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[personal profile] wheres_walnut
Title: The Game is Afoot
Author: [livejournal.com profile] gyzym 
Illustrator: [livejournal.com profile] wheres_walnut 
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Slight H/W
Summary: Holmes and Watson play footy in Regent's Park. Dirt. Sweat. Tackling. General tom foolery and foul play. The yarders show up for a good game. A general mud bath for all involved. Originally done for the [livejournal.com profile] shkinkmeme .


Sherlock Holmes is not an easy man to live with, and John Watson knows it well. There is always something that would drive a lesser man to distraction taking place at 221B; from the indoor armory to the incident with the blown-in door, it is hardly a peaceful environment. Still, Watson weathers it with good cheer. He is one of those men with an in-born amiable nature--it is hard to make him angry.

Once he is angry, however...

“I cannot believe you consider Gladstone’s lack of verbal protest a solvent point!” he yells, fuming. They’ve been arguing for six blocks and Holmes has yet to look even remotely ashamed of himself. “Your ‘scientific breakthrough’ has left him incontinent and half-blind!”

“Well,” Holmes demurs, “that’ll only last another day, at worst. And in any case, if he hadn’t eaten the damned stuff--”

“You left it in his food bowl!” Watson cries, long since at the end of his rope. “What was he supposed to--no. No. I cannot believe I even considered the possibility that you would listen to me. I--you--rrrrrgh.”

Holmes merely raises any eyebrow in the face of this outburst, and Watson, furious at Holmes and at himself, stalks several feet ahead. He sees the leather ball out of the corner of his eye, resting under a tree, but thinks nothing of it.


Thinks nothing of it, at least, until it connects soundly with the back of his head.

Watson whips around. The ball is resting on the ground next to his left foot, and Holmes--damnable, damnable Holmes--is attempting to conceal his laughter. He is, it must be admitted, doing a rather poor job of it.

“My dear fellow,” he tries, choking on it a little, “I must assure you that I meant it to land rather lower--”

Watson does not wait for the rest of his little speech. Instead he hauls off and kicks the ball back, putting as much force into it as he can muster. It is heading directly for Holmes’ head, and Watson would be horrified with himself it he wasn’t so annoyed. However, the question of horror turns out to be moot when Holmes reaches up both hands and catches it smoothly, tossing it up in the air once with an expression of surprise, and then of challenge, on his face.

“You know,” he says, “we could always settle the problem this way.”

“What,” Watson returns, “play for it? I’ll remind you that we’re very late.”

Holmes shrugs. “Lestrade can wait.”

“I really think--”

“Oh. I see.”

Watson narrows his eyes. “What do you see?”

Holmes just smirks at him. “If you’re frightened that you’ll lose,” he says, drawling the words out carefully,  “we may of course continue to the Yard. I certainly won’t shame you for the forfeit.”

Watson glares at him. Holmes meets his stare with a cool, calculated gaze of his own, and finally Watson throws up his hands and begins to unbutton his overcoat.

“I know what you’re doing,” he says, but Holmes just tosses the ball up again, letting it land at his feet. “I am not blind, Holmes.”

“Nor incontinent,” Holmes agrees. “Though if you’d like to be, I am more than willing to allow you to test the substance that so incapacitated--”

“Enough,” Watson growls, down to his braces and shirtsleeves now. “You don’t intend to play in that, do you? Get to it, we’re deucedly late as it is.”

Holmes just grins at him. The sun is setting as he strips down to shirtsleeves, pulling off his clothing layer by layer, and even angry Watson is deeply aware of the way the light catches in the curve of his neck. Even angry, he is deeply aware that this will not be the quick game it should be.

So he gives in, as he always does. It’s not like he has much choice.


Fifteen minutes later, all thought of going to the Yard has been utterly abandoned. Watson has tripped more than he’s been upright, and he can feel the mud seeping through his shirt and down his legs. Holmes has dirtied his knees considerable--he appears to be rather fond of sliding on them in order to block goals, inefficient as that method seems to Watson--but his shirt remains pristine, through some unlikely coincidence.

However, clean though he might be, he is two points down. In Watson’s view, that makes his own soiled clothing entirely worth it.

“That’s my point!” Watson laughs, leaning over to press his hand against a stitch in his side. Holmes is peering into the water bitterly, muttering under his breath about fairness and dignity. “You can’t claim foul, that was completely legitimate--”

“I have a whole pond to guard!” Holmes returns. He fishes the ball out of the water and holds it away from him, his expression disgusted. “You have the space between those trees and I have this whole pond--”

You do not require a cane in your everyday life,” Watson points out, still laughing. “And also, you are more than a little inclined to cheat.”

Illustrating this point, Holmes drops the semi-soaked football back onto the grass and begin, absently, to worry it with his toe. Even as he says “No I’m not, don’t be ridiculous,” he is planning his bitterly illegal next move. Watson, who knows the man rather better than he ought, does not take his eyes away from the ball, and is far from shocked when Holmes cuts hard to the right, taking off at speed without officially calling time back in.

Watson chases him halfway up their makeshift field. Holmes, the arrogant bastard, is the faster of the two by a fair margin, and he is moving at a clip. He must be motivated by the thought of winning the argument, though Watson can hardly remember what it was about.

Still, though Holmes is the faster, Watson is by far the stronger. When he has closed the distance between them to a few feet he lets out a war cry and launches himself through the air, tackling Holmes indelicately to the ground.

“Oooof,” says Holmes, after a minute.

“Quite,” Watson replies, feeling rather pleased with himself. “Perhaps if you’d follow the rules, I wouldn’t be forced to resort to such measures.”

“You have gotten mud on my shirt,” Holmes sniffs. Watson looks him over with a critical eye.

“It appears,” he says dryly, “that I have, in fact, gotten mud on my shirt.”
Holmes glances down at his own chest and makes a face. “So I have, old boy. So I have. I must say, I feel rather ridiculous about the pains that I took to avoid keeping it dirty now that I know--”

“That it does not belong to you?” Watson finishes incredulously. “You are such a gentleman, Holmes, really, the level of gentility, I cannot bear it--”

“Actually,” he cuts in brightly, “on the topic of gentility, I think you’re obligated to give me back a point.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Had I known I was wearing this shirt as opposed to one of my own ,” Holmes tells him in all seriousness, “I would have been much more capable of executing a defensive strategy.”

Watson stares at him. And, oh, well, perhaps Holmes is not speaking in all seriousness; the corner of his mouth is twitching very, very slightly, entirely unnoticeable to the untrained eye. Watson knows what he is doing. He almost always knows what Holmes is doing, really. The man is much less complicated than people imagine.

Nonetheless, he cannot come up with a good argument against pinning him down in the mud, and he does so.

“Cretin,” Holmes gasps, laughing. He executes a quick, light jab to Watson’s ribs, throwing him off his guard enough that Holmes can grab him by the shoulder and flip him. And then things get both rather blurry and rather muddy--they are not fighting so much as sparring, rolling around attempting to get the better of one another. Really, Watson muses, it is not unlike another activity they often partake in, barring some of the more specific bruising.

He is just starting to develop his usual physical reaction to such activity, actually, when he hears a voice that stops his progress in that area dead in its tracks.

“I told you,” Lestrade says. “I told you he was just being a git, Clarkie. What’s this, then, lads, rugby game gone awry?”

“Football,” Watson admits, disengaging from Holmes and glancing up to meet Lestrade’s guardedly amused eyes. To Watson’s mild horror, it’s not just Clarkie with him; Gregson and Jones are also flanking the Inspector, grinning down at them.

For his part, Clarkie is bright red, the very picture of a man who has been proved badly wrong.

“I honestly did not think he would willingly miss--”

“It’s fine, lad,” Jones says, putting a hand on Clarkie’s shoulder. “We’ve all misjudged Mr. Holmes once or twice.”

“You, if I recall, threw six innocent people in prison for your pains,” Holmes agrees, sitting up. His hair is dripping mud down his face, but his eyes are bright with good humor. “Slow night at the Yard, then? Nothing worth knocking you boys up for? Or is it, as I rather suspect, that you are generally not worth knocking up? At least, not if there a crime someone actually wishes to have solved--”

“Mr. Holmes,” Gregson interjects, “are you going to insult us or let us play?”

“I judge myself fully capable of doing both,” Holmes assures him. “Assuming you boys think you can spare the time from your diligent policing of the city--”

“Save it,” Lestrade says, pulling off his jacket. “Teams?”

Watson looks them over thoughtfully. “I’ll take Gregson and Clarkie,” he says finally. Holmes glares at him.

“You will not,” he hisses. “Clarkie’s fastest, Gregson has three more brain cells than the rest, you cannot possibly expect me to team up with Inspector Lestrade, and I have the larger goal. I will take Clarkie and Gregson. You will take Lestrade and Jones, and you will like it.”

Watson shrugs, trying not to laugh at the pleased expression on Gregson’s face and the mildly affronted look on Jones’. “As you will,” he demurs, smiling at his new teammates. “Shall we discuss rules, or is it not worth bothering?”

“It’s always worth bothering,” Lestrade says, before Holmes can reply. “Cambridge rules, and let’s make this a nice clean game. What’re we using for goals?”

Watson indicates the hollow between the trees that he’s been guarding while Holmes, bitterly, gestures at the pond. Lestrade’s bitten-back smile is more than a little obvious; Jones manages to restrain himself a bit more. Clarkie and Gregson both look mildly appalled.

“I call foul; that’s a whole pond!” Clarkie cries. Lestrade smirks at him.

“Looks fine to me,” he says.

Grumbling, Clarkie and Gregson remove their jackets. Lestrade and Jones follow suit, and they all gravitated almost unconsciously into position; Jones and Gregson at their respective goals, Clarkie and Lestrade flanking their captains. Holmes and Watson stand in the center of the makeshift field, glaring playfully at each other.

“First to three,” Watson says, twirling the ball between his hands. “We haven’t got all night.”

“Eight,” Holmes shoots back, narrowing his eyes. Watson smiles.

“FIve,” he offers, and Holmes nods his agreement, his eyes drifting down to focus on the ball.


“Oi! I thought I trained you better than that!” Lestrade snaps, glaring at Clarkie. Clarkie just grins.

“You did, sir. Which is why I figured you wouldn’t expect it.”

“You body-checked me, lad!” Lestrade, even on the ground, is fairly intimidating. Well, no--not to Watson, and certainly not to Holmes, who seems to choking around a fit of silent hysteria. But Clarkie, around the edges of his grin, is beginning to look a little nervous.

“Here, sir, let me--” and he holds out a hand to help his boss up.

A moment later, it is entirely clear from the expression on his mud-covered face that he was not expecting to be yanked forward like that.

“You haven’t a chance,” Holmes hisses, fighting Watson for the ball as Gregson frantically tries to block the pond behind them. “You’ll never get by me, I am trained to anticipate your every move, I--”

“When we get home,” Watson returns, his voice pitched low enough that only Holmes can hear him, “I am going to make you suffer for trying to intimidate me like this.”

“Oh,” Holmes scoffs, “a punishment, is it? What could you possibly--”

“I am going to bugger you against the wall until you cannot see straight,” Watson says clearly, and Holmes is so badly distracted by this unusually open display that he lets Watson get right past him and kick the ball into the water.


“You CAN’T DO THAT,” Lestrade and Jones roar together. Holmes smirks at them and rolls the ball back and forth under his left foot.

“And yet,” he murmurs, “it appears that I just did.”

“That’s not how it works!” Jones grumbles, holding a hand to his head. “Just because there isn’t a net behind the goal--”

“Well,” Holmes offers, “as I recall, we established that any ball which passed through those two trees was a point for my side. I cannot seem to remember our specifying which direction the ball needed to be going.”

Lestrade opens his mouth, produces a strangled noise, and turns purple. Holmes’ smirk deepens into a frankly upsetting canyon of superiority, and Watson sighs.

“Fine,” he says. Lestrade glares at him, but he holds up a hand. “There’s no point. He’ll just keep arguing it. But for the record, Holmes, it is now part of the rules that you may not score a goal, run through the goalposts, and kick the ball back through from the other side. You will get no points for that. We will, in fact, remove your first point.”

Holmes rolls his eyes but nods, and Watson pinches the bridge of his nose and tries to ignore the very dangerous color of Lestrade’s face.

The color on Lestrade’s face, in fact, comes to violent fruition a few moments later.

“What the bleeding hell--” Homes sputters, surfacing from the pond looking more than a little put out. Everyone else is trying to conceal their laughter, with varying degrees of success. Lestrade merely grins, picks up the ball, and chucks it none-too-gently at Holmes’ head.

“If that ridiculous display of cheating counted as a goal,” he says, his grin edging on predatory, “then so does this, Mr. Holmes.”

“I would like you to know,” Holmes says, hauling himself out of the water with hauteur, “that I despise you utterly. My loathing knows no depth.”

“You’d know from depth,” Lestrade agrees, looking him up and down. “Tell me, is the pond that expansive or are you just that short?”

“Resume play,” Holmes growls, his hair dripping water into his eyes, and Watson’s efforts at hiding his laughter come to an abrupt halt.


There have been very few perfect moments in John Watson’s life; that is the nature of the perfect moment. It’s an elusive thing, hard to grasp, always just out of reach.

That said, when Holmes smirks, kicks a perfectly accurate ball towards the goal, and whistles at his own handiwork, it is nothing short of brilliant that Jones’ response is to step forward and block the shot with his stomach. The ball bounces against it, lands squarely at Watson’s feet and sits there, allowing him to neatly kick it past Gregson for another point.

Really, perfect moment or no, the look of opened-mouth horror on Holmes’ face is its own reward.

“Foul!” Holmes screams, running to the spot where Watson has fallen. “That’s a violent foul, Clarkie, this man is a war veteran and a respected doctor, you cannot just body-check him like he is some schoolyard--”

“I’m fine, Holmes,” Watson manages, brushing himself off. “And you are making a fool of yourself.”

“I am just arguing for fair play!” Holmes returns, offering a hand. Watson takes it, pulling himself up on Holmes’ sinewy arms. “It’s disgusting, really. I’d like that point stricken from the record.”

“Mr. Holmes!” Clarkie says, shocked. “I--I’m very sorry, but I really don’t think--that’s a bit--”

“I will not have a point taken from me for that utterly brutal--”

“Clarkie is on your team,” Watson hisses under his breath, “and you are going to get us arrested if you carry on like this. Good god, man, get a hold of yourself!”

Holmes colors very briefly. Then he sniffs, disengages himself from Watson, and smiles carefully, edging away.

“Apologies,” he says, “do not strike it at all. Ah. Resume play?”


“A case you can’t solve, eh, Mr. Holmes?” Gregson asks, smiling far too cheerfully for a man who has just let a goal through. “Never thought I’d see the day.”

“One of you has to know who kicked that ball,” Holmes growls. “My money, of course, is on Clarkie, as I doubt Inspector Lestrade’s ability to land such an accurate shot. Then again, that does beg the question of why Constable Clark was aiming for his own goal--”

“It wasn’t me, Mr. Holmes!” Clarkie says hotly, waving his arms. “I would never, I was just trying to block--”

“Regardless of who kicked it, it’s a point to us,” Lestrade says, smirking a little. “Unless you’d like to argue some more--I know you’ve had some confusion as to what team Clarkie is on.”

“Let’s just play,” Holmes grumbles. “This is unbearable, really, the levels of incompetence are astounding.”

“Yes, Mr. Holmes,” Clarkie agrees, though from the dark look on his face it is clear he would rather protest.


Watson realizes he’s just scored the winning point at the same moment he realizes that Gregson is windmilling his arms that way because he is going to fall into the pond. Thinking quickly, Watson reaches out a hand and grabs him by one of his braces; though it saves him going over, they are badly misbalanced, and they catapult backwards into the mud. Gregson is sprawled on top of him, and they are both splattered with mud, and the man is rather fit, all things considered.

As such, it is something less than a surprise when Holmes dives forward, lets out a strangled cry, and lands next to them on the ground, neatly knocking Gregson away.

“Oi!” Lestrade cries from across the field. “Don’t be a sore loser, Mr. Holmes, that’s not called for--”

Watson would correct this impression--Holmes is less sore about losing and more sore about Watson’s current position, to be sure--but that would be bad decision in current company. Instead he grins, throwing Holmes backwards into a mud bank.

“I know how it pains you to be on the bottom,” he says, wiggling his eyebrows. “But you might allow that sometimes, others simply must come top--”

He is silenced by the handful of mud Holmes shoves unceremoniously into his mouth. He squawks his indignation as Lestrade, apparently incensed by this new attack on his teammates, jumps into the fray. A second later Clarkie has joined them, and they roll about like children in a brawl, cackling and throwing punches. Someone is pulling Watson’s hair. Someone (probably Holmes) is clawing at Watson’s back. They are all laughing too hard to breathe, and then--

“Ahem,” Jones says, sounding torn between annoyance and amusement. They all stop and look up at him. Watson has Gregson’s shirt between his teeth Lestrade has Holmes in a chokehold--that explains the clawing of Watson’s back, at least--and Clarkie is attempting to disentangle himself from the vice-grip of Holmes’ legs around his abdomen.

“As droll as this is,” Jones continues, looking them all over as sternly as he can, “I believe we have business to attend to. Isn’t that right, Inspector?”

Lestrade has the good grace to look shamed as he releases Holmes, who gasps and glares at him. “Ah. Yes. Quite right, quite right. Good match, gents.”

He stands, offering a hand to each of his teammates. Watson, once upright, draws Holmes to his feet, while Clarkie hauls a decidedly soiled Gregson out of the mud. They shake hands--Holmes and Lestrade are clearly gripping rather harder than they ought, but it can’t be helped--and then the Yarders leave them to it, gathering their things and departing at speed.

“Well,” Watson says, “I guess I won that argument.”

“You always do,” Holmes agrees, attempting to brush himself off and then clearly realizing the exercise is futile. “I will attempt to refrain from poisoning the beast in the future.”

“No you won’t,” Watson laughs, tossing Holmes his overcoat and scarf as he gathers up his own things. “My god, I’m going to be sore for a week.”

“Not too sore to refrain from offering that punishment, I hope,” Holmes says slyly, at Watson grins at him.

“Never that sore,” he nods. Then he notices the football in Holmes’ hands and eyes it quizzically. “You’re not leaving that, old chap?”

“Ah,” Holmes says, turning--red, actually, which is more than a little surprising. “Well, I, ah--I thought that since--you know, I didn’t want to--oh, it’s probably best to leave it here.” He drops it and glances at it wistfully, and it’s then that Watson realizes, hang the man, that he’d had fun. That he wants to do it again, maybe, but cannot bear to admit it.

Holmes and his silly pride, Watson thinks, and he hides a smile behind his hand as he walks to the ball, kicking it across the distance between them.

“So,” he says, catching the thing easily with his left toe when Holmes returns it, “the Messinger case. What do you imagine the chocolate on the third floor window signifies?”

They walk back to Baker Street that way, chatting amiably about nothing of particular importance and kicking the football back and forth. When they reach their rooms Holmes receives exactly the punishment he deserves, and the ball, which had been abandoned somewhere in their ascension of the stairs, showed up in the parlor a week later. It was considerably cleaner than it had been when they’d brought it home, and Watson could not help by smile at it whenever he walked by.
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