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Sherlock did his best to distract himself during John’s nightmares. He would play the violin, as that seemed to be soothing sometimes. He would force himself into his mind palace. More than once he'd taken a long shower, hoping that by the time he finished, John would have settled back into dreamless sleep. His first impulse, always, was to take the stairs to John’s room two at a time and offer what physical comfort he could, but they didn't do that. A hand on the shoulder in greeting or farewell? Yes. The occasional press of a palm to the lower back by way of guidance? Fine. But contact measured in anything longer than seconds was not their habit. Before the Fall, before Mary, things were different...but even acknowledging that, Sherlock and John had a long history of ignoring one another’s nightmares, and when John had moved back to Baker Street three weeks ago, they'd continued handling them the same way.

But tonight. Tonight was the worst night for John’s sleep that Sherlock had ever witnessed. John had had two nightmares so far, though neither seemed to have woken him up fully. (If John woke from a nightmare he usually made his way downstairs with a feeble excuse on his lips, sitting slumped in his chair with tea as they both pretended Sherlock hadn’t heard him screaming.)  The second had ended 47 minutes prior, and Sherlock could hear the low rumble of a moan coming from upstairs. If this third nightmare followed the pattern, the screaming would start in about four minutes.

Before he could think too hard about the decision, Sherlock was up the stairs and easing John’s bedroom door open. The low light that fell across the bed showed him that John had thrashed about enough at some point that his blankets had slipped to the floor. Sweat shone on the skin not covered by his pajamas, and as Sherlock watched, a shiver shook John’s body. It was cold in the flat, and between the sweat cooling on his skin and the lack of blankets, John must have been freezing.

Sherlock gathered the heavier of the blankets in his arms and laid it on top of John, beginning to murmur his name. John's head jerked to the side, and Sherlock spoke a little louder, remaining close but not touching him any further. They continued this way for another few minutes - John, moving restlessly, and Sherlock talking to him in even, soothing tones - until at last John's mouth opened on a gasp and his eyes flew wide. His gaze was frantic at first, and Sherlock carefully reached out a hand and laid it over John’s arm, lowering his voice again.

“John. You're awake now. I’m here.”

He kept repeating one version of this or another until the confusion and terror in John’s eyes receded a bit. John, breathing heavily, struggled up to a sitting position and reached for the glass of water on his bedside table. Seeing John’s hand trembling, Sherlock picked up the glass and helped guide it to John’s mouth, returning it to the table when it was empty.

“Was I screaming?” John finally managed, not meeting Sherlock’s eyes.

“Not yet, but you were about four minutes away when I decided to come up.” When there was no response, Sherlock added: “It's the third one tonight.”

John shook his head a little, scrubbing his hands over his face. “I'm sorry...were you asleep? I'm sorry if you were asleep, Sherlock, I don't want to--”

Sherlock laid a careful hand on John’s shoulder, and John stopped talking. “You didn't wake me. You know I don't sleep much.”

“It seems like you've hardly slept since I've been back.”

“You aren't the only one with nightmares,” Sherlock said, pulling his hand back. “If I don't sleep, I don't have them, ergo, I sleep as little as possible.” When John didn't respond, Sherlock turned to go. “I'll leave you to--”

“Stay. Please.”

Sherlock froze mid step, unsure if he'd heard the quiet words correctly.

“Sherlock. Would you stay?”

Sherlock turned slowly back around and examined John’s face for a long moment. It was haggard and drawn in the dim light, and now that John was looking directly at him, Sherlock could see that his eyes were damp. John’s gaze, however, was steady, even if the hand he reached out to draw back the blanket trembled a little. Sherlock swallowed and felt his heart rate increase. Silently he shrugged off his dressing gown and let it drop to the floor before carefully sliding into bed next to John.

They'd shared a bed in the years Before, of course, several times, when one or the other had a concussion, or their last minute need for a hotel room on a case meant that they couldn't be picky. Needs must, after all. For The Work. And if Sherlock had dreamed, every time, of other things that happened in a bed...well. At least he always woke up before John did.

But this. This already felt different. This was John, vulnerable and shaken, turning back the covers on his own bed so that Sherlock--who had only been wearing pants under his dressing gown--could sleep there. For comfort, or companionship, maybe. Sherlock eased down on his back, his head resting on one of John’s pillows, and tried to take up as little room as possible.

“Thank you,” John whispered.

“You're welcome.” Sherlock laid there in John’s bed, under John's blanket, on John’s pillow, and breathed. There were so many textures and smells and sounds assaulting his senses that he was almost afraid to do anything else. He was definitely afraid to say anything else. He was in the place he had longed to be for years, and he thought he might crack under the weight of everything he hadn't allowed himself to feel. It was impossible not to feel it all when he was laying in John's bed.

And then he felt John’s hand on his.

It was just the barest brush of a finger at first; light enough to to be played off as an accident if the touch was unwelcome. Sherlock held his breath and carefully chased the brush with the slightest nudge of his own. That was apparently all John needed, because his fingers slotted in between Sherlock’s and held on tight.

They lay there in the dark for a long time, with their thoughts and their breathing and their joined hands.

“You are always dead, or dying.” John’s voice was low when it finally came again. Hoarse.

“The Fall,” Sherlock managed.

“Not always.”  Sherlock turned his head at that, and John was looking right at him. “Sometimes it's Magnussen’s office, and I don't make it to you in time. Or we make it to the hospital, but you die on the table. Or your brain is deprived of oxygen for too long, and you're alive, but gone. Sometimes Mary shoots you again, in front of me, and I watch you bleed out.” He took a shuddering breath. “She makes me hold you while it happens, and I do it, because there's no one to save us and--” His voice choked off, and Sherlock watched in horror as a tear slipped from one eye. “And I don't want you to be alone.” John turned onto his side, raised the hand that wasn't still entwined with Sherlock’s, and slowly traced Sherlock’s cheekbone with the backs of his fingers. “I don't ever want you to be alone again.”

They would debate forever after who moved first, and never come to a satisfying conclusion--but someone moved, or maybe they both did, and they were kissing. First kisses are often tentative, soft, chaste, but this one was the opposite of all of those things. This first kiss, the one that had been carefully banked for so long, was roaring brushfire. It was fingers thrust into hair; it was mouths frantic and open and hungry; it was teeth and tongues and John’s tears on their lips and a moaning so loud it could only be coming from both of them. It was please please Sherlock oh please and yes, John, anything, yes and don’t go, please stay with me and I’m here, I promise, I’m here and I’ll never leave you again.

Sherlock rolled to his back--or maybe collapsed there--and John moved with him, and Sherlock realized his hands had slid down to John’s arse at some point and oh, that was lovely. And then their hips slotted together and Sherlock froze, his eyes flying open to meet John’s. They stared at each other for a long, breathless second, the self-denial of years stretched to near-breaking between them--and then it snapped and vanished as slowly, deliberately, Sherlock pressed up. John shuddered and it was impossible to tell who groaned louder, and then John was grinding down and Sherlock had crashed their mouths back together and for the first time in his life, Sherlock distantly thought that his brain might actually have gone offline.

He could come like this, with John’s tongue fucking his mouth and their cloth-covered cocks moving against one another, but he was suddenly greedy and heady with the joy of it, of all of the...possible...that seemed to suddenly spread out before him. Sherlock scrabbled at the waistband of John’s pajama bottoms and pulled downward until John could kick them away, and then he got so engrossed in the kissing again that he didn't notice John had rolled them over and somehow stripped him of his pants until their cocks rubbed bare against one another for the first time and holy Christ, Sherlock almost came just from that.

“John, is this o--” John slid to the side, wrapped his fingers around Sherlock’s cock and gave it a long, slow stroke, and Sherlock’s remaining words strangled in his throat.

“Yes, Sherlock, fuck yes, this has been okay for years.

Sherlock pushed John back and crawled over him, holding himself up on both hands and leaning down to cover John’s mouth again, plunging his tongue in deep and just taking. John was making a sound that was half-groan, half-whine and Sherlock had never heard anything more gorgeous.

“Not your...oh, fuck, Sherlock, yeah, ” John gasped as Sherlock thrust his cock alongside John’s. “Not your first time, then?”

Sherlock did it again, and again, until they were both panting. “It's...been a while...but no.” He slowed, mouthing along John’s neck, as their cocks still rutted against one another. “John, I’m not sure this is--that is, are you certain that we ought--” He forced himself to still, shook his head, and met John’s gaze fully. “John. I know that intercourse can be comforting, but are you certain that these are the circumstances under which we should endeavor to open this path in our--”

“I love you.”

Sherlock’s mouth fell open a little, and at any other time, John might have relished the sight. Now, however, he just wanted to make sure Sherlock understood.

“Sherlock. I’m sad, yes. In fact, I’m most likely clinically depressed, and the nightmares are making my sleep an actual hell. I asked you to stay for comfort, but that’s not the only reason.”

“Are you certain?” Sherlock whispered. “John...please. I need you to be certain.”

John leaned up and pressed his mouth to Sherlock’s in a soft, lingering kiss. “I am sad, and scared, and you’re the only one I’d admit that to, and you’re the only one I’d ask to stay.”

Sherlock searched his eyes for a long moment, and John could see the questioning, desperate, hopeful look fade from his face as he clearly saw what he was looking for.

And then he slid down and took half of John’s cock into his mouth in one slow, smooth motion.

Fuck!” John cried out, his hips thrusting upward involuntarily. Sherlock reached one hand up and began to rub gentle, rhythmic circles on his belly as he worked John’s cock with his mouth, taking more of the shaft in on each pass downward until his nose was nestled in the curls at the base and he held John there, just breathing. John tried to ease down into his touch, tried to sink into the feeling of finallywarmwetgorgeousplease that was pouring from his heart and gut but kept slamming up against the fuckfuckChristyesnow that was running rampant through his brain and prick. “I need--Sherlock, please, I need--”

“Sshh,” Sherlock murmured as he let John slip from his mouth. He laid there, his hand still rubbing those slow, careful circles, and waited. John stared blindly up at the ceiling, struggling to slow his breathing and regain some small semblance of control. This was happening and he didn’t want to miss it because he was losing his mind in the middle. He took a deep if still shuddering breath, and then another, and finally shifted to stare down his body at Sherlock.

Sherlock, his eyes closed, was sprawled across John’s bed, between John’s thighs, and he was like a fantasy made real. It was criminal how beautiful he was under normal circumstances, but looking like he did now--full mouth reddened and wet, and still so close to John’s aching cock; curls a riot from the thrust of John’s hands, tumbling over his forehead and those insane cheekbones; acres of pale skin, flushed with arousal--elevated him to an unearthly level. When he opened his eyes and his heavy-lidded gaze met John’s, John could see that his pupils were completely blown.

“Do you want to come like this?” Sherlock asked, and his voice was rougher, lower than John had ever heard it.

John shook his head. “Want you in me,” he blurted, and watched Sherlock’s eyes widen in surprise. He stretched a trembling hand out and pulled open the drawer on his bedside table, fumbling clumsily around for the lube. When he found it, he pulled it out of the drawer and held it out toward Sherlock. “Please.”

Sherlock pushed up to his knees and slowly reached out and took the lube, turning the bottle around between his fingers as he stared at John. “I didn’t think--that is, I thought you’d prefer--” He stopped and shook his head sharply. “Have you ever?”

“Been fucked?” John asked. Sherlock nodded. “A few times. Have...you? Ever?”

“Been the penetrating partner?”

John flushed, looking away briefly and then back again. “Yes. That. Jesus.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “If you are old enough to do it, then you are old enough--”

John cut off the rest of his sentence by grabbing him by the back of the neck and yanking their mouths together again. This kiss was deep, and wet, and immediately filthy, and they were both panting when John finally relented and let go. “Don’t be a prat. Just tell me. You’ve topped before?” Sherlock nodded, once. “Okay then.”

“So you want me to--” Sherlock's voice faltered, but his eyes were blazing.

“Yes, God, Sherlock, yes. Please.” John’s tongue darted out to wet his lips. “I want--no, I need--to feel like--”

“Mine,” Sherlock breathed. It wasn't the final word of a sentence--it was a claiming.

“Yes.” John’s lips tipped upward, and the look on his face turned a little wicked. “Your assumption that I prefer to top is correct-- seriously do not be a prat,” John said as Sherlock’s eyes rolled at the unnecessary conformation of the accuracy of his deduction, and then leaned in to cover his mouth again. Despite the heat pulsing through both of them, this kiss was softer, slower. It was both the question and the answer.

Will you?

Yes.

John had never asked him for something he was so willing and eager to do. Sherlock flipped the lid on the bottle open and dribbled a too-generous amount of lube on the fingers of his right hand, rubbing them together to warm it as he set the bottle to the side. With his left hand, he guided John to spread his legs open still farther, and to tip his pelvis up to give Sherlock better access. He took a deep breath and tried to swallow down his continued waves of nervousness, and then a steady hand reached out and tilted up his chin. Sherlock exhaled and raised his eyes to meet John’s.

Trust.

Desire.

Impatience.

Love.

When the last of these emotions filtered from John’s gaze through Sherlock’s consciousness, the world fell away, and his nerves followed.

All that remained was John.

John’s head thrown back, a long moan escaping him as Sherlock traced lightly down his cleft with one finger.

The startlingly tight heat of John’s body as Sherlock slipped just the tip of that finger inside him.

How John’s body opened for him as he pressed--so carefully--all the way in, and continued to open as he stretched and thrust and stroked with one, two, and finally three fingers.

The indescribable sound when the pad of his forefinger brushed against John’s prostate, and how it grew louder when he unerringly found it again. And again.

And again.

He was so overcome by the feel of John, by the heat of him and the sounds rumbling up and exploding out of his chest and the beads of sweat dripping down his forehead and temples into his hair, that it took almost a full minute for John’s pleading words to break his concentration.

He looked down with a last trace of disbelief as John rolled a condom onto his prick, and it was only then that he realized how painfully, fiercely hard he was. With John’s eyes and hands and sounds (and love, so much love , how had he never seen it before) urging him forward, he slid one hand beneath John’s good shoulder and lined himself up with the other. With one last deep breath, he began to push in.

John’s eyes flew wide and his mouth fell open on a gasp, his back arching, and it was all so perfect, so hot and tight and gorgeous that Sherlock was both afraid he would come immediately and certain that there would never be a moment to rival this one, not if he lived to be one hundred and one. When their hips were flush together, Sherlock’s heart was pounding like it might explode from his chest and race around the room. John's hands curved over his shoulders and stroked down his spine to his arse, and then Sherlock was the one gasping as John pulled him down impossibly further.

“Please tell me...you're going to move,” John rasped, and rocked his hips upward, moaning as his cock rubbed between them.

Sherlock took a long, shuddering breath before slowly pulling nearly all the way out and then sliding in again. They groaned in unison as he bottomed out a second time. “John, I--”

John cut him off with lips and teeth and tongue, nipping at his bottom lip before licking back into his mouth and kissing him wet and deep and sloppy. His hands were fisted in Sherlock’s curls and he wrapped his feet around the backs of Sherlock’s thighs, urging him to move with an impatient push. “Please.”

Sherlock Holmes could refuse John Watson nothing.

Sherlock pushed up to his forearms, bracing them on either side of John’s head, and  bent to take another long, searing kiss. Finally, with John’s eyes fixed steadily on his, he began to move.

The world narrowed in a way it never had for Sherlock before. He was used to being preoccupied by John Watson, used to being distracted, engrossed, fascinated. This was altogether different, altogether something more, something entire, and where he might once have run from it, now he raced toward it. John’s body was hot around him and the fingers of John’s right hand were entwined with those on his left and John’s eyes were filled with endless, uncompromising--

“Love,” he gasped. “I love you, John, I love you, I love you, please --”

John’s left hand, which had slid between them at some point, began to move faster, pulling his cock in short, hard strokes, and Sherlock’s world narrowed impossibly further. There was, at that moment, only one thing of importance in the entire world. He wrapped his hand around John’s and moved with him.

“Oh, fuck, that's good,” John groaned. “Sherlock-- fuck! --are you close?” A wordless cry escaped his mouth and his hand fell away from his cock as Sherlock took over, sliding the foreskin over the head and urging him on with a grunt. “I’m--I don't think--fuck, I'm going to--” And with another cry he spilled over Sherlock’s hand, hips jerking. Sherlock leaned his forehead on John’s, thrusting three, four times more before everything went white.

He surfaced to find John’s hands gently stripping him of the condom, and then giving both of their stomachs a perfunctory wipe with a discarded vest. It was entirely natural, then, to reach down to the end of the bed and pull the sheet up over them both; to turn toward John on the pillow; to run a still-trembling hand down sweat-dampened skin; to lean in for a long, sweet kiss. And then another.

“Stay,” said John again, this time with a yawn.

“For…” Sherlock’s voice trailed off.

“Ever?”

So Sherlock did.