"Really, Lestrade, I had a better opinion of you than this," Sherlock snarled. Lestrade leaned back against the nearby desk and crossed his arms, settling in for what was sure to be an amusing, if also highly irritating, speech. "The audacity, after all the times you've berated me about procedure, is appalling. The drug busts, while demeaning, have at least some basis in reality. But this abuse of power is atrocious."
Lestrade glanced at John, hoping that the good doctor would silence his partner in crime. Perhaps it was the shame, although Lestrade suspected it was more likely that he was trying to hide a smirk, but John was staring resolutely at the ceiling. Well, Lestrade thought, probably stupid of me to expect help from him, really. He's no better than Sherlock. That thought gave Lestrade a moment of panic. Another one like Sherlock.
No, Lestrade consoled himself. Watson's not another Sherlock. Too polite for one, actually cares about the law, most of the time. Probably be horrified he's been arrested when it sinks in.
"…at some point your superiors are going to hear about this fabricated allegation," Lestrade finally tuned back in to what Sherlock was saying, and shook his head in disbelief. Did Sherlock really think his superiors would discourage him from arresting the pair of them if it meant stopping what he'd had planned?
"Sherlock," John finally spoke up, "you're not doing us any favors by threatening a police officer."
"Sound advice," Lestrade agreed.
Sherlock whirled around to face John, the tails of his coat slapping against the bars of the cell. This was John's fault, he'd started it, and now he had the gall to take Lestrade's side? Sherlock was furious. Not the sort of righteous furious John was when he'd found the head in the refrigerator; not the sort of cold furious that Mycroft had been when he'd learned Sherlock had been reading his private journal when they were boys. No, Sherlock was furious and he was not going to let sensible, steady, resigned John take that away from him.
"I'm not doing us any favors? Come John, you can hardly have forgotten who started this whole ridiculous business?"
"Ridiculous bus…you didn't think it was ridiculous an hour ago! And need I remind you, Sherlock, that it was your questionably legal antics that landed us in here." John had remained seated on the low bench in the cell, but Sherlock could see in the way his feet were planted firmly on the floor that it wouldn't take much to provoke John into action, likely pacing, although some mild physical violence was not out of the realm of possibility.
"All right, children, don't make me separate you," Lestrade said, and Sherlock glared at him over his shoulder. "We can take this into an interrogation room if you'd rather, have an official record." Sherlock and John both mutely indicated they'd rather not. "Or we can try it again right here, with a bit of cooperation from you both. Your choice." John nodded. "What happened?"
One Month Earlier
John opened the door to his upstairs bedroom, prepared for a quiet evening in and the opportunity to catch up on some of the sleep he'd been missing. Sherlock's latest case had been for a private client, a woman in the midst of an incredibly nasty divorce, and although the domestic cases weren't usually the sort of thing that Sherlock accepted, this one had involved an intricate plan to steal several priceless antiques and replace them with near exact copies. Unfortunately for John, Sherlock was also known by the husband.
Normally John loved being able to actually do something on one of Sherlock's cases other than running people down or being blown up, but spending three days on a crash course in ancient Mayan fertility idols was not John's idea of a good time. Saving his revisions for his final year in medical school, John couldn't remember the last time he'd done so much reading or drank so much coffee. It was a wonder that by the time he'd needed to play the part of an antiquities expert he wasn't too strung out on caffeine to speak.
After wrapping up the case the night, or actually the early morning before, and then working all day at the surgery, John was ready for a good night's sleep.
What he wasn't ready for was to see his bed, thank Christ for the tarpaulin, covered in dead rats at various stages of decomposition and wrapped in a multitude of types of cloth.
As he had done when he'd stared into the fridge and it had stared back, John closed the door and counted to ten. Then, because it was Sherlock, John counted to ten again. He opened the door. The bed was still covered in dead rats.
Quietly, John gathered up the edges of the tarpaulin until he could lift the entire thing and its disgusting contents in one hand. He carried the bundle down the stairs and into the sitting room, where he placed it on the coffee table. He glared at Sherlock and waited. He knew that Sherlock knew he was there, and that eventually Sherlock would acknowledge him because he found it disturbing to be stared at when he was thinking.
"What is it, John?"
"Rats, Sherlock. It's rats. Dead rats, in fact. On my bed."
"Not any longer, no." At this, Sherlock turned and upon seeing the bundled tarpaulin, leapt from the couch and began to shout.
"No, no, no, what have you done? You've ruined them!"
"I've ruined…Oh no, don't think for one minute that you're going to turn your righteous indignation on me. That's my bed. Where I sleep. There should never, ever be a dead anything in my bed." John crossed his arms and waited. It wouldn't take long. Sherlock was excellent at holding a grudge, but he was far too impetuous to withstand John's stubborn streak.
"But your bedroom is the only place in the flat that has the proper combination of sunlight and ventilation to recreate the environmental factors to disprove Carlisle's alibi. I put a tarpaulin down, despite the fact that it alters the conditions of the experiment. There would be no damage to your bedclothes. I don't understand your complaint."
"As ecstatic as I am that you took the time to consider my bedclothes and that you altered the conditions to accommodate my desire to not have rotting corpses directly on my duvet, I would still prefer not to find one of your experiments in my bedroom. Especially when I'm not expecting it." As soon as that last sentence was out of John's mouth, he realized his mistake.
"It's the element of surprise that you object to then," Sherlock stated. "I would have thought medical school and your army training had prepared you for dealing with the unexpected. My own observations of your reactions during our investigations seemed to confirm this." Sherlock stared at John intently now, as if he could ferret out the reason why a few dead rats on his bed was worse than an attack by a Chinese assassin.
"It's not the surprise. I may not always know what to expect with you, Sherlock, but I'm always expecting something. I object to decomposing corpses, severed heads, caustic chemicals, noxious fumes…" John sat in his chair while he listed the numerous things he'd been exposed to during his time as a resident at 221b Baker Street.
"That makes no logical sense," Sherlock interrupted.
"My objection to sheep intestines in the bath isn't logical?" Sometimes John worried about Sherlock.
"No, that you don't know what to expect but you're always expecting something. How can you expect something if you aren't aware of it? Expectation requires prior knowledge of an event," Sherlock sat on the sofa and peered at John, fingers pressed to his lips in concentration.
"I'm no longer surprised by the fact that on any given day I could come home to find something out of the ordinary."
"My unpredictability has become predictable? John, you are the most exasperating man!" Sherlock stood and began to pace. John smirked; he seemed to be genuinely annoyed by John's acceptance. "You are suggesting that I lack the capacity to surprise you."
"I may not be able to predict the specifics, but no, Sherlock, I'm fairly certain at this point nothing you could do would surprise me."
Lestrade sighed and ran a hand over his face. What the hell had he been thinking?
"I know, I know. I did say I couldn't predict the specifics. I expected to spend a couple of weeks finding maggots in the sugar. At worst, depending on how hard he flirted with Molly, a corpse. And then that he'd either give in or he'd do something that might actually be dangerous and I'd give him a reaction to appease his ego."
Sherlock whirled back around to face John at that. "Appease my ego!"
"Yes, all right, Sherlock. You know, for a genius, you're quite easy to manipulate." John leaned back against the wall and stared at the ceiling.
"Fine, but that doesn't explain your involvement," Lestrade prompted, ignoring Sherlock's huffing.
"Yeah, it just…look, I've done this sort of thing before. You can't spend years in the military without a prank war. I may have underestimated Sherlock's desire to beat me at it. There are, well, unwritten rules to this kind of thing. When he pulled that first prank, and it was normal, I thought I knew where it would end up. I guess I…"
"Should have been expecting something a bit more Sherlock in the long run?"
Three Weeks, Two Days Ago
John woke, for once, not from a nightmare but a rather pressing need to use the loo. He really oughtn't to have had another cup of tea before bed, but it was so unusual for Sherlock to actually make tea, John had felt he'd had to accept, if for no other reason than to encourage the behavior. Sleepily, John managed the stairs and walked into the bathroom. Keeping one eye mostly open for entrails, John was pleased to see nothing out of the ordinary. He'd been waiting for something, anything really, for the last four or five days. Maybe Sherlock was waiting to lull him into a false sense of security.
John was mulling this over in his head while he lifted the toilet seat and began to relieve himself. It wasn't until he noticed the unusual warmth of his feet that he woke up enough to realize the something had come. Sherlock had put cling film over the bowl, and John was currently urinating over the sides of the toilet, onto the floor and his own bare feet.
John laughed. Sherlock must either be very new at this, or he was just testing him out. Either way, Sherlock had no idea what he'd got himself into.
One Week, Thee Days Ago
John hated to admit it, but he had seriously begun to consider the idea that despite his years of experience, he might lose this prank war.
The past two weeks had progressed about as John had expected. He'd retaliated for the cling film incident by shorting Sherlock's sheets. He'd felt a bit bad doing it, as they weren't the thick, stiff cotton sheets John slept on. His guilt was short-lived, however, since the following day Sherlock had glued his trainers to the floor.
The obligatory bucket of water above the door, some very obnoxious mobile ring tones, Google settings changed to display all websites in Pirate speak, a packet of Kool-Aid in the shower head and a tarantula later, and John was planning something. It was a bit beyond anything he'd done before.
The thing was, Sherlock knew how much John hated spiders, and he'd planted that tarantula in his desk drawer anyway. And yes, John knew tarantulas were not actually poisonous, but that didn't mean a bite wouldn't bloody hurt, and that was hardly the point. Sherlock had played upon an extremely personal weakness of John's. It was taking things a step above the usual sort of pranks John had played. He'd never done something that was so targeted, but he supposed he shouldn't have been surprised that Sherlock would focus on something that specific.
John had to plan this extremely carefully. He was a doctor, and he knew what he was doing. He also had the benefit of having some personal experience with Sherlock's tolerance and reactions, so he knew he could do it safely. That wasn't what worried John; what worried John was Sherlock's reaction. But that, he supposed, was rather the point.
When Sherlock questioned John about why he was going for coffee with Molly, he told himself that he wasn't lying when he said somebody ought to be a bit nicer to her, considering the insults Sherlock regularly inflicted on her. He simply left out the bit about giving her an opportunity to get back at him.
And so if nothing else, John was certain that when Sherlock woke up two mornings later naked except for his toe-tag and locked inside a drawer in the mortuary he was completely surprised.
"You drugged him?" Lestrade was shocked. He knew about John's gun; he wasn't a stupid man, no matter what Sherlock thought, and even if he hadn't known immediately that it was John who shot the cabbie, it hadn't taken long for him to piece it together. He hadn't thought that John would do something so medically unethical.
"Hardly worth mentioning. John was very careful, Lestrade; he is, after all, my personal physician," Sherlock waved a hand at Lestrade as he spoke, and Lestrade wondered if Sherlock realized just how telling his defense of John was. Lestrade doubted it.
"And that was over a week ago?" Sherlock nodded in answer to Lestrade's question. "What took you so long to try this, then?"
"Probably spent a week faffing about before he admitted he needed Mycroft's help," John muttered.
"I have never 'faffed about' in my life, Dr. Watson. I was merely calculating the odds of…"
"You were trying to figure out how to do it without Mycroft. You know, Sherlock, when you had to finally give in and ask him to help you, why wasn't that an indicator that maybe what you'd planned wasn't a good idea?"
"Who is Mycroft?"
"My brother. You only think it was a bad idea because you would have been incapable of thinking of it."
"I think it was a bad idea, genius, because it's landed us in here. And he's not just Sherlock's brother, he's the shadowy man who's really running the government. The one the conspiracy theorists have been warning us about for years."
"You have a brother? My God, there's more than one of you?"
"An entire family of us, obviously, as Mycroft and I did not simply spring into existence. Are you suggesting, John, that the governing be left to the people?"
"As if the idea of the two of you springing into existence is any less frightening than contemplating an entire family of Holmeses. And I refuse to debate politics with someone who doesn't know who the Prime Minster is…"
"How can you not know…"
"Of course I don't suppose it matters who it is, since we know he's not really running he show."
"Can you think of another man better suited to the task?"
"Defending him now?" John snorted. "That's rich; you told me he was your arch enemy the day we first met."
"All right, that's enough," Lestrade wasn't sure exactly when he'd lost control of the situation, but this wasn't getting him anywhere. And really, Donovan was right, they did sound like an old married couple. He really wasn't interested in letting that idea spend too long in his head. He already had enough disturbing images in there he could never get rid of, thanks to Sherlock. He was definitely not interested in adding sex to the mix.
Six Days Ago
This was intolerable. He was a genius, a man of unparalleled intellect, he was absolutely certain that there was a way he could accomplish the task he'd set himself without assistance from that insufferable git.
He simply could not determine what it was.
Sherlock pushed himself away from the desk in frustration. He knew immediately upon being released from the mortuary drawer what his next move would be. He had, in fact, known what his final move would be the day that John had changed the ring tone on his mobile to Baby Got Back. That his final move would have to take place so soon was something Sherlock had not anticipated. John's decision to drug Sherlock (a possibility he had considered and immediately dismissed, John would never violate his principals about drug use, nor would he abuse his power as a physician to win a simple contest) had surprised him. John's morals were strong, but hardly angelic; he had shot a man to save a virtual stranger, and whether it was in defense of another's life or not, there were clearly lines that John was willing to cross given the proper motivation.
That his final move would have to be put into play at all was not truly a surprise; Sherlock had known John wouldn't allow himself to be beaten easily, but he had not anticipated that John would be willing to play quite so…dirty. If Sherlock had not been so preoccupied with surprising John, he would have been able to better appreciate that John (simple, steadfast John) was an opponent worth his mettle, that John had actually surprised him. In short, Sherlock would have realized he was having fun.
He toyed with his mobile phone, very much not wanting to call Mycroft, but seeing only one other alternative. And despite how much Sherlock wanted to win, he wanted John to admit he was beaten more and he knew that John would never concede defeat if Sherlock recruited any of the many thieves in his acquaintance to help him. John would cry foul and be angry, and an angry John was not something Sherlock wanted.
Sherlock placed his mobile back on the desk, spinning it sharply in displeasure, and scowled when it began to ring. He glanced at the display and scowled more fully.
"Despite what you may think, I have rather a busy schedule this afternoon, and cannot wait by the phone while you decide whether or not you wish to seek my assistance in your…prank war with our dear Dr. Watson."
He's not your Dr. Watson, Sherlock seethed to himself. "I've been informed, Mycroft, that it is considered creepy when you do that."
"That is entirely the point, Sherlock. Now, in the interest of my schedule and our relations with China, what is it that you need?"
"Hang on, your brother, who may or may not be in control of our government, agreed to help you break into the National Gallery and steal a Rembrandt?" Lestrade paused. "He can do that?"
"He can do pretty much whatever he bloody well pleases…"
"For the last time Lestrade, I did not steal it. I merely relocated it. At no time was the painting out of the possession of the Gallery. It did not, in fact, ever leave the building. And I fully expect that my property, which I was forced to turn over to your constables, will be returned to me."
"Or you could just destroy it," John volunteered hopefully.
"Been wondering when we'd get 'round to that," Lestrade said. "I have to say, Sherlock, I'm a little disappointed that your grand scheme to win this whole thing was to embarrass Dr. Watson with a picture you Photoshopped."
John coughed, and leaned his head back against the wall again to avoid having to look either of the other men in the eye.
"It's not Photoshopped, is it?" Lestrade asked slowly as realization dawned. John shook his head. "Right. Right, okay. Dr. Watson…"
"It was a long time ago, when I was still in school. Yes, it's really me. Yes, I'm really naked and yes, I really did manage to pose that way with the Royal Guard outside the Palace and run off without getting arrested." John spoke with the practiced ease of someone who has given this explanation more times than he cared to recall. "And now that you've seen me completely starkers, you could probably call me John."
"Lestrade, do try to use what little intellect you posses. It could only be a real photograph of John; that is entirely the point of the prank. Now, if you would stop harassing us long enough to listen to me, you would know that the painting in question is currently safely ensconced in the restoration room in the sub-basement of the Gallery," Sherlock said, in that tone that suggested that if Lestrade applied even the tiniest bit of his brain to the problem the solution would have been more than obvious.
"Of course. What use would I have for a Rembrandt?"
"What use…no, I suppose you wouldn't have any use for it, would you?" Lestrade scrubbed his fingers through his hair in frustration. "All right, I will have one of the officers on the scene go down to the sub-basement and make sure the painting is there. Believe me, if the people at the Gallery find it's been damaged in any way, it'll be on your head Sherlock."
"Naturally." Sherlock agreed smoothly. "And once you've confirmed the painting has not been stolen, we will be finished here."
"In a rush to get some place are you?" Lestrade snorted.
"I was rather hoping to contact my brother. It's rare that I have an opportunity to point out a shortcoming of his. Despite your obvious dismay at the depth of his influence, he has not impressed me in this matter. I was, after all, apprehended before I could complete my task."
"About that, Sherlock…" John started, but Lestrade was laughing too hard to even bother continuing.
"I fail to see what is so amusing about this Lestrade," Sherlock chastised. "This is hardly the most intricate operation my brother has ever organized. The fact that this was such a…what's the term, John, a 'cock-up' I believe…makes me despair for the successes of his operatives in other, more delicate matters."
At this Lestrade just laughed harder. Sherlock threw up his hands in frustration; he would never understand why Lestrade so often found him amusing rather than taking him seriously. John just sighed at him, which was disappointing. Normally John was more forthcoming in pointing out social cues that Sherlock missed.
"Sherlock," Lestrade said when he finally stopped laughing, "you do realize that despite your brother's manipulation of the alarm system at the Gallery, and I don't even want to know what kind of distraction he used to avert the guards, and the redirection of the CCTV cameras to avoid anyone seeing you enter the building, and your immense intellect and planning and, yes, all right, legal issues aside it was a spectacular prank and I've no doubt that had you pulled it off you would have won, that both you and your brother still failed to account for one thing?"
"And what is that?" Sherlock sneered.
"That Dr. Watson, despite your influence, is a good man. And no matter how badly he wanted to win, he would never accept victory if it meant letting his best friend be arrested as an art thief."
Sherlock turned and looked at John intently. When the police constables stormed into the Gallery, Sherlock had been surprised and disgusted. The incompetence of Mycroft's people sickened him thoroughly, while simultaneously giving him the deep satisfaction of being able to point out a mistake to his ever perfect older brother. The idea that anything other than a failing of Mycroft's had led the police to him never crossed his mind.
"Sherlock," Lestrade said gently, and Sherlock hated that tone because it meant he was missing something obvious and Lestrade was handling him, "has it not occurred to you yet that a break in at the Gallery, while a terrible thing, is not a homicide and therefore not something I would be involved in normally? And has it also not occurred to you to ask why John is in that cell with you?"
Sherlock remained mute, unwilling to admit that neither of those things had occurred to him. Although now that Lestrade pointed it out, why had John been detained?
"He called me, Sherlock. He called me because Mrs. Hudson was concerned about some of the people you've had at the flat. When she saw you leaving with them and heard the racket you were making she was worried. And when John couldn't get hold of you he called me, and when he couldn't get hold of me he called your brother and…actually, John, how did you figure it out?"
"I didn't," John said softly. "Mycroft was being, well, very Mycroft about it, but I was concerned and he's so hard to read and it honestly just never occurred to me that Sherlock would have gone to him for help that when he wouldn't answer me I, well, I may have threatened him a bit." Sherlock snorted. "Yes, I realize how ridiculous you think that sounds, but I do know where his office is and let's face it gents, nobody ever looks twice at a short man in a jumper. How hard do you really think it would be for me to get in the offices?"
Both men stared at John, quiet, unassuming John, for a long moment before speaking over each other.
"You threatened the man you believe is running the British government?"
"You threatened Mycroft for me?"
"I will never understand your continual surprise when I do crazy things for you Sherlock. I don't know whether to be insulted that you've underestimated me again or sad that you can't let yourself trust me."
The two men stared at each other long enough for Lestrade to feel a bit uncomfortable.
"For all the good it did me; he wouldn't tell me anything. But 20 pounds and a note to the girl with red umbrella who lives by the fountain in Hyde Park got me as far as you and two men sneaking into the Gallery. I knew that picture would come into it eventually, although I admit I wouldn't have guessed it would be quite so public. I suppose I could have just let you do it; I knew you wouldn't actually steal a painting. But this isn't the kind of notoriety you need; it's hard enough for you to work with the Met as it is, and private clients are hardly going to trust someone who gets arrested as an art thief. People only ever remember the arrest."
Sherlock leaned against the bars of the cell, all the fight and the anger having dissipated while John spoke. Not a single word was spoken about losing, about the embarrassment John would have felt, about the damage to his professional reputation. And damn him, he'd suspected! Would he never surprise that man?
"John, I…" Sherlock didn't know what to say.
"I put John in here with you because sometimes even the genius Sherlock Holmes needs to be taught something. And because you're both idiots and if I ever have to break up a prank war again I really will have you locked up, reputations be damned. Is that clear?"
Both John and Sherlock nodded, John with relief and Sherlock with something that would clearly have been confusion on any other man. It wasn't an expression that really suited him.
Lestrade unlocked their holding cell, and John stood to make his exit. But just as John passed, Sherlock reached out and grabbed him by the arm. Without sparing a second for John to protest, Sherlock pulled him close and pressed his lips to John's.
It wasn't a wonderful kiss, certainly not the first kiss that Sherlock had (decidedly not fantasized about, merely considered as an unlikely possibility) concluded he and John might share under certain circumstances. And then John threaded his fingers through the curls at the back of Sherlock's neck and ohyeslikethat deepened their kiss. This was the kiss that Sherlock had imagined they might share.
Until Lestrade coughed loudly behind him, and Sherlock pulled back from John, keeping his grip on his friend's arm. John smiled at him.
"Well?" Sherlock demanded.
"Ha!" Sherlock shouted; a blinding smile took over his face.
John smirked. "I didn't think you'd ever work it out." The smile fell from Sherlock's face. "Been waiting months for you to catch on and do that."