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The cottage is cold, but the last of the fumes seem to have dissipated  John closes the windows just as the wind kicks up outside knocking the garden gate against the fence, and rattling the loose panes in the window over the sink.

“Another storm is coming.”

“Yeah, and it’s already freezing in here.  Help me bring some wood into the bedroom.  We’ll stockpile in there in case the power goes out again tonight.”

“A wise precaution, yes.”

They take three trips to the woodshed, and by the time they are returning to the cottage the last time, the temperature has dropped considerably, and an icy cold rain has started to fall.

The cottage is growing dark, even though it is only three in the afternoon.  The clouds rolling in from the sea are heavy and dark grey, plunging everything into an artificial dusk.

“I’m going to go start a fire in the bedroom.  Mind heating up some soup?”  John almost looks apologetic. 

“Of course not.”

John heads for the loo off the bedroom, and Sherlock pulls down a tin of tomato soup, and sets to making toast.  He tries to ignore the sound of the water in the shower switching on, tries not to think about what it might mean, John showering—what he might be expecting.  He tries not to think about what John must look like standing in the stream of warm water, sighing in relief as he slicks his hair back with one hand and dips the other down to…

Sherlock completely loses track of time.  When John finally strolls back into the kitchen several minutes later, Sherlock is just ladling the soup into bowls and spreading the toast generously with butter.

“Not much, but warm at lea…”  He stops short when he looks up, and sees John standing in the doorway in his pyjamas, clean shaven, a crooked grin on his face.

He shrugs at Sherlock’s questioning gaze.  “You said you missed my face.”

Sherlock can’t take his eyes off of him.  He’s changed, it’s true—nasolabial folds are deeper, corners of the mouth starting to draw down, flesh under the chin softening.  But the jawline is still strong, he can see the cleft in his chin again, and most importantly it’s John—his John, the one so familiar and dear it aches deep inside him like an old wound.

“Hello.”

John grins.  “Hi.”  He reaches up and rubs his cheek.  “Feel a little naked.”

And Sherlock wants to tell him he’s not nearly naked enough, but can read John’s body language well enough (hesitant, anxious, and a little insecure) to know that now is not the time.

“You look…”  Sherlock sets the ladle down on the counter, and moves toward him, stopping mere inches away.  “Like you.”

“That a good thing?”

“Yes.”  He takes a step closer, can feel the warmth of John’s freshly washed body radiating out, drawing him closer still.  “Oh yes.”

He dips down, pushes down the instinctual rush of anxiety, the fear.  He wants this.

John meets him half way, and he isn’t sure what he’d expected, but it is safe to say that the chaste, tender kiss John presses to the corner of his mouth was not it.  It’s pleasant.  He would never turn it away, and perhaps it is the right first step, because he suddenly realises that he’s trembling.  His hands are resting lightly on John’s shoulders (which is most certainly not where they should be, is it?), and they are trembling.

John pulls back a little.  “You okay?”  It’s whispered against his lips, and Sherlock realises he needs to open his eyes.  He does.

“Yes.”

John’s eyes roam over every inch of his face.  He’s deducing.  “Sure?”

“Mmm.”

“Can we do that again, do you think?”

Sherlock nods, and John smiles.  “Good.”  He steps closer, lifts his hands to cup Sherlock’s face, to slide up his nape, to cradle the back of his head and guide it gently down to his.  This time John presses his lips fully against Sherlock’s, pulls back, and dips in again, anointing his lips with the softest kisses, tender, tentative, careful, and Sherlock isn’t sure who they’re being careful for.  It’s not how he imagined it, this.  Not better  Not worse, just—different.

He expected he would be more lost in the moment, but instead he is distracted, hyperaware of everything: the smell of John’s shaving cream still on his skin, the softness of John’s t-shirt beneath his fingertips, the way John’s eyelashes are tickling his, the dryness of John’s lips and the contrast of the wet heat at the seam of his mouth, the way his own heart is racing with furious anxiety at all the unknowns.  It’s not like his fantasies.  He has no control over how this will go.  Anything could happen.

John must sense it, the way his brain is whirring away a thousand miles a second.  He pulls back, and looks up at him, brow furrowed.  “You really okay?”

And oh the weight and importance in that one question, and oh how incapable Sherlock feels of properly answering it.  He opens his mouth, desperate that John not feel he doesn’t want this, doesn’t want him, but nothing will come, and John looks even more worried.  He reaches up and rubs at the back of his neck, takes another step away.  Sherlock panics.

“We can slow down.  Or we—we don’t have to do this at all.”

“I started it.”  Sherlock blurts in reminder.

“Doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind.”  He glances over at the cooling soup and toast on the counter.  “Maybe…  Can we sit down, eat, talk about it.”

“What’s there to talk about.”  Sherlock sounds defensive, petulant, even to his own ears.  He’s not.  He’s—mortified, angry at himself.  It’s embarrassing, inching up on 40, and never having—being this way about it even now.  Victor had been quite right, quite right.  He has no idea what he’s doing, or how to read the situation.  All his deductive skills seem utterly useless here.  He’s failing, and he’s going to lose John, just like… 

“What you want.”  John is talking again.  “What we both want.  What’s okay, what’s not okay.  How we’re going to…”  John shakes his head and pinches at his brow.  “Christ Sherlock, you know we’re both pants at saying things, and this is important to me.  I don’t—I don’t want to put you in a position where you feel…”  And after more silence.  “Hey…”

Sherlock blinks, realises that John has finished talking and he has been standing in the middle of the kitchen frozen.  “Yes.  I…”

John takes a deep breath.  “Yeah, see, this isn’t okay.  Sit down.  We’ll eat, and we’ll—figure it out.”

There is instant relief in that, John taking control of the situation, deciding what they’ll do.  He lets out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding.  “Yes.  Alright.”

“Okay.  Sit.”  John motions to the chair pulled out at the table, and Sherlock does as bade while John finishes plating the toast and then brings it over to the table and sits down next to him.  They eat in silence for several minutes, before John finally speaks.  “I’m going to ask you something, and you have to promise me you’ll be honest.”

“Alright.”

John takes another mouthful of soup, before setting his spoon down, and sitting back in his chair.  “Have you ever been with someone before?”

“You mean a relationship?”

“I mean sex.”

Sherlock feels his cheeks flare.

John nods.  “I’m going to take that as a ‘no’.  Am I right?”

“I don’t see why it matters.”

“It doesn’t.  Not in the way you’re thinking.  But it does when it comes to how we choose to go about all this.”

“I was fine.  You were the one who stopped.”

John’s mouth parts, one brow cocking.  “You weren’t okay.”

“Or so you seem to think.”

“Sherlock.”

He huffs and turns away.

“I’m not going to get into a row over this, so whatever this is you’re doing, you can just stop.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“How many men have you fucked?”

There’s silence from across the table, and Sherlock finally dares a glance.  John is sitting back in his chair, chewing the inside of his cheek.  He sniffs.  “What’s gotten into you?”

“Nothing.”

John reaches out and picks up a piece of toast off his plate.  He looks at it for a moment, and then tosses it back down.  “I don’t care, Sherlock.  I don’t care if you’ve never been with anyone.  And yeah, tit-for-tat, my experience is fairly minimal, but what’s really worrying me here is the fact that you don’t seem to want to talk about this.  I’m not going to do this if you can’t talk to me.  Oh, and for the record, I don’t see you as a fuck.”  He spits the word out like it tastes bitter in his mouth.

What had happened in the garden earlier, what had happened between them in the kitchen only moments before, all of it is something Sherlock could only hope and dream of up to now.  He’s wanted, oh how he’s wanted, but it was a dream, a fantasy, nothing he ever thought might actually materialise.  And now here they are, and he’s terrified, and it’s stupid, and childish, and he has no idea how to go about making it right, because he has no idea how to—be, what he thinks John is asking him to be.

“How many,” Sherlock insists with a pout.

John sniffs again.  “Okay,  If that’s what you want right now, I’ll…  I got off with a bloke at a party in uni.  Hot and heavy, until things got too intense, and I—I walked out.”

Sherlock sits up, suddenly interested now that the attention is off of him.  “You changed your mind?”

“I panicked.”

“Oh.”

“In the army I would sometimes have a wank with some of the other lads.”

Sherlock leans forward in his chair.

“And when you were gone…  Once when things were really bad, I—I met up with a bloke, and he did what he’d agreed to do, and then left when I got—weird about it…”

“Weird?”

“Umm…”  Sherlock watches John’s Adam’s apple bob, as he swallows down his discomfort.  “Emotional.  Just…  Well, it wasn’t what either of us had signed up for, didn’t end well, so he left.  But as a general rule, with those who’ve meant something, those I really cared about…  I’ve never crossed that line.”

Sherlock fights off an uncharacteristic rush of jealousy, at the thought of this strange man who put his hands (his mouth?  his cock?) so easily on (in?) John, when Sherlock is sitting here being offered everything, and is only paralysed, useless.  It bothers him.  It bothers him, which he realises it quite ridiculous.  John is permitted to have other people, and when Sherlock was gone, if there was someone who might have given him even a few moments of comfort, who is Sherlock to object? 

“But, you’ve never made love to a man.”

John’s face softens.  He shakes his head.  “Not sure I’ve ever made love to anyone.”

“Oh.”

“But, I want to—with you.”

Sherlock feels his cheeks go warm, and John looks charmed.  “Can I ask you something else?”

“Alright.”

“You never having been with someone, was that because of lack of opportunity, or because you weren’t interested.”

Sherlock thinks about it.  “I don’t know.”

John nods, thoughtful.  “Okay.”  He’s finished his soup.  He stacks his bowl with Sherlock’s, gets up and takes them to the sink.  “There’s a fire going in the bedroom.  You want to take this in there?  Might be warmer.”

“Yes, alright.”

Sherlock gets up, and follows in John’s wake.  There is sleet pelting against the windows now, and the room is bleak and grey, but the fire is burning bright and warm, and the bed has been turned down, and John is crawling in, clean, and ruffled, and soft from his wash. 

Sherlock aches.  He aches to crawl up and under, his head against John’s chest, blankets pulled up like a cocoon, sheltering them from the cool air of the room.  “I’ll change.”

“Okay.”  John smiles up at him from the bed, and Sherlock grabs his pyjamas out of the dresser, and retreats to the loo where he changes in a rush, and then returns to the bedroom, fastidiously hanging up his clothes, before crawling into bed.

It’s better there.  A place he and John have already eked out for themselves one quiet, velvet-dark, chaste but intimate night at a time.  John’s eyes are searching him the moment his head hits the pillow.  After a moment his hand finds Sherlock’s under the blankets. 

“Come here.”

“This is ridiculous.”

“You’re ridiculous.  Come here.”

Sherlock goes because the thought of not accepting the offer is utterly unfathomable.  It takes them a few seconds to get their limbs sorted, and find a position that feels comfortable, but Sherlock likes laying with his cheek against John’s good shoulder, John’s arm slung over his ribs, his face pressed into John’s chest.

“John?”

“Mmm.”

“This person you were with when I was away…”

“He wasn’t anyone.  It didn’t mean anything, okay.”

“Then why?”

John huffs into his hair.  “I don’t know.  Sometimes you just do things.  I—I was lonely.  I just kept wondering if—if I’d been braver, would things have been different, you know.  If I’d stopped letting things that happened years ago get in the way of what I wanted now, if I’d just told you…”

“So you sought out a stranger for sex?”

“Yeah.  Was just a blowie, but…”  John sounds impossibly young and slightly ashamed of himself, and Sherlock doesn’t want that.  He slides his hand up to press against John’s heart through the thin cotton of his t-shirt.

“And it was emotional for you?”

“Yeah…” whispered, tight, like maybe just the memory of it is hard enough.

“Why?”

John is quiet for a long time, so long Sherlock wonders if he is just going to choose to ignore the question.  Finally he sucks in a breath and lets it out with a shiver.  “I wanted it to be you.  Knew it never could be, but I—I wanted the fantasy of it, just once, something to keep me going, and…”  John’s voice breaks.  “It couldn’t ever be what I really wanted, could it?  Not with you gone, not like that, clicking on some bloke’s profile because he had dark curls, and ice blue eyes, and…”  John huffs wetly into his hair, and Sherlock looks up, pushes up, and pulls John against his chest.

“No.  Understandable to want to try, but not the same, I imagine.”

“Christ, I’m so glad you’re home,” John breathes into his neck.

Sherlock strokes his hair, relishes in the feeling of his clean-shaven cheek, warm against his chest.  “I’m sorry about before, in the kitchen,” he murmurs.  “I need you to know how much I want you, John.  I—I just find myself horribly ill-equipped to…”

“It’s okay.  I mean it, Sherlock.  It’s okay.  We’ll figure it out.”

“I have thought about it.  Even since we’ve been here, I…”

“Yeah?”  John sounds pleased rather than offended, so he continues.

“Mmm.  There have been times when I’ve found myself quite—overwhelmed with how much I want you.”

“Yeah?”  John pulls back and looks up at him.  “Even an old man like me, eh?”

Sherlock scowls.  “Nonsense.”

John’s lower lashes are still damp, his eyes still red-rimmed, and Sherlock wants to…  He wants to..  He shifts downward a little and presses his lips to one of John’s closed eye-lids, and then the other.

John’s arm stirs around him, his hand splaying over Sherlock’s back, pulling their bodies closer.  And so Sherlock kisses his forehead too, each brow, his temple, his cheeks, the tip of his nose.  John’s eyes are closed, but he smiles at that.  And so Sherlock continues, kisses each corner of his mouth, just as John had kissed his earlier in the kitchen, and then presses his lips, soft and full against John’s, feels John’s lips part beneath his, feels their breath mingle and John melt against him, and somehow it is easy this time, easy to open to him, to let John’s tongue slide between the seam of his lips, fill him, taste him.  It’s slow, and lazy, and absolutely heady.  He loses all track of time, and when John finally pulls away, looking as drunk as Sherlock feels, he thinks that perhaps it all might be alright between them after all.

“Okay?”  John murmurs.

“Mmm,” Sherlock hums in reply.

John is half-hard against his thigh, and he is too.  It’s a slow simmering heat, and Sherlock finds he doesn’t want to let it fade.  Not just yet.

“What do you like?”  John traces a hand down his spine.

“I don’t know.  I like this.”

“Me too.”

John presses up and kisses him again, deep and slow.

“We can try things, yeah?”  John whispers against his lips.  “Might be fun, that.”

“Yes.”  Sherlock inches his fingers beneath the hem of John’s t-shirt, presses them to the soft, warm flesh either side of the base of his spine, strokes there with his thumb.  John’s hips move slightly.  He throbs against Sherlock’s thigh, and Sherlock’s skin tingles.  It’s heady this, the way that John’s body responds to him. 

John is toying with the stretched out neck of Sherlock’s t-shirt.  He pulls it down slightly, and traces a finger down the space between his pectorals, fingers the sparse hair there.  Sherlock shivers.

“You okay?”

“Yes.”

He dips down and presses his lips to Sherlock’s collarbone, strings pearls of kisses along it, sighs against his skin, moves up his neck.  John’s lips are warm and careful, but they feel like a brand against the sensitive skin of Sherlock’s neck, send sympathetic surges of pleasure racing through his veins to pool molten and warm in his belly.  He sucks in a breath, let’s it out with a gentle uhh of pleasure, and John huffs against his neck, in response, kisses him again, let’s tongue join lips.

Sherlock’s cock takes a decided interest, filling out to strain against his pyjamas.  He’s twined close enough to John that he knows he must feel it, and sure enough, after a moment John breaks away with a moan and rocks against Sherlock’s thigh, his hands knotting into fists in the thin cotton of Sherlock’s T-shirt.  His lips travel to behind Sherlock’s ear, and his weight shifts just enough for Sherlock to feel the full, thick weight of him, how much he wants this.

“You okay?”  he pants against the shell of Sherlock’s ear, and Sherlock is, of course he is, better than.

“Oh yes…”  He reaches out for John’s head, tilts his own, and swipes his lips messily over his cheek, against his temple, nuzzles at the hair over his ear.  John whimpers, and it sends another surge of desire straight to Sherlock’s core.

John’s arms are slipping around him, holding on tight, and he’s rutting against Sherlock’s body like he can’t get close enough, can’t ever get close enough.  “Christ Sherlock.  God, I—I need—I need…”

“Good.”  Sherlock rumbles in his ear, and it seems to break something open inside of John.  He moans, his hands suddenly everywhere, almost frantic, groaning softly, sucking in a breath through clenched teeth anytime a new wave of pleasure grips him.  It’s a revelation, this: John’s desire for him, to be so wanted.  No one has ever even liked Sherlock before.  Usually he is tolerated, and that’s all, but John has been surprising him since the moment they met, and so it still goes…

Sherlock knows John well enough to know he must be getting close, and there’s something rather intoxicating in that, the thought that what John feels for him, his voice, his body, his touch, has reduced John to this, his John who is usually so buttoned up, so restrained and careful, is coming apart in his arms, and so quickly, too.  It will all be over soon, and he still wants to… 

He slides one hand from John’s back, around to rest against his hip, just pressing the tips of his fingers between their two bodies.  “I want to touch you.”  He inches his fingers beneath the waistband of John’s pyjamas.  “Please, John.  Let me touch you.”

John lifts his hips to give Sherlock access, even as he drunkenly shakes his head.  “Not going to last if you…”

But Sherlock’s already found what he’s looking for, the heavy, throbbing weight of John’s cock.  It’s thick, and hot, and fits in the cup of his palm perfectly.  John hisses, and when he closes his fingers around it and gives a tentative pull, John grunts like he’s been punched in the gut.  “I—I can’t…”

“I know.”  Sherlock pitches his voice a little low, a little wicked.  John has always been responsive to his voice, but he’s learning that when they are like this it’s something more, something altogether new.  He pulls again, slow and teasing, It’s awkward with their bodies so close together and no lubrication, but there isn’t time for that, and it’s not needed, it seems, as John moans loud and begins to rut into the circle of his hand.

“Good?”

“Go—god.  Oh god…”

Sherlock smirks and presses his face into John’s neck, sucks hard, moans deep against his flesh, and feels John go rigid in his arms, his cock plump and spill in warm ribbons over his hand, as John cries out silently, open mouth pressed to Sherlock’s chest.  When it finally passes, he collapses against him panting hard.  “Sorry.  God, I’m…”

“Perfect,” Sherlock finishes for him.  “You’re perfect.”

“But you…”  John fumbles between their bodies, but Sherlock catches his wrist gently in his free hand. 

“Later, John.”

John nods, and drops his face to his chest again.  “Okay.  Yeah, okay…”

Outside the wind is howling.  The small lamp beside the bed flickers.  Sherlock draws his hand from between their bodies, wipes it mindlessly on the coverlet, and savours the weight of John in his arms.  He’s falling asleep, Sherlock can tell by the evening of his breath, and the way he grows heavier atop him with every passing minute.

The lamp finally goes out, but the fire continues to crackle and pop in the hearth, John breathes, calm and close.  It’s warm, and homely, and Sherlock realises he hasn’t felt this safe in almost two and a half years.

“I love you,” he says low and sure into the quiet room.

John stirs against his chest.  “Luff you too…”  mouthed sloppily against his side.  He smiles, and reaches down to card his fingers through his hair.

He wonders what the the next day will bring, or the next one, what it might be like to have John touch him the way he had just touched John.  Perhaps it will still send anxiety coursing through his veins, or perhaps it won’t.  Perhaps John will find different ways to touch him, ways that make him feel the way he does right now, safe beneath the weight of Johns’ body, with the comfort of John’s breath against his skin, the feather-light brush of John’s hair beneath his chin, and his hand splayed small and warm over his heart.

As John says, they will figure it out.  He has no doubt of that now.  And if there’s one thing he knows for sure, it’s that this sense of home they’ve been building, almost from the moment he got back will only deepen. 

They’ve always been home to one another. 

They always will be.