Chapter 19: Only the beginning

Their arrival back at Coruscant coincided with the first rays or morning light and both John and Molly, now well-rested and fed after the 27 hour trip, eagerly stared out the window while Naomi docked the ship. It had been a somewhat quiet journey back, spent predominantly either sleeping, meditating, or in quiet conversation about one thing or another. Naturally there'd been one short conversation about the upcoming meeting with the Council, but matters were settled quickly and they all went back to whatever they'd been doing before. John and Molly quietly playing cards in some corner; Sherlock and Natasha conversing, or more likely keeping quiet; Mycroft and Naomi in the cockpit either talking, or meditation, or both.

Naomi had found Natasha as she'd said she would, and tucked away in a quiet corner of the cruiser, they spoke. The mutual trust between them allowed for the exchange of such delicate secrets. When a Jedi loved someone, and didn't want the thousands of Force-sensitive others in the Temple to know, a shield had to be built around them. Something to disguise and block the Force connection that would grow, to keep those emotionally intimate moments between just the two of them. She encouraged her at the possibility that something like this could work if done properly, in the event Sherlock agreed. But she also warned of the chance of being caught, the consequences, as well as the stigma that may result. Rejection, on the other hand, would be painful and heartbreaking, but probably safer. Horrible options indeed, but that was their life. Despite being Jedi, they were still beings, not emotionless machines. They parted ways with Naomi giving Natasha a knowing smile, the promise of a conversation, and the freedom to ask any questions she may have.

John and Sherlock had their own conversation, in their room. The sounds of the fight that resulted, now that they were both healed and rested, echoed through the small ship. Evidently faking one's death and not informing one's padawan that there was the possibility it might happen, was not appropriate. John had cooled off quickly though, and in the quietness of the room, had pulled his master into another fierce hug.

The eventual debriefing with the Council wasn't short but it was straightforward, with Naomi having communicated most of the relevant information when she'd contacted them back in Atoa. Questions were geared initially towards the events leading to Moriarty's and Petrovich's deaths, but eventually gave way to other, more important things, like details about the Cybermen and the Phrik mine they'd discovered. Natasha was singled out only twice to offer explanation. Once for Petrovich, and a second time to explain about the Cyberman unit she'd gotten a closer look at. With both the Cybermen and the mine having been buried beneath piles and piles of likely still burning rubble there wasn't much need for detail, but an entry would still have to be made in the Archives for future reference.

The end of the meeting with the Council was somewhat of a relief, for Naomi at least. And she was ready to take a few days to relax and recuperate before their next mission, which had already been hinted. Mycroft was a skilled diplomat, and his talents were needed frequently. With a soft smile exchanged, Naomi and Mycroft left the Council room and headed straight for their favorite walking destination, the Room of a Thousand Fountains, for a bit of quiet company and conversation. Their evening would consist of Naomi sneaking into Mycroft's room, but for the moment, conversation would do.

Once they'd been dismissed and gone their separate ways, Natasha made sure Molly was properly settled before allowing her to go off with John. There was still some concern as to her well-being, but Molly insisted more than once that she was fine, going as far as telling her Master that she was starting to sound a lot like her, 'worrying all the time'. Natasha had shushed her with a quick smile and promptly dismissed the padawan, staring after her for just a bit before returning to her own quarters.

Sherlock had let John go off with Molly, under the instructions that should they find the need to return to a room, to go to Sherlock and John's. Sherlock had calculated it'd be several hours before either one of the padawans wished to return. They had friends to see, classes to get ready for, food to eat, things to do. Sherlock, on the other hand, had a promise to keep. So, he walked just down the hall to Natasha and Molly's room, and knocked on the door.

There was only a few seconds of delay before Natasha was pulling the door open and gesturing for Sherlock to step inside. "Come in," she said quietly, putting her own thoughts on pause as she closed the door behind him. "John's with Molly?"

"Of causing trouble as they usually do. He mentioned trying to find Sam, Martha, and Mary. They should be well occupied for a while. Probably need a break from us, if anything." Sherlock had his hands loosely at his sides as he did a quick sweep of the room. His eyes finally landing on her. "You wanted to see me?"

"I did." She looked him over and hesitated before she gestured for him to follow. "Let's sit down," she said, more than a little uncomfortable with the way she was hesitating, pausing and generally acting insecure. Insecure was decidedly not a word people would use to describe her, but Naomi's words were still rattling around inside her head and opening up possibilities she hadn't previously considered. "I'm not sure where I should begin," she said after she'd taken a seat. "I suppose I'll just start from the beginning." Pause. "Did you ever figure out why I walked away back in Appledoria?"

"You were compromised." Sherlock said, settling into his seat just across from her, back straight, both feet on the floor. "But that's using your words. In truth, I was confused about it until this last mission." He paused. "You kissed me there too, and not just to warm me up. Both times I nearly died, well, loosely put. Because you had thought I died in this last one… anyways… Kissing is a traditional sign of affection. I suppose that's the reason you walked away? Because you…got too close?"

Natasha exhaled a laugh. "Yeah, I suppose 'too close' is an appropriate way to put it." There was a short pause before she spoke again. "I love you," she said quietly, lifting her eyes to meet his and shaking her head once. "I loved you then and I still love you now, which is... inappropriate, I'm aware, but... you have a right to know."

Sherlock blinked twice, tilting his head slightly as he looked her over. "I…" he cleared his throat. "that's…closer than I thought." His brain was a mess of emotions, things he couldn't understand, but was trying very hard to. He ruffled a hand through his hair. "I'm glad…you told me." He looked away for a second, trying to get his thoughts in order to form a logical sentence. "You know…I didn't delete that first time. And it really hurt me, that you walked away." He paused, making sure to meet her eyes again. "Love is a mystery to me, but if it can be described as trust, and concern for happiness, and faith in, and willingness to go to any length to protect…I do believe I can say, with the utmost certainty, that your feelings are not unreciprocated."

Natasha couldn't be sure if his words meant he felt the same, but the description seemed close enough to what she felt that she didn't need clarification. She leaned forward in her chair, elbows resting on her knees and hands clasped in front of her. She smiled faintly. "So what do we do now?" She said after a moment. "Obviously... this isn't something I've ever done before," she admitted. "Even the kissing was new." She paused. "Have you?"

"Nope." Sherlock said with a little shake of his head, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. "This is…not my area. Nor was I ever expecting it to be." He paused. "As for what to do…I don't know. What are our options? We could try to…move on? Or…not move on. What would something like this…entail?"

"Well I spoke to Naomi," she admitted. "But I honestly wasn't expecting this... reaction out of you." She paused and stared at her clasped hands for a moment. "Moving on is an option, but so is going through with it." She met his eyes. "We'd have to be discreet, shield our... emotions so that others won't sense them while we're here... and set a few ground rules to make sure we don't lose our balance." Her eyes darted over his features for a moment. "It could work."

"Right." Sherlock said with a nod. He was quiet a moment in thought, gaze unfocusing as he tried to figure a few things out. "We're not just talking about…our trust and bond we've built over the years. This… love, it's a bit different. Isn't it?" He focused back on her. "It would mean what we have now would change slightly. In accordance with what we could get away with, and making sure to keep our balance."

"It is different," Natasha confirmed with a nod and a bit of a frown. "And things would change." She kept her eyes on him a moment longer before finally looking away. "But if that's not what you want, we can move on from this," she insisted, wanting to give him away out in case he needed it. "I won't bring it up again, and we'll just pick up where we left off three years ago." She paused. "Minus the feelings I just told you about. I can do that. For you, I can at least try."

Sherlock didn't answer right away, looking her over slowly in an attempt to read her. "I don't want to move on." He said simply, pausing again. "I probably could. Box every feeling up and store it away, continue on like we were. But I'd wonder, and I'm nearly certain something like this could not be boxed away for good. Going by your response to my resurrection, I'm not sure you could either." He paused. "If Naomi spoke to you, my suspicions are confirmed. If they can make that work…I think we can as well."

Natasha's green eyes found his and she held his gaze for a moment. "I don't want to move on either," she confessed quietly. "I could try if you wanted me to, like I said, but..." She briefly bit her lip and shook her head. "No, it's not the sort of thing I could box up forever and I have three years of proof behind me."

"Three years." Sherlock repeated. "You've known for three years." He paused, finally getting up the nerve to say it back. "While it's taken me a while to identify the feeling, and honestly only because you decided to tell me…I love you too."

"You... you do?" Natasha's initial reaction was a blink and a quiet intake of breath, but a second later she'd moved forward and out of her chair, hands curling into the fabric of his clothes the second she landed on his lap and pressed her lips to his. "You're saying that only because you mean it, aren't you?" She asked after she'd pulled away. "Because if you don't, you don't have to say it. I'm not fragile, I can handle it."

"Natasha Romanoff, I have never ever thought you were fragile." Sherlock said, blinking his eyes open in surprise after she pulled away. "And I wouldn't say something that important without meaning it." He tried again, saying it in Russian instead. "I love you."

"I do like it when you speak Russian," she half-whispered, heart already pounding a little faster at those words. Her lips found his one more time, this time in a softer, gentler kiss, before she pulled back. "I love you too."

Sherlock smiled at her, running his hand over her thigh with minor hesitation. "Well…I think we're past the point of boxing it all up and forgetting about it." He used his other hand to cup her face, staring into fierce green eyes. "What do we do now?"

"I did say I had a few ideas," Natasha replied, leaning into his touch and matching his smile with one of her own. Naturally, she'd done her research after that first encounter at Appledoria, if for no other reason than to understand what had happened. "They involve less clothes, though... and we should probably move over to my bed."

Sherlock was suddenly hit with something he disliked. Nervousness. He took a second to push away that emotion, and concentrate on her. They loved each other in the deeper way than just good friends should love each other, and there were ways of showing that. He fixed her with a determined look. "I have no idea what I'm doing. But I'm willing to try."

"I... did a little research but it's no guarantee that I'll know what I'm doing either," Natasha admitted after a hesitant pause of her own. "We'll take it slow," she assured him, releasing his clothes and smoothing her hands over his chest and up to his neck. "As slow as we need to, okay? And if you want to stop at any time... we'll stop." Green eyes met blue and she smiled just a little, dropping her guard completely to show the uncharacteristic nervousness beneath. "I just want you."

"The kids are out…slow is good." Sherlock said, relaxing with her as she dropped her guard. He leaned in an placed a soft kiss on her lips, letting himself be as open as he could be. "You have me, all of me. So lead the way."

With another stolen kiss and a smile, Natasha slipped off his lap and grabbed his hand. Hers and Molly's quarters weren't all that large, and her bedroom connected with the receiving room anyway through a little hallway off to the side. She led him through and closed her bedroom door behind them before turning to face him completely. It was only then she remembered the height difference and a little laugh escaped her lips. She gestured towards the bed with a nervous gesture of her hand. "How about we sit down?"

"Right." Sherlock took a second to fully come to terms with what they were about to do, looking her over carefully. He made up his mind again, cementing it in there so there'd be no further doubts. He took a moment to pull off his boots and undo his belt before moving over to the bed, sitting on it and reaching for her hand.

Natasha's own boots and belts came off before she loosened her hair from her braid and finally grasped his hand. It was a big step what they were about to do, and she couldn't help thinking it every step of the way. A big step, with big consequences if they were found out. "Hey," she whispered after she'd straddled and settled herself on his lap. "Do you mind telling me one more time?"

"I love you." Sherlock said almost immediately, meeting her eyes with a renewed determination. His hands settled on her hips, softly and with more hesitation that he'd admit to. Not his area…but it could be. "And I'll tell you that as often as you need to hear it…and under the right circumstances, of course."

"I promise I don't need constant reassurance," Natasha replied with a new bright smile she'd reserve only for him. "This just feels... important." Pause. "I love you too." And she kissed him again as shaky hands slipped between them to help him out of his tunic.

It landed on the ground somewhere and he made contact again, his own hands moving under hers, the fire of the kiss spurring on his movements. They explored gently before he broke away to pull hers over her head. He sat back a bit as he threw hers towards where his had landed. "I'm nervous too, alright? And neither of us normally get nervous…so that's something." His hands moved gently over her, but his eyes were fixed on hers.

"It's something," Natasha agreed in a whisper, and staring into his bright blue eyes she allowed herself to relax. It was Sherlock and it was her, she reminded herself, they'd known and trusted each other for years. No matter how much the nature of their relationship changed, it was still him and it was still her. If there was ever someone they could be completely and totally vulnerable with, it was with one another.

She held his gaze for a moment longer in the dim light of her bedroom, but eventually lowered her eyes to follow every movement of her hands over the bare skin of his muscle-hardened chest. He truly was a beautiful man and she explored slowly but purposefully, committing the look and feel of him to memory before she leaned in to kiss him and do the same with the taste of his lips. This time she didn't need to hold back, and her hands settled behind his neck as she pressed herself closer and tilted her head to deepen the contact.

It wasn't enough, though. There were too many layers between them still and she wanted more, the way she always wanted more with him. So she pulled back to trail urgently heated kisses down his neck and chest while helping him out of his pants.

With a small moan, Sherlock lifted his hips to help the process, suddenly feeling very exposed. He willed that feeling away as well as a simple adjustment to the new vulnerability. After those were out of the way, he caught her head to bring her back up to kiss, slipping his hand over to figure out the bra clasp. He pulled away, looking up at her as he slipped the straps of her shoulder. Aesthetically, she was beautiful But that's never what drew him to her in the first place. Her determination, her intelligence, her abilities, those were the qualities he enjoyed the most. Those simply enhanced the beauty on the outside. "You are very beautiful." He said quietly as shaky hands touched warm skin. "Both physically, as well as who you are. It's something I've never really mentioned…but you should know."

Natasha fought the urge to cover herself up and instead flashed him a soft smile after her bra had disappeared to join the growing pile of clothes on her bedroom floor. He was right, he'd never really mentioned it before, but then neither had she. "So are you," she said against his lips after she'd leaned over to catch them in a passionate kiss. "All of you," she continued breathlessly. "Who you are, how you look..." She flipped them over so that she was lying on her back in a quick, cat-like move and smiled up at him. "And the way you think."

Sherlock hovered over her, propping himself up on his elbows as he studied her face with a contemplative expression. He tilted his head, moving to kiss her right under her ear and then down her neck to her chest, speaking against her skin as he moved. Still having no idea what he was doing, but it felt right. "You are amazing…loyal…brave…desirable…intelligent…fierce…and I…love…you."

Natasha's breathing became shallower every time he pressed his lips against her skin, and she slipped one hand through his hair while settling the on his shoulder and gripping it tightly. "Sherlock," she said after a moment when she managed to muddle through the overwhelming jumble of sensations she was still unfamiliar with to form a coherent though. Her voice came out low and barely above a whisper inside the quiet room. "You are... not just a good man, but a great man..." She pulled him up a bit so she could meet his eyes. "The best, the wisest and the most heroic... your protests aside... and I love you..." She pulled him down towards her. "And I need you to kiss me."

"That, I think I know how to do. Now." Sherlock said deeply, giving her a very tender smile. He closed the small distance and kissed her, with as much of that forbidden passion that he could possibly use. It was more than invigorating, it was past the intensity with how she'd saved his life. His hands moved over her, until he hooked a finger around the last remaining item of clothing and swiftly helped her out of it. The immediate future was spend learning, participating in an activity that he'd never considered even doing with anyone. Not until her, not until this feeling had been identified. Everything sort of hit at once, and he could more than understand why this emotion was not acceptable in the Jedi Order. It was distracting and he would likely do anything in the galaxy to keep her safe. But they were already over the edge, there was no going back now.

Eventually, after learning and moving together, they stilled completely. Sherlock's eyes were closed and he was panting hard, still unable to stop touching her. He ran a hand over her hair and down her back, his forehead pressed to hers and breathing the same air. He was burning, with the Force flowing between them, and a feeling he never thought he'd feel. And he didn't mind one bit. He'd memorized the entire process, from the look in her eyes, to her reactions, and the feeling of the Force exhilarating everything for them. Breathing in deeply, trying to reassert himself into the present, he kissed her again. "Was that okay?"

"More than okay," Natasha panted in reply, still basking in the aftermath of what had been a completely new but completely intoxicating experience. She hooked one leg over his hips, and reached up with one hand to cup his cheek. She still couldn't get enough of him, couldn't stop touching him, couldn't help thinking she'd be wanting more of him no matter what they did. The thought brought a smile to her lips and she leaned in for one more kiss. And another. And another. "I love you, Charming."

"I know." Sherlock said, smoothing a hand over the side of her head as he opened his eyes to look her over. He smiled slightly, losing himself in the moment…which was another complete surprise. "While we will have to talk ground rules soon…I think I have several new ideas for the shower."

Natasha let out a relaxed laugh and nodded once. "Then let's talk ground rules now," she quipped. "Because I think we should give those a try in the near future."

"Naked and sweaty seems appropriate for a deep discussion." Sherlock said with a smirk. "So, we have our padawans to think of. Are we going to tell them about our…connection?"

"Should we? With the amount of time we all spend together they're bound to notice something, if they haven't already." Natasha thought it over for a little bit before she spoke again, breathing slowing progressively as her body wound down from the unexpected high. "Molly won't say anything, I'm sure. She might even understand." She paused. "What about John?"

"John wouldn't either. They both are far too loyal for that. Because you're right…they will notice something eventually. Especially considering we still have six or so years left training them." Sherlock said, shifting so that he had her tucked into an embrace against his chest. "Perhaps it's best if we tell them ourselves instead of being asked about it."

"Agreed," Natasha replied, letting out a slow breath and closing her eyes. "Not here, though. We'll tell them during our next mission," she said a moment later. "I think might be coming our way pretty soon anyway." She paused. "What about priorities?"

"The Order, and the people we serve." Sherlock said after a moment's hesitation. "That's what Mycroft said he and Naomi do, and that's really the only way we can justify continuing this." He paused. "We also have to make sure that whatever happens…we're not going to fall over the edge." He'd have smiled at that phrase, if what he was speaking about wasn't so serious. "I have a bad habit of nearly dying, so if that does happen, I need you to promise to stay in the light, okay?"

Natasha half-opened her eyes, and after a moment, nodded once. "I promise," she said truthfully, "and you have to promise to do the same." She turned her head to press a kiss to his chest when memories of him going over the balcony back in Atoa rose to the surface. "The Order, the people we serve, and stay in the light," she repeated against his skin. "Anything else?"

"Try not to get caught." Sherlock said, tangling his hand in her hair and holding her head gently. "And I promise. We'll work on this together, right? That's what people do in these situations? How did he put it? Keep each other balanced."

"Naomi mentioned that too," Natasha said quietly, pressing one more kiss to his chest and closing her eyes. "We'll work on it together, same as we do everything else," she continued. "Though knowing us and our skill set, I doubt we'll get caught. And either way, the possibility of it isn't enough to scare me off."

"Nor me. Because that…was rather fun." Sherlock said with a smile she couldn't see. He made a bit of an unexpected revelation. "Although…that is how humans reproduce…and it's not like we can cover that up…" He made a bit of a face. "We'll have to…you know…can you?…" He trailed off awkwardly.

Natasha pulled back just enough to look at him and smiled. Awkwardness wasn't something she was accustomed to seeing in Sherlock except on very few occasions, and this time she found it oddly endearing. "Can I what? Take care of it?" She pulled him in for a quick kiss. "Yes I can."

"I just don't want…a conception to happen in the first place." Sherlock said, giving her a soft look. "I'll do one of those…surgery things on my next free day." He kissed her again. "Although I'm nearly certain our child would be unstoppable, it's not exactly feasible."

"No, I know, I agree," Natasha assured him quickly. "When I said 'take care of it' I meant the situation not a... child." She flashed him a soft smile of her own. "The surgery... you can do it or I can do it... it makes no difference to me, okay? Unstoppable as our... child would be, these aren't really ideal circumstances for... that sort of thing." Her brow furrowed and she searched his features. "Is that okay?"

"It's fine." Sherlock said with a reassuring smile. He moved a finger to gently trace her furrowed brow and then down her cheek. "Besides, we already have two kids. Who are more than enough of a handful at times." He teased lightly.

Natasha laughed quietly, but her eyes never left his face. "True," she agreed. "Two kids who'll be back from running around at some point and I still want to try that shower thing with you."

"And I'd really like to not have them find out like this." Sherlock said, slipping his other hand to run down her back. "Let's try the shower then. Never considered making it a two person activity. Should be fun."

"If it's anything like what we just did, I think I agree. Very fun" Natasha leaned in for a lingering kiss. "Let's go," she said when she'd reluctantly pulled away to sit up. "Because if I keep kissing you and you keep touching me, we might not leave the bed at all."

"You're right." Sherlock let her go, also reluctantly, dropping his hands to the bed. He gave her an appreciative once over, a small smile tugging the corner of his mouth as he sat up and ruffled his hair. "Beautiful." He said, leaning over to sneak another slow kiss. He pulled away and stood up, pulling her with him. "Now, to the shower."

"Shower," Natasha confirmed in a low voice, and a moment after the door had closed behind them, the spray of water was beating down on their skin and she was once again in his arms, burning with the Force connection that hadn't left them since they'd gotten as close as two people possibly could on the bed just beyond the door. For three years she imagined what it would be like to tell Sherlock she loved him, to have him say it back and mean it, to be with him this way, even if the details escaped her in her inexperience; and for three years she tried burying those thoughts way down deep where she thought they wouldn't cause anyone any harm. Now, in the end, when she had him in her arms, wanting her the same way and feeling the same things, she knew, truly and without a doubt, that this wasn't just much better, it was really the only way.

So her lips found his again and again in fierce kisses, her hands burned trails over every inch of available skin, and with every intake of breath, a whispered 'I love you' came rushing out. It wasn't just about sealing the promises they'd made before, through their actions and through the Force, not just their words; it was about making new ones. To put the Order first, but to keep each other safe; to embrace the light, but turn to each other for balance; to continue their work, so they could keep each other. To stay partners in battle, lovers in private, and best friends in both.

Truly, the best of both worlds.