"You lucky bastard," Paul cheered. "I bet you get sucked off by three different girls before the show's over."
"Yeah! There's always at least one slutty one," Geoff added.
"I'm pretty sure that's not the point," John mumbled, rubbing his arm futilely, trying to get rid of the jolts radiating from his wound. "And I haven't accepted, yet, anyway. They told me to think about it."
Which wasn't true. He had asked to think about it. And they had said yes, and now he was back to sitting in his medical ward at the veteran's hospital, with the only two people who really came to visit. Some of the other corps members stopped by, on occasion, but Paul and Geoff visited. It was nice.
John had been recovering from this bullet wound for about a month, which was longer than he wanted to be stuck here, but the doctors had been worried about shrapnel infections. He was bored, he was depressed, and he really had no clue what he was going to do with himself now. Having people around was nice, but he wasn't really close to the guys from his corps. They all liked him well enough. It's hard not to like the bloke who keeps you from being dead. But none of them knew what to do with an injured depressed army doctor, which he couldn't blame them for.
Paul and Geoff were different. They came by all the time. They brought portable video games, and tried to goad him in to hitting on nurses, and generally lifted the mood of the whole hospital. The fact that they would stop in almost every day to visit a doctor almost ten years older than they were - who they barely knew before he was hospitalized - while they were on leave - spoke volumes about them. They were good men.
And they really wanted him to be The Bachelor.
"You have to do it! Have to." Paul was getting kind of intense. "You're the most decent discharge from our corps. Even with the PTSD, you don't go diving under bed when cups rattle. You're good-looking; you're a doctor; what girl doesn't want a doctor?"
"And you're a charmer," Geoff laughed. "People love you."
"Getting along with guys in barracks is not the same as wooing twenty-five women." And John wasn't sure he had the energy for that kind of shenanigan. Even if these two thought he did.
Geoff and Paul were young. Paul was nineteen, fresh, and doing his best to become a doctor. Geoff was Paul's best friend, and a lot more interested in social schmoozing than good grades.
They were also the culprits here. When the producers came around looking for a veteran to spice up the next season of The Bachelor, they hadn't hesitated even a second. Not only had they made him out to be the most reasonable, loving, compassionate man on the face of the earth, they had also trumped up the fact that he had been shot while carrying a wounded soldier off the battlefield. Like that wasn't his job. And worst of all, they'd gotten enough support. And the producers liked him.
"You can do it. We picked you for a reason," Paul sighed. He was going to be really disappointed if John didn't take this. He could already tell.
And that's what it came down to. Could he really let down two boys who were going out to the frontline in a month? Especially when they were the most consistent companions he'd had during recovery.
"You guys have a lot of faith in an old man." John tried to rub the headache out of his forehead. "Even if I somehow end up in a relationship, I doubt it'll last."
"It's better than living alone in an army-paid flat?" Geoff had a point.
"Yeah. Yeah, it is." He knew he wouldn't say no. "But you guys have to watch every fucking episode, yeah?"
John had made the phone call twenty minutes ago. It was happening. He was being discharged in three days, and he would go straight from the hospital to a television set. And he would not strain his shoulder or Nurse Janet would kill him with her bare hands.
She also wanted his autograph.
The problem was this: John Watson was not looking for love. Not at all, actually. It would be great to not have to live alone with all the PTSD nightmares, and the psychosomatic limp, and all the evidence of his broken self. But he really didn't want to inflict that on some girl he had known for a few months. He wanted some sort of companion, but a lover could come later. Once he was settled.
Of course, there was the intense bonding issue. Studies had shown that times of intense stress could forge a strong bond in an incredibly short amount of time. This setup created intense stress. He might be engaged when he finished, and chances were high that he would be able to connect with at least one of the women. Even if they never got married, it was probably worth a shot.
And besides, how the hell else does a boring, limping man find a girl?
It wasn't really going to take that much to reconcile himself to the idea of it.
Even though it was after visiting hours, there was a light knock on the door. A nurse shushed, and pushed Paul through the door, closing it quickly behind him.
"Hey," Paul said, smiling weakly. He didn't usually come alone. "I just wanted to stop in and say that I think you need to do this. The bachelor thing, I mean."
John watched Paul fuss with his sheets before asking what he needed to. "Why's that?"
"You're the best man I know. You deserve this."
If John hadn't already called, he would have been dialing the number right then.
There was nothing really nerve-wracking - or exciting - about waiting around in the cold in a suit. It was mostly just awkward. Almost as awkward and the good-luck ass-pat from the host he didn't know. Or the month of preparations and producers. And watching every re-run of The Bachelor that he could find. At least he knew how things were supposed to work, and what he was expected to do, and what was considered "foul play" by the girls in the house.
John knew what he had to do. Each girl would come out of the car, introduce herself, and head inside. He'd pick the one who made the best impression and give her a rose. Then he'd pick seventeen other girls and give them a rose, "breaking the hearts" of seven girls he barely knew, supposedly in the quest for true love. Not that he had high hopes about that. He also didn't have high hopes about remembering everyone's name tonight. He hadn't managed to learn names until episode three of each season; he assumed his own season would be the same.
The best he could do was be nice, try to let them "know" who he was through a series of over-the-top and ridiculously planned dates, and hope that there wasn't too much fighting. Though, there would be. And lots of kissing, whether he liked it or not.
Idly, he wondered if he could enforce the "no kissing until I know whether or not you have a communicable disease" rule in such a big, desperate group.
At least they had all been checked for STDs. That's gotta count for something.
John's contemplation is abruptly interrupted by the arrival of a limo. The first girl climbs out, draped in blue chiffon. Blonde hair curled loosely, and wrapped in some sort of pageant sash, she swayed up to him confidently and gave him a tight, chest-out hug.
"And who would you be?" He laughed awkwardly.
"Elizabeth. I'm a pageant girl from Texas, and I want to be the first to tell you how handsome you are." She smiled with false coyness and shied away a bit, automatically assuming a hands-on-hips quasi-pose. John could feel the dislike already.
"Ah, thank you. I'm glad you think so."
The next few girls poured out one at a time, in a similar blur of colors and chiffon and glitter. Cecilia. Lucy. Amanda. Ashley. Anna. Next limo. Jennifer.
A tall brunette sashayed up to him, after Jennifer had left. She was dressed in a backless green taffeta dress, and seemed a lot more poised than the other girls. She gave him a tight, brief hug before saying anything.
"I'm Tara." Her voice was quiet, gentle. "I'm from Sussex, and I model for a living."
"Well, it's great to meet you," John beamed. "I don't think I've ever met a model before."
She smiled shyly, and tossed her hair. "Well, I'm pretty much the same as any other girl, so don't get too excited. You might be disappointed."
"I don't think you have to worry," John laughed. "I'm sure we'll get along fine."
She batted her eyelashes before saying goodbye.
Next was Rachel. Laura. Amelia. Karen. So far none of them had really said or done much more than introduce themselves and give him a quick hug. Everything was a little awkward. But that was to be expected.
His leg was starting to really ache. Shifting around relieved it a bit, but John knew he'd be limping more than usual tomorrow.
Next limo. Lorna. Emily. Adele. Ellen. And then a girl who was practically sewn in to her tiny sequined minidress, and who waltzed tediously on her ridiculous heels.
"Stephanie, love. Nice to meet you," she crooned while kissing him on both cheeks. Her hand rested gently on top on his cane hand, not giving half an inch of personal space back. "I bet a vet like you has tons of war stories."
"Ah, not really." John eased back just a little, so he could breathe non-perfumed air. "Unfortunately, doctoring isn't very exciting."
"I love doctors," she purred, leaning in to peck him on the cheek. "We'll get along famously."
After Stephanie, came Stacy. Then a new limo. Brittany. Theresa. Catherine. Andrea. Lisa. And lastly, a woman in a conservative black dress, with dirty blonde hair laying down around her shoulders. She was the first one to offer him a handshake rather than a hug.
"Sarah Sawyer." She smiled crookedly when she shook his hand. "I'm a nurse practitioner in a London hospital. I hear you're an army doctor?"
"Ah, yeah. Just retired from service. It's been a long time since I've had a real hospital job." It was probably the most genuine smile he'd given all night. All he needed was one person who he had something in common with and who he could talk to. No, Catherine the neurosurgeon didn't count. She wasn't very friendly and reeked of desperation.
"Well, hopefully this is a good re-introduction to society." Another understated smile. "We'll talk more later."
"Yes. Yes, we certainly will!" He was grinning dumbly
He was struck with how pretty she was, as she walked off behind him. It wasn't immediately obvious, but she was definitely attractive. The evening was looking a little more promising. His leg still hurt, but he hadn't been as disappointed with the women as he thought he would be. And - as far as he could tell - he would get to sit down soon.
But not yet. The overly friendly host was back, with extra cameras. But no ass-pats, thankfully.
"We've got one more for you, John. And I hope you're braced for it!" It's funny how shyster-y telly hosts can sound, he thinks. He can't imagine he'll be too shocked with their "big surprise."
The last limo drives slowly. Dramatically. Really, really slowly. And then the door pops open. And a man steps out. A tall, striking man, with almost clichéd alabaster-pale skin, and loose, curly hair. He was handsome, with sharp blue eyes, and, honestly, imposing. Even though he was dressed in designer clothes the man was not "put together." And he was very sensibly wearing a coat and scarf.
John found himself properly stunned. And feeling a little frumpy in his awkward suit.
But there wasn't a woman with the mystery man. The limo pulled away immediately after he stepped out, and the man scowled as it left, then stalked purposefully towards John, who was still being suitably shocked.
The man thrust his hand out. "Sherlock Holmes. World's only consulting detective. John, I presume?"
"Yeah, John Watson, nice to meet you." Sherlock's handshake was firm. Authoritative.
"They wanted me to hug you, but I compromised for a handshake. Apologies for any awkwardness." He didn't seem apologetic.
Confused, John was starting to pick up on his surprise. Though he thought that perhaps consulting him about his sexual preferences might have been a politesse on the part of the producers.
"Are you here as one of the..." There is no gender neutral word for "bachelorettes." "... Participants, then?"
"Yes. Is it going to be a problem?" Sherlock temporarily looked worried. Just a fleeting expression, but something.
"Well, I've never dated a man before, but I'm perfectly willing to try," John chuckled. "I did spend six years in the army."
Sherlock's face contorted slightly. Well, that hadn't gone well. He shook his head slowly, almost as if he were attempting to dispel his obvious disgust, and the lingering awkwardness.
"Yes..." Looking beyond him, toward the door, Sherlock seemed to be searching for an exit and John immediately wanted to die quickly and painlessly of embarrassment. "Well, I suppose they'll want me inside now."
And Sherlock was gone. Easy as that. John, however, got to sit on a bench waiting for the film crew to catch some of the interaction between the "girls" before his entrance. To a casual observer, he looked more or less calm. On the inside, he was panicking.
He blew it. He really blew that one. And somehow that awkward first meeting with Sherlock was the only one that mattered out of all the awkward meetings. Which also caught him off guard. John really didn't consider himself gay - or bi. He'd never dated a man, never taken comfort in other men while he was on the frontline. But the idea of loving another man didn't bother him. It was all love, yeah?
But Sherlock. Sherlock was glimmering with intelligence, poise, character. John wanted to know what a consulting detective was, what kind of books he read, and why he was here. Sherlock may be the only person on this set who could understand what John was undertaking. And he seemed genuine. He didn't laugh if the joke wasn't funny. He hadn't made any pretenses or tried to trump up how awesome he was. He hadn't grabbed John and hugged him, or taken away his personal space. That was a lot more than the majority of the women had done.
Controlled. Sherlock was controlled. But he obviously had opinions and wasn't afraid of showing them. Controlled passion, maybe? Something. Something intriguing was lurking just below what John could see and he was irrationally fascinated. He felt like he shouldn't be fascinated. Here was a more-or-less straight man finding out that another man was going to be vying for his affection. It didn't make sense for him to be drawn to Sherlock. He should be disgusted. Or scared. And probably less ashamed of his bad joke.
And to top it off, Sherlock didn't come off as gay. He wondered if that was a good or bad thing.
At least he felt appropriately confused.
The noise level in the house had been tolerable until Sherlock walked in.
"Oh my GOD, he's bi?" shrieked the girl across the room - Karen. She had been fairly blunt all evening, and she was getting more candid with the addition of wine. Most of the girls looked frantic.
"We have no chance, do we?" Rachel cried. "This is so unfair."
Sarah patted her arm. "Hardly. There's twenty-four of us, and one man. The odds are for a girl winning."
"What if he likes guys better, though? We're all fucked." Rachel was rapidly tearing up.
"If he liked guys better there would be more guys here. Not just one," Sarah pointed out calmly. "And he certainly seemed happy enough to have a parade of women come in."
"I still think this is horribly unfair," Rachel cried to the confessional, later, looking a lot more emotionally worn down. "I can't believe they wouldn't warn us about him."
Oddly, Sherlock found himself encircled, rather than shunned. Not a comfortable feeling, he decided. So this is how it felt to drown in bolts of chiffon and taffeta.
"So, do you only like men, then?" Stephanie crooned at him.
"I like not being hounded about my sexuality by women I don't know." He had expected questioning, and his plan was to simply avoid it. The less socializing he did, the better.
"Does that mean we're all getting two chances at love?" Tara giggled. He instantly hated her. "Or that you're just here to suck his cock?"
Bitchiness this early on? This was going to be more fun than Sherlock thought. No need to be nice or fake societal politeness. The producers were going to love him.
Tara. The way she poses when she stands, the build, the eau du perfection that she thought she was wearing - probably a model. The bone structure of her face sealed it. The nasty comments showed a discrete lack of self-worth that she was displacing on other people, and her long green dress probably meant she was self-conscious about her legs. What kind of a model hides their legs during a party? As for intelligence quotient, she scored pretty low. Really? You parade out that kind of crap this early in the game? Competitive women are not going to stand for that.
"You may be here for the sex, but I'm here for the company. And the free refreshments. If you ladies will excuse me."
He could almost hear her self-esteem shatter as he glided towards the food platter. Not the wittiest comment he'd ever made, but oh so satisfying, nonetheless. It was nice to not have to fit in.
"That fucking dick," Tara hissed at a confessional camera. "I don't know why he's even here. Everyone knows that fags aren't faithful, there's no point trying to build something meaningful with him."
She should have been glad that John hadn't heard her.
"I'm just so, so happy to be here," Catherine mumbled forcibly. She didn't actually seem happy to be here. "I really need a good man like you."
Comments like that never really sat well with John. Both because she didn't actually know anything about him yet and because she was perfectly fine without a man. He never understood why intelligent, successful women thought a husband was so necessary. Not desirable, or wanted, but literally necessary.
"You don't seem like you need a man. You said you were a neurosurgeon?" He was hoping to change subjects.
"I'm almost thirty, biological clock is ticking," she laughed, ignoring his question. "I thought I might die alone. But now that you're here, I think I've found my true love."
Okay, now she was just lying. She hadn't said anything even remotely on a different subject all night. John had managed to say nothing that wasn't a futile change of subject. This was not a love-at-first-sight situation.
"Well, I hope I don't disappoint you," John forced out. He already knew he would. Thank god her fifteen minutes were up. "I think our time is up."
"My prince is leaving?" She quickly leaned in a kissed him. John knew he made a face. He could feel the muscle scrunch together. He just hoped she didn't see it. "Come back soon, darling."
He smiled weakly at that and, showing impeccable restraint, walked calmly away. Sweet, sweet escape. Spending equal time with the women was difficult. Especially when some of them were so obviously faking attraction or were just painfully awkward. They didn't need to fake. John would hardly expect anyone to fall head over heels for him in less than twenty minutes. It was just impossible.
"I never thought I'd say it, but I think I love him," Lucy whispered to a confessional. "He's really nice, and friendly, and just... Perfect. I usually go for the rough and dangerous ones. But John is nice and concerned, and wants to know about my day job."
She smiled, tearing up a little, before shrugging.
"I guess he's everything I never thought I wanted."
"That was cheesy. Can I take it back?"
"What do you think of Sherlock?" Ashley murmured, tossing her dark hair over one shoulder. "Were the producers really that desperate?"
"He's handsome," Amelia shot back. "And he seems genuine. That's more than you can say about some of the girls."
Ashley's laugh cut through the room, just a little too loud. "About half the girls here are desperate whores!" she giggled, slurring a little. "Whores and bitches."
"We're all here for love," Amelia countered. She might be short but she was not intimidated. And Ashley was more than a bit drunk and had been rubbing her the wrong way for over an hour.
"You're alright, though, Amy."
"Amelia. whatever," Ashley giggled again, slinging her arm over he other girl's shoulder. Amelia shrugged her off. "You're alright, regardless. Even if you are a china doll."
"I'm Korean." Alright, that was it. It was someone else's turned to babysit the drunk bitch. "I'm going to head to the bathroom. Why don't you go over and talk to one of the other girls?"
Ashley was just sober enough to not teeter as she walked. Just. And she took her sort-of-passable swagger straight over to the punch bowl, or tried. Andrea intercepted her before she got there.
"Whoa, I think that's enough," Andrea said, gently steering her towards a chair. "Sit down and have some water for a bit."
"Gotta drink. Party when you can," Ashley grinned.
"You don't want to pass out before he hands out the first impression rose, do you?" The girls had been tracking that rose all evening. So far it was still sitting on the living room table, and no one was safe yet. "Or the rose ceremony?"
"I just want all the whores to go away. I'm in law school. I shouldn't have to deal with whores." Ashley giggled and Andrea frowned. Maybe she could let her bar tending instincts go just this once.
"Right, then. Have fun with oblivion, try not to throw up."
"That girl - Ashley, or whatever - she is drunker than I am," Karen almost hollered at the confessional. "And I'm pretty damn drunk. At least I'm not a bitch, though!"
Sherlock had not expected the female attention he was getting. By the end of an hour he had attracted a small cluster of women who seemed to want to make friends, despite the fact that he wasn't even trying to be nice. At least four of them were insincere. The other three seemed to be fawning a little. The group of them had taken up most of the seats around Sherlock, and the last two had brought their own chairs from somewhere else. It almost felt like they were trying to intimidate him with their femininity.
Amanda, specifically, had given up any sense of decorum in her slightly tipsy state, and was trying to cling to him. Sherlock, of course, was desperately trying to get out of her grabbing range without having to physically move off the couch.
"Hey, handsome. Want a glass of wine?" she drooled. She really didn't need another glass. And she wasn't as drunk as she was letting on. Her hands were too steady and she wasn't really slurring. She was just trumping up her inebriation, out of habit, it seemed. Indicating that she worked among alcohol, but not as a waitress or a bartender - she'd have to stay sober in those jobs. More likely a dancer, or a stripper, something where she would have clients that buy her drinks. Drunkenness is something to tease with, in those jobs. Her streaky blonde-dyed hair was probably for the job as well.
"As a reminder, 'handsome' is not my name." Sherlock was not drinking tonight. With this many people around, inebriation was not an option.
"Well, maybe we should go somewhere quieter to talk. It's getting noisy in here." She was already tugging on his arm, and the girls next to him we're making faces and whispering furiously.
"Really? You really want alone time with someone other than John?" Lucy gave Amanda a disgusted stare. At least having the girls around made sure he had someone who was as horrified as he was.
"I'm staying here. John should be back soon," Sherlock argued. Oh please, come back soon. And preferably take this girl away. She had her hand on his knee again.
Merciful, merciful John walked in right then, and Sherlock gave him his best "helpmesaveme" look as he tried to struggle away. Fortunately, John got the hint.
"Ah, I'm afraid I'm taking away the star of the night," he said grinning. "Sherlock stole the limelight, didn't he?"
The girls nearby immediately zoned in on John, most of them glancing at the rose he had just picked up off the table. Amanda had, thankfully, let go, and gone back to fawning over John with the rest of the girls.
"It's my turn, then?" Sherlock asked, eager to be gone. "Where are we off to?"
John led him to a bench by the completely unnecessary pool. "You've been popular, then. I think you're going to end up with a girl before I do."
He was laughing, but Sherlock could see the nervous shifting in his hands, and the way he leaned heavily on the cane while walking. John sat down with a heavy sigh. And Sherlock made a face and sat down next to him.
"They're here for you, not me. Thankfully." That was very earnest relief Sherlock was expressing. "So very thankfully."
The girls had been far too clingy and insipid, and most of them had been there to catch a bit of the shock value Sherlock had brought. Ridiculously pathetic.
"Not your type then?" John kept fidgeting with the rose he was holding that Sherlock hadn't noticed until now. He assumed that John must be planning to cut his time short and go give the rose away right after.
The lack of tact that represented was driving Sherlock insane. There was no reason to be this nervous about a conversation. Especially when John had been mostly calm when he spoke to the women. Perhaps he was regretting not rejecting him immediately?
"This really isn't my area." And it wasn't. Guessing games and intangible feelings that messed with your rational thinking and were generally disruptive. It was confusing and painful, and he knew already he was going to be rejected. Pity.
John stopped fidgeting then. Put down the rose, and gave him a puzzled look.
"What isn't? Gaggles of women?"
"Romance in general. I try not to waste energy or time on it." Sherlock settled back, and put his feet on the patio coffee table. It was best not to get anyone's hopes up. "I consider myself married to my work."
He wasn't expecting the genuine concern in the next question.
"...Are the producers holding you against your will?" John asked, fearfully. Worried. He looked worried. Huh. "Or did they bribe you? Because you don't have to stay."
"No, no! I was bored," He explained without explaining. John obviously didn't understand how boredom had anything to do with this. Maybe it was simply that the doctor was tired and he imagined his leg was hurting, and his shoulder wound was acting up, but John looked exhausted very suddenly.
"You were bored?" John's confused face was admittedly...endearing.
"Yes." When it was clear that Sherlock wasn't explaining, John simply changed the subject.
"I'm sorry for making things uncomfortable earlier," he winced.
"Mm?" Sherlock had to think for a moment. It had been awkward, but he wasn't sure it was John's fault. "Oh, no apology necessary."
"How would you feel about getting the first rose?" John blurted. He immediately blushed and rubbed his forehead. "I mean, you don't have to take it. I can let you go home now, if you'd rather. No pressure on my side. I just, I think." John flushed deeper. His attempts at explanation made him ramble. "This is probably silly, isn't it? It's just, ah, I think I want you to have it. If you want to stay, I mean. No pressure if you don't want to! Seriously, I don't mean to be pushy."
It was Sherlock's turn to be confused. "Why?"
Seeing John's half-crushed face, he qualified it. "Why me?"
"I'd like to talk to you more, if nothing else. And you were quite the first impression." Hope. That was hope sparkling in John's eyes. Well, damn. As far as Sherlock was aware he had been awkward and unkind and vague. Not remotely relationship material. Not someone that you might be able to see a second date with, much less a future. Somehow, John Watson had lasted through a conversation with him and still wanted to see him the next day.
Sherlock thought that might be a first. And John really was far less vapid than he was expecting. Interesting even.
"I accept." Sherlock dramatically picked up the rose, snapped the stem off and popped it in to his buttonhole, smirking in victory. John perked up as well. "But since you're keeping me, I'll warn you that I'm very competitive."
"You'll fit right in." They both smiled.
Panic spread through the girls almost immediately after Sherlock walked in again. He had the rose, oh shit, he had the rose. That left every single one of them as fair game for going home. On night one. The most shameful night to be cut. Welcome to dating nightmares.
He wasn't quite so welcome at his seat on the couch, anymore. Most of the smiles he got were cold, and there weren't as many of them as there had been. Sherlock wasn't going to worry about it. Somehow, out of all the pretty and nice girls, he had gotten the first pick. That was enough to satisfy him for now.
And the claws were coming out, now.
"So you got a rose for having a penis?" Lucy was smiling, but not in a friendly way. "Is that really fair?"
"My penis is apparently more interesting than twenty-four vaginas," Sherlock responded. It wasn't difficult to be a bitch back, and actually felt somewhat cathartic. He hadn't had nicotine in hours, and his patience was starting to thin. "I think it may have been the entire lack of desperation that won him over though."
"Are you saying I'm desperate?" Lucy snapped. He could've sworn he saw her snarl. Mm. He thought he might get that reaction.
"I think you know." With a grin, he got up and took himself to the fruit tray.
"I knew he was gay," Rachel wailed. "I knew it. Oh god, this is so unfair! Why are they doing this to us?"
"And I see some cocks were sucked already," Tara hissed. "Goddamn fags. John will regret this later."
"Oh for fuck's sake," Adele snapped. "So all I had to do to impress him was be a guy? Because that's possible, yeah?"
"He walked in smiling, with that rose in his lapel, and there was pandemonium." Cecelia, at least, seemed mostly calm. "I do agree that not being a girl is a pretty strong impression. I mean, if I had a penis? I'd be sure to mention it."
"I'm glad he's staying." Amanda winked.
"Fuck," Lisa swore, heading back towards the bar. "Why the fuck am I even here?"
"Because you're a whore," Ashley slurred from beside her, an awkward smile on her face. "We're all whores here, apparently."
"And you're the drunkest whore of us all," Lisa snapped back, downing a glass of wine at the same time. "I hope your fucking liver gives out."
"Hey, don't take your anger out on her," Jennifer commented.
"Stay the fuck out of it," Lisa yelled. "It's none of your fucking business."
As Jennifer moved out of the blast zone, she noticed Lucy. Lucy was on the other side of the room, almost crying, making a bit of a spectacle of herself. A small crowd of girls were surrounding her, trying to calm her down. She wasn't sure what happened but she could guess.
Steering herself away from that area too, Jennifer found herself face to face with Sherlock Holmes. The man of the hour.
"Well, who do we have here," she murmured. "You probably want to stay out of here for a while."
"Thanks for the tip," Sherlock responded with wicked glee. He didn't seem too put out, standing against a wall just within hearing range of a few of the gossiping groups. He took a slow sip of his drink before continuing. "I assume the wailing and screaming girls don't want to see me?"
Jennifer laughed. "Not overly. Most of them are bitches, though, so you're not missing much."
"Ah, glad to hear it. Sherlock Holmes, by the way. I don't think we've met." He didn't offer his hand.
"Jennifer Strum. Nice to meet you."
"Wow, take things personal much?" Karen giggled. "They're so upset about this guy they barely know, and really? It's hilarious. Drama queens are awesome for entertainment. It's too bad John is missing the fun."
"I shouldn't be so upset," Lucy cried, a little pathetically. "I mean, he doesn't know me yet. I just need to win him over."
She wiped at her eyes, tears threatening.
"I just want John to keep me for a little longer."
"Well, I wasn't expecting the first rose to go to Sherlock, but alright," Sarah said to her confessional. "It's not the end of the world."
As the girls (and Sherlock) lined up for this somewhat ridiculous ceremony, John wondering what Paul and Geoff were going to think of his choices. They'd probably pick a girl to root for, over Sherlock, but neither were really homophobic. Geoff kind of came off as gay, once you got to know him. John had never bothered to ask, though.
He just hoped they weren't disappointed too badly with whoever he chose. Because now that he was here, he was going to do what he wanted. If he was aiming for love, he could at least make sure he liked the person he picked.
And this rose ceremony thing? Was only nerve-wracking because he couldn't remember all their names. It was pretty obvious to him, who he didn't immediately like. The long drawn out "will you accept this rose" nonsense was just for drama.
Sherlock winked from the front row. That brought a smile to John's face. It was time to call some names.
But first, Dave, the host, came out with the big tray of roses, and began his speech.
"Ladies," he said, a lot more suavely than he had earlier, "it's time for the first rose ceremony. As I'm sure you all know, Sherlock has received the first impression rose this evening. There are seventeen more roses to be had, which means that seven of you will be going home. John."
John started with the names he remembered.
"Sarah." She came slowly towards him, smiling. She had been nice to talk to, even though the conversation mostly centered on hospitals in the London area. "Will you accept this rose?"
Lifting it gently out of his hand, she murmured, "Of course."
"Cecelia." The rustling of chiffon, as Cecelia made her way from the back row. She had been good conversation, too. Calm and quite interesting. Not surprising from someone in marketing. "Will you accept this rose?"
She smirked and gave him a hug before taking it. "Always."
The next few girls were all tolerable and seemed nice enough when he'd been talking to them. Lucy, Adele, Stacy, Jennifer, Amelia, Rachel. Amanda stayed because she was funny. Karen stayed because her good-natured bluntness had been so shocking. Emily, Laura, Ellen, Anna. All four of them had been shy and very nervous, but they seemed nice. And they weren't molesting him in desperation.
Stephanie was staying, despite her lack of personal space. She had toned it down when he talked to her, and he was willing to give her a second chance. As long as he was given enough room to breathe.
Andrea seemed to be incredibly responsible and collected. If nothing else he appreciated that.
Dave stepped up beside him after that. "Ladies, this is the final rose for this evening.
"Tara," John called, confidently. She had been incredibly sweet to him during both conversations. Sometimes the politeness had been a little forced, but John chalked that up to nerves. There was a lot more at stake on their side than on his.
Rustling down, she seemed happy and grateful. She gave him a long hug, before whispering, "Thank you."
Sherlock was the only one who saw her smirk.
The last rose meant that Brittany (uninterested and shallow), Ashley (drunk), Lorna (painful awkward), Lisa (loud and angry), Theresa (fake), Elizabeth (extra fake), and Catherine (desperate) were going home. He felt bad about Catherine. He had a feeling her self-esteem was really tied in to this. But honestly, he couldn't give her a rose. He needed to be more to her than badge of accomplishment.
Most of the girls stopped to hug him on the way out. As awkward as that was. He wished them good luck and told them they were pretty. It seemed like the right thing to do.
Lisa stomped passed him, without a single word.
Catherine paused and started crying.
"Hey, no. No crying. There are better blokes out there than me." John really did feel bad. "Chin up, okay?"
He gave her a consolation kiss on the cheek, and the host came and lead her off.
"I just want someone to love me," Catherine cried to the camera outside. "Anyone. I deserve love. It's not fair."
She took a moment to wipe her eyes and shake her perfect curls.
"Where's my prince charming? Why am I so alone?"
"He's just an asshole," Lisa grumbled.
"I don't understand what I did wrong." Elizabeth was tearing up, plastic smile still stuck to her face. "I was friendly, and pretty and outgoing. Life isn't fair sometimes."
She hid her face before the camera could see the smile come down or the tears mess up her makeup.
"I told you they were whoresh," Ashley mumbled, a drink still in her hand. "I guessh he likes that."
John got to his room at two in the morning. So much for a good night's sleep. And they had to travel tomorrow, and he had to think about who to invite on dates, and the producers wanted to double-check the list before he sent it, and he had no clue. He didn't even remember what they were supposed to be doing on these dates.
He knew he couldn't invite Sherlock on a one-on-one. That would be playing favourites, and he genuinely wanted to give all the girls a fair chance. He wasn't sure what to make to the fact that he wanted his first date to be Sherlock. Sherlock wasn't traditionally friendly, or outgoing, or any of the things he was supposed to like. But he liked him anyway. And if he thought about it too hard he was going to end up doubting his sexuality and it was simply too late a night for those kinds of thoughts.
At least his other one-on-one choice was fair. Sarah was getting an invite, for sure.
And maybe Karen? Karen was interesting. It'd be fun to have her around. And honestly, if he thought too hard about his choices nothing was going to get done. He needed two singular dates and ten choices for his group date.
So, group date. Jennifer, Lucy, Rachel, Adele, Ellen, Laura...
...Theresa? No, Theresa was gone.
Amelia, Tara. That was eight.
Andrea. And Sherlock. Definitely, Sherlock, no questions there. Hopefully that would satisfy the producers. And hopefully it wasn't always this hard to come up with lists. It was getting closer to three.
Those army boys better freaking love this when it airs. He expected fan letters.