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John Watson checks the schedule on his phone one more time, then looks up at the room number posted beside the door of the lecture hall. This is it.

The room’s sixty-odd seats are nearly filled already. Dr. Stamford’s Chem 332 is one of the most popular courses in the entire department, and John considers himself lucky that he’d been able to snag a spot this semester. He’s heard of people being waitlisted until it was almost too late. But here he is, the ridiculously expensive textbook weighing heavy in his backpack, and almost late for the first lecture.

He finds an empty seat near the back of the hall, next to a guy tapping rapidly at the screen of his phone with an intense expression on his face.

“Scuse me,” John says as he steps over the other’s outstretched legs. The guy doesn’t bother looking up from his phone, but whatever. John settles into the seat and pulls out his notebook.

Dr. Stamford hands stacks of photocopied syllabi to students in the front, who begin passing them down the row He’s a round-faced man with a warm, gentle smile, but more importantly, he’s a brilliant and productive researcher who also happens to be a thoughtful and engaging teacher. His RateMyProfessor reviews are fantastic — everyone seems to love him.

Everyone except the guy sitting next to John, apparently, who keeps tapping at his phone as Dr. Stamford addresses the class. John turns to stare at him.

“What?” the guy says, not bothering to look up from his phone. His voice is deeper than John had expected, somehow.

“Class is starting.” John nods pointedly toward the front of the room.

“So?” The guy’s thumbs move so fast they’re nearly a blur.

“Just thought you might want to pay attention,” John mutters, shaking his head.

“It’s called multi-tasking.”

“Whatever.” It’s not like John is a Luddite or anything. He has an Instagram account and uses Snapchat every now and then, and the team chat on WhatsApp keeps him pretty busy. But still. “It’s fucking rude, man.”

The guy turns to look at John at that. His dark hair falls in soft curls around his pale face, and his eyes are sharp and blue. His appearance is so striking that John is caught off-guard for a moment before he manages to stare back at him defiantly.

“And of course,” Dr. Stamford says — making John realize he’s just spent the last full minute glaring at the guy sitting next to him and, ironically, completely missing the course intro — “those of you who are interested in doing well in this course this semester will want to get to know your TA. He’ll be holding office hours, grading lab assignments, and organizing review sessions before exams. His name is Sherlock Holmes and he’s sitting right up there in the back.”

The guy next to John shoots him a snide glance, then stands to give the class a curt wave. John’s stomach sinks down somewhere near his feet. The guy — Sherlock, seriously? — sits down and buries his nose in his phone once again.

John’s cheeks are flaming, he knows, but there’s nothing to do about it now. He clenches his jaw and turns away, keeping his gaze locked on the screen at the front of the room.

What a way to top off one of the shittiest weeks of his life. In the span of less than ten days, he’s been broken up with (over the phone, no less), had to scramble to find a (shitty) place to live this semester, blew his spending money for the month on books, and fumbled like a noob in his new role as captain of his team. And now, apparently, he’s made an ass of himself in front of the TA of a course that he absolutely has to make an A in if he’s going to get into med school.

Just… fuck everything.

*****

“That was sick as fuck, Doc,” Greg says, swatting John on the ass as he skates past. “Now if you can just do it when it counts.”

“Yeah, sure, G.” John taps his stick on the ice to signal Andy to pass him the next puck. “Remind me — when did your sorry ass last have a two-point game?”

“Hey, it’s happened.” Greg flashes him a cheeky grin. “Not all of us can be you.”

Andy fires the puck right onto John’s tape, and John one-times it, elevates it just over Wiggy’s glove.

“Fuck,” Wiggy says, turning around to look at it. “That was more than 95, swear-to-god.”

“I wish,” John says. “So are we good or do you wanna do another bucket?”

“Nah, I got class in half an hour.” Wiggy shifts his mask up to the top of his head. “Hey, Andy — you’d better help clean these up this time.”

Andy, who’d been slowly moving backward toward the exit gate, stops. “I wasn’t gonna — it was only once. And I had a damn good excuse.”

“Twice, you lazy fucker. And no, you didn’t.” Wiggy starts knocking the loose pucks into the net. Andy rolls his eyes, but he skates over to gather them up.

Greg leans on his stick next to John, watching them. John chews on his lower lip for a moment.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Shoot.”

“How am I doing at this captain thing? Really?”

“You’re doing fine, bro. I mean, you’re no Sholtzy” —Greg chuckles, apparently missing the way John’s expression tightens— “but you’ll get there.”

John takes a deep breath, releases it slowly. “Maybe. I just don’t know if I’m up for this kind of responsibility, not with…” He hasn’t unloaded his shit on Greg yet, and this doesn’t feel like the time to start. “It should’ve been you.”

“The guys picked you, Doc. Hell, I voted for you too. I didn’t want it.” He squeezes John’s shoulder. “But you should probably put the fear of god into the freshmen while you still can.”

John laughs. “Yeah, those little shits are way too cocky.”

“For serious. Swear to god, we were never like that.”

“Or we weren’t after Cap bag skated us every day that first week.”

“Kids these days,” Greg says with a wink. “Hey, you wanna do lunch today?”

“Yeah, sure,” John says, then winces. “Ah, shit, I can’t. I gotta meet with my Forensic Orgo TA. That fucker hates me.”

Greg frowns. “Someone hates you? That’s a first.”

John snorts. “He’s like some child prodigy or something. He’s 20 and already working on his PhD, so of course, everyone else is beneath him.” John was also kind of a dick to him on the first day of class, but he’s not telling Greg that.

“Fuck, he must’ve done high school when he was 12. I wonder what that was like?”

“If he ever does anything other than look at me like I’m an idiot, I’ll ask.”

Greg chuckles. “If he seriously thinks you’re an idiot, he’s in for a surprise.”

“Yeah, well. You haven’t met him.”

“And considering that all my science credits are done, I’ll never have to.”

John feigns surprise. “Oh, are you a senior this year? I hadn’t heard.”

Greg tries to give him a facewash with his glove, and John ducks away, laughing.

*****

Sherlock’s office is in the old science building, room 221B. The door is open, but John knocks anyway before poking his head through.

“Come in,” says a female voice.

John steps through the door and glances around. It’s a typical grad student office in most ways: four desks are crammed along the perimeter of a badly-lit, weirdly configured space. The walls are mostly covered with scientific reference posters, except for a chalkboard on the far side of the room, which has a jumble of chemical formulas scribbled all over it in tiny print. The bookshelf beneath the room’s single small window is stuffed with yellow-bound texts. The room smells strongly of burnt coffee and a chemical aroma John can’t quite place.

“Can I help you?”

John turns to the young woman who is the room’s only current occupant. She looks to be a few years older than John, and her brown hair is pulled into a messy knot at the back of her head. Her hands are poised over the keyboard of her laptop.

“Sorry, I uh… I’m meeting Sherlock at 12:15. I guess I’m early?”

“That’s his desk over there.” She indicates the one with a tilt of her head. “You might as well have a seat and get comfortable.”

Sherlock’s desk is utter chaos: it’s covered with stacks of loose papers, post-it notes, and open books with indecipherable scribblings in the margins. On the wall behind the desk, there is a bizarre display of images, symbols, and clippings from news articles, all connected by a web of bright red yarn. John stares at it for a while, trying to make some sense out of it. He can’t.

It looks like he’s going to be here a while, so he sits in an empty chair and dicks around on his phone a bit. There are some goofy snaps from the guys who went out to lunch, but everything else is quiet. When the woman isn’t looking, he takes a photo of the weird bulletin board. He puts a WTF sticker on it and snapchats it to Greg. Seriously, what’s with this guy?

When nearly ten minutes have passed and Sherlock hasn’t yet arrived, John starts to wonder if he got the time wrong.

“Um, sorry to bother you.”

The woman doesn’t even stop typing. “He’s always late, if that’s what you’re wondering. He’s one of those people that gets stuck in his own head and loses track of time.”

“How late is he, usually?”

She pauses at that, and turns to look at him. “I’m not his secretary.”

John flinches. “Shit, sorry. I didn’t mean… Uh, maybe I’ll just leave him a note.”

He’s halfway through writing it when Sherlock finally sweeps through the office door. His long, dark wool coat looks too warm for the fall they’re having and the blue scarf wound around his neck is just overkill, but as dramatic entrances go, it’s pretty much right on key.

“Hey,” John says, and stands awkwardly. Sherlock gives him an odd look, and John blushes and sits again. “I’m John. John Watson? From Dr. Stamford’s orgo class.”

Sherlock sets his messenger bag next to the desk, then pulls his scarf off. “If this is about your grade on the first lab assignment, don’t bother.”

“Ah, no. I know that wasn’t my best work. I totally deserved it.”

There’s a slight twitch in Sherlock’s jaw before he turns away. He slips his coat off and hangs it on a hook behind the door, then crosses to sit in the chair at his desk. He’s wearing a dark blue shirt that seems to be a size too small, if the strain on the buttons is anything to go by, and slacks that fit so well they might be tailored. He looks like he just came from a job interview.

Sherlock clears his throat, and John realizes he’s been staring at not-Sherlock’s-face. He looks up. Sherlock’s expression goes from impassive to smirking in a fraction of a second.

Great.

“Then what can I do for you, Mr. Watson?”

John presses his lips together and digs into his backpack. “Dr. Stamford told me to give you a copy of my athletics letter.” He pulls out a sheet of paper and hands it to Sherlock.

“Oh, god, not you too,” Sherlock mutters, then frowns when he reads over the paper. “You’re going to miss a lot of lectures.”

“Yeah, but I found somebody who’ll record them for me, so it’ll be fine. I’ve got plenty of time on the bus to listen and take notes, trust me.” Sherlock shoots him a skeptical look, but John ignores it and powers on. “The bigger issue is that I’m in the Saturday lab section, so when we’re on the road, I’ll obviously have to—”

“Why the hell did you sign up for the Saturday lab if you knew you’d miss half of them?”

John shifts in the chair. “It was the only one left when my registration window opened. You have to sign up for the lab along with the lecture. It’s not like I had a choice.”

“Neither do I, apparently.” Sherlock scowls and flips the paper over to examine the opposite side. “The make-up lab sessions are on Sunday evenings. Students are usually restricted to just two make-up labs per semester before it affects their grade.” He gives John a long look.

John smiles tightly at him. “But exceptions are granted for student athletes missing classes for university-approved sports activities, of course.”

“Like I said, I don’t have a choice.” Sherlock drops John’s letter onto a seemingly random pile on his desk and sighs. “So what sport do you—” He casts a quick glance at John. “Ah. Hockey, obviously.”

“Uh, yeah.” John blinks at him, surprised. The letter hadn’t indicated which sport he played. “How’d you know that?”

Sherlock opens a window on his laptop and begins rapidly typing. “You’re in good shape, but too small for football or rugby. Baseball doesn’t start for a few months, so you wouldn’t be missing classes for that.”

“What about wrestling?”

Sherlock doesn’t stop typing. “No. Your upper body would be a lot more developed.”

Sherlock has barely even looked at him, so John’s not sure how he would know either way. Unless it’s not the first time he’s looked. John pushes that thought away as immediately as it rises, then leans back in the chair and smirks. “Maybe I play basketball, then.”

Sherlock closes one window on the screen and opens another. “Maybe on the weekends, but not on a scholarship.”

“How do you know I’m on a scholarship?”

Sherlock turns his head and gives John a long look. “Where do I begin?”

John looks down at the scraggly sweats he’s wearing — always wears — and grimaces. “Okay, fine. So why not soccer?”

“You have a Canadian accent and a truly ridiculous hairstyle.”

“My hair is not ridiculous.”

“And then there’s your—” Sherlock stops suddenly and goes back to tapping at his keyboard. “Anyway, it’s obviously hockey.”

“Okay, fine. You got me.”

“Of course. I’m rarely wrong.”

That smug tone ought to irritate John, but it doesn’t. Instead, he finds himself smiling, almost laughing. “That was crazy, man.”

Sherlock looks surprised. “It was?”

“You know it was. I heard you were like, some kind of genius, but that was pretty sick.”

“Uhh… thanks.”

Sherlock seems weirdly flustered now, to John’s delight. He’d like to stay and poke at that a little more, but it’s still early in the semester. There will be time.

“Anyway, thanks, man. I gotta bounce.” John zips up his bag and stands. “See you in class tomorrow, eh?”

“Yeah,” Sherlock says, still staring at him strangely. “Sure.”

Just as John walks through the door, Sherlock’s officemate says something John can’t quite make out, to which Sherlock hisses, “Shut up, Molly.”

John bites down on a smile. Maybe his TA doesn’t hate him after all. If John can stay on his good side, that might make all the difference this semester.

*****

John takes a deep breath: the season opener is in a week. They have time to get their shit together, even if it’s not stellar right now. It’s not because of John’s leadership — or lack thereof. Probably. He’s getting there. The guys have been great, totally supportive. Even the freshmen are coming along. Hell, Weaver actually looked scared when John pulled him aside the other day to talk privately with him, so he must being doing something right.

Coach is still shuffling the lines at every practice, looking for combos that work. Today he has John playing center with Greg and Andy on his wing. John and Greg have been linemates for two years, but this is the first time Andy’s played with them since camp. They absolutely kill it.

“Dooooooc,” Greg says right after John goes five-hole on Wiggy at the end of scrimmage.

John lifts his gloved hand for a fist bump and grins. “Like you didn’t have anything to do with that.”

“I just pass you the puck, bro. The rest of that magic is all you.”

John shrugs. It’s different in a game, with opposing defensemen breathing down his neck and a goalie whose moves he can’t anticipate.

“That was some sweet sauce, bro,” Andy says, skating up to bump his fist against John’s glove.

“Thanks, man,” John replies, smiling at him. “Looks like you might’ve just made the first line.”

Andy’s grin looks like it might split his face open.

“Let’s go again,” John says. “Wiggy, you good?”

“I wish,” Wiggy grumbles, pushing his mask up on his face. “I got a lab in half an hour. I should probably get going.”

“Yeah, get to it. Thanks, bro.” John waves a hand as Wiggy skates off.

“Me too, actually,” Andy says. “Later, lineys.” He gives John a mock-salute with one hand before skating off after Wiggy.

Greg shakes his head. “He can be a little shit, but I gotta admit he’s good behind the net.”

“Don’t let him hear you say that. You wanna keep going?”

“Yeah, for sure.”

Practice was officially over half an hour ago, but John feels like it’s his duty as captain to stay as long as other players do, in case anyone wants to work on something. Not that it’s a hardship: the ice has always been the place John feels most in his element. Hockey is the one constant in his life, the thing he can always rely on.

And Greg, being the all around best bro he is, is always willing to stay longer and shoot with him. They practice passing drills until the rink manager comes out to let them know their time is up. They skate over to gather up the pucks.

“So, uh… did you catch the score of the Rockford game?” Greg’s tone is casual, but John knows better.

“Yeah.”

“Your boy’s doing well over there.”

“He’s not my boy.” John’s jaw clenches. “Not anymore.”

Greg is silent for a moment. “Shit. Since when?”

“A few weeks ago. We figured it was stupid to do the long-distance thing.” It’s almost true.

Greg punches him lightly on the shoulder. “Damn, bro. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I dunno. I mean, it was never like, a big thing. It’s not like we were…” He trails off, not sure how to complete that sentence in a way that doesn’t feel like a lie. They both knew what they were getting into, how hard it was going to be after Jamie left. He looks up to see Greg watching him warily, and he forces a smile. “I guess that means you’re back on wingman duty.”

“Sweet.” Greg swats John’s ass with his stick. “Wanna start tonight? You gotta get back in the saddle and all that shit.”

“Is that what you think I’m looking for? Someone to ride?”

Greg cringes. “Ah fuck, I did not need that mental image.”

“You started it.”

“The fuck I did.”

Greg picks up the bucket of pucks and winks at John before skating away.

*****

John knocks on the open door of 221B before popping his head through.

“Hey, Mols. How goes the dissertation?”

Molly looks up from the screen of her laptop. The dark circles under her eyes answer John even more than the scowl on her face. “He went for coffee.”

“Hunh.” John casts a glance over at the room’s coffee pot, which is half-full. “I guess I’ll wait?”

“Suit yourself.”

John hangs his coat on the back of a chair and leans against Sherlock’s desk. He scrolls through the the team text chat, which mostly consists of the guys chirping Andy about the scraggly beard he’s trying to grow. It’s another ten minutes before Sherlock finally reappears with takeout cups from a local coffee shop in each hand. He stops in the doorway when he sees John, an expression of surprise on his face.

“You forgot, didn’t you?” John shakes his head in mock exasperation.

“No.” Sherlock frowns and hands one of the coffee cups to Molly. “The line at The Bean was slow.”

Molly takes a sip and makes a sound that’s almost pornographic. They both turn to look at her. “Pumpkin spice,” she says with a dreamy smile. “First one I’ve had this fall.”

John pouts at Sherlock. “You didn’t bring me one?”

Sherlock sets his own coffee on the desk before taking his coat off. “Shouldn’t you be the one trying to bribe me?”

“I didn’t realize bribery was an option.” John can’t help watching the way Sherlock’s shirt stretches across his shoulders as he moves. He’s not John’s type at all, but that doesn’t mean John can’t look — or flirt, because that’s as natural as breathing. The fact that Sherlock responds to it with a sort of flustered confusion only makes it more fun.

Sherlock sits in his chair and John leans back a little, unable to stop himself from posing. He wore one of his old high school hockey t-shirts today, one that’s a little too small in all the right places. He didn’t wear it on purpose — he hasn’t had a chance to do laundry — but he might as well work it anyway.

Sherlock swats at John’s hip with a stack of papers. “Get your ass off my desk.”

“Where would you like my ass, then?”

Molly makes a choked sound across the room, and Sherlock’s cheeks go a little pink.

“If you have a question about the course, get on with it,” he says, making a show of sorting the piles of papers on his desk. “I’ve got to grade the rest of these labs before I meet with my advisor in an hour.”

“Yeah, okay.” John pulls another chair over, then rifles through his bag for his text. “I’m still trying to figure out how Fourier Transform Spectroscopy works.”

“You and the rest of the class,” Sherlock mutters, and runs his hands through his hair. He looks a bit like a mad scientist when he turns to John again. “What?”

John grins. “And you think my hairstyle is ridiculous, seriously?”

“You have a mullet.” Sherlock says it like he’s just tasted something awful.

John gapes at him. “I do not!”

“Have you looked in a mirror recently?”

“It’s called flow, and it’s cool.”

“It’s called ridiculous, and it isn’t.”

John opens his textbook and looks for the problem set he’s struggling with. “Why do you care?”

“I don’t. Do I have to start with calc one, or do you actually know how to integrate a series?”

“Of course I know how to integrate a series.”

“Then you’re one of the least idiotic undergrads in the course.”

John can’t help smiling. “Was that meant to be a compliment?”

“No,” Sherlock replies, his expression bordering on horrified.

“I’m gonna take it as one anyway. Least idiotic, heh.” He grins.

Sherlock’s sigh is put-upon, and John has to bite his lip to stop himself from laughing. At least the time he’s spent in Sherlock’s company has been entertaining.

*****

Greg is waiting for him outside The Gremlin when John jogs over.

“Sorry I’m late.”

“Nah, s’fine. I just got here.” Greg looks at him and does a double-take. “The fuck did you do to your hair?”

“Ah, yeah.” John runs his hands over the buzzed strands at the back of his neck. “Just thought I’d try something different, you know? Short on the sides, long on top. It’s kinda the thing now, isn’t it?”

“I’ve been telling you that for ages, bro.”

“Shut up.”

John’s a couple of months past 21, but the bartenders here have never carded him. He and Greg get beers and find a spot to lean against the wall and people-watch. This bar is a popular with a wide range of students, from athletes to Greeks to fine arts and engineering. It’s an interesting cross-section of student life at Greenview State. John has always liked that about this place.

“So what’s the plan?” Greg asks, leaning in close. “We tryin’ to get you laid tonight or what?”

John shrugs. “I wouldn’t say no, but I don’t really care either way.”

Greg gives him a long look. “How long has it been?”

“Not that long.”

“Skype sex doesn’t count.”

John sighs. “Fine. July.”

“Holy shit, Doc.” Greg shakes his head. “That’s not right.”

“Yeah, well. Between classes and practice, I’ve been a little busy.”

“Isn’t there like a gay version of Tinder?”

“Not really my speed.” He decides not to tell Greg that the few times he tried to meet up with guys he’d found on online, they’d turned out to be his dad’s age. “I dunno. I guess I’m not really looking for a hookup right now.”

“Huh,” Greg replies.

John takes a long drink of his beer, considering. He hasn’t really talked about this with anyone, but Greg is his best friend. He lowers his voice a little, leans in closer. “He was my first real boyfriend. It was… nice, you know?”

“You seemed pretty happy. You both did, even though he was all—” Greg makes a dismissive gesture with his hand.

Jamie was — still is — fiercely closeted, and that had been hard. Not that John’s ever really been out to more than a few friends, but he’d thought their teammates would’ve been fine with it. Jamie had disagreed — he hadn’t even known Greg knew.

John sighs. “Yeah, I was.”

“So, like… are you still hung up on him?”

“Nah, not really.” It’s mostly true. “I miss having somebody, know what I mean? You and Ally were together for a long time.”

Greg sighs. “Yeah. Well, if you can call her fucking her way through the baseball team while we were in the playoffs together.”

“Well, before that, obviously.” John winces. “Shit, sorry.” He knows better than to bring that subject up so lightly. “Wanna get shitfaced and drag our exes?”

“Yeah, why no—” Greg stops and stares over John’s shoulder. “Hello, beautiful.”

John turns to see a young woman with long brown hair leaning over the bar. She’s wearing a sparkly black top and a short denim skirt, and, okay — he might be gay, but he’s not blind. He nudges Greg with his elbow.

“Are we trying to get you laid tonight, then?”

The woman turns away from the bar with her drinks in hand, and John realizes with a start that he knows her.

“Molly!” he calls, waving at her.

She looks over at him and blinks for a moment before she seems to recognize him. She walks toward them, giving John a strange look. “What did you do to your hair?”

John frowns. “Nice to see you too.”

“Shit, sorry.” She flinches. “That was rude, wasn’t it? I didn’t mean it like—”

“Nah, it’s fine. I mean, it was kind of a rash decision. Hey, this is my friend Greg. Greg, this is Molly. She’s a grad student in…” He gives her a sheepish look, realizing he doesn’t actually know.

“Forensic science,” she says.

“Really?” Greg leans in closer under the pretense of the bar being noisy. “I’m a criminal justice major, actually. I was thinking of taking a forensic science course in the spring.”

Finished with his science credits, right. It’s all John can do not to roll his eyes.

“Are you asking for a recommendation?” Molly lifts one of the drinks to her lips and takes a sip. “I might be TAing a couple of courses next semester if my fellowship doesn’t come through.”

“Molly, what are you—” John turns to see Sherlock standing next to him, staring at his hair with a look of surprise. “Ah. John.”

“Sherlock, hey.” John tries valiantly to rein in his surprise. “I’ve never seen you in here before.”

“We thought we’d try something new tonight,” Molly says, handing Sherlock a drink. “He hates going out, usually.”

We. John hadn’t put two and two together before, but he supposes it shouldn’t be a surprise that they’re a couple. He takes a drink to cover his sudden frown of disappointment.

“So Greg, do you play hockey too?” Molly asks.

Greg’s smile widens, apparently oblivious to the fact that Molly isn’t available. They make small talk for a while, during which Sherlock grows more and more agitated. He drains his drink and loops his arm through Molly’s.

“Are we done here?” he says pointedly.

She sighs. “This is why I never take you anywhere.” She turns to John. “See you next time you come by the office, I guess?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“It was nice to meet you, Greg.” Her smile lingers a bit longer than necessary, and Sherlock scowls at her before tugging her away.

“Bye,” Greg says. He turns back to John. “Okay, wow. Smart and hot.”

“And not available.” John raises his eyebrows.

“What?”

“I’m pretty sure she and Sherlock are dating.”

“Seriously? I didn’t get that vibe at all.”

John frowns at him. “You didn’t?”

“Dude, how can I have better gaydar than you?”

“You think Sherlock is gay?” John looks off into the crowd where the two of them had disappeared.

“He stared at you the whole time, bro.”

“It was probably the hair.”

“Yeah, well — he wasn’t just looking at your head.” Greg takes a drink of his beer and grins.

John resolves to ignore the flicker of hope in his chest. “Well, even if he is into dudes, it’s not like I can do anything about it it. He’s my TA.”

“I’ve seen that porno.”

John snorts and rolls his eyes — though honestly, he’s seen that porno too.

“But he’ll only be your TA until finals, right?” Greg’s eyebrows waggle suggestively.

John laughs, his cheeks heating. So okay, Greg has a point.

*****

John slides into his usual seat in the lecture hall, right next to Sherlock. As usual, Sherlock’s nose is buried in his phone.

“Texting your girl?” John asks him as he pulls his notebook from his bag.

“What?”

“You’re always texting somebody. I figured it was a girlfriend.”

“Not really into girls,” Sherlock says, still frowning at his phone.

John does a tiny mental fist pump. “Boyfriend?”

Sherlock turns to stare at him.

“Which would be fine, of course.” John looks away, flipping through his notebook until he finds the right page. He can almost feel the weight of Sherlock’s gaze on him as the lecture begins.

“Not a boyfriend,” Sherlock says quietly beside him.

“Good,” John replies. He doesn’t have to look to know that Sherlock spends the next solid minute staring at him.

*****

Their season opener is out of town, and so John misses the Friday lecture and the Saturday lab. He doesn’t mind, though; the idea of spending Sunday evening making up the lab under Sherlock’s watchful eye is starting to sound like fun.

They win on Friday night and lose on Saturday night. The freshmen are in various states of disappointment and frustration on the ride home, and all of them seem to be taking the loss personally. Andy is taking it particularly hard; he turned the puck over in front of their own net with thirty seconds to go in the third, which cost them a last chance to even the score and send the game to overtime. It was frustrating as hell, but it’s not like John’s never made a stupid mistake in a game. Andy spends most of the bus ride back staring dejectedly out the window. John tries to say something encouraging, but Andy just shrugs him off.

John frowns. He knows he should try harder, but he’s still new at this captain thing. And honestly, he really needs to listen to the recording of the forensic orgo lecture he missed before he does the lab tonight.

When he gets to the lab, Sherlock is waiting, alone. John thanks anyone in the universe who might be listening that he was the only one who needed the make-up this week. Or at least, he does until he realizes this means he’s going to be scrutinized by Sherlock for two entire hours. Sherlock has an opinion on every move he makes, and each one of them is critical. John grits his teeth through most of it, but when Sherlock leans over his shoulder to watch him write up a result, John draws the line.

“Will you fucking back off?”

Sherlock takes a step back, shocked. “I’m just trying to—”

“If I make a mistake, fine. Let me get a bad grade for it. I’m not going to learn anything if you’re hovering over me and correcting every mistake before I can even make it.” Not to mention that it’s distracting as hell. He can smell Sherlock, for fuck’s sake, can smell that woodsy shampoo that John’s starting to associate with him now.

“Okay, fine.” Sherlock frowns like he’s been reprimanded, but he backs off after that and lets John work on his own.

John’s going cross-eyed by the time he finishes. He was exhausted anyway, and he’d really rather spend Sunday nights catching up on sleep in preparation for the next week of early morning practices and late nights of studying. But no, he’s going to have to do this every other weekend for the rest of the semester.

At 10:00 on the dot, he hands his paper to Sherlock with a tight smile and shoulders his bag to leave.

“John?” Sherlock says, just as John reaches the door.

John sighs and turns to look at him. “What? Did I forget to cross a T somewhere?”

Sherlock’s lip twitches slightly. “No. I don’t think you meant to turn this in, though.” He holds out a piece of scratch paper covered with drawing of plays.

John blushes. “Shit, sorry. Yeah, you don’t really need that.”

Sherlock looks down at the paper, tilting his head. “So what does this represent?”

“Oh, well, those marks are the forwards — this one’s me at center — and those are the opposing forwards. These are for our defense and theirs. This one’s basically an attempt to adjust our attack when they’ve got our shot lanes blocked.” He looks up to see Sherlock staring at him.

Sherlock blinks and looks down at the paper again. “I see.”

“You like hockey?”

Sherlock shrugs. “I can’t say I’ve ever really watched a game.”

“Seriously?” John shakes his head in disbelief. “Never?”

“It’s probably not a surprise that team sports aren’t my thing. My experience of high school and college wasn’t… typical.” Sherlock’s smile is wry.

“Right.” John gives him an appraising look. “No team sports, no girls. So what are you into?”

“Science.” Sherlock hands him the paper with a determined expression.

“You should come to a game sometime. Our home opener is Friday. I can get you tickets.”

Sherlock’s brow furrows. “Are you bribing me?”

“With tickets to a hockey game? Yeah, that sounds like the way to an easy A from you.”

Sherlock opens his mouth to protest.

“That was a joke,” John says. “But I’m serious about the tickets. I’ll get you a couple and you can bring Molly.”

“Why Molly?”

“You have any other friends who’d like to spend their Friday nights watching a bunch of sweaty guys hit each other with sticks?”

Sherlock’s cheeks tint, and he looks away. “No, not really.”

John grins. “See you in class, Sherlock.”

*****

The weird thing is that Sherlock isn’t remotely John’s type. Every guy John’s ever been into was big and athletic, masculine to a fault. Sherlock is tall and scrawny, and sort of looks like an alien at first glance. But the more John watches him tap at his phone during class, the more he notices small details, like the sharp cut of Sherlock’s cheekbones or the perfect line of his upper lip. Or his eyes, which went from looking cold to beautiful sometime in the last few weeks. Or his long fingers, which John can’t help fantasizing about when he’s jerking off in the shower.

Which. No, he’s not going to feel guilty about that last one.

The point is, he’s become a total stereotype — an undergrad with crush on his TA.

*****

John waits until they head out on the ice for warmups, then pulls Greg aside at the last minute. “Hey, G, just so’s you know, Molly is here tonight.”

Greg blinks at him. “Who?”

“The hottie from The Gremlin last week. The one I thought was dating Sherlock?”

“Ohhhh.” Greg grins and holds up a fist.

John bumps it. “I told Sherlock to tell her to keep her eye on number 12.”

“Shit, bro. I gotta light it up tonight.” He pauses. “Wait, is she here with your boy?”

“Not my boy,” John says quietly. “But yes.”

Greg slings an arm around John’s shoulders. “Dude. We are so getting laid this weekend.”

John laughs and shakes his head. Not that he’d be opposed to it, but no — that’s not going to happen. “We gotta play some good hockey first, eh?”

They have a fantastic crowd for the home opener, which really fires up the team. The freshmen are particularly excited, but John manages to get them all to focus before they skate out for the start of game. John and Greg are on the starting line, and John takes the faceoff at center ice. The crowd roars, and the lights flash, and the guy across the dot glares at John like he wants to rip his head off. It’s fantastic, exhilarating, and it’s what he came here to do. He forgets about everything but the ice under his skates and the stick in his hands, and the sound the puck makes when it hits his tape just right.

It’s 1-1 at the start of the second, and two minutes in, one of the opposing D-men goes out on a hooking penalty. John and Greg are out on the first power play shift. John wins the faceoff and drops it back to Greg, who wheels it around the back side of the net. He centers it to Dimms, who passes to John in the slot, and John flips it under the glove and right into the net.

Greg crashes into John, grinning, and then Dimms wraps his arms around him from the other side.

“What a beaut!” Dimms says, and John laughs.

They’re up by two at the end of the period, and the other team never really gets their steam back after that. The final score is 5-2, and both Greg and John have two-point games. It’s especially sweet for the home opener — and of course, it doesn’t hurt that Sherlock was there to see it.

“We going out?” Greg asks, toweling off his hair.

“Yeah, if you want. Where to?”

Greg stares at him for a moment, then groans. “Don’t tell me you don’t have his number.”

“Uhhh…” John blinks. “I didn’t think about that.”

“You have no fuckin’ game, you know that?”

John sighs. That’s pretty much the reason he’s only had the one real boyfriend ever. Hockey has been his life since he was seven years old, and he’s not very good at navigating the world outside of that.

*****

John is back in the regular Saturday lab the next morning. He takes his time working through the material, casting quick glances at Sherlock every chance he gets. Sherlock sits at a desk in the front tapping at his laptop, occasionally looking up to watch the students with an expression of disdain.

“What’s his deal?” Sarah asks, leaning over to knock her shoulder against John’s. She’s pre-med too, and he’s had at least one class with her every semester.

“Boy genius,” John replies, adjusting his lab goggles. “He’s younger than us, but he wants us to be intimidated.”

“Well, it’s working.” Sarah squints at the lab instructions, then reaches for a pipette. “He kinda radiates don’t fuck with me.”

John snickers. “Seriously?”

“You don’t think so?”

John shrugs. “I dunno. He just seems like… a guy who doesn’t have a lot of friends. He’s actually pretty decent when you get to know him a little.” Not that John really knows him all that well.

“Oh my god.”

“What?”

“You like him.”

John winces. “Shut up.”

“You totally have a crush on the TA.” She elbows him.

“I do not.”

“Oh my god, you’re blushing.” She pinches one of his cheeks.

“Whatever.” He can’t stop himself from grinning, though.

“You’re such a loser.”

“Why are we friends again?”

“Cause the dating thing didn’t work out.”

“Ugh.” John rolls his eyes. It’s true, though. He’d met Sarah at the beginning of freshman year, and they’d hit it off pretty well. Then they got drunk together at a party during rush week and somehow ended up making out. Sarah is the one woman he’s ever had sex with, and it was… well. He’s definitely gay. At least they can laugh about it now.

He glances over at Sherlock to see him watching the two of them with narrowed eyes. John turns his attention back to the lab.

His phone rings as they’re walking out of the science building. He glances at the screen and groans.

“What?” Sarah asks. He tilts the phone to show her the name, and she hisses through her teeth. “Ouch. I’ll see you later, okay? Jess and I are coming to the game tonight.” She pauses. “You gonna answer that?”

He sighs, then touches the screen to accept the call, giving her a sharp look as he does.

“Hey.”

“Hey, you.” Jamie’s voice cuts right through all the layers John has spent months building around his heart.

John ignores the faces Sarah is making at him and turns away, off to have this conversation in private. “Just got out of chem lab. What’s up?”

“I saw you guys won last night, and that you and G both got goals. Congrats, man.”

“Thanks.” John takes a deep breath and tries to swallow down the desperate, anxious feeling that’s swiftly filling his chest. It wasn’t that long ago that the sound of Jamie’s voice made his belly swoop and his heart pound. But now — now it just sucks. “We’re playing them again tonight, so they’re probably gonna be out for blood.”

“They still got that big fucker Wickstrom?”

“Yeah. He fucking hammered that slapper on Wiggy, right in the balls. And then he laughed about it. I thought Dimms was gonna lose his shit.”

“Too bad fighting’s not allowed, eh?”

“Bro.” John’s never really been tempted to drop his gloves — he’s on the small side for a hockey player, so he’d probably just get the shit kicked out of him. But someone laughing at a crotch shot like that was nearly enough to send him over the edge. “How’s Illinois?”

“Fucking cold.”

“Dude, you’re Canadian.”

“I’m from Vancouver.” Jamie sighs, and the sound curls itself tightly in John’s chest. “I just wanted to… well. I miss you, babe.”

“Fuck.” John presses a hand over his face. “Don’t.”

“I’m serious. I think about you all the time.”

“You can’t fuck with me like this, not when I’m…” John hesitates, takes a deep breath. He’s just now getting his feet back under him. The huge pit in his chest that Jamie left behind doesn’t feel so raw now. He hasn’t been wallowing in self pity. He’s been flirting with his TA, for fuck’s sake.

“When you’re what?”

“You’re the one who wanted to break up.”

“I know, but—”

“And I know shit was tough for you, okay? I tried to be there for you.”

“Johnny—”

“And you fucking pushed me away, over and over. So you know what? I’m glad you broke up with me, because it was the single unselfish thing you did last year. You cut me off, then you let me move on. And I have.”

There is a moment of silence. “Wait, are you dating somebody?”

John considers lying to him, just to twist the blade a little bit, but he can’t. He never could lie to Jamie. “No. But, you know. Thinking about it.”

“Shit.” Jamie takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. “Look, I know I fucked up. Everyone knows how much I fucked up last year.”

“That wasn’t your fault.” John sighs and closes his eyes. He’s said the words so many times, hoping that just hearing them enough will make Jamie understand. “You didn’t mean to — it could’ve happened to anyone.”

“Yeah, sure.” Jamie is quiet for a moment. “I have a game tonight. I should go.”

“Me too, yeah. Need to go do some reading, maybe take a nap.” His mind is flooded with the memory then: of Jamie curled around him on his small bed, lips pressed into the skin on his shoulder, fingers idly stroking his stomach. Or kissing lazily under the bleach-scented sheets in their hotel room, fingers exploring warm stretches of skin. Game days… god. It seemed so easy then, the way they fell into each other. And then with one phone call, everything changed.

“Johnny…” Jamie seems to hold his breath for a moment. “Have a good game, okay?”

“Yeah. You too.” John lowers the phone and touches END before he’s tempted to say something really stupid.

He stumbles back to his shitty studio apartment, sets his alarm, and climbs back in bed. The pit in his chest feels huge again, and he doesn’t know what to do about that.

*****

“So,” Greg says, lacing up his skates in the stall next to John. “Halloween.”

John grins at him. “Bro. I got this.”

Halloween at Greenview State University is, in a word, epic. Every frat and sorority, every student organization, every group of students with a little space to call their own, throws a party. People in costume move from place to place, getting progressively more wasted as the night goes on, and it’s fucking glorious.

So the costume is the thing. John’s had some time to think about this one. It has to be immediately recognizable, not hard to put together, and not so difficult to wear that it will impede their progress around campus that night.

“Buzz and Woody from Toy Story,” he says.

Greg’s eyes light up. “I’m Woody.”

“Duh.”

“So, uh… your TA coming to the game again tonight?”

John shrugs and finishes taping his socks. “I offered him tickets, but he wasn’t sure if they could make it.”

“You still don’t have his number, do you?”

“It’s kind of unethical, isn’t it? I mean, he’s technically my teacher.”

“He’s also younger than you, isn’t he?”

“A little. But still, I dunno. I mean, what would actually happen?”

Greg snorts. “You’d maybe hit it off, do some fun shit together, get your dick sucked. All torture, I know.”

John looks around, but no one seems to be listening to them. Not that John would care that much if they were. “I don’t even know if he’s into dudes.”

“Have you asked?”

John snorts. “Like it’s that simple.”

His brief conversation with Jamie has him on edge, he knows, but honestly — he doesn’t need that kind of distraction right now. The season is just starting, and he wants — no, he needs to focus on hockey. It’s the only thing he can really count on.

“Yeah, I know.” Greg sighs and squeezes John’s shoulder.

*****

October flies by in a blur of practices, classes, bus rides, games, and study sessions. John sees Sherlock in class and drops by his office once a week to ask questions and make sure he’s caught up, but he doesn’t push it any more than that. Even if Sherlock were interested — and that’s a big if — John knows it could get messy while Sherlock is technically in charge of John’s grade. So he keeps his flirting low key and otherwise keeps his head down.

Midterms make everyone crazy, and then it’s finally Halloween. Greg and John work out their schtick, including lines of dialog they can say in exaggerated voices when someone pushes a button or pulls a string, and it goes really well.

They move from party to party, finally stopping at one Greg swears will be the best. It takes up the entire ground floor of an apartment building at the end of Baker Street. John’s been in the building once before, at last year’s Halloween party. They’ve taken the theme even further this year: one entire apartment has been converted into a haunted house, complete with scary figures jumping out at everyone. John and Greg walk through it and react in character, and it’s a lot of fun. At the end, they learn that the woman who owns the building is the one who coordinated the haunted house. She looks to be in her 60s, and she’s dressed as zombie Marilyn Monroe, complete with some truly amazing makeup.

“You two are adorable,” she says to John and Greg, beaming at them like a grandmother.

Greg apparently knows her, and gives her a hug. “You’re the best, Mrs. H.”

They start out in the main room, and it’s not long before a group of sorority girls dressed as various incarnations of Barbie spot them and rope them into posing for photos ranging from ridiculous to near-pornographic.

Half a dozen drinks in, someone dares John to kiss Astronaut Barbie, which leads to her dragging him into a dark corner and kissing him some more. He thinks about protesting, but it’s been a long time since he kissed anyone, so it’s kind of nice. Or, it is until she works a hand into his pants.

“Okay, wow,” he says, and gently pushes her away. “That’s not… I’m not…”

“You’re cute,” she says, and leans in to kiss him again.

“Actually, I’m” —gay, he thinks, but instead goes with— “seeing someone.”

It gets awkward quickly after that. She doesn’t make a scene, though, for which he’s grateful. She just goes.

“Jesus,” Greg says when John finds him again. “I didn’t know you were bi.”

John groans. “I’m not. I don’t even like girls.”

“But they sure as hell like you.” He sighs dramatically. “Life is so fucking unfair.”

“Like you have a problem in that area,” John retorts, slugging Greg’s shoulder. Greg is unfairly hot for a straight best friend. John got over it a long time ago, but still.

Greg shrugs, grinning.

They end up playing beer pong with some guys from the baseball team after that. They’re at a clear disadvantage and get their asses thoroughly kicked, but it’s still fun.

Greg strikes up a conversation with a girl dressed in a sexy police officer costume, and John decides to leave him to it. He needs some fresh air anyway, so he winds his way through the crowd and out to the back courtyard of the building. The air out there is kind of the opposite of fresh, though. Everyone outside is smoking, including Mrs. H, who’s currently toking up with some guys who look like they might be on the football team. John shakes his head, as if that will press reset on this entire situation.

“John?”

John turns to see Sherlock standing not far away, a cigarette in his hand. He’s not even in costume; he’s just standing out here smoking like a normal person, oblivious to the scene around him.

“Sherlock? What are you doing here?”

“I live here.” Sherlock’s lips curl downward. “Unfortunately.”

“Oh, wow. Cool place. Your landlady knows how to throw a party.”

Sherlock looks annoyed. “It’s loud, impossible to ignore, and disrupts everything. And then there’s the inevitable damage to the building and grounds. Mrs. Hudson will have to raise our rent to afford the repairs. Again.”

John scratches his head. “I didn’t think about any of that.”

Sherlock makes a sound of derision. “Of course you didn’t. Hardly anyone does.”

“Sucks, bro.”

“Definitely.” Sherlock raises the cigarette to his lips again and makes a sound almost like a laugh.

“What?”

“Nothing. It’s just not what people usually say when I bitch about this.”

“Yeah, well. You’ve got a right.” John watches him take a drag off the cigarette. “That shit’s not good for you.”

“Says the guy who’s been binge-drinking for hours.”

“Yeah, but s’not like I do this every day.” John gestures with his cup and sloshes beer onto the ground between them. Oops. He steps closer and pokes at Sherlock’s chest. “You ever seen what that shit does to your lungs?”

“Of course.” Sherlock takes one more drag and drops the butt to the ground, grinds it into the dirt with the toe of his shoe. “I took gross anatomy.”

“And yet you still smoke.” John looks up, and realizes just how close he’s standing to Sherlock.

Sherlock shrugs. “They don’t call it an addiction for nothing.” He watches John’s face carefully, as if he’s not quite sure what John is going to do. “Interesting costume.”

“Thanks. Oh, wait — you gotta push my button.” He points to the button on his chest.

Sherlock gives him a skeptical look.

“No, I’m serious. Push it.” Sherlock rolls his eyes, but does it anyway. John extends his arms out to the sides and says, “To infinity… and beyond!”

He gets some hoots and laughs from the people outside, but Sherlock stares at him like he’s an idiot. “Buzz Aldrin never said that.”

“What?”

Sherlock points to the name tag on the chest of his costume: Buzz.

John laughs so hard he briefly loses his balance. He puts a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder to steady himself. “I’m Buzz Lightyear, dumbass! From Toy Story?” Sherlock’s mouth tightens, and John feels bad almost instantly. “Fuck, sorry. I thought everybody knew that movie. I must’ve seen it twenty times when I was a kid.”

“Some of us had better things to do with our childhoods than watch movies.” Sherlock looks away, out across the lawn.

“Like play with your chemistry set?”

“Better than spending it skating around and hitting people with sticks.”

“Right, of course,” John says with a snort. “Because that’s all hockey is.”

Sherlock rifles in his pocket for his pack of cigarettes, then pulls another one out with an exaggerated sigh. “Since you’re clearly so anxious to enlighten me, please.” He puts the cigarette in his mouth and gestures for John to keep talking.

John shakes his head. “Nah, you wouldn’t get it.”

“No, come on. How many touchdowns did you score in your last game?”

John turns toward him with an incredulous look, and Sherlock smirks. John rolls his eyes. “Do you know anything about hockey?”

“It’s as uninteresting to me as any other sport.” Sherlock pauses to light the cigarette. “It’s yet another variation on soccer, as far as I can tell. Just with a tiny flat ball, ice, and far more violence.”

“Fair enough,” John says with a shrug. “But I think you’d like it if you gave it a try.”

“I’ve been to one of your games.”

“Did you actually watch, or did you just fuck around on your phone the whole time?”

Sherlock’s lips twist in response. He takes a long drag off the cigarette.

“It’s not a mindless game,” John continues. “There’s a lot of physics involved in skating and shooting. You have to be able to think quickly. There are a hundred things going on at once on the ice, most of them out of your control, and you have to figure out how to use whatever happens to your advantage.”

Sherlock watches him with an expression that’s almost thoughtful. “You’re one of the best on the team, from what I hear.”

John shrugs. “I’m the captain.”

“And hockey — is that what you want to do after you graduate?”

“God, no.” John smiles and looks away. “Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been playing since I was a kid and I love it. I’ll always love it, but I’m not interested in going pro.”

“Didn’t one of your teammates do that last year? James Sholto?”

John flinches a little at the sound of the name. “Ah, yeah. He did.”

“How’s that working out for him?” Sherlock takes another drag off the cigarette, then blows a stream of smoke over his head.

John looks away. Sherlock doesn’t know, maybe. He doesn’t know how Jamie made an illegal hit on an 18-year-old first round draft pick during the playoffs, how that hit ended the kid’s career. How he got suspended, then traded to Chicago and immediately sent down to the minors. How Jamie spent months drunk and feeling sorry for himself, and nothing John said or did seemed to help. How he finally pushed John away for good.

“Fine, I guess.”

They’re both quiet for a moment.

“So what do you want to do, then?” Sherlock asks at last.

“Medical school, definitely. I’d like to do sports medicine.”

Sherlock is watching John when he looks up again. “Is that why they call you Doc?”

“I guess so, yeah.” John stares back up at him, smiling, and Sherlock bites his lip. Something about that little movement sends a spark through John’s belly. There are a lot of things he’d like to do right now: close the distance between them and press his lips against the pale skin of Sherlock’s throat, trail the tip of his tongue along the inside of Sherlock’s lip, slide his hands down Sherlock’s sides to his hips and over his ass.

Shit. He takes a step back and raises his cup to his lips. He’s pretty fucking buzzed, but not so far gone that he thinks hitting on his TA is a good idea. He risks a glance up to see that Sherlock is looking back with a speculative expression.

John smiles tightly, forces himself to take a step backward. “I, uh… I’d better go find G before he gets into trouble. See ya later, Sherlock.”

He doesn’t look back as he walks away, and Sherlock doesn’t follow him.

*****

“Dooooc,” Andy slurs, slinging an arm around John’s shoulder. “We gotta get you laid, bro.”

John laughs and shakes his head. “M’fine, Andy. Really.”

“No no no no. You” —he punctuates this with a hard poke into the center of John’s chest— “got a hatty tonight. It’s like, a rule that you get your dick wet after you get a hatty.”

“More like a law,” Dimms says, pinning John in on the other side.

They’re out of town on a Friday night and the bar is crowded with students at various stages of inebriation. Fortunately, they all seem oblivious to the fact that John and his friends just wiped the ice with their university’s hockey team.

“A fuckin’ law,” Andy repeats. He and Dimms fist bump over John’s head. “And I know it’s been a while, Doc, cause you like, never pick up when we’re out with the team.”

John’s smile falters. “Yeah, well.”

“Relax, bro,” Andy continues. “I totally got this. First we got to figure out what your type is. Ohhhhh, mama. What about her?”

He points across the bar to where there are a group of young women standing together and laughing. They look like they’re having fun and not interested in being hit on by drunk hockey bros, but John’s not quite ready to point that out. “Wait, which one?”

“The blonde.”

“They’re all blonde.”

“Dude, fuckin’ — that one, the one that’s super hot!”

John blinks at them, trying to work out which of the three blondes he sees is the “hot one.” God, he really is gay.

“The one in the red shirt,” Dimms supplies, elbowing John a little.

“Oh.” John watches her for a moment. Her hair is long, with a gentle curl that cascades over her bare shoulders. The red shirt is little more than a strip of fabric wrapped around her torso. She’s wearing a short skirt that makes her legs look crazy long, and shoes that look like they could double as weapons. “Huh.”

“So go over there,” Andy says, giving John’s shoulder a shove. “Go talk to her.”

John groans and slumps down in the seat. “I’m not really feeling it, okay?”

“Want me to go over for you?” Andy asks.

“No!” John says, a little more forcefully than he intended. “Just… look, she’s not really what I’m into.”

“Dude,” Andy replies, eyes wide. “How can you not be into that?”

Dimms turns to look at John with a thoughtful expression. “So like… what are you into?”

John bites his lip. He’d thought these guys knew, or at least suspected, but maybe not. Maybe they all bought the buddies line Jamie had fed everyone last year while he and John were joined at the hip.

He doesn’t think they’d care, really. He’s never been all that worried about his teammates freaking out on him…but he’s never actually told them, either.

He picks up his beer and takes a long drink, then looks back at Dimms. Dimms raises his eyebrows slightly, a gesture enough like encouragement that John thinks, fuck it.

“Not girls,” he says.

The roar of the bar seems to get even louder for a moment. John grips his beer glass tightly in his hand and looks straight ahead.

“Okay,” Andy says at last, and nudges John with his elbow. “What about that one? Dude in the black shirt, with the tatt sleeves. He looks kinda gay.”

“Jesus, Andy,” Dimms groans from John’s other side.

“I’m just sayin’, he looks like the kind of dude who’d like dick.”

“First of all,” Dimms says, leaning past John to glare at Andy now, “you can’t just look at people and tell things like that. You didn’t even know Doc was gay until one minute ago.”

“Yeah, but—”

“And second, you don’t even know what kind of dude Doc is into. Shouldn’t we like, ask him first?”

They both pause, then turn to look sheepishly at John.

John starts laughing then, so hard that tears leak out of the corners of his eyes. He can’t seem to stop; all he can do is sink down in his seat and let it spill out of him.

“What’s wrong with Doc?” he hears Wiggy ask.

A hand winds into John’s hair, and he looks up to see Greg and Wiggy standing behind him.

“Did you know Doc is gay?” Andy stage whispers.

“Oh, for—” Dimms says, and punches Andy hard in the arm. “Shut the fuck up, dude.”

“Ow, what the fuck?”

John laughs even harder, leaning back against Greg’s chest. He can feel Greg tense behind him, so he looks up at him and grins. Greg’s expression shifts from concern to relief. He squeezes John’s shoulder, then turns a glare to Dimms and Andy, who are now wrestling on the floor.

“All right, assholes, chill before you get us kicked out of here.”

“It’s not like being gay is a bad thing,” Andy scowls, brushing himself off.

“It’s not yours to tell, though,” Dimms says, on his feet now. “You don’t just out people like that, you fuckin’ non.”

Andy frowns, but looks like he still wants to argue the point.

“He’s right,” John says, sitting up again, “but I don’t mind you guys knowing. I probably shoulda told you before.”

Andy climbs back into his chair, his expression shifting toward mischievous. “We still gotta get you laid, though.”

John sighs. “Yeah, good luck with that in this bar.”

Andy takes it as a challenge, though, pointing out every guy in the place who isn’t obviously macking on a girl. John finally excuses himself to the bathroom, leaving them still scheming behind him.

He’s a little embarrassed at their reaction, but mostly relieved. He figures it’s just a matter of time before some of the guys put two and two together and figure out he and Jamie were more than just friends last year, but he’ll deal with that when he’s sober.

He decides to swing by the bar before heading back to the table. He should buy the guys a pitcher for their efforts, even if it isn’t going to work out. He leans against the bar and waits to get the bartender’s attention.

The guy next to him stumbles back against him. John puts a hand up to push the guy off him, but then freezes. The guy is tall, with a shock of dark, curly hair, and John’s heart leaps into his throat.

“Hey, sorry,” the guy says, turning to look at John. He’s laughing, but his expression softens at the look on John’s face. “What?”

John’s face grows warm; he’s suddenly grateful for the dim lighting in the bar. “Sorry, you just… you look like someone I know.”

“Not someone dead, I hope,” the guy quips. “You look like you saw a ghost.”

“No.” John manages a laugh. “I was just surprised.” He turns back to the bartender, hoping to catch the man’s attention, but no luck.

“So not a ghost,” the man continues, shifting a little closer. “Someone you know?”

“Yeah.” John turns to look at him again, and sees a flicker of interest there. He smiles, then turns toward the guy a little. “Someone 300 miles away from here.”

“Lucky for me, then,” the guy replies with a grin. “I’m Dan.”

“John.”

They stare at each other for a moment, then the bartender finally comes over.

“Jack and coke,” Dan says, “plus whatever he wants.”

“Uh… same,” John replies. The bartender nods and turns away, and John says, “thanks.”

Dan shrugs. “Least I could do for surprising you like that. Would your friend buy you a drink, if he were here?”

John smiles. “I honestly have no idea. He’s not a friend so much as someone I…” He presses his lips together, not completely sure if he’s making the right assumption here.

“Someone you’re into, but who isn’t into you?” Dan raises his eyebrows.

“Yeah,” John admits with a laugh. “Yeah, that’s basically it.”

“Well, I don’t mind being a stand-in, if you’re up for that.”

John is definitely making the right assumption here. “Yeah, I… I might be.”

The bartender brings their drinks, and they move over to a corner to talk more. Dan is a graduate student in music, he’d come here tonight with friends who seem not to mind him ditching them to talk to John. John waffles a bit before telling Dan he’s a hockey player, here playing the hometown team.

“Are those your teammates?” Dan asks, glancing pointedly over John’s shoulder.

John turns to see the guys grinning at him from the other side of the bar. Andy gives him two big thumbs-up.

“Oh my god,” John says, turning back to Dan. “Sorry. They’re just trying to be supportive.”

“Nah, man, that’s cool.”

John drains his drink and sets the glass on a nearby table. “So look… we have a curfew.”

Dan grins. “So you wanna get out of here?”

“Hell, yeah.”

John hears the Andy whooping as he follows Dan out of the bar, and resists the urge to look back.

They end up making out in Dan’s car. It’s too cold out to get naked, but they share messy handjobs and laugh into each other’s mouths, and it’s nice. It’s more than John’s had in months, and god, he misses this.

Dan drops him off at the hotel a few minutes before curfew, and John kisses him goodbye. Dan doesn’t ask for his number, and John doesn’t offer. They both know it’s just for tonight, and that’s fine.

The next morning at breakfast, Andy and Dimms break into applause when John walks in. He holds up two middle fingers and heads straight to the buffet, but secretly, he loves it.

Some of the guys know now, and they’re cool with it. John feels like a weight has been lifted off his chest.

*****

“John. John.”

John startles and looks up. Sherlock is glaring at him from two seats down and… Shit. He fell asleep in lecture. Again.

“Christ,” he mutters, and looks down at his notes. Whatever he’d been writing morphed into an unintelligible scribble at some point. Dr. Stamford is going on about something that seems unrelated to anything John can see on the paper, so now he’s totally lost. He scrubs his hands over his face and tries to focus.

November has been soul-crushingly busy. Hockey season is in full swing, and John can barely breathe under the courseload he’s taking on top of it. His knees are killing him, along with that massive bruise on his ribs that he should really have ice on right now, and sleeping more than a few hours at a time seems like a far-off fantasy.

He manages to stay awake for the rest of class, and takes notes as best he can. And now he’s going to have to carve out an hour somewhere to go to Sherlock’s office hours and figure out what the hell all of this is about.

When the lecture ends, he packs his stuff as quickly as he can, hoping to escape Sherlock’s judgmental gaze.

He’s not so lucky.

“Watson,” Sherlock says, his tone flat.

John groans, then turns around to look at him.

Sherlock’s lips twist a little, then he nods, as if he’s making a decision. “I’ll get Dr. Stamford’s notes for today. If you want to make a copy, come by my office this afternoon.”

“Okay,” John replies, surprised. “I… thanks.”

He stops by 221B a few hours later, knocking on the door frame to announce his presence. Sherlock doesn’t look up from the book he’s reading; he points at a folder on the corner of his desk.

“Thanks,” John says, and crosses to pick it up. “I’ll make a copy and bring it back.”

“That copy is for you.” Sherlock turns the page, then frowns at the next one.

John exhales. “Oh, that’s… thanks.” That’s going to save him a good fifteen minutes, and he’s just busy enough that it makes a difference.

“You can thank me by getting some sleep,” Sherlock says.

John snorts before he can stop himself. “Yeah, well. That’s not happening until after finals.”

Sherlock looks up at that. “Thanksgiving break is next week.”

John would love to set aside part of the holiday break for sleeping, but it’s looking less likely that will actually happen. He’s behind in all of his classes at the moment, and he’s going to have to spend as much of the break as he can catching up. And of course, they’re leaving on a roadie the day after Thanksgiving, which only makes that harder. They’re at home this weekend, but four of his five professors have major assignments due before the break — apparently they think not assigning work over the holiday is a mercy. Getting it all done feels like an insurmountable task at the moment.

He runs a hand through his hair and almost laughs. “Yeah, well. It’s not real Thanksgiving, so.”

Sherlock sets the book down. “It’s two days without classes, at least.”

“What about you? Going home?”

“No.” Sherlock’s tone conveys a clear duh.

“Where is home?”

Sherlock hesitates, pursing his lips. “Manhattan,” he says at last. “The Upper East Side.” When John whistles appreciatively, he adds, “I go there as infrequently as possible.”

“Won’t your parents be upset if you don’t go home for Thanksgiving?”

“They’ll hardly notice,” Sherlock replies with a tight smile. He picks up his book again and scribbles something in the margin. “Besides, my advisor wants me to spend that weekend drafting a paper we intend to submit for publication.”

“Right,” John says, taking the gesture for the dismissal it seems to be. “Well… thanks again.”

He runs into Molly on his way to the elevator. She looks as exhausted as he feels, but she still stops to give him a friendly smile.

“Hi, John.”

“Hey, Molly. Hanging in there?”

She sighs, like she doesn’t know how to begin answering that. He knows exactly how she feels.

“Oh, so my friend Greg was asking about you and—”

“He was?” Her eyes widen almost comically, then she adds, overly casual, “I mean, oh, yeah?”

John bites back a grin. “Yeah. He was sorry he didn’t get to say hi to you after the game that night a few weeks back, so I was wondering if you might want to come to a game this weekend? I can get you a couple of tickets. You could bring a friend.”

She glances back toward the open door of the office, then raises her eyebrows. “You have a particular friend in mind?”

John’s cheeks suddenly feel warm. “No, not — I mean, whoever you want, you know.”

“Right,” she says, and smiles knowingly.

John charges on. “And then maybe we could all get a drink after, or something?”

They exchange numbers, and he doesn’t miss the way she grins conspiratorially at him when she says goodbye.

*****

“Where are we meeting them?” Greg asks, toweling his hair.

“The Mission, I think. I’ll text her in a minute to see where they went.”

“I can’t believe you actually set up a double date.” Greg grins.

“Wait, what?” Andy asks from Greg’s other side. “Doc is going on a date?”

“It’s not a date,” John groans. Andy has taken an unnatural interest in John’s love life in the last couple of weeks, even asking enough pointed questions about the mechanics of gay sex that John has started to wonder if Andy is questioning some things himself.

“Yeah,” Greg says, with absolutely zero chill. “Him and me and a couple of grad students.”

“Grad students, eh? You sure you’re gonna be able to keep up?”

Greg flicks Andy with his towel, and Andy yelps. “Fuck you, I can keep up just fine.”

He can’t, it turns out, but it doesn’t matter. When they get to the restaurant, Molly and Sherlock are already sitting at a table. Greg snags a chair next to Molly and spends the next hour and a half asking her questions, listening attentively, and generally being charming. It’s easy for him, somehow, and John has always envied that about him.

John, on the other hand, can only sit next to Sherlock in awkward silence.

“So how was your day?” John asks at last.

Sherlock shrugs and stares into the beer glass in front of him. “I got a lot of work done.”

“Good, that’s good.” There’s another long, quiet moment. “I took a nap.”

Sherlock looks up, his expression strained. “That’s… nice?”

John winces and rubs a hand across the back of his neck. “You need another drink?”

Sherlock shakes his head no. John heads to the bar anyway.

He has no idea why this feels so awkward. It’s not like he’s never had a conversation with Sherlock before. Of course, they’re usually talking about class or John’s constant state of being behind in his assignments, but it never feels like this.

John pays for the pitcher and heads back to the table, as slowly as he can manage. Greg and Molly are sitting even closer now. She’s describing something that requires large hand gestures, but Greg’s gaze is fixed on her face. Even from here, John can see that he’s smitten. She’s not the sort of girl Greg usually goes for, but that’s a plus as far as John is concerned. She’s smart and she’s interesting, and she’s not just out to fuck a hockey player. Greg’s had his share of that kind of fun, but John is pretty sure he’s looking for something more meaningful right now.

And John… well. John doesn’t know what he’s looking for. Not another Jamie, that’s for sure. He’s too busy to invest in a serious relationship during the season, and the rest of the year he’s just trying to keep up. He’s never really been one for bars or the hookup scene, so even casual sex is a challenge to organize on a regular basis. He’d love to date someone again, sure, but it’d have to be someone who could work around his schedule, who had a life of their own that didn’t revolve around John’s. Someone who was interesting and funny. Good looking would obviously be a bonus. Someone who—

Sherlock turns and looks up, meets John’s eyes. John freezes in his tracks a handful of steps away from the table, pitcher of beer gripped in one hand. Sherlock’s eyes are pale blue and clear, and his expression is one of surprise, like he’s seeing something he hadn’t expected. John stares back, taking it all in. The noise in the room around him diminishes to a distant buzz, and everything that isn’t Sherlock fades away into the background.

That flutter of attraction he gets whenever Sherlock smiles at him comes back full-force, settles in his belly and winds its tendrils in deep. It’s a feeling he recognizes, and… shit.

This is pretty damn inconvenient.

Time and space resume their normal pace, and John puts one foot in front of the other, manages to set the pitcher on the table without spilling beer everywhere. He sits and takes a deep breath, then risks a glance at Sherlock.

Sherlock has both hands wrapped around his glass, his expression guarded. John has no idea what to make of that. He knows how perceptive Sherlock is, how easily he can read people with a look. He has to have noticed.

“So,” John says after a moment.

Sherlock presses his lips together and nods. “I… should go. Got a lot to get done tomorrow.”

He definitely noticed. John’s stomach sinks. He sighs and refills his glass from the pitcher. “Gonna make me third-wheel it, eh?”

Sherlock glances over at Molly and Greg. “Ah. Sorry.”

“Yeah, well. I’m used to it.”

Sherlock turns to look at him again, surprised. “Oh, come on. You’re—” He flushes and takes a long drink.

John knows he should leave it alone — ridiculous unrequited crush aside, this is his TA, after all — but he can’t. “I’m what?”

Sherlock waves a hand at him in a vague gesture. “You know. Visually appealing and fit and… stuff.”

John firmly pushes down the tiny spark of hope rising in his chest. “You think so?”

Sherlock’s flush deepens. “Of course. It’s objectively obvious.”

“Is it?”

“Four women have looked at you with clear sexual interest in the last half-hour alone.”

John blinks. “Wait, what? Who?”

“The one in the green shirt, short blonde hair.” Sherlock nods his head toward a group of women standing near the bar. “She’s looked at you eight times that I’ve noticed, each glance lingering for more than two seconds. Longer when you went to the bar. She seemed to appreciate the view from the back.” He raises his eyebrows slightly. “The lights are too dim for me to tell if her pupils dilated from this distance, but the last three times she’s looked, she’s turned her body toward you. Ha, she’s doing it right now.”

John looks over at her. She smiles invitingly when she catches his eye.

“If she tilts her head,” Sherlock begins, and then she does. Sherlock snorts and drains his glass, sets it down again with a resonant thunk. “The point is, you could take her home if you wanted.”

“Too bad I’m not interested in women, then.” John reaches for the pitcher and refills Sherlock’s glass before he can protest.

“Oh.” A little crinkle appears between Sherlock’s eyebrows. John can’t help staring at it.

“I thought you knew that? I mean, you’re like” —John gestures at him— “so good at the mind-reading thing.”

“It isn’t mind-reading,” Sherlock replies, a tint of annoyance in his voice. “I just observe, look for patterns, piece together bits of information. People are astonishingly easy to read, if you just know how to look.”

“And you still didn’t know I was gay?”

“I was pretty sure until I saw you kissing a woman on Halloween. After that I assumed you were bisexual.”

“Wait, when?” John asks, and then his memory kicks in: Astronaut Barbie. “Oh, shit. Yeah, that was… that was dumb. And wow, I barely kissed her for a hot minute, so you just got lucky with the timing. But yeah, no. Not my thing.”

Sherlock stares at him for a moment, looking thoughtful. “You’re full of surprises, aren’t you?”

John smiles, determined to take that as a compliment. “So… what about you?”

“What about me?”

“Well, I mean… There’s a lot of girls here tonight. And I make a decent wingman, if you—”

“No, I’m…” Sherlock looks away. “Not interested in that.”

John presses his lips together for a moment before trusting himself to speak. “Then what are you interested in?”

Sherlock’s mouth opens, then closes again. “I don’t have time for much outside of my work.”

“That’s too bad,” John says, and takes a deep breath. This is the moment. He’ll just ask, get it out in the open. Sherlock will either say yes or no, and it’ll be done. “Sherlock—”

“Well, well, well,” someone says, and Sherlock’s expression tightens instantly.

John looks up. There’s a man standing next to their table. He’s in his late 20s, tall and thin, and dressed casually in a sportscoat and khakis. His hair is slicked back and he’s got a glass of what looks like scotch in one hand. He sits on the edge of the table right next to Sherlock, smiling in a way that makes John’s skin crawl.

“If you have time to socialize with friends,” the man says, “I must not be giving you enough to do.” He laughs, like it was a joke, but John has the distinct sense that the man isn’t joking at all.

Greg and Molly are looking over now, and John can’t help but notice the taut set to Molly’s face.

“Just taking a break,” Sherlock says with forced cheerfulness. “It’s Saturday night, after all.”

“So it is,” the man replies, his gaze sliding over the three of them like oil. “And you’re out with friends. I didn’t know you had any.”

Wow, this guy is a total douchebag. John and Greg exchange a glance.

Sherlock seems to take the comment in stride, though. “This is John Watson and his friend Jeff—”

“Greg,” Greg corrects, looking mildly offended.

“And you know Molly, of course.” Sherlock frowns in her direction, and Molly’s returning smile doesn’t reach her eyes. “This is Dr. Moriarty, my dissertation advisor.”

“Not tonight, I’m not,” Dr. Moriarty says, squeezing Sherlock’s shoulder in a gesture that looks almost predatory. “But tomorrow morning, I’ll expect to see the draft of that paper in my inbox by, say, 10:00?”

“You said you wanted it next week,” Sherlock says, clearly shocked.

“Did I?” Moriarty sighs and shakes his head. “I must have misspoken, then. I apologize. The submission deadline is in a week, it’s true, but some things have come up and I’m going to be quite busy. The only time I can spare to make corrections on your work is tomorrow afternoon.” He chuckles and takes a drink. “If past experience is any indication, that’s going to take a good chunk of my day.”

“Yes, of course.” Sherlock’s expression is carefully neutral.

Moriarty pats Sherlock on the shoulder and stands. “But since you’re out enjoying yourself tonight, I’m sure you’ve already finished it anyway. Send it on early if you like.” He walks away, trilling, “Have a good night!” after him.

“What a complete dick,” John mutters, shaking his head. “Seriously, is he always like that?”

“He’s a sadistic toad,” Molly says, her voice low. “I worked with him on a directed research project last year, and it was awful.”

“Yeah, well,” Sherlock says, looking crestfallen now, “he’s still brilliant, one of the best in the field. I came to this university to work with him, actually.”

“And how’s that working out for you?” John retorts.

Sherlock looks away, his expression crumpling. “I should go get that paper finished. Thanks for the drink.”

“Yeah, sure.” John wants to kick himself. “I, uh… think I’ll head out too. Okay if I walk with you?”

Sherlock looks as if he would like to say no, but he shrugs noncommittally.

They say their goodnights to Molly and Greg, both of whom shoot John sympathetic looks, and walk out together. They walk in silence until they reach the corner of Brandt and Elm, where they’ll both go in different directions.

“Sorry about that, back in the bar,” John says at last. “It’s none of my business, I know.”

“No, it’s…” Sherlock shrugs. “I knew what I was signing up for when I came here to work with him. And it’s not all that bad, honestly. He’s tough, but…” He shrugs, then turns to look at John with hands stuffed in his pockets. “Anyway, thanks for the tickets.”

“Thanks for coming, even though hockey isn’t your thing.”

“I don’t know,” Sherlock replies. “It’s kind of growing on me.”

John can’t help smiling at that. “Yeah, it does that. Next thing you know, you’ll be wearing a Gremlins jersey and shouting abuse at the other team.”

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

“I’ll bet you would.” John looks up at him. They’re standing very close together, too close really. Sherlock’s features look even more chiseled in the harsh glow of the streetlight, his eyelashes darker and longer. “I’ll get you wearing my jersey yet.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah.” John’s gaze drops to Sherlock’s mouth, to that perfect bow in his upper lip. It would be so easy now to just lean in, and…

He can’t. They can’t, not now, like this. Sherlock’s under enough pressure as it is, and the last thing he needs is to be compromised by an undergrad in the course he’s grading for. And anyway, John’s not even sure he would be interested.

He shifts his gaze up to Sherlock’s eyes again. Sherlock is watching him carefully, guardedly. There’s something else there too, something he’s holding onto very tightly. It looks enough like want that it gives John the courage he needs to back away — for now.

“See you Monday, Sherlock.”

Sherlock takes a step backwards too, looking a little dazed. “Yeah. See you.”

John doesn’t stop himself from looking back a few times as he walks toward his apartment. When he catches Sherlock looking back too, the flutter in his belly is unmistakable.

This is the last thing he needs right now, but god, he does need it.

*****

Sherlock isn’t in class during the short week before Thanksgiving break. There’s a roadie that weekend, but there’s no lab to make up, so John doesn’t expect to see Sherlock again until class the next week. He doesn’t come, though. An email goes out to the entire class saying that Sherlock’s office hours have been canceled for the next few days.

On the last day of class, Sherlock finally reappears, looking exhausted, and reminds the class when he’s holding review sessions for the final exam. He leaves the room immediately after, not even glancing in John’s direction as he passes.

John sinks down into his seat and sighs. He’s not so arrogant as to think this is all about him, but it’s hard to escape the fact that Sherlock started ghosting right after John made his crush so blatantly obvious.

John doesn’t let himself think about it, pours himself into practice and play, and studying for his final exams. Their games this weekend are at home, which means he doesn’t have to haul a giant backpack full of books onto a bus like he did last year. Coach makes practices optional during dead days and finals week, which means John manages to attend review sessions for all of his classes.

He’s heading to a review session when his phone buzzes with a text. He pulls it out of his pocket and glances at the screen, expecting it to be a message from Greg about meeting for lunch that afternoon. It isn’t though.

Jamie: Can I call you?

John stops in the middle of the sidewalk and stares down at the screen. He has no idea how to parse this, what it means. He hasn’t been paying attention to Jamie’s pro career lately, only barely surviving the haze of the season and the end of the semester.

He checks the time: he’s got 15 minutes before his review session starts. That would at least put a time limit on this conversation. He walks over to a tree and sits beneath it, leaning back against the trunk.

I’ve got 10 minutes right now.

The phone rings.

“Hey,” John says when he answers it.

“Johnny, god,” Jamie says. “I miss you so fuckin’ much.” He sounds… off.

“Are you drunk?”

“Nah, not… not really. I mean, I had a couple of bloody marys this morning. Went to breakfast with some of the guys and all.”

More than a couple, from the sound of it. John scrubs a hand over his eyes. “Jamie—”

“And they were all talking about their girlfriends, you know? And I just, I couldn’t stop thinking about you, about what it would be like to know you’re still there.”

“I am still here,” John says, his voice rough now. “I’m right where you left me.”

“I’m so sorry, babe. I fucked up, okay? I know that.” He’s slurring his words a little.

“Yeah, you did. You fucked me up good.” John takes a deep breath. “Look, was there anything else? Because I have a review session in a few minutes, and I need to go.”

“Just give me a minute, okay?” Jamie sounds like he’s on the edge of losing that tight control of his emotions. “I know I don’t deserve another chance, Johnny, but I’m asking you for one.”

“Jamie—”

“No, don’t answer me right now, okay? Just let it, you know, stew around. Think about it. Please?”

“Shit,” John says, and swallows hard. He doesn’t want to think about it. He doesn’t want this offered to him; he just wants to put it behind him and get on with his life. He knows it will never be like it was before, and that it would be so hard. He’s out to his team now, and Jamie isn’t, and that isn’t going to work.

But Christ, he loved Jamie. Jamie, who was big and strong and beautiful, who was so fierce on the ice, and so sweet off of it, when it was just the two of them. Jamie, who made him feel like he could do anything, like he was the most important person in the world… for a while, anyway. Until shit got tough.

Jamie makes a soft, broken sound. “Johnny, please. Just think about it. I’ll call you after Christmas, okay?”

John sighs, and feels the pain of it deep in his bones. “Okay.”

“Good luck with your finals, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“And Johnny? I love you.”

John sits under the tree for another ten minutes, trying to pull himself together. He isn’t in love with Jamie anymore, but it’s still so hard to let him go.

*****

No practice during dead days means they go into their games on Friday and Saturdays nights without much preparation. Fortunately, their opponents are in a similar position — worse, even, considering they’re several hundred miles from home a few days before finals.

They lose Friday night’s game after a fucking stupid turnover in the last minute, but that gets them even more revved up for Saturday. Most of the team even shows up to the optional morning skate, fire in their veins to tear shit up.

And tear shit up, they do. They win by three this time. John gets a goal and an apple, and it’s a great way to end the first half of their season. The guys are exuberant in the dressing room after.

“We’re going out, bitches!” Andy shouts, standing on a bench buck naked. “Last chance to get your dick sucked before finals.”

“Maybe for you,” Greg retorts, and the guys laugh.

“Dude, nobody wants to see that,” Wiggy says, holding a hand up to block his view of Andy’s dick. “Hey G, we gonna meet the new girlfriend tonight?”

“Yeah, for sure,” Greg replies. His smile is brilliant.

“Girlfriend?” John asks quietly, after the rest of the guys have moved on to the next topic.

“Yeah.” Greg shrugs. “We decided to call it what it is.”

“It’s only been like, a week.”

“Two weeks,” Greg replies indignantly. “Maybe three, depending on how you count it.”

John squeezes Greg’s shoulder. “I’m happy for you, bro.”

“Thanks. So, uh… what about your TA?”

John shakes his head. “I think I fucked that one up. Dude’s been avoiding me ever since that night we all went out.”

“Shit, really? Cause Molly said—” Greg stops, and frowns.

“Molly said what?”

“Nothing, just… They’re here tonight. I was gonna invite them to go out with us.”

“They’re here?” John gapes at him, then leans back against his stall. “Okay, I am not up for this.”

“Sorry, I thought you knew. I mean, I can tell them something came up.”

John presses his hands over his face and groans. After avoiding him for two weeks, he has no idea why Sherlock would come to the game tonight, much less go out with the team after. It’s not like he’d openly flirt with Sherlock in front of the other guys anyway. Things with Sherlock are tenuous enough without Andy leering over at them all night and saying, “Get it, boys!” at every opportunity.

That’s even assuming Sherlock wants anything to do with John. But if he does… John can’t let that chance go. He spent a long, awful night thinking about Jamie’s offer, then woke up the next morning with the conviction that it was well and truly over. Sherlock is everything John wants right now, but nothing is going to come of it unless John makes a move.

“No, it’s fine,” he says. “Let’s do it.”

*****

The bar is full of exhausted-looking students nursing glasses of beer and cups of coffee. Half the tables are taken by study groups, blearily staring down at their notes. The hockey team, on the other hand, is over in the corner, loud, obnoxious, and half-drunk already. John takes a deep breath and crosses toward them, painfully aware of the dirty looks coming their way.

“All right, guys, keep it down,” John says, glancing over his shoulder at the rest of the bar. “We gotta share this space, you know.”

“We shoulda gone off-campus,” Weaver says with a woeful expression. “This place is kinda dead.”

“Don’t you have finals to study for?” Wiggy asks.

“Isn’t that what dead days are for?”

Wiggy shakes his head. “Freshmen, Christ.”

“He’ll learn,” John says, with a wink at Weaver.

“G’s got his new girl here,” Wiggy says, leaning in. “Looks like she brought a friend for you.”

John follows Wiggy’s gaze to the far corner, where Greg, Molly, and Sherlock are crowded around a high table. Molly and Greg are talking animatedly. Sherlock is tapping at his phone.

John turns back to Wiggy, who looks insufferably smug. There’s no point in arguing. “All right, what are we drinking?”

Apparently the answer is shots. John dutifully buys a round at the bar. He sets the tray on the center table, picks up four glasses before the horde has a chance to descend on it, and carries them over to the corner table.

“Special delivery.” He sets the glasses down, then leans against the table as casually as possible.

“Sweet.” Greg picks up two of the glasses, handing one to Molly.

Sherlock looks up from his phone long enough to eye the remaining glasses warily. John pushes a glass over to him with one finger and raises his eyebrows in question.

“No offense, but you look like you could use it.”

Sherlock frowns and goes back to tapping at his phone.

The noise around them covers most of the awkwardness, but still. John pokes at his own glass a bit, trying to think of something to say. “So—”

Sherlock swears softly, then sets his phone face-down on the table. He picks up the shot glass and knocks it back. He winces as he sets it back on the table, upside-down, then reaches for John’s shot. He downs that one too.

John blinks at him. “Dude, seriously?”

Sherlock stares at the empty glasses for a moment. “Was that rude? Sorry.”

“No, just…” John laughs, runs a hand through his hair. “Well, yeah, kinda.”

Sherlock reaches into his pocket and comes out with a twenty. “If you want to buy some more, I won’t say no.”

“Yeah, okay.” John takes the bill and gives Sherlock a speculative look. “Exactly how drunk are you planning to get?”

“Enough not to feel pain for a while, but not so much that I’ll suffer tomorrow.”

“That’s the trick, isn’t it?”

John returns with two more rounds of shots for each of them. It’s another ten minutes before Sherlock starts slurring his words slightly, but he’s definitely loosening up. He even laughs at something Molly says, which… John isn’t sure he’s ever seen Sherlock laugh before. His whole face lights up and his expression turns frankly ridiculous, and it’s the most adorable thing John has ever seen.

Sherlock pauses mid-laugh to look at John, and his expression softens. They smile stupidly at each other for what feels like minutes before Sherlock looks away again. John’s face grows warm. He’s glad for the cover of dim lights and alcohol.

And he’s really gone on this guy, god help him.

John heads to the bathroom to splash water on his face and breathe a little. He has no idea where he stands with Sherlock, but at least Sherlock isn’t actively avoiding him tonight like he’d expected. He’s not being friendly by any stretch, but it’s better than ignoring John outright.

But Sherlock is glaring at his phone again when John gets back to the table. Molly looks worried, and Greg just looks confused. He shrugs when John raises his eyebrows in question.

“Everything okay?” John asks.

“No,” Sherlock says, anger bleeding through his tone. “Everything is not okay, not by a fucking mile.” He stands and shoves his phone in his pocket, then pulls his coat on. “I should go.”

“Sherlock—” Molly begins, and he glares at her. She shakes her head at him, her expression a mix of frustration and sympathy. “There’s nothing you can do about it tonight.”

“Not the point,” he replies, looping his scarf and slipping it over his head. “Goodnight.” He turns and walks away, leaving the three of them staring after him.

John’s stomach is twisting itself in knots. He’s honestly not sure how much more of this hot-and-cold he can take. Every time he feels like maybe they’re on the same page, Sherlock pulls away again. John should know by now not to get his hopes up, but once he’s face-to-face with Sherlock again, he can’t help himself.

He turns back to see Molly watching him thoughtfully. “Okay, I have to ask,” he says. “Did I do something wrong?”

Molly looks genuinely surprised. “Why do you think that?”

John slumps into the seat Sherlock just vacated. “Just… he’s been avoiding me for the last two weeks, and now this. Every time I start to think he likes me, he…” John sighs.

“Oh my god, no!” Molly reaches across the table for his hand. “It’s not you, really. His prelims are next week, and his advisor did something really shitty to him, and he’s upset and angry about it.”

“Oh.” John flushes. He hadn’t even considered Sherlock was upset about something that had nothing to do with John. Jesus, way to be a self-centered asshole. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

Molly presses her lips together for a full second. “Shit. Look, he’d kill me for telling you this, but he does like you. He likes you a lot. He just didn’t want to say anything yet, since you’re technically still a student under him, and — well, he’s not exactly good at this kind of thing anyway. But it’s not you, okay?”

“Okay.” John feels warm again, this time for a completely different reason. “Wait, what did his advisor do?”

There is a flash of anger on Molly’s face. “Screwed him over, basically. But you should probably ask him about it.”

“Yeah, I should.” John pauses, turns to look at the door. Sherlock couldn’t have made it far. Assuming he’s headed home, John can even guess his route, and—

John stands and pulls his coat on. “I’m gonna go.”

Greg looks up at him, surprised. “Now?”

“Yeah, now. I mean, why not? I can catch him.” John has just enough liquid courage in him to make this seem like a good idea.

“Oh my god,” Molly says, pressing her hands to her pinkening cheeks. “This is like a rom-com!”

“A really gay one,” John says with a grin, then heads out of the bar.

He walks in the direction of Baker Street, but when he doesn’t see anyone in a long, dark coat, he starts to jog. Sherlock had a head start of several minutes, but John can’t imagine he’d have gotten that far ahead. Maybe he didn’t go home at all; maybe he headed to the science building or the library, or some other place he goes that John has no clue about. John still doesn’t have his number, so it’s not like he could text Sherlock to ask. He doesn’t know all that much about Sherlock, it turns out. With any luck, he’s about to change that.

He turns the corner onto Baker Street and sees a figure walking ahead of him: long dark coat, unmistakable hair. John doesn’t even think, just dashes toward him. Sherlock turns at the sound of his feet pounding the concrete, which — okay, John could probably do this without making Sherlock think he’s about to be mugged.

He stops a few yards away, panting, and says, “Hey.”

Sherlock stares at him like John might be a lunatic. “What are you doing?”

“I just,” John begins, and takes several steps forward. Sherlock doesn’t back away, just stands there, so John closes the space between them. “I wanted to,” he tries again, then says, “fuck it.”

He tangles his fingers in Sherlock’s scarf, goes up on his toes, and kisses him. Sherlock goes stock-still against him, not kissing back, but not pulling away either. He just stands there and lets John press his lips more tightly against his.

John pulls away, heart sinking. That could have gone a hell of a lot better. “Shit, sorry. Just forget I—”

“No,” Sherlock says, looking a little dazed. “I don’t — I mean, it’s fine.”

If the ground could just open up and swallow John right now, he’d be grateful. “I’m an idiot, and also probably drunk, so like, ignore that, please?”

“John,” Sherlock says, and reaches for him.

John looks up just in time to see Sherlock’s face very close, and then Sherlock’s mouth is on his and… oh. John’s fingers tighten on the wool sleeves of Sherlock’s coat. He presses up and deepens the kiss, and feels Sherlock’s soft sound of surprise against his tongue.

There’s a wolf whistle from across the street, and they pull apart.

“Sorry,” John says again, and Sherlock laughs.

“God, you’re so Canadian.”

“Shut up.” John smiles, though, and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “I guess that was dumb to do out here on the street.”

“Probably,” Sherlock replies. “Look, I’m kind of having a bad day, so—”

“Yeah, it’s fine, I get it.” John takes a step backward.

“No, not—” Sherlock makes a sound of frustration. “I want to invite you in, but I don’t want you to think it’s… I don’t want to sleep with you.”

John can’t stop his face from doing something strange at that.

“No, I mean — shit.” Sherlock grimaces. “Not… right now. Maybe we could talk?”

“Yeah,” John says, relief washing over him. “I’d like that.”

He follows Sherlock down the street to the large house, and tries not to feel awkward standing on the porch while Sherlock fumbles through his keys.

“Sorry, I’m not usually back this late, after Mrs. Hudson locks the front door.” He squints at three different keys before deciding to try one. It doesn’t work. He frowns. “I suppose I could pick the lock.”

“Seriously?”

Sherlock shrugs. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”

The door opens then, and the landlady’s face peers out at them. “Sherlock, coming in so late!” She looks him up and down once. “Have you been drinking?”

Sherlock slumps. “A little? I’m sorry, Mrs. Hudson, but—”

“Oh, no, dear, I’m delighted!” She steps back and smiles, gesturing them in. “And who is this handsome young man?”

“A friend,” John says at the same time as Sherlock says, “A student.” They both turn to look at each other.

“Well, keep it down, boys,” Mrs. Hudson says with a lascivious wink. “You know how thin the walls are here.”

Sherlock looks as if he wants to crawl under the door mat. “I’m aware.”

“I should get back to my guests now.” She closes and locks the door, then heads down the hallway to what must be her apartment. Voices and music drift down the hall from the open door. “Condoms are on the front table if you need them!”

John has to put a hand over his mouth to stifle his laugh.

“C’mon,” Sherlock says with a resigned sigh.

He leads John up the stairs to the second floor, then to the first door on the right. John vaguely remembers the building from Halloween, though it had looked very different that night.

Sherlock’s apartment is small, but it’s so much nicer than the room John lives in that he finds himself staring around in awe. There’s a fully-equipped kitchen, for one thing. The living area is packed with more furniture than the room needs: a dining table doubling as a desk, an old sofa against the far wall, a pair of mismatched armchairs by what seems to be a functional fireplace, and antique-looking end tables. There are books and papers on every surface, a realistic-looking skull on the mantel, and a violin on a stand in the corner. An open door on the left wall appears to lead to a bedroom.

“This is seriously amazing.” John currently lives in a tiny nondescript room in what was once a cheap motel. He has a cube refrigerator and a microwave, and that’s kind of it. Sherlock’s small kitchen has an actual stove. With an oven. “You could like, bake cookies in this.”

Sherlock stares at him like he’s not making a bit of sense. “I suppose. Want some coffee?”

“It’s after midnight.”

Sherlock frowns. “Tea?”

John opens his mouth to say no, but… what the hell. “Yeah, sure.”

They sit in the armchairs in front of the fireplace with cups of tea in hand. It’s awkwardly quiet in the room, though the sound of Mrs. Hudson’s party below filters up through the floor.

“Is she always like that?” John asks.

“Yeah,” Sherlock replies. “You get used to it.”

“So, you wanted to talk?”

Sherlock nods, but says nothing.

“I’ll start,” John says, and takes a steadying breath. “I like you. Obviously. And I’d like to date you, if that isn’t too weird?”

“Why would it be weird?”

“Well, I mean… you’re kind of my teacher.”

“Grader, technically. And only until Wednesday.” Sherlock takes a sip from the mug and sets it on the stained end table beside his chair. “And my prelims are Thursday morning, so it’s not like I’ve got much free time in the next few days anyway.”

“So… wait, what are you saying?”

“I’m saying yes, I think.”

“Yes, you’ll go out with me?” Joy and relief bubble up in John’s chest.

“After my prelims,” Sherlock adds.

“Okay, wow. Good.” John stares back at him for a moment, then laughs.

“What?”

“Just like that, eh? I say I want to date you and you say not until Thursday.”

“I’m not going to be much good to anyone until my prelims are over.”

John hesitates for a moment, tracing the rim of the mug with one finger. “So, how’s that going?”

Sherlock sinks into his chair and groans. “I don’t have the energy to talk about it.”

“Molly said something about your advisor?”

“What did she say?”

“That he did something to upset you.”

“You could say that.” Sherlock shakes his head, then looks like he comes to a decision. “I wrote a paper based on some work we did last summer. He submitted it to a journal, then got back some suggestions for revisions. He passed them to me to do, of course. And when I opened the file, I realized he’d taken my name off of it. He’d submitted it as the sole author.”

“But you wrote it,” John retorts, and Sherlock snorts.

“Obviously. So I asked him about it, and he said he needs more single-author publications for his tenure file. That the work was done under his supervision anyway, so it’s not a big deal.”

“If it’s not a big deal, why didn’t he write the damn thing himself?”

“Because he can make me do it for him.” Sherlock’s head falls back against the chair. “He implied that I might not pass my prelims if I made an issue of it.”

John goes past angry and straight to livid. “That’s utter bullshit! He can’t do that, he—”

“He can,” Sherlock says. “He’s the chair, and he can overrule my entire committee. He has the final say on whether or not I pass.”

“Sherlock.” John leans forward in the chair. “Seriously, fuck that asshole. There has to be something you can do. What about Dr. Stamford? Have you told him?”

“I haven’t told anyone other than Molly. And now you.” Sherlock looks oddly defeated. John hates it.

He stands, takes two steps toward Sherlock, and kneels in front of him. “Hey, c’mere.”

Sherlock sits up, and John leans forward, between his knees, and kisses him. It’s a different kiss than before, not tentative or frantic. John presses his hand to Sherlock’s jaw, slides his fingers up into that wild hair. Sherlock sighs against John’s mouth and opens up to him, teasing with the tip of his tongue, the pull of his lips. It’s still soft and sweet, but edging toward dirty with every passing second. John finally pulls away, reluctantly — this isn’t why he’s here.

“Okay, yeah,” Sherlock says, and presses his forehead against John’s.

“Hmm?”

“The answer is definitely yes.”

“What was the question?” John asks, and Sherlock laughs.

“God, you’re an idiot.”

“Hey!”

Sherlock tilts his head and kisses John again. “Don’t be offended. Nearly everyone is.”

“Whatever,” John says, and slides his arms around Sherlock’s waist.

After a few glorious minutes, Sherlock pushes him away again. “Thursday.”

“Thursday, right.” John sits back on his heels and tries to adjust his dick in his pants discreetly. “In the meantime, you’re gonna say something to somebody about Dr. Moriarty, right?”

Sherlock sighs. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“Let me help?”

Sherlock looks back at him for a moment, cool blue eyes wide, then nods. John stands and holds a hand out to him, pulls him to his feet.

“Where’s your computer? I’ve got an idea.”

Sherlock squeezes his hand, then leads him over to the kitchen table.

*****

It’s strange not having practice to organize his days around. John gets up, goes to the gym, has breakfast, and studies. He’s got four exams this week — one each on Monday through Thursday — and though he’s studied for all of them, he’ll never quite feel ready.

He’s walking across campus to take Monday’s exam when he gets a text:

Talked to Dr. Stamford. He suggests I go to the department ombudsperson. —SH

John nearly crashes into two people while tapping out his reply: YES. Good idea. And the others?

Three dots appear and disappear. John frowns at the phone. He honestly doesn’t know if suggesting Sherlock go to his committee members was a good idea politically, but it feels right. If it backfires, he just hopes Sherlock will forgive him for talking him into it.

His phone buzzes. Appt with Dr. Chatterjee this pm. —SH

John replies with good luck, then tucks the phone away before he’s tempted to text anything more. He’s had to sit on his hands to keep himself from going beyond friendship the last two days. They’d agreed on Saturday night that they wouldn’t see each other until Thursday night, when their exams were behind them. John is going home for Christmas on Saturday, so they’ll be apart for a handful of days after that, but it’s still something. They’re going to have all the time in the world soon enough. Well, as much time as their combined schedules allow, anyway.

John can’t wait.

He thumbs on his phone as soon as he turns in the first exam.

Chatterjee is supportive, had good advice. —SH

John grins at the screen, then touches the icon to call.

“John?”

“Sorry, is this a bad time?”

“No, it’s fine.” Sherlock sounds a little flustered. “I was just making some coffee.”

“I was just heading to get some,” John replies. “Wanna call me back in a couple of minutes? You can tell me what what the he said over coffee.”

“I could just tell you now.”

“Yeah, but if we both had coffee, it’d be like, a date.” John blushes, even though no one is there to see it.

Sherlock chuckles. “I could come meet you for coffee. Make it an actual date.”

“It’s only Monday.”

Sherlock sighs. “Right. Why don’t you call me back when you’ve got coffee, and I’ll fill you in?”

John grins so much that the barista asks him if he’s sure he wants to order something with that much caffeine. He gives her a really big tip.

*****

Tuesday’s exam is first thing in the morning. He’d stayed up late studying the night before, and afterward he heads to the gym for a good long workout. It’s only been a few days, but he misses being on the ice. Their practice facility is open for public skating this week, so he could go, but it’s not the same.

He’s not sure what he’s going to do after he graduates and isn’t on a team anymore. He assumes he can find a rec league to play in, but from what he’s heard about med school, he doubts he’ll have much time. It will never be like this again, this brotherhood, with these guys.

That sobering thought carries him into his afternoon study session. His shitty apartment is depressing, so he’s parked himself in a coffee shop near campus. He and Sherlock text each other intermittently. He’s discovered Sherlock isn’t particularly fond of emojis. John makes sure to include as many as possible.

100 what? What does that even mean?

John grins at his phone and sends back a kissy face and a potato.

John goes over to Greg’s apartment for dinner that night. They’d agreed to a study break of pizza, beer, and COD, and by the time 7:00 rolls around, John really needs it.

“So,” Greg says when they’re settling on the couch with controllers in hand. “What’s the deal with Sherlock?”

“Nothing yet,” John tells him. “Well, we’re going out on Thursday.”

“Bro,” Greg says, approvingly.

“And we kinda made out some on Saturday night?”

“Broooooo.”

John elbows him in the side. “Anyway, I like him. We’ll see.”

“You don’t just like the people you date,” Greg says, reaching for his beer. “You like, fall for them. You fall early and often.”

“I’ve only had the one boyfriend.”

“Yeah, but you’ve fallen for more people than that.” Greg raises his eyebrows.

John sighs. “You’re never gonna let me forget that, are you?”

“Hey, I’m not ashamed. You gotta try everything once, right?”

Try is the appropriate word there.” At the time, it was hot, but in retrospect, it was really pretty awkward.

“Hey, that’s not — look, I know I sucked at that — shut up — but I give damn good head to girls. You can ask Molly, even.”

“Yeah, how about I don’t?”

“My point is, you get attached fast when there’s sex involved. And that’s not always a good thing.”

“Ugh, I know.” John winces. “But I feel good about this, you know? He just… I dunno. He’s like crazy smart and funny and easy to talk to and… well, he’s really cute, right?”

“Christ, you’re already there.” Greg shakes his head.

“Shut up. So what about you and Molly?”

Greg turns to grin at him. “She’s crazy smart and funny and easy to talk to and— hey!” He ducks the pillow John aims at his head. “I’m serious, dude. I’m not even chirping you right now, I just… I like her.” He shrugs.

“At least we know our SOs are gonna get along, eh?”

“Bro,” Greg says, turning to look at him. “Spring break, the four of us. Yeah?”

“Wow, yeah. That’d be amazing.”

“I’m gonna talk to Molly. You like beaches, right?”

“Who doesn’t?” John asks, then hesitates. Sherlock doesn’t strike him as the kind of person who would enjoy hanging out on a beach all day. “Lemme get back to you on that one.”

*****

The forensic chemistry final is Wednesday afternoon. John had expected to see Sherlock there proctoring the exam, but it’s Dr. Stamford who comes instead. John is, happily, well-prepared for this exam. He’d resisted the temptation to ask Sherlock’s advice on what topics he should study, assuming Sherlock wouldn’t have told him anyway. But more importantly, he’d really wanted to impress Sherlock, to show that he understood the material, that he’d absolutely earned a top grade.

He walks out feeling the same way, and it’s a relief.

3 down, 1 to go he texts Sherlock.

Days until I fail out of grad school?

John frowns at the phone, then calls him. “No, you asshole,” he says the moment Sherlock picks up. “I was talking about me.”

“I promise I’ll care about your sad little undergrad problems in two days,” Sherlock replies.

John rolls his eyes. “Nice way to treat your boyfriend there, wow.”

Sherlock goes completely silent, and it’s only then that John realizes what he just said.

“Shit. Forget I said that?”

“I don’t think so,” Sherlock replies, and John can hear the smile in his voice.

John blushes so hard people start staring at him. “Sorry, I… I get clingy. I try not to, but—”

“John, it’s okay. I don’t mind.”

“Even though we’ve only kissed like once?”

“It was more than once.” Sherlock hesitates, lowers his voice. “The first thing I’ll want to do after my prelim tomorrow is kiss you.”

“Then you’ll have to tell me where it is so I can come find you.” John bites his lip, thinking of all the ways he could tease Sherlock until then. “Hey, are you on Snapchat?”

“Snap what?”

John laughs. “Never mind. We’ll talk about it tomorrow. How’d the meeting with Dr. Moriarty go?”

Sherlock sighs, but it sounds more tired than defeated. “It happened.”

“That bad?”

“I suppose we came to an arrangement.”

John can almost hear the air quotes. “Is that… a good thing?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

“Shit. I pushed you into this, didn’t I?”

“No. Well… maybe you gave me a tiny shove in that direction, but—”

“And right before your prelims.” John winces. “Fuck, that was dumb. I’m sorry.”

“I think it was the right thing to do. The other members of my committee at least know what’s going on. And they were supportive, though… I definitely get the sense they’re all a little afraid of him.”

“Wait, you think he has dirt on them or something?”

“Possibly. Well, now I’ve got dirt on him, so the balance has shifted. If I make a formal complaint of academic dishonesty, it would go into his permanent record and could hurt his chances of getting tenure.”

John whistles. “Christ, he sounds more like your arch-nemesis than your dissertation advisor.”

“That’s what Mycroft said.”

John blinks. “Who?”

“My brother.”

John hadn’t even known Sherlock had a brother. There’s a lot they don’t know about each other yet. “So does your brother think you should find a new advisor?”

“My brother believes in keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. Or, he would if he had any friends.” Sherlock snorts. “I’d rather not make an enemy of Dr. Moriarty just yet, but it’s probably inevitable.”

“I can see it now: Dr. Holmes and Dr. Moriarty, sparring yet again in the pages of Science.”

“Probably.” Sherlock laughs a little, and John’s belly does a pleasant sort of flip at the sound of it. “What about you, Dr. Watson?”

“Nah, I’m not a researcher. I’m more of a hands-on kind of guy.” John doesn’t even try to keep the innuendo out of his tone, and Sherlock snickers. “Call me tonight?”

“Yeah, I will.”

“Study hard, Sherlock.”

John can practically hear his eyes roll in response.

*****

John turns in his fourth and final exam, and finally feels like he can breathe.

The moment he leaves the lecture hall, he pulls out his phone and checks the message from Sherlock again. His prelim exam should be wrapping up in about half an hour. John has enough time to drop his bag off at his apartment and grab a coffee before heading to the main science building on the other side of campus.

Sherlock’s exam is happening in a small conference room on the third floor. The door is closed, but John can hear voices on the other side. He paces a bit, tools around on his phone, and finally presses his back to the wall and slides down into a sitting position.

After what seems like half an hour, the door opens. Sherlock steps through and closes it behind him, and takes a deep breath. John climbs to his feet.

“Hey.”

Sherlock turns, clearly surprised. “Oh, you’re here.”

“I said I would be. How’d it go?”

Sherlock hesitates, as if he’s not sure how to answer. He looks exhausted and anxious, and also even thinner than John remembers from last Saturday. He looks like he needs someone to take care of him.

John takes a step toward him and takes Sherlock’s hands in his, pulls him closer. “Is it over?”

“Almost. They’re discussing it all now. They’ll call me in shortly.”

John leans in, goes up on his toes. “Too soon for that kiss?”

Sherlock meets him halfway. It’s a soft, careful thing, just a slow sweep of lips together. With Jamie, it had always been rushed and frantic, stolen moments in dark corners. Jamie was terrified for anyone to know, certain it would damage his career. Sherlock doesn’t seem to have any such fear, like his sexuality is just another thing about him, one of dozens of characteristics that make him unique.

They stay like that for a long time, breathing the same air, foreheads pressed together, stealing kisses.

“We’re still on for tonight, right?” John asks.

Sherlock makes a whimpering sound. “All I want to do is sleep. Unless they fail me, in which case I’ll want to drink myself unconscious.”

John resists the urge to say you won’t fail. A decade of playing hockey has taught him that’s a meaningless platitude. “I can do a sleepover,” he says instead, smiling against his skin.

Sherlock starts to reply, but then the door opens.

“Sherlock, we’re ready for— oh.” They turn to see Dr. Moriarty staring at them. A strange smile spreads across his face. “Am I interrupting?”

John takes a step back, keeping his expression as neutral as possible. “Ah, no, sorry. I’m just here to—” He gives Sherlock a little push toward the doorway.

“Right,” Dr. Moriarty says, eyes narrowing at John. “We just need him for a few more minutes, then he’s all yours.”

Sherlock gives Moriarty an odd look, but walks past him into the conference room. Moriarty stares at John for a few more seconds, then smiles like a Cheshire cat before closing the door again.

“Shit,” John mutters, leaning back against the wall. He can’t help feeling like they just made a mistake.

It’s another twenty minutes before the door opens again. Laughter pours out of the room, and John’s shoulders sag in relief. The committee members file out, chattering easily with each other. Dr. Stamford walks out with Sherlock, and stops when he sees John standing in the hallway.

“Oh, hello,” he says, his smile one of mild confusion. “It’s Watson, isn’t it?”

“John Watson, yeah. I really enjoyed your course this semester.”

“I’m glad. You took the material seriously and worked hard, which is always a pleasure for me.” He glances over at Sherlock, eyebrows raised in question.

“I passed,” Sherlock says, staring at John. His features are painted with relief, and John wants desperately to hug him. He’s not sure this is the most appropriate time, so he just grins in response.

“Watson, is it?” Moriarty asks from behind Sherlock’s shoulder. He steps to the side and holds out a hand.

His skin is cold to the touch, almost clammy, and John has to resist the urge to wipe his hand on his jeans after.

“He’s all yours again,” Moriarty continues, that unnerving smile firmly in place. “For a while, anyway.”

“Yeah,” John replies, as calm and steady as he can manage. “But that’s how it goes.”

Dr. Stamford looks back to John in surprise, as if he’s just piecing it together.

John takes a breath: might as well go all in now. He touches Sherlock’s arm. “You ready to go?”

“Yeah,” Sherlock says, looking a little dazed.

John takes his hand and smiles at Moriarty and Stamford. “Have a good break, eh? Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and all.”

“Yes, of course,” Dr. Stamford says, beaming at them. “Same to you. Congratulations again, Sherlock.”

Sherlock is too busy looking down at their joined hands to manage a reply.

John rolls his eyes. “I’d better get him home.” He tugs Sherlock’s hand and walks toward the elevator around the corner, not looking back.

He waits until the elevator doors close before he drops Sherlock’s hand.

“Sorry, did I make that weird?”

“What?” Sherlock blinks at him, utterly oblivious.

“Never mind.” John shakes his head and smiles. “When did you eat last?”

Sherlock considers. “What day is it?”

“Oh my god, are you serious?”

The elevator doors open, and John takes his hand again, pulls him forward.

“We’ll get you home, then I’m ordering takeout. I hope you like Thai.”

“I love Thai.”

“And you’re going to eat and then go to bed.”

Sherlock frowns. “It’s four in the afternoon.”

“And you’re exhausted.” John tangles their fingers together and squeezes. “This okay?”

Sherlock gives him a strange look. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

John’s never been with anyone who was comfortably out — or who at least didn’t care what passersby might think. It’s an amazing feeling.

*****

John is alone when he wakes up. He can hear the sounds of Sherlock rustling in the kitchen, and something smells — well, not amazing, but good.

He rolls onto his side and squints at the light coming through the open door. It feels early yet, but he’s not surprised Sherlock is up. He nearly fell asleep in his food last night, and John had shooed him to bed with the promise of waking him up in a few hours.

He hadn’t, of course. By 9:00, John’s own exhaustion had taken over, and he’d started drifting to sleep in front of the documentary he’d been watching. His plan had been to sleep on the couch, but he couldn’t find any blankets anywhere, and — well, Sherlock’s bed was big enough for the both of them. It was probably weird and presumptive to strip down to his boxers and slide under the covers next to Sherlock, but he’d been so tired by then he didn’t really care.

He feels a little self-conscious in the light of day, though, emerging from the bedroom sleep-rumpled and wearing yesterday’s clothes. Sherlock is standing at the stove, spatula in hand.

John yawns. “Morning.”

“Good morning,” Sherlock replies. He turns and his gaze lingers on John’s face.

John flushes a little under the scrutiny. “Pancakes?”

Sherlock nods. “It’s just a mix, but it’s all I had.” He gestures to the stack on a plate by the stove. “The first few got a little burnt. There’s maple syrup in the fridge.”

Real maple syrup, it turns out. John sighs happily at the first bite — he’s nothing if not a stereotype.

He’s not sure what he expected this morning, but Sherlock cooking him breakfast wasn’t high on the list. Sherlock sits across from him at the small table and seems to want to watch John eat more than anything else.

“Sorry I didn’t wake you up last night,” John says. “You seemed like you really needed to sleep. I hope there wasn’t something you’d planned to do.”

Sherlock shrugs. “Nothing that couldn’t wait for morning.” His cheeks go a little pink then.

John grins and hooks his bare foot around Sherlock’s under the table. “Did you have something in mind?”

“Maybe.”

John wolfs down the rest of his pancakes, then goes to take a shower. He’d picked up a toothbrush last night when he went out to get the food, just in case he stayed over, and now he’s really glad he did. If only he had a change of clothes.

He comes out of the tiny bathroom with a towel around his waist, and finds Sherlock lounging on the bed, tapping away at his phone. He’s pulled the covers down to the foot of the bed, which John can’t help but interpret as a positive sign.

“Hey,” John says, and grips the towel a little more tightly.

Sherlock looks up at John, and his eyes go a little wide. “You, ah… good shower?”

“Hot and wet,” John replies with a smirk. “Just the way I like it.”

Sherlock laughs. “Wow.”

“Oh come on, that’s a great line.” John sits on the bed next to him.

Sherlock sets his phone face-down on the nightstand, then turns to face John. His gaze drops to John’s lips and back up again. “That’s a terrible line.”

John leans closer. “But did it work?”

Sherlock kisses him in response. It feels tentative, almost questioning, but good. Too good, really. John pulls back.

“So we should probably talk first.”

Sherlock frowns. “Okay.”

“I mean…” John scratches at the back of his neck. This part always feels awkward. “So like, the last time I got tested for STDs was last August, as part of the team physical. That was all negative, and I haven’t done anything other than a couple of handjobs since then. But I won’t be offended if you’d rather be careful until I can get tested again.”

“Oh.” Sherlock’s expression is unreadable. “Um… I’ve never been tested. But I’ve never actually done this before, so.”

It’s a moment before that statement sinks in. “So you… you’re a virgin?”

The little crinkle appears between Sherlock’s eyebrows. “Virginity is a meaningless social construct, John. I’ve had plenty of sexual experiences.”

“Then… wait, what are you saying?”

“I’ve never participated in any sort of mouth-to genital contact before, nor have I engaged in anal sex or anilingus, or—”

“Okay, wow,” John says, feeling his face heat. Apparently talking about this isn’t going to be a problem. “So then, what do you want to do? We can take it slow, or… you know. I’m good with whatever.”

Sherlock tugs at the corner of John’s towel and slowly pulls it away. John sucks in a sharp breath between his teeth. He’s used to being naked around other people, but it’s been a long time since someone looked at his body like Sherlock is doing now, with a mix of curiosity and hunger. John settles back, leaning his weight on his hands, and lets him look. His cock starts to swell under the weight of Sherlock’s gaze, but John doesn’t feel embarrassed about it. He wonders what Sherlock’s done before, how much of this is new and how much isn’t.

Of course, Sherlock still hasn’t answered the question.

“So what do you want?” John asks. His voice is already rougher than it was a minute ago.

Sherlock drops to his knees on the floor by the bed, not taking his eyes from John’s erection. He leans forward between John’s spread legs and slides the flats of his palms up the inside of his thighs. John’s skin tingles in his wake, ruffled hairs standing on end. He’s completely hard now, and leaking, and he’s a little worried that he’s going to come the moment Sherlock touches him.

“This okay?” Sherlock asks.

John makes a wounded noise and nods. Sherlock leans forward and drags the tip of his tongue up the underside of John’s cock.

“You don’t have to—” John begins, but Sherlock gives him a petulant look and wraps his lips around the head of John’s cock. “Oh, Christ.”

Okay, so the thing is, no one’s mouth has been anywhere near John’s dick since last summer. He likes sex as much as the next guy, but it’s been a little scarce lately — his own fault; he’s been crazy busy and also getting past a breakup. A blow job, though, is pretty much his favorite thing in the world, and right now he’s getting a damn good one.

“I thought you said you hadn’t done this before,” John pants.

Sherlock comes off long enough to say, “I haven’t,” then swirls his tongue around the head in a way that makes John’s toes curl.

“Okay,” John replies, weakly. He’s hardly going to argue the point now. The sight of Sherlock’s head bobbing up and down, of those lips stretched around his cock — he’s not going to last much longer. “I’m getting kinda close.”

Sherlock pulls off and sits back, loosely jacking him with one spit-slick hand. “Do you want me to stop?”

John chokes out a laugh. “God, no. I mean, yes, because I don’t want it to be over that fast, but also no because you are fucking good at this and I really want to come right now.”

“It’s not like it’s your only chance.”

John looks up to see Sherlock smirking at him, and grins. “Yeah, you can suck me anytime you want.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes a little, but takes John’s cock in his mouth again. He varies the pressure, experimenting until John’s elbows go out from under him and he flops against the mattress, hips arching up. Sherlock pushes him back down with surprising strength, and sucks in quick tight strokes until John moans a warning.

Sherlock sits back, jerking John’s cock in the same rhythm, and John comes, gasping.

“Oh, god. That was… fuck.” He waves one hand at Sherlock, unable to move much more than that. “C’mere, please.”

Sherlock has his pants off when he climbs up to straddle John’s thighs, one hand moving furiously on himself. John reaches for him, gets his fingers around the shaft enough to take over. Sherlock leans over him and John shifts a little, trying to find a good angle to keep stroking him. It’s probably too dry, but Sherlock seems too far gone to care.

“Come down here and kiss me.”

Sherlock does, licking into his mouth in a way that’s completely filthy. John’s nowhere near ready to go again, but it’s incredibly hot to see him like this: the awkward, calculating genius, on the verge of losing control.

“I want you to come on me,” John tells him, and Sherlock gasps. John arches up, catches his lips again. “Come on, do it. Mess me up.”

Within a minute, Sherlock does, with three warm splashes on John’s stomach. Sherlock collapses against John after, pressing him into the mattress. Their skin slides together a little where the spunk is pooling, but John has zero complaints. It’s the best sex he’s had in ages. He wraps his arms around Sherlock’s shoulders and squeezes. They’re both quiet for a moment, catching their breath.

“Shit,” John says after a moment. “Okay, was that really your first time giving a blow job?”

Sherlock lifts his head enough to frown down at John. “Yes. Why would I lie about that?”

“No idea.” John smiles up at him in a way he’s pretty sure is dopey. “I’m impressed.”

“Good.” Sherlock’s lips quirk a little. “So my research paid off.”

“You seriously did research about how to suck dick?”

Sherlock shrugs. “The internet has a lot of sex advice. Much of it conflicting, but if you sample the data broadly enough—”

“Oh my god, stop.” John laughs and pulls Sherlock back down again. “I get the picture. You watched a lot of porn.”

Sherlock looks scandalized. “Not only porn.”

John kisses him again, and doesn’t stop for a long time.

*****

John hands Sherlock the pair of skates he’d just fished from the team equipment locker. “These should fit you.”

“Hockey skates?” Sherlock takes them with a slightly strained expression.

“I guess you could rent figure skates over at the counter if you prefer.”

“I doubt it’ll make much difference. I haven’t skated since I was a child.”

John slaps him on the shoulder and grins. He’d suggested this while they were still lounging in bed after round two, and he’d been surprised when Sherlock agreed.

The public schools are out for the winter break, so the rink is crowded for a weekday afternoon. John hasn’t been to a public skate session in years, and he’d forgotten how crazy it can be: wobbly new skaters clinging to the boards, children zipping around, heedless of everyone around them, figure skaters practicing complex routines in the center, and nearly every skill level between. John steps out onto the ice easily, but Sherlock keeps a firm hold on the rail along the side until he finds his balance.

“This is a lot harder than I remember,” he says.

John turns to skate backward in front of him. “You’re doing fine.”

“And you’re showing off.” Sherlock reaches out to give John a shove and nearly loses his balance. His cheeks go a little pink as he reaches for the side again. “Just give me ten minutes. I’ll remember.”

He improves a lot after a few laps, though he still seems wobbly and uncertain. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

John laughs. “Yeah, I really am.”

After a semester of his work being graded rather harshly, John can’t help but take delight in being the one doing the correcting.

“Bend your knees more,” he says, then shakes his head. “No, more than that.”

“I’m trying,” Sherlock replies, teeth gritted slightly.

After half an hour, Sherlock steps gingerly off the ice. He sits on a bench, grimacing down at his feet.

“Hot chocolate?” John asks.

“Do they have vodka?”

John snorts and heads off to the concessions stand. He comes back with two steaming cups and sits next to Sherlock on the bench.

“So as first dates go, how’s this one stacking up?”

Sherlock takes one of the cups, warming his hands with it. “I’ve got nothing to compare it to, but I’d say pretty well.”

“Oh,” John says. “Shit.”

“What?”

John glances around, lowers his voice. “Really, this is the first date you’ve ever been on?”

Sherlock looks firmly down at his styrofoam cup. “I know that probably sounds weird to you, but—”

“No, not that, I just… I would’ve made it more special if I’d known.”

“Considering that it started with some fairly remarkable sex, I’m not sure you could have improved it all that much.”

John laughs, then promptly burns his tongue on a sip of too-hot cocoa.

“Careful,” Sherlock says, leaning in close. “You’re going to need that later.”

John flushes and bumps Sherlock’s shoulder with his own. “I wish I didn’t have to go tomorrow.”

“Well, it is Christmas. I suppose you can be forgiven this once.”

John snickers. “You going home?”

“For a few days. My parents will want me to make an appearance at their various events, I’m sure.”

John takes a more careful sip of cocoa. “So no big family Christmas morning, with presents to open and breakfast in your pajamas, and watch a movie together and stuff?”

Sherlock huffs a little. “Do you roast marshmallows over an open fire too?”

“If it’s not snowing out. But seriously—”

“My family isn’t like that.” Sherlock hesitates for a moment. “My father will take a few hours off work, but only to attend the half-dozen parties my mother always gets them invited to. She’ll spend each of them ignoring him while he gets progressively more drunk. My brother will have an excuse not to come around — the firm expects a minimum of billable hours, even at Christmas. And my sister is in boarding school in Switzerland. She’s spending Christmas with a friend whose family has a chalet in the Alps.”

“Wow.” John shakes his head. “Next year you should come to mine and skip all the bullshit.”

Sherlock stares back at him, and John realizes what he’s just said. It would be awkward to try to qualify it now, so he doesn’t even try. He just smiles and takes another sip of cocoa.

“I’ll keep it in mind,” Sherlock replies. He sets his cup down and stands. “Okay, I think I’m ready to try again.”

Sherlock holds out his hand, and John takes it, is pulled to his feet. He squeezes Sherlock’s fingers once, and lets go.

*****

It’s cold and clear on Christmas morning, but the house is cozy and warm. John hasn’t lived here in years, but it still feels like home. Smells like home too, like things baking and pine-scented cleaner, and the cinnamon candles his mom always likes to set out for the holidays.

John’s mom sits next to him on the sofa and hands him a mug. He raises his eyebrows at her.

“Isn’t it a little early in the day for mulled wine?”

“Shut up, it’s Christmas.” She takes a sip from her own mug. “So are you going to tell me about him?”

“About who?” John asks, trying for innocent and failing miserably.

“The one you’re always texting.” She nudges him with an elbow. “Don’t even try to lie to me. I know your I’m-so-in-love face.”

John sighs. “It’s pretty new. Like, just a week, really.”

“But you like him.”

“Shyeah.” John grins then, his guard falling away completely. His mom has that effect on him. “Okay, fine. His name is Sherlock. He’s a grad student in chemistry.”

“Funny name. And a smart one, eh?”

“Yeah.” John takes a sip from his mug. His mom always makes her own mix of mulling spices, some recipe she came across years ago and has made ever since. She used to put it in jars and give it to his friends’ moms at Christmas.

“And not a hockey player?”

“He can barely skate.” John laughs. “I don’t think he’d even seen a hockey game before he came to one of ours.”

“Probably just as well,” she says. She was the first person John had called after Jamie’d broken things off. He’d cried on the phone to her like he was 12 years old and had just been cut from his team.

John sighs, but is saved from replying by Harry’s dramatic entrance, dressed in the Mitch Marner jersey she’d gotten that morning and sweats with her school team’s logo on them. She has a Leafs toque pulled down firmly over her head, covering her short blonde hair.

“Oooh, I want wine!”

Mom shakes her head. “I’ll make you a spiced cider if you want.”

“It’s not fair,” Harry says, flopping into a chair across from them. “You didn’t make John wait until he was 16.”

“She did too,” John retorts. “Actually, I think I was 18.”

“Whatever. Mom's way stricter with me than she ever was with you.”

“I lived with a billet family my last two years of high school,” John reminds her. “They were way stricter than Mom ever was.”

Mom snickers at that. “They were. And I got full reports whenever you got in trouble.”

“Like you ever got in trouble,” Harry says, rolling her eyes.

“You have no idea,” John replies. Several memories flash through his mind at once — most of them nights he’d come in late and drunk — but the most memorable one was the time his host father had caught him in the laundry room with a teammate’s dick down his throat. That had made for an uncomfortable phone call home. His mom had been a lot cooler about it than his billet family, who pretty much forbade him from bringing a teammate over ever again.

His mom ruffles his hair, then gets up to go make Harry a cup of cider.

He looks over at Harry, who’s still pouting. She’s grown up so much in the last few years, and he’s missed it. She was a little girl when he left home, and now she’s a full-fledged teenager, with the attitude to go with it. Next thing he knows, she’ll be heading off to college too. He swallows down a sudden wave of nostalgia.

“Hey, wanna play mini-sticks later?”

She looks over at him, eyes narrowed. “Why, you wanna get your ass kicked?”

“In your dreams.”

She rolls her eyes, looking every bit of her fifteen years. “Whatever.”

*****

Mini-sticks is epic, as always. Harry’s gotten a lot better, and he doesn’t actually have to let her win a few — she does that all on her own. They have lunch all together, then settle in to watch White Christmas. John is nodding off ten minutes in, so he heads to his room to take a nap.

He carefully locks the door behind him and strips off the pajamas he never changed out of this morning. He pulls on an old faded t-shirt and a pair of boxers, and settles under the covers with his phone.

Hey, you free? he texts Sherlock.

The reply comes almost immediately: Yes.

“Merry Christmas,” John says when Sherlock answers.

“Merry Christmas,” Sherlock repeats, sounding surprised. “I wasn’t expecting to hear from you today.”

“What kind of boyfriend doesn’t call on Christmas?” John asks, then almost immediately regrets it. “I mean, of course I’m calling. I miss you and… stuff.”

“I suppose I miss you too.” Sherlock sounds hesitant, guarded. “I just thought you’d be busy with your family.”

“I told them I needed a nap.” John lies back on the bed and closes his eyes. It’s easy to let his hand slip into his boxers. “So now I’m lying here in this big bed… all alone.”

“Are you?” Sherlock’s voice rumbles into the phone, and it sends a thrill through John’s abdomen.

“Mmm hmm.” John’s fingers wrap around his dick, already thickening up. “You alone?”

“Yes.”

“You want to switch to video?”

“Sure,” Sherlock says, and a moment later, his face appears on the screen. Behind him is a well-appointed room that is clearly not a bedroom. Sherlock’s eyes widen a little when he takes in the sight of John sprawled on his bed, hand down his pants. “Oh. Hang on a sec.” The scenery blurs behind him. There’s the sound of a door closing, then the view resolves to Sherlock sitting on a bed. “When you said alone, I didn’t realize you meant…”

“Private-alone, yeah.” John smiles up at him. “Wanna see what’s happening over here?”

“Okay,” Sherlock replies, and John tilts the phone down to show his hand stroking his erection. He can’t see the expression on Sherlock’s face, but the sharp intake of breath tells him everything he wants to know. “Wow, okay. Uh… give me a minute.”

There’s some rustling on the other end, then John sees Sherlock’s face again. “You gonna leave me hanging, or?”

Sherlock bites his lip, then aims the phone toward his groin. His cock is hard and straining up against the fabric of his underwear. As John watches, Sherlock’s fingers trail up the length of it.

“C’mon, show me,” John says, his voice edging towards breathy. “I wanna see.”

Sherlock pushes the waistband down until his cock springs out. It’s long and slender and already wet at the tip, and John would give just about anything to have it in his mouth right now.

He says as much, and Sherlock snickers. “I’ve never done this, you know.”

“Jerk off?” John smirks at him.

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “This, on the phone. Are you going to talk dirty to me?”

“Do you want me to?”

Sherlock looks flustered. “Mostly I want to watch you touch yourself.”

“Research?”

“Maybe.”

John piles pillows behind him to lean back on, then bunches the covers at his knees so he can prop his phone up between his thighs. He wriggles out of his boxers and spreads his legs, grinning at the phone. “How’s that?”

“Fuck,” Sherlock breathes. John only sees his face for a half a second, before the screen goes blank. “Here, let me do that too.” A minute later, John’s phone screen displays a closeup of Sherlock’s cock and balls.

John whimpers. “Christ, this is hot.”

“Considering that it’s Christmas, is that blasphemy?” Sherlock asks, humor in his tone. He twists out of view for a moment, then settles again.

“I’m not that religious,” John tells him. “What are you—”

Sherlock’s hand appears in view, wet with lube. John watches in fascination as his hand slides up the length of his cock, thumb and forefinger forming a tight ring at the head. He strokes a few times, and the sound is wet, filthy.

“God, look at you,” John whispers. He keeps his touch on himself light and teasing, not wanting to rush this. Sherlock’s fingers disappear from view for a second, then return even wetter. His hand dips below his balls, then he shifts his hips forward and circles wet fingertips against his hole.

John’s so hard he aches, but he can’t take his eyes off the phone. Sherlock presses a finger into himself slowly and pulls it out again leaving the tip just inside. When a second finger joins it, John gives up all pretense and starts stroking himself.

“S’not fair,” John whines, almost panting now. “I haven’t had a chance to do that to you yet, and now I have to watch?”

Sherlock’s fingers go still. “Want me to stop?”

“God, no. Can you take three?”

John has lube in a toiletry bag in the hall bath, but he’s not going to go look for it now. That’ll have to wait for their next call. Instead, he comes all over his own hand while watching Sherlock fuck himself with three fingers. The phone has shifted on the bed so that John can’t even see Sherlock’s dick anymore, just his fingers pressing into himself, over and over. He hears the slick sounds of Sherlock’s hand on himself, and his soft grunting as he’s getting close.

“So fucking hot,” John says, holding the phone close to his face now. “C’mon, babe.”

Sherlock comes with a bitten-off moan. The phone gets knocked out of place entirely, and all John can see is the ceiling for half a minute.

“Sorry,” he hears, and then Sherlock’s face reappears. “I didn’t realize the phone had fallen.”

“No, I had a great view,” John replies, grinning. “Think I did a little research of my own there.”

Sherlock’s smile is positively wicked. “Did you now?”

John sighs. “How am I gonna make it a whole week without seeing you?”

“It sucks, I know.”

Sherlock had planned to come back to campus in a couple of days, but his parents are hosting a fundraiser on New Year’s Eve that he hasn’t been able to get out of. John’s been trying not to be whiny about it — they’re going to have a whole semester together, after all — but that seems a long way off today.

“Tell me what you got for Christmas.”

Sherlock laughs. “A book, a scarf, and a watch. That was basically it.”

“And a really great orgasm.”

Sherlock’s cheeks flush. “Yeah, that too. What about you?”

They talk another fifteen minutes before John yawns enough that Sherlock shoos him off to take a nap, with a promise to call again later.

John falls asleep with the phone still in his hand.

*****

The New Year’s Eve game between the rival men’s hockey teams of Greenview State and Bellingham Universities is an annual tradition. Hockey isn’t the most popular sport on either campus, but this particular game is always well-attended by locals and alumni. The site alternates every year, and this year the game is in Greenview’s barn.

John had hoped his mom and sister could fly back for this game, but his sister has a game the same day. John can hardly blame his mom for not abandoning her to come see him play in his particular match, not with the NCAA playoffs hovering on the horizon. But with Sherlock still in New York, he’s feeling fairly pathetic about the prospect of being alone on New Year’s Eve.

He’s had a boyfriend for all of two weeks, and he’s already turning into a pining idiot.

The guys all roll in for practice on the 30th, relaxed and happy after a break from school. Most of them went home to visit family, and the ones who couldn’t travel that far hung out together. Everyone’s glad to get back on the ice, though, chirping each other good-naturedly in the dressing room and knocking sticks against each other’s shins while they’re waiting for the ice to be resurfaced.

“The big fucker, right?” Wiggy says just as John walks over to the group by the closed gate. “The one who drew that tripping penalty off of Andy last time?”

“Fuckin’ right,” Andy calls from the other side of the group. “That asshole’s going down.”

“Ah, shit,” John says, pinching at the bridge of his nose. “Not this again.”

“Lighten up, Doc,” Greg says, bumping John’s shoulder with his own. “It’s not a rivalry for nothing.”

“No, it’s just—” John hesitates, shakes his head. “That guy’s an asshole, and we always wind up with too many penalties when we play them. You know as well as I do that our PK is struggling right now. We don’t need to give them any more opportunities.”

Over by the gate, Wiggy and Andy are fist bumping and talking loudly about the amount of shit they’re going to give the opponent tomorrow night.

“You gonna tell them that?” Greg asks.

John snorts. “Think it’ll do any good?”

“Probs not.” Greg hesitates a moment, then leans in a little closer. “Hey, you okay?”

“Yeah, of course,” John replies. He keeps his gaze focused on the Zamboni, though, while it finishes its last lap.

Greg hmpfs, not sounding convinced, but he doesn’t push the issue. John isn’t sure exactly what he’d say if Greg did.

*****

He spends the morning of the 31st at the big annual team brunch, then heads back to his apartment for a nap. There’s a short skate at 4:00, followed by an early team dinner-slash-strategy meeting. They break into groups to review video and discuss plays, then Coach brings them back together as a whole group before sending them off to get geared up.

They’re all expecting his usual fire-em-up speech, but he tells them he has a surprise for them. A moment later, the door to the meeting room opens, and a man walks through. John’s stomach drops down to his knees.

It’s Jamie.

The room erupts with cries of “Sholtzy!” and the guys are on their feet, running over to greet him.

John hangs back, completely uncertain how he should respond. He hadn’t known Jamie was coming, is utterly shocked to see him here. He looks different than he did last summer: bigger, older, a little more weathered. He’s wearing a Blackhawks snapback and a Rockford Icehogs t-shirt. His hair is longer and he has a scruffy beard coming in, and it somehow all combines to make him look more like a stranger than he ever has.

Jamie looks up and catches John’s eye then. He smiles warmly and holds John’s gaze. John nods, but doesn’t move closer. He’s not sure he can stand in front of Jamie and not want to throw his arms around him or do something else that would make it blatantly obvious what they once were to each other.

“So I’m supposed to give some kind of inspiring speech here, I guess,” Jamie says, once the room has quieted down. “I’ve never been good at that, so, you know, stay on the puck, go hard at the net, tear shit up. And, you know, kick some Bellingham ass.”

The guys cheer and laugh. They eventually file out, heading toward the dressing room. John hesitates, torn between staying to say hello and putting it off until later. He finally decides to slip away, but Jamie steps through the crowd and catches him by the sleeve before he can manage it.

“Hey, you got a minute?”

John swallows down his immediate reaction of no, and nods. He knows what this is going to be about, and he’s not looking forward to it. He waits another minute for a few more guys to get their greetings in, then lets Jamie lead him down the hallway and around a corner. Once they’re out of sight, Jamie pulls him into a small conference room and closes the door behind them.

John looks up at him, uncertain, and Jamie’s expression softens. God, he’s so… John had forgotten the way Jamie used to look at him when they were alone, like John fucking hung the moon. It’s been a long time since he’s seen it, and it’s almost like a physical force, holding him in place.

“Hey,” Jamie says.

“Hey.” John feels weirdly numb.

“It’s good to see you.” Jamie’s eyes are wide, and he bites his lip, almost shyly. “You look great.”

John exhales. “So do you.”

Jamie’s not a pin-up guy by any stretch, more the sort John’s mom always called ruggedly handsome. The beard accentuates his jawline, and his hair falls softly over his ears in blond tendrils. John is struck with the impulse to slide his fingers into it like he used to.

As if reading his mind, Jamie reaches out and brushes the hair back from John’s forehead. “You cut your hair.”

“You grew yours.” John reaches out too, runs his fingers over the hair on Jamie’s cheek. It’s softer than it looks. Jamie’s eyes flutter closed at the touch, and John draws his hand away again. “How long did it take you to grow that out?”

“Couple of months. I started it for Movember and just never shaved it off.”

“It’s…” John pauses, swallows down the emotion rising in his throat. “It’s a good look for you.”

“Yeah?” Jamie takes a step closer, smiling softly.

John feels caught in his gaze. He can’t look away. “Yeah.”

Jamie leans forward and kisses him.

For a long moment, John loses himself in the familiar feeling of Jamie’s lips against his, the way their bodies fit together. Jamie’s beard feels strange against his chin, but everything else is the same, down to the way Jamie smells and tastes. It’s like something out of a dream.

“I missed you,” Jamie is saying against John’s lips now, so softly John nearly misses it. “I missed you so much, Johnny.”

Jamie is the only one who calls him that. It jolts John right back to reality.

“Don’t,” John says, pulling away from him. “You can’t just come back in here like this and expect me to—”

“I know, I said I was gonna call, but I thought it would be cool to surprise you. I just… I have to tell you how much I need you, okay?” His hands hold either side of John’s face, and he presses their foreheads together. “I love you.”

“Fuck, just…” John closes his eyes. There have been so many nights when he would have given anything to have Jamie in front of him like this, saying these words. He’s not completely immune to them now, either — the space Jamie used to occupy in his chest is still rough and raw, even though his new relationship with Sherlock is taking root.

Sherlock… John really needs to get his head on straight before he does something he regrets.

He steps back, puts himself an arm’s length away. “Jamie, look — we need to talk. I just… I can’t right now. I have a game, and… God, how are you even here?”

“We had a couple of days off.” Jamie moves closer again. His fingers graze John’s cheek, leaving a warm trail of tingling skin. “I thought maybe if we saw each other, it’d be different, you know? We can spend some time together, see if we can make it work again.”

John takes that hand, squeezes it once, and gently pushes it away. “It doesn’t — this isn’t going to work. We never see each other, and that’s not going to change.”

“Johnny—”

“And I’m tired of hiding, okay? I don’t want to be anyone’s dirty little secret anymore.”

“It’s not fair, I know. I just… I’m fucking miserable without you.”

“Yeah, well, I was miserable for an entire semester because of you, but I picked my ass up and moved on.” John looks up at him. “I just started seeing someone, actually.”

Jamie stares at him, his expression stricken. “You’re dating someone? Since when?”

“Since right before the winter break. It’s new, but it’s… it’s good.”

Jamie’s expression shifts to something almost desperate. “Okay, I… Look, just give me a chance, please? Come out with me tonight after the game. Talk to me, let me show you how much I still care about you, how much I want this.”

John knows himself, knows both of them well enough to guess where such a night would likely end. He shakes his head. “The guys will all want to go out after, you know that. Come hang with the team if you want.”

Jamie looks like he wants to argue, but he doesn’t. He nods. “Okay, I… I will. But will you at least think about it?”

John sighs. “It’s not… I don’t want you to think there’s a chance here. Okay? Because there isn’t. I need you to accept that.”

Jamie stares back at him, then presses his hands over his face. “Oh my god, I… I can’t just stop loving you.”

“It seemed like you did back in September.” John tries not to sound bitter, but fuck it. This isn’t fair. “And it took me months, but I moved on.”

“I know. Shit. I’m so sorry.” Jamie’s jaw clenches, and goddammit, if he starts crying, John’s not sure he can handle it.

“Me too,” John says, and takes a step backward. “I gotta go. I’ll see you later, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Jamie says, his voice so soft and broken that John has to turn away. He opens the door and doesn’t look back, leaves Jamie there in the room, alone.

He heads straight to the toilets when he gets back to the dressing room. His heart is pounding and his stomach is twisted into knots, and goddamn, this was not what he needed tonight. He gives himself a couple of minutes to calm down, then splashes water on his face and goes to get geared up.

“Where’ve you been?” Greg asks.

John shoots him a dark look in response.

“Someone hasn’t checked his texts,” Greg says, grinning.

John fishes his phone out of his pocket. He’d put it in do-not-disturb mode for the strategy meeting and hadn’t had a chance to switch it back on. He thumbs it on and scrolls through the messages on the screen.

There’s one from Molly and it contains a photo. He taps on it to open it, then gapes. It’s a selfie of Molly and Sherlock with the caption Surprise! They’re standing in front of the Gremlins Gear Shop in what is clearly the arena concourse above. They’re smiling at the camera, heads together, and they’re both wearing forest green team jerseys. John’s gaze catches on the “C” stitched on Sherlock’s jersey, and he sucks in a sharp breath.

Sherlock is here.

He’s flooded with a blend of relief and apprehension. Relief because if there was ever a night he wanted to see Sherlock, it’s this one, and apprehension because… well, Jamie is definitely going to see him with Sherlock tonight. John has no idea how that is going to go.

John looks up at Greg, trying to keep his expression bland. “Did you know about this?”

Greg shakes his head. “Not until I saw the picture. I mean, I knew she was coming because I got her the tickets, but I didn’t know he was coming back early.” He lowers his voice. “Pretty sweet, eh?”

“Yeah,” John replies, staring down at the phone. “I… I’ll be right back.” He heads out of the room with the phone clenched tightly in his hand.

Sherlock picks up on the first ring, and John doesn’t even wait for him to say hello. “Nice jersey.”

“It was an impulse purchase. Molly may have had something to do with it.”

“I told you I’d get you wearing it.” God, the idea of Sherlock in John’s jersey just… He grins. “I can’t wait to see that in person.” He’s pretty sure his tone conveys and then I can’t wait to fuck you in it.

Sherlock chuckles. “I’ll bet.”

“I can’t believe you’re here,” John says, leaning against the wall. “When did you get back?”

“A couple of hours ago. I got a flight out this morning.” There’s a lot of background noise behind him, even though the arena has only just opened.

“How’d you get out of the party?”

“I told my parents I had an opportunity to get back into the lab early and get some research done.”

“I thought the lab was closed until the fourth?”

“They don’t know that.”

John laughs. “Am I a bad influence?”

“Oh, hardly. So, will I get to see you tonight after the game?”

For a split second, John considers suggesting they meet back at Sherlock’s apartment. It would be so easy to wrap himself up in Sherlock’s arms and avoid the whole mess. But no, John can’t do that. He needs Jamie to see him with Sherlock, to show Jamie he really has moved on.

“Yeah, the whole team’s going out. I’ll text you the details after, okay?”

“Good luck tonight, John.”

“Thanks. And Sherlock… thanks for coming.”

John cuts the call and closes his eyes. His emotions are roiling, all over the place. He’s nowhere near mentally ready for this game, and warmups start in… shit, twenty minutes. He has to pull himself together.

The guys chatter excitedly while they finish getting dressed all around him. John is quiet, trying to focus on the game ahead. For the next few hours, nothing else will matter. The only person who pays him any attention is Greg, who seems to be watching him carefully.

If Greg notices he’s a wreck, at least he has the decency not to say anything.

The moment John’s blades hit the ice, all of the built-up tension and anxiety fade away. This — the ice beneath him and the stick in his hand, the armor of the uniform on his body and the crispness of the air in his lungs — this is everything. This is home, the place where he knows who he is and what he has to do.

He pours everything he’s got into the game. He wins face-offs, he digs in in front of the net, and he hits hard. He takes two penalties, draws three more, and scores on the power play. He smiles back, all teeth, when that big fucker from Bellingham calls him a faggot to his face, and clotheslines the guy when the ref isn’t looking. The crowd cheers in appreciation, and he imagines Sherlock is up there somewhere, rolling his eyes at all this pointless violence.

Jamie is probably cheering him on from the press box, but John isn’t going to think about that.

They’re all stiff and out of practice after the long break, but John drags the team behind him, and they win by a single goal in the last five minutes of the third. It’s Dimms with the go-ahead, a hard slapshot from the blue line, and John’s glad for it. Dimms’ family is in the stands tonight, so it’s good that he gets to put one in net while they’re here to see it.

The guys are exuberant after, and everyone is ready to go celebrate — it’s New Year’s Eve, after all. There’s a bar they’re all going to, one that knows they’re coming. John texts the info first to Sherlock and then to Jamie, and has to sit down and put his head in his hands for a moment after.

“Good game,” Greg says, nudging him with a shoulder.

John looks up. “I have to tell you something.”

Greg is gaping at him two minutes later. “Shit, bro. That’s like, reality show level drama.”

“I know,” John whines. “What am I gonna do?”

Greg drapes an arm around his shoulders. “Look, Sholtzy’s not stupid. He’s not gonna make a scene in front of the guys. He’ll see you and Sherlock together, and he’ll get the message.”

“Okay.” John sighs. “I just… how crazy is it that after an entire semester of getting almost no action, two people who want to date me show up on the same night?”

“The universe has a fucked-up sense of humor sometimes. You’ll be fine. What did Sherlock say about it?”

John frowns. “I haven’t had a chance to tell him.”

Greg’s eyebrows almost disappear into his hairline. “Okay, wow. Well, good luck with that, I guess.” He stands and goes to pack his duffel.

John’s stomach ties itself into a complicated knot. “Shit, I’ve already fucked this up, haven’t I?”

“If you have, don’t expect me to take your side with Molly. You’re my best bro and all, but I’ve got a good thing going there.”

John groans into his hands.

The bar is already lively when they get there. It’s still an hour before midnight, but everyone’s in full party mode, totally lit. John is going to need one or five drinks just to get through this.

He sees Jamie first, standing with a group of the guys he knows, clearly reliving part of the game. John stays back, looks around, but as far as he can tell, Sherlock isn’t there yet.

He heads to the bar and gets himself a drink, and finds Greg. Greg’s waiting too, drink in hand. He glances over at where Jamie is standing, the center of attention.

“Is it weird, having him here?”

“So fucking weird,” John replies. “Can I ask you something?” Greg nods, and John continues, “Do you really ever get over someone?”

Greg sighs. “God, I hope so. I’m trying to imagine Ally showing up out of the blue and saying she wanted me back. Even after she cheated on me, there was a time when I would have taken her back and been grateful for it.”

“And now?”

Greg snorts. “Now I’d say, fuck you and the chlamydia you gave me.”

John winces. He hadn’t known about that. “Well, I’m definitely not going back to him.”

“You’re damn right you’re not,” Greg says. “Look, I know it’s none of my business, but Sherlock is so much better for you than Sholtzy.”

“I know,” John says, almost smiling now. “You don’t have to convince me. I’m done with him. I just have to find a way to convince him of that.”

Greg glances past John’s shoulder. “I think a way just walked in.”

John turns to look: Sherlock and Molly are heading toward them. They’re both dressed for the occasion, apparently having left their jerseys in the car. Sherlock’s tailored clothes are probably more expensive than John’s entire wardrobe, and Molly looks stunning in a form-fitting black dress, with her hair swept up on top of her head. John glances to the side to catch Greg’s reaction, and is not disappointed.

His belly does a pleasant little flip when his eyes meet Sherlock’s, and he grins. He still can’t quite believe Sherlock is really here, that he came back early just to see John tonight. It’s all John can do not to dash across the room and throw his arms around him.

Sherlock stops a proper distance from him, his gaze dancing around the crowd. He’s not sure if he should touch John in front of the team, John realizes. If John wasn’t worried about Jamie’s reaction, John would consider pulling Sherlock right in and kiss him in front of everyone.

Molly steps forward to give Greg a quick kiss. John knows they saw each other last night, and he has a moment of sharp resentment that it’s so easy for them. He looks up at Sherlock again, though, and it fades away.

“Hey,” John says, and pulls him into a quick hug, one arm slid around Sherlock’s waist. “C’mon, let’s get you a drink.”

They head toward the bar and order.

“That was quite a game,” Sherlock says while they wait.

“Did you enjoy it?”

“Yes.” Sherlock purses his lips, looking thoughtful. “I mean, I obviously couldn’t count events accurately, but given that the team corsi-for percentage was definitely less than 50, the fact that your on-ice shooting percentage was above 10 percent — well, to my estimation, anyway — I’d say you were largely responsible for that win.”

John stares at him, open-mouthed. “Wait, what?”

“Well,” Sherlock says, waving a hand, “I know you aren’t supposed to say that, that it’s always a team thing, but I think I’m allowed to be biased.”

John doesn’t know why he’s surprised that Sherlock suddenly knows hockey analytics; he's a constant wonder. “Yeah,” he says, letting a smile break over his face. “You are.”

Sherlock casts a little sideways glance at him, and John shakes his head, grinning. “What?” Sherlock asks.

John takes advantage of the distance from everyone else to lean into Sherlock a little. “I’m just so glad you’re here.”

“Me too,” Sherlock replies. “This seems more entertaining than rubbing elbows with the one percent, like I was supposed to do tonight.”

John laughs, though he’s pretty sure Sherlock isn’t kidding.

They make their way across to where the rest of the team is gathered, winding through the ever-larger crowd. John catches sight of Jamie in the middle of a group of guys, and realizes he still hasn’t talked to Sherlock about this. Shit.

“So there’s something I need to tell you,” John begins.

Jamie looks up then, looks right at John and Sherlock from across the room, and his eyes narrow.

“That’s your ex, isn’t it?” Sherlock says quietly.

John turns to stare at him. “How did you—”

“And he still has feelings for you.”

John stops Sherlock with a hand on his arm. “How the hell do you know that?”

“It’s obvious,” Sherlock says, still staring at Jamie. John can feel him tense up, can see the way he shrinks back into himself. John has never seen him show a hint of insecurity until now, and it makes his heart clench in his chest. Sherlock swallows. “Look at his body language, the way he’s holding himself, practically at attention like a solider. His facial expression alone — he’s trying to figure out what you could possibly see in me, compared to him.” Sherlock pauses. “He’s also self-conscious, doesn’t want the people around him to know he’s so affected. His pose is casually, but overly so. He’s overcompensating. He’s—” Sherlock frowns and looks away. “You weren’t expecting me to come back tonight, were you? You were planning to talk to him. My presence here is a complication… an unwelcome one.”

“No,” John says, pulling him a little closer. “I wasn’t expecting either of you to be here tonight. But that doesn’t matter. You’re my boyfriend now, and he’s just gonna have to deal. Okay?”

Sherlock nods and exhales slowly. “Okay.”

“C’mon,” John says, tugging Sherlock by the arm. “Let’s get this over with.”

They cross over to where Jamie is standing with Dimms, Jacko, and Weaver. Jamie’s eyes dart back and forth between John and Sherlock, and yeah — everything Sherlock said seems absolutely spot-on. Jamie looks away and seems to take a soothing breath, like he’s steeling himself.

“This is Sherlock,” John tells them. He considers adding, “my boyfriend,” but they haven’t actually talked about how out Sherlock wants to be in front of the team.

“Hey, man,” Dimms says, and shoots John a curious look. The others just nod and smile, like it hasn’t even occurred to them that Sherlock might be anything other than a friend.

Jamie nods, his mouth flat and tight. He looks a little like he’s reeling from it, actually. John has a brief flash of guilt: is he being cruel? He did tell Jamie he was seeing someone. Jamie would have to have known it would be likely John would bring him here tonight, on New Year’s Eve. Jamie looks away, jaw clenched, and John can’t help feeling a little bit awful about it. He glances over at Sherlock, who is watching Jamie too, with a guarded expression.

A few other guys join them, and the conversation turns back to the game. Sherlock listens along, though he’s fidgeting enough that John starts to feel guilty. He turns toward Sherlock, intending to suggest a change of topic, when he sees a familiar sneering face just past Sherlock’s shoulder.

“Um,” John says pointedly.

Sherlock turns to where he’s looking, and finds himself face-to-face with Dr. Moriarty.

“Well, well,” Moriarty says with his usual toothy smile. “This is unexpected.”

Sherlock blinks in surprise. “Dr. Moriarty. Unexpected how?”

Moriarty chuckles and looks around at the group of hockey players. “Well, maybe not so unexpected. Where else would you be on New Year’s Eve but out on the town, celebrating with your boyfriend and his teammates after a big win.” His gaze settles on John, as if waiting to gauge his reaction.

There’s an immediate peal of laughter from a couple of the guys, then the group goes completely silent. John can’t look away from Moriarty, can’t bear to see what expressions might lie on his teammates’ faces. His heart pounds in his chest, but he manages to keep his responding smile cool.

“Wait, is he serious?” Weaver asks after a moment, glancing over at John. “This is your boyfriend?”

“Yeah,” John replies, not breaking Moriarty’s gaze. Might as well commit himself to it now. “He is.”

There’s another long, awkward moment, and then Dimms steps forward to slap Sherlock on the shoulder.

“Sweet, bro. Guess we’ll be seeing a lot more of you, then.”

“Uh, yeah, for sure,” Weaver says, nodding at Sherlock. He glances at John again, his expression apologetic.

Jacko and a few of the others are still staring at John, open-mouthed. John had thought more of the team suspected he was gay, but apparently not.

“Wait a fucking minute,” Jamie says. They all turn to see him glaring at Moriarty. “Did you just intentionally out these two without their permission?”

Moriarty feigns surprise. “Did I? Oh, dear. I apologize.”

“I don’t know who the fuck you think you are—” Jamie begins, and takes a step forward.

Moriarty laughs and steps back, holding up his hands. “No harm intended, gentlemen. And apparently none done. I’ll just leave you to your celebrations. See you in my office day after tomorrow, Sherlock.” He smirks once more, then turns and walks away.

John turns back to see Jamie watching him with clear concern.

“Fuck,” Jamie says, shaking his head. He looks pale, on the verge of panic, like he was the one who was just outed. Maybe he’s worried that’s coming next.

“Look, it was an asshole thing for him to do,” John says, “but it’s not like we were really keeping it a secret. Right?” He looks over at Sherlock. Sherlock shrugs noncommittally, though his expression is still one of concern. John takes his hand and squeezes it, and smiles.

“Well, I didn’t know,” Jacko says, flushing a little now, “but like, whatever. It’s cool.”

“Me either,” Backy adds, then bursts into a grin. “But dude, if I had known? I could totally have set you up with my roommate. He’s been slutting it up all semester.”

There’s a burst of embarrassed laughter from some of the guys at this, along with a few raunchy comments.

John waits as long as he can bear before looking at Jamie again. His expression is carefully blank until his eyes meet John’s, and then, just for a moment, there is a flash of raw emotion on his face: sadness and loss and envy, but also a little pride too. John nods at him, and Jamie looks away.

The time ticks down to midnight, and the guys who brought their girlfriends go looking for them in the crowd. John pulls Sherlock over to the corner of the room, determined to get a midnight kiss.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Yeah.” Sherlock looks around, almost nervously. “I’m not used to this. Usually when I’m around this many people drinking, I’m playing the part of dutiful son.”

“You okay with playing the part of my boyfriend?”

“It’s not playing,” Sherlock retorts, then seems to realize John meant it as a joke. “Sorry, I just… I’ve never been someone’s boyfriend before. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.”

The noise around them ratchets up, the crowd growing excited for the countdown.

John smiles up at him. “I haven’t done this either, you know. Not where everyone could see.”

“So I guess it’s good that we’re doing it together.” Sherlock reaches out, almost tentatively, and takes John’s hand. John reaches for him too, and lets Sherlock pull him in close.

John kisses Sherlock at midnight, amidst the cheers of his friends and teammates. It feels amazing. When he steps back again, Sherlock’s normally shy smile is radiant.

“So when do you have to head back?” John asks Jamie half an hour later, when the team has commandeered a set of tables in the corner.

“Have to be at practice on the second,” Jamie says. He’s been sipping a beer slowly for a while now. “I’ll probably start driving back in the morning.”

John takes a deep breath. “Thanks for sticking up for us before. Sherlock’s advisor is a serious asshole.”

“That was his advisor?” Jamie winces. “Shit, I probably made it worse. Sorry.”

“Nah, he deserved it.” John shrugs. “At least the guys who didn’t already know were cool.”

“So you’re out, for real. I’m happy for you.”

“You don’t sound happy.”

Jamie snorts. “Yeah, well. It’s not exactly what I hoped would happen tonight.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“No, I… shit.” Jamie presses a hand over his face. “God, I came all this way and made a complete ass of myself. And like, I know that you’re better off with him, but I still—”

Wiggy sits next to them then, sloshing his drink all over the table, and Jamie doesn’t finish the thought.

Not long after that, Jamie leaves. John waits until the others have said their goodbyes, then hugs him hard. Jamie clings for a moment, then whispers, “See ya later, Johnny.”

John watches him go with a lump in his throat.

“Interesting,” Sherlock says when John makes his way back over.

“Hmmm?”

“He came here thinking he was going to win you back, didn’t he?”

John hesitates a moment, then nods. “Yeah, he did. He showed up right before the game, totally surprised me. He, uh…” John pauses, but he needs to tell Sherlock all of it. “He kissed me and told me he loved me, that he wanted me back. And you know, a few months ago, I would’ve said yes, but… That’s not what I want anymore. I told him about you. But I don’t think he really believed it was over until he saw us together.”

“Is it over?” Sherlock asks.

John turns to look at him: Sherlock’s expression is completely earnest. It strikes John that he’s asking out of curiosity and genuine concern for John now, not out of jealousy or self-preservation. John has known for a while that Sherlock is someone he could fall in love with, and fall hard, but something in this moment seals it. He doesn’t deserve Sherlock, but somehow, he’s got a chance to have him.

“Yeah. It really is.”

“Good.” A small smile plays at the corner of Sherlock’s lips, one that’s playful, even suggestive.

John feels that smile hit him like a physical force. He’s been so overwhelmed with emotion tonight that he hasn’t thought about sex at all, has barely entertained the idea of getting to touch Sherlock when the night is over. Suddenly, it’s all he can think about.

John nudges Sherlock’s foot under the table, slides the toe of his shoe up Sherlock’s calf. He sees the spark behind Sherlock’s eyes, the way his pupils dilate ever so slightly, the way his lips part and his cheeks flush. It’s amazing, really. John hasn’t thought to look before.

He wets his lower lip with the tip of his tongue, holding Sherlock’s gaze. “I still want to see you in that jersey, you know.”

“And nothing else?” Sherlock replies, his tone utterly casual.

John grins. “Oh my god, yes.” He leans in close enough to whisper, “There’s still a lot of stuff we haven’t tried, you know.”

Sherlock’s lips twitch into a smirk. “I’ve been doing some research and came up with a substantial list of sex acts I’d like to try. I narrowed it down to a top ten, so I thought we might start there. Well, some of those require equipment we probably don’t have, so we’d have to wait until the stores open again day after tomorrow, but still—”

“Please take me home,” John says through gritted teeth. “Before I come in my pants just listening to this.”

Sherlock’s lips graze John’s ear. “That’s number eight on the list.”

John looks around, then adjusts his dick as discreetly as he can before standing. He holds his jacket in front of him in a way he hopes looks casual. “Can we at least make it back to your place first?”

Sherlock stands and turns John toward the door with a hand at the small of his back. “Anyone you want to say good night to?”

“With a raging boner? Hell, no.”

Sherlock laughs and gives him a small push toward the door. “Well, come on, then.”

*****

February 14

It’s after 9:00 pm by the time the door finally opens. John looks up from the chair he’s claimed as his own, and watches Sherlock look around the room. He takes in the set table, the now-cold-food, and the bottle of wine that’s already half-drunk. John tries very hard not to glare at him.

“It’s Valentine’s Day,” Sherlock says at last.

“Excellent deduction,” John replies, and manages a tight smile.

Sherlock looks crestfallen. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t… I meant to… shit.”

He looks like a kicked puppy standing there in his coat, scarf in his hand, messenger bag slung across his shoulder. His blue eyes, often so cool and calculating, now look wide and remorseful.

John sighs. He can’t stay mad at him for longer than five minutes. It’s going to be a problem. “Just sit. We can reheat it.”

It was just pasta and chicken and vegetables anyway — the only thing John really knows how to cook. The wine was $10 from the specialty shop, a splurge for someone on John’s budget, but something that probably wouldn’t be fit to cook with in the house Sherlock grew up in. So not a huge deal, really, just… just a Valentine’s Day date John has been planning for weeks.

Sherlock sits, and takes in the spread before him. He looks even more guilty now, which assuages John a little. He picks up a fork (John notes he doesn’t rearrange the silverware this time, so score a point there) and starts eating without preamble.

It’s utterly unfair how radiant he looks sitting across the table from John, even with the cloud of tension hanging between them. He eats quietly for a solid ten minutes, until John finally can’t take it anymore.

“So what were you doing that was so important you forgot about our date?”

Sherlock winces. “I was in the lab. Dr. Moriarty had some sort of breakthrough this afternoon and insisted we stay late and work through the data and... I lost track of time.”

“Right,” John says, his voice flat. Moriarty, of course. His anger at Sherlock fades considerably. “He knew exactly what he was doing.”

Sherlock picks up his wine glass and takes a large sip. “I suspect he did.”

“Your advisor hates me.” The feeling is mutual, but John doesn’t need to say that.

“He hates the idea of you,” Sherlock says. “He had my undivided attention before you came along. I was at his beck and call.”

“Wait,” John says, eyes narrowing at Sherlock. “Are you saying he’s jealous of me? Of, like…” He gestures between them.

“No, not like that.”

“Huh.” John’s not an idiot. He’s seen the way Moriarty looks at Sherlock, like he’s something he wants to eat alive.

“I think he liked knowing he could control me. He used to call me at midnight and tell me to come to the lab, and I would. And that doesn’t happen anymore.” Sherlock looks up, eyes crinkling in amusement.

The last time Moriarty had called late at night, they’d been a little busy. Sherlock had called him back after, and when Moriarty complained, had bluntly told him he couldn’t well answer the phone with John’s dick in his mouth. John had laughed for a solid half-hour.

“Well, fuck him,” John says. “He’s not going to ruin my Valentine’s Day.” John pushes his chair back and stands, then starts unbuttoning his shirt.

Sherlock stares up at him, eyes going even wider. “What are you doing?”

“Getting my Valentine’s Day present.” John drops his shirt on the floor.

“I didn’t… I mean, I intended to get you something, but then—”

“Oh, don’t worry. You’re giving me something.” John unfastens his pants, then pushes them down, underwear and all. He holds his arms out to the side and stands there in the middle of Sherlock’s living room, naked but for his socks.

Sherlock gapes at him, wine glass still held in mid-air.

“I already unwrapped it for you.” John reaches down, gives his dick a long, slow stroke. “Are you just gonna sit there and watch me play with it?”

“Come here,” Sherlock says, voice suddenly a hoarse whisper. He pushes his chair back from the table. “Please.”

John crosses to stand in front of him and Sherlock pulls him in close, presses his face into John’s belly. His hands grip John’s hips, then slide around to squeeze his ass. He makes a whimpering sound against John’s skin, then ducks his head to mouth over his hipbones.

“That’s more like it,” John says.

“What did I do to deserve you?” Sherlock asks, lips slowly moving closer to where John really wants them.

John chuckles. “Nah, the question is, what are you going to do, now that you have me?”

Sherlock glances up at him and smirks. The next thing John knows, his bare ass is on the table, and Sherlock is seated between his spread knees. Sherlock slides his hands up John’s thighs, then leans forward to take John’s cock in his mouth.

“Fuck, yeah,” John says. He tangles his fingers in Sherlock’s hair.

Sherlock pushes down once, twice, and again, taking John in deeper each time. He makes a soft sound, then pauses to press his fingers in at the hinge of his own jaw.

“You okay?” John asks.

Sherlock doesn’t respond; he just takes John even deeper. His throat is hot and tight around the head of John’s cock, and fuck. This is new and amazing and John is definitely, completely in love.

This seems like a weird time to say that, though, so instead he stays with “so fucking good” and “your mouth is incredible” and “oh my god please put something in me right fucking now.”

He leans back on the table, one hand landing right in the middle of a plate of pasta, but he doesn’t really care. He spreads his thighs as Sherlock works one spit-slick finger into him, angling it up with just the right amount of pressure. There are white spots in the edges of John’s vision now, and he’s close, so close.

So naturally, Sherlock stops. John swears in a couple of different languages as Sherlock pulls back and jerks him slowly with one hand. He looks up to see Sherlock smirking at him from between his own thighs.

“Oh, fuck you,” John groans. “You’ve been doing research again.”

“Some find that delaying orgasm results in a significantly more intense climax.” Sherlock’s fingers twist slightly against the head of John’s cock. He swipes his thumb over the slit, spreading the fluid pooling there.

“Some find teasing to be really aggravating,” John retorts.

“It’s Valentine’s Day. Humor me.”

John retracts his hand from the dish of cold pasta, and grimaces. “If we’re taking a break, could we maybe move this to the bedroom?”

John winds up on his hands and knees, with Sherlock pounding into him from behind. He’s pretty sure he’s going to have handprint-shaped bruises on his hips in the morning, and skating at 6:00 am is going to be a little bit of a challenge, but he has zero fucks to give right now. Sherlock is hitting him just right on every thrust, and John’s remarkably close to coming untouched, which he’s never done in his life.

“Harder, come on,” he whines.

“John, I’m—”

Sherlock presses into him hard and goes still, moaning against John’s shoulder.

John isn’t going to scream. He really, really isn’t.

“Sorry, sorry,” Sherlock says, and reaches under John to get a hand on his dick.

It doesn’t take much.

They curl up together afterward, slightly sweaty and gross, but too satisfied to do anything about it.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Sherlock says through a yawn.

“It turned out pretty well, eh?” John stretches under the sheet and curls onto his side. “What times’it?”

“Eleven.”

“Shit, I gotta get up in six hours. Where’s my phone?”

He gets up long enough to clean himself off, brush his teeth, and set his alarm. Sherlock lounges, watching him move around the room. When John finally gets back in bed, Sherlock’s expression is thoughtful.

“What?” John asks, tugging the sheets up around him.

“I was just thinking that you haven’t slept at your apartment in a week.”

John blinks, but yeah: that’s about right. He’s stopped by to change clothes and pick up a few things, but he’s slept here every night in recent memory. The thing is, he likes sleeping here. He’s gone on a roadie every other weekend as it is, and they both have long days. They could go a week without seeing each other if John didn’t spend every spare moment here. If it weren’t for practice and roadies, he might not even see Greg that often, and—

John’s stomach clenches a little. This is what he does: he gets clingy fast. He doesn’t know if Sherlock even wants to spend this much time with him. Hell, John wormed a key out of him barely a week into January and has come over without being invited ever since. Sherlock hasn’t complained. Yet.

Maybe that’s what’s happening now. Shit.

John takes a shaky breath. “Is that… I mean, I guess I could go if you want.”

“John—”

“We’ve got a roadie this weekend, so I’ll be out of your hair for a few days and—”

“John, no, that’s not… I want you here.” Sherlock kisses his forehead. “It feels empty when you’re gone.”

“Okay, I… good. So.” John huffs a little, still uncertain. “But if I’m around too much, you can tell me to go. I won’t be offended.” That’s a total lie, but anyway.

Sherlock sighs. “That’s not what I’m saying.”

A few seconds pass, and Sherlock doesn’t elaborate. John presses his face into Sherlock’s bare shoulder. “Then what are you saying?”

“You don’t have to go. Like… ever.”

John looks up at him. “Wait, are you asking—” He cuts himself off before he can even finish the phrase. If he’s wrong about this, it’d make things hella awkward. “I’m not sure what you’re saying here.”

“You hate your apartment, and right now you aren’t even there enough to justify paying the rent. Splitting the rent here would probably be cheaper, and—”

“You’re asking me to move in?” John goes up on one elbow to stare down at him.

“It seems like a reasonable solution.” Sherlock shrugs, as if he hasn’t just significantly leveled up their relationship.

A smile slowly breaks across John’s face. “Yeah, that’d… I mean, my lease is month to month, and I don’t have much stuff there anyway. It came furnished, so it’s just my clothes and books and hockey shit.” He pauses, lets it sink in for a moment: his boyfriend just asked him to move in. “I could probably start moving stuff over next week, after the roadie.”

“Good.” Sherlock yawns and shifts onto his side, closing his eyes. “Oh, I have to cover for Molly’s lab section tomorrow night, so I’ll be back late.”

John blinks. Apparently that’s the end of the discussion. He settles down again, spoons up against Sherlock’s back and slings an arm over his chest. “Yeah, okay. Maybe I’ll get dinner with Greg.”

“Gonna miss you this weekend.”

“Yeah?” John snuggles in closer. “I’ll be back late Saturday night. I can come over first thing Sunday morning.”

“Or you could come straight here from the bus and wake me up.”

John gives in to the temptation to sink his teeth into the soft skin on Sherlock’s shoulder. “I could do that.”

He’s pretty sure his friends will say they’re moving too fast, but something about this feels right — like he was meant to live here with Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street. They’re in each other’s pockets as much as two very different people can be. He’s already thinking about the summer and how much of it they can manage to spend together. He’ll be a senior next year and Sherlock will be finishing his dissertation. With any luck, they’ll graduate together, and then...

And then, John has no idea. But for now, he’s going to enjoy it.

*****

FIN