The sunlight drizzles honey-languid into the flat on a quiet Sunday morning, draping onto the red upholstery of the chair and glinting off the warm gold of John’s hair. Warm, Sherlock thinks, describes the morning perfectly: the mug of tea pressed into his hands, the smile John had bestowed on him, the way their fingers brushed briefly as the mug changed hands.
Their peace still felt fragile, but mornings like this—Sherlock dissecting a necrotic kidney and sneaking glances at John, unhurriedly reading the paper and completing the crossword—go a long way to assuaging Sherlock’s fear that he will wake up to a John-shaped hole in the flat one morning.
So far, however, John seems content to resume his old life at Baker Street. They share crap telly and triple homicides and unhealthy amounts of takeout, and if John occasionally rubs the space where a ring once resided resentfully or looks at children laughing in the park with the barest trace of wistfulness, well.
They don’t talk about it, as they don't talk about so many things.
John sets down the crossword with a small grumble—used a pen instead of a pencil, now regretting it. He drums his fingers on the armrest before standing up. Sherlock turns back to his samples, pretending that he hadn't been watching, and he sees John smile out of the corner of his eye.
“What’s that, then?” he asks.
“Really, John. If you can't identify a kidney when you see one, I worry for your patients’ safety.”
“Git,” John responds affectionately before running his hand along the curve of Sherlock’s shoulder.
Sherlock stiffens, and John, damn him, notices.
“Okay?” His tone is gentle and slightly concerned, like cool water, and Sherlock wants the warmth back so he nods. John still retracts his hand and goes to put the kettle on again, emitting a faint sense of hurt.
After all this time, Sherlock doesn't know how to tell him.
Sherlock had it all planned out, at the Landmark: find John, tell him he loves him, go back to Baker Street and fall into bed together.
He pictured it in his mind, in a Serbian cell when he needed a reason to keep going. They would be back at the flat and John would kiss him so tenderly and gently, soft kisses that would gradually deepen. And John’s arms would wrap around him and Sherlock would wince involuntarily, the fine cotton of his shirt catching at his stitches and scrapes
And John would unbutton his shirt so very carefully and help Sherlock shrug it off, and then his fingers would ghost over the livid marks so as not to cause harm.
He realized later, with blood running down his face and stitches tearing and John’s legs straddling his hips in entirely the wrong way, that the plan was only ever a fantasy.
John starts touching him more frequently. He’ll grasp Sherlock’s wrist at a crime scene, place a firm hand on Sherlock’s arm, let their knees rest against each other's in the backseat of a cab. He watches intently, gauging Sherlock’s boundaries, and tries not to smile too broadly as Sherlock simultaneously sinks into the contact and sniffs haughtily.
Sherlock is caught. The touches are glorious, filling his veins with electricity and bringing him closer to John, but what if John wants more? He can't think of any way to say by the way, I was captured and interrogated in Serbia for eight weeks and I now have horrendous scars covering my entire back; fancy a curry? and he doesn't want to hurt John after everything he’s put him through.
He stays in limbo, caught between John’s amazing fantastic brilliant touches and his own fear.
Sherlock sits in his chair on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, fingers steepled at his chin, deep in his mind palace. He's sorting through pollen patterns to deduce where exactly John’s sister lives based on the mud on John’s shoes and thus impress John (though his deduction will doubtless be met with some version of “Sherlock, I told you I was going to Kent” and a lecture on listening to one’s flatmate), and he only vaguely hears the warm timbre of John’s voice.
And then warm fingers run through his curls and pull gently, teasingly and everything stops.
And Sherlock is back in Serbia, arms spread in a caricature of biblical symbolism and his head heavy from sleep deprivation and unceasing pain, and Mycroft sits in the shadows as the ex-Navy interrogator with a cheating wife and an unlit bathroom holds a lead pipe in one hand and with the other grabs Sherlock’s overlong hair and pulls—
“Sherlock,” he hears, dimly. “Sherlock, breathe.”
He inhales automatically and the burning in his lungs eases. Sherlock’s eyes focus slowly. The hand in his hair is gone and John is crouched in front of him.
“There you are,” John whispers. “Deep breaths, love. Deep breaths.”
Sherlock sits and breathes, waiting for the inevitable. It doesn't take long.
“That wasn't a normal reaction to being touched,” he states quietly.
There’s no point in hiding it. “No.”
John starts to speak and falters. His voice is still calm, steady as steel, but there's a thread of anxiety running through it now. “Sherlock—when I ran my fingers through your hair—was that a scar, along your hairline?”
He lets his silence speak for him. John nods jerkily, like it hurts, and the last time Sherlock saw that particular nod was when John stood in front of a gravestone and asked him not to be dead. It aches, oddly, and he would smooth the crumpled look off John’s face if only he would move his leaden limbs.
“Next question, then.” John’s hand tightens around his wrist, measuring his pulse, and Sherlock dimly realizes that it has been there the whole time. “May I look?”
This wasn't how it was supposed to happen—or rather, it wasn't supposed to happen at all. Best case, John would be disgusted; worst case, he would feel manipulated.
John looks at him, eyes gentle and lips tight, and seems to come to some sort of a decision because he nods again. A hand extends towards Sherlock slowly, giving him time to refuse, and John watches for any sign of distress.
John’s hand cups the side of Sherlock’s face, and he involuntarily leans into the the warmth like a cat. The rough callouses caress his cheek before slowly, carefully moving down to his neck and gently migrating towards his back.
John’s eyes never leave Sherlock’s, and so he can see the exact moment John’s thumb brushes over the raised scar.
“Did that happen when you were—away?” John’s thumb brushes the length of the scar.
“Bolivia. One of Moriarty’s men. Knife.”
“It looks like he held a knife to your throat and you fought your way out of it,” he says, assessing, because analyzing is easier than feeling.
Silence falls, but John’s hand doesn't move. Strangely, Sherlock doesn't mind.
“Sherlock,” John says eventually. “Do you—“ He coughs, starts again. “Are there more?”
Closing his eyes because he doesn't want to see John’s face, he answers. “Yes.”
“Christ, how did I not know?” John asks, and Sherlock has had enough. He stands up, grateful that his well-cut suit conceals the scars, and pulls his wrist from John’s.
“I want neither your self-flagellation nor your pity,” he spits, and he swirls out of the flat in a whirlwind of heavy wool and fury.
Sherlock returns to Baker Street just before two in the morning to find all the lights out. He walks lightly up the stairs, a heady nicotine rush thrumming through his veins, and goes to his room.
He flicks on the light to reveal John, slumped against the headboard, deeply asleep. He had clearly intended to wait up for Sherlock but at some point (around 12:30, Sherlock deduces) he had succumbed to fatigue.
Sherlock debates internally for a moment. But he’s tired and it's his damn bed so he quietly prepares for bed and slides in next to John.
It's the click of the lamp turning off that wakes John. “Sherlock?” he mumbles.
“It's me,” Sherlock confirms. “Go back to sleep.”
But John is awake now. “I wanted to apologize,” he says.
“No it's not. I panicked too, and I made it about me when I shouldn't have. As for pity—you don't have mine. You never have,” John says, sleep-rumpled and solemn.
“You don't even know the whole story. You saw one scar and drew your own hopelessly optimistic conclusions,” Sherlock bites out.
“Hopelessly optimistic? Believe me, my conclusions were not optimistic, at all,” John says, wide awake now. “As for not knowing the whole story—will you ever tell me?”
“Maybe someday,” Sherlock allows reluctantly, but the small admission causes John’s shoulders to relax a bit.
“So you have more scars.”
“May I see them?” John asks, and he knows this is the reason John waited up for him.
In response, Sherlock sits up. John tenses, but Sherlock only pulls off his shirt and lies down on his stomach.
John reaches for the lamp, but Sherlock stops him. “No. With no lights, or not at all.”
Even in the dim light, he can see John balk at the thought of scars still raised after over a year to heal. He takes a breath to steady himself.
“Should I avoid anything?” John asks softly, asking a different question entirely.
“No,” he says, answering both.
John’s weight settles on the back of his thighs, and it's more comforting than Sherlock would have guessed. Heat radiates off John’s hands from where they hover over his skin, hesitant to make contact.
John starts at the scar on the back of his neck, tracing it with his thumb once more. Slowly, they move to his shoulders and circle the stab wound on his left shoulder, then ghost over the lash marks that go from his shoulder to lower back. There's a slight ridge where a broken rib healed imperfectly, and John caresses it before circling up to his right shoulder blade. Faint circular scars speak of cigarette burns, and John’s fingers falter before resuming. They trace the puckered scar perilously close to Sherlock’s kidneys and stroke down his arms, finding the nick of a bullet.
John’s hands are so gentle that Sherlock could almost relax into them, but he's reminded why he shouldn't when a drop of water lands on his back. John’s crying, Sherlock thinks, distressed. “I'm sorry,” Sherlock whispers into the pillow.
“You were tortured,” John says, his voice unsteady, and then there are warm lips pressed against the knife wound in his neck. Sherlock inhales sharply.
“You jumped to save us,” John whispers into his hair, “and you were tortured for it.”
“Don’t forget,” Sherlock says, voice heavy with bitterness, “I jumped to prove that I was cleverer than anyone else. And then I failed. It was all for nothing.”
“No,” John contradicts him. “You forget, I know you.”
John’s lips brush the scar on his neck once more before moving lower, to the first raised lash mark. “You jumped to save us, not to prove how clever you are.”
The second whip mark. “You're not a sociopath. You pretend you don't care because you actually care too much.”
The first cigarette burn—“But you're brilliant—“
The second—“And truly kind—“
The third—“And gorgeous.”
Sherlock feels himself flush at the compliments, and John keeps pressing kisses into his scars.
“John, you don't have to do this. If you don't want this—it would be so much kinder to stop, now.” It comes out more desperately than Sherlock intended.
“I've wanted this for so many bloody years,” John mumbles into his shoulder blades. “Do you want this?”
“Yes,” Sherlock whispers, and it feels like he’s let go of a great weight as he says it.
John smiles into his skin. “Good,” he says, and continues to place kisses on every scar until Sherlock is lying boneless under him.
“Hmm?” he answers drowsily, thrumming with contentment.
“Can—can I kiss you? Properly?” John asks, breathless.
In response, Sherlock turns on his back. John smiles tentatively down at him, the moonlight gleaming off the dampness on his cheeks and turning his hair a lovely warm silver. The soft wool of his maroon jumper brushes Sherlock’s abdomen as he leans down and places a single, reverent kiss on the scar above his vena cava before sliding up to hover a hairbreadth above Sherlock’s mouth.
Sherlock raises his head and their lips meet, and it's slow and careful. John places endearing little kisses at the corner of his mouth and brushes their lips together until warmth runs through every molecule in Sherlock’s body. Drinking in John’s scent, Sherlock finds himself becoming dizzy. He pulls back for breath and buries his face in John’s neck. Sherlock finds himself yawning widely.
“Sleep, my love,” John whispers, pressing his lips against Sherlock’s temple.
“Stay,” Sherlock demands sleepily.
“I'm not going anywhere, I promise,” John says, and gathers Sherlock in his arms until they fit together neatly. Surrounded by John, Sherlock feels tension he didn't even know he was carrying slip away.
In the morning, they'll talk. John will want to examine the scars in the daylight and Sherlock will let him, reluctantly and with much fuss, and John will soothe his disquiet by kissing every silvery scar illuminated in the golden glow of morning. And John’s face will crumple once more when he realizes that Sherlock’s back had still been raw at the Landmark, and Sherlock will say But don't you see? Your skin touching mine was all I ever wanted, so I could never regret that and John will laugh shakily and say bit not good and Sherlock will try to kiss the guilt off his face. And now that Sherlock understands down to his marrow what John went through while he was dead, he will finally share some of his own stories, tell John about all of the times and places he missed him and wished he was there. And John will wish he had been there too, but they both understand that this is what makes their story, and the coming together is all the sweeter for it.
And so they will start to heal—slowly, imperfectly, but together.
But tonight Sherlock nestles back into John, letting out a contented sight. John laces their hands together and grazes a sleepy kiss across Sherlock's knuckles before curling his arm protectively around Sherlock, fingers still entwined. He closes his eyes, and sleeps.