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The Importance of the Second Serve

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*-*-*

Wimbledon
Sunday, 20th June 2010

*

“This is it,” he said summing up what he had been saying.  “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.”
                                                                                                             
The man stared at him, his face an expression of amazement and surprise.  That was, at least, a little different.  For most people their immediate reaction to his deductions was anger, not amazement.

Interesting.

“Sherlock Holmes,” he said, pushing off from the fence knowing he now had the other man’s full attention.  “I don’t believe we’ve had the honour.”

*-*-*

Rotterdam
Sunday, 17th February 2002

*

The fair-headed Englishman, he had to admit, was surprisingly endearing in person.  He also had a nice laugh and an easy smile.

Sherlock poked at his barely appetising chicken and pasta salad, pretending to be totally absorbed with the rather anaemic-looking food while his attention was really on the group of players across the room and one player in particular: John Watson.  Former Junior Wimbledon runner-up, currently the British number two and eighteenth in the world.    A strong all-rounder with a solid game and a surprisingly pleasant and open face.

He frowned.   A pleasant and open face?  Where had that come from?  That wasn’t something he should have noticed, wasn’t something that he had ever noticed before on anyone and it puzzled him that he was noticing it now.  Why would he be interested in what Watson looked like?  It was his tennis and only his tennis that he should be interested in, and Watson, he was certain, was one player to look out for in the future.  He remembered watching Watson’s Junior Wimbledon final – as he had watched all of them he could in order to study and learn – but until now he had never met the man.  Not that they had met yet, but now he was here in the big league it was surely only a matter of time.

But why out of all the tennis players around did he want to meet him?

The question troubled him because he didn’t have an obvious answer.  He let his eyebrows draw together as he set about figuring it out.  Watson wasn’t the highest ranked player in the tournament or even in the room, not with Juan Carlos Ferrero just across the way and the up-and-coming Roger Federer looking through the drinks selection.  Yet there was something about Watson that had drawn his attention, even to the point where he was dismissing the better players he was surrounded by.  It was… disconcerting.

“You’re supposed to eat it, not play with it.”

He scowled and looked up as his deliberations were rudely interrupted.

“Eating.  Something you’re an expert on,” he snapped as his brother’s sturdy frame settled on the spare chair opposite him.  Mycroft was already gaining back the weight he had lost after New Year’s.  Sometimes he could barely believe they were related at all.  Grand-mere claimed Mycroft was simply big boned.  As if.  There was no way that that was just bone.  Maybe if his brother actually got off his rather spacious arse once in a while and bothered to do some exercise he wouldn’t get so tired simply watching a tennis match, let alone the rare times he was confronted by a racket and a ball.

“Practice went well then, I see,” Mycroft continued, annoyingly unaffected by the barb.  “Although your attention has drifted.”  Eyes flickered across to where the small group of players were now laughing about something.  “Hmmm, yes, interesting.  So you’ve received the confirmation of your opening game.”

He had no idea what Mycroft was talking about, but he kept his expression neutral, because if he didn’t say anything, Mycroft would just keep talking.

“Not exactly an easy match, but you did come through qualifying, and you have to start somewhere.  You might as well start with the top twenty.  Watson will certainly show up the weaknesses in your game better than any coach or trainer could.”

Watson?

He snapped his gaze back to his brother.  Had he heard what he thought he had just heard?  But he must have done, because Watson was the sort of English name that stood out in an otherwise wholly French sentence.  He was playing Watson, as in John Watson, in the opening round?

“Ah, you didn’t know.  I see.”

No, he was almost positive that Mycroft didn’t see, because he didn’t see, and it was all he could do not to tell his brother to shut up.  For a moment the expression on Mycroft’s face was one of realisation mixed with a faint dose of understanding.  Or was it pity?  Sometimes it was hard to tell with Mycroft.  It was a ridiculous expression anyway.

“Well you obviously know,” he said sharply, “so are you going to tell me the rest or should I go and ask Watson for the details?”

Mycroft’s head tipped slightly, his lips narrowing.  “Your match is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, Centre Court, the third match.”

Third?  Well that couldn’t be helped, he supposed, but he wasn’t fond of waiting.  He had many talents, but waiting for matches was not one of them.  At least if he got through he would then have a day off.

Although getting through would involve having to beat John Watson.  He looked across at where the Englishman was now laughing.  Somehow he had a feeling that progressing to the second round would not be as easy has he might once have hoped.

*-*-*

Wimbledon
Monday, 21st June 2010

*

Dinner with John Watson was because he was bored and because, against all the odds, this somewhat run down, non-descript Englishman was surprisingly not boring.

Finding out which room John was staying in had not been a challenge.  The girl at the reception had been more than helpful in ‘correcting’ him.  Watson had, of course, not been there, but breaking in hadn’t been difficult either.  Once he was in, the room was everything he had expected it to be: small, sparsely decorated, neat.  Of the clothing and personal items, most had been unpacked, but there were few to start with.  Obviously Watson hadn’t been expecting to stay long, and so hadn’t brought the many comforts of home with him.  No photographs or trinkets, books or DVDs.  His phone charger was plugged into a socket, as was his laptop.

Interesting.

It took him a few attempts but Watson’s choice of password was rather pedestrian in the end.  The contents of his hard drive, however, were rather more illuminating.  His internet history in particular.  He had a blog, used G-mail as his email provider, and wasn’t above using the internet for porn.

Now that was interesting.

It appeared that a certain Englishman wasn’t quite as straight as he seemed.  Bisexual?  Oh yes, at the very least.  He was actually becoming decidedly less dull by the minute.

Sherlock needed a distraction, from the pressure, from Lestrade, from Jim bloody Moriarty, and John Watson could well be ideal.  One meal and he’d know whether Watson was worth seeing again.  Either way, he’d probably get a shag out of it.  If Watson was dull then so be it.  He wasn’t likely to last long in the competition anyway and all the signs pointed to him looking to retire immediately afterwards.  Their paths were unlikely to cross again in that case.  And if on the off chance Watson wasn’t completely dull, well, there was always the chance of persuading him to stick around for a few extra days on the promise of more sex, good food and if necessary, money.

Yes, this could work out quite nicely.  Especially as it appeared that Watson had in fact won his match.  Sherlock did some quick calculations and then pulled up BBC iPlayer.  Watson didn’t strike him as the sort of player who would linger over a press conference or even in the showers, which considering how long it had been since Watson’s match had finished, meant he would be back in about… thirty minutes.  Forty if the traffic was bad.

He smiled to himself.  Plenty of time to find out if Watson had solved the problem with his serve.

*-*-*

Rotterdam
Sunday, 17th February 2002

*

The twin room they were sharing was basic but nice enough, but any space with Mycroft in such close proximity was going to feel too small, and with both of them there the room was barely adequate for their needs, even with Mycroft’s rather anal neatness counterbalancing the chaos that automatically followed Sherlock.

Stepping over his racket bag and match trainers, he flopped down on his bed and considered his options.  So he was to play John Watson tomorrow.  First round match, top twenty player against a tournament qualifier.  He didn’t need to be a betting man to know the odds were not exactly stacked in his favour.  Still, on the day anything could happen and he had to start somewhere.

Mycroft was still talking, but Sherlock tuned out in favour of his own thoughts.

John Watson.  He needed to get a hold on the way the man played.  Was he a single- or a double- handed player?  Baseline hard-hitter or was he better close to the net?  How fast were his serves?  How good was his backhand?  Did he favour crosscourt or down the line?  He already knew Watson wasn’t a serve and volleyer, but there were so many other questions he needed answers to.  Was Watson the muscular strength type with bulging arm muscles and a well-defined chest, or was he the leaner, stamina, agile type with the trim sleek form?

He licked his lips.

So many questions.

“Have you heard a word I’ve said, Sherlock?”

Scowling, he rolled from the bed and landed nimbly on his feet before grabbing his coat and wallet.

“Going for a walk,” he said.  “Got research to do.”

He didn’t bother waiting for an answer.

*

He eventually found an internet café and handed over enough euros for an hour’s worth of uninterrupted usage.  Google, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves were his friends as he searched for anything and everything he could find on John Watson.  There wasn’t much.  A few pictures, some match reports, some newspaper articles.  He painstakingly went through each and every offering, jotting down everything he found in a small notebook.

An average first serve of 112 miles an hour.  Single-handed forehand and backhand.  All-round court player.  Agile, quick and powerful.  Changed rackets and coaches last year, jumped thirty places in the world rankings within six months and was predicted to climb even higher this year.  Body shape muscular but lean, if the way his shirt had stuck to him in the pictures Sherlock had found were anything to go by.

He paid for more time and ignored the text message he received on the phone his brother insisted he take everywhere with him.

He kept hunting, but there was very little else to find.  For the last fifteen minutes he spent most of the time staring at the best pictures he had found.  They were… nice.

Heeft u gevonden wat u zocht?” The woman looked at him with one part smirk, one part knowing eyes.

Genoeg,” he muttered and quickly left.

The truth was, though, it wasn’t enough.  Not remotely enough.  He needed to understand but he was somehow still lacking some vital parts of the puzzle.

He went for a walk.  Nervous energy added to his general restlessness, keeping his legs moving.  The hotel held little interest for him and his brother’s company held even less.

He ignored the next text as well.  He gave it ten minutes before Mycroft would actually phone him.

It was actually twelve minutes.

“Just wanted to check you weren’t lying dead in a dyke somewhere.”

He rolled his eyes.  “I’m fine,” he said.

“And when should I expect you back?  We need to order an evening meal.”

Trust Mycroft to be concerned with what they were going to eat.  “Order whenever you like, whatever you like,” he snapped back.  “I don’t care.  And I’ll be back when I’m back.”

He could hear the disapproval in the way his brother was breathing.

“Sherlock-”

He didn’t want to hear any more.  “Goodbye, Mycroft.  Don’t eat too many desserts.”  He hung up.  Chances were Mycroft would wait another ten minutes and then order for both of them, which meant he had about half an hour before he needed to be back, forty minutes before Mycroft would be looking, tempted, at the second meal and forty-five minutes before the meal would no longer technically be Sherlock’s.

He kept walking.

*-*-*

Wimbledon
Monday, 21st June 2010

*

Dinner had gone surprisingly well.  Incredibly well if the sex that had followed was any way of judging it.  In fact, considering it had been sex with a new partner, with all the fumbling that that entailed, it had been satisfactorily enjoyable.  Surprisingly enjoyable even.

In fact, the entire evening had been more than satisfactory, from the quality of the company to the meal, to the conversation and then to the bedroom.  Even by his high standards it had gone well.  Surprisingly… no, astonishingly well.  John Watson, a nondescript almost-was had turned out to be not nearly as simple or as straightforward as he had first appeared.  There were layers there, layers and intricacies to the man that at first glance were deceptively hidden under an unassuming manner.  Even his conversation wasn’t completely tedious and he was a more than proficient shag.  His reputation wasn’t completely unfounded or unwarranted then.  He was also easy on the eyes, although that wasn’t nearly as important as how easy he had been on the brain.  No inane comments, no stupid conversation; as dining (and shagging) companions went, Sherlock had had far, far worse.

He checked his mobile.  Missed call, unknown number.  He deleted the answer phone message without listening to it.  Jim Moriarty could bugger off for all he cared.

He opened his suite door.

“There you are!”

And of course Lestrade was still up waiting for him.  Glorified babysitter and all of that.

“Where the hell have you been, and oh god, tell me you at least used protection.”

Perfect, he was even starting to sound like Mycroft.  Sort of. 

He flopped down on the sofa, stretching out.  “I wasn’t aware that my sex life was part of your remit.”

“No, but your health and well-being is, and let’s face it, it’s always good to have a heads up on any disgruntled exes that might need restraining.”

One time.  That had been one time and Lestrade hadn’t even been the one who had needed to do the restraining.  That’s what the bodyguards were for.   And Jim Bloody Moriarty didn’t count.

He didn’t bother acknowledging the comment, just closed his eyes, pressed his fingers against his chin and concentrated on moving his newly discovered data around in his mind palace.

“…oh for god’s sake, at least tell me who it was and if you’re going to be seeing them again.”

He reluctantly cracked open an eye.  “Watson.  Perhaps.  Now go away.”

“Who the hell is Watson?  No, you know what, don’t bother.  I don’t want to know.  Look, you’ve a practice court booked for two p.m. tomorrow.  Practice Court Five.  For god’s sake turn up this time.  They’ve promised me a different junior to act as your….”

“No.”

“No?”

He sighed.  “No juniors.”

“Right.  So what, you’re expecting me to feed you ball after ball and take your abuse, is that it?”

“No.  I’ll sort something.”

“You’ll sort something.  You know what, it’s too late for this.  Practice court five, tomorrow, two p.m.  Text me when you know when you want to leave tomorrow.”

With that, Lestrade turned and left.

Sherlock didn’t move.  He had a day of tennis and an evening of sex to process.

Two and a half hours later he turned to his laptop, just to confirm the other match results.

John had apparently updated his blog.  ‘Turns out I’ve still got it’.

Sherlock smiled.

*-*-*

Rotterdam
Sunday, 17th February 2002

*

Staring up at the ceiling he tried to ignore the sound of his brother’s heavy breathing in the other bed.  He knew that he too should have been asleep, as Mycroft was, but his mind was too active, spinning through all the information he had learnt that day.  John Watson, Englishman, top twenty, strong but with speed, singlehanded, fair-haired, agile, short, nice smile.

He screwed his eyes shut and rolled over until his back was to Mycroft’s snoring.

Nice smile?  Why had his brain told him that?  It was a pointless piece of information, neither here nor there and in terms of tennis, more than a little irrelevant.  True though.  Ah, yes, definitely true, as Watson’s face swam into view, not making it any easier to push aside and dwell on the important facts, like the speed of his serve.

He tried to remember everything he had scribbled down earlier and how he was going to counteract Watson’s play.  Should he try serve and volley?  No, that wasn’t his strength and Watson would pounce all over it.  Better to play to his strengths and hope that would be enough.

Would it be enough?  Would he be enough?

This was ridiculous.

He flipped onto his front, burying his head into his pillow.  It was going to be a long night.

*-*-*

Wimbledon
Saturday, 26th June 2010

*

I shag, I don’t date.

Fish and chips was not a date.  ‘Coffee’ did not make it a date.  Being rogered over Watson’s bed certainly didn’t make it a date.

If he sent Watson texts the next day it was because his boredom deserved to be shared around.  If he looked to see how Watson fared against Dimmock it was out of professional interest.  If he smiled at the result then it was only because it meant he’d be getting another shag out of it.

Baker Street was not part of the plan.  John punching Moriarty was not part of the plan.  Sharing a bed, sharing a run, sharing a weekend had not been part of the plan.  Sharing part of his past had certainly not been part of the plan.

John Watson was definitely not part of the plan.

*-*-*

Rotterdam
Monday, 18th February 2002

*

Watching Watson’s warm-up was only sensible.  Reading about his style had been one thing, actually watching him put it into practice was, well, it was fascinating.

He had never been so captivated by another tennis player’s warm-up before; the way Watson tossed the ball into the air; the way his whole body curved into the serve, blasting the ball over the net, deep into the opponent’s half; the look of intense concentration on his face as he lined up his next shot, a crosscourt forearm which landed fast and deep and had the junior he was warming up with scrambling uselessly in a vain attempt to return it.  It made him want to curse the junior for being too poor to return and praise Watson for such a good strike.

*

His stomach felt jittery, more jittery than he had ever felt it before, like a mob of kangaroos had taken refuge in there and were jumping up and down in great excitement.  It was... distracting, and also alarming.  He put it down to its being the most senior game he had played to date, and ignored any stray thoughts that suggested it might be more than that.  If it was simply a case of pre-match nerves then he could confront them and move on.  Anything else would be harder to overcome.

Lowering his head to his knees, he sat on the changing room bench and tried to block out all the other noise around him.  Other players were coming and going, some from matches, some from practices or warm-ups.  He ignored them all, not even caring if some of them were the players he had for so long admired or wanted to emulate.  They were just players now, he told himself, just people he would have to learn to beat if he was ever going to succeed at the highest level.  And he would succeed.  Oh god, yes, he would!

“Holmes and Watson.”

A jolt burst through him at the sound of their names, his heart thudding against his ribs.  It was here, it was now.

Lifting his head, he rose slowly to his feet, schooling his features into an expression of neutrality.  Carefully and surely he reached for his kit and racket bags, sliding them onto his shoulder with precision before walking to the door.  After confirming who he was, he was led out of the changing rooms towards the indoor court and the muffled sounds of the crowd.  There was something about indoor courts that felt vastly different from outside ones and he suspected it had something to do with the roof catching all the sound, amplifying it and making it feel as if the crowd was so much closer and more intense.  As if this wasn’t feeling intense enough.

And then he was there, by the doors, waiting to be led out onto the court, and John Watson was beside him.

John Watson!

He was shorter than Sherlock had expected, despite knowing the Watson was on the short side for a professional player.  Not that there was a huge difference between their heights, but the difference was, Sherlock was still growing.  The yellow lights were making Watson’s hair seem blonder than usual, his bags looked new – suggesting a recent change in sponsorship – and with his shoulders back and loose, he looked relaxed.  Certainly far more relaxed than Sherlock, but was that really a surprise?  To Watson he was just another new kid fresh from the qualifiers and hardly going to be much of a challenge.  Well, he would just have to see about that.

Acknowledging the final call, he pulled himself up straight and walked out onto the court.

*

The ball flew like a missile past him, past his reach and into the back of the court.

“Fifteen – Forty.”

Okay, now he was seriously in trouble.  Two games all in the first set and he was about to be broken, but the current score barely touched the surface of the story.  The truth was, Watson was good.  Very good.  Much better than him, at everything.

Having won the toss, he had elected to serve first.  It made sense.  The advantage was with the first server, provided he held his serve.  After that the other player would always be left to play catch-up.  All Sherlock had to do was to keep his nerve and serve firmly and accurately and force Watson to return.

It hadn’t been enough.  Firm and accurate he had been and yet Watson had returned with interest.  Returns he was used to, returns that somehow put him on the back foot were something else entirely.  They were coming back to him harder, faster, deeper.  They were making him run, work, strive for every point.  He was always being forced to play one shot more.  It was soul-bashing.

He had managed to hold his serve in the first game but had been taken all the way to deuce in his next service game until one of his signature crosscourt forehands had neatly clipped the line and taken the much-needed point.  If the shot alone hadn’t been enough – perfectly placed, perfectly judged in length, height and speed – the small smile from Watson as he acknowledged the shot brought the jumping kangaroos back to Sherlock’s stomach.  Unfortunately that hadn’t helped him on Watson’s serve where he had struggled to make a dent at all.  Two points was all he had managed on Watson’s serve so far, just two, one on each game, which really didn’t bode well for the future, especially as he was about to be broken.

No, shut up!  You can do this, he berated himself.  You can do this.

He could.

He served.

*

“Game and set Watson, six games to three.  Watson leads, one set to love.”

Buggery fuck.

Twice.  He had been broken twice in the same set and to make it worse, Watson breaking him the second time meant that Watson had taken the set and would be opening the serve in the next set.

Dropping his racket, he slumped into his chair, clenching his jaw in frustration.  This wasn’t going as he had wanted.  He knew everything there was to know about Watson’s game, but it wasn’t helping.  The weaker backhand wasn’t that weak.  The forehand was solid.  And the number of forced or unforced errors by Watson was frustratingly low.  Watson was too good a player to make silly mistakes when not under pressure and Sherlock wasn’t a good enough player to pile on the pressure.

Not good enough.  He swigged back his bottle of water.  He was going to have to play better.  Maybe go for the riskier shot.  Maybe he should try and drag Watson to the net more.  Maybe he should attack harder, attempt to push Watson onto the back foot.  He was definitely going to go for Watson’s backhand, but that on its own wasn’t going to be enough.

“Time.”

Damn.  He was going to have to get out there and fight.  He was going to show Watson exactly what he could do, what he was made of.  He was going to make Watson sit up and notice him.

*

“Game, Watson.  Watson leads five games to one.”

It was almost embarrassing now.  No, it was embarrassing.  Chronically embarrassing.

Scowling, he flung his racket down, hardly caring where it landed.  He was one game away from his worst loss in years and he didn’t care that he was playing in a proper professional competition against someone six years his senior and ranked within the top twenty in the world.  It didn’t matter that he was supposed to lose, expected to lose.  These sorts of things weren’t meant to happen to him.  He was supposed to take the senior game by storm, blasting his way through, knocking the old guard down one by one, but now he was being shown to be ordinary.  Or worse than that, inept.  He hated being inept!

It was Watson’s turn to serve.  The least Sherlock could do was to go out with a bang.

*

“Game, set, match, Watson – 6-3, 6-1.”

The winning shot had at least been expertly placed by Watson, the spot carefully chosen and executed with inch perfect precision.  It spoke of confidence, talent and practice, and as final shots to lose on went, it could have been a lot worse.  At least it hadn’t been an unforced error by him.  Darting across the court, refusing to say die, he had forced Watson to make the shot and it had been masterfully done.

It also meant that it was over.

Forcing a hint of a smile, he crossed to the net for the customary post-match handshake.

Up close Watson was flushed and sweaty, his fair hair appearing darker as it stuck to his head.  His shirt stuck to his chest, revealing the outline of his pectoral muscles, but his eyes were wide and bright.

The handshake was far too quick and then it was time to collect up their equipment and vacate the court in favour of the next pair to face off against each other.

Mycroft was waiting for him outside of the changing rooms, an air of ‘I told you so’ loitering repugnantly around him.

“Don’t,” he snapped and pushing past made his way first into the changing rooms and then into the showers.

He felt drained as he stood there and let the hot water cascade over him.  Drained and weary and far older than his seventeen years.  Three good wins to get through the qualifiers had ended in a crushing defeat at the racket of a master.  Despite his beliefs, his past, his trophies on the junior circuit, he really wasn’t as good as he thought he was.  Being professional was far tougher than he had ever imagined, and this was only the start, wasn’t it?  He thought he had known what hard work was, what hard training was, but he’d barely grazed the surface.  If he wanted to reach the top, really wanted to reach the top, then he would have to take it even more seriously than he already was.  He would have to dismantle his game and build it back up again from scratch.  And he would, if only so that the next time he met John Watson he would be able to look him in the eye and play him as an equal.  And he would play Watson again, of course he would, many times, he was sure.

*-*-*

Wimbledon
Sunday, 27th June 2010

*

Somehow he really wasn’t surprised to find Mycroft waiting for him in his suite.  Seventeen hundred hours at the hotel, Mycroft had told him while he had been at Baker Street.  They apparently had some things to discuss.  Of course it was just how he wanted to end a rather enjoyable mid-tournament weekend.  Still, at least from the looks of his cuffs and the crease in his jacket, his brother’s weekend hadn’t been unproductive.  He always was a little more manageable following a night with Lestrade.

Lestrade at least did not react when he shot him the slight but knowing smirk.  At least if he man was going to shag his brother as part of the perks of the job he had the continued decency not to be embarrassed about it.

“Lestrade, wait half an hour and then take the bags to John’s room.  I won’t need you after that.  Mycroft, you’ve got fifteen minutes.  Make it… condensed.”

He already knew everything that Mycroft had to say to him: Moriarty, distractions, Grand Slams, Paris, John.  It was tedious to say the least and made those action spy films John liked positively riveting in comparison.  Thinking of which.

“Paper,” he demanded and once received he set about writing the short note.

‘Thought you might enjoy them more than me.’ Well that much was obvious.  Although, they hadn’t been as poor as he had expected.  They had been rather pleasurable in fact.  Or at least the company had made it pleasurable.  He was certain he would never sit through one of his own volition but he wouldn’t mind so much with John.  Perhaps they could do the same thing again.  Soon.  Very soon if John actually managed to beat Victor.

‘And remember what I said about VT,’ he added.  If he stuck to the game plan, then anything was possible.

Winning was good.  Winning was very good.  But to win you first had to believe that you could.

‘I’ll see you tomorrow to celebrate reaching the quarter finals. SH’

There.

Folding the note, he handed it to a bemused looking Lestrade. 

What?  What had he done? 

A brief glance at Mycroft didn’t reveal anything.  His brother continued to sit there with a carefully blank expression.

“For John,” he said.

“What, no heart?” Lestrade said.  “No kiss?  How about a little squirt of your cologne?  Just to add a little something special to the paper.”

“Piss off,” he muttered.  He had no idea what Lestrade was talking about but he got the gist.  “Take it and give him the Bond DVDs as well.  In fact, just piss off in general.”

The weekend was going progressively downhill.  Unfortunately Mycroft didn’t disappear as well.  The gods were obviously angry about something.  Probably that he’d spent the weekend shagging another man.  The gods apparently didn’t like that sort of thing.

“You played him once.”

Wonderful, Mycroft had broken his silence.

“John Watson,” he clarified.  “Right back at the start.”

Had he?  He frowned slightly.  He didn’t remember.  Surely he would remember if he’d played John Watson.  That wasn’t something he was likely to forget.

“Rotterdam, 2002.”

Well that was definitely right back at the start considering he had only turned professional in the January of 2002–not long after his seventeenth birthday.  That would have been back when he’d still had ideas of being the new Boris Becker, of taking the men’s game by storm, smashing his way right to the top like an unstoppable force, one of the youngest players on the circuit, one of the all-time greats.  Of course that hadn’t happened.  The realisation that he was good, but he wasn’t that good, had come as a hard and bitter blow.  He had learnt the lessons, sometimes incredibly painfully, but a number of the actual matches had been deleted from his mind.

Ah, deleted, not forgotten.

“Did I?” he said nonchalantly, as if it didn’t matter.

Of course his brother saw through it.

“He beat you of course.  Quite comprehensively.  6-3, 6-1.  First round.  Your second professional tournament.  A rather brutal wake-up call to life on the professional circuit, I believe.  He seemed to make quite the impression on you, before you deleted the whole thing.”

“I bothered to delete it,” he said firmly.  “He can’t have made that much of an impression.”

“How would you know?” Mycroft said.  “You may have deleted the experience, but you also took certain lessons to heart, perhaps too well.  Try not to make the same mistakes again.”

Sherlock flopped down onto the sofa and grabbed the nearest notebook.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, brother of mine,” he said dismissively.

“No,” Mycroft said almost sadly.  “That’s what concerns me.”

He didn’t bother to respond.  Less than a minute later his brother rose quietly to his feet.  He lowered his notebook.

“You’re leaving?”

“We both know what I have to say.  Be careful, Sherlock.”

He raised the notebook again.  “If you’re referring to the situation with Moriarty, I have it under control.”

“Indeed,” Mycroft said.  “But that wasn’t what I was referring too.”

Or who, apparently.

“Goodnight, Mycroft.”

“Goodnight, Sherlock.  Think it over.”

He waited until his brother was gone and not returning before lowering the notebook again.  He had once played John Watson and then deleted it.  Why would he have deleted it?  It couldn’t have been solely the score.  6-3, 6-1, embarrassing but not the worst defeat of his career, not that early as a professional.  There must have been something else.

John Watson.

Rising to his feet he dug around until he found a blank notebook.

John Watson.

What was it about John Watson?  Who was he?  What might it have been?

Grabbing a pen, he opened to the first page and then started to write.

*-*-*

Rotterdam
Monday, 18th February 2002

*

Mycroft was still waiting for him when Sherlock finally emerged from the changing rooms, his chubby suited frame out of place amongst the athletic sportswear clad professionals.  Mycroft also had the air of someone who was used to waiting.

“It wasn’t quite as bad as you imagine.”

Trust Mycroft to ignore all the standard questions or comments and get to the heart of the matter.  He scowled as he was forced to stop and acknowledge his brother.

“Not good perhaps,” Mycroft continued with an added wince, “but there were flashes of distinction and certainly more than enough to build from.  There were moments when you held your own, from which, considering all, you should take some small comfort.”

Small comfort indeed though.

“The second set was rather erratic though….”

The worst thing about Mycroft – well, one of the bad things at least – was his ability to dissect a game and hand it back to Sherlock verbally.  For someone who had little interest in sports in general, Mycroft had a near encyclopaedic insight into tennis.  It wasn’t hard to know why, although that just made it easier to resent.

“Holmes?”

The call of his name cut through Mycroft’s constructive criticism of his backhand volley, a welcome interruption even if he had no idea who had called him.  The voice wasn’t familiar, although he felt as if it should be, at least the very English pronunciation of his name.  Then he saw him, John Watson, showered, changed, fresh, hair still damp from the shower, standing not far from him talking to another player.

He froze, suddenly not sure of what to do or say, but that was alright, because Watson turned out to be more than capable of doing all the talking.

“That’s him,” Watson continued, appearing to be partly talking to him, partly to his friend.  “That’s the kid who made me work for it.  I’m telling you, he’s one to watch.  His crosscourt sliced forehand, amazing.”

Amazing?  Watson thought that his crosscourt sliced forehand was amazing?  He blinked in surprise but worked hard to keep his expression neutral.  It wouldn’t do to let Watson know just how much those words meant to him.

“Holmes, I don’t know if you’re interested, but some of us will be meeting up for drinks later tonight at the hotel.  Nothing fancy.  You can join us if you like.  About nine.  That is if you’re interested and still around.  Or, you know, actually understand a word that I’m saying.”   Watson’s gaze shifted from him to Mycroft and then back again.

Ah, he thought Mycroft was his coach or manager or translator or something.  Well that would make sense.

“I believe he’s waiting for an answer,” Mycroft said softly in French.  It was clear Watson had no idea what he had said.  “I can always make your excuses if you would like.”

“No.”  The word slipped from his mouth before he could censor it and for a brief moment he wasn’t sure whether he had said it in English or French, although from Watson’s expression it didn’t matter, the meaning was clear.

Dammit, that wasn’t what he had meant.

“No, no,” he said hurriedly, this time decidedly in English.  “No, I mean yes.  Yes, that would be good.  Drinks would be nice.”

Very nice.  Damn.  This was so stupid.

Then Watson smiled and he couldn’t help but return it.

“Excellent,” Watson said now beaming at him.  “After that match I suppose I owe you a drink.  We can toast to your future.”

That sounded good.  That sounded very good indeed.

He gave a small smile back and watched as Watson was then called away.

“You seem to have made quite the impression on him,” Mycroft said.

An impression?  Watson had called his crosscourt sliced forehand amazing.  He knew it was good, it was his strongest weapon, but to have Watson compliment him on it was so much more.

“Maybe he’ll be able to give you some advice.”

Advice, yes, that would be good.  Watson would no doubt have lots of advice for him and he would be happy to listen to it.  More than happy.

“You’re still staring, Sherlock.”

Staring?  He snapped his head to look at his brother, away from where Watson had recently been.  Mycroft had that look again; concern and pity.

“Thinking,” he said sharply.  Thinking, not staring.

Mycroft didn’t respond, just pursed his lips together in that wholly superior, irritating way he had.

“Don’t,” he said, “you look like an annoying arse,” then grabbing his bags, turned and walked purposefully to the exit.

*-*-*

Wimbledon
Friday, 2nd July 2010

*

He’d lost.  To Moriarty.  To Jim fucking Moriarty.  Because of John. 

How long before he leaves too?

Fuck.  Fuck.  Fuck.  Fuck.  FUCK!

It was just sex.  Sex and tennis, that’s all.  A distraction and a way of releasing post-match tension.  It hadn’t meant anything.  John didn’t mean anything.  All that mattered was the tennis.  Just the tennis.  And now that was over.

Fucking Jim Moriarty.

Fucking John Watson.

He should never have gotten involved with the man.  He had become emotionally compromised and it had cost him dearly.  It had given Moriarty all the ammunition needed to get under his skin.  Obvious.  So obvious.  How could he have been so stupid?  Caring was not an advantage.  It never had been.  He knew that.  He’d seen that.  And still he’d walked right into the trap.

Fuck that.  That was one mistake he wouldn’t be making again.  It was over; the match, the tournament, John Watson.  It was all over.

Never again.  This was one mistake he would never make again.

*-*-*

Rotterdam
Monday, 18th February 2002

*

He spent ten minutes searching through and then discarding his shirts and then a further five minutes cursing the lack of options that he had brought with him.  He had match shirts, practice shirts and t-shirts, but no dress shirts and only the two barely more than casual shirts.  He had come to play tennis so hadn’t expected to need anything else.  He was really starting to regret that decision, a mistake he would not make again.

“The blue brings out your eyes, but the white looks better with jeans.”

He growled as his brother carefully flicked over another page in his book while sitting propped up against the bed headboard.  The annoying git hadn’t even looked up and yet was right on both counts.  Dammit, he hated it when Mycroft was right about things.

He reached for the white one and his dark blue jeans, carefully smoothing down the material and making sure his belt was centre.

“I’ll be back later,” he snapped, running his fingers once more through his closely shorn hair.  “Don’t wait up.”

“He has a girlfriend, Sherlock.”  Mycroft’s words were soft but carried easily across the small room.

He froze, his hand on the door handle.  Frowning deeply, he slowly turned back to the main part of the room.  “And what,” he said slowly, “has that got to do with anything?”

Mycroft’s gaze was steady and faintly searching but there was that look there again.  Concern, was it, or pity, although he had little idea as to what it might be there for.

“It’s always best to know these things in advance, I find.”

His hand tightened on the door handle, the metal warming up under his touch.  “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”  He was just going to see what he could learn from the other professionals.  The fact that John Watson had promised to buy him a drink was just a nice extra.

He let himself out.

Taking the lift down, he wiped his palms against his jeans, sucking in a deep breath and then a second just before the doors opened.  Raising his chin he stepped out.

It wasn’t too hard to figure out where they were.  The hotel wasn’t overly large and the laughter from the far bar area told him all he needed.  Tugging his shirt down, he willed his heart rate to slow and tried to adopt an air of nonchalance.  It was just a drink.  The fact that Watson had invited him and said he was a very promising player with a bright future ahead of him was just an added bonus.  The fact that Watson’s smile had been broad and generous when he had said all of that was neither here nor there.

The fact that Watson was lounging on one of the sofas, a glass of something in one hand and his arm around an aesthetically pleasing – very aesthetically pleasing – looking young lady was something else entirely.

For the second time that evening he froze, except this time his entire body seemed to freeze, including his heart.  The laughter, though, continued, as did the casual ease with which the girl was half draped over Watson, the way she fiddled with his hair and leaned her whole body into his when she spoke into his ear.  She was blonde, slim, barely dressed and had the eyes of nearly all the men around watching her.  And she was the person Watson had his arm around.

A sick feeling dropped from his heart to his stomach.

Then Watson’s mobile rang and he was scrambling around for it, temporarily releasing the girl if only to pat down his jeans.  Watson’s brief frown as he glanced at the screen told Sherlock nearly as much as his answering greeting.

“Hi, babe.”

The sick feeling intensified.

“No, no, I’m just having a quiet night with some of the other lads… of course I won’t be out late… no, we’re sticking to soft drinks… miss you too… yeah… I’ll call you… no, of course I will. Tomorrow, after the match… hmmm… Love you too.”

He has a girlfriend.

He has a girlfriend and he has his arm around a very friendly blonde who is decidedly not his girlfriend.  He had a girlfriend, a blonde, and a smooth tongue where pretty much everything he’d just said had been a lie.

It had all been a lie.

Eyes stinging, he finally found the motivation to move, and spinning on his heel, he hurried out, slamming his hand on the lift buttons, barely waiting for the doors to open before darting inside.  It was like he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t feel anything except anger and the sick tightness across his body.  Damn the man.  Damn John Watson and everything that went with him.

He had forgotten that Mycroft would be still in their room.

“What happened?”

As if he didn’t know.  As if the smug, fat bastard hadn’t known.

“Nothing,” he growled, flinging the door shut behind him, breathing heavily.

“Sherlock.”

Oh god there was understanding in the tone.  As if this day couldn’t get any bloody worse.

Not looking at his brother in any possible way, he grabbed his bag and started to throw in anything he could get his hands on, not really caring what state they ended up in.

“Sherlock?”  Softer this time, and a quick glance showed that Mycroft was actually considering getting off his fat arse and coming over to him.  Like that would help.

“Nothing happened,” he said forcefully.  “Nothing at all.”

Except a man who had been a lie along with everything he had said.

“Tomorrow we leave and I would prefer it if you never mention this tournament to me ever again!”

He was going to delete it.  He didn’t know how but he would find a way.  He was going to delete the match, the loss, the offer of a drink.  He was going to remember what he had learnt, his own weaknesses, his idea of analysing his opponent’s playing style, but the rest would go.  He would delete John Watson completely.

He stripped off the white shirt, tossing it into the bag and drawing the zip forcefully closed.  He was going to be solely professional about his sport from now on, and nothing else was going to get in the way, no admiration, no respect, no feelings. Just him, the racket, the ball and the court.  There was no room of anything else and there never would be.

Throwing himself down onto his bed, he turned away from his brother to face the wall and curled up in on himself.  For once he wished he could get away and hide, but here they were, stuck together, seeing everything.  It was hateful.

If he ever saw John Watson again it would be far too soon.

*-*-*

Wimbledon
Friday, 2nd July 2010

*

“Christ,” he heard Lestrade say from the stairway.  “Sorry, Mycroft.  Maybe you can talk some sense into him.  Watson’s already been and gone and god knows he’s not listening to me.”

Great, just what he needed.  Big brother coming to inflict sibling advice on him.  As if his day couldn’t get any worse.

He stayed by the window, violin bow still gripped loosely in his hand, not even moving to acknowledge his brother’s presence.  Maybe if Sherlock didn’t encourage him, his brother wouldn’t feel the need to stay for any longer than necessary.  Of course being here at all was already longer than necessary, but it seemed to be the sort of day to have evils inflicted upon him.

The seconds passed and still there was silence.  He could feel his brother’s gaze on his neck, could see him in the reflection of the window.  There was an odd expression on his brother’s face, worry with a hint of sadness and a dash of pity.  It was an expression he had seen before but couldn’t place where or when, just different enough from Mycroft’s usual worried expressions to be noticeable.

He gave a loud sigh.

“Just say what you’re obviously here to say and leave me in peace,” he said.  Because this silence, this waiting and that expression combined were more than a little unsettling.

Mycroft didn’t respond for a moment, just continued to watch him, eyes narrowing just a touch as he leant upon that infuriating umbrella.  Then he looked down and away, at the floor, his umbrella and then up again.

“You told me once,” Mycroft said softly and deliberately, “never to mention that year in Rotterdam to you ever again.  Until this week I did what you asked.  Nor did I ever ask why I wasn’t ever to speak of it and naturally you didn’t tell me, but then you didn’t have to.  It was as clear as day, written across every cell of your body, even if you weren’t aware of it at the time.”

Rotterdam?  What was Mycroft going on about?

“This isn’t the first time you’ve fallen for John Watson.”

He froze, a wave of ice cold shock washing through his body.  What had his brother just said?  That was impossible.  He flicked his eyes up to look directly at his brother’s reflection.  He hadn’t moved, was just looking back at him with a careful but truthful expression.

This wasn’t the first time he had fallen for John Watson?

That was preposterous.

“At the time,” Mycroft continued, “I hadn’t been sure you even recognised it for what it was.  A crush.  An infatuation.  A passing fancy.  You were seventeen years old but had shown no interest in anyone before that, of either gender.  Then suddenly there was John Watson.  You were… infatuated.  Harmless enough, I supposed.  I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere.  He had a girlfriend and a certain, shall we say, reputation with the ladies.  I tried to warn you, but I’m sure you can guess how well that went down.  He invited you out for drinks, the night he beat you.  You went but then returned rather quickly.  You never told me what happened, but I’m sure I can make a reasonable guess.  You were unlikely to have propositioned him and been turned down, so I assume you saw him do or say something that rather destroyed the illusion you had of him.  He never struck me as the sort of person who would be intentionally hurtful, so likely it was something unintentional, something that had you deleting the entire experience.  Something that hurt you deeply.”

He continued to stare as his brother paused.

“So you can imagine my… concern when he made a rather surprising reappearance.  I had quite forgotten him over the years, but on meeting him it was clear he was not the same man he had been.  Barely a shadow of that man in fact, for good and for ill, but one thing was painfully obvious, he looks at you now with all the infatuation you once had when you looked at him, and in turn, when you’re with him, you smile in a way I haven’t seen you do since you were seventeen.

“Losing today was… unfortunate, but you’re now in danger of losing far more than just the match.  It is not often, Sherlock, that one is given a second chance.  Even fewer when the second chance is better than the first.  Think of it as being like your second serve.  Don’t waste it.”

There was a long pause and then without another word, his brother turned and walked away.

Sherlock remained frozen by the window, his mind a whirl of thoughts and emotions.  He wanted to deny everything Mycroft had said as absurd, preposterous, a figment of his brother’s deluded mind, and yet he couldn’t.  Mycroft’s mind was as sharp as his, sharper in some respects, not that he would ever admit it.  That meant that what he had said was true, that what he had said about Rotterdam was accurate.  Why else, after all, would he have deleted it, deleted John Watson completely, and yet he did not want it to be true, because that meant this was more.  More than just a tournament fling.  More than just a few quick shags between matches.  More than just a random meeting of bodies and minds.  This had form, history, this had happened before.  He had met and fallen for the same man, twice.  That wasn’t coincidence.

Think of it as being like your second serve.  Don’t waste it.

The importance of the second serve.

Don’t double fault.  Don’t throw it away.  Don’t waste it.

But John was gone, banished, he would not want to come back.  Not now.  And even if he did, it would be a mistake.  Of course it would be a mistake.  It had been a mistake in Rotterdam – obvious – and it had been a mistake here.  It would just continue to be a mistake, and then John would leave.  John would leave and he would be alone again.

Alone.

Everybody leaves.

“Sherlock, love, you really shouldn’t stand there in the dark.  It’s not good for you.”

He blinked, Mrs Hudson’s words pulling him back into the room, into the present.  It was dark.  When had it got dark?  Just how long had he been standing there for?  Longer than he had thought.  Far longer than he had planned.

He slowly put down the violin bow that was still hanging loosely from his fingers.

“Tea is what you need, love.  A good cup of tea.”

Mrs Hudson was babbling on about something behind him, her words breaching the self-imposed barrier he had constructed around him.  She always had had a way of breaking through, whether he liked it or not.

Tea.  As if tea would help.

Turning from the window he made his way to the couch, sweeping the contents onto the floor, frowning when the notebook with John Watson scrawled across it landed face up.  He stared at it.  He knew every word that was written in it, from the detailed analysis of John’s skills and match play, to the unanswered questions that had been tormenting for what already seemed like a lifetime. 

Que m’as-tu fait?

What do you do to me?

It hadn’t been in the plan.  John Watson hadn’t been in the plan and yet he had managed to worm his way in.  How had that happened?

“Here you go, love, and some freshly baked cookies as well.”

He ignored the cup of tea and the small plate Mrs Hudson put in front of him on the coffee table, but he did allow himself to sit down, eyes still fixed on the notebook, fingers propping up his chin.

John Watson, more than a passing fancy?  More than just another conquest? 

You don’t get a third chance.  Not in tennis.  Not with your serve.  Not in life.

A second chance.  His last chance.  He had to get it right.  Whatever decision he made, he had to make sure it was the right one.

He had to.

He reached down and traced his fingers over the front of the notebook. 

John Watson.

The second chance.

*-*-*

Wimbledon
Sunday, 20th June 2010

*

After Rotterdam it was eight years before he saw John Watson again.

He drew a blank on the name, but the tired looking player on the end court almost seemed familiar.  He was nothing special, just another washed up, unimportant player, at the end of his career, tired both physically and emotionally.

Something made him stop.  He wasn’t sure what, but he stopped as the man tossed yet another ball, aiming his serve at the pots at the other end.  He missed.  His serratus anterior was overly tight, pulling his serve just a touch to one side.  An old injury, but newly exacerbated, partially from overuse, partly by having injured it during Queens.  Grass stains down his side, obviously Queens, no other tournament it could be.  Wild card entry, British, doesn’t think he’s good enough to be here.  Wrong.

Familiar, but who was he?  Who had he been?  There was something tugging at the corner of his mind, something just out of reach.

He went for broke, told the man everything he could deduce about him, waited for the man to swear at him and tell him to piss off.  But the man didn’t.  He just stared at him, his face an expression of amazement and surprise.  That was… different.  There was something nice, good about the look, honest even.  Genuine and strangely attractive.

Who was this man?

He could walk away now, of course, he’d said his bit, deduced all he needed to know, but he didn’t, something instead urging him forwards, not away.

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

*-*-*

The End.
(or, if you like, The Beginning)