familiar figure turned to face him.

“Sherlock?”

 

*

No, it really couldn’t be Sherlock, and yet there was no one else that it could be, not with that hair or those eyes or those still absolutely gorgeous cheekbones.

“Hello, John.”

And that voice. He closed his eyes briefly. That was Sherlock’s voice. He hadn’t realised just how much he had missed it, or him, or all of it.

“What?” he asked snapping his eyes open again and then swallowing because that had come out sharper than he had been aiming for. “What are you doing here?”

“I got your message.”

His mind went blank. Message? What message? Then he noticed the mobile in Sherlock’s hand. Oh, that message.

“Oh, right, good.” He wasn’t sure what else to say, but it seemed as if he wasn’t the one who needed to talk.

“I believe,” Sherlock said slowly, “that I owe you an apology. No, I do owe you an apology, so here I am to say that I’m sorry. The last time we met I said some things that were purposefully cruel, completely uncalled for and decidedly untrue.”

He stared blankly. Sherlock was actually apologising? He hadn’t exactly known the man very long – although it felt longer – but he was pretty certain that Sherlock was not the sort of person who apologised, ever, and yet here he was actually saying the words, ‘I’m sorry’.

“I was angry,” Sherlock continued his left hand twitching slightly, “after my defeat. I was angry at everyone; at myself, at Moriarty and at you. You’d won, you were through to the final while I… I let Moriarty get to me. He used you against me, or more accurately, he used my feelings for you against me and then I lost because of it.”

He continued to stare suddenly completely unable to react, utterly certain that his exhausted, deluded mind had either made up a whole lot of sentences and put them into Sherlock’s mouth, or he had completely misheard what had been said.

“Could you, uh, could you just repeat that last bit for me?”

Sherlock’s eyebrows pulled together. “I lost because of it?” he repeated.

John quickly shook his head. “No, the bit just before that.”

“That Moriarty used you against me? Oh,” Sherlock’s expression cleared, “you mean that he used my feelings for you against me.”

Oh god, he hadn’t misheard, or if he had then this was all one big hallucination and he was actually probably still out there on Centre Court having his arse kicked by a smug American.

“You have feelings for me?” he questioned, because he really, really had to make sure.

Sherlock’s expression deepened back into a frown. “I would have thought that perfectly obvious,” he said. “No one else has ever been to Baker Street. No one else has ever shared my bed to sleep in. I thought you knew that. Mycroft said….”

“Sherlock.”

“Yes.”

“Shut up.”

Sherlock’s mouth closed with a click.

He rubbed his thumb against the damp skin on his temple desperately trying to process everything he had just been told without either collapsing or sinking into a fit of hysterical giggles.

“You do return my feelings then,” he managed because as it went that appeared to be the most key point here.

“I am uncertain as to the precise nature of your feelings for me or even of mine for you, but yes, I believe in essence that what you feel for me, I am feeling back for you.”

Oh god. “So not just shagging then?”

“No, not just shagging.”

“Right,” he said biting back the giggles, “uh how? What? When?”

“John.”

“Yeah, hmmm?”

“If I may, I thought that this might explain things better than I can do verbally. I am not used to expressing such emotions out loud.”

He watched as Sherlock drew something out of his pocket. No, not something, a notebook, the notebook, the one with his name across it.

“This should tell you everything that you need to know.”

He took it, holding it in his hand for a moment, tracing his fingers across the front before he dared to open it. It was very much like those other notebooks he had seen, but at the same time it was decidedly not, because this one was about him, it was all about him; observations, analysis, drawings, some the perfect replica of the scar on his shoulder, one a sketch of him using his laptop, one of him, well, asleep, nude. He tried not to blush at that.

Like the other notebooks it was written in a mixture of French and English. The words, bisexual, James Bond, gorgeous sprung out at him. Also the word, why?, on one page repeated over and over again. Later pages didn’t just contain information about him, but also people connected to him; Harry, Clara, Mike, Dimmock, Sarah, Molly, ah, so that was why Sherlock had known all about her, he had already looked her up.

He turned back to the earlier pages, his fingers tracing over the phrase that occurred a few times. He was sure he recognised it, he just….

“What does this mean?” he asked.

Sherlock glanced at it before quickly averting his gaze. “Que m’as-tu fait?” he said. “What do you do to me?”

Oh. He swallowed. “Was that… was that when you realised, you know, that it wasn’t just about the sex?”

“Approximately,” Sherlock said. “I believe my first inkling was when you punched Moriarty.” His lips twitched in a small smile. “The second was shortly after, when you first asked me to take you and then when I refused you shagged me through the mattress.”

He remembered. He had felt disappointed when Sherlock had said no, but their resulting coupling that night had been so intense.

“You left,” he said with a slight frown as he ran through what happened afterwards. “You walked out and left me there.”

Sherlock shifted awkwardly, scratching at his left arm. “I was… overwhelmed. No-one has ever affected me like you have. I had to retreat, to clear my head, but I found that while I felt overwhelmed while near you, I also couldn’t bear for you to leave.”

He nodded because he had felt something similar. “You seem pretty clear in your thoughts, your feelings.”

“I’ve had… time to assess them.”

“And now?” he asked. “What have you concluded?”

“Now I want… that is if you will still have me, I would like the opportunity to explore it further. I was all ready to leave and then I realised that I couldn’t, not without finding out if there was even the slightest chance that you might, that you would….”

“Sherlock?”

“Yes, John?”

“You idiot.” And then he fisted his hands into that far too expensive shirt and tugged him forward, reaching up onto tip toes to press his lips against the other man’s. There was a moment of hesitation, but then the hands came up to hold him and the lips parted into a smile that let the kiss go deeper. He smiled back, the tightness that had taken residence in his chest loosening with every second, replaced by a light giddiness that threatened to engulf him.

They finished with their foreheads pressed together, grinning, holding each other, neither wanting to let go.

He drew away first, his legs forcing him to sit down. “Oh god, we’re both idiots,” he said running his hand across his eyes. “So what now?”

“Right now you’ve got a tennis match to finish.”

He groaned. In the heat of the new and frankly amazing revelations he had completely forgotten that he was in the midst of getting his arse kicked.

“Oh god, I’ve got to go out there and finish being humiliated.”

“Not necessarily,” Sherlock said sinking to sit on the bench beside him. “You might be losing the battle but the war isn’t over yet.”

“It is for me.”

“Nonsense.”

He bit back a laugh. “You may not have noticed, but I’m two sets down.”

“But not yet beaten.”

“He’s all over me.”

“Only because you’re letting him.”

“Trust me, it’s not my idea.”

“None the less, you’re still letting him control the game.”

“My shoulder’s killing me, my legs are like lead, I’m exhausted.”

“You need to play through the pain, find a second wind. You need to go out there and fight, John. Fight like you did against Murray, against Moran.”

He shook his head. “Those were different. Moriarty’s so much better than me and he doesn’t have any weaknesses for me to exploit. I only beat Murray and Moran and Trevor because you were helping me. You told me how to beat them. I only fought as hard as I did because I was so desperate to extend my time with you. I didn’t want to go out because I wanted to keep seeing you.”

There he had said it.

“Is that what you think?”

He glanced across to find Sherlock looking at him with an expression trapped between a frown and a look as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

He shrugged. “It’s the truth.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock said getting to his feet and pacing. “You, John Watson, are something else completely. You have no idea, do you? No idea just how good you really are.”

He ignored the comment as his eyes drew in on Sherlock’s sleeve on his left arm, the one he was still rubbing.

“Sherlock, what have you got on your arm?”

“What? Oh, no, it’s nothing.”

It was obviously not nothing. Getting to his feet he grabbed Sherlock’s arm and yanked up the sleeve. He eyes boggled.

“Sherlock, is that, is that three patches?”

“You’re a three patch problem,” Sherlock said pulling his arm away.

“Oh for god’s sake, get those off you. No wonder you’re pacing.”

“I’m pacing, John, because I can’t believe how much of an idiot you are.”

“Me? I’m an idiot? I’m not the one overdosing on nicotine.”

“No, you’re the one who despite all the evidence hasn’t yet realised that you’re a brilliant tennis player.”

He scoffed. “No, I’m not. I’m middle of the road at best, but for the most part I can’t even manage that.”

“No, you’re better than that, far better, you’ve just forgotten how to win.”

“I think I know how to win, Sherlock.”

“And that’s your problem, right there, because thinking and actually winning are two completely different things. Think about it, John, you beat Trevor, Murray, Moran because you had the ability in you to do it. It doesn’t matter what I told you because without the ability to take advantage of their weaknesses it doesn’t mean anything. There are three things that are needed to beat players like those; strategy, drive but most of all the ability to play the shots, to push them back, to put the game plan into action. I may have told you how to do it but you’re the only one who had to do it. You’re the one who fought tooth and nail to win those matches. You’re the one who battled through the pain, who kept on again and again. You’re the one who beat them, not me, and you did it for you, because you could.”

“Sherlock.”

“No, don’t Sherlock me. I know what I’m talking about. Here.”

He watched as Sherlock grabbed the notebook, the one with his name across it, waving it between in them.

“It’s all in here. You can beat Moriarty, but you’ve got to believe that you can.”

He could beat Moriarty?

His gaze wandered to the notebook and he pressed his lips together. Sherlock was still looking at him with an expression that could only be described as desperate earnestness. As much as he wanted to deny it, Sherlock did have a point; knowledge of a player’s weakness didn’t necessarily mean you were good enough to take advantage of it. Was he good enough though, really good enough? There was a time when he had believed so, but that felt such a long time ago now, and yet it had been him out on those courts this week. He was the one who had fought to the last ball. He may have found something to fight for but still he was the one who had fought.

He scrubbed his hands over his face.

His back hurt, his shoulder hurt, his right thigh was aching for no apparent reason, he was tired and losing, and yet this was the Wimbledon final. This would never happen again. It was now or never.

“Okay,” he said pulling himself up to his full height and squaring his shoulders. “Okay. What do I do?”

*

“Well the roof is now on and we’ve had the signal that play can be resumed. We’re just waiting for the players, and there’s Moriarty now, still as relaxed as he has been, waving to the crowd.”

“He certainly looks confident, Ann.”

“He’s just oozing confidence. There’s a man who knows that this Championship is right within his grasp. Two sets up and dominating so much as he is, I doubt there is anyone watching this game who doesn’t think he’ll be adding Wimbledon to his growing list of titles.”

“We’re still waiting for Watson to emerge, but is there anything he can do to even push this match into a fourth set?”

“In all honesty, probably not. Before the break he was looking like the man who knew he was on the brink of defeat. His shoulders and head had dropped, each shot he made looked like he was in pain. I thought he even looked as if he was hobbling, as if there was something wrong with his right thigh. Even if he comes out here with a new lease of life he might find that it’s just all too much.”

“He’s certainly in a hole now. He would really need to come out and smash through Moriarty’s game, but I honestly think he’s not a good enough player to do that. Djovokic couldn’t do it, Holmes couldn’t quite manage it, both of them are fantastic players. I really can’t see Watson doing more than putting on a token defence.”

“Well Watson has finally emerged from the tunnel, his expression is certainly grim.”

“It certainly is. Looks like determination….”

“Or pain.”

“Or pain, but at least he’s back to finish what he started.”

“It looks like Moriarty is saying a few words to him. What do you think that’s all about?”

“Could be anything, Ann, but Watson’s now smiling so it can’t have been too bad.”

“Maybe thanking him for actually coming back out, because I would be surprised if that thought hadn’t crossed Watson’s mind with the injuries he’s carrying.”

“Well, we’re about to get underway here. Outside it’s still raining but we’re dry under the roof of Centre Court and the match is once more about to resume.”

*

John, you need to go out there and do what I know you can do. But don’t do it for me, don’t do it for the crowd and the fans, do it for you. Win for you.

Sherlock’s last words echoed through his mind as he made his way back onto the court. He had never played here with the roof on of course, and somehow it felt different. It felt smaller, closer, more intimate somehow. He knew that the same number of people were still watching, there were still fifteen thousand people seated in the Court, but that didn’t matter. Of course that didn’t matter because now the one person who mattered to him was watching, Sherlock Bloody Holmes, who wanted him, had feelings for him, but more than that believed in him, was watching, and honestly believed that he could win. No one had believed in him for a long time, not even himself.

Do it for you.

He could fight for this. He had to prove that, to Sherlock, to the crowd, but more than that, to himself. Go out there and find out who you really are, Watson. This is the Wimbledon final. You fought to get this far, don’t you dare throw it away without a bloody battle. You can do this. Wipe that smug, arrogant smile off his face once and for all.

He gritted his teeth together just to stop himself from smiling too much. That would be inappropriate and unprofessional, but the thought of smacking Moriarty round the face again would be so very, very brilliant.

“I was starting to think you wouldn’t dare show your face,” Moriarty said to him as he passed the other player’s chair.

“Well,” he said, “let’s just say a certain Frenchman came to give me the kiss of life,” and a knock upside the head of course, and then he smiled because it was impossible not to.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, as play resumes, Moriarty leads two sets to love, one game to love, fifteen to love. Moriarty to serve, second serve.”

There was an awful lot of love there and although it might be that in tennis love means you lose, at the same time, in order to win a tennis match you first had to start with love. He gave a wry smile and made a note to tell that one to Sherlock later.

*

“And as play resumes, Moriarty is collecting the balls to start on serve. It’s his second serve remember, as his first one right before the break went into the net… and this one has done the same thing.”

“Fifteen all.”

“It can be hard coming back in the middle of a game, even worse on your second serve like that as your momentum has gone and it can take a couple of balls in order to build it up again.”

“Moriarty is collecting his next set of balls and is now ready to serve again… it’s good. Watson powers it back and Moriarty can do nothing with it.”

“Fifteen – Thirty.”

“Watson had his number on that one. Well taken, very well played, just far enough out of Moriarty’s reach to make it hard for the other player. I don’t think we’ve seen Watson strike such a good ball so far in this match.”

“That was a good ball, like John said, but Moriarty’s serve also wasn’t the best. The question is, can Watson follow that up?”

“Moriarty serves down the line. Watson returns, crosscourt Moriarty, back hand chip return but it’s just wide from Watson.”

“Thirty all.”

“Good play by Watson, a little unlucky there, but it’s clear he has some sort of game plan now.”

“It doesn’t look as if he’s just waiting for Moriarty to bash him around the court any more. He’s being proactive, coming to the ball, trying something new.”

“Good serve from Moriarty. Watson returns, Moriarty forehand, Watson pushes it back deep, Moriarty down the line, Watson crosscourt, Moriarty, but it bounces just wide and it’s as if he can’t quite believe it.”

“Thirty – Forty.”

“Again good play by Watson, but Moriarty really should have done something better with that and he knows it.”

“Thirty-forty, could this be a turning point in the game?”

“If Watson gets the next point then it could well be, Ann. You can hear it in the crowd, there’s a sort of buzz going on out there, as if no one dares say anything just in case.”

“Moriarty lines up for the serve, but it’s long. Another unusual serve from Moriarty there, he’s usually so precise, but so far this game his play has been riddled with errors. He serves again, Watson with the backhand, forehand Moriarty, Watson forehand, forehand Moriarty, Watson with the slice, it bounces high and Moriarty hits the net.”

“Game, Watson.”

“Would you believe that?”

“One game all. Watson to serve.”

“Against the odds, Watson has managed to break back and Moriarty looks decidedly unhappy about it.”

“Moriarty looks furious. He’s usually so calm and collected, but look at him.”

“He’s got to rein that temper in, use it somehow or he’s going to find himself in trouble.”

“If he channels it then Watson could find himself with a lot of problems, but if not, then we could be about to see a whole new match appearing.”

“Watson to serve… and it’s an ace.”

“Fifteen – Love.”

“That looked like Watson’s fastest serve this match. He threw everything into it and it looks like it’s paying off.”

“Moriarty barely had time to react to it.”

“Watson lines up again, serves, Moriarty returns, Watson thuds it back deep, Moriarty forehand to Watson’s forehand, Moriarty backhand, Watson’s stretching and an absolutely fabulous return from Watson, stretching on the run, twisting to get it, and it bounces past Moriarty for the point and the American can only look at it in surprise.”

“Thirty – Love.”

“Now that was impressive from Watson. He would have barely seen that ball, would have been reacting on instinct and what a return he managed.”

“The crowd certainly thinks so. It’s as if they’ve woken up and suddenly they’re back on Watson’s side, cheering him on.”

“Quiet please.”

“Whatever happened during the break, Watson’s come out here a whole new player. Whatever he found in this competition to get this far, he’s found it again.”

“Watson bounces the ball, serves, Moriarty backhand, Watson forehand deep, Moriarty crosscourt, Watson returns, Moriarty forehand, Watson with the slice, it clips the net but the force sends it over and Moriarty at the back of the court had no way of getting that.”

“Forty – Love.”

“Lucky ball that, but in a game like tennis you make your own luck, and so far Watson has come back out here like a new player and he’s the one controlling the game, asking the questions. For the first time ever, Moriarty is the one on the back foot.”

“Watson serves, but it’s wide.”

“If Watson can hold this together, then we might just have a final on our hands.”

“Watson serves again, good, Moriarty pushing wide, Watson thuds it back but it’s just long.”

“Forty – Fifteen.”

“Watson’s smiling, he knows he should have done better, but he’s not beating himself up about it.”

“He’s still got a little room for error in this game, although not much. He can’t afford to let Moriarty back in.”

“Watson’s bouncing the ball, now he serves, Moriarty returns but Watson’s at the net with an excellent volley that wrong-foots Moriarty and he puts it away for the game.”

“Game, Watson. Watson leads two games to one.”

“Well, who would have thought just forty minutes ago that there was even a chance that Watson would be able to come back in this match?”

“Just listen to that crowd.”

“Look, over there, is that….”

“That’s Sherlock Holmes.”

“That’s definitely Holmes.”

“And he’s going to sit in Watson’s player’s box.”

“Well that’s interesting. There’s been some speculation that Watson’s extraordinary form is at least partly down to his new unlikely friendship with Holmes. Maybe his appearance here has helped sparked Watson back into life. If there was anyone here who knows what Moriarty is like to play on the big scene then Holmes would be it.”

“Tennis is so much a sport where the result is down to confidence as much as anything else. Watson said so in his pre-match interview. Maybe Holmes’ support has managed to inject some of that confidence back into him.”

“Well it’s now Moriarty’s turn to serve. Let’s see if Watson can keep it up.”

*

Come on, Watson, you can do it. See, Sherlock was right, Moriarty definitely doesn’t like his plans being challenged. Look at him, you’ve got him on the back foot. Listen to the crowd, they think you can do it. But stay calm. One point at a time.

Come on!

*

“And a truly brilliant forehand crosscourt slice from Watson, inch perfect to take that all important point.”

“Fifteen – Forty.”

“Two break points for Watson here.”

“He’s been inspired this game. He actually has the confidence to play that last shot, which isn’t the easiest, and it’s paying off, he’s getting the points again.”

“Moriarty bouncing the ball, but his serve is long.”

“Moriarty looks like he’s in trouble here. His serve has been all over the place.”

“Watson has definitely shaken him.”

“Second serve… and it’s long as well. Double fault from Moriarty, his second in the match and only his fifth in this entire competition.”

“Game, Watson. Watson leads three games to one.”

“Such a key point and you can see just how happy Watson is. He’s got that all important break now. This match has certainly got interesting.”

*

“And he’s done it.”

“Game and set, Watson. Six games to three. Moriarty leads two sets to one.”

“Look at Watson punching the air. ‘Come on,’ he’s shouting.”

“Come on indeed. What a fight back Watson is having. He’s battling for every point. What a turnaround from the first two sets when Moriarty controlled everything.”

“The momentum is certainly going Watson’s way.”

“Come on, John.”

“Listen to the crowd. They’ve dropped the ‘Come on, Tim,’ now, they’re right behind him.”

*

“Game, Watson. Two games all.”

“Moriarty is certainly back in this match, but he’s still not looking like he did at the beginning. All the easy confidence has been stripped away. He knows he now has a battle on his hands.”

*

“Game, Watson. Four games all.”

“Watson had to fight for that one as Moriarty threw everything at him, but he’s still standing.”

“He’s getting battered but he’s standing and managing to hold his serve and at the moment that’s the main thing.”

“Moriarty doesn’t look too happy.”

“He’s got to be kicking himself, Ann. That was by far his best chance this set and he really should have buried that ball at fifteen-thirty, but he let Watson off the hook and he’s paid the price.”

*

“Moriarty serves, Watson whips it back, Moriarty down the line, Watson at a stretch, Moriarty crosscourt, but Watson read it well, chased back across, Moriarty smash, Watson with the dive and somehow that got over the net, bounces in and Watson gets the point.”

“Thirty - Fifteen.”

“Brilliant never-say-die play there by Watson. On the back foot all the time, but somehow he managed to scoop out the winner, even if he did end up on the grass, and now you’ve got to be wondering just what is going through Moriarty’s head. Half a match ago Watson was dead and buried, now he’s the one wielding the axe.”

“Watson has picked himself up and is shaking out his shoulders. Let’s hope he didn’t aggravate his injury with those acrobatics.”

“He seems to be alright and is now lining up to receive the next serve.”

“Moriarty serves, comes in for the volley and oww, that has got to have hurt. Watson’s full speed, double hand backhand just smashed right into Moriarty just above net height and the American is down clutching his stomach.”

“Thirty - All.”

“That was unfortunate. With the speed of that serve, Watson would have been lucky to have time to get his shot in, let alone to aim it.”

“Watson is now at the net. Looks like he’s checking to see if Moriarty is alright. Oh, now he’s offering to help him up and saying something while patting him on the back.”

“Don’t often see behaviour like that, Ann. They may be rivals, this may be a Grand Slam final, but some good sportsman-like attitude is still there.”

*

He wouldn’t exactly say that he had planned that shot, but when he saw the opportunity present itself he took it, with all his might. Seeing Moriarty go down clutching his stomach was one of the most satisfying moments of his career, and not one he wanted to see let pass.

“You know,” he said conversationally as he offered the other man a hand up, “win or lose, it’s me he’ll be kissing better tonight. Smile for the cameras.”

Okay, perhaps not particularly sportsman-like behaviour, but Moriarty had already proved in the past that he didn’t play fair. Sometimes you just had to fight fire with fire. And people claimed he didn’t have the killer instinct.

*

“Moriarty is up and waiting to serve again. He bounces the ball, serves, Watson with the forehand, Moriarty forehand but he over hits it and it goes long.”

“Thirty – Forty.”

“It’s break point to Watson.”

“That first serve from Moriarty seemed slow. Do we have a speed for it?

“The computer says ninety-one miles an hour.”

“Ouch, that is slow. Do you think that strike to the stomach has affected him?”

“Could well have done. Moriarty to serve, Watson backhand and he’s done it, he’s broken Moriarty.”

“Game, Watson.”

“Fantastic strike from Watson there. Two handed, low, fast and right on the line.”

“Challenge by Moriarty. Ball was called good.”

“Moriarty’s challenging it.”

“That’s perhaps a little optimistic of him, but it was a very deep shot. I didn’t see any chalk fly up, but we’re not at the best angle. I certainly thought it was in.”

“Watson doesn’t look surprised by the challenge.”

“It’s coming up on the screen now and… ooh, that was close, but that was definitely in.”

“Excellent call from the line judge there. Spot on.”

“Ball was good. Moriarty has one challenge remaining. Game Watson. Watson leads five games to four. Watson to serve.”

*

“And it’s an ace. Watson thunders the ball down the centre of the court to take what could be the most important point of his career.”

“Game and set, Watson. Six games to four. Two sets all. Fifth and final set.”

“The crowd are on their feet and Watson is punching the air. What a complete turnaround. The Wimbledon final and we’re about to go into a fifth and final set. What a comeback from John Watson.”

“Unbelievable. Just listen to that roar. The crowd knows that he can do it. He’s fought back and he’s refusing to be beaten. It’s the stuff of movies.”

“As the players take a well-earned break, let’s go across to Ruth who is still out on Watson Watch on the Hill. Ruth.”

“Yes, I’m still here, Ann, a little damp but this match is more than making up for that. It’s stopped raining now and the downpour did see off some of the people, but for those who stayed, well, what a match. You should have heard the roar here when that last shot went in. Arms, flags, umbrellas, everything went up in the air. If Watson can do it, if he can win, then the party will be here.”

“Thanks, Ruth. If you’re just joining us expecting “Songs of Praise”, then that’s been rescheduled, but stay with us because in just a few minutes we’ll be entering into the fifth and final set of a truly rollercoaster of a final. Two sets all between the American Jim Moriarty, and of course our British hopeful, John Watson. Stick the kettle on, grab a drink, but come back quickly because I guarantee you won’t want to miss this.”

*

“So, what a match so far.”

“You can say that again, Ann.”

“Have we had another final like this?”

“Well, Federer versus Nadal two years ago was quite the tussle, but not quite like this. I can’t think of anything like this.”

“This match has so far been incredibly mismatched. Moriarty in the first two sets, it was as if there was nothing Watson could do to break down Moriarty’s game. Then Watson in those last two sets, it’s as if Moriarty was so surprised by Watson’s comeback that he forgot that he still needed to play.”

“Oh absolutely, Tim, it was as if Moriarty thought he had already won, and maybe if it hadn’t been for the weather, he would have, but you have to hand it to Watson, he looked completely dead and buried, listless, dejected, his head was down, his shots tired, but he’s dug in and he’s found something. He’s faster, sharper, he seems more confident in his own strokes and he’s proved that he is still a brilliant player. The skill, the shots, he still has it. That flick he did on the run, that was incredible. The confidence, the precision, why he hasn’t been playing like that for years, well, maybe only he can tell us.”

“He has been playing incredibly well in the last two sets but can he keep it up? One set to go, what do you think is going to happen?”

“Oh anything, Ann. This match has so far defied prediction.”

“John?”

“Well, if I were Moriarty I would be taking this time to refocus and regroup. He came out here after the rain break thinking he had it in the bag and then Watson came out and tipped up the bag and hit him over the head with it. Now he knows that Watson isn’t just going to let him take it he needs to come up with a new game plan and I think he’s going to come out here like he did against Holmes, against Djokovic, with the respect he had for those players and he’s going to try and prove why he’s the new World Number One.”

“And what about Watson?”

“I think Watson needs to be careful. He can’t afford to get carried away. Yes, he’s had two frankly brilliant sets but Moriarty isn’t finished yet. Watson may find that he needs to dig deep, very deep again and not make any early errors. He can’t afford to let Moriarty get into some sort of rhythm, because once he gets going he’s hard to stop.”

“So there we have it. The players are once again emerging from the tunnel and taking their seats. Both of them are wearing expressions of grim determination. Both have everything to play for. This is the fifth and deciding set, Moriarty versus Watson, which one will walk away with that trophy? Well, we’ll have to wait and see.”

*

Okay, he’s going to come at you hard and fast. This is Jim Moriarty, if he can find a way to play dirty he will. Remember what Sherlock has just told you. Keep loose. Don’t think about all the places where it hurts. Trust your instincts. Play simple. Get the basics right. Chase everything. And it is not over until it is over.

He twisted to look back at his player’s box. Sherlock was there. He was still there and win or lose he would still be there.

You have to fight this for you, he reminded himself. All those years, all that practice, all those games, this is it. It’s time to find out what you are really made of, John Watson. Only you can win this.

Only you.

“Time.”

He got up from his seat.

Only you.

*

“And it’s Moriarty to serve first. He’s collected his balls, testing them, knocking away the third one. Now he’s ready, he’s bouncing the ball, taking his time and… lovely ace there from Moriarty.”

“Fifteen – Love.

“Moriarty looking like he’s come out here and started like he means to go on.”

“Absolutely. That’s the Moriarty serve we all know. Well placed to Watson’s weaker side. Fast, direct, practically on the line, like a bullet. Watson stood no chance.”

“Moriarty is getting ready for his next serve… and it’s good. Watson forehand driving deep, Moriarty forehand whipped back, Watson down the line, Moriarty read it well, Watson scrambles, Moriarty with the backhand to take the point.”

“Thirty – Love.

“Good play from both of them but Moriarty was always the one in control there. He seems to have recovered his composure and his form.”

“Excellent game play there from Moriarty. He seems to want to make Watson run. Considering Watson’s age and how long this match has gone on for that’s a good tactic. Out of the two players, Watson’s the one more likely to fade. Moriarty is super fit and in tennis years he’s considerably younger.”

“Moriarty’s ready to serve. Watson gets his racket to it but it hits the net.”

“Forty – Love.

“Another good serve. Fast, solid, anyone would have found that hard to return.”

“Watson doesn’t look too surprised by that and he’s not tensing up or getting angry although he’s shaking his arm. Making sure he’s loose, relaxing some muscles, pumping himself up? Possibly all three. He knows there is still some way to go in this match.”

“Moriarty serves but it’s just wide.”

“Close, but not close enough to worry a line judge.”

“The players settle again for Moriarty’s second serve… well placed, Watson with the long forehand, snapped back by Moriarty, crosscourt forehand Watson, crosscourt backhand Moriarty, Watson down the line, racing in and an excellent volley from Watson off Moriarty’s forehand into the empty part of the court. Well-judged and well-timed.”

“Forty – Fifteen.”

“Lovely play there. Watson’s reminding Moriarty that he’s still very much in this game and not to write him off just yet.”

“Given the chance and Watson pounced on it, made Moriarty work and when he saw an opportunity he took it. He’s not going to make this easy for Moriarty”

“Moriarty to serve. Watson double handed backhand. Moriarty forehand and it’s deep, was that in?”

“It’s been called in.”

“Watson is challenging it.”

“I don’t blame him. It was certainly very deep and if he gets it overturned then it’ll be forty-thirty.”

“It’s just coming up on the screen now and you can hear the crowd groan.”

“It was deep but the line judge got it right, it’s definitely in.”

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads one game to love.”

“Watson has of course now got two challenges remaining in this set. Moriarty still has his three.”

“Watson was right to challenge. At such a key moment it was worth it.”

“Well, it’s now Watson’s turn to serve. Let’s see if he can keep up the standard he has been playing to in the last two sets.”

*

“And it’s an easy ball for Watson to put away for the point.”

“Forty – Thirty.”

“It was an important point as well.”

“Come on, John.”

“After those last two points to Moriarty it was important that Watson keep his head and his nerve. It would be so easy to choke right about now, and he can’t afford to go a break down this early in the set.”

“He can’t afford to go a break down at all.”

“That’s true and that’s another brilliant serve by Watson. Moriarty managed to get his racket to it at least but he could only get the ball into the net.”

“Game, Watson. One game all.”

“Well I think there’s the answer, Ann. After that brief scare, Watson has come out here, closed down a brilliant rally and then offered a serve to which Moriarty had no answer.”

“For the first time ever in this match they are both playing at their best and it is as tight as anything.”

“Well I’m certainly on the edge of my seat. Goodness knows what their family and loved ones are going through.”

*

He looked back up at his player’s box. They were clapping like the crowd were, Harry looking like she could do with a drink. Sherlock was calm though, his expression appearing impassive to some, his applause brief, but to him it told him everything he needed to know.

He could do this. He could win.

*

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads two games to one.”

“Moriarty is certainly throwing everything into this now.”

“He’s really taking advantage of Watson’s weak spots, making him move and stretch.”

“Some brilliant play from the American. He is, after all, still the World Number One for a reason.”

*

“Deuce.”

“That could be a very costly error by Watson and he knows it.”

“It looks like he’s starting to tire drastically. It’s been a very long, very hard tournament for him. His energy levels are probably dropping and he isn’t as young as he used to be.”

“His backhands are getting weaker. Moriarty’s noticed that and is trying to drive home that advantage.”

“Watson with the serve. Moriarty powers back, Watson forehand, Moriarty matches, Watson looping return, Moriarty with the slice, Watson runs but he can’t quite make it.”

“Advantage, Moriarty.”

“Now Moriarty’s class is starting to show through again. He’s found another gear and it looks like Watson is once again struggling to keep up.”

“Of the two of them, Watson certainly looks to be the one who is cracking. Can he hold it together now?”

“Watson wipes his forehead with his sweat band before settling down to serve. The ball’s driven back by Moriarty. Watson forehand, Moriarty slams it back, Watson on the back foot, Moriarty powerful reply, Watson get it… but it bounces just wide.”

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads three games to one.”

“That was so unfortunate. You can see what Watson was trying to do, but the ball just drifted a little longer than he was expecting and he ended up pushing it wide.”

“Well that was the break we feared. Do you think there is any chance that Watson can come back from that?”

“There is always the chance, of course there is, will he though, I don’t know.”

“He’s broken Moriarty before.”

“Yes, but this is different. The momentum is going in Moriarty’s favour. Watson is starting to look heavy and drained. He might have all the will in the world but he just might not be able to physically do it.”

“Well, let’s hope for the sake of British hearts everywhere that Watson finds a way of coming back.”

*

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads four games to one.”

He hurt. He was hurting all over now. He felt heavy and slow and that was taking its toll on his game.

Shit. Come on body, why did it have to give out on him now? Hold it together, just for a little while longer. Find something else. Find something more. Don’t you bloody well dare give in.

Fight or flight. Fight or flight?

Fight!

Come on, Watson!

*

“Game, Watson. Moriarty leads four games to two.”

“Watson certainly isn’t going down without a fight. He had his teeth gritted for much of that set and the way he punched the air when that last ball went in, this is a man who is psyched up. Totally pumped up. He wants this. He’s in front of his home crowd, on his home turf, in his last professional match and boy does he want this. That British spirit you always talk about, well it’s right there, right now.”

*

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads five games to two.”

“Watson threw everything at that but he’s just not finding a way past Moriarty’s serve, and he knows he’s running out of time.”

*

“Game, Watson. Moriarty leads five games to three.”

"Just look at the sheer naked determination on Watson’s face. He knows that was an important game. He had to hold his serve there and he did so brilliantly, no hint of that wobble that he often got early in his career. It would have been so easy to choke there, but he didn’t, but this next game is it. Moriarty’s on serve for the match, for the Championship. Watson’s out of chances now. It’s now or never.”

“We’re about to go into the ninth game of this literally breath-taking match and Moriarty is getting ready to serve. Five three up, all he has to do is hold his serve and the Championship is his.”

*

“And it’s in! The ball from that outrageous shot has bounced in and look at Moriarty, he cannot believe it. He simple cannot believe it. We can’t believe it. The crowd are on their feet, Watson is on his knees, and he’s done it. Watson has broken back. He’s broken the World Number One and crawled his way back into the game, from thirty-love down he has somehow, unbelievably, utterly remarkably, taken the game and everyone is on their feet cheering. No one can quite believe it. Look at Watson as he finally gets to his feet, grass and dirt stains across the knees of his long shorts, wiping his face with his wrists, I don’t think he can believe it either. Anyone would think he has won the match from the reaction of the crowd, but he’s certainly one step, one very vital step closer to that than he had been.”

“Settle please. Game Watson. Moriarty leads five games to four. Watson to serve.”

“There’s still a long way to go, Ann. Watson may be on serve, but he still has to hold it and that’s not going to be easy. Moriarty is so close he can practically smell the polish on that trophy. He wants it and all that’s in his way is one lowly ranked Brit.”

*

“Deuce.”

“This is horrible. The tension, I can barely keep watching.”

“Brilliant play there from Moriarty, catching Watson off balance and then driving home that forehand. Watson might have been able to do better with that backhand, but was excellent play from Moriarty.”

“The tension here is almost unbearable as we could literally be only a few points away from a winner or heading into more games neck and neck. Having broken Moriarty in the last game, Watson is now on the brink of being broken back, which would spell the end of this truly marathon match.

“Watson, his shirt sticking to him, lines up for his next serve. It’s good. Moriarty with a hard forehand, Watson’s double handed backhand, forehand return Moriarty, firm forehand Watson pushing deep, forehand Moriarty crosscourt, Watson thuds it back, Moriarty down the line… and it’s been call in.”

”Advantage, Moriarty.”

“Watson is challenging it. He’s claiming the ball was out. What do you think?”

“From this angle it’s hard to tell, but this is one very crucial point. If it was in then Moriarty has match point.”

“Well, let’s see what the computer says. Watson is standing on the court still as a statue, eyes trained on the big screen, racket pressed against his thigh. It’s coming up now… and it’s out. It’s clearly out, and listen to that crowd.”

“Challenge upheld, point overruled. Ball is now called out. Advantage Watson. Mr Watson has two challenges remaining.”

“Good call by Watson. Moriarty is saying something that suggests he isn’t too pleased, his composure for once cracking. Usually so calm and cool, this is a side of Moriarty we don’t see very often. Watson on the other hand is punching his fist at the crowd shouting what sounds like, ‘come on’, and the crowd are responding. They’re right behind him now.”

“Well, what a way of raising the tension even further. The crowd were holding their breath for that one. Meanwhile, Watson is now lining up for his next serve… it’s good. Moriarty returns, Watson crosscourt, Moriarty with the slice, Watson reads it well, Moriarty chasing, Watson in at the net with a lovely half volley and he’s done it. The ball bounces in and he holds his serve.”

”Game Watson. Five games all.

“Oh my heart, I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.”

“It’s certainly been a tension-filled last hour here. I’m almost thankful we didn’t get this from the start.”

“I’m not sure any of us would have survived such a thing.”

“Now this is what you call a final. Two players neck and neck, battling it out, each one refusing to give in. Whoever wins, this is one for the history books.”

“It’s five games all in the final set of the Men’s Final here at Wimbledon. Broken in his second service game, John Watson has clawed his way back and is refusing to give in. There’s everything to play for and it’s Moriarty’s turn to serve.”

*

“… forehand Watson, Moriarty really pushing, Watson crosscourt searching, Moriarty thuds it back, Watson crosscourt again, Moriarty down the line, Watson matches but it just bounces out.”

“Game, Moriarty. Moriarty leads six games to five. Final set.”

“Watson has to keep his nerve and his head again now. That’s the problem with serving second in a set like this, the pressure is always going to be on him.”

*

“And a brilliant smash from Watson into the empty court. Moriarty can only look on and think about what might have been.”

“Game, Watson. Six games all. Final set.”

*

“And Moriarty’s return hits the net.”

“Thirty – Forty.”

“The crowd are on their feet again, cheering, shouting. That was some inspirational play by Watson. He’s still fighting. Refusing to say die. Now, can he capitalise on this? Can he give it just one last push?”

“Both players are starting to look tired.”

“That’s no surprise; it’s tiring just watching this.”

“Moriarty is bouncing the ball. He lines up for the serve, it’s good, Watson trying to pin him back, Moriarty, it clips the net, Watson’s running in and he somehow gets it back over, Moriarty forehand at the net, and somehow Watson gets his racket up and the crowd go wild because Moriarty hits the net and Watson has broken him.”

“Game, Watson.”

“The crowd are back on their feet screaming as Watson somehow takes that all important break.”

“Watson leads seven games to six. Watson to serve.”

“A brave, brave shot there by Watson, if it can even been called a shot. He kind of launched himself at it, racket up and Moriarty just didn’t know what to do with it.”

“This could be it. This could be the final game of what has turned out to be a game of truly biblical proportions.”

“We might not want to celebrate too much, Ann, Watson does still need to hold his serve and we can guarantee that Moriarty will throw everything at him.”

“Settle down please.”

“The crowd are still on their feet as Watson tries to calm himself as he collects the balls he needs to serve with.”

“Quiet please.”

“Watson’s taking deep breaths, fiddling with his shirt, pulling it away from where it is literally stuck to his skin. Moriarty is staring at him, ready to receive at the other end. He bounces the ball, once, twice… he stops, then bounces again… and his serve goes into the net.”

“Could be nerves, that. This is a huge, huge game. The biggest of his career. He must be feeling each and every point that has led up to this moment. His arms will be aching, his shoulders, his back. At this point everything is hurting.”

“He bounces the second ball, three, four times, serves. Moriarty with the forehand powered back, Watson forehand pushing deep, Moriarty forehand, Watson backhand coming in, volleys the return but Moriarty gets there, goes for the lob. Watson back tracking, and a lovely smash there from Watson.”

“Fifteen – Love.”

“Kept his eye on the ball all the way. Not the easiest of shots there, especially with the history of his shoulder, but Watson was always known for having excellent execution of such shots back in the day.”

“Come on, John.”

“The crowd are cheering again. They’re desperate for him to win.”

“Watson’s keeping his head down, calmly collecting his next balls. He’s drenched in sweat, his clothes are sticking to him, his hair is flat, he’s clearly exhausted but he just needs this. He’s just three points from the biggest moment of his career.

“He takes his place to serve, bounces the ball…and the serve’s good. Moriarty pounds it back but he puts too much on it and it’s long.”

”Thirty – Love.”

“He’s so close now.”

“Moriarty doesn’t look too happy, checking the strings on his racket. He must know that after everything that has happened in this match the victory is slipping away from him.”

“Watson’s waiting to serve, he serves. Moriarty with a better forehand, Watson clips it back, Moriarty backhand slice, Watson backhand, but he puts too much on it and it spins out.”

“Thirty – Fifteen.”

“That was a nice shot there from Moriarty. A lot of spin on it kept it low over the net and bounced high making it awkward for Watson to get to grips with and return.”

“Thirty-fifteen and Watson’s still just two points away.

“Watson serves, Moriarty backhand, Watson forehand, lands short, Moriarty powers it back, Watson on the stretch, Moriarty with the forehand but it clips the net and bounces out.”

“Forty – Fifteen.”

“Just listen to that crowd roar. Just one more point. This is it. Match point. No, Championship point. Watson with two Championship points. Can he do it?”

“Well they think he can do it certainly.”

“I have to admit that my heart is pounding.”

“Your heart is pounding, just imagine what Watson’s heart is doing right now. These fifth sets aren’t about tennis, they’re about nerve and at the moment Watson is holding his.”

“Watson’s taking his time, bounces the ball… three, four, five, six… pauses, serves, but it hits the net.”

“Net. Second serve.”

“He’s keeping his head down, eyes trained on the grass. Composing himself, bounces the ball again. Pauses… and the serve’s good. Moriarty with a snappy forehand, Watson forehand back, Moriarty forehand, Watson races for the backhand, Moriarty backhand, Watson with the slice, Moriarty forehand pushing deep, Watson forehand, Moriarty and an excellent shot and piece of play there from Moriarty to take the point.”

“Forty – Thirty.”

“That was a very nicely played shot, low, fast and just too far away from Watson for him to reach.”

“Watson is bent over breathing deeply, but he still has a Championship point here. He has another chance to get the point and win this match. Can he do it? It was never going to be easy. Moriarty would never make it easy, but the chance is still right in front of him.”

“For Watson it’s important right now that he doesn’t choke. He has played this match constantly on catch up, always coming from behind. This is his first real opportunity to get out in front and grab it, grab the trophy.”

“The crowd have gone silent here, it’s as if everyone is holding their breath. Waiting. Watson is composing himself, bouncing the ball. What must be going through his mind right now? He’s settling himself… and the serve is good. Moriarty with the forehand, Watson returns, Moriarty crosscourt searching, Watson forehand deep, Moriarty returns forehand, Watson down the line, Moriarty backhand thudded back, Watson forehand, Moriarty with the slice, Watson chases it down, Moriarty… and it’s in!

“The ball bounces in and the crowd erupts as in the end it comes down to a perfectly executed, simple forehand from John Watson, and he’s done it. The crowd goes wild. Watson’s dropped his racket, his hands are covering his face as he falls to his knees. Exhausted, emotional, elated, John Watson has done it.”

“Game, set, match, John Watson. 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 8-6.”

“The man who came in with a wild card has ended his career walking away with the Wimbledon Championship trophy, the first Brit to do so since 1936 when Fred Perry took apart the German Gottfried von Cramm. Today, John Watson has defeated the World Number One, the man who has already played and beaten so many high-ranked players to get this far. Jim Moriarty can only look on in disbelief. Where did it all go wrong for him? He could have had it. He should have had it. Totally in command it the first two sets but now he has to settle for second best, because today, on the day, right now, the man of the hour is on his knees, crying tears of joy. John Watson, who refused to say die, who after a truly horrendous opening couple of sets came back out here and fought back with everything he had.

“John Watson is the British Wimbledon Champion.”

*

End of Part 10

Chapter Text

The ball bounced in and for a moment it was as if time stood still, and then… explosion.

He could see Moriarty’s expression, the look of shock as the ball bounced a second time and there was nothing either of them could do about it. It was in, it was good, it had taken the point and somehow, unbelievably, the Championship. In the end it had come down to a rather simple forehand, down the line, neither particularly deep nor wide, but low, fast and the staple of the modern game. If tennis matches were won by the routine shot, then it had never been truer than at that moment.

He had won.

Oh god, he had won.

A wall of sound was building up around him as a roar of a magnitude he had never heard before started to travel around the court, gathering speed and momentum, trapped as it was under the huge roof, bouncing back and only getting louder and louder until it was literally all he was aware of.

That and the faint thought at the back of his mind that told him he had done it. By god, John Watson, it said, you’ve actually done it. You’ve won Wimbledon. You’ve gone and won Wimbledon you complete and utter bastard.

It was another few moments or so before he realised that his racket had dropped from his unresisting hands, that his hands themselves were over his face, that his knees had finally given way and buckled, and it was even later still when his hands fell away that he found that the dampness on his palms was as much to do with tears as it was perspiration.

Oh god, he was crying. He was crying on Centre Court and the whole world was watching.

Sherlock.

Lifting his head he twisted to seek out the familiar face in the crowd, searching, searching, and then, there, yes, there, Sherlock, on his feet, hands clapping, a small, private smile on his face.

After that everything was a blur. There was the crowd and waving and autographs. A microphone was thrust into his face for an interview and he must have said something good because the crowd laughed and then there was more clapping and cheering and honestly, could they really expect him to be able to do much more than grin like an idiot.

Then there was the Queen and more hand shaking, and then finally they gave him the trophy. No, the trophy. The Wimbledon trophy. And it was heavier than it looked and even more beautiful close up and it was his. They had given it to him. Him.

Oh god.

Then there was more, and there were more people, and more microphones, more cameras and more bulbs flashing in his face. There were more hands to shake, more photos to pose for and more interviews to do. Even when he finally got to leave the court it didn’t stop. It seemed like everyone wanted to talk to him, wanted his picture or a quote or sound bite. Everyone wanted to know what it felt like to be the Wimbledon Champion, and to talk about what he was going to do next and was he really going to retire and all that. He smiled, he laughed and he joked his way through it as well as he could, bolstered by the message he had gotten on his phone from Sherlock.

‘Enjoy it’, the message said. ‘You deserve it. I’ll be here when you’re finished’.

But it never seemed to finish. Every time he thought it was over it wasn’t.

“Your tux is being delivered to your hotel room.”

He stopped in his lacing up of his trainers at the sound of Clara’s voice. Once again she had made herself at home in the men’s changing room, but he couldn’t complain about that, not when she had guided him through the press gauntlet so very well.

“My tux?” he asked slowly.

“For the Champions Ball tonight.”

The Champions Ball? He had completely forgotten about that. That meant he would not be seeing Sherlock any time soon.

“Yes, he knows about it,” Clara said as if reading his mind. “But you have to go.”

Yes, he had to go, which was why, hours later he found himself at the Intercontinental Hotel, fiddling with his cufflinks, surrounded by even more people who just had to speak to him, while he ached to find somewhere quiet, just for a moment. Just so he could stop and breathe. Then he saw him, saw it, a familiar shock of dark curly hair, half hidden in a corner and his breath caught in his throat.

Eyes meeting across the crowded room, the figure smiled slightly and then, after a tilt of the head, slipped out of a nearby door.

He excused himself from the crowd beyond and hurried after, apologising as he went but determined not to be held up for anything.

He ended up in a small, private room, away from the party and the noise and the people, and the door had barely had time to shut before he was being crowded into a wall, his face carefully cupped by warm fingers as familiar lips bent to meet his.

It was a kiss of praise, of congratulations, of relief and of sheer, stark affection. It was also over far too quickly. But for someone who would have been happy for it to continue all night, that was hardly surprising.

“Hello to you too,” he joked as Sherlock finally pulled away. “I should win Wimbledon more often if that’s the greeting I get.”

Sherlock smiled, his eyes flickering over him, taking in every hidden scrape, every bruise, every aching muscle.

“Tired?” Sherlock asked.

“Exhausted. But what are you doing here?” And how had he only just noticed that Sherlock had been there?

“Clara,” Sherlock said softly. “She thought,” he started and then he averted his eyes. “John, I am conscious that this is very much your day, your evening, your victory, and I would not like to intrude unwelcome on whatever plans you have for celebrating it…”

“Sherlock.”

“…so whatever you wish to do I am more than happy to follow along with.”

Whatever he wished to do?

He blew out between his lips.

“Thank you,” he said, lifting a hand to press it against Sherlock’s cheek. “That’s very generous of you. But to be completely honest with you,” he continued slowly, “what I really want to do now is to go somewhere nice and quiet where we won’t be disturbed, where I can collapse while you tell me how brilliant I am for having won and how utterly sexy and irresistible you find me.

“Then I want you to take me somewhere with a large bed where we can make as much noise as we want and then I want you to fuck me long, deep and slow while you whisper ridiculously hot things in my ear in that liquid sex voice you have until I’m begging you to go ‘harder’, ‘faster’, ‘deeper’ and ‘god if you don’t touch me now I’ll never forgive you’. I want to feel you come in me, no condom, just you, deep, marking me, reminding us both that there is no one I would rather be with.

“Then I want to fall asleep and not worry that I might end up draped over you or you over me, wake up and want to go again, this time with you riding me as I lie back and watch those gorgeous legs of yours move up and down, your cock knocking against your stomach until I finally flip you over and press you into the mattress, like we did that first time, fucking you just the way we both like it, until we come, you first, clenching around me, our lips close enough that we’re breathing the same air.

“Then more sleep, because you know, I’m really kinda knackered. Some tea, maybe some shower sex, and then… well, then we’ll see.”

He watched as Sherlock’s throat bobbed as he spoke, those pale blue eyes darkening with every word he said.

There was a pause as he let his hand slip from Sherlock’s cheek. He half expected it to be caught by the other man but Sherlock didn’t move until finally, after some rather long seconds, he spoke, his voice a little lower, a little huskier than usual, wrapping around the two simple words, “Baker Street?”

“Sounds perfect,” John said and smiled.

*-*-*

A lot has been said and written about both my surprising victory and the nature of my relationship with Sherlock Holmes. Some of it complimentary, some of it decidedly not, but most of it has been speculation. Out of self-preservation neither of us has said very much about it and until now very few people have been aware of the full extent of what happened between us that fortnight.

Many people have theorised that it was the falling in love – and yes, I can say that now, over the course of the fortnight we utterly, completely and wholeheartedly fell in love with each other – that put the life back into my game. They are wrong, or at least are only partially right. The sex, the emotions, the relationship we fell into despite our mutual denial, they may have helped, but they were only the ribbons on the prize. The real thing was that in his own unique and indomitable way, Sherlock reminded me that a tennis match can be far more than just two people striking a small yellow ball over a net with a metal racket. The court is a battlefield, but your opponent isn’t the only person you are fighting, you are also fighting yourself, finding out who you are. Sometimes your greatest enemy out there is the person you see when you look in the mirror.

Somewhere along the way I had lost the sense of who I was. I had confused what I did with who I was. Before my accident I knew who I was because of what I did. I was a tennis player, I was going to be a winner, I cared little for the feelings and needs of others because my tennis came before everything else, because without my tennis I was nobody.

Mary bore the brunt of this attitude, pushed aside as I got swept up in the highs and lows of the tennis season. I believed she should love me because of what I did. I was a professional tennis player, she was lucky to have me. People told me I was talented and brilliant, therefore I as a person must have been talented and brilliant. Rather I was arrogant and selfish.

Looking back I see now what I did to her, the pain I must have put her through. I am not proud of that part of my life. I was under the mistaken impression that being good at tennis was all I had to be, that all my relationships and my life would fall together around that. In that way I didn’t need to be a particularly good or nice person because the tennis was enough. Mary tried to make me see past that but I was too young, too immature to realise that she was right, that I had a responsibility to her as well, that I shouldn’t just take and expect her to bend around me. I was angry for a long time for what she did and what she said, but I know now that I was also angry because a lot of it was true. She accused me of neglect, of emotional abuse and of not caring enough about her. I would spend time partying with other girls and while I never physically cheated on her, mentally and emotionally I was hardly faithful. She was right about a great number of things. The tennis always came first because without it I was nobody.

It took Bill dying for the illusion I had built up around my chosen career to finally shatter. Tennis is not life and death, but it took me until Sherlock to realise that while in the grand scheme of things who wins or loses is hardly important or vital for society, it can be crucial for the individual. For the player, the most important thing is not to go out there and win, but to go out there and fight, to do your best, to give your all. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Victory is always fleeting; self-worth, though, that lasts a lifetime. You are not worthless or pointless if you lose, nor are you fantastic and untouchable if you win. Had I lost that last set I would have been disappointed sure, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. I would have gone away knowing that I had stood up there and given my all and that in the end that was what really mattered. No regrets. No second guessing.

I know now how to win and how to be a winner, and it has nothing to do with the final result on those courtside boards.

As for Sherlock, I like to think that I taught him something about winning as well, or at least showed him that there is more to life than just tennis. Lestrade once told me that if given a choice between tennis and something else, anything else, Sherlock would always chose the tennis. That’s no longer true. By walking into that changing room Sherlock chose me above the tennis. He knew that Moriarty could and would use me against him again, that it could cost him another match, another final, another Grand Slam, but he still chose to come. He chose to embrace that weakness rather than push it away, something I am constantly grateful for.

Of course the rivalry between Sherlock and Moriarty didn’t end there and Sherlock’s drive to win a Grand Slam and become the World Number One didn’t change just because we were now sharing a bed. In fact, if anything that Wimbledon only made him thirst for it more. He does so hate to be bested in anything, even by someone he loves. Of course his own achievements speak for themselves and his own Wimbledon trophy – amongst the others – sits proudly next to mine like a matching pair.

It’s been twelve years now since I rediscovered who I was on the grass of Centre Court and this time Sherlock and I are set to return to play there once again, this time by invitation in the Wimbledon Legends Men’s Doubles. Sherlock is bursting with excitement and I can hardly wait. Murray and Murray are not going to know what has hit them.

John H. Watson (CBE) – 2022

 

John, I must apologise, if I thought the published version of your autobiography was over romanticised and dwelt needlessly on sensational detail then that is nothing compared to this draft. I may be forced to congratulate your editor for reining in your more verbose tendencies, and while I am more than aware of how ‘gorgeous’ my bottom was you did seem unhealthily preoccupied with it for too much of this. I hope, also, that you only wrote the sex scenes for your own benefit rather than for anyone else’s because as ‘brilliant’ as they were, there are some things best kept private. (That said, I would not be averse to the idea of re-enacting a few of those moments, but I can’t guarantee the same flexibility.)

It also pains me to say that you grant me too much credit in this. You were always a brilliant player and it could have been anyone who reminded you of that, although I continue to be grateful that that person turned out to be me.

Oh, and regarding your latest password, if you really didn’t want me reading this then you should have tried a little harder. And in response to your actual password… I love you too. - SH

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The End