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Sherlockfic: Snake Eyes

Title: Snake Eyes (or 5x John H. Watson failed at gambling and 1x he didn't) 
Rating: PG
Word Count: ~2,300
Genre: Gen, Character Study, Friendship
Summary: An outsider's perspective on John Watson's gambling, and an insider's perspective on why he stopped.

AN: So, recently discovered BBC's Sherlock and -- um -- wow.  It is GOLD.  Seriously, so much love for this show, it's ridiculous.  I can't wait until next year when we'll actually get a proper season because I'm sure it'll be EPICLIKEOMGWOAH.

This thing is my first attempt at a 5+1 and it's not even a proper one...I just sort of belatedly realized it fit.  Even now I think it only qualifies if you squint.  So feel free to ignore that aspect if it doesn't appeal to you; it's really just masquerading as one.

Comments are <3!

[snake eyes]
or five times John H. Watson failed at gambling and one time he didn't


The first time the soldier walks into the pub, Tom doesn’t take much notice of him. No one does, really. Tom’s probably the only one who looks at him long enough to take in his stance, assess his casual but carefully pressed clothing, note the tense calm around his mouth and the cane at his side, and stuff him into an easily labeled box before turning back to the drink he’s mixing (gin and tonic, for the requisite pompous git of the night).

It’s an average weeknight in December, so the pub crowd is mostly composed of regulars and people who are just resting for a minute or thirty before bundling up in their fluffy coats and pudgy mitts and woolen scarves to brave the cold London streets once more. The soldier doesn’t seem to fit either of these categories – and after ten years as a barkeep, Tom feels pretty secure in his ability to categorize people, as well as confident in the knowledge that almost all people can be categorized, despite their protests to the contrary – and that alone makes him stand out, if only slightly. But it’s a slow night, and during the many gaps in interesting conversation Tom finds his eyes wandering to seek out the tin man in the shadows of the small pub.

He isn’t very interesting to watch. This is mostly because all he does is watch, and that mask of tense calm never wavers to expose the (only potentially) interesting thoughts underneath. All Tom can do is attempt to identify what he’s watching, and these seem to consist of a) the horse race playing on the pub’s single hanging television, b) the people at the corner table waging bets on said race, and c) the poker game near the far window, where two tables have been ruthlessly smashed together to make enough space for all the players. But despite his obvious interest the soldier never actually does anything, and leaves after maybe two hours spent nursing the same pint.

Later that night Tom dumps the unfinished pint and decides, good riddance.


The second, third, and fourth time the soldier walks into the pub – and possibly more than that, but Tom’s stopped keeping count – Tom’s not the only one who notices. This is possibly because he looks a little less like a soldier tonight – his jumper’s a bit rumpled, he actually looks dressed for the weather, and that tightness around the mouth has been replaced by a more pronounced limp – and possibly because he actually interacts with people this time. Tom’s not convinced the two are unrelated.

It’s late December now, verging on January, and the pub crowd has tipped firmly in the direction of cold-fearing Londoners huddled around their warm beers and praying for winter to just be bloody well over with already. Tom doesn’t blame his regulars for easing off; for all that Tom loves his job, on these late winter nights he would much rather be huddled in a cramped loveseat watching telly with the missus, and he doesn’t think highly of hypocrites.

Tonight though, the soldier is back, so that makes the job marginally more interesting. Tom keeps an eye on him as he putters around indecisively – which in itself is something of a shock – before finally settling with the horse racers of the night before. Tonight there’s no race on and Tom’s not showing the football game, so they’ve resorted to throwing dice for their fun. Tom doubts any significant sums of money ever change hands there, and so he’s left them mostly alone; a bloke’s got to get his thrills where he can, after all, and Tom’s not about to get in the way of that, no matter how many sticky die he finds under his counters at the end of the night.

The soldier slips in with a few murmured words and his acceptance is the trade of a single pound coin for a share of the pitcher already on the table. He settles back into his old habits then, watching and nursing his small tumbler, only offering a word or two when spoken to. Tom’s attention drifts elsewhere.

About midway through the night a small commotion breaks out at the corner table, and Tom realizes the soldier has finally made his move. A single glance tells Tom there’s been no outbreak of hostilities, and the only other event that could cause such an uproar in this particular group would be—yes. All eyes are wide at the small corner table and are turned toward the soldier, whose stoic gaze is fixed instead on the gambling pot – which, unless Tom’s eyes are tricking him, is definitely totaling more than the customary five pound limit.

Eventually the soldier raises his head to look at his companions, as if to ask what they’re waiting for, and Tom is thoroughly amused to see the way they all slowly turn away and add similar bets of their own, cowed by the man’s calm confidence.

Tom’s sure the soldier must have some trick up his sleeve, but the night drags on and the soldier proves to have worse luck than most. He leaves late with much less money than he arrived with, by Tom’s accounting, but that doesn’t seem to deter him. He returns a few nights later, and again, and again, and although eventually his mates’ wallets dry up and their bets return to the base rate, he persists in his huge, unlucky gambles.

The longer this continues the more uncomfortable Tom becomes, because he doesn’t like hypocrites and he likes to think of himself as a helpful sort, and he thinks maybe it’s about time he steps in and stops this bloke from running himself into the ground. Recently the soldier’s starting making eyes at the poker table, and Tom decides that’s where he’ll draw the line; if the soldier moves to poker, he’ll say something. He’ll help.

But by that time January is wrapping up and there’s this weird string of serial suicides on the news, and the soldier stops coming round. Tom wonders why, and hopes he’s alright, but mostly he’s relieved. And he hates himself a little for it, because he really does hate hypocrites, but in the end he only feels more relieved that the decision’s out of his hands.


The last time the soldier walks into the pub, Tom is the last to notice. This is partly because he looks nothing like the man Tom remembers, and partly because Tom simply doesn’t want to notice. It’s not that he’s dyed his hair, or anything drastic like that; he just feels different, less like a soldier and more like an ordinary man. The cane’s gone, the limp’s gone, the pressed shirt and jacket are there but casually unzipped and – are those scorch marks? The lines around his mouth have also eased, and his eyes constantly dart around as if he’s seeing the pub for the first time and wants to make sure nothing’s changing on him. Tom gets the feeling he’s seeing more than Tom ever has.

It’s late March now, and Tom had happily given up on ever seeing the soldier again. His regulars are beginning to return and he’s getting more orders for actual food, which means more people sit at the bar and are willing to have a conversation, and also that his chef will stop taking random nights off in fits of boredom. Overall, business is looking up.

The soldier’s already ensconced himself at the poker table and paid his dues before Tom notices him, and even then it’s only because he’s managed to cause a commotion early on this time. Truly Tom’s not sure how long he’s been there, but he makes a habit to keep an eye on the goings on at the poker table so he couldn’t have been there longer than ten minutes. There’s been some sort of trouble but the men are still talking in hushed tones and, with the controlled faces of poker players, Tom can’t make out the issue from behind the bar. Under the guise of wiping down a nearby table, he sneaks close enough to make out words.

“You can’t possibly know that!” one elderly man is hissing, a chip on his shoulder and a pudgy finger in the soldier’s face. “No one knows that! You’ve been—you’ve been followin’ me!”

“Why would I do that?” the soldier says, sounding honestly confused. “I don’t even know you.”

“Well, I don’t know—”

“Hang on,” a younger, more reasonable looking fellow interrupts. “What does this even have to do with poker? How can all that stuff predict what cards he has?”

“And how the bloody ‘ell do you know that rot?!”

Even from his position meters away, Tom hears the soldier’s sigh. With obvious reluctance he folds his cards and places them on the table, face down.

“It’s very simple, really,” he attempts. “I just noticed a few small clues and put them together to get an idea of your play style, and went from there. I’m sure everyone does it.”

“Everyone bloody well does not know, just from lookin’ at a bloke, that he’s lost ‘is job and ‘is wife’s threatenin’ to leave ‘im! Now you better start explainin’, or I’ll have the cops down ‘ere afore you can say another word!”

The soldier’s face hardens at that, and Tom doesn’t blame him; the elderly man has spoken loudly enough to catch the attention of the whole pub, and now the soldier is the focus of the entire crowd. As if sensing he’s already made too much of a scene to hide, the soldier slowly stands up, settling into parade rest.

“Fine,” he says, not a hint of stress betraying itself in his voice. “I noticed your shirt first – wrinkled, with the cuffs undone. Not unusual for a single man or a widower, but you’re wearing a wedding ring; marriage in trouble, then. The ring’s clean, and you’re wearing it in a public place without your wife present; that suggests the trouble’s not on your side. You’re faithful, so maybe she’s not, or you’re having money problems. The calluses on your hands suggest repetitive labour, perhaps factory work; but the lack of dirt under your fingernails combined with the current economy says you’re recently unemployed. From there, it’s easy. You’ve lost your job and maybe you’ve told your wife, maybe you haven’t, but either way she’s not happy. You’re desperate, so you turn to gambling. You don’t have much money to lose, so you’re going to be cautious. You can’t risk a bluff failing. So, I folded. I knew you weren’t bluffing.”

Silence. Even Tom has stopped scrubbing the table. And then a single word.


The soldier sighs again, and tosses his winnings on the table. “Keep it,” he throws over his shoulder as he walks away, “you need it more than I do.” And then the door bangs shut behind him and the pub explodes into excited chatter.

This last time Tom is sure the soldier won’t be back, and for the first time he’s genuinely disappointed.


“I never took you for a gambling man, John.”

John doesn’t even bother sputtering or complaining as he shuts the door behind himself and shoulders off his jacket. If you live with someone like Sherlock – and who’s he kidding, no one else is like Sherlock – you just have to accept it as a fact of life that he knows everything about you, sometimes before you know, and that it’s pointless to try to figure out how he knows.

Instead John makes a beeline for his chair and collapses in it, relieved to abandon the military stiffness he’d regained back in the pub. He opens his laptop with a mind to record the night’s events, and though he knows it’s unlikely he’ll ever post this particular account, the simple act of recording his thoughts seems to help him relax. It also has the bonus of making Sherlock think he’s busy. In theory.

Sherlock, of course, is undeterred. “Then again, I had been waiting for some bad habit of yours to pop up. Never did figure out why Stamford thought you’d be such a terrible flatmate. If you’ve been throwing away our rent on snake eyes, that would clarify things.”

John stares at him. He knows he’s a terrible flatmate. He has PTSD, he screams in his sleep, he has a bum leg that makes him cranky and irritable, he’s living on an army pension and is worryingly reluctant to get a real job, and—no, was. Most of those problems are in the past tense, now. And, well, none of them really compare to leaving miscellaneous body parts in the fridge, either, now that he thinks about it. John laughs.

“You did have other flatmates before me, right?” John asks, and smiles at the small frown of confusion that appears on Sherlock’s face.

“Of course.” A little too fast, a little defensive.

John narrows his eyes. “And how long did they last?”

Sherlock’s silence speaks for itself, and John laughs again. He can feel the dark mood from the pub completely letting him go, and the comforts of home sneaking in to take its place. He closes the laptop.

“You don’t need to worry,” he adds as he picks up his novel instead, an enjoyable nautical story. “Gambling no longer holds any appeal for me.”

“…Oh? And why’s that?”

John looks up to find Sherlock inspecting him with narrowed eyes, as if he’s a potential clue to a crime that just doesn’t fit. It’s a nice change. “Oh, I don’t know. Too…pedestrian, I suppose.”

And now it’s Sherlock’s turn to bark out a laugh, and even though John’s sure he’s worked it all out now, he can’t be annoyed. He’s home, and he’s got his book and a warm hearth and Sherlock, and he doesn’t need anything else.

He’s got everything he needs right here.

[ -=- ]


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 28th, 2010 03:52 am (UTC)
Oh, I love it when John picks up detecting stuff from Sherlock. Probably without even realizing it, at the time. And really, just living with Sherlock definitely should satisfy his craving for thrills; he doesn't need to gamble anymore, and I like how you show him realizing that.

Sep. 28th, 2010 11:20 pm (UTC)
John's not stupid; he'd have to pick up some of Sherlock's tricks after a while. It's just that, as long as Sherlock's around, he'll always be a low second - but put him in a crowd of normal people, and I'm sure he'd shine. It's one of my favourite things to see in any Holmesian fandom. ^-^

So glad you liked it, and thanks for the comment!
Sep. 28th, 2010 01:06 pm (UTC)
That was really great! Of course if Sherlock had been in that pub with John he would have immediately informed him that he did a splendid job but missed everything of importance. :D
Sep. 29th, 2010 12:01 am (UTC)
Glad you liked, thanks! And oh yes, I'm sure Sherlock would have known also about the guy's liver condition, and his son who's failing college, and his sick dog, as well as the route he took to get there... ;P
Sep. 28th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
Sweet! Watson does the trick... :-)

A tiny Britpick you might want to fix – we no longer have one pound notes. These days we have one pound and two pound coins. The smallest denomination note in sterling is five pounds. Damn the inflation...
Sep. 28th, 2010 11:16 pm (UTC)
Eek, thanks! Fixed! Thanks so much for the comment and the tip. =D
Sep. 28th, 2010 10:26 pm (UTC)
Nicely done. Enjoyed!
Sep. 29th, 2010 12:03 am (UTC)
Yay, so glad you enjoyed it! ^o^
Oct. 3rd, 2010 08:46 am (UTC)
I love it when John gets to shine a little.
Oct. 3rd, 2010 09:24 pm (UTC)
Me too, he deserves it. :) Thanks for commenting!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )