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“Well, I’m off, then,” John said, as casually as he could manage. He grabbed his jacket from the back of a dining room chair, and patted his pockets to double check his wallet, phone, and keys.

He’d clearly not hit quite the right degree of nonchalance; Sherlock looked up instantly from the microscope and gave him a swift glance up and down. He frowned.

“Strange, I don’t recall you ever mentioning this one.”

By now John was familiar enough with Sherlock’s cryptic statements to understand what he was getting at, but feigning ignorance was a much safer course.

“What do you mean, ‘this one’?”

“Your date tonight. Third date, if I’m not mistaken, and I’ve yet to hear you say a single word about her. Not like you to be quite so discreet. Is she already married, by any chance?”

“No,” John said, a little more loudly than necessary, “and how could you possibly know how many dates someone’s been on?” Not that he really cared at this point, but asking Sherlock to explain his deductions at least tended to distract him from further observation.

“Not someone, John, you. You’ve begun to display a distinct pattern when it comes to wooing the fairer sex. Having learned your lesson after the circus debacle, nowadays you start off somewhere casual for a coffee or a quick drink, usually after work. Second date calls for somewhere a bit nicer, when you try to dress up a bit, impress her. However, by the third date you start to relax a little – you go to the pub, maybe a movie, maybe back to her place…” Sherlock trailed off with a knowing tilt of his head that made John’s cheeks flush. He hadn’t realised he’d become quite so predictable after things had ended with Sarah. Or that Sherlock had noted his habits in such precise detail. “So since it’s Saturday night, and you’re in jeans – third date. Obvious.”

“But what makes you think I’m even going on a ‘date’ at all? Saturday night, jeans – maybe I’m just off to meet Mike and the lads at the local.”

Sherlock sniffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’ve shaved and showered in the past hour, and clearly paid particular attention to your personal grooming. Look at your hands. Even Lestrade would be able to connect the dots on that one.”

“Or maybe I was hoping to meet someone…” John began, resisting the urge to inspect the state of his fingernails, and then gave it up with a sigh. “Fine. But it’s not really a date. It’s just dinner. With someone I met through… work.”

“Oh, a patient,” Sherlock said, with an air of smugness that made John roll his eyes. “Tsk, tsk. No wonder you didn’t see fit to mention it earlier. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.”

“Not a patient,” John snapped. Really, there were limits.

“Drug rep? Conference organiser? Pathologist?”

“None of your business, Sherlock. And if you’ve had quite enough of questioning my professional ethics for one day, I’m already late.”

“I won’t wait up.”

“Good,” John mumbled under his breath, and escaped gratefully down the stairs.

***

In the end, he hadn’t been quite cruel enough to subject Mycroft to the indignities of his favourite fish and chip shop, with its plastic plates, fluorescent lighting and greasy formica-topped tables. Instead, he’d organised dinner at a pub, but it was a nice pub, with curved wooden chairs and napkins, and where the obligatory TV screens fixed around the walls were kept turned way down. It even took bookings. He’d only had an occasional beer there of an evening after work, usually in company, but according to Davesh at the surgery, the food was quite decent. It was John’s idea of a compromise.

He arrived at ten minutes after seven, and the place was already comfortably full, the buzz of conversation competing with the clink of glassware and the muted thump of music. The dining area was towards the back and slightly raised to separate it from the long sweep of the bar, and John was vaguely surprised to spot Mycroft already seated, with a glass of white wine in front of him. Despite past experience, he’d half-expected Mycroft to be late, in the annoyingly time-honoured manner of people whose schedules were organised around them, leading to an innate belief that the world was, too.

Mycroft stood as John approached him; he was dressed in the same careful combination of open-necked shirt and trousers that he had worn when John had met him in his rooms above the Diogenes Club, except that this time his shirt was a deeper shade of blue. However, seeing Mycroft dressed this way in public was oddly unsettling, even though he would have looked ridiculous in a three-piece suit. Once more John’s gaze was irresistibly drawn the the pale patch of skin at Mycroft’s throat, which was having roughly the same effect on him as that one time Lynnette Robinson had leaned across the table at dinner and quietly informed him that she wasn’t wearing any underwear.

“Sorry I’m late,” John said, and hesitated. A handshake seemed too formal, a kiss too intimate, and an impromptu blow job entirely out of the question.

“Sherlock required the complete details of your evening plans, I take it.” Mycroft smiled, close-mouthed, and sat.

“Not exactly. More like he needed to show off a bit to make sure I didn’t forget how brilliant he is.” John took his own seat across from Mycroft, and was promptly distracted by a professionally cheerful young woman in crisp white shirt and black trousers, wanting to know what he’d like to drink. He opted for whatever Mycroft was having, which turned out to be something French he forgot the name of the instant he heard it. The woman nodded and smiled, presented him with the menu as though he had unaccountably lost the ability to pick it up off the table for himself, and left.

“And how did he do?”

“Hmm?” John had automatically taken a moment to appreciate the view of her retreating figure and paused to retrace the thread of the conversation. “Oh, Sherlock?” He glanced at the menu, and then set it aside. “Uh, third date, he said, which… I wouldn’t know where to start counting with that one.“ He estimated he’d met Mycroft a total of nine times since moving in with Sherlock, under a variety of circumstances, and he wasn’t sure invading Mycroft’s office and pointing a gun at his head counted as a date under any sane definition of the term. Judging from Mycroft’s expression, he felt much the same way. “But he had no idea it was… “ he waved a hand in Mycroft’s general direction. “He assumed that it was with, you know…”

“Your secret girlfriend?”

John wasn’t sure whether Mycroft’s ability to reconstruct Sherlock’s line of thought from scraps of second-hand conversation was impressive or creepy. Probably a bit of both. “Yeah. More or less. He thought I was dating a patient.”

“Good,” Mycroft said, and then looked thoughtful. “And are you? I’m sorry, I never did ask.”

“What? Oh, no, not at all, there’s no one at the moment. I mean, there was Jeanette, but she was a teacher…” he cleared his throat uncomfortably. “And we, uh, broke up a while ago. She never was overly fond of Sherlock.”

“Nor he of her, presumably.”

John’s glass of wine arrived, and he ordered for both of them without bothering to consult Mycroft. The server glanced from John to the ring on Mycroft’s finger and smiled. John didn’t bother correcting her – it was almost flattering, not that he’d let Mycroft know it.

“Sherlock disapproves of anyone who might keep me from following him around on cases,” he said, when she had gone. He lifted his glass to Mycroft in a toast to nothing in particular, and then sipped from it. It was a touch drier than he might have preferred, but cool and pleasant.

Mycroft nodded in understanding, and talk shifted to Sherlock’s latest spate of boredom, which had resulted in a bathtub inch-deep in sulphuric acid and the detailed examination of its effects on various fabrics. John had hastily rescued his favourite wool cardigan by declaring it was made of cotton and therefore redundant, since an old T-shirt had already been sacrificed to that particular cause. Sherlock been neither deceived nor pleased.

“And I don’t care how much he says he’ll clean it up afterwards, I’m not taking a bath in there any time soon,” John concluded. He saw Mycroft’s amused expression and realised that once again he’d slipped into discussing life with Sherlock, a habit more than one date had commented upon, usually unfavourably. He didn’t mean to do it, it was just that most noteworthy occurrences in his life tended to involve Sherlock to some extent, making talking about him difficult to avoid. At least Mycroft was taking it better than most.

“Uh,” John said. “So how have you, um, been? Start any wars lately?”

“No, but how kind of you to ask. Although there was that unfortunate misunderstanding with the ambassador from the Czech Republic…”

John sipped his wine and listened as Mycroft described a last minute change of ambassador that had led to a hasty search for an interpreter to be present for the meeting. All that could be managed at short notice was a young man fluent in Polish, which was, as it turns out, not quite as similar to Czech as had been assumed.

“They both have Western Slavic roots, obviously, and are mutually intelligible,” Mycroft said, “but with some very important distinctions, particularly in the usage of the verb szukać. In attempting to communicate that the Secretary of State had been looking for her a little earlier on, the sentiment conveyed was that they had been engaged in a far more intimate activity.“

There was a mischievous twinkle in Mycroft’s eye, which amused John rather more than the story itself. He would have bet money that during the incident Mycroft had been the very model of propriety.

“You managed to avoid an international incident, I take it?”

“Fortunately Madam Ambassador was equipped with a sense of humour, as well as, it turns out, a perfectly functional command of English.”

John shook his head, smiling. He could well imagine the disapproving face Mycroft had likely worn during the incident, one completely at odds with his retelling of it. He was also vaguely surprised that they seemed to be managing a real conversation after all, given how awkward their previous dinner had been. But then this time it was John who was on home ground, and the warm, bustling environment of the pub was a world away from the eerie sterility of Mycroft’s rooms above the Diogenes. The change seemed to be doing wonders for Mycroft as well.

By the time their meals arrived, John had got halfway through his glass of wine, and his leg was pressing gently against Mycroft’s beneath the table.

“Here we are, cod and chips for two.” The server set a large oval dish in front of each of them with practiced ease, checked they were equipped with cutlery and napkins, and left them to it.

“Thought you’d find this a bit nicer than styrofoam,” John said, as Mycroft cast a critical eye over his plate. John thought that it probably wasn’t quite what he was used to, but pubs had come a long way from leathery roast and three veg, both in quality and presentation. Accompanying each lightly battered fillet of fish were chips that came wrapped in a cone of paper covered with mock newsprint, and a small sludgy pool of mashed peas. A wedge of lemon, a blob of tartare, and a gratuitous sprig of parsley acted as garnishes. It smelled as good as its more ordinary counterpart, though, greasy and appetising.

“It certainly does seem… preferable,” Mycroft said, although he still didn’t look entirely convinced.

“Go on, tuck in.” John spread his napkin over his lap, and squeezed a little lemon juice over his fish before taking his own advice. He ate a forkful of fish, the batter melting crisply on his tongue, and followed up by spearing a chip from the cone. Mycroft ate a little of the mushy peas in careful, precise bites, and then extricated a small segment of fish from its batter before eating it.

“Is something the matter?” John asked. His plate was already half-empty, while Mycroft had barely touched most his.

“No. But it appears to have been… thoroughly deep-fried.”

“Yeah, that’s the point,” John said, teasing, then hesitated. He’d thought it’d be a laugh to go through with his threat to take Mycroft for fish and chips, but had not thought much further than that. If Mycroft were unhappy about the proposition, surely he’d simply have said so. It wasn’t as though Mycroft had ever shown any difficulty being assertive when it suited him. “Um… you sure you wouldn’t rather have something else?”

“Not at all. The fish is really quite decent.”

Mycroft gave him a polite smile, and kept eating. While it could just have been Mycroft being fussy about his diet, John remembered the first time he’d seen Mycroft and Sherlock together, and the way Sherlock had immediately launched into a dig at about his weight. At the time, John had been too distracted by the evening in general and by Sherlock’s revelation that they were brothers in particular to spare it any thought, but in hindsight it was quite an odd thing to say. If anything, Mycroft was probably a little on the thin side compared to people who weren’t Sherlock.

But now he thought of it, it hadn’t been a one-off, either. Whenever Sherlock spoke of Mycroft, he generally conveyed the impression that Mycroft was incredibly lazy and borderline obese. Neither of which appeared remotely true, in John’s opinion.

“Mycroft, is there some reason… uh, are you concerned about…” There really wasn’t a tactful way of putting it, so John gave up trying. “I mean, I’ve noticed Sherlock seems to have this fixation about your weight even though you’re nowhere near, um, fat. Given how much he goes on about the science of observation, you’d think it’s something he’d have realised by now.”

Mycroft swallowed, and then took a slow, deliberate sip of wine as he considered what John had not-quite-asked him.

“Eternal vigilance, John,” he said at last, and then added. “I was, once.”

“What, you were fat? Really?” John tried to imagine Mycroft’s sharp features overlaid with extra padding around the cheeks and chin, and perhaps a big belly to go with. It was surprisingly difficult.

Mycroft nodded. “For most of my youth, in fact. I was a rather bookish child, and not at all inclined to physical or social activity. That was in part why Mummy had Sherlock – she thought having a sibling might take me out of myself a bit, force me to interact with someone nearer my own age. “

“Knowing Sherlock, I bet it worked.” John grinned at the thought of a young, pudgy Mycroft desperately trying to read in peace while an even younger Sherlock literally crawled all over him.

“I always said she could have just have bought me a pet,” Mycroft said wryly. “But yes, it did work well enough, and I soon adjusted to having him around. Although it wasn’t easy for either of us at times. Having a sibling inevitably invites comparison. I was seen as being smarter, sensible, more mathematically-minded, while Sherlock was athletic, musically talented, and of course, more physically attractive.”

“And that was why you decided to slim down a bit?”

“Oh, no, not at all. I don’t think it really occurred to me at that point, and Sherlock never made much of it, not then. It was just the way things were. You might be surprised to hear that Sherlock and I… well, we used to get on very well.”

“Yeah, I am a bit. Surprised, that is.” John didn’t want to tell Mycroft the kinds of things Sherlock said about him behind his back, but he suspected Mycroft knew anyway. “He’s never been particularly, um, flattering about you.”

“I’m aware.”

“So then when did you…?”

“It wasn’t until university that I understood how advantageous it was to be a more… conventional size. People were generally complimentary about the change in my appearance, but I recall Sherlock hated it. He said I was like a stranger, and that he barely recognised me. You must remember that he was only a child at the time, barely a teenager. He never approved of me going away to begin with – he wasn’t used to being on his own.”

By now John had abandoned the remains of his own dinner, far more intent on listening to Mycroft. While the pub hummed with life around them, he was grateful that it was still quiet enough that he could hear without Mycroft needing to raise his voice too much. It was obvious that Mycroft was not the type to share his history lightly, and he was fascinated by the glimpse into Sherlock’s childhood as well.

“Do you think… he actually misses you being heavier?” John asked, startled. It was an unlikely notion, but one not entirely inconsistent with Sherlock’s continual attention to Mycroft’s weight. “I just assumed…”

“Of course you did. I must admit that sometimes even I don’t know quite what Sherlock is thinking.” Mycroft looked wistful. “Anyway, after university I was approached by the civil service, and forced to become even more active, for a time. That presented a considerable challenge, I assure you.”

John laughed at his expression of distaste, but didn’t bother inquiring after the link between the civil service and Mycroft’s flurry of activity. He had long suspected from Sherlock’s various hints that Mycroft was deeply embedded somewhere in MI-5 or MI-6. One of those mysterious secret-agent departments, anyway. He’d occasionally even wondered whether Mycroft’s umbrella had any secondary function, or whether it simply kept the rain off.

“But in the end I adjusted to that as well. And have maintained my physical condition ever since,” Mycroft concluded. He looked as if he were beginning to regret telling John quite so much. John slid his hand across the table and rested it gently atop Mycroft’s. It was such an innocent gesture, but felt oddly intimate considering everything they had already done.

He was forced to withdraw it as his phone buzzed yet again in his trouser pocket. It had already signalled four incoming texts in the past five minutes, but John had ignored them all. However, this time the buzzing was insistent and repeated - someone was attempting to call him, which meant it might actually be important.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, and pulled the phone from his pocket. It was from Sherlock, which was somehow utterly unsurprising. Maybe he’d deduced the identity of John’s ‘date’ after all. It stopped buzzing before he could answer it, only to start up again five seconds later.

“You may as well,” Mycroft said, having apparently identified the caller from the expression on John’s face. “My brother is nothing if not persistent.”

They shared a brief glance of shared understanding before John finally pushed the answer button. “Sherlock? This had better be important.”

“I need you to come back to Baker Street at once.”

“Yeah, you remember that little talk we had about me not being your PA? Besides, I’m just a tad busy right now..”

“Bring her along.”

“No, see, I don’t think you understand…”

“John,” Sherlock said, followed by the long-suffering sigh of someone forced to slow his thought processes down long enough to explain the obvious to an inferior intellect. “There is a man currently sitting in my living room who has come expressly in search of you – in search of both of us, in fact, but in this case your presence is urgently required.”

“Why? Surely you can do your whole deductions routine without an audience. All I ever seem to do is fetch cups of tea, anyway.”

“I could, but I am unqualified to render professional medical assistance, and the man, Mr – “ there was a pause in which John could imagine Sherlock’s inquiring look at his visitor “– uh, Hatherly, has just lost his thumb.”

“Right. Has he tried looking under the sofa?”

“By which I mean he currently has the remainder of his left hand wrapped in a makeshift bandage and it appears to still be bleeding.”

“Oh, god, you’re serious. How does he look? Is he pale? How is his breathing? Is he sweating?”

“He’s sitting in your chair and is refusing to budge until you return – says he can’t risk going to the hospital after what happened to him. And yes, he is looking rather pale, as it happens. Now will you kindly hurry up before he ruins the carpet.”

“Look, just… stem the bleeding as best you can until I get there, all right? And keep him warm, maybe make him lie down on the sofa with his feet up... yeah, look, I don’t care if it’s your thinking sofa, Sherlock, just do it. Yes, I’m on my way right now. No, I won’t be bringing her, thanks so much for asking. God, aren’t you just the very soul of…” he said, as the call cut off abruptly “…compassion.”

“I take it that this signals an untimely end to the evening?” Mycroft said.

“Yeah, I think it does. I’m so sorry,” John stood up, and braced himself for the exasperated sigh he usually received when this sort of thing happened, which seemed to be more often than not nowadays. However, Mycroft didn’t seem unduly annoyed or disappointed. If anything, he looked amused. John ventured a tentative smile. “I’d tell him to sod off if I could, but this time he really does have a good excuse.”

“Of course. Another time, then.” Mycroft glanced up at him in a way that made John’s cheeks flush slightly. Sherlock really owed him for this one. “But thank you for inviting me to your… pub. It really has been an enjoyable evening.”

“Sorry,” John said again, and hurried off. At least he did have the presence of mind to push a handful of £20 notes into the hands of a confused server on his way out the door.

***

“So then we had to go down to Eyford, and poke around there for a bit, but the gang had fled, and of course Sherlock had to go after them anyway, and what with one thing and another we didn’t get back until today,” John said apologetically. After three days of traipsing around the countryside, Sherlock had finally given up the chase, but John had had to put up with his complaining all the way back to London. It was a relief to be back in his room, lying on his bed with his mobile pressed to his ear, and the door shut.

“Yes, I understand,” Mycroft said, with an annoyingly smug air, almost as though he’d had them both under surveillance the whole time. Come to think of it, that wasn’t entirely out of the question. More likely, though, that Sherlock talked to his brother more than he liked to admit. Despite giving the public impression that they were perpetually at odds, John had begun to suspect that they merely enjoyed the drama of it all. Perhaps it even brought them closer together in an inexplicable, Holmesian sort of way. But as yet Sherlock had shown no sign that he suspected the identity of John’s latest ‘girlfriend’. Most likely he thought the whole affair beneath his notice.

“Haven’t had a chance to write it up yet, but I think I’ll call it The Case of the Disappearing Digit.”

There was a short, tactful silence. “Do you really think that’s wise?”

“Why is it no one ever likes my titles?”

“It seems perhaps a touch… alliterative. He turned out to be a puppeteer, didn’t he?” Mycroft added. John didn’t bother asking how he knew. “You could call it ‘The Case of the Puppeteer’s Thumb’.”

“That just seems to be lacking a little something… um, not meaning that as a joke.”

“I’m relieved to hear it.”

“Anyway,” John said, with a mental roll of his eyes, “now that things are more or less back to normal, I’d… quite like to get back to where we left off.” It wasn’t a question, exactly, but he held back in order to let Mycroft fill the space. While Mycroft had given every indication that he was interested in continuing whatever this was, it wouldn’t do to assume anything about their acquaintance just yet.

“I should like that very much, John,” Mycroft said softly.

“Saturday night, then? See if I can manage to finish an entire meal in one sitting?”

There was a short pause. “I’m afraid work still beckons despite the weekend, and I don’t expect to be free early enough for a civilised dinner. But perhaps… if you’d care to drop by the Diogenes around nine pm?”

“Oh, I think I could manage that.” John sat up slightly against the pillows. “Seeing as you’re so pressed for time, though, I think the least you could do is make life a little easier for me.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning I’ll expect you to be naked when I get there.” The pause was noticeably longer this time, and John smiled.

“You’re very… direct.”

“So I’ve been told. Problem?” John’s pulse quickened slightly, the thread of adrenalin mixing with anticipation as he waited for Mycroft’s answer. Since John didn’t have the intellect to match either of the Holmes brothers, he had to keep the advantage where he could. And Mycroft had proven surprisingly good company when kept slightly off-balance.

“Not at all.” Mycroft appeared to have regained his equilibrium, but John took pleasure in imagining a tell-tale flush rising in his cheeks.

“Saturday, then.”

***

The Diogenes proved less daunting now that John knew what to expect. This time around he simply wrote his name and Mycroft’s on the notepad at the front desk, and the clerk – a different one, considerably older than the last – gave him another card with circled directions and saw him into the lift with an approving nod. As he made his way along the plush hallway, his stride quickened at the imminent prospect of seeing Mycroft again. All of him.

It was therefore something of a disappointment when the door opened to reveal Mycroft in the same light blue dressing gown John had seen last time he was here. At least it was an improvement over shirt and trousers, but not quite what John had been anticipating.

“I thought we had an agreement,” John said, mock-sternly, when the door was shut behind them.

“Yes,” Mycroft said, looking uncomfortable. “But the surveillance in the corridors is rather… comprehensive.”

John grinned. “Not keen on having some security guard seeing you in the altogether.”

“Quite so.”

“But now that the door’s shut…”

Mycroft dipped his head in acknowledgement, and began tugging at the tie of his dressing gown, but John stopped him, his hands closing lightly around Mycroft’s wrists. “No, I’ll do that.”

Moving closer, John placed his hands on Mycroft’s waist, but ignored the knot entirely in favour of running his hands down over the curve of Mycroft’s arse, the blue silk warm and slippery under his fingers. He tilted his head up for a kiss, slow and gentle, reacquainting himself with the fit of Mycroft’s body against his own. John had never sought out “submissive” partners, would have rejected the idea outright had it ever been suggested to him. He had always gravitated towards people more than capable of holding their own, whether in conversation, or in the bedroom. And yet there was something incredibly arousing in the way Mycroft held still beneath John’s hands, letting him touch and taste as he pleased.

“You’re gorgeous like this, you know that?” John murmured.

He smiled up at Mycroft, but Mycroft’s expression remained solemn, almost quizzical, as though trying to decipher what John intended. Whoever Mycroft’s former lovers might have been – and there was a thought John found it difficult to wrap his head around, although Mycroft clearly had a bit of experience – it didn’t look as though he were used to receiving compliments from them.

“Come on,” John said, pulling him gently towards the living area. “I want to undress you where I can see you better.”

It was obvious Mycroft had been getting on with work while waiting for John to arrive. The sofa and coffee table area were clear, but a laptop stood open on the large dining table, surrounded by several small stacks of documents, assorted pens, and a half-drunk glass of red wine. The rest of the bottle rested in a silver bucket on the sideboard.

“Would you care for a drink?” Mycroft asked, his gaze following John’s.

“Love one,” John said, “But first…”

His fingers went to the front of Mycroft’s robe, caressing the silk, and this time he undid the knot, letting the edges of the dressing gown fall away to reveal a pale sliver of Mycroft beneath. He paused for another kiss, and then taking great care, he helped Mycroft out of it altogether, gathering the fabric neatly over one arm.

“There,” John said, laying the bundle down on an armchair. “Much better, don’t you think?”

Mycroft had gone a charming shade of pink, the blush particularly visible in his cheeks and in the delicate skin at the base of this throat. Nevertheless, he held himself as still and straight as ever.

John cleared his throat pointedly. “Whatever you’re drinking is fine,” he said.

“Yes, of course.”

John sat down on the three-seater sofa to enjoy the view as Mycroft retrieved a fresh glass from beneath the sideboard and poured. The wine was noticeably paler than the cab savs John was partial to, and as he took a tentative sip he was surprised to find it both sweet and slightly fizzy.

“It’s a lambrusco,” Mycroft said, with a note of apology, as though it were a wine perhaps not up to his usual high standards, but a guilty pleasure nonetheless. Perhaps a little like John himself. The thought made John slightly uncomfortable, reminding him once again that Mycroft occupied a world very different from his own. He knew it made him something of a novelty for Mycroft; what he didn’t know was how long it would take for the novelty to wear off. He set the glass down on the coffee table, beckoning Mycroft to sit beside him.

“So what do you, uh, want to do?” He trailed a hand across Mycroft’s thigh, just to keep the connection between them.

The corner of Mycroft’s mouth quirked up. “Surely you must have come here with something in mind.”

“You know that this isn’t… “ John hesitated. It was an absurd thing to say, after all they’d already done together, but after their first encounter a part of John had assumed that he wasn’t going to see Mycroft again. Even after the second time, the feeling had persisted. And yet, bafflingly, here he was. “…well, it’s not the kind of thing I normally do.”

“What isn’t?”

“I don’t usually get off on telling people what to do.”

“And I must say I am not generally accustomed to being told.” Mycroft shifted back against the sofa, legs apart, hands clasped lightly in his lap, for all the world as though they were both fully clothed and this were a normal conversation.

“But this is… it’s still what you want.”

Mycroft looked at him for a long moment, head cocked, as though trying to understand what John was saying. John wished him luck – he wasn’t quite sure what he was getting at himself. “Of course, John. I would not have agreed to such an arrangement were it not… satisfactory.”

“Yes, I s’pose so. Okay, you know what? Never mind.”

He went back to kissing Mycroft again, feeling on surer ground. Mycroft melted unquestioningly into his touch, sinking back into the sofa. John took pleasure in revisiting the landmarks he had only toured briefly the last time he’d been here – the uneven curve of Mycroft’s belly, the fuzz of his chest, the small brown nevus at the base of his collar bone. He traced a path upwards with his lips to the base of Mycroft’s neck, and sucked gently. Mycroft moaned.

John smiled, making his way slowly up Mycroft’s neck as Mycroft produced a series of gratifying noises. John’s free hand was lightly wrapped around Mycroft’s cock, encouraging them further.

“I could leave you a lovely mark, right here.” John sucked harder at the tender skin beneath Mycroft’s jaw, although not enough to make good on his threat. “You wouldn’t be able to hide it properly with a collar.” Another kiss, followed by the soft press of teeth. “And then everyone would know exactly what you’d been up to.” He paused as Mycroft tensed under his hands, pulling away.

“No,” Mycroft said. His fingers immediately went to the spot where John’s mouth had been, as though trying to smooth away any potential bruising.

“It’s fine, Mycroft, there’s nothing to see.” John laid a hand on his arm. “Promise. I was just… teasing.”

Mycroft managed a smile, although his lips were pressed together in a thin line. “Of course. Forgive me.”

“I mean, I know how much you care about, um, discretion. You wouldn’t want anyone suspecting you were human.”

John had meant it lightly, but it came out with an edge of bitterness he hadn’t intended. Although perhaps it was something that had been bubbling under the surface for a while – John wasn’t entirely sure what Mycroft’s ‘type’ might normally be, but he was fairly sure it would be posh and pretty and bear little resemblance to a middle-class, middle-aged doctor with an unhealthy taste for excitement. Which meant that on some level John had always known this wasn’t going anywhere. Sherlock’s condescending remarks on John’s ordinariness had just been the vanilla icing on the packet-mix cake.

“John, I apologise. I didn’t mean…”

“No, it’s fine,” John said quickly, but something of the gloss had gone off the evening, He began kissing Mycroft again, gentler now, but Mycroft remained reserved, uncertain. Mycroft’s erection, too, had flagged, and while it came back to life readily enough under John’s hand, the sense of urgency, of desire, had faded. After a couple of minutes, Mycroft’s hand came down over John’s and stilled it.

“Please, let me,” he said quietly, stroking John’s denim-clad thigh.

John nodded, swallowing, and let Mycroft unbutton his jeans, shifting to push them and his pants down to his ankles. Mycroft knelt in the limited space between his legs, one hand resting on John’s thigh. John was only half-hard, but responded quickly to the warm, wet suction of Mycroft’s mouth, and the knot in his stomach loosened a little as he settled back into the sofa. It felt as fantastic as he remembered, but lacked the savage thrill of putting Mycroft in his place – the sense of satisfaction was still there, but it was somehow quieter, softer. He stroked a hand through Mycroft’s hair as he worked.

“That’s fucking amazing,” he murmured. “You’re…fucking amazing.”

His words had no obvious impact on Mycroft’s dedication to his task, but John continued all the same, letting Mycroft hear his appreciation. At least one thing John was certain of was that Mycroft would not waste time doing anything he didn’t want to do, especially out of some misguided sense of politeness, and therefore it was okay for John to want it too, at least for now.

After a while, though, he asked Mycroft to stop, pulling him to his feet.

“Come on,” he said, composing himself to lead the way to the bedroom with as much dignity as possible. Mycroft trailed meekly and silently in his wake.

During the past two weeks, including the three days in bloody Eyford, John had imagined what it would be like to actually fuck Mycroft, to possess him in that way. To sink himself into Mycroft’s body over and over and make him come with John buried deep inside him. The thought had provided fodder for some enjoyable wank sessions, and tonight John had come prepared to make good on his fantasy, lubricant and condoms stowed in his jacket pockets. However, it was clear from the precisely arranged supplies on the bedside table that Mycroft had already taken care of everything. It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

“Right,” John said, his tongue flicking out to moisten his lower lip. He glanced at Mycroft, knowing what was expected of him, and suddenly regretting it, just a little. While having Mycroft do his bidding was highly enjoyable, and continued to be so, at the same time part of him longed for something more… conventional. To take Mycroft in his arms the way he would any other lover, and make love to him slowly and sweetly. A silly fancy, of course. Someone like Mycroft would no doubt find such an idea utterly boring and pedestrian. Best to enjoy what he had. John straightened his shoulders and gestured towards the bed.

“Hands and knees,” he ordered, reaching out to caress Mycroft’s arse cheek fondly as it settled into place. The sight made him smile, chasing his momentary doubts away. If Mycroft wanted a little taking in hand, John was certainly able to do that for him. He took a couple of hand towels from the bedside table and spread them beneath Mycroft’s belly, then shrugged off his jacket, emptying its pockets, and placing everything to one side of the bed. Mycroft’s thighs were still quite primly pushed together, and John eased them apart with his hands, running an exploratory finger up the seam of his perineum from front to back. Mycroft’s thighs trembled, and he gasped, a sound that immediately made John want to do it again.

Then a wickeder thought struck him, and he leaned in, spreading Mycroft’s arse cheeks even wider, and licked the same path in a slow, deliberate line. Mycroft’s gasp was louder this time, edged with desperation as he struggled not to move under John’s hands. His cock stood out against his belly, flushed and pink, and John gave it a single stroke, just to keep the pressure on.

“John! What are you…” Mycroft craned his neck back, which resulted in an inconvenient tilt of his hips.

“Stop that,” John said sternly, although his lips twitched with the effort not to smile. He gestured at Mycroft to face forward again, and underlined his order with a warning slap across one arse cheek. He returned to leisurely swipes of his tongue up and down, alternating with gentle puffs of breath on the newly-sensitised areas. Mycroft’s gasps and groans rose and fell in a series of crescendos, each wave sending shivering shocks of arousal through John. He was forced to stop long enough to undo his fly and give himself a few strokes just so he could concentrate.

John himself had only been rimmed once before – in hindsight, Lynette had a lot to answer for – but had never forgot the sensation. He’d been reluctant to do it for most of his partners, but it was obvious Mycroft was freshly showered, the smell of soap still lingering on his skin. And John had to admit a part of him liked it for what it was, the filthy, illicit thrill of it. If he was going to be Mycroft’s little experiment, he might as well bloody well try a few things of his own.

He spread Mycroft’s arse cheeks wide again and this time began circling his hole in small, careful licks before pushing his tongue inside. Mycroft made a sound that could really only be described as a whimper, and he jerked away and then back again, caught between the competing urges of humiliation and pleasure. John grinned to himself and went in deeper this time, holding Mycroft more firmly in place. His fingertips dug red-white ovals in Mycroft’s flesh.

“I… oh, god, John!”

“I’m sorry,” John said with mock-sincerity, raising his head. He must have looked a sight with his spit-slicked cheeks, but luckily Mycroft was in literally no position to notice. “Did you want me to stop?”

“I…” Mycroft took a deep, gulping breath. “…I’m not sure.”

“Right then, well, let me know when you are.”

He amused himself by stroking Mycroft a few more times before going down on him again, but barely managed to work up a decent rhythm before Mycroft made an abrupt and vocal reconsideration of his earlier decision. John pulled back, grinning, and swiped at his cheeks with his shirtsleeve.

“So, what do you want, then?”

Mycroft turned his head, and despite his dishevelled appearance managed a surprisingly pointed glare. John bit back a smile.

“Well?” he prompted sweetly.

Mycroft muttered something dark and inconclusive under his breath.

“Nope, sorry, didn’t catch that, I’m afraid.”

“You know.”

John smiled. “Yeah, I’ve got an idea. But I’d really like to hear you say it.”

“I want…” Mycroft turned away again, and the muscles in his shoulders tensed. The rest of his sentence was swallowed by the silence.

“A little louder, I think.” John stroked his back gently, as though soothing a skittish horse. “And don’t forget your manners.”

“I want you to fuck me.” The words were still soft, but clear enough.

John cleared his throat.

“Please,” Mycroft added.

“Good boy.”

John rewarded him by reaching for the supplies he’d brought – thoughtful as Mycroft had been, he preferred his own – and proceeded to prep Mycroft thoroughly. A little too thoroughly, if Mycroft’s reactions were any guide. John ignored all of his less-than-subtle hints, and only when he felt ready did he stop long enough to strip off his own clothing and manoeuvre Mycroft further up the bed. John knelt behind him.

Despite the preparation, the slide into Mycroft was slow and halting, with several long pauses to allow him to breathe and relax into it. For all Mycroft’s apparent willingness, John suspected that it had been a good while since he had been penetrated in this way, and John was happy to give him all the time he needed, appreciating the sensations of Mycroft clenching tight around him. Once again, a part of him wished he could see Mycroft’s face, to see his pleasure mirrored in Mycroft’s own, but he brushed it aside. That wasn’t the way it was between them, and had never been; hardly surprising considering it had all started with heated words, and John’s gun pointed at Mycroft’s head. And it was impossible to know what Mycroft thought about anything. Perhaps John was simply fulfilling the role Mycroft had manipulated him into all along.

John frowned and stepped up his thrusting a little, angling his hips to brush over Mycroft’s prostate, which drew a satisfying gasp. By now they were both lightly slick with sweat, which helped smooth the way, and Mycroft responded by pushing back against him, his breath coming harsher and faster.

“So,” John said. “Is this… what you wanted?”

“Please, John.”

The breathless sincerity in Mycroft’s tone dampened the flickers of resentment in John’s heart, and this time he didn’t push him for more. Besides, in the growing rush of sensation, he wanted to see to Mycroft properly while he was still in control of himself. He wrapped his fist around Mycroft’s cock and began jerking him off while continuing to fuck him in short, sharp thrusts.

“All right,” he said roughly.

He felt all the muscles in Mycroft’s body draw tight around him, and then the sudden throb and pulse of Mycroft’s cock against his palm. Mycroft’s gasps, at least, were genuine, given the evidence newly spattered warm and wet across his hands and the rumpled white towels. John felt a grim, unfocused sense of satisfaction, as though he’d passed some test he hadn’t known existed in the first place. He took his own pleasure at last, coming with a long groan of relief.

He lay slumped over Mycroft for a long moment, panting, his sweaty cheek pressed against the damp skin of Mycroft’s back, then dragged himself upright again. Now that the rush of arousal had passed, a faint awkwardness had begun to reassert itself. Neither of them spoke as John pulled out slowly, bracing himself against the sudden loss of warmth. Giving Mycroft one last caress across his flank, John headed into the bathroom, where he tied off the condom and tossed it in the bin. He followed up with what felt like a luxuriously long piss, then washed his hands, unavoidably catching sight of himself in the mirror as he did so. The light was terribly unflattering, seeming to deepen every line in his face into a crevasse. Belatedly, he rummaged around in the mirrored cupboard for mouthwash and poured some into one of the glasses that rested on dainty paper circles on the counter. He rinsed and spat into the sink.

When he emerged, Mycroft was sitting on the edge of the bed, neatly wrapped in a white towelling bathrobe. John’s jacket and belongings had been placed on a nearby armchair, and the discarded white towels lay in a small heap at the foot of the bed. While John hadn’t anticipated any particular course to the evening, he’d had the vague idea that perhaps they might slip under the covers together and have a bit of a rest or a quiet chat. Like normal people. Mycroft appeared to have other plans. As John approached, Mycroft gave him a sweeping glance that lingered on his face, seeming to search for something in John’s expression. Whatever it was, he didn’t appear to be finding it. John gave him a small, uncertain smile.

“Everything all right, then?”

“Yes, of course.” Mycroft offered a smile of his own. It wasn’t very convincing. “Thank you, John.”

“My pleasure.” John was aiming to sound light and cheerful, but the remoteness of Mycroft’s manner was unnerving. John realised he’d seen something very like it before – namely, those times when Sherlock was off in his so-called ’mind palace’, a place that apparently rendered him incapable of civil human interaction. Mycroft wasn’t quite that bad, but it was still obvious that a part of his brain was sectioned off and running an entirely separate program. Was it something John had done? Or hadn’t done? He’d thought they both had a pretty good time, all things considered, but maybe he was wrong. He laid a hand on Mycroft’s arm. “Um, Mycroft, hello?”

Mycroft blinked, seeming to refocus.

“Forgive me.” He stood up swiftly, not quite looking at John, and angled his head towards the bathroom door. “Would you like to shower before you leave?”

The dismissal was so abrupt that it left John temporarily speechless. At first he was too surprised to react, and by the time the words sank in he was too numb to be angry.

“Uh,” he mumbled at last. “No, it’s fine. S’pose I’ll just…”

Mycroft nodded. “Then if you’ll excuse me.” He brushed past John and headed towards the bathroom, loosening the sash of his robe. The door shut behind him, followed seconds later by the sounds of running water.

Only as John slowly retrieved his clothing and began getting dressed did irritation spark and flare within him. Who the hell did Mycroft think he was? With the rush of anger came the return of the unpleasant suspicion that Sherlock had been right all along – despite the moments of intimacy John had wanted to believe were genuine, perhaps he’d just been another pawn serving Mycroft’s interests. He’d seen how easily Sherlock could manipulate people, preying on their weaknesses without conscience as long as it meant getting whatever he wanted from them. Why should Mycroft be any different?

By the time he pulled on his shoes John was fuming, but the bathroom door was still shut, and it was beneath his remaining dignity to cause a scene. As he stalked back through the living room, he saw his glass of sweet, slightly fizzy, thoroughly middle class wine still sitting on the coffee table, barely touched. Defiantly, he downed the rest of it in a single gulp before heading out. It might have been satisfying to slam the door behind him, but he was no match for his surroundings. The hinges only slowed the force of his swing to a measured pace before allowing the door to click shut.

John rolled his eyes and retraced his path along the hallway, the thick carpet swallowing his footsteps. When he returned to Baker Street, the living room was empty, and he went gratefully up the stairs to his room. He wasn’t keen on recapping any part of the evening, especially not with another Holmes. If John had learned one thing from the encounter, it was that he’d be best off sticking to ordinary pleasures from now on.