|Breaking the Ice, or The Adventure of the Red Carbuncle
Author: Mundungus42 PM
The year of the Great Freeze, John and Sherlock must find a way to cope when the weather turns dangerous.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Adventure - Sherlock H. & John W. - Words: 6,513 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 11 - Published: 01-05-13 - Status: Complete - id: 8878743
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
John was nine when he first fell in love.
He was an ice skater, theice skater, at the Lake Placid Olympics. John sat on the floor in front of the sofa, his eyes glued to the television as Robin Cousins skated for Britain and for gold. John lost count of the Axels and toe loops and sat in breathless wonder watching the tall, slender figure in black, his dark hair flying as he span and leapt over the ice with exuberant grace. The near-unanimous 5.9s for artistic merit had clinched the gold over Russia and East Germany, and John's heart nearly burst with joy.
He kept the next day's paper hidden under his pillow after his mum had done the crossword and felt a warm wiggle in his stomach whenever he looked at it, even as the black newsprint faded from repeated handling.
That summer, John asked for ice skates for his birthday. He ran around the house jumping and spinning, and he even fashioned himself a sash out of a belt from one of his mother's old dresses that he wore like Robin's long programme costume, where abstract diamante shapes had danced across his chest.
When his birthday dawned, John found a large shoebox sitting at his place at the table.
His mother beamed at him. "I saw how keen you were when the Olympics were on."
John hugged his mother and lifted the lid of the box with trembling hands.
However, instead of the black figure skates John had dreamed of, the box contained a pair of old-fashioned speed skates. John heard himself thank her for the gift, but her giddy chatter about how lucky she was to have found a pair in his size barely registered as he felt a bit of his dream slip through his fingers.
The year of the Great Freeze, Sherlock dragged him to the frozen Thames and handed him a box.
"Come on," he said, his breath hanging in clouds between them. "We've not a moment to lose."
Despite the bitter chill descending with the setting sun, John felt the long-forgotten warmth in his stomach when he saw what the box contained.
Sherlock, oblivious to John's feelings as ever, had fairly flown down the cement steps to the river, where he sat, shoving his feet into a pair of black figure skates that matched the pair he'd given John.
A week earlier, the first heavy snow blanketed London and muffled the usual sounds of the city. It was all but impossible to catch a cab, so it took John over an hour to make it back to Baker Street after his emergency half-shift. As he stamped the snow off his boots, he could hear Sherlock's voice floating indistinctly down the stairs. He couldn't make out any individual words, but the pitch and tone indicated that he was delivering the solution to some mystery in his most insufferable isn't-it-obvious voice.
John sighed, unlocked the door and was surprised to hear a crackly voice respond.
"There's no way you can know that," it said. The voice was male, middle-aged, and Scottish.
Sherlock was sprawled insouciantly in the armchair facing John's laptop, which was sitting on the coffee table. "On the contrary, Mr. Feeny, it's the only solution. You're forgetting about the cat."
"What about it?"
"I can tell from the state of your trouser leg that your female cat was in heat. Your daughter got home precisely when she was supposed to, but when she tried to enter the house, the cat ran out in search of a tom to mate with. Your daughter was outside for almost an hour trying to locate her."
"If that's what happened, why didn't the lass just say so?"
"She's been nauseatingly obedient and well-behaved her entire life, and the moment she broke a rule, for a completely understandable reason, you failed to give her the benefit of the doubt and jumped to the conclusion that she was engaging in irresponsible behaviour. She's angry, and she's punishing you. I expect she's rather enjoying being thought of as a bad girl for a change. Now, that's four and a half tedious minutes that I'll never get back."
"Don't forget to have the cat spayed after she has the kittens," called John just before Sherlock ended the call.
"Consulting via Skype is the worst idea you've ever had," said Sherlock, closing the lid of John's laptop.
John didn't bother hiding his smirk. "How many cases?"
"Thirty since you left. Not a challenge among them."
John blinked. "You've solved thirty cases in the past five hours?"
"Perhaps I should charge the boring cases more," said Sherlock thoughtfully.
"How much are you charging them now?"
"Two hundred pounds for the first five minutes. Then a hundred pounds for each additional hour, not that there's been one I haven't been able to solve in five minutes."
"You made six thousand pounds while I was out?"
"Well, technically, you did. I used your PayPal account. I suppose that means you're buying dinner by way of apology for a stultifying afternoon of tedium. Angelo's? "
"It's snowing cats and dogs out there."
"Yes, and the Thames will be frozen over by next week for the first time since 1814, or so claims The Guardian. It's a nasty bit of weather that keeps so many criminals off the street that newspapers are forced to talk about the history of weather, a subject only slightly less mind-numbingly dull than listening to a woman describe her husband's porn collection in detail as evidence of an affair, when it's obvious she's projecting her own guilt over dallying with the postman."
"We're eating in, Sherlock," said John firmly. "Do you want a sandwich, or just soup?"
"Not that any of it matters," he went on, as if he hadn't heard John. "At least it didn't until our interesting clients stopped coming to 221b because of a little inclement weather."
"The Met Office declared a level 3 emergency out there, likely to be upgraded to level 4 before the storm's over," said John. "I've sent a dozen broken bones to A&E from people falling on ice, and I even saw some cases of severe frostbite. Frostbite, Sherlock. This isn't just a bit of cold weather, it's the worst winter in decades."
"I didn't notice."
John gave a disbelieving snort. "You were outside this morning."
"If you went outside, then you experienced the weather and you don't need me or The Guardian to tell you it's brass monkeys out there and has been for weeks."
Sherlock shrugged. "The weather is irrelevant."
"Vulnerable people are dying, Sherlock! How can you- " He stopped himself. "Just... never mind."
John seized his laptop from where Sherlock had deposited it on the coffee table and sat down in his chair. He typed, deleted, and retyped the same sentence several times at the end of his half-finished blog entry and looked up at Sherlock. "So if you honestly didn't know it was freezing out, why did you think I was putting cling film on all the windows yesterday?"
"To thwart snipers."
John allowed a half smile to raise the corner of his mouth. "You thought protection from snipers was a more likely reason to put up cling film than wanting to save on the heating?"
"You have been threatened by snipers in recent years, whereas the length of your showers, particularly after you've had a shift at the clinic, never led me to conclude that you suffer overly from ecological scruples," said Sherlock irritably, bending his head back over the arm of the chair, which made his Adam's apple bob dramatically when he spoke. "Now, you mentioned something about soup. Make sure it's hot. That cling film isn't doing much about the draught."
Two days later, John had noticed that some of the medical supplies in his medical kit had gone missing, specifically needles, antibiotic ointment, and sterile dressing. He found himself reluctant to bring the subject up with his flatmate. He didn't know much about Sherlock's past beyond what Mycroft and Lestrade had hinted, and he really didn't want to think about what the missing needles might mean.
The summer of 1980, John Watson taught himself to ice skate.
The nearest rink was an hour away by bus, but now that he was ten and his mum worked on Saturdays, he was allowed to go by himself.
The ice rink was in an enormous breeze block arena, and the cold air felt wonderful after walking from the bus stop in the sticky July heat. He paid two months' worth of pocket money for a card that was valid for five public-skating sessions. There were lessons, of course, but those were on Sundays and out of the question. He followed a group of teenaged boys down to the lockers where people were putting on their skates. The older boys had brand new skates, so John waited until they were gone before pulling his own from his bag.
They had obviously come from a jumble sale, but the blades still gleamed with oil from recent sharpening and the ancient leather had been lovingly polished until it shone. Though they were hardly the skates of his dreams, they were still ice skates, and that was far more than he'd had before his birthday. A breath of cool air came into the locker room, and with it the unmistakeable smell of ice. John shoved his feet into the boots of his skates and noticed his fingers were trembling as he tightened the laces. He had tried them on in his room, but now he could feel the chill of the ice in the air, and when he stood in his skates for the first time, he felt tall and strong and ready for anything.
He followed a family of four down the steps, through the gate that the smiling mum held open, and stepped on to the ice. He began to glide forward without even meaning to, and his arms windmilled until the mum grabbed his arm and steadied him.
"First time on skates, love?" she asked, guiding him over to the wall.
John's ears were red, but he nodded, hanging on to the wall for all he was worth.
"Try pushing yourself along the wall," she suggested. "Don't worry, you'll pick it up. Just keep your knees bent."
That day, John fell seven times, but he managed several circuits of the rink without falling. On one long glide, he even raised one skate into the air and felt a thrill of accomplishment.
The next Saturday, John fell three times and worked out how to do crossover turns. He also joined a group of boys in the centre of the ice who were practising skating backwards.
The week after that, he was delighted to realise that speed skates were aptly named. While he was tightening his laces after his first fall, he noticed a man in speed skates making graceful circuits of the rink and leaning so low to the inside of his crossover turns that his fingertips brushed the surface of the ice. After watching him for a few minutes, John stepped on to the ice, clasped his hands behind his back, leaned forward, and tried to match the man stroke for stroke. For the first time, John was passing experienced skaters, and he couldn't hold back his grin.
The following week was a bit disheartening, but he did successfully execute four backward crossover turns, even if he fell more than he did the week before.
His final skating session was the following Sunday after church, since his grandfather was visiting on Saturday and required someone to listen to all of his health complaints. John's heart began to beat faster when he saw that there was a skating lesson being taught in the centre of the ice. John skated more slowly around the rink and trying not to be obvious about observing them. There were more girls than boys, of course, but they were all practising spinning. One of the girls showed off by jumping when the instructor wasn't looking, but John knew that spinning jumps were impossible with the long, unwieldy blades of his skates.
Far more intriguing was a move being practised by one of the youngest skaters, a boy who couldn't have been more than six or seven. He took a few strokes to gain speed, and then executed a long, graceful turn by placing the blades of his skates in a line, heel-to-heel, and leaning into the turn. John had grown used to quick, responsive crossover turns, but the idea of gliding with such grace was irresistible.
He took a few strokes, taking care to extend through the tips of his blades, and turned his feet outward until his heels were in a line, and he was delighted that a slight inward lean made him turn in the same gentle arc as the boy in figure skates. The feeling of gliding effortlessly over the surface of the ice felt like flying, an it was all John could do to keep from laughing aloud for the joy of it. When he had turned into the straight, he carefully picked up his left foot and skated a full circuit with crossover turns, keeping an eye on the figure skaters in the centre of the rink.
The little boy was doing another turn, this time with his blades toe-to-heel. Giddy with the success of his first attempt, John built up speed a second time and crossed his right foot over his left and let himself lean in.
Unfortunately, the blade of his front skate hit a pit in the ice, and he fell forward. There was a stabbing pain in his left calf as the tip of his right skate tore a deep gouge in his leg.
John managed to keep his feet and skated over to the side of the rink, but his heart sank when he noticed the crimson trail leading from the site of the accident to where he stood.
He hardly remembered the trip to A&E, but the exact timbre and pitch of his mother's voice telling him he wasn't allowed to skate any more was seared into his memory.
Despite the Met Office's recommendations, there were dozens of people exploring the frozen river that afternoon, since it wouldn't be long before the icebreakers arrived to open up shipping lanes. John hardly noticed them, since he was staring at Sherlock's deft fingers lacing up his skates.
Sherlock looked up at him at last and realised that John hadn't moved since Sherlock had handed him the box.
"You do know how to skate, don't you?" he asked.
"Yeah," said John, breaking out of his trance. "But I haven't. Not for years."
Sherlock tutted. "Sit," he commanded, indicating the step he'd recently occupied. In the twinkling of an eye, John's snow-crusted boot was off and Sherlock was pulling John's foot into the boot of the skate, whose blade was firmly lodged between Sherlock's knees. Sherlock tightened the lower laces and criss-crossed the upper laces over the hooks at John's ankle.
"How does that feel?"
"Good," said Sherlock, and repeated the procedure on the other skate. When he was satisfied with John's skates, he tied the laces of John's boots together, tossed them over his shoulder, and held a hand out to John. "Come on," he said, pulling John to his feet.
John's ankles wobbled as he glided forward, and there was something very different about the way the blades touched the ice. He bent his knees and took an experimental stroke, which sent him off in the direction he meant to go, but he immediately lurched forward to check his balance when he realised that the river ice was much rougher than the ice at his childhood rink.
"I thought you said you could skate," said Sherlock.
"Yeah, in speed skates," said John, straightening up with as much dignity as he could muster.
"Ah," said Sherlock. "Figure skate blades have edges: inner and outer ones, and forward and backward ones. You need to set yourself on an edge in order to get the most efficient stroke, like this." The bastard had the nerve to demonstrate with the kind of innate grace that made John's stomach flutter.
"Yes, all right," said John, who was grateful that his hat prevented Sherlock from seeing his ears turning red. "Can we get on with this, please?"
Despite being unsettled by how easy Sherlock made it look, John found his instructions easy to follow in practice, and as they skated under the bronze statues at Vauxhall Bridge, John found that he was nearly matching Sherlock for speed. Sherlock might have longer legs, but John's were stronger. The ice was rough, and the thin layer of snow on top of it hid its true texture, but the faster they went, the less the roughness of the ice bothered him. He even tried weaving from side to side by switching edges, which worked, although he had to skate faster in order to catch up with Sherlock.
Despite the cold in his toes and fingers, John felt his body relax into the warmth of exertion. The soft scrape of their blades on the ice was the only sound, and though the clouded sky glowed weirdly overhead with the reflected lights of London, John's eyes were on the dark figure gliding ahead of him, curls fluttering in the cold air.
The warmth in his stomach bubbled up through him, and John laughed at the sheer absurdity of figure skating on the frozen Thames with Sherlock Holmes.
John checked his bag before leaving for work and found that his supplies weren't just depleted, they were gone.
"Sherlock," he called towards the kitchen, where his flatmate was examining something under a microscope. "Have you been at my medical supplies?"
"Obviously," said Sherlock, not raising his face from the eyepieces.
"Can you not do that, please?" asked John. "Or at least ask first?"
"I needed them," said Sherlock, looking at him at last with a testy look on his face. "You had them, and you can easily get more. I fail to see why we're discussing this."
"We're discussing this because it's stealing," said John.
Sherlock waved him off and continued peering through the scope. "Don't bother me with trifles today. Don't worry, they've been put to good use."
John crossed his arms. "On what exactly?"
"Keeping me from going spare with boredom."
"Oh God," said John softly. "I thought you were over that. Sherlock, I-"
"For pity's sake, give me a little credit," snapped Sherlock. "It's nothing like that. I saw a challenge and I wanted to solve it myself. That's all. It was your bloody idea, anyway."
"Stealing from my medical kit was my idea how?"
"You said vulnerable people were dying in the cold. I happen to know a number of vulnerable people who are quite useful to my work."
John blinked in surprise. "Come again?"
Sherlock waved his hand dismissively. "Go to work. When you come back, I'll show you. Wear warm clothes and bring your medical kit."
The stitches in John's leg were still there by the start of term. He didn't exactly lie about how he'd got them, but he knew instinctively that "sports injury" was a far more acceptable excuse than "stabbed myself with an ice skate."
As devastated as he'd been by his mother's ban on skating, at least he was seeing his friends every day at school, and the loss didn't make him feel as empty as it had the first night. But when he saw a poster near his bus stop emblazoned with a heart-stoppingly familiar figure whose graceful limbs were caught in the midst of a perfect camel spin, the hollow ache returned with a vengeance.
ONE NIGHT ONLY!
Tonight. At his old rink. And tickets were twenty quid that he didn't have.
None of that mattered. He had to go.
Tonight was the night he was supposed to be watching Harry while mum went out to play cards with her friends. But didn't Harry always say she was old enough to be left alone?
If mum left on time, he'd have to run to catch the bus, so he packed his bag in secret. He needed his skates. They would show anybody that he was a real skater and that he deserved to be there, even if he didn't have a ticket. He even considered trying to sell them, but he knew they weren't worth anything near twenty pounds.
Locating the skates wasn't difficult. Mum always hid their birthday and Christmas presents on the high shelf in the cupboard under the stairs, and sure enough, he caught the telltale smell of leather polish when he hung up his coat after school.
He made his move when mum was changing out of her work clothes. He could just reach the shelf by standing on one of the kitchen chairs, but fortunately the laces were hanging over the edge of the shelf. He even managed not to stab himself when he pulled them down.
Harry was thrilled to have the house to herself and had already begun devouring a bag of cheese and onion crisps in front of the telly by the time he let himself out.
The bus journey seemed to take forever, and the roads that were recognisable by day were a blur of lights at night. The rink was lit up like a Christmas tree, and there were dozens of people milling about outside. John could hear music, and his stomach fell when he saw a handwritten sign that read "Sold Out" hanging next to the door. But his disappointment crystallised into determination when he remembered the windows by the lockers.
He tried not to appear obvious as he slipped down the alleyway on the far side of the arena, but the windows were closed. Fortunately, there was a fire escape at the back near some bins, and he was just able to pull himself up by climbing on top of them. He climbed to the lower roof of the arena, where a wall of dirty windows let in sunshine during the day. The arena below blazed with light, and when the lights dimmed, John sat down, extending his injured leg off to the side, and watched.
The show was a blur of garish costumes and tinny music until Robin Cousins stepped on to the ice. Time slowed, as though the fabric of reality wanted John to remember every moment of Robin's routine in perfect detail. By the time he finished skating, the arena was shaking with applause and stamping feet. He performed a second, shorter routine with loads of fancy footwork that made John's face hurt from smiling.
It was over far too soon. By the time Robin had collected the bouquets and presents his fans had thrown on to the ice, blown dozens of kisses, and left the ice, John realised that his leg had gone to sleep, and he had to take a circuit of the roof before he trusted it to bear his weight.
He was halfway down the fire escape when a pair of headlights began to come down the alleyway.
"You!" shouted a gruff voice. "What do you think you're doing up there?"
"Get down from there, or I'll come up and get you myself."
The door of the car opened and closed, and a tall, square man in a cap stood under the fire escape looking up at him.
"I wasn't doing anything," said John. "I just wanted to see the show, and there weren't any tickets left."
"Like skating, do you lad?" asked the man, jumping with surprising grace to pull down the bottom of the fire escape.
"Yeah," said John. "I was learning until I hurt my leg."
"Is that so?" asked the man. "Blow out your knee, did you?" He had some kind of accent that John couldn't quite place.
John paused on the final steps and rolled up his trouser leg. "My calf. Twelve stitches."
The man smiled. His teeth were as strong and square as the rest of him. "A noble wound. Could you see much of the show from the roof?"
"I saw everything," said John, hopping off the fire escape. "It was brilliant."
A door opened, and John nearly fell down when he saw Robin Cousins, his arms full of flowers, walk into the alley.
John hadn't been able to speak, he could only stare in slack-jawed wonder as the world's most amazing skater put his belongings into the car and smiled at him. The square man had murmured a suggestion in his ear, and John eagerly pulled his skates from his bag and held them out.
It didn't matter that they were old and battered. It didn't even matter that they the wrong kind of skates. What mattered was that for a glorious hour, John was the proud owner of a pair of skates that Robin Cousins had signed.
When he got home to find all the snacks in the house eaten and his furious mother cleaning up the mess Harry had made, John knew he was in an unprecedented amount of trouble.
He never saw the skates again.
When they reached Lambeth Bridge, Sherlock held out his arm, and they both glided to a stop.
"Here," said Sherlock, pulling two pairs of skate covers from his pocket and handing one to John. "This is our first stop, but I doubt we'll be here for long."
John hooked the covers over his skate blades and followed Sherlock up the embankment to the Victoria Tower Gardens and across Millbank. They came to a stop near a pair of heavily swaddled figures in sleeping bags just off the pavement next to a heating vent that had melted all the nearby snow.
With a gentleness John didn't know Sherlock possessed, he shook one of the figures awake.
"I've brought him," said Sherlock.
The sleeping bag contained a homeless man who was missing teeth, even though he was only in his late twenties. He smelled strongly of whisky. He swore at Sherlock but permitted John to examine the back of his neck, where there was a large, weeping skin infection.
John looked at the homeless man. "How long has it been like this?"
"Dunno." The man's voice was rough, but he seemed coherent enough. "A week. Maybe two."
"Well, if you want it to clear up, you're going to have to keep it clean and dressed. I can dress it now and might be able to clean it up for you and get you some antibiotics if you come to this address tomorrow." He handed the man a card for the clinic and looked at Sherlock. "There are a lot more of them, aren't there."
"You know what it is," said Sherlock.
"It's called a carbuncle. It's a giant mass of boils brought on by sweat and bacteria. They can get serious if left untreated."
"Is this one serious?"
"Well, it's big and will probably leave a scar," said John, pulling an antiseptic wipe from his pocket and gently cleaning the area. "Most don't get larger than a golf ball and go away on their own."
"It's Staphylococcus aureus," said Sherlock gravely.
And suddenly, John understood Sherlock's shortness of temper, obsessive attention to his microscope, and light-fingered approach to John's medical supplies. Sherlock's knowledge of microbes was largely limited to basic types and sensational newspaper stories, which meant the Staphylococcus aureushe was thinking of was probably the dangerous, methicillin-resistant strain.
John squirted the contents of a foil pack of antibiotic ointment on the lesion. "Carbuncles are often caused by staph, but unless the patient has spent time in hospital lately, it's not likely to be MSRA. Is that why you stole all my needles? Lancing boils?"
"I used antibiotics."
John shook his head as he applied a sterile dressing to the sore and taped the edges down. "You're supposed to let them drain naturally. If you open it up, more bacteria can get in."
"Well, better to give them some relief instead of telling them to keep the area clean," said Sherlock testily. "That's hardly realistic."
John handed the man additional dressing and tape, which he accepted with a grunt. "They'd better keep the lesions clean. Carbuncles are contagious, especially among people with irregular hygiene."
"I had gathered that," said Sherlock drily. "All of my network seem to be afflicted."
"A few dozen. Maybe a few more if you count the irregulars."
John let out a low whistle as he sanitised his hands. "Good thing I restocked at the clinic. We'd better keep moving if you want to see them all tonight."
Somehow, word of John and Sherlock's mission reached Westminster Bridge before they did, and then again at Hungerford, Waterloo, and Blackfriars. There were sores of every size and state, a few cases of frostbite, and a bloody cough that John was able to convince to go to hospital, along with five more serious carbuncles. The vast majority he and Sherlock cleaned and dressed as quickly as their chilling hands allowed.
When they finally turned around at the Millennium Pier, even Sherlock was beginning to rub his hands together for warmth.
"You all right?" asked John.
"I'm fine," said Sherlock, punctuating his statement with a little spin. "I'd say we're done for the night, wouldn't you?"
John ignored his fluttering stomach. "Yeah, I've run out of ointment. Shouldn't be too hard to catch a cab back home. Unless you'd rather skate," he added, trying not to sound too hopeful.
To John's surprise, Sherlock skated a large circuit around him, jammed his toe pick into the ice and executed a full turn in the air before landing on one foot.
"I haven't done that for years," said Sherlock, grinning. His jubilant expression faded slightly when he saw the look of shock on John's face.
"Christ, Sherlock, is there anything you can't do?" asked John, feeling his heart beginning to race.
"It's nothing," said Sherlock, who seemed slightly embarrassed by John's reaction. "Everyone had skating lessons when they were children."
"I didn't," said John softly.
Sherlock gave John a penetrating look, and instead of looking away as he might have done before tonight, he met Sherlock's gaze evenly, letting Sherlock see whatever it was that he found so interesting. Not hiding was strangely liberating. The moment ended when Sherlock tossed his scarf over his shoulder.
"It's exceedingly simple," he said briskly. "Here," he took John's hand and pulled him until they were skating side by side. "Start on the front outside edge of your left foot, bend deeply at the knee, roll forward as you jump into the air, turn approximately one-hundred eighty degrees, and land on the back outside edge of the right foot, like this."
Sherlock let go of John's hand, caught his eye, and executed a half turn, landing perfectly on his back foot.
John swallowed hard. "I don't know about this, mate."
Sherlock was at his side, pulling his hand. "Come on, John. A waltz turn is the foundation of all other jumps. Just rock towards the toe pick when you take off and rock back off it on the landing. And don't forget to bend your knees. You've got your speed up, now GO!"
Sherlock let go of John's hand, and John stared straight ahead. He closed his eyes, rolled forward on his right foot, threw his shoulder into the rotation, and for a moment, he was flying. And then he hit the ice sideways with both feet and went sprawling.
When he had slid to a stop, he took a quick physical inventory. Bruised knee, unhappy but unharmed shoulder, snow all over his front, hat gone, and badly sprained dignity.
Sherlock loomed over him and held out his hand. "You have to keep your eyes open," he said. "You won't know when to stop rotating, otherwise. Come on, once more."
John lay back in the snow and laughed before allowing Sherlock to help him to his feet. He took a few experimental strokes to make sure everything was working properly. This time, he kept his eyes open and managed a two-footed landing before his arms flailed in the air and he fell backwards.
"Better," said Sherlock, holding out his hand again. "This time, make sure you're upright in the air. Leaning will make you fall."
The third attempt was no better than the second, but even though his body position was off and he landed on two feet, he didn't fall on his fourth attempt. Sherlock let out a triumphant laugh and seized John's hands, swinging him around in a circle.
Dizzy and laughing, John let himself fall dramatically to the ice. "I think I'm done for tonight."
"You can't give up," said Sherlock, whose eyes were shining with something that made John want to instantly do everything he asked, and his breath caught as he understood that Sherlock was as excited by John's success as he was.
"I'm not giving up," he said. Not ever."But I can hardly feel my toes."
Sherlock's face stilled into deceptive passivity. "We can catch a taxi at Waterloo Bridge."
"No need," said John quickly. "I don't need my toes to make it back to Lambeth." He held his hand out to Sherlock. "You can help me work on backwards skating, if you like."
Sherlock stared at his hand in surprise for a moment, and then the strange look was back in his eyes.
"All right," he said quietly. As Sherlock took his hands, John felt as though he was flying again.
Something was trembling at the corner of Sherlock's mouth, and John reached up to soothe it with the thumb of his glove.
Sherlock started at the intimate contact, and he sought John's eyes for an interminable moment before Sherlock's shining eyes closed, and he pressed his mouth to John's. Sherlock's lips were cold, but his mouth was hot, and the combined temperatures sent shocks through John's nerves and adrenalin flowing through him.
Oh God. Sherlock was kissing him. Perfect, impossible, dickish Sherlock, was kissing him and making him so hot and breathless that he might melt through the river ice.
John gasped into Sherlock's mouth and wrapped his arms around him, holding him tightly, determined not to let him slip away. Sherlock seemed to understand and deepened the kiss, pressing his gloved hands to John's face and stroking his cheeks with his thumbs as his tongue brushed John's.
John opened his eyes and found Sherlock gazing at him in fascination.
"It was the figure skates," said Sherlock, with a slight question in his voice.
John laughed and rested his head on Sherlock's chest, the soft wool of his scarf tickling his cheek.
"They was the only unexplained variable. At first I thought you were excited by the merciful medical mission, but if that were the case, you'd still be with Sarah."
"Well, I wouldn't have left the house without some kind of emergency," said John. "You see, it's a bit cold out."
"I hadn't noticed," said Sherlock, brushing John's fringe up under the edge of his hat.
"I'd forgotten to be honest," said John, going up on his toe picks to press his lips to Sherlock's. "But as a doctor, I'd say it's time to get out of the cold." He squeezed Sherlock's hand. "We'll come back out tomorrow."
Sherlock squeezed his hand in return, and they skated back the way they had come. To John's surprise, they encountered dozens of other skaters on the way back, who were clearly enjoying the bizarre weather. They caught a taxi at the Horseferry Road roundabout and enjoyed the exquisite pins and needles as circulation returned to their cold extremities.
John's eyelids grew heavier as the taxi's heat surrounded him.
"Who was he?" asked Sherlock.
"The skater. Who was he?"
John laughed and let his head roll around his shoulders until he could see Sherlock. "Robin Cousins, Lake Placid, 1980."
Sherlock let out a surprised huff of laughter. "I ought to have known. Every time I think I know everything about you, you do something like this."
"What, have embarrassing childhood experiences? Everyone has them, even you. Mycroft said you wanted to be a pirate when you were little."
"That's because he caught me leaping about wearing mummy's peasant blouse. Even then I knew better than to tell him I was trying to be an ice skater."
John looked at him disbelievingly. "You wanted to be Robin Cousins, too?"
"Of course not," said Sherlock disdainfully. "I wanted him to be my partner in pairs."
Over a hundred people died in the Great Freeze, and the Prime Minister deemed it a miracle that the toll hadn't been higher. Until the icebreakers from the Arctic circle were able to open up the frozen river, ice-skating parties were nightly occurrences. Fortunately, there always seemed to be a doctor on hand.
That was also the winter that John Watson learned to do a double toe loop.
Author's Notes: Written for Cathedral_carver for the December 2012 Holmestice exchange on LiveJournal. Enormous thanks to Mr. 42, ST, and Lifeasanamazon for beta-reading, ice-picking, Brit-picking, and improving this story beyond the lot of mortals, as well as to the Holmestice mods for all of their hard work. The gentleman John meets in the alleyway is meant to be Robin Cousins's coach, Carlo Rossi. Please note that this is a finished work that was written as a gift for somebody else, so constructive criticism is not being solicited.