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 John comes back on a drizzly afternoon. The lackluster rain is unremarkable, as are the grey skies and predictable traffic patterns. To Sherlock, though, it's a day unlike any other: 221B is brimming with promise once more, filled with potential and warmth and something fragile that makes his pulse quicken and his stomach flutter if he allows himself to focus on it for too long.

 

It’s not the same as it was, and he’s not sure it ever will be, but the sound of John’s footsteps and the clean smell of John’s shampoo in the cloudy humidity of the bathroom and the sight of John in his chair do something to Sherlock he has trouble examining too closely. He feels something small and delicate coming back to life, something he has long since given up on and tried to lay to rest, and it’s as beautiful as it is painful.

 

--

 

John gets a job at a new surgery close to Baker Street, and when he leaves in the morning on his first day of work, Sherlock is filled with an unexpected panic that things are back to how they were when John was gone. It only goes away when he looks for clues that John was really there; he is comforted by the disturbances in the dust patterns of the second coat hook that went unused for so long, by the poorly re-folded newspaper sitting in John’s chair, by the used mug in the sink. (He has an absurd urge to dust it for fingerprints or look for skin particles left behind by John’s lips on the rim, but he resists.)

 

Once he’s convinced himself John has really come back, he allows himself the comforting ritual of sitting in his chair, steepling his fingers under his chin, and closing his eyes. He revisits Baker Street of four years ago in his mind palace, tucked away in a beloved wing he’s visited countless times over the past few years. He imagines the room just as it was then, from the meticulous way John left the blanket folded on his chair down to the very last book in the pile near the door, and he lets himself smell the familiar mix of fresh tea and John and chemicals, lets himself feel the textures of the walls, his chair, John’s pillow, and he is so absorbed in the sensory memories that when he opens his eyes, he is dismayed. The differences between the Baker Street he knows now and the one he knew then are profound; there are too many of his things and not enough of John’s, too much evidence of his own presence and his own life by himself, too many wrinkles in his chair that John’s will never catch up with after having gone vacant so long, and because of this, there’s an anxiety inside him he can’t quell.

 

Something is different between them now; their laughter doesn’t come as naturally, their teasing is rare and careful. He doesn’t like it and he doesn’t know how to fix it, and so he sets out to make the environment as close to it was then as possible, before he ruined everything that ever existed between them, before John’s world came crashing down around him. He moves some of his things from the living room to his bedroom, puts some of his other things in the bookcase or on a shelf, until it looks like there is more space for John in the room.

 

When he is finished, he carefully moves John’s Union Jack pillow until it’s right in the center of his chair and lets his fingers linger on the familiar threading for just a moment. He swallows hard and lets his fingers drop, then looks around the room in hesitant satisfaction, and that’s when his eyes settle upon his violin case, sitting beside the couch and covered in a thin film of dust.

 

He hasn’t touched it since John’s wedding; he’s had no desire. He looks at it now and there is an ache deep in his heart that he doesn’t know how to explain, but the thought of playing is daunting, and so he turns away. Maybe another day, he thinks.

 

--

 

When John comes home from work, Sherlock is sitting behind his microscope in the kitchen, working on an experiment he’d started before John came back. Though he doesn’t show it outwardly, his heart leaps when he hears the door open and his pulse is pounding in his ears for reasons he doesn’t understand as he listens to John hang up his coat, and he forces himself to keep his eyes trained on the slide.

 

“You in?” John calls, his footsteps coming closer.

 

“Obviously,” Sherlock says, finally looking up when John comes into the kitchen. He’s about to add a remark about how John must be blind if he didn’t notice his coat on the hook and his shoes sitting by the door, but he stops because an unexpected wave of something washes over him when he sees John’s familiar countenance smiling at him in the doorway, sees the new wrinkles on his face interacting with the old familiar ones, sees the creases in the elbows of his shirt and down near the cuffs he gets from rolling them up while he’s working. He swallows, his throat suddenly dry as a strange warmth washes over him, and turns back to his microscope, his heart pounding.

 

“Have you eaten?” John asks. “Fancy a takeaway?”

 

“Yes,” Sherlock says, then blinks a few times in confusion and looks up. “No, that is I –” He stops and clears his throat. “No, I haven’t eaten. Yes, I could do takeaway.”

 

He feels hopelessly incompetent and incapable of expressing himself, feels as if his mind is sluggish and his body is in the way. He doesn’t understand why it has to be this way, but John is regarding him as if he hasn’t done anything strange, so he allows himself to feel a hesitant sense of encouragement.

 

“Right, perfect,” John says. He clears his throat. “How’s Thai, then?”

 

Sherlock watches him, sees the openness of his face, and blinks again. “Perfect,” he parrots, and then turns back to his microscope, not taking in anything on the slide.

 

--

 

The next day while John is at work, Sherlock picks up his violin case. He places it on the table and opens it, and then just looks. His stomach flutters and he is filled with an indescribable feeling of nostalgia and longing as his eyes drift over the warm, familiar wood and the beautiful shape of the F-holes and the fine dusting of rosin that still sits undisturbed beneath the strings. He reaches out and lets his fingers brush over the wood, the smoothness achingly familiar, but he startles when he hears the door to the street open and Mrs. Hudson’s footsteps shuffling to her apartment, and he pulls his fingers back as if burned.

 

Gingerly, he lets his fingers drift over the violin once more, his heart picking up speed, but he doesn’t dare let them close around the familiar shape, doesn’t dare let them lift it out of its enclosure. He carefully closes the case, tenderly re-clasps it, and puts it back where it sat beside the couch.

 

--

 

“What do you think of this?” John asks. He’s sitting on his chair, and he gestures towards the telly with a bottle of beer.

 

Sherlock glances distractedly up at John from his computer, and he’s struck for a moment by the way the light of the screen reflects off of John’s eyes in the dimness of the sitting room, by the way John looks so warm and familiar and right. He realizes John asked him a question, though, and so his eyes flicker towards the screen and back to John. “Hmm?”

 

“Stonehenge,” John clarifies. “Don’t tell me you deleted it. I’d think it’d be interesting to you, centuries old mystery and all that.”

 

Sherlock glances at the TV again, where a melodramatic voiceover talks about possible alien involvement while they show a slow motion, black and white pan of the landmark. “I went there when I was young,” he says.

 

“Did you?” John asks. He sounds surprised, and he’s watching Sherlock with unhidden curiosity.

 

“Yes,” Sherlock replies. His lip curls in distaste. “A family vacation.”

 

John grins, and Sherlock feels unexpectedly warm. “Well?” John asks. “What’d you think, then?”

 

Sherlock shrugs. “I thought sharing a hotel room with Mycroft was torture.”

 

John snorts out a huff of laughter and a small smile curls on Sherlock’s lips.

 

“No surprise there,” John says. “What about Stonehenge, though?” He gestures towards the television. “What do you think?”

 

Sherlock eyes the television for a moment, and he turns pensive. “I think some things can’t be explained,” he says. His answer, much like the air between them, is much different than it was a few years ago.

 

--

 

Sherlock sits behind his computer for a couple hours the next morning, John having long since gone to work, and he realizes that he’s bored, that he’s crawling for stimulation. His eyes land on his violin case, and he makes up his mind, closing his computer and going to the case.

 

He picks it up and lays it on the table once more, letting his hands smooth over the texture of the case, before reverently opening it. He picks up the violin and plucks it, then grimaces, his spine involuntarily twisting in a need to physically compensate for how out of tune the strings are. He plucks the A string and wrinkles his nose, then carefully tries to turn the tuning peg. He braces himself when it doesn’t turn as easily as he’d like, and carefully applies just enough force to get it going before he brings it up to where it should be and then carefully adjusts the fine tuner. He tunes the D and G strings next, but when he gets to the E string, the most out of tune, it snaps as he tightens it.

 

It’s almost enough to make him give up on it entirely for the day, but the familiar sounds of tuning, the familiar feel of the strings beneath his fingers, the smell of rosin and the texture of the velvet lining of his case, make him reach into the small pocket inside the case for a spare string. He sits down and carefully, tenderly, replaces his E string, then gently brings it up to pitch. When all the strings are as they should be, he affectionately plucks his thumb across them, and the sound of all four strings in tune is so soothing and overwhelming that he closes his eyes and savors it, savors the way it settles in his ears, savors the way it feels as if it’s coming directly from his heart. Making this sound again, so simple and taken for granted at one point in his life, makes him feel surprisingly vulnerable, and he plucks across the strings once more, letting the sound reverberate, treasuring it and honoring it, realizing as he hears it once more how very much he’s missed it.

 

He swallows shakily and carefully sets the violin down, then reaches into his case to remove his bow. Carefully, he tightens it to the tension he desires, and then he rosins it, the bow strangely familiar and yet unfamiliar in his hands.

 

He feels the balance of the bow in his hands, and then carefully picks up his violin and sets it under his chin. The weight and shape feel familiar and they’re not intrusive, but there is something foreign about his them after so much time away. He shifts his fingers on his bow, but he grimaces at how clumsy his bow-hold has become, and lets his fingers settle and re-settle until they don’t feel tense. He swipes his bow across the strings, and immediately, he winces.

 

The sound is scratchy and unfamiliar, a mere shadow of the pure, expressive, effortless sound he used to produce. He sighs and tries again, trying to be patient. His nose wrinkles in distaste as he plays a few notes in first position, the sound unfamiliar and strange, his fingers no longer accustomed to the bite of the strings beneath them.

 

He perseveres, though, trying to get past the unfamiliarity, trying to be patient with himself and familiarize himself with the violin again.

 

After ten minutes that feel like torturous hours, he feels frustration welling inside him. He doesn’t like this; he doesn’t like feeling like he’s fighting to make a sound, feeling like he has to focus on how to play the instrument rather than what he wants to express. He loosens his bow and has to force his hands to put it gently back in the case rather than throw it, and does the same with his violin, closing the case with more force than necessary and tucking it away, not giving it a second glance before he goes back to his computer with a huff.

 

--

 

On Saturday morning, Sherlock emerges from his room with a yawn, scratching his stomach through his thin t-shirt and shuffling into the kitchen. He freezes when he sees John sitting at the table with the paper; somehow, he’d forgotten John would be there, and he feels exposed in his t-shirt and thin pyjama bottoms.

 

“Morning,” John says.

 

“Morning,” Sherlock replies, his voice gruff with sleep. John is still in his pyjamas, too, and his hair is rumpled. Sherlock has an absurd urge to smooth it down, and so he turns to make tea instead – John will surely want some, after all – but finds the kettle already on its way to boiling. He blinks at it, then turns back to the table to find John watching him in amusement.

 

“Did you actually sleep last night?” John asks, letting his paper shift down so he can see Sherlock.

 

“I do sleep, you know,” Sherlock says, sitting down at the table in a huff, stifling a yawn.

 

“You never used to sleep for so many hours at a time,” John muses.

 

Sherlock shrugs, one corner of his mouth quirking upwards. “You never used to have so much grey hair,” he says without thinking.

 

“Touché,” John says, but he seems amused rather than offended, and a relieved smile stretches across Sherlock’s face, something settling in his chest that he didn’t know was unsettled.

 

The kettle finishes boiling, and Sherlock looks at John expectantly.

 

“I boiled it, you make the tea,” John says dismissively, going back to his paper and pointedly flicking it to straighten the pages.

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes, but he can’t help the light feeling that washes over him, nor can he help the smile that stretches across his lips, and so he gets up and goes to the counter. “I do make a better cup of tea than you,” he says conversationally, just so John doesn’t think he’s gotten away with it that easily.

 

John snorts. “That’s true,” he says. “I guess you’ll be in charge of it from now on, then.”

 

Sherlock smiles, safe to do so since John can see nothing but his back, and he carefully makes the tea.

 

--

 

Sherlock doesn’t play all weekend because he’s embarrassed to play in front of John, embarrassed to fumble around on the strings and fight with his violin for control. His violin felt so uncomfortable last time that he’s almost afraid to try again on Monday, but he remembers the warmth of the wood in his hands and the resonance of the strings, even with his clumsy technique, and so he reverently takes it out of its case. He closes his eyes and lets his fingers close around the neck for a moment, and imagines the effortless way in which he used to play.

 

This isn’t his first time coming back to the violin after a long time away, but the other times have been different. When he came back after being dead, there was a reason he couldn’t have played – he’d been dead, after all, and so he’d been patient with himself as he got used to playing again. It had been really difficult for a few weeks, but he’d found his way back, and somehow, he’d found that his playing became even better than it had been before.

 

This time is different, though, because deep down, he knows that the reasons he stopped playing are entirely due to sentiment. While he’s long since stopped pretending he has no emotions, that doesn’t mean he’s entirely comfortable with their repercussions.

 

He carefully retunes his violin, the sound soothing once more, spending extra time on the E string that has slipped since he’d changed it a few days ago. Once it’s tuned to his satisfaction, he pulls out his bow and carefully gets it ready, and once again, he swipes the bow across the open strings and winces at the roughness of the sound.

 

He plays through it, though, and spends some time in first position, then goes up to second, ignoring the clumsiness of the simple transition between positions he’d mastered over thirty years ago, telling himself it will smooth itself out as he plays.

 

He manages long tones and slow scales but grows frustrated with the clumsiness of his fingers when he tries to play arpeggios, grows frustrated with the unfocused sound he’s producing, grows frustrated with the little glimmers of the expressive tone he once had until he finally puts the violin down in exhaustion after only forty five minutes.

 

He doesn’t feel as angry as he expected, though. Instead, he feels a small flicker of hope, a small rekindling of the connection with music he’s been forging since he was very small, a small rekindling of the connection he has to himself.

 

He sets his violin case down beside the couch gingerly, and though he feels ridiculously sentimental, he lets his fingers caress the case once, lets his heart ache for just a moment, lets a melancholy sense of longing wash over him, before he straightens and goes to his microscope.

 

--

 

When John comes home, Sherlock is curled up on the couch, facing the back, trying to tune out the world. He feels like is skin is crawling, like his heart is twisting itself inside out, like he doesn’t fit inside his body. He’d been fine that morning, hopeful, even, after he played his violin, but afterward, he hadn’t been able to focus on the inconsequential mold experiment, nor had he cared about reading his emails.

 

There are thoughts crowding his mind, thoughts he doesn't like to examine, and he’d only meant to lie down for a moment, to rest, to try to turn off the world for a while, but now he is suddenly aware of the sounds of John in the apartment. He feels a strange sense of shame wash over him because he hadn’t even heard him come up the stairs, and he hadn’t meant for John to find him like this; he’d only meant to rest, but he’d gotten stuck inside his own head and he’d lost track of time and suddenly he’s aware of John’s footsteps in the flat, of John hanging up his coat, of John stepping into the sitting room and stopping awkwardly, and he feels exposed in a strange way he doesn’t understand. He never used to feel this way if John found him like this, but everything is different now, in ways he can’t fathom.

 

“Sherlock?” John asks.

 

Sherlock hesitates. He swallows. “Mm,” he manages. His voice is low and gruff. He thinks of John looking at him, of John’s eyes roving over his curled up form, of John’s eyes shifting over his back, and then he thinks of what lies under his clothing, of dark rooms and ropes, of loneliness and isolation, and he lets his fingers tangle into his hair and tugs just the tiniest bit. He wants to disappear.

 

He doesn’t know what he expects, but it’s not for John to make no discernable sounds of movement, for Sherlock himself to lie in fear because he’s unable to deduce what John’s thinking while he’s standing there looking at him, and it’s definitely not for Sherlock to hear rustling fabric sounds, and then to feel John carefully lay the blanket from the back of his own chair over Sherlock’s form while Sherlock is frozen and stunned.

 

Just for a moment, John is bent over him, and Sherlock doesn’t breathe, he can’t, and he’s sure John can hear the way his heart is pounding in his chest, and he is relieved that his eyes are closed, that he doesn’t have to see John right now because he can’t, but then the moment passes and the warmth of John’s body is gone and Sherlock is left alone, a curled up pile of skin and bones beneath the warmth and familiar smell of John’s blanket.

 

“It’s cold in here,” John says. Sherlock can hardly focus on his voice, which sounds strangely defensive in a way Sherlock doesn't understand but which warms him. “And you’re too skinny. Have you eaten at all today?”

 

Inexplicably, Sherlock wants to cry. He uncurls a hand from his hair and pulls John’s blanket more tightly around himself, but doesn’t turn away from the back of the couch. He doesn’t think he can speak. He doesn’t know what’s happening to him.

 

“That’s a no, then,” John muses. “How’s takeaway? Will you eat Indian? We can order from Bombay. You love their garlic naan.”

 

Sherlock’s mind is still spinning, still curling around dark thoughts he doesn’t like to acknowledge, but John’s voice is so familiar and he’s wanted to hear it for so long that he finds himself uncurling just a bit, finds himself letting his legs straighten just a little until he’s not in such a tight ball, finds himself trying a little harder to come up to the surface and get out of the bleakness of his mind.

 

“Mm,” Sherlock says again. It’s all he can manage. He hears John go to the kitchen and rifle through the drawer of takeaway menus, and he feels inexplicably fond of the sound, inexplicably fond of the way John calls to order instead of just going online like everyone else. He pulls the blanket more tightly around his shoulders and gratefully lets the familiar but so dearly missed sounds of John drift over him, pulling him further and further out of his own mind.

 

--

 

The next day, the violin feels more familiar in his hands, and it feels more natural to tuck it under his chin. The weight of the bow feels more balanced, and his fingers feel a lot more accustomed to their hold on it.

 

Still, the fingers of his other hand are clumsy where they struggle to glide across the strings like they once did. When he tries to play with vibrato, something he never used to have to think about, it sounds shrill and artificial, resting on top of the sound rather than being an essential part of its core. The sound is still unfocused, though it’s clearer than it was the day before, but he manages to play in third position without wincing at the shallowness of his sound.

 

He decides to give scales a rest and plays through some familiar slow melodies, digs through his sheet music until he finds a book of tone exercises he hasn’t used in ages. He finds it frustrating, though, and he still feels as if he has to fight with his bow to get it to move how he wants, and his vibrato and phrasing feel unnatural, and his note endings are rough and lack anything even remotely resembling finesse.

 

He sighs, stretching out his fingers, grimacing at the burn of callouses reforming. He’ll try again tomorrow, he thinks.

 

--

 

John turns on the news while they eat leftover Indian from the night before, and Sherlock listens disinterestedly as they describe a murder in SoHo, a young woman killed while she was walking home alone from a bar at three AM.

 

“Typical,” Sherlock says, rolling his eyes.

 

John looks at him in annoyance. “It might not be the best idea, walking home alone, but it doesn’t mean she should be killed. She’s only twenty, I mean, christ, have a little compassion.”

 

Sherlock blinks and feels surprisingly wrong-footed. “I don’t –”

 

“Did you see she’s in nursing school? I mean –”

 

Sherlock neglects mentioning that she was clearly planning to drop out because John will take that as him not caring when it’s simply a matter of the case. Instead, he says, voice sharper than he’d intended, “I meant that it’s typical for the news to talk about a rich, privileged girl in SoHo being killed rather than the hundreds of similar crimes that happen in neighborhoods no one wants to talk about.”

 

“Oh,” John says. It’s awkward, suddenly, and Sherlock doesn’t like it. He takes his plate, mostly finished, and goes to the kitchen.

 

“Sherlock –”

 

“I’m finished,” Sherlock says, being sure to soften his tone so he doesn’t sound angry. He’s not, anyway. He feels a weight in his chest that he doesn’t understand, a sadness pulling at him that he can’t shake.

 

They’ve both changed, Sherlock knows, but sometimes he thinks John can’t see him. It’s different than it was before, more painful, somehow, because it used to be that Sherlock couldn’t see himself, either. But now he can, little by little, and he longs for John to see him, too, for John to see the things he himself overlooks, for John to know the deepest feelings inside him that he can’t think about or acknowledge.

 

“Sherlock, hang on, I didn’t mean –”

 

Sherlock shakes his head, stepping into the sitting room. “It’s fine,” he says. He thinks of watching John and Mary dance while he played his violin, of shooting Magnussen in the head, of seeing John’s face afterward, of leaving for a suicide mission. “You’d be surprised to know that I do, in fact, have some compassion,” he says. He tries to keep his voice light, but it doesn’t work.

 

“I know that,” John says. He stands up hurriedly, and Sherlock feels frozen when John takes a step closer. “I know that, Sherlock, I do. I shouldn’t have said that. I was just –” John stops talking and he looks away and clears his throat, then turns back. “I shouldn’t have said that,” he repeats.

 

Sherlock feels wrong-footed once more; though it’s often hard for him to predict John, he certainly hadn’t predicted this. He’d predicted anger in some form, maybe sarcasm, maybe clenched fists and labored breaths through his nose, not concession.

 

“Come back and finish,” John says. “I’ll put on some crap telly.”

 

Sherlock’s doesn’t know what to do; this is not how this is supposed to go.   They’re supposed to snipe at each other then ignore it and go back to usual tomorrow, not apologize or talk, and John’s not supposed to agree with him when he says he has feelings, and he’s not supposed to admit he has feelings in the first place. He swallows and turns on his heel, going back into the kitchen. He stares at his plate, feeling somehow like this is an important decision, and then he hesitates, picks it up, and goes back to the sitting room with it in his hands, where John’s shoulders loosen and his face settles and he gives a small nod, mostly to himself, and picks up the remote to change the channel. It’s awkward, and their reactions to the television are stilted, but Sherlock thinks that’s okay.

 

--

 

Sherlock picks up his violin the next day, and as usual, it feels clumsy and unnatural, but as he plays, his hand loosens and his fingers stretch across the strings more easily and it starts to feel a little bit more like an extension of his arms rather than something with which to weigh them down.

 

The sound still isn’t right, but there is something comforting in the way it no longer feels like a vaguely familiar piece of nicely shaped wood, but instead, like his instrument, which he knows intimately, which he’s loved and cherished for years, the one constant in his life no matter where he’s been or what he’s done.

 

He picks up a volume of Mozart sonatas. He thinks the slow movements would be a good place to start, a good transition back into real repertoire. He’s played them for years, after all, and they’re smooth and sweet and will be a good mix between warm-up and serious repertoire. He opens the sheet music but closes his eyes as soon as he plays the first note, lets himself focus on the familiar pattern of the notes under his fingers, on the position of his hands rather than the sounds he hears, on the set of his shoulders and back, on the position of his wrists, soft and yet firm.

 

He grows frustrated quickly, though, because while the notes are easy and he’s playing them correctly, he’s so close to how he used to play that the lack of his ability to play what’s written between the notes, to play the intent that lurks behind them, to show the difference between a hushed and reverent piano and a gentle and nurturing piano and a piano that exists only to contrast a forte makes him want to tear his hair out. He’s not playing Mozart, he thinks; he’s just making sounds.

 

He’s close, though, closer than he’s been yet. It feels good to be so close, exhilarating, even, but he knows that if he plays more today, he’ll only try to play more advanced music than he should, that he’ll play fast music without proper technique and set himself back, so he sets his violin down, lets his fingers linger on the beautiful arch of the scroll and caress the soft curve of the waist, lets a soft smile play on his lips, and relishes the way his heart seems to expand in his chest.

 

--

 

John comes home that night and his footsteps are heavy. Sherlock looks up from his computer and takes in the stiff set of John’s shoulders and the way his jaw clenches and his mind starts spinning, deducing as many of the details of John’s day as he can. Oh, he thinks.

 

“I was just about to make tea,” Sherlock says in lieu of a proper greeting. “Would you like some?”

 

John looks up at him and his face is closed off. He looks tired, more tired than Sherlock could imagine, and Sherlock’s heart aches in sympathy that he only recently realized he could feel so strongly. It makes it all the more effective, though, and so he gestures to John’s chair.

 

“Sit down,” Sherlock says. He feels unaccountably nervous. “I’ll make tea. Mrs. Hudson brought up a shepherd’s pie for lunch. Do you want the leftovers for dinner?”

 

“Sherlock,” John says as he sits down. His voice is gruff, and Sherlock swallows.

 

“John,” Sherlock replies. He didn’t mean for it to be such a useless reply, but it came out before he could stop himself, and he winces.

 

To his surprise, though, John closes his eyes and laughs, shaking his head, swiping at his eyes. Sherlock is left standing in the middle of the sitting room, wringing his hands, staring at John. John smiles at him, and his eyes are suspiciously shiny.

 

“You already deduced it, yeah?” John asks.

 

“Obviously,” Sherlock says.

 

The side of John’s mouth quirks into a grin for just a moment, then settles again into something very much opposite. “There was a late term miscarriage. It’s fine. It just – it brought up a lot. But it’s.” He stops, clears his throat, waves his hand through the air and gestures to 221B, his eyes anywhere but on Sherlock. “Made me think how nice it is to be back.”

 

Sherlock’s heart is beating fast in his chest and his lips are parted and he can do nothing but stare because he doesn’t know what to say. He thinks this is when he says something about how glad he is to have John back, too, how he’d rather die than be without John, how the sounds of John moving around the flat give him a kind of peace he doesn't understand and feels unsettled by, how he wants to help John but he doesn’t know how and he doesn’t know how to deal with what he feels, how sometimes he lies awake and his entire mind and body are taken over with a longing for John he doesn’t understand. Instead, after a moment of uncomfortable silence, he says, “Should we go to Angelo’s?”

 

John blinks in surprise at the non sequitur, then smiles, though it’s small. “Er - yeah. Yeah that would be – it’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

 

Sherlock smiles back, and ignores the way his heart is trying to beat its way out of his chest, and focuses instead on the familiarity of John, of going to Angelo’s, of them. Something like hope flutters in his stomach, but he pushes it down, and goes to get his coat.

 

--

 

The next day, Sherlock starts playing almost as soon as John leaves for work. He’s eager to get back to his violin; he remembers how close he felt to his normal playing the day before, and he feels a tentative hope he can get back to where he used to be. He tunes quickly, then goes right into long tones and scales. By the time he gets through his scales, his sound feels more effortless than it has in ages, and while it’s not yet back to where it once was, he thinks there is a high chance that if he plays for long enough, he’ll find his way back.

 

He goes through his scales again just to relish in how good it feels to play them without fighting himself, and then plays through his arpeggios, his fingers moving much more easily up and down the neck than they had before.   By the time he’s finished, his heart is beating in exhilaration, and he eagerly pulls out his Mozart.

 

He plays through the slow movements, and while they’re not perfect, they’re much closer to Mozart than they are to noise this time around. Impatiently, he pulls out some of his favorite Bach sonatas, and plays through them, too, covering John’s recently acquired stack of paperbacks with his discarded sheet music each time he grabs a new piece.

 

Gradually, his thoughts of technique and bowing and hand position and balance fade to background noise until they disappear altogether, and instead, his expression and musicality take the forefront. His brain quiets, focusing only on the sensation of playing, on shaping and molding the beauty of what he sees on the page into what he knows deep in his heart that it means.   He begins to think in a wordless way, in emotion and sound and music, and somehow, his fingers grow more nimble, his sound more pure, his phrasing more natural, his vibrato deep and varied and expressive.

 

He closes his eyes, opens them only when he needs a reminder from the sheet music, and plays.

 

--

 

Sherlock is playing the first Bruch concerto. He hasn’t played it in ages, and he’s been practicing the first movement all afternoon, reacquainting himself with the intricacies of the melody, relishing in the beauty and depth of Bruch’s writing, losing himself in the beauty of the piece, finding that, somehow, even with his long absence, his playing feels better than it ever has. His phrasing is more round, his sound with more variations and depth of expression, his technique more effortless than it’s ever been.

 

He feels connected to his violin in a way he never has, and he’s so connected to the music that he doesn’t even realize a whole day has passed, doesn’t realize where he is or what he’s doing, only feels an energy he didn’t remember he could have buzzing through his veins, singing inside of him. He plays with everything inside of him, with his whole body, with his whole heart, something he once scoffed at.

 

His arm moves fluidly with his bow, he effortlessly expresses everything he feels, and he is so involved in the music that when he plays the final note, hushed and gorgeous and lush and full of his heart, and when the pure and vibrant sound stops ringing around him, his ears become aware of the quiet of 221B in a new and transformative way. Suddenly, the silence feels loud and beautiful and full of promise again, and he lets out a shaky exhale and feels a chill of frisson run down his spine as he lowers his arms, ignoring the pain he feels from holding them up for so long, his mind and heart still fully in the mood of the piece. When his violin is down and he lets the music leave him, lets the atmosphere uncharge from the magical moment he’s just created, he hears a creaking floorboard and he swings around with wide eyes when he realizes he’s not alone.

 

John is standing in the doorway staring at him. His eyes are wet and Sherlock can only stare.

 

“John,” Sherlock says in surprise. His voice is rough, and he realizes he’s had nothing to drink all day except for his morning tea and a glass of water. He blinks, unable to process John’s presence, not when his entire mind and body are still so wrapped up in the music; his body is stiff and achy and his brain feels as if it doesn’t exist. He swallows, his throat like sandpaper, his heart beating inexplicably fast. “I didn’t hear you come in,” he manages.

 

“I’ve never heard you play like that,” John says. His voice is soft, reverent, stunned, and he is staring, and Sherlock can only stare back at him, entranced. His fingers itch to coax more melodies out of his violin, to translate what he feels into sound because suddenly that language is a part of him again, singing inside of him, and he doesn’t know if he has words for this. Instead, he forces himself to turn away from John, from the facial expression he can’t parse right now, and he puts his violin in the case, cleaning it carefully, loosening his bow, putting it inside, his hands shaking as he goes through the familiar ritual, his mind buzzing.

 

Sherlock swallows again and turns around, but John is no longer in the doorway; he’s gone to the kitchen, so Sherlock sits heavily in his chair, still half in the Bruch and half in his own head. He feels oddly exposed from John hearing him play with such abandon; his heart is pumping fast in his chest.

 

He hears John’s footsteps, and then suddenly John is in front of him, holding out a glass of water. Sherlock takes it gratefully and drains it in one go as John sits down in his chair, opposite Sherlock, and Sherlock looks at him again, and then blinks as he takes in John’s face.

 

“You were crying,” he says bluntly. He feels disconnected from his thoughts after playing so long, and he can’t manage anything subtler than this.

 

“Just a little,” John admits. “You –” John clears his throat and shifts in his chair. He looks away for a moment, then looks back with resolve on his face that Sherlock is unaccustomed to seeing directed at him. “That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” he says. He pauses for a moment before continuing. “I haven’t heard you play in so long. That was – Christ, Sherlock, that was incredible. That was amazing. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

 

Sherlock doesn’t know what to say; he can only stare. He thinks of John’s face at Angelo’s last night, of the way the candle Angelo insisted on bringing over illuminated all the wrinkles John’s earned since the very first time they sat with a candle there so long ago. He thinks of the way John looked just a moment ago, standing in the doorway staring at Sherlock like he’s never seen him before. He feels his heartbeat speed up and he is filled with a flush of love and longing that takes him by surprise, that he can’t misunderstand, that he wants to cling to even though it’s painful.

 

“Have you eaten?” John asks. His voice is still soft, gentle.

 

“No,” Sherlock says. He’s surprised at how tender the word is when it comes out of his throat, and he feels as if he’s staring at John in a way he shouldn’t, but the music still feels like it’s dancing on his fingers and his heart is still aching with the longing passion of the Bruch and somehow he realizes that the whole time he was playing, he was looking at the music and seeing only John, and he swallows, watching John, hearing the gentle climax of the second movement in the soft curve of his smile, hearing the joyful opening of the third movement in the way the light reflects in his eyes, hearing the intensity and drama of the first movement’s beginning in the set of his shoulders.

 

John clears his throat. “I’ll reheat the leftovers, yeah?”

 

Sherlock nods, color rising on his cheeks as John goes to the kitchen.   Something feels different, something that makes his stomach clench and his heart beat faster. He can’t focus on it, though, not with his brain still turned to mush from playing for so long, and he doesn’t know how to understand it, anyway. He steeples his fingers together, then presses them harder together when he notices they’re trembling, and rests his lips against them, closing his eyes for a moment and thinking of the way John had looked at him when he stopped playing.

 

He’d been too absorbed in the music to truly take it in, but when he revisits it in his mind, his eyes suddenly fly open and he pushes the thought away because it looks too much for him to bear like the things he locks away deep inside, and he stands up, pacing back and forth for a moment.

 

He feels panic wash over him; he’d been staring at John like a fool, and he doesn’t understand the way John was looking at him, and he has an urge to flee, to hide away, but John suddenly appears in the kitchen doorway, and Sherlock looks up at him, feeling caught out, though he’s not sure at what.

 

John looks like he’d been about to say something, but he stops and his expression changes to a mixture of concern and amusement. “Alright?” he asks. He sounds fond, and Sherlock swallows; he’s used to that tone. Usually, it means John thinks he’s gotten lost in his mind palace or that John finds the unusual detritus of his experiments funny, and that’s a tone he can work with. He straightens his back, forces his hands to relax.

 

“Obviously,” Sherlock says sharply.

 

John grins. “Right, obviously. Do you want wine?”

 

Sherlock doesn’t know how John can be thinking of wine right now. He waves a hand in the air distractedly. “Yes. Fine. Sure.”

 

John quirks an achingly familiar smile. “Alright then,” he says, and goes back to the kitchen. Sherlock looks up and watches him go, watches him make his way easily around the kitchen, watches him open the drawer in search of a corkscrew and grimace at what he finds instead. He’s pleased when John remembers that Sherlock sometimes leaves the corkscrew in the cabinet beside the biscuits and his lips curl into a small smile as he watches John stretch up on his toes to reach it.

 

“Why is this with the biscuits again?” John complains, holding it up and turning towards Sherlock, who is still staring at him.

 

Again, Sherlock feels flushed, caught out and unsure because of the way he’d been staring. He needs to get himself under control, he knows, but he’s having trouble. He clears his throat. “I needed the drawer,” he says.

 

“Yeah, I saw,” John complains. “For your snakeskin collection?”

 

“Precisely,” Sherlock says. In spite of himself, he smiles, and when their eyes meet, they’re both giggling, as naturally as they breathe. Sherlock feels his smile grow, feels something inside him lock into place. He f eels less outside of himself, less unsure, and he takes a step towards the kitchen.

 

“Get the glasses down?” John asks, looking up at him with an easy smile as he puts the corkscrew into a bottle of wine.

 

Sherlock nods. “Only because you can’t reach,” he says.

 

“Oh, piss off,” John says, but he’s still smiling, and Sherlock feels pleased, supremely so, to see him this way.   He takes the glasses down, still feeling like he’s on the edge of something he doesn't understand, but he sets them down on the counter and watches as John fills them.  

 

John looks up at him with a smile when he finishes, and hands Sherlock a glass, holding it out delicately by the stem. Sherlock takes it, watching as John picks up his.

 

“Cheers,” John says, holding his glass out. Sherlock feels raw and exposed but he echoes him in the toast, and then their glasses come together with a small clink. Sherlock takes a sip, the flavor deep and warm on his tongue.

 

--

 

Sherlock finishes his dinner before John. He feels relaxed, full from the pasta and wine, pleasantly sore from playing all day. He stretches his arms over his head to ease some of the stiffness, and then rotates his shoulders and shifts his neck, then reaches for his wine, mostly neglected during dinner. He takes a sip, lets it sit on his tongue for a moment, and savors the quality as it slides down his throat.

 

He looks up and feels color rise on his cheeks when he sees that John is watching him. John hastily takes a bite of his dinner, and Sherlock takes another sip of wine. He doesn't know why his heart is beating so fast, doesn’t understand the way John was just looking at him.

 

John clears his throat. “Did you play all day?” John asks a moment later as he, too, sets his plate aside and picks up his glass.

 

“Mm,” Sherlock says. “It felt good,” he surprises himself by adding. He blames it on the wine.

 

“Yeah?” John asks. He takes a sip of wine and settles into his chair, leaning back away from the table and watching Sherlock over the rim of his glass. “I haven’t heard you play in a long time.”

 

Sherlock shakes his head and swirls his glass, watching the shifting light reflect off the surface of the wine. “I haven’t,” he says.

 

“When was the last time you played?” John asks.

 

“Your wedding,” Sherlock says, keeping his eyes on his glass, then taking a long sip and avoiding John’s gaze.

 

John is quiet. He looks away, fiddles with his wine glass for a moment, and then looks back up.

 

“Remember when you taught me to dance?” John asks. His voice is hesitant, soft.

 

Sherlock nods, swallowing hard. The memory is locked away in his mind palace; he rarely allows himself to access it because it makes him think things he doesn’t think he should think.

 

“I haven’t danced since my wedding, either,” John admits.

 

“Of course not,” Sherlock says dismissively. “Why would you have?”

 

John shrugs, eyes somewhere to the side of Sherlock rather than on him. He hesitates. “You didn’t dance, did you? At my wedding.”

 

Sherlock’s stomach twists. This is Dangerous Territory, he knows. He’s not sure what to say. He shakes his head, the movement small. “No,” he says.

 

John looks up at him. “Why not?” he asks. The question is soft, genuine, open.

 

Sherlock blinks and looks away. He thinks of playing his violin for John and Mary, of realizing that life moved on without him, of realizing the true depths of his mistakes. He thinks of a thin, dingy mattress, of needles and release. “There was little point,” he murmurs.

 

“Teach me again,” John says. His voice is quiet but strong, and Sherlock looks up sharply, sure he must be mishearing. “Please,” John adds.

 

Sherlock freezes, staring at John, his eyes flickering over John’s face, taking in the strong set of his jaw, the laser focus of his eyes, the small flicker in his eyebrows that shows he’s nervous despite his bravery. “What – why?” he asks.

 

“You love to dance,” John says. “You told me so. And you didn’t – you didn’t get to, and you – just. I’m –”

 

“Alright,” Sherlock says quickly. This whole evening doesn't make sense to him; there are too many strange events, too many things he hasn’t yet processed, but he can’t bear to hear John stumble over his words like this, not his steady and true and brave John, and so he agrees. Before he even realizes what he’s agreed to, though, John is suddenly standing and plucking the wine glass out of Sherlock’s hand and placing it on the table.

 

Sherlock stands and feels himself sway a little bit. John reaches out and steadies him.

 

“Alright?” John asks. He doesn’t move his hand from Sherlock’s arm, and Sherlock’s heart is pounding, his brain miles behind it.

 

Sherlock swallows. He doesn’t know if he’s alright, he doesn’t think he is, but he nods, and John releases him, then heads to the sitting room. Sherlock follows behind, unsure.

 

He goes to his computer and scrolls through his music library. He can’t believe he’s doing this. This can’t be right. And yet, with trembling fingers, he selects a Strauss waltz. He winces at the loud opening chords and shakes his head, quickly turning it off; it won’t do.

 

“Nothing too fast,” John says. “I don’t know if I remember how.”

 

“I must not have been a good teacher, then,” Sherlock says distractedly, eyes flickering over his sparse music library.

 

John smiles and steps closer to Sherlock, looking over his shoulder at the computer screen.

 

“I don’t know what any of this is,” John says, eyes trailing over Sherlock’s mostly classical library. He’s standing so close that Sherlock is very much aware of every centimeter of John’s body, and it does little to quell the nerves building in his stomach.

 

“I don’t – I don’t know what music to use,” Sherlock says after a moment. He feels nervous, and John is still standing close to him.

 

“It’s alright,” John says. He swallows, and it’s loud in the quiet of the sitting room. His voice is soft and intimate, and Sherlock’s heart is racing. In that moment, he thinks he will do anything John asks of him, anything at all, and while the thought is nothing new, it feels different now than it ever has before. “Just – just teach me the steps again,” John continues. “We don’t need music for that, right?”

 

Sherlock nods. “Who should –”

 

“You lead,” John says. “I know you taught me the other way around, but I don’t remember.”

 

Sherlock nods, looking everywhere but John. The living room suddenly seems too big, the quiet too loud, the lights from outside too bright. He clears his throat. “John,” he says. He looks up, and John is watching him with something like determination on his face.

 

Sherlock doesn’t understand. Something is changing, but he can’t bear to let himself hope. He clears his throat. “John, I –”

 

Something changes on John’s face. “Sherlock,” he says. His voice is patient and low. He takes a step closer, and Sherlock’s entire body feels as if it’s buzzing with electricity even though they’re not touching. He swallows, looks at John’s hands, imagines them on his waist, imagines them held in his own. He shakes his head and takes a step back, looks up at John with something like panic in his eyes. His heart is pounding.

 

“Sherlock,” John repeats. His voice is softer, but he sounds worried. He reaches out and takes hold of Sherlock’s wrist, and Sherlock startles, jumping a bit at the touch. John’s hand is warm and steady, but it’s not helping his nerves. Sherlock feels exposed again, exposed and raw, but John takes a step closer, tugging on Sherlock’s wrist to keep him in place.

 

“You don’t – you don’t have to,” John says. “It was silly. Just, talking about the wedding, and the wine –”

 

Sherlock swallows. “I – I can’t,” he says. His voice is softer than he’d expected, and there’s a tremor to it he’s unaccustomed to hearing.

 

John’s hand is still on his wrist. “Why not?” he asks.

 

Sherlock is aware of too many things, and his head is spinning. He swallows hard. He shakes his head, unsure.

 

“Sherlock,” John says. His voice is low and intent and he breathes low and harsh for a moment, his eyes somewhere else before they settle back on Sherlock. “Sometimes, I think – I look at you, and I think you might – but I don’t – you don’t, but you do –”

 

Sherlock feels trapped. “John,” he says. He feels an inexplicable urge to cry. “I don’t know what you’re saying.”

 

John lets go of his wrist, and Sherlock feels the absence of his touch like a punch in the face, like a fall to a restaurant floor. He swallows hard.

 

“Of course you don’t,” John says. “I just thought –”

 

“John,” Sherlock interrupts. He feels hopeless. His skin is crawling, he wants to curl up in a ball, wants to escape. “I – I do, I – I’m not – I –” He stops, shakes his head, closes his eyes for a moment, reopens them. John is still there. “Please,” he adds, though he’s not sure what he’s asking for. There is something that feels like a rock in his stomach, churning unpleasantly. He forces himself to keep speaking. “I – I missed you. Very much. Please.”

 

John looks at him, and Sherlock thinks he must be making one of those facial expressions he’d been trying to hide all night because John’s eyes flicker over his face and then he reaches out, takes hold of Sherlock’s wrist again. His fingers are gentle this time. He lets his thumb smooth over the skin on the inside of Sherlock’s wrist, and Sherlock shivers, closes his eyes. “John,” he says. His voice is little more than a whisper. He’s not sure what’s happening, and his heart is pounding, but he won’t read into this, won’t let himself believe this is real.

 

John tugs on his wrist just the tiniest bit and Sherlock opens his eyes and can’t help but take a tiny step forward, just a little bit, and then John reaches out and takes his other wrist in hand. John’s looking up at him with a furrowed brow, with his lips parted just the tiniest bit, and Sherlock swallows, his pulse fluttering, his hands trembling beneath John’s grip. John shifts his hands and Sherlock lets him, feels his own lips part as John’s fingers take hold of his own, still trembling. Sherlock can only stare, his eyes flickering over John’s face, his breath coming quick and shallow.

 

“Alright?” John asks. His voice is soft, like the gentle piano that closes the first movement of the Bruch. Sherlock remembers the way it felt to play earlier, to let the music soar out of his heart and into the air around him, and bravely, he lets his fingers curl around John’s in return. He nods, unsure he’s able to talk, his entire being focused on the feel of John’s skin against his own, as soothing as it is terrifying.  

 

John’s thumbs slide back and forth over Sherlock’s hands. He doesn’t say anything, just looks up at Sherlock, and Sherlock can’t look away, can’t move. He is frozen to the spot, his mind spinning in circles, taking in useless data he can’t read. He feels his breath hitch, feels his entire body long to take a step closer to John, but he doesn’t dare.

 

John smiles at him. It’s small and soft and open, a smile Sherlock has only seen a handful of times, a smile he’s revisited time and time again in his mind palace. His eyes trail to John’s mouth, take in the smile there, take in the soft texture of his lips, the gentle curve of them. He can’t look away, and as he realizes he’s staring, he forces his eyes back up to John’s. When he does, John takes a step closer, and Sherlock manages to stay rooted on the spot, though he is simultaneously torn between fleeing and rushing closer to John.

 

John is so close now that there is barely a hand’s width between them. Sherlock is sure that their chests are close enough that John can feel the desperate pounding of his heart, but John makes no reaction if he does. Instead, he squeezes Sherlock’s left hand once, then drops it, and Sherlock swallows loudly when John brings his hand up instead, lets it cup the side of Sherlock’s face. Sherlock feels a shiver run down his spine, feels his breath hitch, feels like he can’t breathe because surely this is not reality, surely he is imaging this, surely he is in his mind palace – but he closes his eyes, and he still feels John’s hand, and when he opens them rather desperately, John is still standing in front of him, and John’s hand is still on his face.

 

“John,” Sherlock says. His voice is tremulous and soft and he feels flayed open and exposed, but John only smiles warmly at him. John squeezes Sherlock’s right hand, then lets go of that, too. He rests his hand on Sherlock’s waist instead, and Sherlock lets out a shaky, surprised breath in response. John’s fingers curl around Sherlock’s back, his palm rests strongly against his side, his thumb burns into the flesh of his stomach through the fabric of his shirt. Sherlock feels as if he exists only in the places in which John is touching him, as if the rest of his body has dissolved, as if he has no sensory input beyond where John’s hands lie.

 

John takes a step closer, impossibly closer. He’s still looking up at him, and Sherlock feels as if he can’t breathe.

 

“Take my waist,” John murmurs. Sherlock has never heard this soft, warm, lush tone of voice before, and he is entranced. His hands move before he can even realize what they’re doing, and suddenly they are resting on John’s waist, and Sherlock’s eyes flicker away from John’s for a moment down to where his hands rest, and he takes in the sight of his large hands on John’s compact waist and he swallows hard, feels his breath quicken, and looks back at John’s face with wide eyes, unsure.

 

“That’s it,” John says. His eyes flicker to Sherlock’s lips, and Sherlock feels himself shuffling forward just the tiniest bit, feels his heart beating fast, feels a whirlwind of thoughts swirl through his brain, threatening to take over, feels all of the nerves in his body coming to attention, feels alarm bells blaring in his mind palace that something is about to happen, feels tension creep down his spine – and then John’s thumb soothes over his cheekbone, John tilts his head to the side and lets his lips part, lets his eyes flicker between Sherlock’s lips and Sherlock’s eyes and something deep inside Sherlock knows what he’s supposed to do and he finds his own eyes mirroring John’s, finds his own eyes traveling between John’s eyes and John’s lips, feels John’s hand, steady and capable, on his waist, and he feels himself lower his head, feels himself tilt his head to the side, feels his hands shift on John’s waist as John shifts up onto his toes.

 

And then it happens: a soft, sweet press of lips, just for a moment. John’s lips are soft and dry, and they fit perfectly against his own. It’s over before it’s even begun; just as Sherlock registers the feeling of lips against his own, John is sliding back down, and Sherlock stares at him, stunned, his mind spinning and desperately trying to process this but he realizes he doesn’t have time for that, realizes that this is happening now, and then his mind catches up to him and without even thinking about it, he is dipping his head, his hands tugging on John’s waist, pulling him closer, and John’s lips are back.

 

John kisses him softly, soothingly. His lips are warm and he presses them against Sherlock’s and Sherlock feels as though he’s melting, as if he could cry. His entire body feels as if it’s on fire and nothing he’d ever dared imagine this would be like compares to the reality of this feeling. John holds his lips still for a moment, just keeps a gentle, reassuring pressure against Sherlock’s, and then he shifts his head a bit.   Their noses bump, just a little, and it makes Sherlock’s heart skip a beat. John kisses him again, and this time, he lets his lips part. Sherlock feels the warmth of John’s breath against his lips and his own lips part easily, and then John kisses him again, and it’s smooth and sweet and it’s too much.

 

Sherlock pulls away, but doesn’t take his hands away from John’s waist. His heart is pounding in his ears, and his mind is spinning, and he feels as if he’s just run a marathon. He’s staring at John, his eyes wide, his lips parted. John’s lips flushed, and he looks unsure.

 

“John,” Sherlock says. He feels as if he’s forgotten how to say anything besides John’s name. There is so much he wants to say, to do, to feel, but he’s overwhelmed. He tightens his hands on John’s waist. He feels vulnerable, unsure, and John brings both hands up to Sherlock’s face, cups it in his hands, steps ever closer until their chests are flush, making Sherlock’s heart beat even faster.

 

John shifts up to his toes again and kisses Sherlock once more. Sherlock closes his eyes, feels the sweet, chaste press of John’s lips against his, feels something in his heart melt and shift and rearrange, feels goosebumps wash over his skin, feels his hands smooth out over John’s back and pull him close, feels John shift back down to his feet as he breaks the kiss. Sherlock curls his arms around John’s back and holds him close, craning his neck down to bury his head beside John’s in favor of kissing him. He’s not sure he’s allowed to do this, but he can’t not do it, and the longing he’s felt for so long feels as if it’s exploding inside of him and he can’t stop holding onto John, can’t help the way his breath quickens.

 

“Sherlock,” John says. His voice is a whisper, and it melts into the skin of Sherlock’s neck in a way so intimate that Sherlock shivers. One of John’s hands cups the back of Sherlock’s neck, and the touch is so anchoring and yet unbelievable that Sherlock feels wetness behind his eyes, feels as if he can’t deal with the emotions that are consuming him, and he presses his face closer to John.

 

“Come sit down with me,” John murmurs. His voice is soft, soothing, but there is an unfamiliar tremor to it. Sherlock shakes his head against John’s neck; he’s not sure he can move now that he’s given in; he won’t be able to bear it if he’s read this wrong, if John is just being kind, if John doesn’t –

 

He lifts his head suddenly, staring at John with wide eyes, realizing exactly what’s just happened as his brain catches up to his body.

 

John cups his face again, though, soothes his cheek with his thumb. “Come sit down,” John says again. He takes hold of Sherlock’s hand again and leads him to the couch, sits down and tugs on Sherlock’s hand until he, too, is sitting.

 

Sherlock stares at him for a moment, his eyes still wide, trying to process what has happened. John keeps hold of his hand, covers it with his other hand, until Sherlock’s hand is surrounded by both of John’s, warm and protected.

 

“John,” Sherlock says after a long moment which, to him, could have been either seconds or hours. “You – you.”

 

When he doesn’t continue, John smiles, a small smile that makes his eyes crinkle and his face turn up brightly towards Sherlock even though signs of anxiety show through in the tightness around his mouth and shoulders. “Yes, me,” he says lightly. He sounds amused despite these signs, and he hasn’t let go of Sherlock’s hand. “And you,” he adds.

 

Sherlock feels his fingers curl around John’s hand. He looks down, takes in the sight of their hands together, and then looks back to John’s face. His eyes flicker between John’s lips and eyes once more, and then he clears his throat. “I – I didn’t think you –”

 

“I didn’t think you did,” John says, and there’s sadness in the furrow of his brow and the depths of his eyes that makes Sherlock’s heart twist in his chest.

 

Sherlock shakes his head desperately, feels a sense of despair washing over him. “I always did,” he says. The words come out fast and rushed, torn from some place deep inside of him. “John, I always did – you must know, you must have noticed – I don’t know how to care about people, but you – I always –” He stops, shakes his head. “Is this – are you –”

 

“I love you,” John says. The words are soft but firm, and they cut through Sherlock, straight to the core. He closes his eyes, forgets to breathe, feels as if he’s been stabbed. He hears John shifting beside, him, feels one of John’s hands come up to cup his face. “I love you,” John says again. The words are closer this time, and he can feel the warmth of John’s breath on his face.

 

Sherlock opens his eyes, sees John in front of him. He swallows. “John,” he says. His voice is low. “I don’t know how to – I want you to be happy, John. But you must know that I can’t – I don’t know how–”

 

“Shut up,” John says. His voice is fond and amused and it curls around Sherlock’s heart in a way he’s never felt before. John smiles at him. It’s warm, so warm that Sherlock almost feels his own lips mirror it, but he can’t – he is scared, terrified, inexplicably sad.

 

“You love me,” John says. His voice is soft. Sherlock can only stare. He feels his lower lip quiver, but he holds it still. John gently brushes his thumb over it, and Sherlock shivers, feels it quiver again. “You love me,” John repeats.

 

Sherlock’s breathing is shallow, and he feels as if he’s outside his own body. “Yes,” he breathes, and it’s scarier, somehow, than it had been to jump off the roof of St. Bart’s.

 

John’s smile grows. It’s warm and gentle like the second movement of the Bruch, like the sound of four perfectly in tune strings, like a soaring melody, and it makes Sherlock’s eyes prickle.

 

“That’s all that matters, isn’t it?” John asks. His voice is soft. “I love you,” he repeats, and though he’s said it already, it makes Sherlock’s heart jolt. “And you love me. And we’ve wasted so much time –”

 

“We haven’t,” Sherlock says. He thinks of sitting alone with only the John that lives in his mind palace for company, of watching John get married, of dying for John, of killing for John, of surviving for John. He shakes his head, lets bravery take hold of him, puts his hand on John’s waist. “We haven’t wasted time, John. If we hadn’t – if we hadn’t gone through what we have, this wouldn't be – this wouldn’t be this,” Sherlock says. He doesn’t know how to explain what he means, doesn’t have words for it. “I only wanted you to be happy,” he says again. “I thought that would be enough. But I never dared to think you could be happy with me, John, and I fear that you won’t, but I’m not a good man, and I can’t help but be selfish –”

 

John shakes his head. His eyes are wet, and Sherlock doesn’t know why. He fears he’s made a big mistake, and his skin begins to crawl, but John’s thumb smooths over his lip once more.

 

“You are the best man I’ve ever known,” John murmurs. His voice is soft and tremulous. “You are incredible. You are the least selfish person I have ever met, Sherlock, Christ. Just – just shut up.”

 

Sherlock swallows, unsure. “Did I say something wrong?” he asks.

 

No,” John says, and he looks at Sherlock with such warmth that Sherlock wants to curl around him again. “Of course not. Just. If you keep – I’ll –” He takes a deep, shaky breath, and takes his hand away from Sherlock’s face to scrub at his eyes. It comes away wet, but he puts it back on Sherlock’s face and opens his eyes again, looking at him with such an open expression that Sherlock can hardly breathe.

 

“You did nothing wrong,” John says tenderly. “Nothing.” He strokes his thumb along Sherlock’s cheekbone again and Sherlock closes his eyes, overwhelmed, and leans into the touch, lets himself believe that this is happening, that John’s words are true.

 

“You’re amazing,” John says. His words are soft, reverent, and Sherlock swallows, shakes his head minutely, presses his face closer to John’s hand.

 

“I never believed you could ever feel the way I felt,” John continues. Sherlock feels as if the words are coming to him from a dream, and he opens his eyes to reassure himself this is real.

 

“I’m going to kiss you again now,” John says. His eyes sparkle, and his lips curl into a small smile. “Is that alright?”

 

Warmth spreads from Sherlock’s stomach to his fingertips. He shifts closer to John and lowers his head, lets his lips part, and closes his eyes in lieu of answering, and then John’s lips are there, pressing against his, open and warm and inviting. It starts soft and gentle, short tender kisses, but Sherlock feels a longing unfurl deep in his stomach that he can’t control and his hands pull John tighter and then the kisses are growing longer and more desperate.

 

Sherlock’s breath is coming faster, and then John’s tongue slides past his lips, warm and insistent, and Sherlock feels it at the very base of his spine. He doesn’t mean to, but a low sound slips from his throat, a moan that makes John’s tongue more insistent, makes his lips move faster and harder.   Sherlock feels like he’s coming unraveled; this is like nothing he’s ever felt before, and he needs more. He’s imagined this countless times, but never has he accounted for the reality of the warm weight of John against him, the incandescent bliss that washes over him, the way his body feels like it’s on fire.

 

John breaks the kiss but doesn’t gentle in his hold of Sherlock, doesn’t go far, just breathes, his breath ghosting over Sherlock’s lips. He lets his nose bump Sherlock’s for a moment as they both catch their breath and Sherlock feels desire curl deep in the pit of his stomach.   He wants, more than he’s ever wanted anything. His fingers twitch on John’s back, he shifts until one leg is up on the couch and he’s facing John properly, closes his eyes, feels his breath hitch when John presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth, feels his pulse jump when John kisses below his ear, hot and wet, the sounds of his breath and his lips loud and intoxicating. He shivers, unused to the sensation, but eager for more, and John’s fingers tangle into his hair, and he tilts his head, clutches at John’s back, stifles a moan when John trails his lips down to suck at the juncture of his neck and collarbone.

 

John,” Sherlock says. John kisses Sherlock on the mouth again, hot and insistent, and Sherlock melts into the kiss. He wants, but he doesn’t know how to take, doesn’t know how to ask, so he lets John take the lead.

 

John shifts and moves closer but doesn’t break the kiss, which grows more distracted, John’s lips losing their focus and growing more sloppy in a way that makes Sherlock’s skin come alive, and then John moves until he’s straddling him, and Sherlock feels like he might die when John’s weight is settled on his thighs, when John’s mouth comes at his from a new angle, when John’s chest is pressed against his. He opens his mouth eagerly to John’s, moans louder than he means to when John rocks his hips, clutches at Johns back and feels like he is coming apart.

 

John stops kissing him and pulls away, breathes heavily. “Is this alright?” he asks.

 

Sherlock is distracted by how red John’s lips are, by how swollen they are, by the flush on his cheeks. He can’t stop focusing on John’s body against his, John’s chest, John’s thighs, John.

 

“Sherlock?” John asks.

 

John,” Sherlock says. “I – I.” He stops, his breath coming faster.

 

John strokes the side of his face and kisses him again, gentler this time. “Sorry,” he murmurs after a moment. “I got a little – is this too much?”

 

Sherlock shakes his head, his eyes wild. “No, no, it’s – I don’t – please.”

 

John kisses him again, soft and sweet, and Sherlock feels desperation unfurl deep inside of him. He makes a sound when John pulls away, a sound he doesn’t recognize, and John strokes his lower lip with his thumb again, shushes him, presses a soft kiss against the corner of his mouth that makes Sherlock want to cry.

 

“Let’s go to bed,” John murmurs. “Yeah?” His thumb is still moving back and forth along Sherlock’s lips, and Sherlock kisses it gently, closes his eyes, nods, and then John takes his face in both hands and kisses him, long and tender.

 

When it’s over, Sherlock keeps his eyes closed, focuses on the sensation of John’s fingers in his hair, of his thumbs on his cheekbones.

 

“Have you done this before?” John asks. His voice is soft, barely a whisper. Sherlock shakes his head, doesn’t open his eyes, and John kisses him again, soft and sweet, and then climbs off him and stands, leaving Sherlock blinking at empty air and then swiveling his head towards John, looking at him and feeling unexpectedly vulnerable.

 

John smiles at him and something about it makes relief sweep over Sherlock, though his heart still skitters in his chest. John holds out his hand, and Sherlock takes it and stands, suddenly feeling awkward, but John threads their fingers together and pulls his head down for a kiss, and that feels much better.

 

“Is your room alright?” John asks, his fingers woven into Sherlock’s hair, his face just inches away.

 

Sherlock nods, not sure he can speak, and John kisses him again, then turns around and starts towards Sherlock’s bedroom, and Sherlock follows eagerly. Once they’re inside, though, Sherlock looks at John, unsure, and John drops his hand, closes the door, then turns to him. He steps close and kisses him again, but this time it’s different. This time, Sherlock is pressed against the door, John’s body flush against his, and John’s hand soothes over his side and then tugs Sherlock’s shirt free of his trousers.   And then, miraculously, John’s hand slides under the edge of his shirt to press bare against the small of Sherlock’s back, and Sherlock gasps and kisses John desperately, eager for more of this feeling, of John’s hands in places they’ve never been.

 

He can’t believe this is real, and yet it is – he knows it is because there’s no way he could have ever imagined the tantalizingly sharp pleasure of John’s bare chest sliding against his, of John’s mouth trailing down his throat, of lying down on his bed while John crawls up his body with a look in his eyes that makes Sherlock’s heart beat high and fast in his chest. There’s no way he could have imagined the way his hands grip John’s back with desperation, or the sounds that rip themselves from his throat, obscene and beautiful and overwhelming, no way he could have imagined the way it feels to hear John lose control, to hear John’s voice turn to breathy grunts and moans, to feel John’s lips everywhere, to feel John tremble against him, to feel their skin sliding together. He feels completely incapable of controlling his voice or his body; his hips move of their own volition, he moans over and over, he curls himself around John and gets as close as he can get until he’s coming fast and hard beneath John, dissolving into nothing but a melted pile of skin and bones and heart, and John collapses on top of him, their bodies connected in a way that makes the very idea of any part of them not touching seem incomprehensible. John is smiling a soft, small smile, pressing kisses everywhere he can reach, whispering sweet and beautiful things, things Sherlock can’t respond to yet, not now, when he feels as if his entire body and mind and heart have been reset, as if he’s just coming alive for the very first time, as if he is well and truly loved.

 

--

 

Sherlock wakes with the warmth of John’s skin beneath him. He becomes aware of his surroundings slowly, feeling relaxed and content in a way he never has. John’s fingers are drifting through his hair, and John’s chest rises and falls soothingly beneath his cheek. His arm is tucked around John’s waist, and he can’t help it; he trails his fingers up and down John’s side, unable to keep himself from trying to feel more skin.

 

“Mm, you awake, love?” John says, his voice scratchy. Sherlock relishes the sound, breathes it in, doesn’t think he can speak. Instead, he nods, his cheek shifting against John’s chest.

 

“Morning,” John says. Sherlock can hear a smile in his voice, and it makes his own lips curl gently, his heart beating faster at the way their bodies are entwined, at how perfect it feels. John shifts until he’s lying a little further down on the bed, and nudges Sherlock’s pliant body until Sherlock is on his side, and John rolls onto his side to face him. He tangles their legs together, and Sherlock sighs, pressing closer, feeling an incandescent smile bloom upon his lips.

 

They don’t say anything, but they look at each other, and they smile. Sherlock thinks the way John’s short hair musses up against the pillow is breathtaking, thinks the way John’s eyes are half-lidded in the morning is remarkable. He hums in pleasure, lets his fingers drift up and down John’s spine, shifts his calf up and down alongside John’s.

 

John brushes the back of his fingers over Sherlock’s cheek, then his thumb. Sherlock leans into the touch, a contented sigh slipping from his lips, and John smiles at him, warm and pleased.

 

“Make us some tea?” John asks sleepily, his eyes crinkling in the corner and dancing with mirth.

 

Sherlock’s eyes narrow, but they lack anything resembling an edge because he is so content with John being so close. “Why do I have to do it?” he complains, voice rough from sleep.

 

“You make the better tea, you said so yourself,” John says with a wide grin.

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “I’m busy,” he says.

 

“Are you?” John asks, raising his eyebrows. His eyes darken and his tongue darts out to lick his lips, his eyes flickering down to Sherlock’s mouth.

 

“Mm,” Sherlock says. He shifts his hips, presses closer. “I can deduce I’ll be very busy within the next thirty sec –”

 

He is cut off by John grinning and abruptly rolling him onto his back, and his words melt into helpless giggles as John presses laugh-infused kisses down his neck, and then their laughter turns to moans and arched backs and desperate kisses and Sherlock thinks he has found heaven.

 

--

 

When they finally leave the bed, after showering and dressing, John urges Sherlock to finally make the tea while he shaves. Sherlock rolls his eyes and complies after a lot of complaining, but he finds himself going to the living room instead of the kitchen and heading straight to his violin. He smiles and takes it out of the case, tunes it quickly, plays a half-hearted scale and a few fragments of melodies he’s been playing the past few days before he turns to his music stand. The Bruch is still open, and he turns to the second movement.

 

He closes his eyes and remembers the feeling of John’s thumb soothing against the vulnerable skin of the underside of his wrist for the very first time, remembers the fear he felt when they stood together in the living room, remembers the first touch of John’s lips against his. Lost in the sensory memory, he thinks of nothing but John as he begins to play the second movement.

 

He finds himself absorbed in the tender warmth and beauty of the music in a way he’s never been before; he suddenly understands it in a way he never has. He feels as if his heart is flying out of his body with every movement of his bow, and he is overwhelmed. He hears the swells of the orchestra’s accompaniment in his mind and lets it support the gentle arc of the melody, hears John’s body surrounding him, hears John’s mouth on his, hears the pleasure of John’s hands on his body, hears all of this in the beauty and simplicity of the piece, which unfurls naturally and gracefully from his bow as effortlessly as breathing.

 

Distantly, he hears John enter the room while he’s playing, and he knows John is watching, but he doesn’t mind; John sees him, after all, and so he has nothing to hide, and he plays with an understanding and awareness he doesn’t think he’s ever had. The final piano section is hushed and tender, and he thinks of John’s hands and John’s smile and John’s body pressed against his as the final note drifts into the quiet of 221B and dissolves into the air, into the fabric of their life together, until the note has disappeared and the quiet of the flat is all that’s left – but this time, it’s the quiet of a promise fulfilled, of new promises waiting.

 

He opens his eyes and looks at John, and John is watching him with a tender smile, an openness to his face that doesn’t change when he sees that Sherlock sees him. Sherlock sets down his violin, his hands calm and sure, and when he looks up again, John is there, standing before him, reaching up to caress his face. Sherlock leans into the touch, lets his hand settle on John’s waist, and kisses him, sweet and pure and tender. “Good morning,” he murmurs afterward, music sweeping through his veins, warmth spreading through him.

 

“That was gorgeous,” John says. His voice is hushed.

 

Sherlock smiles. They kiss again, lips soft and unhurried. “It was you,” he admits a moment later. “If it was gorgeous, it was only because I was thinking entirely of you.”

 

John blinks, but he doesn’t look away as his eyes grow shiny. Sherlock smiles tenderly, feels a prickle behind his own eyes.

 

The moment is fragile and emotional, and just as it threatens to become overwhelming, John clears his throat. “Don’t think it gets you out of the tea,” he says, and then they’re giggling, and Sherlock thinks unexpectedly of the Bruch, thinks of the longing of the first movement, the warmth of the second, the triumph and joy and exuberance of the third, and for the first time, he thinks that the human experience is one he treasures.

 

Outside, it’s another drizzly day, unremarkable in any way, and yet inside the flat, 221B is brimming with promise once more, filled with warmth that makes his pulse quicken and his stomach flutter if he allows himself to focus on it for too long, and with pleasure, he focuses as long as he likes and relishes the feeling.