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221B hadn’t changed.

From the outside, the house looked exactly the way it had on the day Sherlock had left it, had left London, had left John.

Sherlock didn’t quite dare to think about what might have changed inside the building, though.

He knew John was home, thanks to Mycroft.

His brother had told him quite a bit about the last three years of John Watson’s life, while a highly-trusted and discrete doctor had been busy checking Sherlock over, making sure he hadn’t caught anything life-threatening abroad and giving him more shots and meds than might have been strictly healthy for an underfed, worn-out man.

John was still living in 221B, with Mycroft paying half of the rent under the pretense of nostalgia. He had a part-time job at a clinic, went out to buy food, met the handful of friends he had left in different pubs around the city.

Sherlock hadn’t dared to ask about a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a wife. A husband. For some reason, the latter seemed worse.

Swallowing, Sherlock stepped up to the wooden door bearing the golden letters, turned the key in the lock, listened to the metal bolt giving in and sliding to the side.

Inside, the hallway still smelled the same, of Mrs Hudson’s bushels of dried lavender and just a hint of dust and mold. Very, very quietly, Sherlock closed the door behind him, fingers slowly brushing over the wood as if to take in everything about its texture.

Mrs Hudson wasn’t home. Mycroft had made sure Sherlock would return to John, and nobody but John.

John would be the first of the fooled to know that Sherlock wasn’t dead. The first Sherlock had to talk and admit his deception to.

Swallowing nervously, Sherlock ran a hand through his hair. Gone were the dark curls, replaced by a short, almost military haircut. Way more practical when you were traveling in disguise. Easier to dye, easier to hide.

Sherlock was yearning to grow them out again.

John had always liked Sherlock’s hair, had run his fingers through it when they were curled up in bed, had closed his eyes in enjoyment when Sherlock had let it brush against John’s skin on purpose, teasing him.

It was silly to be worried about John’s opinion of his hair, Sherlock knew. He also knew why his thoughts were a mess right now, why he was nervous of all things, nervous and rambling in his head and glued to the ground floor, instead of making his way upstairs where he could hear ever-so-quiet movements.

John’s feet against the floor. John moving, breathing, living.

Inhaling sharply, Sherlock made himself walk on, approaching the stairs in deliberately hushed steps.

It wouldn’t do to have John call out for who was visiting, have him open the door and see Sherlock mounting the stairs.

Sherlock wanted him close to the sofa or one of the armchairs, wanted him to be able to sit down when realisation hit, did not want him tumbling down the stairs in his haste to make sure Sherlock was actually there.

Sherlock had to make sure John was all right, had to make sure he would be okay and whole and not broken and lost because Sherlock had left him to his own devices.

But maybe, that was a preposterous assumption. Maybe, Sherlock was wrong to assume John Watson would still need him, want him, be his.

Three years had passed. In all likelihood, John had moved on.

Unable to bear that thought, Sherlock nearly made the mistake of rushing up the stairs after all, no matter the noise. Suddenly, he was feeling desperate to have John in his arms, to pull him close, have him kneel in front of him as he sat, John’s head buried in his lap and telling Sherlock in a breathless voice that he had missed him, that he was still his, that there was nobody else and never would be.

Forcing himself to calm down, Sherlock slowly crept up the stairs, skipping the two creaky steps and nearly missing the third.

At last, he reached the landing and stood in front of the door leading into their living room. It was almost eerie, being back, being so close to his former life, so close to John.

Curling his fingers around the doorknob, Sherlock took a last steadying breath.

He could do this. He had taken down an entire criminal network, had hunted down every last one of Moriarty’s contacts, had fought for his life on multiple occasions these past years. Clearly, he was capable, he was strong.

It wouldn’t do to have this bring him to his knees.

In one fluid motion, Sherlock opened the door and stepped into the living room.

The first thing he saw was John, looking up from his mobile phone in surprise, tensing slightly as the door to his home was opened unexpectedly. Immediately, Sherlock’s gaze zeroed in on his face.

He could tell the exact second John recognised the intruder. It was long before the phone slipped from his fingers, long before his mouth rounded into a gasp of disbelief, long before he took a step backwards as if to bring distance between himself and a hurtful memory.

It was as soon as they locked eyes, the first time in three years.

“Sherlock,” John said finally, voice terribly quiet. Sherlock wasn't completely sure if his hearing wasn't tricking him, merely putting sounds to the word John's lips were forming. “Sherlock.”

“John,” was his own shaky reply.

And then he saw it. Dark brown, soft and clearly worn, it rested against John’s throat, just like it belonged.

His collar.

The very collar Sherlock had given to him mere weeks after their first acquaintance.

Struck speechless and shocked to the very core, Sherlock stumbled a bit, steadying himself with a hand to the nearest armchair, long fingers curling around the backrest as he kept staring at the token of ownership around John’s neck.

In what had to have been instinctual, John had moved forward, arms stretching out as if to make sure Sherlock wouldn’t fall. For a brief moment, Sherlock realised that in all his dreamt-up scenarios of their reunion, it had never been him needing to be steadied.

But the thought was gone almost instantly as his mind tried to make sense of the fact that there was John, John Watson, his John, still wearing what had to be the most painful but significant reminder of their relationship.

The reverent silence was broken when John finally caught himself, arms falling back to his sides as he straightened up, the look of disbelief on his face replaced by careful indifference.

Sherlock saw it for the mask that it was.

“You’re... you’re dead. Were dead. Sherlock,” John said, voice louder now, but far from steady. “Sherlock, you were dead.”

“I know,” Sherlock replied. “It was a trick. A farce. I needed to disappear.”

Sherlock didn’t miss the way the collar moved against John’s skin as the man swallowed heavily.

“A trick,” he repeated shakily. “Why?”

“To bring Moriarty’s network down,” Sherlock explained. Short answers. Low voice. The big talk could be saved for when John was more himself. When Sherlock was more himself. “It needed to be done. You would have died if I hadn’t.”

A shaky nod from John. Then fervent shaking of his head.

“I... don’t...” he whispered, then stopped, clearly unable to voice what was going through his head.

Then, the tremble started. Sherlock saw it first in John’s hands, move up his arms, taking over his shoulders, his chest, his entire body. Soon, John was openly shaking as he stared at Sherlock still steadying himself on the armchair, the mask of indifference crumbled once more, making space for a rawness that Sherlock had never wanted to see on John’s face.

“God,” John finally gasped. “God, you’re not dead.”

“No,” Sherlock said. “No, I am not.”

With that, John moved forward, passing the remaining few steps between them, only to stop mere centimetres from touching.

His eyes were intense as he studied Sherlock’s features. Sherlock didn’t move, merely watching as John raised a shaking hand to press his fingertips against Sherlock’s right cheek.

It was their first touch in three years. It was perfect.

“Your hair,” John murmured, running his fingers past Sherlock’s ears and over his scalp.

Sherlock let out a noise that was half-chuckle, half-sob.

“Sorry,” he murmured.

“No,” John said immediately, shaking his head. “No.”

His fingers returned to Sherlock’s cheek, lightly tracing his cheekbone, the shell of his ear, the line of his jaw, eventually coming to rest to cup the side of Sherlock’s face.

Feeling it was his turn, Sherlock raised his own hand, his fingers immediately seeking out the soft leather of the collar around John’s neck.

“You’re wearing it,” he voiced his amazement. “You’re still wearing it.”

John made a noise that sounded painfully close to a whimper.

“I couldn’t make myself stop,” he replied, sounding both deeply hurt and humbingly affectionate. “Felt like... you were still here.”

“And now I am,” Sherlock murmured, slipping his fingers in the tight space between the collar and John’s skin. “I’m here.”

It was like someone had pulled a plug. Tension rushed out of John’s body. The shaking and trembling stopped as he fell forward, arms wrapping around Sherlock’s chest as he buried his face in the crook of Sherlock’s neck.

Sherlock’s fingers slid to the back of John’s neck where the silver buckle was resting. His other hand finally let go of the chair, the arm curling around John’s back, pulling him close.

For a minute or two, all they did was breathe each other in.

Then, John started pleading against Sherlock’s shoulder.

“Please,” he was saying. “Please, may I... may I touch you? Please, Sherlock. Please. Please.

“Of course,” Sherlock whispered into John’s ear. “Of course.”

He let John uncurl their arms and reach for Sherlock’s hand, let him lead Sherlock to the couch, didn’t protest when he was gently pushed to sit on it.

Sherlock watched John take him in for a second, eyes raking over Sherlock’s form with a look of absolute awe on his face. Then, very slowly, John dropped to his knees before the couch.

Faintly, Sherlock realised that this was what he had imagined to return to, what he had dreamt of in moments of weakness, what he had craved for dozens of months. He briefly wondered what he had done to deserve his dreams to come true like this.

All thoughts vanished when John started brushing a hand over Sherlock’s clothed legs, up to his thighs, then back down. He heard John’s breath hitch when he finally pressed his hand against Sherlock’s crotch, then exhale sharply before looking up at Sherlock.

The look. God, but that look. John humbly asking permission like this, hands pausing against Sherlock’s fly as he blinked up at Sherlock. Sherlock hadn’t know how much he had missed that look, how much it made him crave John’s touch.

“Please?” John asked, just as if there hadn’t been three years between now and the last time they had done this, just as if John was still Sherlock’s, through and through, willing to plead and serve and please Sherlock, getting the greatest enjoyment out of just that.

Feeling John’s need, Sherlock moved his hand to briefly but forcefully tug at John’s collar, forcing his voice to sound firm instead of breathless and overwhelmed.

“Please what?”

John’s reaction was an almost painful-sounding noise of longing. For a second, all John did was close his eyes, maybe to keep himself in check.

“Please,” he eventually managed, eyes sparkling suspiciously when he opened them again. “May I suck your cock?”

The line, so familiar to both of them, had never been spoken quite this way. Usually, it was laced with heavy arousal, utter submission or a hint of cheek. But never like this. Not like John was asking him to make him a promise, not like John was begging him to never leave again.

“You may,” Sherlock replied, letting go of the collar in favour of brushing his thumb over John’s slightly parted lips. John kissed the finger in a humbling display of affection.

Dropping his hand, Sherlock let John do what he needed to do. He watched him carefully unbutton Sherlock’s trousers, gently sliding them down as much as it was possible, let him brush a careful hand over Sherlock’s pants.

And then, John’s fingers slipped past the last boundary, curled around Sherlock’s hardness and it was all Sherlock could do not to whimper himself, not to tell John how much he had missed this, had missed John touch and pleasure Sherlock as if it was the only thing that made him whole.

But he wouldn’t show his weakness, his own deep need for what they were doing. This would be about John, for John. So instead, Sherlock forced himself to curl a heavy hand around the back of John’s head, firmly pushing his head forward.

“Suck,” he said, surprised at just how authoritative he sounded, just as he always had. Not a hint of weakness. “Amaze me.”

John did. Pushing Sherlock’s underwear aside, John wrapped his lips around the head of Sherlock’s cock and started sucking, sending sparks of pleasure through Sherlock’s body.

And Sherlock observed.

Watched how gorgeous John’s lips looked around Sherlock’s cock. Listened to the small whimpers and moans of need that escaped John in between sucking and licking. Felt John’s hair against the skin of his hand as he forced John closer, made him gag just a bit as he made him swallow more than he was ready to.

Made John feel owned.

Sherlock didn’t last long. It had been too many months without this, too many lonely nights of remembering this, too much time passed. When he came into John’s mouth with all but a jittery gasp, Sherlock felt like everything was clicking into place.

For a few moments, he didn’t let John pull back, made him stay where he was with Sherlock’s softening cock against his tongue. Then, abruptly, he pulled harshly at John’s hair, jerking his head backwards.

John gasped, eyes flickering upwards immediately, searching out Sherlock’s face for a clue. Sherlock sent him a hard, expectant look, even though all he wanted to do was pull John close and shower him with kisses, wanted to ask him if this really meant that he’d have Sherlock back.

“Thank you,” John finally gasped out, fumbling to set Sherlock back to rights. “Thank you.”

Just like that, just this quickly, it was over.

Sherlock fingers softened against John’s head, no longer punishing and domineering but affectionate. John all but melted into the touch, then slumped forward until he could rest his face against Sherlock’s thigh.

Sherlock didn’t miss the small smile on John’s lips.

They stayed like this for a while, Sherlock feeling John’s warmth seep through the cloth of his trousers.

“I missed you so much,” John eventually whispered against Sherlock’s thigh. “I couldn’t believe... didn’t want to believe... but...”

“Shh,” Sherlock hushed him. “It’s not important.”

His fingers were carding through John’s hair now, trying to let them speak for him as they tenderly brushed over John’s scalp.

“I managed, you know?” John finally said, voice sounding halfway between amused and upset. “I managed fine. It was... hard and I was sad and it hurt so much thinking about you, but... I managed. I dealt with it.” He chuckled, but it didn’t sound all that happy. “Only thing I couldn’t do is stop wearing this.”

A hand came up to brush over his collar and Sherlock moved his own hand until it was resting against John’s, fingers interlacing against the soft leather.

“John, I’m...” Sherlock said, but John interrupted him.

“Don’t,” he pleaded. “Please, don’t. Just... let us stay like this for a while, yes? Just a bit longer?”

In response, Sherlock squeezed John’s fingers where they were curled into each other.

There would be time to talk. Time to talk and be yelled at, time to deal with John getting angry and frustrated, rightfully so, time to tell about his own experiences, to curl up in bed to comfort each other, to try and make the hurt go away.

It wouldn’t be easy.

But in the end, John would still be his. Sherlock would have him, would have this. Smiling almost a bit sadly, Sherlock rubbed soothing circles into the skin of John’s neck.

They would be okay. It was all that mattered.