No Match for the Man

Chapter 3

There were very few people in the world who meant something to Sherlock, so hurting one of them was tantamount to waving a red flag at an enraged bull. Mrs Hudson was like a mother to him, far more than his own mother had been, and she had been there for him during a dark time, even through her own pain. That someone, an American spook no less, had the gall to so much as discomfort her turned his vision red.

Tossing the man out the window was a delight, though he hadn't really meant to damage the trash bins. He practically skipped down the stairs, his mind already forming his vindictive action into an experiment in the physics of a falling living body. A smirk of morbid pleasure twisted his mouth, but it froze on his face as he met John in the foyer.

The doctor looked his flatmate up and down, then scratched the side of his nose with his thumb. He sniffed once, pursed his lips, and said softly, "We're going to owe Mrs Hudson for those bins." John then turned away and threw back over his shoulder, "By the by, drop him feet first next time? Wouldn't want to cause an international incident by killing him, would we?"

Sherlock's smirk turned into a full-blown grin as he darted out of the flat to drag the man back inside again. Not many people could surprise him like John Watson could surprise him. It added an extra level of glee to his task.

Later on, he waited patiently while Lestrade's minions combed the flat and took statements. He had to hide his pleased smile as John snapped at a few of the technicians when they became a bit overzealous in their search. It always gave him a bit of a thrill whenever John came to his defense.

Mycroft had always been a shadow in the background, seeing over any potential threats with clandestine meetings, perceived omniscience, and a smarmy attitude. In theory it was a good procedure, and many threats ran with their tails between their legs. Those threats that he could not out-class or intimidate, he had silently removed or he cleaned up after.

John would never out-class a threat, except perhaps with his marksmanship. When it came to intimidation, however, John could give Mycroft a run for his money. There were no side-lines or spies for Dr Watson, there was only the weight of a gun in hand and looking the danger directly in the eye. The doctor laid his life, his mind, his entire well-being on the line every time he protected Sherlock.

In the whole of the detective's life, there had never been anyone like John. Nothing had ever been as steadfast, as loyal, as constantly surprising as the doctor. Everything in his life was transient, even The Work. Everything, it seemed, except John.

When the last of the sirens faded into the distance, and they had both seen Mrs Hudson safely to bed, Sherlock and John retired to their flat. As the strains of 'Auld Lang Syne' drifted through the air, he could feel John's eyes watching him. It wasn't distracting, per se, nor was it specifically uncomfortable, but Sherlock still wasn't used to having an audience, especially for his musical performances.

Turning his mind off the soft warmth of contentment pooling in his belly, Sherlock zeroed his mind back onto the task at hand – namely Ms Adler's camera phone. It was obvious that soon she would have to come to him for help, if only because he held her safety net in the palm of his hand. But what would he do when she finally appeared?

The gears in his mind wound back to her conversation with John in the warehouse. Something she said clicked into place, and he murmured softly, "Does that make me special?"

"Hmm?"

"She asked you if my not answering her made her special."

John made a grunting noise, then said, "She did, yes. She also mentioned the fact that she was a lesbian."

Sherlock spun around slowly, taking in the tableau the doctor presented. John's hands were fisted on his knees, knuckles whitened by the pressure, and the muscle of his jaw twitched as he clenched it. Something in the line of the doctor's broad shoulders revealed that the man wasn't so much uncomfortable as actively annoyed with the conversation.

"Correct, and regardless of that fact, she still finds me attractive." Smirking at the way John took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, Sherlock replaced his violin in its case and settled into his chair, pulling his long legs up to wrap his arms around them. "I might be able to use it against her."

"No, Sherlock," the force with which John spoke surprised the detective into looking him in the eye. "Whatever you're thinking, just, no."

Cocking his head a bit, Sherlock tried to hide the shiver caused by John's tone of voice. "Have you no faith in me, John? I'm just going to do the same sort of thing I use to get body parts out of Molly."

"Oh I have faith in you, Sherlock," John shook his head slightly and wearily climbed to his feet. "I have plenty of faith in you. But Irene Adler is not Molly, not by a long shot." The doctor ambled over to the sofa and tugged the afghan Mrs Hudson had given them for Christmas off the back of it. "You're a very skilled actor, and God knows you're a great manipulator, but compared to Irene Adler?" He clicked his tongue against his teeth as he returned from the couch and slung the woolen blanket around the detective's thin frame. As he finished his impromptu speech, he tucked the material into itself, encasing Sherlock into a warm cocoon, "Ms. Adler has perfected your skill into her own personal art form. I hate to say it, Sherlock, but she'll eat you alive."

When John had started speaking, Sherlock had first narrowed his eyes in frustration. He much preferred John extolling his abilities to being chastised by him. A moment of confusion crinkled his brow when John picked up the afghan, and it was replaced with a modicum of panic when he realized John's intention. Darting his eyes to the skull on the mantle, the detective hoped the doctor would assume the flush that crept into his cheeks was from the sudden warmth brought on by the blanket, rather than their sudden, unexpected closeness.

"What," Sherlock swallowed hastily, trying to drive away the odd note of huskiness that had invaded his voice, "what are you implying John? That I am incapable of manipulating a manipulator? I did very well against that cabby, as I recall, and he was rather good." He paused, allowing his lips to twitch into a small smile, "Well, until you shot him, of course."

"Oh yes, Sherlock, you did wonderfully against the cabby." John rolled his eyes and shook his head, a fond smile quirking his lips. "Tell me, have you forgotten the part where you almost swallowed that pill? Pull both my legs, why don't you? Then at least I could be taller."

Frowning, Sherlock pulled himself to his feet and looked down at the shorter man before him. He chose to turn his frustration at his own lack of control into anger. Poking a finger into John's chest, he snarled, "What exactly are you trying to say, John? Out with it!"

John's strong chin squared mulishly, "You may know a lot of things, and you may be able to tell everything about a person's life from a glance at their bloody thumbs, but there is one thing you just don't get, Sherlock."

"And what, pray tell, is that, Doctor?" The detective loomed over John as if to intimidate him into backing down.

"Emotions, you daft git." John settled himself into an at-ease position, leaning back just a bit on his heels. "Sentiment. All those annoying little feelings that make us all so human. That damn cabby played you like you play the violin. Irene will chew you up and spit you back out." The doctor's voice dropped half an octave, "I will not watch someone do that to you again."

So many things ran through Sherlock's mind - how dare John presume to point out his flaws, God damn the man for being all protective again and making him feel all awkward inside, trying to intimidate a soldier who had been to war continued to be a fruitless endeavor, were the doctor's eyes blue or grey - he had to back up a step out of John's personal space to collect himself. His mind finally settled on, "I do learn from my mistakes, John." The blanket around his shoulders slipped as he planted his hands on his hips and fixed a meaningful glare on his friend, "Now that you were so kind to lay out my shortcomings, I will remember to be on my guard. Trust me, John, I'll have Irene in the palm of my hand by this time next week."

John sighed softly, his shoulders slumping, and Sherlock knew he would go along anything the detective planned. "Fine, Sherlock, whatever you say," the doctor reached up and re-wrapped the afghan tighter around his friend's shoulders. His thumb involuntarily caressed the detective's throat as he smoothed out a wrinkle over the detective's shoulder. "After all, you're always right, aren't you?"

Sherlock was unable to think of a response as his mind had screeched to a halt, replaced by the lingering warmth of John's accidental touch. The doctor sighed again, almost sadly, and turned towards the stairs. "Good night, Sherlock."

Leaving the detective behind, John mounted the stairs to his bedroom only to pause on the landing. Looking down at his hand on the railing, he pondered the phantom feeling of smooth, warm skin that clung to the nerves of his thumb. If they hadn't just been talking about emotions, John might not have even noticed it, nor the odd churning in his stomach brought on by the detective's unhealthy habit of putting himself in the path of destruction. Closing his door quietly, John wondered briefly if he was becoming sick. Listing his symptoms silently to himself, he dressed for bed.

He froze with his shirt halfway on as the diagnosis slammed into his brain like a 2-ton baby grand piano. Irene Adler was right, he had feelings for Sherlock Holmes, and if they continued on in the vein they had already carved out, John was in grave danger. He was no stranger to peril, he had faced down terrorists and psychopaths after all, and come out of it with nothing but a case of mild shock. The thought of falling in love with his best friend, his male best friend, terrified him more than Afghani bullets ever had.

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