John never intended for Sherlock to find out. It hadn't started out as a secret or anything. It was just that after knowing Sherlock only a few days, John decided it was the sort of information best kept to himself. Something he managed for quite some time, until he made the tactical error of inviting his friend to join him at a party for one of his old army mates. In his defence, he never thought Sherlock would say yes. Particularly to not a barbecue in the middle of winter. John had been thrilled at first. Now...he was less so.
"Nah, nah!" exclaimed Danny, the birthday boy. His wife was throwing him a full-on, proper Aussie barbecue for his birthday. Never mind this was January in London, not January in Melbourne. "If you're looking for mad exes, Johnny here's got the best story."
Everyone was at least a little bit drunk. Danny, Joanne, Gazzer, Mimi, Rex, and John, too. Even Sherlock was on his second beer, and John was certain he'd not eaten anything since yesterday's breakfast; he couldn't possibly be entirely sober. The fire pit on the stone patio and the barbecue grill not far off combined to keep the yard on the warmer side of arctic, and the tiki torches added the necessary citronella scent to make it smell like a summer evening. Almost.
John shook his head, his breath puffing visibly with his self-deprecating chuckles. "She wasn't mad. She was just...free-spirited."
Danny dropped a heavy arm over John's shoulders. "If I say she's mad, mate, trust me, she's mad. I ought to know!" His nickname in the unit had been "Psycho", and it had fit. He'd mellowed a great deal since then, but he was still more than a little nuts. Hence the January barbecue birthday party. He laughed, and Joanne, his wife, nodded fervently.
"He ought, too. He really ought," she said, laughing.
"And she was, you know," added Gazzer. He'd always had to toss his tuppence into any discussion, and some things never changed. "Totally bonkers."
"Tell me about her."
John had half forgotten he was there, he'd been so quietly hovering in the background, observing or ignoring as the whim struck him. Naturally he chose this moment to find interesting. And naturally Danny was happy to fill him in.
He turned his enormous grin on Sherlock. "Josie Beakerman. John met her at the Sydney Olympics."
Sherlock shot John a curious look. "What were you doing there?"
"Can't you guess?" countered John, feeling a little piqued and so disinclined to offer an answer.
Roughly 2.7 seconds later, that familiar look of comprehension dawned on Sherlock's face. "Ah. Of course." He turned back to Danny. "Go on."
"She wasn't an athlete, though. Nah. Our John's not that lucky." Danny burst out laughing, and the others joined in.
John would have chuckled, as well, but he was too busy trying to figure out how to change the subject. He could "accidentally" knock over the barbecue, but they hadn't eaten yet and the steaks smelled too good to spoil them. He contemplated tipping over the fire pit. It wouldn't likely damage the stone patio, but it would be awfully awkward and heavy and he couldn't possibly make that look unintentional without hurting himself or someone else. He briefly tried to calculate how drunk he would have to get Sherlock in order to make him forget this entire conversation ever happened.
He felt as though he was walking a tightrope without a net and Danny was lobbing tennis balls at him trying to knock him off.
"What did she do at the Olympic Games, in that case?" asked Sherlock.
"Well, now," said Danny, warming to his topic. "You'd think that she'd be a doc or a trainer or something, wouldn't you? But nothing so mundane for Johnny. He's always had an eye for the unusual. Am I right?" He grinned at Sherlock and gave a little nod of the head. John expected a Monty Python-esque "Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Know what I mean?" to follow, but he was spared that, at least. "Nah. She was-- Are you ready for this?"
Sherlock looked downright intrigued. As fascinated as if this were a clue in his latest case.
John sighed, downed the last of his beer, and reached for another. It was inevitable now.
"She was a street performer. A right circus act of one, mate!"
"--fire-breathing. The whole shit, mate!"
That lob was just off the bows. The next was sure to hit home.
Sherlock was smirking now. If only John could freeze this moment. Freeze it as hard as the lawn behind him. Freeze it as hard as Antarctic permafrost.
"And that's not all!"
God, Danny was really into it now. John reconsidered tipping over the fire pit. Instead he handed Sherlock a fresh beer.
"Isn't it?" asked Sherlock, whom John was certain could deduce what was coming and yet allowed Danny the joy of telling him.
"Nah. The best bit--"
"She taught Johnny how to do it, too!"
Bam! Figurative John tumbled from his imaginary tightrope. Fortunately, he was just drunk enough not to hurt himself when he hit the metaphorical ground. Even more fortunately, despite the pleading of his old mates, he couldn't demonstrate his fabulous skill for them. Aside from John being out of practise, Danny didn't have the right sort of fuel, and John was not willing to compromise or improvise on that point.
The rest of the party, Danny just had to keep bring up the point. He never could let a good joke lie. John took it in stride and pressed as much booze as he could get away with on his flatmate, praying that the brain cell holding this new bit of data would die, dump its cache, or do whatever it had to for Sherlock to forget.
It was a failing battle, but it didn't stop him trying.
Neither John nor Sherlock was in terribly good shape the next morning, which was all right since neither of them had anywhere to be. No cases to work on. No shift at the clinic.
"God," moaned Sherlock, one long arm draped over his eyes. "If you were that determined to get me pissed last night you might at least have taken advantage of me afterwards."
John snorted a laugh and groaned at the resultant slam of pain through his head. "We're both lucky we were sober enough to remember how to work a key last night, and that we didn't wake Mrs. Hudson when we came in."
John shuffled from the kitchen into the sitting room where Sherlock was sprawled on the sofa. "Here." He handed over twice the recommended dosage of OTC painkillers and a bottle of fizzy water. He'd already taken some himself and was praying he wouldn't throw them up.
Sherlock rose only enough to swallow the pills with a mouthful of water. "Ugh. Bubbles?" He lay back down.
"You should drink the rest of that." John took a drink of his own, trying to lead by example, and sat heavily in the armchair.
"You owe me," said Sherlock without turning to look at John.
"Owe you what?"
Misunderstanding, John protested, "Just because I handed you the beers didn't mean you had to drink them all."
"For going with you, I meant."
"So you only went to the party with me because then I'd owe you a favour?" Even as hung-over as he was, that stung.
Sherlock let his head loll to the side so he could look at John directly. John was too bleary-eyed to read the expression, but Sherlock's tone was reasonably contrite. "No. Of course not. Instead, perhaps you could do me a favour, and I'll owe you one."
John frowned. His brain felt slow. He was missing something, he knew it. What it was, though... That was anybody's guess. "What favour?"
Sherlock grinned. "Teach me how to breathe fire."
"How did you--?" What the hell had happened last night? More importantly, what the hell had he forgotten? John's mind spun and he clutched his head in his hand until the spinning stopped. There were gaps, fuzzy at the edges and blurred at the centre. He took another drink and tried to force his memory to clear.
"Yes. Josie Beakerman, was it?"
John's eyes narrowed into a pained glare. "Where did you get that name from?"
"Your mate Danny. Don't you remember?" Sherlock couldn't hide his grin. It was sly and a little smug, and John wanted to smack it off his face, but he couldn't be bothered to stand up and walk the two steps across the room.
John bit back another groan, this time of mental rather than physical distress. "Yes." Shit. That was why he'd gotten so drunk. Why he'd gotten Sherlock so drunk. He'd tried to make his flatmate forget and it had backfired quite soundly.
"I believe it was kerosene or liquid paraffin you needed, right?" Sherlock inquired, not looking nearly so hung-over now as he had moments ago.
Sadly, John did not have such recuperative powers. The mere mention of those less-than-savoury substances set his already iffy tummy into full protest mode. He rose and dove for the loo, vomiting out everything his stomach had to offer.
He flushed the toilet and sat back, chilled and shaking and silently cursing his own idiocy in having allowed himself to get plastered. It had been years since he'd done something that stupid.
He looked up and, to his surprise, saw Sherlock standing solicitously in the doorway with John's discarded bottle of water in one hand and a damp cloth in the other. He held them out. John took the cloth and wiped his face, then traded it for the water, which he used to rinse his mouth, spit, and then take a tentative sip.
John nodded. Then he closed his eyes, hoping it was true.
"Good. We'll talk about the fire-breathing lessons later, then."
Shit. "You'll look stupid the first time you singe your eyebrows off," John muttered. His predicament was his own fault, but his misery made him blame Sherlock, and that made him snarky.
"Then I'll endeavour not to."
There was amusement in that baritone voice. John didn't have to open his eyes to know Sherlock was smiling. Slowly, a tiny smile curled one corner of John's mouth. It might be worth it after all, as long as he could keep Sherlock from burning down the flat. He opened one eye and peered up. "Yeah," he said dryly. "Good luck with that."