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Forty-four

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Forty-four.

Forty-four.

John sighs, lifting the glass to his lips and tasting the light bubbles of the beer as it slides down his throat. The pub is fairly noisy, it’s still early but it’s busy, even for a Wednesday.

He lowers the glass again and rests his elbow on the bar, his chin in his hand. He’s watching Greg chatting to Molly; she’s wearing the dress she had on for that Christmas party a few years back, which feels like centuries ago now.

John watches Greg smile as Molly giggles at something, his eyes bright and mirthful as he looks at her. John thinks she and Greg would make a charming couple, and they both deserve to be happy, hopefully with each other. The divorce had sapped more of Greg’s confidence than John knew he’d admit, so he’s glad that Greg has finally plucked up the courage to chat up Molly.

Molly looks very pretty when she giggles, John thinks fondly. She’s gotten a lot more confident since Sherlock’s been back, seems she’s finally over her little crush. She still gives in to the sly git too easily when he wants something, usually spare body parts. She still lets Sherlock manipulate her too much, John thinks, but there’s much more assurance behind her words when she tells him off now. Greg, on the other hand, has never had any qualms about telling Sherlock off when he thinks it’s needed. It’s strange to think that without the infuriating genius, John probably wouldn’t know either of them.

The DI has been a good friend, John thinks, being supportive without prying. Greg knows what John went through when Sherlock “died”, and he knows more than he probably should about the whole thing with Mary as well.

John shudders a little, still remembering how it had eventually played out at the airport.

Bloody Mycroft, insisting in that smarmy voice of his that he would be in touch, ushering Sherlock into the waiting car. Then the car had pulled away, taking Sherlock somewhere John wasn’t able to follow.

He and Mary had gone straight back to the flat that had never quite felt like home. John had been reeling from almost losing Sherlock again, desperate to be by his friend’s side but stuck instead with his lying wife. They’d argued, Mary standing there, her arms crossed above her swollen belly. She’d seen something she didn’t like in the conversation between him and Sherlock on the tarmac, and she was determined to keep pulling on the thread until everything unravelled. Then the pieces of Mycroft’s elaborate plan fell into place – the gun in her hand, the crash as the armed response team entered, and the look in her eyes when Mycroft’s men finally escorted her away. The revelation that the pregnancy was fake.

John’s lip curls in disgust, an involuntary sneer as he remembers her defiance, her insistence that she still loved him, even as she was heading to a secure prison cell somewhere. Any love he had had for her had vanished when she shot his best friend, he reflects sourly.

He wishes Sherlock were here, he still hasn’t seen him since the airport tarmac. He doesn’t even know if Sherlock is back at Baker Street, or if he’s off working for Mycroft, or what. John misses him, misses fingers in the freezer and 3am concertos. He misses giggles at crime scenes, and lazy Sundays reading the papers in his tatty old chair, and even Sherlock’s dark moods and uncontrollable energy when he’s bored.

He’s known for a long time that what he and Sherlock have is more than just close friendship, but he accepted a long time ago that that’s all it could ever be. The chance to say something, to address the depth of his feelings, to push past those unseen barriers preventing them from being more, never came. Then Sherlock jumped from Bart’s, Johnfell into Mary’s clutches and now…

A hand slaps him on the shoulder, wrenching him from his gloomy thoughts. John turns to see Mike Stamford’s jolly face, flushed a bit pink from the beer.

“You’re only forty-four John, everyone knows your forties are the new twenties!”

He winks at John, gesturing to the barman to bring them another round. John smiles back, unable to resist the unstoppable tide of cheer that Mike brings with him wherever he goes.

“Thanks, Mike,” he says, “but my twenties were pretty spectacular and I’m not sure I have the stamina to do all that again now.”

His words hold his usual self-deprecating humour, his smile feels almost genuine, but he can’t help the twinge of sadness from showing in his eyes. His face always gives him away and Mike sees it, his own grin softening.

“A lot’s changed since then,” Mike agrees, “and I’m not saying you should try to, ahem, conquer another continent, so to speak…”

He trails off, trying stifle his laughter as John rolls his eyes indulgently. Greg ambles over to join them, John introducing him and Mike as the fresh round of drinks arrives.

“So, what are we drinking to?” Greg asks, raising his pint. “Apart from John’s imminent mid-life crisis, of course,” he adds, smirking. John shoots him a half-hearted glare, laughing, and sticks up a friendly middle finger.

“Well, I was just reminding John of his past prowess,” Mike chuckles, “and his international reputation!”

John’s smile falters, he takes another sip of his drink somewhat hastily. Neither Greg nor Mike seem to notice.

“I reckon you’ve still got it, Captain Watson,” Greg says, nudging John’s side with his elbow, “you could take your pick of partners in here!”

He gestures around the crowded pub, and his choice of words isn’t lost on John. He’s never openly acknowledged his bisexuality, though he’s only had dates with women in the past few years. It just seemed easier, when he couldn’t have what he really wanted.

“I’ve not been Captain Watson for a while now, mate. I don’t think that would work,” John sighs, only part-mockingly.

“Course it would,” Greg argues, winking, “All the girls like a soldier!”

John’s throat briefly tries to close up, and he quickly swallows around the lump forming there. He coughs, choking a little on a mouthful of beer. It sits heavy in his stomach now, and he’s starting to feel a bit ill. Greg pats his back amiably, looking past him at Mike.

“I know, I know, it’s ’sailor’, not ‘soldier’,” Greg says, his hand still resting on John’s back. “I still think you’d pull without any trouble though.”

John huffs a somewhat mirthless laugh, as Greg drains his glass, wishes him a happy birthday and makes his way back towards Molly. John watches him go, wobbling a little as he leans down to whisper in Molly’s ear. She blushes and lightly slaps him in the shoulder, trailing her hand down his arm. Greg’s face lights up and he gently leads her to the door. Just before they leave, Molly says something to Greg, and crosses the pub to where John and Mike are leaning against the bar.

“Happy birthday, John,” she says softly, leaning in to kiss his cheek.

“Thanks Molls,” John mumbles. She gives his hand a quick squeeze and walks back to Greg, who grins and lifts a hand goodbye.

Mike sighs, checks his watch and drinks the last of his beer, and John does the same, ready to head out too. They grab their coats and shake hands outside the pub, the cold turning their breaths to puffs of smoke in the air.

John turns to walk away when he feels Mike’s hand on his shoulder. Mike looks thoughtful, opens his mouth to say something, and then changes his mind. John frowns good-naturedly at his friend, tilting his head in an unspoken question. Mike looks at him with determination, his eyes serious.

“Tell him, John. Don’t waste any more time.”

John scowls, confused and admittedly a little afraid at Mike’s implication.

“Um, tell who, what?” he asks, trying not to be belligerent. Mikes shakes his head, rolling his eyes.

“Just…. Tell him, John. That’s it.” Mike squeezes his shoulder reassuringly, just once, then he’s striding away, whistling merrily.

John’s still scowling. He’s feeling at a loose end, so he starts walking. Back to the soulless flat he used to share with an assassin. The thought makes his guts churn, but what choice does he have? He could ask Mycroft for help to sell it, he supposes, but that means going to Mycroft for help. He snorts at the idea; “Hi Mycroft, remember me? I’m the idiot who married one of Moriarty’s paid killers, you know, the one who shot your little brother? Any chance you could get me a decent offer on my ground floor, two-bedroom personal hell in the suburbs?”

Before he’s realised where he’s going, he finds himself wandering towards Baker Street. It’s the opposite direction from his and Mary’s flat, and some part of him recognises that it’s probably futile. He’s no idea what he’s hoping to find there, he just knows in his very bones that he can’t spend another minute in that god-awful place. He stuffs his hands in his pockets, his head down, and keeps walking. If he just stops thinking for a while, maybe all will become clear.

John reaches the familiar black door without really noticing. He glances up at the dark windows, there’s no light or movement coming from there. He hears gently violin music in his head, and shakes it violently to stop the memories suddenly rising unbidden. There’s obviously no-one home, so what’s he doing here?

He steps back from the door, turning to walk back the way he came, when something stops him. He can feel an inexplicable pull towards the door, and his subconscious seems to take over again, reaching to fit his old key in the lock. He’d never given it back to Mrs Hudson; when Sherlock was away it had kind of become a talisman, a physical representation of what he’d lost but one he couldn’t bear to part with. When Sherlock came back he simply never asked for it, so John kept it.

Now, he closes the heavy front door gently so as not to disturb his former landlady. He needn’t have worried, her flat is dark and apparently empty. She must be visiting her sister again, John thinks. He’s a little disappointed, Mrs Hudson might wilfully misunderstand the nature of his friendship with Sherlock, but she’s kind and she adores Sherlock despite his rudeness towards her and the bullet holes in her walls.

Smiling again, John slowly climbs the seventeen steps. His leg is beginning to hurt but he resolutely refuses to indulge in self-pity – he is not starting to need his cane again on his forty-fourth birthday, for God’s sake. He glances up at his old room at the top of the stairs, before pushing open the door to the main flat and shuffling in.

He flicks the lights on, closing the door gently behind him. The flat is exactly as he remembered, and of course the door would be unlocked. Sherlock never had been one for self-preservation, John thinks wryly.

But Sherlock isn’t here. It’s still very much his space, some experiment or other on the kitchen table, the low lights reflecting on the polished glassware. There’s books and newspapers strewn around, three kitchen knives embedded in the coffee table at various angles, evidence of Sherlock’s last bout of boredom, maybe? The flat holds Sherlock’s presence even when he’s gone and John can feel his absence pressing on his body, causing his chest to feel as though it’s crushing in on itself.

He crosses to his tatty old chair, running a hand over the thin, patchy fabric.

“Oh, Sherlock,” he whispers, “What do I do now?”

“Stay.”

The familiar voice comes from behind him, softer than John’s ever heard it. He spins around, shocked, to see Sherlock standing in the doorway. His eyes are bright, gazing into the flat but avoiding meeting John’s. Sherlock steps forward, clears his throat.

“I meant it, John. You are always welcome here,” Sherlock says, carefully taking off his scarf and coat. He hangs them up and pauses, his back to John. He seems uncertain, and as he turns around John can see the walls coming back up, the mask sliding back into place.

That won’t do, John thinks. Then he stops thinking.

He strides forward, wrapping his arms around Sherlock and tugging his body into John’s own. The embrace is awkward, Sherlock seems frozen in place and completely at a loss for what his hands should be doing. It feels a bit like the half-hug John pulled him into at his wedding, but John doesn’t want to think about that right now. He just wants to lose himself in having Sherlock in his arms, the closeness he’s been craving for what feels like eternity.

Finally he releases Sherlock, rubbing a hand through his hair, a little embarrassed at his loss of control. Sherlock still won’t meet his eyes, still seems unsure, but the line of his shoulders is less stiff and unyielding. He turns back around and reaches into his coat.

Sherlock pulls an envelope from one of the deep pockets, silently holds it out for John. John takes it, frowning in amusement, and Sherlock drops his hand and takes half a step back.

John turns over the envelope, inserting a finger under the seal and pulling it firmly open. Inside is a thick, expensive-looking piece of paper. He tugs it out gently, turning it over to see one word written there in Sherlock’s swooping cursive.

Dinner?

“Happy birthday, John.”

Sherlock’s voice is almost a whisper and he finally looks up to meet John’s eyes. John is rendered breathless and speechless by what he sees.

Sherlock’s expression is so open, the fierce emotion naked and bared for John to see. He knows his own face must look exactly the same, and his chest suddenly feels too full and there’s too much space between them.

He marches roughly into Sherlock’s personal space and reaches up with the hand not holding the piece of paper to those wild curls. He takes a quick breath, relishing the softness of the hair sliding through his fingers, as he gently presses his lips to Sherlock’s.

There’s a moment when a thought crosses John’s mind - he might’ve just leapt over the invisible line drawn between them and destroyed the very best thing he’s ever had in his life - then Sherlock tentatively responds to John’s kiss. It’s not much, just a tiny sigh of pleasure, but it’s all John needs.

He pulls back, keeping his hand in Sherlock’s hair, and looks up into that strikingly gorgeous face, at this man that he can longer be without. Sherlock’s eyes are still closed, a faint flush of colour highlighting his ridiculous cheekbones. His lips are parted just slightly, and as John watches he lifts a hand and touches his fingertips to them very gently.

John thinks Sherlock has never looked more beautiful. He opens his mouth to say so but stops, the words trapped on his tongue. Sherlock has dropped his hand and hesitantly leans forward, his eyes still closed, to find John’s mouth again. John eagerly stretches up to meet him, their lips brushing softly.

The kiss is perfect, John thinks, desperately trying to hold back the swell of heat that rushes straight into his groin, forcing himself to take it slowly, at a pace Sherlock can manage. He can feel Sherlock quivering, his entire body trembling as John wraps his other arm around Sherlock’s back and presses him into his chest.

John pulls away again to let Sherlock catch his breath, and to steady his own heaving chest. He lets his hand stroke down from Sherlock’s hair, across his cheek, his thumb brushing the corner of Sherlock’s mouth. He settles his hand on Sherlock’s jaw, gently rubbing soothing circles on a patch of pale skin just below his ear.

Sherlock lets out an unsteady breath, and finally opens his eyes. John’s left breathless once more, as he takes in the thin gleam of Sherlock’s blue-green irises around a well of black. His pupils are completely blown, his hair is mussed from John’s fingers, and he’s almost panting. The flush on his cheekbones has spread to the long expanse of his throat and John is immediately tempted to run his tongue over it, to see if he can feel its heat.

“I… John, I – I don’t… I mean, I didn’t...,” Sherlock starts, snarling at himself in frustration when the words fail to materialise for him. John smiles and holds his arm around Sherlock’s back, his hand at Sherlock’s neck. He refuses to let Sherlock leave, or over-think this. It’s clear that they both want it, the more John suspected was there but, until now, wasn’t brave enough to reach for.

“No, Sherlock,” he says quietly, instantly cursing himself when he sees the flash of agony in Sherlock’s eyes before Sherlock schools his face back to neutral. He starts to step out of John’s embrace.

“That’s not what I mean,” John sighs, tightening his grip on Sherlock to stop him moving away.

“What I mean is, no, you’re not in trouble. You haven’t done anything wrong. You’re also not going anywhere, except with me, to the bedroom.”

Sherlock’s eyes widen somewhat comically at this last, and John snickers to himself, before gathering his wits and stepping back a little to give Sherlock some space. Now he’s the one who’s uncertain. What if that’s not what Sherlock wants?

“Yes,” Sherlock breathes, “Yes, John.”

John’s answering smile could light all of London. He carefully sets the paper and envelope he’s been grasping all this time on the arm of the sofa and takes Sherlock’s hand, weaving those elegant violinist’s fingers into his own thick, stubby ones.

Sherlock’s mouth drops open and he looks down in something akin to amazement at their joined hands. He allows John to lead him to the bedroom, where his brain seems to come back online and his nerves become obvious again.

As John closes the door he sees Sherlock hovering by the bed, his hands fidgeting with the buttons on his shirt as he paces back and forth, clearly trying to work out what comes next. John watches him fondly, adoring the apparently fruitless attempts Sherlock’s brain is making to determine and perform the next expected action. He swallows a giggle, knowing that it would only make Sherlock shut down again, feeling as though John were taking the piss out of him.

John walks forward and takes Sherlock’s restless hands in his own. The skittish movement ceases instantly, and Sherlock seems to calm although John can sense his mind is still racing over every single available data point right now. John decides to try to quiet that brilliant mind, seeking to give Sherlock a pleasure so intense it overwrites all of his fears and doubts over doing this in the first place.

John starts by taking off his own jacket, jumper and shirt. Sherlock watches him avidly, still standing uncertainly beside the end of the bed. John casts off any lingering self-consciousness, stripping off his thin t-shirt and exposing his bare chest. Sherlock is seemingly fascinated and reaches forward to touch before stopping, his hand stuck in mid-air. John steps forward into his outstretched hand, Sherlock’s palm gently brushing across his chest. John’s skin feels as though it’s on fire, heat sparking under Sherlock’s fingertips like striking a hundred matches all at once.

Sherlock’s explorations wander through the sparse, light hair between John’s pectorals, circling each nipple as John sucks in a breath. He lets his eyes flutter closed and gives in the sensations Sherlock’s hands are producing. John has taken more than his fair share of women and men to bed, but nobody has ever given his small, broken body this much attention. Sherlock’s touch is reverent, as though he can hardly believe he is allowed this. John basks in it, vowing to return the favour as soon as possible.

Sherlock’s hands drift to the knot of scarred tissue on John’s shoulder, pausing, as if seeking permission. John nods, giving it, then gasps as he feels Sherlock’s lips touch gently to the centre of the scar. The caressing returns, soft brushes and then harder presses as Sherlock catalogues the wound, turning John to access the mess the bullet and subsequent infection made on John’s back. Sherlock leans down to kiss the back too, and makes a soft noise in his throat that goes straight to John’s groin.

“You’re perfect, John,” Sherlock mumbles.

John scoffs and laughs lowly. Sherlock snorts, his hands retreating from John’s body. John opens his eyes to find Sherlock looking down at him, a frown creasing the bridge of his nose. John smiles up at him.

“You’re perfect,” Sherlock repeats softly, more confident now. John simply nods at him, gesturing to Sherlock’s shirt. Sherlock takes the hint, drawing himself up to his full height to cover his nerves again, before efficiently stripping off his shirt.

John can’t help it, he stares. Sherlock shifts a little but doesn’t flinch under John’s gaze. John raises his hand to Sherlock’s scar, the bullet wound in the centre of his chest that was caused by John’s biggest mistake.

“John,” Sherlock murmurs, and John looks up into his gorgeous eyes again, feeling the prickle of tears in his own. He looks back down at the hateful pink circle and presses his lips to it, hearing Sherlock’s sharp intake of breath at the action.

Suddenly there’s too much space between them again and John momentarily forgets about going slow. He threads his hand into Sherlock’s hair again, pulling him down into a rough kiss. Sherlock melts into John’s embrace, and John wonders if perhaps slow and steady isn’t the way to win the race this time.

He runs his hands down Sherlock’s sides, delighting in the gooseflesh prickling under his touch, the quickening of Sherlock’s breathing in between biting kisses. He tugs Sherlock’s belt loose, making quick work of the trouser buttons, and palms the hardness inside Sherlock’s expensive silk boxers. Sherlock stutters and gasps, his hips twitching unconsciously towards John’s hand. John grins, then presses his tongue to Sherlock’s nipple. The reaction is instant, the flesh peaking below John’s sweeping licks and tearing an absolutely wanton moan from Sherlock’s throat. John shifts himself with his free hand, then licks down Sherlock’s abdomen as he divests him of both trousers and pants.

Sherlock shivers at the loss of contact as John moves away to take off his own jeans and pants as quickly as he can. John gently pushes Sherlock down onto his back in the middle of the bed, shifting him up and straddling his legs.

John looks down at Sherlock beneath him, naked and flushed with arousal. Sherlock looks back at John through his dark lashes, his eyes once more full of barely restrained desire.

“Beautiful,” John murmurs. He strokes down Sherlock’s taut stomach, across the crease of his hip and thigh, then back up again deliberately avoiding his cock. Like the rest of him, Sherlock’s cock is truly lovely, John thinks, but he wants to do a bit of cataloguing of his own. It’s only fair, after all.

Sherlock is panting again, his eyes squeezed tightly shut as John explores his body. He shudders at the gentle press of John’s fingers, arching up into Johns hands. He’s so responsive, and John realises that Sherlock’s penchant for expensive fabrics might be just because he’s actually very tactile under that cold, emotionless exterior. John feels a surge of fond affection for the shivering man beneath him, and finally decides this is enough slowness. His own prick feels heavy and full, and he’s not exactly going to last long at this point either.

He lowers himself to lie beside Sherlock, turning him so they are face to face. John manages to align their bodies and kisses Sherlock as he gently wraps his hand around his cock. Sherlock’s eyes fly open and his head jolts back into the pillow, his mouth forming a silent cry.

John kisses his chin, his mouth, his jaw, his throat, his hand moving slowly at first then gradually speeding up. Sherlock is leaking precome and John swipes his thumb through it, lifting his hand to his face to lick his palm, before resuming stroking Sherlock.

He’s focused on Sherlock’s gratification right now but the moans and whimpers coming from Sherlock are shooting straight to John’s neglected cock, and he’s rutting a little against the sheets, unable to stop himself. He needs this, he needs to take Sherlock apart with pleasure and hold him close as he puts him back together.

Sherlock’s close, his hips stuttering a broken rhythm in John’s fist, his mouth trying to form John’s name and failing to get further than the first letter.

“Come for me, Sherlock,” John urges under his breath, “Come for me, love.”

The unintentional endearment sends Sherlock over the edge, and he cries out softly as he comes, spattering his own chest and the sheets beneath them. Watching him almost pushes John over as well, as John gentles him through the last of his orgasm.

John releases his softening prick and takes hold of himself. He’s so close, just from witnessing Sherlock let go, when he feels a hand over his. He jerks his head up to meet Sherlock’s eyes, a shy smile forming on those sinful lips.

Sherlock moves John’s hand away, fully replacing it with his own, and that does it. He’s shaking and he croaks out Sherlock’s name as the orgasm rushes through his body.

John comes back to himself a few seconds later, to find Sherlock gazing curiously at him. His expression is guarded, as if he’s not sure what to do now. John reaches out to cup his jaw again and pulls Sherlock in for a kiss. Sherlock hums happily in his throat, and as they break apart he settles himself into John’s arms, winding his long limbs around John’s smaller form.

John is surprised but delighted to find that Sherlock is apparently a cuddler, and finds himself quickly drifting towards sleep. He both hears and feels Sherlock’s deep voice, thick with drowsiness but still clear.

“Happy birthday, John.”

John thinks this was definitely worth waiting forty-four years for.

“Thank you.”