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Sleight of Hand (Or, five times John Watson took something that didn’t belong to him, and one time it did)

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1.
“Just a minute, gents,” Lestrade smiles ruefully as he pats his trouser pockets. “Must be here somewhere.”

Sherlock sighs. Loudly.

The crime Lestrade had called him out for was painfully obvious. In punishment Sherlock had removed Lestrade's identification from his back pocket, which was…simple. Perhaps shamefully simple. In his lifetime Sherlock had executed a similar pick dozens, maybe hundreds, of times—he was in double digits with Lestrade alone—so he'd shaved the edge off his boredom by predicting Lestrade's response.

And now, back at the entrance to New Scotland Yard, Sherlock stands waiting for the inspector to fumble through his pockets, then his wallet, for an ID he won’t find.

Lestrade turns out various pockets in vain, and John, appearing to finally cotton on, turns a reproachful gaze upon Sherlock. Sherlock shrugs. Bored. He lifts an eyebrow as John shakes his head and fixes him with a stare Sherlock can’t quite parse. Sherlock tunes it out and reaches for his own ID card, preparing to be ushered ahead even as Lestrade will need to stay behind to make excuses and fill out paperwork for the guards at the front entrance.

He hears John’s voice, trying to be helpful: “Did you check your coat pocket, Greg? Maybe an inner pocket?”

Lestrade shakes his head, “Nah, I never—.”

Oh.

Lestrade somehow flashes an ID to the guard and moves through the metal detector. Sherlock pulls up straighter and scans Lestrade for possible explanations. An extra ID? Nearly impossible given security restrictions. Taken the wrong card? Possible but….Sherlock reaches again to his pocket and feels a jolt of adrenaline when he does not find Lestrade’s ID there.

Lestrade has moved past security and Sherlock fumbles to produce his own identification card, which is not in his wallet where it should be. Outer pockets (right, left), ticket pocket, back pocket, ah, there it is. But odd. Very odd. Never keep things in the back pocket. How could…..Sherlock sucks in a sharp breath as his eyes track to John who is himself going through the metal detector now. Eliminate the impossible and what remains, however improbable, must be true.

Fascinating.

Once he’s flashed his own identification, Sherlock’s long strides easily catch him up with John and the DI, but as they have now talked themselves halfway down the path of a completely fruitless hypothesis, he has little time to contemplate the matter of Lestrade’s ID card. Or the money he will later discover missing from his own wallet. Or the smirk that plays briefly on John Watson’s face as he walks next to Sherlock down the halls of New Scotland Yard.

 

******

2.
A train of rather brilliant deductions (and one lucky guess) means they’ve traced the supply of tainted muriatic acid to a plumbing supply store in Brixton. Joseph Donahue—late 30s, recently returned to the family business after a middling career as an actor—is almost certainly the accomplice to his uncle’s meth lab endeavors. Is he a willing or unwilling accomplice? Irrelevant. What Sherlock needs now is access to Donahue’s phone.

Sherlock mutters this information to John and starts to lay out an elaborate diversion, when John leans in. “Let me,” he whispers, and Sherlock shivers at the feel of John’s warm breath near his ear. Before Sherlock can respond, John strides off.

Sherlock pretends to examine pipe insulation as John approaches Donahue, asking for help and gesturing towards a shelf a few aisles over. Reasonably certain he’s not being watched himself, he stares as John stands by Donahue’s side, pointing to the various brands of caulk, stepping slightly in front of the shopkeeper, then back again holding up an oversized blue box. Donahue nods and returns to his counter. John walks back towards Sherlock and discreetly drops the phone into Sherlock’s outer pocket as he meanders toward a row of sinks on the rear wall of the shop.

Sherlock curls his fingers around Donahue’s phone and scrambles about in his mind palace. Sherlock is accomplished in the art of lifting items from unsuspecting marks and knows what he must have, should have, seen: John moving into the perimeter of Donahue’s personal space then strategically redirecting his attention as he extracted the phone from his trouser pocket. But John’s moves were so fluid, so unexpected, so astonishingly good that Sherlock realizes with a start that he saw none of it.

Him. Sherlock Holmes. Saw not one bit of John’s pick.

”John,” he starts after him, “how—“

John cuts him off with a pointed stare. “Why don’t you get what you need, Sherlock, then I’ll take everything up to the register before we go.”

Sherlock’s eyebrows lift before he can think to stop himself. Returning the phone? Not just good. Very good.

“I expect we have about five minutes, maybe less, before we need to be going. Is that enough time for you?” Sherlock gives a quick nod. Confident to the point of recklessness—to not just take the phone but return it as well.

Sherlock takes a steadying breath and drifts down an aisle, away from Donahue, finding the necessary texts, memorizing locations and passwords.

John’s standing behind him now. Sherlock’s pulse is racing. Why is his pulse racing?

“Ready?”

Sherlock reads the text on the screen, then closes it out and places the phone into the palm of John’s waiting hand. He allows himself the pleasure of contact with John’s fingertips as he pulls back before digging his hands into the pockets of his coat.

“Good. I’ll be at the counter. You can wait over there.” John gestures toward the door. “If you’d like. Just take a minute.”

Sherlock reaches the door and recognizes that John has positioned him to see exactly what he’s doing. John carries two tubes of caulk, then points to some batteries displayed behind the counter, his arm reaching across and past Donahue. When Donahue shifts to follow the line of John’s extended arm, John drops the phone into Donahue’s outer jacket pocket. John finishes the sale, thanks his mark, then steps out onto the street; the bounce in John’s step carries him down the sidewalk without a glance behind.

“John, that was—“ Sherlock stops. “That was—”

Sherlock looks up to find that John has kept walking. He takes several long strides to catch up and tries a third time. “John, that was extraordinary. It was flawless. It was—” Now Sherlock steps in front of John, so that John must either halt abruptly or crash into him, “it was entirely unexpected.”

John raises an eyebrow: “Entirely unexpected? Don’t tell me you didn’t notice the dip with Lestrade’s ID a few weeks back.”

Sherlock blinks. “Yes, of course I did. But you never told me.”

“Well,” John grins and starts walking again, “we all have our little secrets. Don’t we, Sherlock?”

“But you work single O. The entire pick by yourself. You never told me.” Repeating himself. Damn.

John shrugs. “So do you. ’s not big a deal.”

“Yes, John, I do. But not like that. That was….” Sherlock takes a few strides to collect his thoughts.

“It wasn’t a difficult dip.”

“Not unusually difficult, no. But your form, John. It wasn’t just precise, it was…poetic.” Why is John just brushing this off? And why can’t Sherlock stop talking? “It was a gorgeous pick and you very well know it.”

Finally John stops, looks at Sherlock, and smiles. “Right, okay then. Yes, I know it.” John sniffs. “Bit out of practice, though.”

“John, you must—“ Sherlock’s fingers wrap around John’s wrist.

“Yes, yes, I’ll show you, you daft git. But not right now. Right now I’m hungry. Chinese?”

 

*******

3.
“Show me.”

“Sherlock, you’re overreacting.”

“I’m not. You’re good and I need to know how good. Now show me.”

They’re seated at a table for four in the two chairs facing out toward the window, watching Londoners scurry home before the rain truly lets loose.

“Take something from me, John.” Sherlock has turned his chair to face John. “Do it now.”

“Well, I can hardly do that, can I? I mean, you’re expecting me to take something, and it’s not like you don’t know how this works. I can’t just take something when you’re waiting for me to take something.”

Sherlock crosses his arms and glares out the window.

“Some other time, alright? When I have the element of surprise.”

He slips a bit further down in his chair.

“Fine, you want to act like a four year old, I’ll treat you like a four year old.” John reaches behind Sherlock’s ear and produces a coin.

Sherlock isn’t impressed, doesn’t mean to be impressed, but then John launches into what is clearly a highly polished routine—and Sherlock sits up a bit straighter in the chair. It requires his full attention to track the speed and agility with which the coin appears and disappears: behind one ear, on the other shoulder, under the face of his watch. He’s sure he felt John loosen his watch. Well, he might have felt John loosen his watch. But he didn’t feel the coin until John pointed it out. John’s touch is so light, his hands on his shoulders, his wrist, a light sweep across his chest, the sensitive area behind his ear. Sherlock can feel the way John is directing his attention, guiding his lines of sight, but somehow he can’t bring himself to resist: against all reason he allows himself to drift along with the tidal pull of John’s focus and patter, the sound of his voice and the feel of his hands brushing softly against him. Here. There. Sherlock feels a soft sensation across his shoulder blades, like pins and needles but infinitely more pleasurable, feels himself relaxing, even as his breathing grows a bit shallow.

“Okay, now, if you would please, write your name here, on this napkin.”

He reaches into the inner pocket of his jacket to produce a pen. Ready to dash off his elegant scrawl, Sherlock stops abruptly, eyes flicking quickly from the pen to John and back again.

It’s a five-alarm fire in his head now, every resource mustered to figure out what the hell just happened. Correction. He knows what happened, but how?

How?

And even though he knows what’s coming, Sherlock can’t help but feel his mouth fall open a little bit when, with a flourish, John reaches his left hand into his right sleeve and produces the cartridge to Sherlock’s empty pen.

“But how? When? John, how did you…?”

“You know how I did it, Sherlock. You know my methods. Think it through.”

Sherlock closes his eyes with a scowl, replays the entire sequence again, but he can’t quite see it. When John got the pen, yes. How he replaced it: imprecise. Need more data.

He shakes his head, plays it back again. And again. He finds it difficult to extract the essential from the extraneous data; Sherlock struggles to separate the memory of John’s touch from the physical reactions they induced. He shakes his head again. Transport. Just transport.

Ten, fifteen minutes later—once he’s relatively certain he’s recreated the entire sequence (with a larger margin of error for the point at which John replaced Sherlock’s watch with his own)—Sherlock opens his eyes. John smiles at him as he pops a last bite of spring roll into his mouth and tucks into a plate of lamb Xinjiang.

“That was extraordinary.” John tightens his lips into a line to hold back a grin and Sherlock leans in towards him: “Who taught you?”

“Ah, well, now you’re getting the picture of my misspent youth. My gran did her best, but my dad—well, he started training Harry and me up early. Harry was the steer. Started me as a stall, but promoted me in no time. Golden hands, he said I had.” John shakes his head and pushes the food around on his plate.

“But it doesn’t fit. Soldier. Doctor. Strong moral code.”

John sighs. “Yeah. Well, I knew it wasn’t quite right, but he was my dad and all.” John’s silent for a moment, replaying some memory that Sherlock can’t deduce. He waits, rapt. “I didn’t get the guts to walk away until I was 14. That’s when Harry and I went to live with our gran full time.”

“And your father disappeared shortly thereafter. You don’t know where he is now.”

“Not sure. We lost track of him my first year of uni.” John looks out the window. “Last I know he was over his head in gambling debt. He disappeared. His own steam or someone else’s we never found out.” John looks back to Sherlock, with a dry sniff. ’S’okay though. Never missed him as much as I should have. And my ah, golden touch, seemed put to better use in the surgery.” John’s forced grin fades a bit. “Well, it did.” John looks at his splayed fingers, then makes a fist.

“Your hand was perfectly steady, John. But how did you—“

“You know what, Sherlock. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I mean I know you probably deduced all this already, but I just—I don’t want to talk about it.” He clenches his jaw. “I thought maybe I did, but I was wrong.”

John pushes the platter across the table and gestures to Sherlock. Sherlock holds his gaze for a moment, then relents, taking a spring roll, and starts to deduce the middle-aged couple sitting several tables over. Sherlock works his way through six tables and a second spring roll before he finally sees John’s fist relax.

 

******

4.
It becomes a game between them, one John is most likely to trot out when he fears Sherlock will throw a strop in a tiresome social setting. It’s possible that Sherlock may sometimes manipulate the data just to get John to play, just to watch him work. Sherlock never tires of watching John work. Even in a room full of detectives—excruciatingly dull detectives, the lot of them, but still—John works without hesitation, without the slightest sign of fear he might be caught. Giddy, Sherlock sometimes thinks to himself. Giddy might be the right word to describe how he feels when he watches John.

“Jesus, Sherlock. It’s drinks for Dimmock’s promotion. Try not to get us all thrown out, yeah?”

“Mmmm.” Sherlock is strategically noncommittal and casts his gaze towards the third barkeep.

John makes a big show of sighing, but Sherlock doesn’t miss the slight smile in his voice: “Traveling lemon?”

Sherlock’s grin of triumph is entirely internal. He hopes. “Mmmmm. Molly’s keys?”

“Molly’s k— Oh hell, fine. Molly’s keys. I’ll start.”

Sherlock watches John wander over to Molly, insinuate himself next to her. He makes a joke and when Molly offers a rejoinder, John leans into her and touches her arm as he laughs. Not two minutes later, John has Molly’s small key ring and with hardly any delay drops it in Donovan’s front coat pocket. Damn. Of course Donovan. He’s trying to end the game before it even begins. But Sherlock is not so easily deterred.

Donovan is always on her guard with Sherlock, so this pick will require a diversion. Happily a solution presents itself in the form of Donovan’s drink, which—when Sherlock backs into her with sufficient velocity—she spills all over Anderson. Between the time she shoots Sherlock a dirty look and finishes sopping the mess off Anderson’s appalling Asda-sale-rack shirt, Sherlock easily retrieves the keys. He heads over to Dimmock and, one horribly awkward congratulatory embrace later, has deposited the keys in Dimmock’s breast pocket.

He turns to John with a smirk, but John only lifts an eyebrow and strolls over to embrace Dimmock and Lestrade in turn. Damn.

Sherlock scans Lestrade again as he talks to Dimmock, notes the wrinkled shirt, the stained tie, the absence of dark circles under his eyes, the three-quarter stone weight loss. Divorce suits Lestrade. The DI is settling into new patterns: less ordered, more relaxed. Sherlock shifts his gaze to Molly Hooper who is—as he knew she would be—stealing furtive glances in Lestrade’s direction as he turns his attention to one of the administrative assistants in records (engaged, though unhappily). Sherlock rolls his eyes. Evidently the pep talk Donovan gave Lestrade last week (clearly indicated by the elbow to the ribs she delivered before leaving him behind in the morgue with Molly to do “paperwork”) has not done the trick. He looks from Molly to Lestrade and back again, only to find himself unexpectedly riveted by the sudden slump of her shoulders, the way she bites her lip and checks her watch.

Oh.

What he has just observed, Sherlock realizes, is the exact moment in which Molly Hooper’s resignation finally outstripped her seemingly fathomless optimism. Molly has moved to the side of the room now, poking around in the bottom of her bag. Something in his throat feels tight.

John returns, smug. “The lemon is in play.”

Sherlock looks again towards Molly, sees her head in the direction of the coat check. “I’m done.”

“Done? Already? That’s not like you. I expected at least a half dozen more picks before you threw it in.” John shrugs and takes a step towards Lestrade, “I’ll get the keys b—“

“Leave it.”

“Can’t do that. Molly will—“

“I said leave it, John.”

John tilts his head before comprehension dawns. “Ohhhh.”

Sherlock offers a nonchalant shrug. “I anticipate Ms. Hooper will leave within,” he checks his watch, “the next 15 minutes to catch the 176. Twelve minutes after that, I’ll send Lestrade a text explaining that I planted the keys in his coat pocket. By then, she’ll be far enough away that he’ll offer to meet her at her apartment. If she can’t take it from there, well, Molly’s not quite as resourceful as I believe her to be. And I’m never wrong.”

“Hardly ever,” John's eyes twinkle.

“Almost never.”

“Sometimes it’s a lucky guess.”

“I never guess.”

“Yes you do. Can you guess what I’m thinking right now?” John catches Sherlock’s eye and Sherlock finds himself unable to look away.

That you know I find you remarkable? That I am keenly aware of every conversation you have with each woman and man in this room, who admire you and are a little afraid of you and who think they know you when they don’t? Not really. Not like I do. That I could watch the poetry of your movements for hours and never grow bored? Me. Never bored. That I have developed an unaccountable desire for you to touch my hand, to take my—. John lifts an eyebrow and Sherlock clears his throat. “I can’t begin to imagine, John.”

“I think you’re a romantic, Sherlock,” John teases. Sherlock’s heart stops, breath caught in this throat. “Pushing Greg and Molly together,” John chuckles. “Greg always said he thought you could be a good man as well as a great one. Don’t think he had you measured out for the matching-making sort though.”

Sherlock shrugs his shoulders and brushes imaginary dust off his left jacket cuff. He can’t quite determine why he found Molly’s hopelessness so affecting. Mycroft no doubt would make some snide comment about her eternal romantic optimism serving as a proxy for his own pathetic hopes. He shifts uncomfortably.

“Besides,” John continues, “She’s better off this way, isn’t she? With you stealing her keys instead of her heart.”

“Girlfriends, John. Not really my division.”

“So you’ve said. Doesn’t mean you haven’t amassed an impressive collection, though.” After a pause, John clears his throat: “Of stolen hearts.” Sherlock scans John’s face, trying to fathom where this turn in the conversation is headed. John’s voice softens, “But I suppose you didn’t steal them, did you? Not your fault if people just give them to you, even if it’s not what you want.”

John’s still staring at Sherlock—expecting a response maybe? To what? What would be the proper response to this reminder that Sherlock is inept when it comes to human feelings in general and romance in particular? He opens his mouth but closes it again.

John sighs, then squares his shoulders in the way he does when readying himself for an unpleasant task. “I get it Sherlock. You told me that the second day we met. And even if sometimes I w—“ If I what?, Sherlock wonders—but John simply looks to the ceiling a moment, before starting again, “Well, it doesn’t matter, does it? I just want you to know that I respect that Sherlock. It’s all fine.”

The first day we met…sometimes I w--?....it’s all fine….

By the time Sherlock can process the implications of John’s statement and the very small window of opportunity it may present, John has turned away. “Ready to go? I’m knackered.” John heads for the door, and Sherlock follows in his wake, swinging his coat on and burying his hands deep into his pockets.

 

*****

5.
Sherlock is in a full-on sulk, entering day three of being curled up on the sofa, dressing gown drawn around him, refusing food, hoping only for a respite from the incredibly stunning boredom of his life. John—caught between the Scylla of Sherlock’s sulk and the Charybdis of an unrelenting series of texts from Mycroft, insisting Sherlock take on a case, no doubt one of national importance—had finally snapped. He’d pulled on a coat over his jumper and gone out, muttering something that might have sounded like “desperate times, desperate measures.” Sherlock can’t be bothered to move. No need. Fewer than 45 minutes later, John has returned.

When John enters 221b, Sherlock can hear him walk purposefully across the room, then deposit something on the table next to him.

“Here. This might cheer you up.”

Sherlock doesn’t bother looking. “It’s a phone, John. How could a phone possibly cheer me up?” He sneers. “And I’m not in need of cheering, John. I’m in need of a case.”

John opens his mouth—

“An interesting case. Not one of my brother’s tiresome errands. If you don’t have a proper case, then Leave. Me. Alone.”

John shrugs. “I don’t have a case. But I have a pretty good idea that we’ll be seeing your brother within the hour.”

Sherlock blows out a huff of air. It gets worse and worse.

Just as John predicted, Mycroft arrives within the hour. Fewer than 30 minutes, in fact. And if Sherlock is in a sulk, it’s nothing to the temper Mycroft is in. Not that most people would be able to tell. But Sherlock can tell even by the rap on the door—and he knows instantly that something extraordinary has perturbed his brother. And that something extraordinary may well be John Watson. Fascinating. Sherlock pushes himself up to a sitting position, picking up the phone John has left for him.

By the time Sherlock looks up from the phone, what appears to be a prototype RM-1052, John’s welcoming Mycroft into the flat, offering him tea and encouraging him to take a seat in Sherlock’s chair. It positions Mycroft so that Sherlock can see him perfectly. Mycroft scans the room, taking in the evidence of Sherlock’s protracted strop, John’s forced good cheer, and, finally, the phone that Sherlock now twiddles in his hand. Ahhhh. Anthea’s phone.

“Very clever, Dr. Watson. Yes, you’re very good—but,” now Mycroft turns his attention to Sherlock, “I require the return of my assistant’s phone.”

Sherlock rises from the sofa and moves towards Mycroft, still turning the phone over between his fingers. “That was rather careless of her, Mycroft, leaving her phone in a place where anyone could reach it. So hard, isn’t it, to get good help?”

John walks in from the kitchen now, holding two cups of tea and handing the first to Sherlock. “Now, Sherlock, I feel quite certain that Anthea can’t be blamed for this. She’s exceedingly competent. But everyone has a bad day. Or a moment when they’re distracted. Or,” John says, leaning in to hand Mycroft his cup, and Sherlock can’t help but smile at the way Mycroft tenses up as John, always keeping eye contact with Mycroft, moves into his space—“maybe just someone they underestimate.”

Mycroft grits his teeth, then stretches out his hand toward Sherlock. “The phone, Sherlock. If you please.” Sherlock tosses it through the air and Mycroft nearly fumbles the catch, sloshing a bit of tea from his cup. John grabs a napkin from the table and dabs at the mess on the chair and Mycroft’s sleeve.

“The information, the access available through this phone—well, for it to fall into the wrong hands would be…imprudent.”

“Lucky it didn’t then. Just here. Just us.”

Mycroft breathes through his nose and turns back to glare at Sherlock.

John leans over him towards the table where he’s set the tray, stretching awkwardly to offer a second sugar and a splash of cream, which Mycroft wordlessly refuses. John walks round to the other side of the chair and cuts a slice of the cake Mrs. Hudson brought them yesterday. When Mycroft again refuses, eyes still locked with Sherlock’s, John rests his weight on the arm of Mycroft’s chair and reaches past Mycroft to hand Sherlock a piece. When Sherlock refuses John shrugs, then straightens up and retreats to the kitchen.

“I had hoped that your Dr. Watson would have a positive influence on you, Sherlock. I see now that was foolishly optimistic on my part. Instead he employs his rather dubious skill set for your amusement. A cause for concern, I think. And perhaps increased security.”

“Don’t make idle threats, Mycroft. We pose no credible threat to queen and country.”

“Be that as it may, Sherlock.”

“Piss off, Mycroft.” Sherlock flops back down on the sofa. “Finish your tea and leave me to enjoy the few moments of not-boredom that John has afforded me.”

After a few more minutes of thick silence, Mycroft stands and walks to the door, picking up his umbrella as he nods to his brother: “Sherlock.” Then, raising his voice slightly to carry into the kitchen, “Dr. Watson.”

“Good afternoon, Mycroft,” John calls from the kitchen. “Do come back again soon.”

Sherlock listens to Mycroft plod down the seventeen steps, then turns to join John in the kitchen—only to find him in the sitting room, grinning with one finger to his lips and the other hand outstretched.

Sherlock takes the cue and listens—and yes, now Sherlock can hear footsteps coming back up the steps—the right weight for Mycroft, certainly, but at a pace much faster than he’s ever heard his brother move.

Mycroft throws the door open, eyes flashing, face contorted in something close to rage: “Doctor. Watson. My phone. Now.”

John pulls a second phone—Mycroft’s phone—from his trouser pocket and walks towards Mycroft’s outstretched arm. Mycroft leans forward and snatches the phone away, punches several keys, then apparently satisfied, breathes again through his nose and looks back up at John. John lifts an eyebrow.

“Your point is taken, Dr. Watson. Anthea will not be punished. But if you attempt anything like this again—“

“No, Mycroft, no. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. I always return what I take. I have since I was 14. You’ve always known that about me. I’m sure it’s in whatever file you had pulled on me that first day. So you’ve always known.” John holds Mycroft’s gaze and leans forward slightly: “But now you really know.”

Mycroft narrows his eyes and leaves without another word. John carries an empty plate towards the sink.

Sherlock drinks in the sight of Mycroft’s departure, then wheels into the kitchen. His heart pounds as if they’d just run across London. Sherlock anticipates John’s answering chuckle, but it doesn’t come.

“John—“

John is staring at the stovetop, fist clenching and unclenching. “Don’t, just, don’t Sherlock. I can’t, I won’t—just leave me be.” Before Sherlock can respond, John pushes past him and (without taking his coat) walks out the door, down the stairs, and heads down Baker Street towards Marylebone.

 

When after 45 minutes John hasn’t returned, Sherlock makes a cup of tea, sets it next to John’s chair, then throws himself into his own chair to wait.

It’s nearly dusk when John returns smelling of the pub round Gloucester St..

John nods as he walks to the fire Sherlock’s lit and kept burning, but says nothing. Sherlock waits, fingers steepled, eyes fixed on John. After nearly ten minutes, John starts to speak, still staring into the fire.

“This isn’t who I am, Sherlock. It never was, and I spent years trying to get away from it, to be someone better, to do something good. And now here I am falling into all my old habits, just for what? To amuse you? Jesus Christ, that’s—“ John cuts himself off, mutters “Sod that.”

Sherlock speaks carefully. Even with all John said at the party for Dimmock last week, there’s a risk here. “It’s not just for me. It’s for you too.”

“What?,” John rounds on him.

Sherlock leans forward: “You’re highly accomplished, John. A skilled surgeon. A decorated soldier. Both of those chapters of your life you consider closed. Now I discover you have a third highly developed skill set. It’s only natural, isn’t it, that you should enjoy being appreciated for doing masterful work.”

John stands, not moving closer, but not backing away. “But that’s—“

“Besides,” Sherlock rises from his chair, decided, pitching his voice a bit lower, in tones meant to seduce, “I enjoy watching you work.”

John stands unmoving, neither retreating nor leaning in. “Don’t be ridiculous.” Sherlock swallows.

“What’s ridiculous? You enjoy watching me work. I know you do. I see all the signs of it: increased pulse rate, dilated pupils, the way you try to modulate your voice. The way you sometimes shift your posture, hoping I won’t notice your erection.” Sherlock hesitates, then reaches out to take John’s hand. “Surely you notice all the same behaviors in me?” Sherlock can hear that his voice has reduced practically to a whisper as he places John’s hand on his trousers, and he doesn’t stifle his moan of pleasure when John’s fingers twitch on his hardening cock.

John’s hand trembles as Sherlock steps further into John’s touch, his own hand stroking John’s shoulder, lips moving slowly towards John’s mouth. So much uncertain data. Will John stay? Lean in? Or leave abruptly? Sherlock blinks as he tries to read the signs, but everything is muddled. Distracted. He can only smell John’s aftershave, feel John’s fingers graze him again. The room is utterly still, silent, but for the sounds of their breathing. More rapid than usual. Arousal? Panic? Both?

John draws in a shaky breath but his voice is commanding. “Do not mess me around on this, Sherlock. Tell me this is not some kind of experiment.”

“No.” It comes out louder than Sherlock expects and slightly cracked, and even though Sherlock can feel a blush rising up his neck he can’t stop the babble of words now: “No no no, not an experiment. Just….” Sherlock’s words dry up and his eyes fall closed. Rubbish. He’s absolute rubbish at this, at emotions and transport and oh god, John, please (did he say that aloud?). John’s hand is still twitching slightly against him which means he hasn’t left. And when Sherlock’s eyes finally come back open he finds, to his amazement, John smiling at him. Smiling. Incredible.

“Right. Okay then.”

John lifts his chin and Sherlock’s eyes drift closed again and just in the moment that Sherlock sways in and imagines the slightest brush of lips on his own, there is a sharp rap at the door and the sound of it opening up.

“Ah! Have I interrupted something? My apologies.” Anthea stands at the threshold, her voice bright. No doubt the grin he can hear in her words is thoroughly unapologetic. “I was warned that might be the case, but, well, needs must.”

Sherlock refuses to look towards the door, wills John to do the same. “Not. Now,” he grits out.

“The ambassador’s ball begins in less than an hour and Mr. Holmes was very insistent that Dr. Watson be there to assist in,” Anthea pauses briefly, “a delicate matter of state.”

John sighs and leans around Sherlock to address Anthea. “Jesus. Now? It has to be now?”

“It does.” Anthea stands at the door, fires off a text. “The timing, it appears, is regrettable.”

John lifts an eyebrow. “Bollocks— you don’t regret it at all. But fair dues. I shouldn’t have lifted your phone and I owe you an apology.” John shifts his weight and walks towards the door. “So, I apologize. We even?”

Anthea gives a nearly imperceptible nod. “But we need to leave in the next five minutes. Mr. Holmes, the elder Mr. Holmes recommends the Huntsman. Dr. Watson, we’ll provide something suitable on arrival.”

“Ten minutes, and we’ll meet you at the car.” It’s only when John lifts his chin towards the door that Anthea turns on her heel and leaves.

Still facing the door, John wipes a hand over his face before turning to the spot where Sherlock has retreated, back to the wall. “Jesus, Sherlock. Exactly the last thing I want to do is leave this room right now.”

“So don’t,” Sherlock growls.

John shakes his head and walks towards him. “Look, I don’t know what the hell is happening here.” Sherlock feels John’s gaze sweep over his body, most likely seeking confirmation of Sherlock’s arousal—confirmation that, Sherlock realizes as he resists the temptation to shift to a more comfortable position, is painfully obvious.

John’s tongue darts to his upper lip before he swallows. “But I do know if we’re not in that car in the next eight and a half minutes, I’m going to have more hell to pay with your brother than I already do.” Sherlock holds his breath as John closes the few steps between them and rests his hand on Sherlock’s chest, over his thumping heart. “By the time we get back you may have deleted this entire thing, or locked it away in some tiny alcove of that mind palace. I hope to Christ not.” Sherlock, too overwhelmed to properly protest, offers a minute shake of his head. “But if you meant what you said,” and now John’s leaning in with a predatory grin to whisper in his ear, “then when we get home I’ve got one more highly developed skill set I’d like you to appreciate.”

Nearly two full minutes later, Sherlock’s still slumped against the wall, eyes closed, breathing shallow. When he hears the car horn on the street, he scrambles to pull the Huntsman from his closet with a small curse.

 

***************

+1
Thirty-five minutes later, Sherlock is helping John into his waiter’s jacket, straightening his bowtie, tucking the shirt points into place.

“You don’t have to do this, you know,” Sherlock scowls.

“I know. I’m not doing it because I have to.”

Sherlock sighs. “This is petty, John. Work for amateurs. Beneath you.”

John shrugs. “The cultural attache has a compromising letter and he’s using it to coerce the ambassador’s wife. If the letter’s recovered, the leak stops. And a ‘minor skirmish’ is avoided.” John gives Sherlock a small grin. “And I imagine what Mycroft considers a minor skirmish is something I’m likely to read on the front page.”

“I expect so, yes.”

“Right, well, all I have do to then is get the letter.”

Sherlock sighs and lets his hands linger a bit as he smoothes John’s lapels. “Start with his left inner breast pocket. That’s the one he patted when he passed the Protect Your Belongings sign in the lobby.”

“You’re a perfect steer, you are,” John smirks.

Letting his voice drop, Sherlock murmurs, “You can thank me properly later.”

‘You can be sure of it,” and Sherlock’s breath catches as John’s hand reaches out for his own, fingertips brushing his palm before John turns away.

The pick, of course, goes seamlessly. John circulates the room unnoticed in his waiter garb, spills something on the attache, pats him down while drying him off, and pockets the letter. As Sherlock looks on, John hands the envelope off to Anthea before the mark even realizes it’s missing. By the time the man is whispering furiously to his assistant-cum-bodyguard-cum-accomplice, John has already ducked out the back door. Sherlock follows.

His hand hesitates only briefly on the door latch of the waiting sedan before he pulls it open and slides in. “You got it.” Sherlock is pleased to note his voice sounds even.

“I did.”

“Amazing.”

“You know you say that out loud?” John says with a smile.

“Sorry.”

“No it’s, its fine.” He looks down at his hands. “But not really warranted. Just petty theft. Just taking things that don’t belong to me.”

Sherlock angles his shoulders towards John, whose gaze is trained straight ahead. “Maybe you should stop with the petty, then. Take something of consequence.”

“I’d rather it be given.” John turns to look at Sherlock, slowly, like he’s still not sure what he’ll see.

“It’s yours already.”

“Is it, Sherlock? How--how could I know?”

Sherlock chuckles. “That’s easy, John. Check your pockets.” He can’t help but smirk as John’s brow furrows.

Sherlock hears the crinkle of John finding the condom he had deposited in John’s pocket nearly two hours ago and the sound of John’s low quiet laughter, just before he feels John grab hold of his tie and pull.

“What’s this?,” he asks, eyes focused on Sherlock’s mouth, warm breath ghosting over his lips.

“Surely, John, you don’t need me to—“ but the words dry up as Sherlock catches John’s dark gaze, suddenly inscrutable in the flickering shadows of the moving car. He freezes. Too far? Too much?

The car suddenly feels warm, so warm, but the feel of John’s hand on his neck is cool as he slides his fingers into Sherlock’s hair. The sound of his own shuddering breath is so loud in Sherlock’s ears that it nearly drowns out the frankly embarrassing noises he’s making as he leans into John’s touch. Finally.

“Sherlock,” John murmurs, and drags his fingers along his jaw, thumb grazing his lips. “Sherlock, please can I—“

And that tone in John’s voice seems to break something in Sherlock, makes him want to give himself over, to let John direct him utterly. Like that day in the restaurant, the feel of his hand, the power of his focus.

“Oh god, yes. You can—I have—“ Sherlock knows that he’s babbling now but can’t bring himself to care, not while John is pressing kisses to his neck, his ear, pulling slightly on his hair.

Sherlock’s pushing his hips forward to meet John’s and John’s leaning into him more, overcoming him, and suddenly, Sherlock finds, John is spread atop him here in the plush back seat of the dark-tinted sedan. John’s tie is torn off, Sherlock’s shirt unbuttoned, and now the feel of John’s hand on his chest, over his heart, is searing. The press of the door handle on his shoulder, the dig of the seatbelt into his waist, all fade away, leaving nothing but John, John, John. Now John’s hand is on his zip, and Sherlock hears himself whimpering again. It’s difficult to manage, but John’s hands are deft while Sherlock grows increasingly desperate. He gasps at the feel of John’s fingers on him, the rough skin of his hand delicious against Sherlock’s oversensitive skin. Sherlock bucks up against him as John releases a groan; as John sets a rhythm, Sherlock scrabbles at John’s zip and stifles another moan.

“Louder,” John says, “let me hear you,” he cajoles, canting up his hips to help Sherlock release the cock from his pants. Sherlock freezes for a moment, thinking briefly of his brother’s driver, of his total lack of control in this moment—then looks up at John’s unblinking eyes and gives himself over to it entirely.

The angle of the back seat is awkward, nearly painful, but adrenaline thrums through his veins. They’re pumping in rhythm now, John’s hand wrapped about them both and Sherlock’s leg wrapped up around John’s ankles, until John’s pace stutters and he whispers frantically. “God Sherlock yes, now, with me, now.“

Sherlock shudders and John follows after, eyes never breaking contact. The rumble of the road continues beneath them and Sherlock blinks; breathing hard, John lowers his weight against Sherlock’s chest and murmurs words that Sherlock can feel more than hear.

Too soon the car pulls to a stop. Sherlock looks down in a daze at the mess between them, but John lifts Sherlock’s chin and smiles. He lets out a deep contented sigh and presses a tender kiss to Sherlock’s lips. Despite the sticky wetness pooled between them and the increasingly painful dig of the seatbelt into his ribs, Sherlock can’t help but smile in return.

Flies are zipped, buttons rebuttoned, and they tumble out of the car and through the door of 221b. They’re leaning against the wall now, out of breath and laughing. A wave of longing, born of so many years of wanting without having, crashes over Sherlock and before he can stop himself, he reaches out to grab the lapels of John’s jacket and pull him closer.

“So, John, that other highly developed skill set.”

“Hmmm,” he hums in reply, and Sherlock shivers as John’s mouth works its way down his neck. “Still interested?”

“Well, I do have a healthy respect for ahhh,” Sherlock squirms under John’s hand, “for oh—“ Sherlock clears his throat. “For masterful work.”

John smiles. “Is that what we’re calling it now?”

Sherlock says nothing but grins as he retrieves yet another condom from yet another of John’s pockets.

John laughs aloud. “Yes, yes, very good Sherlock. You got me on that one.” Sherlock relaxes into the feel of John pulling them together, flush against the wall and each other. “You absolutely got me.”