John woke up gasping for breath. His ears rang, though from the shots fired in the dream or a shout he'd made in reality, John did not know. The visuals of the nightmare fled quickly, fading as fast as any love he'd had for Mary, but his physical response lingered. Years of therapy with Ella Thompson paid off as he immediately launched into calming exercises. His breathing slowed, and his pulse evened out. The drying sweat on his skin and vest chilled him, though, and he knew sleep would be elusive for the next hour or so. His stomach growled, and John couldn't help but chuckle, his body's resilience always surprising him. As he swung his legs over the side of the bed, a familiar melody floated up the stairs. Sherlock was playing his violin. John smiled, the nightmare continuing to withdraw from him, swept away by the music of his best friend.
After quietly padding down the stairs and using the loo, John grabbed the leftover tiramisu from the fridge. The plastic fork Sherlock had used to eat his half was still in the container. Oh, why the hell not? After all they'd been through together, using the same fork no longer seemed as inappropriately intimate as it once might have been. John took a heaping bite as he walked to the sitting room.
John nudged his chair slightly closer to the fireplace, where a steady, crackling fire burned brightly, casting a cozy glow over the otherwise unlit room. After a few minutes, the warmth of the fire and of the music washing over John allowed him to relax, forcing the nightmare to finally relinquish its hold.
Sherlock did not acknowledge John's presence, but rather slightly swayed with the music until he reached the end of the song. Sherlock placed his violin back in its stand and swiped a finger of mascarpone from the remainder of John's tiramisu as he sat down in his chair. The two men shared a few moments of companionable silence before John finally said, "Thank you."
"For playing The Nightmare Song."
"The Nightmare Song? Is that what you call it?"
"Well, you always play it when I have nightmares, so yeah."
"As prosaic as your case titles." Sherlock concluded with an exaggerated sigh.
"Fine, fine. What's it called?" When Sherlock continued not to answer, John teased him. "What, is it one of those fancy etudes or movements with all the numbers that an idiot like me wouldn't understand?"
"It's one of my own compositions." Sherlock shifted uncomfortably in his chair, then strode over to the window to look out over Baker Street. John waited, appreciating Sherlock's backlit silhouette, the grace with which he always moved. Some things never change, thank goodness.
Eventually Sherlock spoke. "I call it A Lullaby for John."
Warmth filled John's chest as he grinned. "Really? Since when?"
"Since always, John."
John heard the forced exasperation in Sherlock's tone, what he construed to be an attempt to hide uncharacteristic embarrassment. Not for the first time, John felt a rush of love for his friend. But perhaps for the first time, he allowed himself to fully recognize the depth of loyalty and love that Sherlock felt for him. John recalled the first time he heard his lullaby, a mere few nights after moving into Baker Street. It came as no shock to John that Sherlock would have been aware of his nightmares early on, but that he'd composed a song to help John through his rough nights so soon into their friendship, well, that was something else entirely. He cleared his throat before he could say, "It has always been appreciated, but it was even more lovely than ever tonight."
"Really?" Sherlock seemed unusually gratified with John's praise, a small smile playing around his lips and a confident set to his shoulders.
"Yes." John thought of how much he'd missed Sherlock's violin playing over the past few years, since his fall and his return.
"Good." Sherlock absentmindedly placed his hand over a spot near his heart. Still looking out the window, he said, "I was worried I was rusty. It's hurt too much to play since…"
John was on his feet before he knew it. Sherlock turned to John as he approached, stepping back cautiously. John raised his hand in a calming motion, and then used it to cover the hand over Sherlock's heart. He shook his head. "I'm a doctor. In Afghanistan, I operated on injuries like this, countless times, and yet it never occurred to me that you'd be in too much pain to play. I am so, so sorry. She hurt you, she robbed you of your music, and I still went back to her. How do you not hate me?"
"I could ask the same of you."
At John's scoff of disbelief, Sherlock pressed. "Have I not hurt you deeply? Have I not begged for your forgiveness and received it? Did the woman you love more than anyone in the world not deserve the same chance you gave your best friend?"
Sherlock raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "About what?"
John reached up with his free hand to clasp the back of Sherlock's neck and drew him down until their foreheads touched, eliciting a gasp from Sherlock. "I did not love her more than anyone in the world. There is one I love more. Above all else, really." John sighed at the relief he felt, the truth of this words lifting a weight from his shoulders he did not know had been there. For how long? How long have I tried to hide from this?
"John?" Sherlock's voice quavered with rare confusion.
John felt Sherlock's warm, tiramisu-scented breath against his lips and was overwhelmed by the urge to follow its path back to Sherlock's trembling mouth. Not yet, though. It's time for me to be brave.
"You, Sherlock. I love you, more than I've ever loved anyone."
Sherlock made no response, but did not pull away. Before the silence stretched uncomfortably long, John said, "It's always been you, Sherlock. Didn't you know that?"
"No." Sherlock paused. "How was I supposed to know when you, yourself, did not?"
John laughed. "Can't find fault with your logic. Sorry it took me so long to figure it out."
"I'm sure I did not make it easy for you."
A series of memories flickered through John's mind. Shared laughter in the back of cabs. Late night takeaways. Shy glances of approval. Being pulled from a bonfire. A heartfelt speech before gathered friends and loved ones. "Actually, you did. I just didn't want to admit it." As Sherlock opened his mouth to speak, John interrupted, "What about you, hmm?"
John leaned back to better see Sherlock's face. The many conflicting emotions John felt were reflected there. Sadness. Wistfulness. Fear. Desire. Any doubts John still had about Sherlock's feelings evaporated away. "How long have you known how you felt about me?"
And Sherlock must have seen John's certainty, because he took a deep breath and responded with complete sincerity. "When I looked at you and realized you shot the cabbie, I felt a jolt of something run through me. Recognition of a kindred spirit, I thought. Later, though, I realized it was likely love." Sherlock gnawed on his lower lip. "That scene played through my mind when I watched you by my grave, hating to see you in so much pain. It took leaving you to force me to admit I loved you and had always loved you." Sherlock tentatively placed his hands on John's waist. "And that I would always love you, no matter what happened."
John felt hope flower inside of him for the first time since he'd found Sherlock on the floor of Magnussen's office, seemingly a lifetime ago. But it wasn't so long ago that there weren't other emotions there with the hope: anger, betrayal, resentment. He knew he wasn't ready to embark on such an important relationship. "But I can't do this now, you understand? I'm too angry and confused about everything that's happened, and I don't want to take it out on you, on us."
Sherlock pulled away slightly to look at John. "I don't understand what that means."
"Give me a chance to go back to Ella. Talk things over, set my head straight. I want us to start out with a proper date, Sherlock Holmes. Not consoling me in the middle of the night over flashbacks of my horrible choices. Does that make sense?"
"No, it does not make sense to me. I don't want some idealized version of you, John. I just want you."
"Well, maybe I think you deserve better than the man I am right now."
"There is none better."
"You really believe that, don't you?"
"Of course." Sherlock sounded outraged John would think otherwise.
"I want to be the man you see in me. But I know I'm not easy to be with right now."
"There is no where I'd rather be than at your side." Sherlock leaned down and nuzzled John's nose with his own. It was simultaneously the sweetest and most intimate action John had ever experienced. He swallowed regret over his decision to take things slow and said, "I'll call Ella first thing in the morning."
"Or you could leave a message tonight in case you oversleep?" Sherlock began to giggle before he even finished his question.
John joined in. "A bit eager?"
"Yes." Sherlock sighed, tears suddenly gleaming in his eyes. "John, I never thought you'd give me a chance."
"Hey." John used his best captain's voice to make sure he had Sherlock's full attention. "I'm not giving us a chance. I know this is right. I know we will work. I have no doubt in my mind that the two of us will thrive together. But I just want to start it off not angry and depressed anymore. It isn't that I think I'll ruin us. I just want us to start out with you not having to treat me like a minefield."
Sherlock appeared dazed by John's confidence. "Take all the time you need, John. I'll still be here. I was resigned to waiting forever, so…"
John halted Sherlock's words with a kiss. Dry, closed-mouth, sweetly firm and anything but chaste.
"Oh," was all Sherlock said after John pulled away.
"Oh," John playfully mocked him.
"What was that?"
"The first of many kisses, I hope."
"There has to be a second to make sure that was a first and not an only."
"Alright, you sly bastard." John followed up with a quick kiss. "You satisfied now?"
"No," said Sherlock, glancing at John through his lashes.
So this was Sherlock Holmes in love - playful, affectionate, funny, seductive. Oh, I'm truly done for.
An unexpected yawn overtook John, to which Sherlock responded, "Are you bored of me already?"
"As much as I'd like to tease you and say yes, it's the adrenaline crash taking over." John took a hesitant step back and captured Sherlock's hands with his own, not wanting to be apart just yet, but not trusting himself to be too close. He immediately ached with the loss of Sherlock's warmth.
And Sherlock, like he had so often in the past year, understood what John needed. "You should get some rest."
"Yeah. You, too."
"No, I don't think…" Sherlock trailed off, unusual for him.
"I'll stay up awhile longer." He reached out and ran his fingers through John's hair, an expression of wonder on his face. "I don't want to lose this feeling just yet."
John mirrored the gesture, and the moment his fingers corded through tussled curls, Sherlock leaned into the pressure, and John's heart raced in response. "I don't think we're in danger of losing this feeling any time soon."
Sherlock nodded. Then he parted from John with obvious reluctance and walked over to his violin stand. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all. " John took a deep breath and forced himself towards the stairs. "Good night, Sherlock. I'll see you in the morning."
"Good night, my John."
John paused at the foot of the stairs. "And play something a little more upbeat while I try to fall asleep, okay?"
Sherlock smiled shyly back at John. "I must admit, I have another composition I started during my time away."
"What's it called?"
John felt himself blush for the first time he could recall since his teens. "I'd love to hear it."
"It starts off somewhat sad and wistful."
John melted at the apology in Sherlock's tone. He shrugged reassuringly. "That makes sense."
"And it isn't finished."
The golden glow of the fire brought out the auburn highlights in Sherlock's curls. John thought, How have I never noticed them before. I have so much to learn about this man, with this man. "I hope it will never come to an end."
Sherlock raised his violin to his shoulder. "I think the next movement will be happier."
And John looked at Sherlock, standing in the middle of the sitting room of their home, an expression of honest, unrestrained love on his face, and he felt complete for the first time in his life. "Oh, Sherlock, we will be."