John hurried home, certain that Baker St. would be in shambles by the time he arrived. It had been over a week since Sherlock’s last case and he’d dreaded leaving at all the last few days. John had even texted Mycroft in the hopes that he could shake something loose, but to no avail. There was plenty of crime going on in London, despite the holiday season, just none of it interesting enough for Sherlock to look into.

If they hadn’t been out of just about everything, John wouldn’t have risked leaving the flat, but they did need to eat. Just after he pushed open the front door and started making his way up the stairs to their flat, Mrs. Hudson’s door also opened. He looked back to give her a greeting, but his greeting died on his lips as he took in her expression. “What is it? What’s happened?”

Mrs. Hudson wrung her hands together as she exclaimed, “He’s gone!”

John dropped the bags on the steps and hurried back down to her. She wouldn’t be so upset if Sherlock had just gone off on a lark. Gripping her shoulders, he asked, “Where’d he go?”

“He didn’t say, I’m not sure, but… he was dressed up!”

“So?”

“No, not like that, he was dressed up.”

John blinked at her for a moment before getting her meaning. Sherlock never acted like a Courtesan so most of the time he forgot that was the other man’s primary function. The Society allowed Sherlock to do as he pleased because his successes made him even more attractive to potential matches. John had only ever seen him dressed as a courtesan twice since he’d moved in and each time had rendered him speechless. Sherlock was gorgeous on a bad day; dressed in the form-fitting silk of a courtesan with his features subtly enhanced with makeup, people stopped in their tracks or bumped into walls.

Letting out a sigh of relief and exasperation, John said, “Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock is a Courtesan. He’s supposed to go out now and again to please the Society, remember? I’m sure it’s fine.”

Mrs. Hudson’s gaze looked no less worried as she replied, “I really don’t think it is.”

John patted her on the shoulder and said, “If he’s not back in a couple of hours, I’ll call him and make sure everything’s all right. Promise.”

Mrs. Hudson glared at him. “I am not a child nor a doddering old woman yet, Dr. Watson.”

John gaped after her and flinched a bit at the slamming door. It wasn’t like her to be so vehement unless she really thought something was wrong. John frowned as he recovered the shopping and continued on to the flat. He put everything away mechanically and then frowned at the mobile he had subconsciously pulled out. No new texts and certainly no calls. Not that Sherlock ever called when texting would do.

The flat was terribly quiet, which made him uneasy. In the eight months or so since their rather explosive first meeting, living with Sherlock had been filled with danger, excitement, and almost nonstop action. Quiet was, essentially, the antithesis of everything Sherlock embodied.

“Can’t hurt to check,” John murmured to himself, fingers moving over his mobile.

Everything ok?

He waited a few seconds, but got no response. John slipped the phone back into his pocket and went about tidying the flat while he had the chance. Every time he’d done so this past week, Sherlock had taken it upon himself to destroy whatever he’d done.

An hour later, he texted again.

Thought we’d get curry tonight. What do you think?

There was no reply and, after a few minutes staring at his mobile, John set it down and picked up his laptop. His latest blog entry stared back at him only half-done and John began to slowly fill in details of that last major case they’d had which had stopped a smuggling ring and exposed a politician.

Thoughts began infiltrating his mind as he tried to focus on the post. Things like Sherlock having little-to-no control over whom he might be matched to and that even Mycroft probably didn’t have any influence with the Society, either. No one did. It may have started in the Americas after their Civil War, but the Society had quickly become a worldwide phenomena. It had dug roots into England as deep as anywhere else.

What do we really know about them, anyhow? he wondered, stomach tight with nerves. Can they just give him to anyone they see fit? Is there some kind of courting period? Could someone actually buy Sherlock?

Not that he had the money to even come close to being matched to a Courtesan; that much John did know. The only people ever attached to them were high ranking officials or the wealthy. They were a mysterious group shrouded in secrecy over the ages with a political might envied by anyone in a position of power. They seldom exerted that power, but it was there.

Are you okay? Answer me, Sherlock.

Without thinking about it, his fingers typed in a query for the local Society address. If Sherlock had been called in to meet someone, chances were it would be there. This had to be a first meeting, because the other man hadn’t been dressed as his title in months. John memorized the address and retrieved his jacket before leaving to hail a cab. The drive was too long, mired down by traffic. It was a good forty minutes before they arrived and he gritted his teeth at the cost before handing over the money and getting out.

The Society’s home office was a stately, three-story affair in Kensington Palace Gardens. It mingled well with the old money and Embassy area and only the tall, iron fence and guard standing out front showed the difference.

John walked up to the uniformed guard with a friendly smile. “Hello.”

Big and broad-shouldered, the guard eyed him with clear disdain.

John’s smile didn’t slip. “Right. Well, just wondering if I could have a chat with your boss. Well, not your boss, obviously, but the person in charge.”

“No.”

John hummed thoughtfully and then said, “You know your shoe laces are untied, right?”

The man frowned and looked down in time to meet John’s fist; it laid him out cold. John caught the man and gently set him down on the sidewalk, then took out his keys. He unlocked the gate and walked onto the steps, closing and locking it behind him. The front door was unlocked and he walked inside to find the exact kind of understated wealth one would expect from a multi-national organization a couple of centuries old.

Looking around the lobby, John took in the quiet murmur of voices, listening for Sherlock’s distinct baritone. He walked slowly down the main hall which had doors to either side of it; drawing rooms probably. It wasn’t until he reached the end of it that he heard Sherlock and nearly collapsed in relief. And then he wondered what in hell he could say to explain his presence.

An alarm went off and John winced. It looked like the man he’d coldcocked had woken and called for help. He silently berated himself for not taking the guard’s phone. John looked for a place to hide and saw a smallish door under the stairs. He dashed over and, thankfully, found it unlocked. It was a broom closet, naturally, and John shoved his way between mops, brooms, and a large bucket ensemble.

He heard people shouting and rushing about outside of his hiding place and stayed still.

Are you in the broom closet or the cellar? - SH

John had never been so glad to receive a text in his life and grinned.

The door opened before he could answer and he looked up at Sherlock who gave him a small, pleased smile and said, “Thought so. Come out. I don’t believe the trouble you’ve stirred can be mopped up quite that way.”

John rolled his eyes at the bad pun, but walked out.

Standing a short distance away was a stunning, dark-haired woman wearing nothing but a corset, lace stockings, and heels. She gave him an amused look and said, “John Watson, I trust?”

“Yes, and you are?” John replied, taking her hand and keeping his gaze firmly above her chin. One look at her lithe, curvy figure had been enough to cause a twitch somewhere that didn't need twitching in public.

She chuckled and said, “Oh, Sherlock, he is adorable. I can see why you’re…”

Sherlock broke in with, “This is Irene Adler. She’s in charge of the London House and I report to her, when I feel like reporting at all.”

Irene smiled thinly at that and said, “Shall we have tea?”

It wasn’t really a question and John followed them into the drawing room where he’d heard Sherlock before. It was horrifically posh and John was sure that he would break something just by touching. He sat gingerly on the sofa beside Sherlock.

“I told you to let me answer his texts,” Sherlock said, lounging back on the sofa. “John’s rather excitable when it comes to my safety.”

John flashed him an annoyed look. “I wouldn’t have to be if you took any precautions with it.”

Sherlock waved him off dismissively and said to Irene, “You were saying?”

Irene crossed her legs, leaning back in the delicate parlor chair, and said, “It’s an excellent offer, Sherlock. The best we’ve received yet. He’s a genius, as well, so you wouldn’t be bored.”

“I’m not bored now and have no need for money.”

“He’s exactly your type, as you are his. There would certainly be no problem with sexual gratification on either end of your match.”

“Seems to me that I’ve heard that before.”

Irene made a delicate moue of distaste. “You said you would drop that.”

Sherlock smiled viciously. “I never drop things, you know that.”

Her smile was just as unpleasant as his. “I do, yes.”

“Excuse me, but are we talking about a, a permanent match for Sherlock?” John finally managed to ask.

Irene and Sherlock both looked at him with near-identical expressions of irritation. It was Sherlock who said, “Obviously. Do keep up, John.”

Irene’s expression softened a little and she said, “I understand that this could leave you in a bit of a lurch. We’d be happy to compensate you for…”

John glared at her. “Forget it. I’ve been bribed by better than you.”

Sherlock’s eyebrow lifted.

Irene merely smiled as if he were particularly dimwitted.

John scowled. “You know what I mean! And anyway, if Sherlock doesn’t want this man, then that’s that. Come along, Sherlock. That curry is calling my name.”

John stood in the hopes that Sherlock would as well, but he didn’t.

Instead, Sherlock gave him a warm look, something no one else would probably see, and said, “Go home, John. I have business to finish here.”

For some reason, John felt he was losing him. That if he left, they’d never see one another again. His life was better than useless without Sherlock and the lack of him loomed like a death harbinger. “What kind of business?”

Sherlock did stand, then, and lightly gripped his shoulder. “Private business. I’ll be home directly.”

“Promise?”

“You have my word.”

John relaxed a little, though his worry didn’t truly abate. “All right. I’ll see you at the flat.”

Sherlock nodded and then, unexpectedly, countermanded himself by saying, “No, wait. Go to Angelo’s and wait for me there.”

John frowned a bit, but said, “Okay. See you later, then.”

When he walked out of the room, three very large men waited for him. John gave the man he’d knocked out a weak smile. “Sorry about that. No hard feelings, yeah?”

They didn’t literally throw him out, but it was a near thing. John stumbled from the rough shove and barely caught himself from falling face-first onto the pavement. He hailed a taxi and took it right to Angelo’s. There was no way of telling how long it would be before Sherlock arrived, but he didn’t want to accidentally miss him if he was right behind.

Angelo greeted him as cheerfully as ever and set him up with tea and an appetizer to keep him occupied. The next hour passed with excruciating slowness. John was counting the taxis as they drove by the restaurant’s large, bay window when Sherlock finally stepped out of one. John relaxed fully on seeing him and then giggled a bit when two men walked into one another on catching sight of the courtesan.

Sherlock ignored them and strode into the restaurant, sitting opposite John with his usual flourish, sprawling out, feet kicking into John’s before settling between them. “I hope you ordered.”

“And how would I have done that with no idea of when you’d be coming?” John countered, too happy to be annoyed.

Sherlock looked over at Angelo who called back, “Five minutes, Sherlock!”

John rolled his eyes and said, “Fine. Whatever. What happened?”

Sherlock’s eyes widened into a faux-innocent expression. “What happened when?”

John cracked a couple of knuckles. “Sherlock.”

“It was nothing,” Sherlock said, refusing to meet his gaze. “There were… contractual obligations to settle that I’d put off far too long simply because it was convenient to leave the status quo. Things are as they should be now. You can relax.”

That did nothing to settle any of John’s questions. He sighed and leaned on the table. “For the rest of us idiots, please explain.”

Sherlock scowled and said, “I’ve been permanently assigned. See?”

John’s eyes went to the earring in Sherlock’s ear that was, indeed, completely different than the last one he’d seen. His heart thudded painfully in his chest a couple of times. “What? But, who? When do you leave? Sherlock, maybe we can fight this. Mycroft could help, couldn’t he?”

If anything, Sherlock’s scowl deepened and he let out a short, sharp breath. Finally looking directly at John, he said, “I’ve been matched to you, although I’m wondering why now if you couldn’t even deduce that much.”

John gaped at him, jaw dropping and heart suddenly banging against his chest in a too-fast rhythm.

Sherlock’s scowl shifted into a worried frown, eyebrows pinching even closer together as he said, “John? Are you all right? You’ve gone pale and your pulse seems to be going quite fast now.”

“It’s called shock, Sherlock,” John croaked. He took a breath and then demanded, “What do you mean, we’re matched? I didn’t do anything!”

Sherlock relaxed a bit, sitting back again, and said, “You didn’t have to. My contract was purchased for you as a gift.”

Feeling more than a little dull, even more than usual, John asked, “But, by who?”

Angelo came over with food just then, delaying the explanation. He settled everything down and poured two healthy glasses of wine. “Congratulations! I knew first time I saw you two that that was it for our Sherlock here.”

John had the feeling his face was going to be permanently stuck in a perpetual expression of incomprehension. If Angelo knew not only what to make for them, but also what was going on, then Sherlock had called him on the ride over. And if Sherlock had been in a good enough mood to do that, then the only person who could have gifted Sherlock to John was Sherlock himself.

“Thank you, Angelo,” Sherlock murmured.

Angelo left them to their food and each other.

John took another breath, mind still racing over the situation. If Sherlock was legally his… Heat suddenly coiled in his gut and he kept his eyes on the food, carefully cutting into the pasta as he tried to recover from the bout of lust. It wasn’t the first time he’d acknowledged his attraction to Sherlock, but he’d never thought the reverse might even be possible. It had to be, though, because Sherlock would never give himself to John without knowing he could reciprocate.

“I have several intriguing scenarios we should try out when we get home,” Sherlock said in a low voice. “The most pressing of which involves a riding crop and my bare backside.”

John nearly choked on his pasta at the words, just about inhaling it. When he cleared his throat, John met Sherlock’s gaze, which seemed all the more piercing and somehow filled with filthy promise. John licked his lips and said, “Oh?”

Sherlock smiled, slow and wicked. “Oh yes. I also envision you on your back while I ride…”

“Thanks, Angelo, but we’ve somewhere to be that we forgot,” John called out, standing abruptly and digging for his wallet. There was no chance he was going to sit here while Sherlock reduced him to a shaking wreck in public. Not when he could do it, and so many other things, in much greater detail in private. He tossed a couple of bills on the table and gave Sherlock a pointed look.

Sherlock smirked as he stood up and then demurely followed John to the door. John abruptly stopped at the door and grabbed hold of Sherlock’s silk shirt to pull him down for a long, desperate kiss. He pushed Sherlock up against the doorjamb and hooked an arm around his neck to devour him. By the time he’d finished, John opened his eyes to find Sherlock’s still closed while he panted for air.

John smirked when Sherlock finally looked at him.

Sherlock scowled. “Oh shut up.”

John kept hold of his hand as they left the restaurant and said, “And to think all I got you for Christmas was a jumper.”

Sherlock gave him a wide-eyed, horrified look. A genuine one, this time. “You didn’t.”

“Oh I did. And now I can make you wear it,” John teased.

Sherlock made a pained noise, but didn’t let go of his hand as they started walking back to Baker St.