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The Process of Stellar Ignition

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“I. Um. I have tea,” Sherlock offers awkwardly, holding up the shopping bag.

“Tea would be lovely,” John says.

***

John follows Sherlock up the steps and into the flat without a word.

“Just…” Sherlock waves in the general direction of the kitchen table. “Have a seat. I’ll, you know. Tea.”

John sits, folding his hands together on top of the kitchen table. Sherlock can tell he’s waiting for him to get past his shock and nerves, and that somehow makes it all even worse.

Sherlock’s hands are shaking. Just minutely, not so much that anyone not paying attention would notice, but enough that he deliberately turns his back to John and fiddles with the kettle so the doctor’s trained eye won’t see the trembling.

Sherlock exhales through his nose and closes his eyes for a moment, trying to clear his mind.

Tea. He’s making tea. How is tea made? He stands there a moment, poleaxed. His hard drive is crashing, files corrupting. He can almost smell the smoke.

Tea.exe File not found.

This is a disaster.

He’s pictured John coming back a thousand times, a hundred thousand times. In all his imaginings they would kiss and share whispered endearments and have a great shag and everything would be magically well.

In his imagination, it was never this stilted and awkward.

Sherlock’s on the edge of panicking, of fleeing into his bedroom and locking the door and hiding in there forever--Mrs. Hudson can slip biscuits and sandwiches under the door, he’ll be fine--when he feels a pair of warm hands come to rest lightly, tentatively on his hips.

“Hey,” John says softly into the fabric of his suit jacket. “Hey. You’re freaking out. Please don’t freak out. It’s okay.”

Sherlock takes a deep breath and turns to face him. John looks up at him, stormy blue eyes soft and kind, crinkled with affection and concern.

“I missed you,” John murmurs. “God, I missed you so much.”

Sherlock is overcome by the desire to touch John’s silver hair. His fingertips rise almost involuntarily to brush the silky strands.

“I missed you too,” Sherlock says, voice low and rough.

They gaze at each other in silence, each unable to find the right words. Or any words. Another moment passes.

“I don’t…” Sherlock hesitates. “I don’t know how any of this is supposed to work. I don’t know what to do.”

“God, neither do I,” John says. “But I think we have to...whatever we might be, we need to go slow, all right?”

Sherlock nods. He has nothing else to go on, so he will do whatever John thinks is best.

“But,” John says, “I would--” he looks into Sherlock’s eyes, and a constellation of emotions Sherlock can’t even name play across his expressive, careworn features. “I would very much like to hug you.”

“I think that would be good,” Sherlock murmurs through parched lips.

John steps closer and winds his arms around Sherlock’s waist, hesitates a moment, and leans his head against his shoulder. The realization that John is here, real and warm and here--it makes something bright and sharp flare in Sherlock’s chest. He tightens his arms reflexively, pulls him closer, feels John relax into him. He’s much thinner than Sherlock remembers, his ribs palpable under his soft plaid shirt. Sherlock thinks of missed meals and field tents and strong hands caring for sick hollow-eyed children and sleepless nights under the glittering desert stars.

He lets his hands roam across John’s back and breathes in the scent of him, something warm and woodsy with a slight trace of an expensive floral shampoo, a high-end salon brand John would never--

Ah. Of course.

“Staying with Harry,” he observes.

John nods against Sherlock’s shoulder. “Until I get something else sorted out. I just got in last night.” His hands tighten around Sherlock’s waist, rub slow circles across the base of his spine. It feels marvellous.

“You could--” Sherlock starts.

“No, I can’t,” John sighs. “It’s so tempting, but... I don’t know exactly how this is going to work, but I know that we’re not there yet.”

Sherlock sighs in response and rests his cheek on top of John’s head.

Kitten heels tap up the steps, and John backs an arm’s length away as Mrs. Hudson appears in the kitchen doorway. “Yoo-hoo, Sherlock! I brought you some--” She goes completely still at the sight of John, her silence as sudden and sharp as turning off a radio.

A frosty moment passes.

“John,” she says finally, her voice colder than ice. Liquid nitrogen.

“Mrs. Hudson. Hello.” John’s shoulders stiffen, but his voice is calm, friendly. Sherlock is impressed by the equanimity with which the doctor faces his former landlady’s frostbitten gaze.

“I suppose if Sherlock wants you here, I can’t stop him,” she says. “But know that as far as I’m concerned, you are not welcome in this house.”

“I understand,” John says, his voice softer and tinged with self-reproach. “I hope...I hope I can change your mind, I really do, but I understand.”

“Well, then.” Mrs. Hudson draws herself up to her full five foot three of pure focused disdain and gives John a look that unmistakably says, Not bloody likely. She places a package of Chocolate HobNobs on the countertop as she shifts her gaze to Sherlock, her face softening into motherly concern.

“Sherlock, darling, I’m making Cornish pasties tonight, if you’d like to come down for dinner.” The message was unmistakable. I have and will continue to care for you. The hell with John Watson.

“Possibly,” Sherlock replies in a neutral tone. “If I’m not too busy.”

“I’ll pop up and remind you. Lord knows you won’t eat otherwise.” Mrs. Hudson spares one last withering glance at John before turning on her heel and heading back down the steps.

Sherlock sighs and sags a bit against the countertop. John exhales and rubs the back of his neck, his thin lips set and grim.

“And then there’s that,” he observes archly.

“John, I’m s--”

“Don’t you dare say you’re sorry, Sherlock. She’s protecting you. I deserved that. I can’t say I would do any differently in her shoes.” He crosses his arms across his chest, a gesture of self-preservation that belies his words.

“I forgive you, John. That’s all that matters.”

“I wish that were the case, but it’s not. It’s not just about you and me. You have people who love you, who want to protect you. If I come here to stay, she’ll be poisoning my tea within a day.”

“It would be the cake,” Sherlock says, “not the tea. Rum cake, or maybe spice, to hide the taste.”

“I guess that’s...good to know?” A ghost of a smile crosses John’s lips, but his face is tired and gaunt and a bit sad. He looks up at Sherlock. “I know I’ve burnt a lot of bridges, and rebuilding them is going to take time.” He uncrosses his arms, moves closer to Sherlock. “But I’m willing to do whatever it takes. As long as it takes. As long as that’s what you want.”

Sherlock thinks of all the things he wants to say. I want you back. I want you here, now. I want to pretend the past four years never happened. Sherlock hesitates, looking for the right words. Fails to find them.

Christ, he thinks. When did I become so inarticulate?

“I want…” he trails off. “Yes. Okay.”

John fishes in his jeans pocket, pulls out a pen and a crumpled Caffe Nero receipt. He scratches numbers on the back of the paper and hands it to Sherlock.

“New mobile,” he said. “I’d like to see you every day, I’d love to, but I’m going to leave it up to you.”

Sherlock squints a bit. “Why?” he asks, confused.

“Because you’d go along with whatever I wanted,” John said. “And you have to decide what you want for yourself."

“I want you,” Sherlock says, still puzzled. Had he not made that clear?

“And I’m glad,” John says. “But you need to figure out where I fit into your life now. I’ll help you with that, if you like. But I’m not going to dictate what I am to you.” He peers at Sherlock. “Does this make any sense to you whatsoever?”

“No," says Sherlock.

“Okay. Listen. Just... when you want to see me again, on a case, or for dinner, or just to come over and have tea… text me. I don’t have a job yet, so any time you want me, just let me know. And we’ll just take it day by day.” John smiles, a little more real this time. “I’m going to leave now, before Mrs. Hudson figures out where to hide my body.”

“Deep freeze in the cellar,” Sherlock answers automatically before the rest of his brain helpfully supplies It was a joke, idiot.

“So you two have had that conversation,” John chuckles in genuine amusement. Sherlock shrugs a bit and smiles. Of course they had.

“I’ll see you soon, okay?” John stands on tiptoes to kiss him, just a whisper of lips against his cheek, and then he’s gone, down the steps and out the door.

***

Sherlock carefully enters John’s new number in his mobile.

He opens an empty text message window and pauses, thinking of all the things he wanted say to John over the past year and couldn’t. Now that John’s here and he can tell him anything he wants, any time, somehow everything he can think of in this moment sounds clumsy and overwrought and hideously embarrassing.

Sherlock doesn’t want to have to communicate. He doesn’t want to have to decide “what he wants from their relationship”. (He can’t even think of that phrase without picturing finger quotes around it, which irritates him beyond reason.) He just wants to wake up with John and eat toast with John and solve cases with John and argue with John and do laundry with John and go to bed with John and have sex with John. Surely that’s simple enough without dragging tiresome relationship issues into the whole thing?

But Sherlock doesn’t know how to put any of that into words, let alone in a text message. He closes the text app and puts the phone down, picks it up, puts it down again. He huffs in annoyance.

This is ridiculous.

Sherlock scrubs fingers through unruly hair and sighs before he gets up. He needs a treat, a distraction, and fortunately he has just the thing. He goes to the refrigerator and fishes out the skin samples (uncontrolled diabetic, Type II, insulin dependent) he’d been saving. Observing and charting visible changes in the stratum corneum due to high blood sugar--Acanthosis nigricans, Scleredema diabeticorum--could be very useful in a future case, and the task may be just interesting enough to distract him from thinking about John for at least a little while.

***

johnwatsonblog.co.uk

July 05

The Army Doctor Returns

If there’s anyone out there still reading this, hello.

It’s amazing the difference two years can make.

If you know about me, you know about what happened with James Moriarty and Sebastian Moran, and I really have nothing else to say about that.

Also, I’m no longer married, as I’m sure all of you know. We lost our daughter, and, well. A lot of marriages fail under the weight of trauma and regret, and I guess that’s sort of what happened to us.

In my grief and anger, I did not treat Sherlock well, subjecting him to the worst of my hurt and devastation.

Hoping to heal and move on from the worst chapter of my life, I volunteered with Doctors Without Borders and spent a year working in Yemen. I thought about staying for a second year, but I missed my life in London more than I can say, so I decided to come home.

I left in great haste and without saying goodbye properly to Sherlock. I returned fully expecting (and deserving) hatred, silence, refusal to allow me anywhere near his life.

As usual, I underestimated the man terribly. He forgave me everything, without reservation.

It’s been almost two years since I posted here and everything has changed. Everything.

Everything, that is, except Sherlock.

Sherlock is still here. Sherlock is still my friend.

Miracles do happen, I suppose.

***

Mycroft actually waits two more days for his inevitable descent upon Baker Street.

Sherlock has Battleship set up for his arrival.

Mycroft looks pinched and tense, clearly dying to say something, to pass judgment. For some unknown reason, though, he only peers closely at Sherlock, takes a deep breath, and speaks not one word about John Watson.

“It’s your move,” Mycroft says instead.

Sherlock smirks, sinking his brother’s battleship without remorse.

***

Sherlock has been unable to bring himself to contact John, too overcome by jangled nerves and awkwardness. Lestrade turns up on the doorstep of Baker Street, nattering on about a box of ears, and Sherlock seizes the opportunity to make an overture.

John texts him back within a minute. He had been waiting by the phone, then. The thought makes Sherlock smile.

At the flat with Lestrade, going over the finer details of the case (the larger picture being, of course, that while the DI is smarter than the rest of Scotland Yard, he is still hopelessly mentally deficient), Sherlock is outwardly calm but he finds himself anxiously waiting for John to arrive. He doesn’t like the fact that John’s key is still in his coat pocket. John belongs here. He shouldn’t have to ring the doorbell like a guest. Like a stranger.

He’s berating Greg over his laughable cadaver theory when he hears the taxi pull up in front of the building.

Even though he’s been anticipating it, Sherlock still jumps a bit when the bell finally rings. Lestrade pretends not to notice, which is rather decent of him. Sherlock darts downstairs to open the door himself, half certain Mrs. Hudson would slam it in John’s face.

John smiles at him, almost shy. “Hi.”

Sherlock can tell by John’s posture that his back is sore; he’s still sleeping on the cheap futon in Harry’s spare room. Hasn’t found a place of his own, then. He shaved just before leaving for Baker Street, and he is wearing the blue jumper that Sherlock likes best. John clearly made an effort to look nice for him.

And he smells so good, better than cheap deodorant and shaving cream could smell on anyone else in the world. Sherlock feels the tightness in his chest loosen a little, and it’s an effort to not grin like a moron.

“You’re finally here,” Sherlock sighs impatiently, cloaking his fizzing nerves in a veneer of his old arrogance. He turns and mounts the steps, John following close behind.

Greg rises as they enter the room. “It’s good to see you again, John,” he says, extending his hand, and he sounds surprisingly sincere.

“Thanks,” John says, giving the detective a brisk, slightly impersonal handshake. “It’s good to be back. Really good.”

As they go over the details of the case Lestrade is cordial to John--a bit reserved perhaps, but his body language and micro-expressions are surprisingly free from the traces of anger that Sherlock had expected. Sherlock tries, but is unable to deduce the reasons behind Lestrade’s unexpected response. Some common background, some mutual understanding? The two men had been fairly close before, a shared kinship of football and pub nights and a certain British middle-class male sensibility that would forever be a mystery to Sherlock.

He’s curious, but now is not the time. Sherlock blinks, clears his mind, but puts a pin in the thought to revisit it later.

The other two men, deep in discussion, don’t even notice his momentary mental absence. John seems to sense Greg’s lack of hostility and relaxes quickly. An hour later, as they leave for Croydon to re-interview Susan Cushings, it almost feels like it did in the old days. Sherlock finds himself hoping that perhaps everything can still go back to what it used to be, that they can still go home again after all.

***

johnwatsonblog.co.uk

July 12

A Salt And A Battered Ear

The text had me instantly intrigued.

Severed human ears packed in a cardboard box full of salt. Could very much use a medical opinion. --SH

DI Lestrade (everyone knows who we work with by now, so I might as well use his name) came to Sherlock with an unusual case. A woman in Croydon received a parcel containing two severed human ears packed in a box full of salt.

Lestrade had a theory that it was all a prank. The woman had recently evicted several rowdy medical students from her apartment block, and he speculated the ears came from cadavers and were sent by the medical students as retribution. Fortunately, some lingering doubts made him seek out Sherlock’s insight, and the detective immediately recognized foul play, summoning me for a second opinion from a doctor’s perspective.

I immediately concurred with Sherlock’s assessment. The ears were roughly chopped off with no medical skill and the use of salt as a desiccant was amateurish and clumsy. The parcel was unusual, tied with string rather than sealed with tape, and Sherlock deduced that the knots used were those of a type used by a person with sailing experience rather than a doctor in training.

We paid a visit to the recipient of the package and a few pointed questions from Sherlock uncovered a gruesome double murder--the result of family secrets exposed and an extramarital affair gone awry. It was then a relatively easy matter to arrest the suspect at the marina where he was working on--you guessed it--his prized sailboat.

It was an easy case for Sherlock to solve, and no gunfire or stabbing or kidnapping of any sort was involved (the word Sherlock used was “boring,” but as we all know, he’s a drama queen) but I don’t mind saying that just being back in the thick of things, running through the streets of London with my best friend, just like we used to, well… it was the happiest I’ve been in a long, long time.

***

After the murderer is captured (no chases tonight, they caught him as he was working on his boat; the stupefyingly unobservant man hadn’t even heard them coming until Lestrade was practically on top of him and slapping on cuffs), Sherlock turns to John, feeling the buzz of a solved case trickling through his veins.

“Dinner?” he asks, willing his voice to remain light, unconcerned.

John’s dark blue eyes flicker up to look at him, and Sherlock sees the desire there, tinged with amusement and a touch of apprehension. He smiles, a lovely thing that warms Sherlock to the core.

“Starving,” he replies.

***.

In a burst of truly ridiculous sentiment, Sherlock takes him to Angelo’s.

Angelo is either psychic or his powers of observation rival the detective’s, because instead of the front table he gives them a secluded, private table near the back. A candle appears in front of them without asking.

Memories of better, more innocent times seem to crowd around them as they place their orders.

Salad and bread arrives. John takes a bite of cucumber and tomato. Sherlock tears a roll into pieces, then smaller pieces, tries not to stare at John’s throat as he chews and swallows.

“Bloke brought me here once,” John says conversationally.

The corner of Sherlock’s mouth quirks upward. “Really,” he murmurs with amusement.

John nods. “Yep.” He pokes at the greens on his plate. “I thought we really had a spark, but then he let me down easy. Said he was married to his work.”

Sherlock regards him with a deadpan expression. “That man,” he says evenly, “was a sodding idiot who had no idea what he was missing.”

“Well, yes, he was,” says John, his lips twitching into the barest grin. “But, to be fair, he did have the occasional moment of brilliance.”

Under the table, John’s leg slides against Sherlock’s. Neither man pulls away from the contact.

Their main courses arrive. Sherlock’s stomach is tied in knots. He nibbles at a corner of his lasagna as John inhales pasta. He’s far too thin to Sherlock’s eyes and watching the man eat gives Sherlock unexpected satisfaction. It bothers him--a lot--that John hasn’t taken proper care of himself, and Sherlock suddenly has a better understanding of why the doctor was always after him to eat.

“So,” John says as he twirls his fork in fettucine. “A nice murder and dinner. Is this a date, then?”

Sherlock reminds himself to breathe, pretends to consider the question.

“I certainly hope so,” he murmurs, and John looks at him from under his long lashes, the small smile on his lips full of promise.

They linger over dinner far longer than necessary, picking at a shared plate of tiramisu as Sherlock deduces the surrounding patrons for John’s amusement. Too soon the restaurant begins to empty, and at last they find themselves on the kerb. Sherlock hails a cab and turns to John, fumbling uncharacteristically for the right words.

“Would you like to--” he starts, but John stops him with a gentle hand on his chest.

“I would love to,” says John, “but I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“I do,” Sherlock says. “In fact, I think it’s a fantastic idea.”

John looks away briefly, tongue darting out to his top lip, then he turns back, grasps the lapels of Sherlock’s coat and pulls him close. One warm hand comes up and slides gently into Sherlock’s hair. John’s eyes are wide and dark in the light of the streetlamps.

“I want us to go slow,” John says softly. “I want to enjoy every moment of this. Do you know why?”

“No,” Sherlock says, and it comes out a touch impatient but God, how he wants. “Why?”

“Because this is the last time I’m going to kiss you for the first time. And this time, I’m going to do it properly.”

Sherlock feels his world, his universe shrink down to just this moment, just this piece of pavement as John tilts his face up, pulls Sherlock’s head down and kisses him. His lips are warm and soft, a little chapped, and his tongue is in Sherlock’s mouth and he tastes a bit like whipped cream and chocolate. Sherlock kisses him back with everything he has, everything he can put into a kiss, everything he doesn’t know how to say. It’s their last first kiss, under a streetlamp on a rain-slicked London pavement as the fog begins to roll in, and it’s all like something out of a stupid film Sherlock would never willingly watch.

It is absolutely, achingly perfect.

Then the stupid, horrible, romance-hating cabbie honks his horn impatiently, breaking the spell. John lets him go, pulls back and smiles at him. Sherlock’s heart is pounding. He’s breathless. He’s grinning like an idiot and it’s ridiculous and he’s desperately in love and it’s the best moment of his entire life.

John opens the door of the cab.

“Get in,” John says, “Go home. I’ll come over tomorrow afternoon, and we’ll have our last second kiss.”

“I don’t want to wait,” says Sherlock, knowing how needy he sounds and not caring one bit.

“Waiting is good,” John says. “Waiting makes it better. And for once, we have all the time in the world.”

***
Molly texts him the next day to let him know she’s come a across a really spectacular cancerous thyroid, she remembered he mentioned an interest once, does he want it?

Sherlock knows as soon as he lays eyes on her that she wants to talk about John.

He rolls his eyes and almost leaves--but damn it all, he really is interested in that thyroid and it will just get cremated with all the other bits if he doesn’t take it home.

“So,” she says, awkward and gawky as a fledgling bird. “John’s back in town, is he?”

“Mmm-hmm,” Sherlock mumbles, noncommittal, not wanting to be within ten kilometers of this conversation.

“And how are we feeling about that?” she presses, carefully casual, avoiding eye contact.

“Molly,” he snaps, “don’t be coy. It doesn’t suit you.”

Molly huffs a little breath but goes silent.

Sherlock rolls his eyes. Fine, whatever. He just wants this over with.

“I hope you know by now that I do value your input, so if you have something to say, for goodness’ sake, just say it.”

“I just…” Molly tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “He really hurt you, Sherlock. And I don’t like seeing you get hurt.”

Sherlock grits his teeth just a bit at the familiar wave of annoyed fondness that Molly always provokes in him.

The fondness wins out. It always does.

“I know, Molly,” he says, his voice softer. “He was...we were…” he gives up on the nuances of the English language, sighs. “He was grieving. It was bad. Things are better now. “

Molly looks at him in that clear-eyed way that makes him feel like she’s a human Xray machine. “That’s good. Really good. Just...be careful, okay?”

“I always am,” Sherlock says with a trace of his old disdain.

“No, you’re really not,” she replies.

He doesn’t bother answering, because they both know it’s the truth. Instead, Sherlock makes an indistinct grunt of farewell as he takes his wrapped package of thyroid gland and leaves, wondering when and how exactly he became someone who provoked such displays of concern in others.

Why did everyone seem to believe he was someone who needed protecting?

And also, when had John become something he needed protection from?

Sitting in the back of a cab, Sherlock decides the whole thing makes him feel very uncomfortable and he’d rather not think about it any longer. Instead, he retreats to his mind palace, deleting piles of useless information (political structures of feudal Japan, the spread of Black Death along trans-Asian trade routes) in order to make more room to catalogue every single moment he’s spent with John since his return.

***

John is on a ladder in the front hallway of 221, replacing a bulb in the overhead fixture. Sherlock swallows, noting how dry his mouth feels as he tries not to stare at the slice of pale belly peeking out under his jumper as John stretches his arms overhead.

(Waiting, ah, waiting is torture. But Sherlock suddenly realises that, counterintuitively, it’s a rather wonderful kind of torture.)

“Completing various neglected tasks in order to win back Mrs. Hudson’s favour,” Sherlock notes dryly. “Not subtle, but likely to be effective.”

“I made a list,” John says, snapping the glass dome back in place. “This is number seven.”

“Out of…”

“Two hundred and nine. I think I’ll be forgiven about, oh, three years from now.”

“Nonsense. I’m sure you can reduce the sentence to eighteen months with good behaviour and frequent displays of true remorse.”

John chuckles. “Some grovelling wouldn’t be remiss, either.” He sets the last screw in place, descends the ladder, smiles at Sherlock. “I need to flip the breaker back on, then I’ll come upstairs.” He looks at the wrapped parcel in Sherlock’s hand. “Don’t suppose that’s something for dinner?”

“Cancerous thyroid.”

John’s mouth quirks just a fraction. “Tempting as that sounds,” he says evenly, “I think I’d prefer takeaway.”

They order Thai from the place two blocks over. Sherlock hovers in the doorway as John orders chicken satay and pad thai and green curry, and when he hangs up his mobile and slips it into his pocket he looks up at Sherlock and smiles, and Sherlock is almost overcome by his want, his absolute physical ache for this small, unassuming man.

His feet carry him without thought to John’s personal space, crowding him against the countertop, and he bends his head down to kiss him hungrily, greedily, devouring his mouth. John responds with a low, anguished noise, kissing back with equally ferocious need, and as Sherlock breaks away for a gulp of air John growls low in his throat and grabs Sherlock by the lapels, manhandling him easily into the side of the doorway. The display of aggression is startling, and the surprise must show on his face, because John stops, suddenly, eyes full of contrition and concern.

“I didn’t mean to --” he backs up a step, hand still on Sherlock’s lapel. “Shit. I’m so sorry. That was--”

Sherlock shakes his head. “No, it’s fine.” He realizes how false that must sound, and changes tactics. “John,” he says quietly, “Really. You surprised me, is all. But not in a bad way.” Sherlock grabs a handful of jumper, pulls John in for a small, soft kiss. John ‘s body is wound up, ready for flight. “I’m not scared of you, so please don’t jump at shadows.” He presses his lips to John’s temple. “Don’t overthink this, John. We’re doing so well.”

“Sherlock Holmes is telling me not to overthink something. I think this is an historical event.” John laughs, a bit shakily. Sherlock pulls him into his arms, feeling a bit out of his depth as the one offering reassurance. John is stiff for a moment, uncertain, but then Sherlock feels him exhale, relax into the embrace.

“Come on,” Sherlock murmurs to him, and steers him into the sitting room, towards the sofa. Sherlock sits down. John stands in front of him, still looking uncertain.

“We have at least forty minutes until the food arrives. You can stand there and we can stare uncomfortably at each other, or you can sit down and let me kiss you. Your choice, though I know which one I’d prefer.”

John nods and after a moment sits down beside him. Sherlock has never been this assertive before, never really been the one pursuing, but this itch, this maddening need to put his hands all over John makes him bold.

“Do you want to kiss me?” he asks John.

“God, yes,” John breathes.

“And I want to kiss you,” Sherlock says. “So please stop thinking so hard about it, all right? Thinking’s my area, anyway. And I think we’re doing fine.”

John smiles, a bit shaky. “Maybe you should convince me.”

And Sherlock does, weaving fingers in silver blond hair and bringing John’s lips to his own. As they wait for their food the two of them end up snogging on the sofa like the world’s oldest teenagers, wet sloppy desperate kissing and hands sliding under clothes, aching to touch naked flesh. Sherlock had never really seen the appeal of this kind of thing before, in fact found the concept utterly immature and more than mildly repellent, but as John moans his name while they grind fully clothed against each other he can’t help but find the whole enterprise completely, spectacularly brilliant.

His lips are tender and red from kissing, his jaw scraped raw and pink from John’s end-of-day stubble. He’s never been this hard in his entire life, absolutely aching with desire.

“I wish,” Sherlock says in between kisses and panting breaths, “we had done this six years ago.”

“God, me too,” John sighs, pulling Sherlock’s hips down and thrusting insistently against him, making them both gasp and moan as they move together, driven by pure animal instinct.

They are so distracted by each other that they don’t hear the doorbell, nor do they hear Mrs. Hudson come upstairs until her sharp, annoyed harrumph pulls them from their reverie. Sherlock looks up from his compromising position on top of John to see his landlady in the doorway, arms crossed. She arches an eyebrow at the two of them, unsmiling.

“Honestly, Sherlock!” she tuts, pretending she doesn’t even see John underneath him, his legs still wrapped around Sherlock’s arse. “I can see you’re a bit distracted, but I’m in the middle of my programme and the delivery man’s downstairs, he’s been ringing the doorbell for ages--”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock says in his best put upon and haughty voice, as if he hadn’t just been caught dry-humping his former flatmate.

Mrs. Hudson sighs, shakes her head, and goes back downstairs. As soon as the door to her flat closes, John starts to quiver minutely with suppressed giggles and Sherlock can’t help but give in, laughing helplessly until his sides hurt.

“Well, so much for good behaviour,” John sighs, giving him one last kiss. “Shove off, I’m starving. Where’s your wallet?”

After dinner, Sherlock had intended to begin making notes on the experiments he has planned for the thyroid, but somehow finds himself instead in his armchair with a lap full of John Watson, hands under his shirt and roving across the warm skin of his back as their kisses again grow messy and feverish. John moans softly into his mouth and each small noise is an electrical shock wired straight to Sherlock’s aching cock.

“Stay here tonight,” he whispers.

“Next time,” John murmurs into the side of his neck. “We’re doing this properly. Third date rule.”

Sherlock pushes him back, looks up at him with narrowed eyes. John’s face is flushed, his hair a riot. He looks indecent, Sherlock wants to devour him and he’s just going to get up and leave...

“You’re a tease and a horrible person,” Sherlock pouts. “There is no such thing. You’re making that up just to torture me."

John breaks away, stands, begins to tuck his shirt back in. “I’m really not, look it up if you like,” John says. “It’s a rule for a reason. We’re working on a new relationship and it’s better not to jump directly into sex.”

“We’ve been in a relationship for six years,” counters Sherlock.

“And four of those were utter shit,” John replies. “Three of those, we weren’t even in the same country. Two of those, you were dead. Well, ish. Also, I married someone else. Who turned out to be an assassin and working for your archenemy. Kind of beyond the scope of this conversation, except to underscore: utter shit.”

“We’ve had sex eleven times already,” Sherlock replies.

John sighs. “I don’t…” He drops to his knees in front of Sherlock, in the vee of his open legs, and runs his fingertips up and down Sherlock’s thighs. “In all seriousness, Sherlock, those were bad times, and I don’t want to risk ever going back to how it was before. If I’m being totally honest, I’m...I’m more than a little afraid. I don’t want to jump right back in to having sex. Everything feels so fragile right now, and I…” he shakes his head a little, looks at the floor. “I’m rubbish at putting this into words.”

Sherlock blinks a bit as he tries to process it all. Finally he sighs, both in irritation and acquiescence.

“I think I understand,” he says, which isn’t quite a fib. He wants John in his bed more than he wants to follow ridiculous (and likely fabricated) rules of “dating,” but he also knows that John feels some need to prove himself to Sherlock, needs to feel like he is worthy of his trust. Sherlock doesn’t think John needs to prove anything, ever, but he wants John to be happy, so...

“Whatever you think is best,” Sherlock concedes. “Though, in the interest of full disclosure, I want you to know I find this all a bit...frustrating.” He can’t help himself from proving his words by taking one of John’s hands where it rests on his thigh and bringing it up to cup the hardness of his cock through his wool trousers.

John’s eyes flutter closed as he wraps his hand around Sherlock’s length and strokes him through the fabric. “You never did play fair, you bastard,” he breathes.

Sherlock’s hips twitch, a small involuntary thrust into John’s grip. It feels unbelievably good, and a small needy noise escapes Sherlock’s throat at the sensation. “I’m just--” oh, bloody hell, the friction of it, sending sparks of pure pleasure through his body-- “making sure you know what you’re missing out on tonight.”

John stills his hand and pulls away, cheeks flushed, eyes dark. “You are a gorgeous, manipulative bastard,” he murmurs darkly, “but I am not giving in.” His fingers brush Sherlock’s hair, cards through his mad nimbus of curls. “Tomorrow night. Get something in for dinner. I’ll cook, if you like.”

Sherlock tries to glare at John, though his pounding pulse and raging hard-on make it a bit difficult to convey much seriousness. “I hate you,” he grumbles sulkily.

John stands, adjusts his trousers, kisses Sherlock on the top of his head. “No, you don’t.”

Sherlock sighs, looks up at him. “No,” he concedes, “I really don’t.”

***

Unable to focus on research or reading or even his violin, Sherlock gives up and actually takes himself to bed. He lay there for what may have been hours, lonely and full of aching want, remembering the feel of John’s mouth on his own, John’s hands roaming across body.

He thinks of desert stars, bright as jewels on black velvet. He thinks of dark matter, glowing nebulae, the dust debris of countless millennia coming together at last into something new and unformed and full of promise. He thinks of new stars forming, the intense heat and pressure leading to a moment of deuterium fusion, a flash of light in the dark corner of a distant galaxy.

He wonders, irrationally, if it hurts when a new star is born.

Unaware that he slept, Sherlock awakens to late morning sunlight streaming through the windows.