The next days bring bombs and disappearing husbands and fake paintings and death and fear, and somewhere in the middle of the most intense case they've yet experienced, John and Sherlock reach a détente in a skirmish that hasn't really ever been played out satisfactorily for either party.

When the case is at a lull, the pink phone quietly resting on the arm of Sherlock's chair and Sherlock himself hurling abuse at the telly, John thinks perhaps they can move past these last few months after all and settle into a solid partnership. One without the messy confusion of brain-melting sex, he thinks with some small regret, but a close friendship nonetheless.

The thought cheers him considerably as he snaps his laptop closed and pulls his coat closer around his body – the windows should be replaced tomorrow, according to Mrs. Hudson's insurance agent – and tells Sherlock he's off to Sarah's. Sherlock mumbles in acknowledgement and even agrees to pick up milk and beans, which is almost unheard of.

He steps out onto Baker Street, more relaxed and carefree than he's been in a month.

When he next is aware of his surroundings, his head is pounding and he's sitting in the back of a van wrapped in a vest that very much looks like it has explosives attached to it.

"Welcome back, Johnny my Johnny!" a voice chirps. John recognizes it, just heard it a few days ago, he thinks muzzily. When the young, dark-haired man pops around to his field of vision, John rears back in shock. "Oh, I decided Molly wasn't worth my time after all! You, on the other hand, are worth all of it." The man smiles viciously, teeth gleaming.

John drops his head back. Jesus Christ, fucking Jim. "What the hell are you playing at?" he says.

"Oh, Dr. Watson. I got a lovely invitation from your darling boyfriend. We have a date. Midnight, to be exact." Jim looks gleeful, excited, and suddenly John's rather efficient kidnapping and the fact that he's going rigged with explosives to a midnight rendezvous with Sherlock slots into place.

"You're the bomber," he says carefully, and as he shifts slightly he realizes his hands are cuffed together.

"Right you are, me boyo, and we're here, so out we go." The doors open and Jim shoves John out with a vicious shove with his foot. John hits the ground rather painfully and is almost immediately dragged up by the arms while Jim fits him with an earpiece. "You know the rules. So be a good boy, and give Sherlock a lovely surprise from me."

John's pulled into the back of the building and out onto the deck of the pool. His handler maneuvers him into a small alcove between two changing stalls and tells him to wait. He stands, pulse hammering, sweat beading down his temples, torn between wanting to kick Sherlock's stupid, egotistical arse and admiring his courage for setting this up to start with.

He hears the doors pop open, and Sherlock's deep voice. "I brought you a little getting to know you present," he says.

The earpiece crackles to life. "Showtime, Johnny boy," he hears.

They laugh together when John says that people might talk.

When laser sights swarm their bodies again, suddenly things aren't quite so funny.

John looks at Sherlock, tall and proud and resolute as he swings his gun up at Moriarty, and a single glance he flicks sideways tells John everything.

That he wants John to trust him. That he knows John will understand what he's about to do. What he did.

John nods almost imperceptibly, trying to convey that yes, he trusts him. They're together in this like they've been in everything, single halves of a whole, synchronous and interlocked.

So when Sherlock's finger tightens oh-so-slightly on the trigger, John tenses, braces his feet, and jumps.

John slumps into his chair and flares the paper in front of him, reading the crime reports and feeling the urge to toss a comment over his shoulder to see if Sherlock had anything to add.

He would, but Sherlock hasn't been home. Oh, he'd ducked in for a change of clothes as John was coming down for tea early this morning, but before John could get himself awake enough to corner him, Sherlock was gone.

It was getting well past ridiculous, really. He'd heard the front door open and close an hour or so ago, and the pause at the door that told John Sherlock had stopped and realized that John was home. Sherlock's footsteps made their way up the second set of stairs, up toward John's room, and the door to the attic.

John finally gives up. He's just had about enough of waiting around for Sherlock to get his brain straightened out so they could talk like adults. He folds the paper, makes his way upstairs to the attic stairs, takes a deep breath, and starts climbing.

He pushes the trapdoor open and sees a dark figure sitting on the roof, body curled in on itself, hands clasped around bony knees.

"Thought I'd find you up here," John says, carefully making his way across the shallow slope of the shingles and settling in next to Sherlock. "It's been four days. You planning on coming home any time soon?"

Sherlock slants a look at him. "I am home. Obviously. As I'm sitting on the roof of our flat."

John rolls his eyes. "Yeah, but you've not actually been inside for more than 10 minutes since…well. Since then."

Sherlock huffs an impatient sigh. "I find I'm unable to concentrate, these days."

John flicks a couple little bits of loose mortar down the roof, sending them skittering over the edge. It really is past time they talk about it. "Do you know what the worst part of that entire experience was?"

"Being wrapped in Semtex and threatened with death?"

"No, you idiot, although that really was a barrel of laughs. No, the worst part was knowing you'd set the whole thing up yourself, and not being able to warn you that it was about to be a complete cock-up. That was the worst."

Sherlock turns his head to look at him then, his eyes luminous in the purple dusk closing around them. "I thought you'd be angry that I lied to you."

"Of course I am. But after surviving that little encounter I'm finding it's rather pointless to hold grudges."

Sherlock turns his head to watch the spot where the sun had just sunk below the horizon. "You'll never be able to save me from myself, John. But when you were there, and I'd understood what he'd done…" Sherlock's voice trails off and he scrubs a hand across the back of his neck. "Moriarty wasn't completely wrong, in some things."

John stays silent, watching his profile and wondering what second chances feel like. Even as he wants to reach out he feels at war with himself; he could just let the moment pass, move past these last few months and settle into a solid partnership and friendship. One without the messy confusion of brain-melting sex.

But he remembers Sherlock's face, a softening around the eyes when he asked if John was alright, the feel of their joined hands when they'd surfaced, Sherlock's wet hair curling around his collar in dark, dripping ringlets, his face alight with the thrill of being alive. John's hand had curled around Sherlock's neck and pressed Sherlock's forehead against his, the both of them treading water and giggling like madmen until the police arrived.

He's already decided, he realizes.

John reaches out and grasps Sherlock's wrist lightly, slowly draws it away from his knees and turns it palm up into the cradle of John's right hand. He traces the shape of Sherlock's fingers with a gentle touch, exploring his fingertips, the creases of his knuckles, the fine webbing of skin between. He follows the lifeline from around the forefinger with a fingertip, all the way around the side of the palm before raising Sherlock's hand to his mouth and kissing the underside of his wrist, lips lingering on the fine veins that thrum with the pulse of Sherlock's strong heart.

John waits, his own heart pounding so hard he's sure he can see it. But Sherlock isn't pulling away this time. In fact, his head has dropped back, his eyes screwed shut, and his fingers have curled lightly into his palm, which is trembling slightly.

"I can be this, but you have to let me," John whispers, lips brushing against Sherlock's skin.

John watches in awe as Sherlock turns his hand over to grasp John's hand and press it against his cheek, then kiss the back of it. He opens his eyes, and John can see the nervousness and fear he's been so good at hiding. "It's too late to grant permission," he says shakily. "You already are."

John pulls his head back and looks Sherlock in the eyes. "Then why wouldn't you let me touch you?"

"I didn't know how to process what you wanted from me. If it was just a casual encounter, when I was ready for it, I could handle it. Letting you instigate – it felt like surrender."

John thinks for a moment. "It is, sometimes. But that's the way of it, you know."

"I'm learning," Sherlock says.

John's room is quiet, and dark. The rustle of fabric as John slides Sherlock's coat and jacket from his shoulders is almost too loud, almost an emphasis on their consummation. Sherlock dips his head to kiss him as he continues to work on Sherlock's shirt buttons, pushing the material from Sherlock's shoulders with a soft sigh. He slides his fingers down the slope of one pale shoulder, feeling hard muscle and bone, tracing the green-black of a bruise from a not-so-gentle shove into a swimming pool.

"That's twice you've saved my life," Sherlock says quietly, pushing his fingers through the short hair on the back of John's head. "I'm not sure if having you with me is a blessing or a curse."

John laughs and pushes him back on the bed. "How would it be a curse?" he asks, and starts pulling off his own clothes while Sherlock is busy taking off his trousers.

"Because you're the most distracting thing I've ever come across," Sherlock replies, kneeling up on the bed and reaching out to grasp John's hips and pull him toward him. "Do you know you often I've had to refrain from kissing you in public, just from watching your mind work?" Sherlock kisses him then, slow and deep and dirty, curling his fingers into John's hips as John wraps his hands around the back of Sherlock's neck and brushes thumbs over his cheekbones.

John lightly maneuvers Sherlock back so he can climb on the bed, pulling them both down so they're facing each other and John can hook one of Sherlock's long legs over his hip. He can feel the heat of Sherlock's erection brushing against his belly as he wraps an arm around Sherlock's waist and leans forward to nuzzle between thin, sharp collarbones, savoring the warm, smooth skin and contented sigh he draws from Sherlock's chest. The sighs turn to moans when John slips a hand up Sherlock's side to brush a nipple with his thumb, feeling the skin turn firm under his touch.

Sherlock's leg tightens over John's hip, and he shifts a little so their cocks are pushing against each other as he moves. "More," he breathes. "God, must you be so slow?"

"Never been able to take my time before," John says, ducking his head down to flick his tongue across the nipple he was just tugging. "Now hush, and let me do this."

John reaches down to curl his hand around Sherlock's cock, pulling a slow, twisting stroke over the head and then back down, hand barely skimming the soft skin before cupping his balls and giving them a light tug. He leans up over Sherlock's shoulder and snags a small bottle of lube from his nightstand; clicks open the cap and drizzles a bit into his palm. He's deliberately slow in his movements, letting Sherlock follow every move as he tosses the bottle on the floor and slicks Sherlock's cock, thumbing over the head and making him gasp.

He pushes forward, lifting Sherlock's thigh over his waist until he can slide his cock between Sherlock's slim thighs, thrusting lightly against his body, slipping back under Sherlock's balls into the crease of his arse and rubbing gently across his anus. He keeps a deliberately slow pace with his hand on Sherlock's prick, stroking him with long, slow pulls.

"Christ John, oh your hands…" Sherlock pants as he cants his hips forward, trying to take more of John's cock in as tight of a space as he can manage.

John keeps stroking, feeling the intimacy of their actions more strongly now that they're more deliberate, almost a new exploration of a body John knows so well. He feels Sherlock's body respond, his hips speeding up, rocking harder into John's hand, John gasping at the slick push-pull of his cock gliding in the crease of Sherlock's groin.

Sherlock's body suddenly stutters, pushes hard against John's and he cries out, warmth spilling over John's hand just as John feels his own orgasm wash through his body. He crashes his mouth to Sherlock's, more a smear of his lips against Sherlock's than a true kiss, as Sherlock's body continues to tremble against him.

John withdraws, snags his tee shirt from the floor and cleans them both up as best he can before collapsing on the bed next to a quiet and sated Sherlock.

"So damn gorgeous," John murmurs, turning toward him and resting his head on Sherlock's shoulder. "Always thought so. Can't believe you want me, of all people."

Sherlock rubs John's hair absently. "Not as surprised as I am," he counters. "It's more than I ever expected when Mike introduced us." He makes a contended sound, squirming around until he's settled against the pillows the way he wants, then takes a deep breath before he speaks. "I'm sure I need – I'll be more than happy if you – " Sherlock's stuttering words are so unlike him John lifts his head to see his face. "Will you stay with me? Please," he finally says.

John shakes his head and kisses him lightly on the mouth. "Of course I will. Probably need to save your life again before breakfast."

"I'll count on it, then," Sherlock says, and pulls John closer to kiss him again.

Title from Pablo Picasso's painting Friendship, and Longfellow: "It is difficult to know at what moment love begins; it is less difficult to know that it has begun."