John Watson is probably the only man in the history of ever who could say kidnapping really gets sort of old, after a while. The terror and excitement eventually deflate and simply leave him annoyed, like all the romance gone out of a relationship. In fact, he's more disturbed by how hum-drum he finds all this than the fact that he has yet again been tailed for six blocks by an unmarked luxury sedan with its headlights off. That no one in that time has made a move towards violence says John knows this particular kidnapper, and that physical torture is thankfully off the table for tonight. Psychological torture, however, is still up in the air.

He casts a despairing eye down at the Tesco bag in his hand; he'll have to postpone that chicken marsala he'd planned for dinner.

Though he has to admit, walking six blocks out of his way could be considered petty, but if his night is going to be wasted he thinks it only fair to waste everyone else's. He eventually gets bored with it after about three more blocks, and starts walking back the way he'd come to head off the car, grumbling under his breath as he goes; the weather is starting to get cool of a night, and his bum leg has Very Serious thoughts about this. All that extra walking didn't really do him any favors, either. He still feels justified.

The ride to whatever obscure and abandoned facility is this months' rendezvous place feels a lot less smooth than usual, so John has at least succeeded in irritating the driver. Which he does feel bad about, since it's not his fault he's been put on 'kidnap-John' duty, but delaying the driver means delaying his boss, and Mycroft does so hate it when things don't run on schedule.

He figures he'll leave the bloke a tip to say he's sorry.

The meeting place this time around isn't the typical suspiciously-empty-car-park/warehouse/back-room-in-a-Chinese-restaurant; rather, it's a tall, impressive house in a posh neighbourhood, possibly somewhere in Kensington. John really hopes no one lives here, but if they do, he doesn't want to know how Mycroft assured their absence. The car pulls up in back of it, and a perfectly nondescript man in a perfectly nondescript suit with biceps the size of John's head stands near the entrance and dutifully opens the door for John without a word.

The house—what little of it John can make out when there aren't any bloody lights on—seems to be large and open and maybe a bit antique, with its wooden floors and oak-paneled walls, high ceilings disappearing into the gloom. John trips through a hallway, muttering under his breath as he goes because kidnapping is one thing, but this is just rude. A tiny part of his brain points out that maybe he deserves it for stalling with the driver, but he tells that part to shut up, it's not like he asks to get kidnapped! Then he realizes he's arguing with himself, and he blames the eldest Holmes for making him lose his already tenuous grip on sanity. The end of the hall gets a bit brighter, a soft, yellowish glow spilling into the darkness from the room just ahead of him, and soon the doctor finds himself in a cozy parlor with a fire blazing cheerfully in the hearth on the opposite wall, and a floor lamp casting a slightly brighter circle of light around a table for two in the center of the room, all with lace cloth and tea set and plates of biscuits arranged to maximum effect. They also seem to be the only pieces of furniture in the house.

John really, really hopes no one lives here.

Mycroft is there, sitting in a wing-backed chair at the table, smiling blandly when John finally tears his eyes away from the oddly homey décor.

"John. Do have a seat. All that walking must have tired your leg."

Mycroft always has that strange habit of saying John's name like it's an entire sentence. Come to that, so does Sherlock. He's wondered about it, but has no expectations of actually finding the answer. In Mycroft's case, he doesn't think he ever wants to know.

John moves steadily over to the table, like he thinks it might be booby-trapped—with Mycroft, anything was possible—and takes the seat opposite. It was another wing-back, just like the one Mycroft sat in, because apparently the British Government couldn't tolerate anything less than a matching set. They probably cost more than three month's worth of John's paychecks.

Setting his Tesco bags off to the side, he says, "You know, I'd be charmed if this wasn't intensely creepy. Does anyone actually live here?"

"Now, John, that would be unconscionably rude of me. This house has been repossessed due to tax evasion. It's quite empty, I assure you."

John doesn't feel all that reassured as his eyes flit around the room, taking in the bay windows off to his right and the doorway to his left that appears to lead into a kitchen. There's a rug on the floor too. It looks Oriental. It probably is. To be honest, the place isn't bad; tasteful without being ostentatious. It's Mycroft and his odd insistence on cloak-and-dagger—not to mention lace, John has never been a fan of lace, it reminds him too much of his Aunt Gertrude who always smelled of stale tea and disinfectant—that makes it so unsettling.

"What's this about then?"

"Would you care for some tea, John?" Mycroft offers, gesturing to the pot with a regal twist of his wrist.

"No, I would not," John says tightly. "I am very tired, I had a long day at work, and I really just want to go home and make dinner. So let's get to the point, yes?"

Mycroft's smile twitches, like he can't decide whether to be amused or annoyed. John is bothered by how familiar he is with that twitchy smile.

"You're a very direct man."

"And you're a fan of misdirection," John snaps. "You didn't bring me here to discuss my character."

"On the contrary. As you can imagine, I am not unaware of the . . . change in your and my brother's situation."

John had the decency to flinched and Mycroft paused to take a sip of tea that could only be described as "discomfited." Clearly they were thinking of the same incident: handcuffs, the kitchen table, John moaning like he was being murdered. Mycroft hadn't been back to Baker Street since, and every time Sherlock was reminded of this fact, he became insufferably smug. It would be adorable, if John didn't feel the all-consuming need to hide under his chair and never see the light of day again whenever it was brought up. Evidently, it isn't a favorite memory of Mycroft's, either, and if John were less mortified, he'd feel sort of meanly victorious. As it is, he just feels a sudden, deep longing for his chair.

"In any event," Mycroft presses on, and John can't help but be grateful, "I had given some time for Sherlock's preoccupation to have dissipated on it's own, but I can see now that that is unlikely to occur."

John frowns.

"I can't tell whether I should be insulted or not." He stops and thinks for a moment. "No, yeah, I should definitely be insulted. You were waiting for your brother to dump me?"

Mycroft's answering smile is thin and blade-like. "You have to admit, my brother's interests are rather transient. Why should I have assumed this to be any different from countless other distractions he has entertained throughout his life? The fact that it is different was something that took a good deal of time to confirm."

"So you're saying I should feel comforted?"

"Whatever you feel, I have determined that, at least so far as my surveillance has indicated, Sherlock has no intention of leaving you. I believe many would find that a comforting thought. But that is not why I asked you here tonight-"

"—You didn't ask me anywhere, I was abducted-"

"What I wish to discuss with you, Dr. Watson, is what your intentions are towards my brother."

John's brain grinds to a halt. He blinks a few times. He pinches his wrist.

No, this is all terribly, horrifically real. God, he wishes he were hallucinating.

"Are we really doing this? Really?"

Mycroft raises an unimpressed eyebrow. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."

"The hell you don't! Did you actually bring me here to have The Talk? Now? We've been together for six months!"

"Yes, and since six months is undeniably the longest time Sherlock has ever spent with a romantic interest, I realized that logically he wouldn't be the one to end this. . . arrangement."

"Would you quit talking about it like he's my rent boy! We are in a relationship. A committed, monogamous relationship that we both enjoy. Vigorously."

Mycroft twitches only slightly, but John sees it, and he feels triumph warm him.

"Also, I don't really appreciate your assertions that I'm going to ditch Sherlock. What about me would ever give you that impression?"

"It's simply process of elimination, John," he says, as though the doctor is painfully slow and Mycroft feels sorry for him. "If Sherlock is not the one to end the relationship, then the only other culprit is you."

John has held off the mounting sense of fury he's felt simmering inside his stomach since this ridiculous conversation began, but he doesn't think he'll be able to maintain his composure for much longer.

He grits his teeth and says, "Well then, what makes you think the relationship will end at all?"

That stupid, pitying smile again. "John, you know how my brother is. Even if he doesn't break things off directly, he will somehow engineer this relationship's destruction. He doesn't do well with permanence, it makes him feel hemmed in. When most children are told that their parents will always love them no matter what, they feel safe and happy. Sherlock threw a tantrum and demanded he be allowed to live in the servant's quarters. This was when he was ten, of course. The thought of anyone, even our Mummy, loving him forever made him feel claustrophobic and, as he put it, 'itchy.' The unfortunate yet unavoidable fact is that Sherlock doesn't believe in forever. He doesn't want forever, because he knows eventually he'll be bored. But he is also obsessive. It's a frankly dreadful combination of personality traits. He won't ever leave you, but he won't always want you, and he will find a way to make you leave if you don't do it on your own."

John feels something dark and terrible bubble up in his chest, the same horrible thing that made him rationalize shooting a cabbie to protect a man he'd just barely met, a man he then followed through back alleys and kidnappings and psychopathic murderers, a man he'd decided he could dedicate his life to, a man who disappeared without telling him where he was going or why John couldn't follow even though he would have sold his soul to stay with him, a man who came back just as broken as John felt, a man John decided he loved above anything and anyone, a man he would never, could never leave. And here this man's brother is telling him that all of that, all of that dedication and loyalty and love is just a diversion. Just a blip in the data pool, an outlier, an aberration, and that eventually everything will go back to the way it was, with John out of the picture and forgotten. Sherlock will carry on his great work without him, will continue to be just the same as he always was, as though John had never been there. Insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Unimportant and expendable.

John feels dangerous all of a sudden, and it takes a great amount of effort to curb that, enough that it's worrying, because regardless of how much Sherlock complains about him, John doesn't think his lover-boyfriend-whatever would be pleased if he kills his brother.

"I will say one last thing tonight," John begins quietly, softly, and his hand is perfectly steady, "and then I'm going to get up and leave, with or without your chauffeur. You wanted to know my intentions? Well here they are: I love your brother. I have loved him for years. I would do just about anything for him, and certainly whatever I'm capable of to keep him happy. What I'm not capable of, though, is leaving your brother. So unfortunately for him, he's stuck with me. And if he really does get sick of me and want me gone, well. He's gonna have to kill me. Because there is nothing he could do or say that will ever convince me that he doesn't love me, too."

John pushes his chair back, grabbing the Tesco bags as he stands, and shoots one last look at Mycroft, sitting there blank-faced with a cup of tea gone cold.

"After this moment, after I walk out of this house, anything that goes on between me and Sherlock is officially none of your goddamn business. I appreciate you looking out for him. But if I even suspect that you've been sticking your nose into our private lives again, I will be pissed, and I will find a way to end you. Do you understand, Mycroft? It's. None. Of your goddamn business."

Mycroft watches him, impassive as a statue carved of pale marble, eyes so much darker than his brother's but no less penetrating. Inscrutable.

And then he smiles. It's a small thing, it mostly looks like a strange shadow cast by the fire just behind him, and John might have ignored it completely, except unlike the eyes, this smile looks every bit as genuine and uncertain as Sherlock's. John feels a bit wrong-footed then, like the rug's been yanked out from under him.

"John," he says with a small nod, brown eyes warm, "it has been pleasant chatting with you, as always. Have a safe trip home."

John nods back, frown returning since he doesn't know what to do with all the righteous fury he's been nursing for the last ten minutes. So he just breathes it out on a heavy exhale and dregs up a small, tired smile for his sort-of-like-a-brother-in-law-maybe, and proceeds to stumble back through the darkened hallway, the long hours of the day finally catching up with him with a vengeance.

The driver has to wake him up by the time they get to Baker Street. John checks his watch and realizes it's almost one in the morning, and he can't even summon up the energy to be surprised, much less annoyed. He says good night to the driver whom he'll probably never see again, and trudges up the front stairs, fumbling with his keys before he can get the door open and finally he's home. Well, not quite. There's still the seventeen steps upstairs, but for now this is good: solid, familiar wood at his back, the comforting smells of fresh biscuits made just that afternoon from Mrs. Hudson's rooms, the sharp tang of formaldehyde from what is sometimes his flat, but mostly is Sherlock's not-quite-legal chemical lab in the kitchen. A smile twitches at the corner of his mouth, but he's too exhausted to let it grow. He closes his eyes, breathes the scents in deep, and revels in this comforting yet still fragile stability his life has taken on, and he's more surprised by the fact he has this with Sherlock, of all people, than the fact that he enjoys it so much. He wouldn't trade it for anything, not a family, not his own practice, not his old career back, nothing. He's so disgustingly happy, he thinks it's probably fattening. He doesn't care. This is his, and he'll have it for as long as Sherlock keeps giving it to him.

Gentle plodding of catlike feet down the stairs, and before John's addled, half-asleep mind can properly categorize things, he feels warmth all along his front, soft breath puffing against his fringe. He finds the strength to smile wider.

"'Lo," he murmurs, voice scratchy.

"John." It's barely a word, more an exhale of warmth across his face. "You're late."

John feels those lovely hands skim up his arms, hardly even touching.

"Mm. Was waylaid by Mycroft."

"What did that fat walrus want this time?"

Annoyance and possessiveness both, but he doesn't sound angry. That's good. Maybe if John keeps his eyes closed, Sherlock won't figure out what precisely had been discussed at this latest kidnapping. It isn't something John really wants to think about overmuch.

"Oh, the usual. You. You not eating. You being a silly git. What I'm doing to combat these problems."

Sherlock huffs, his hands trailing higher, sweeping over his shoulders, thumbs brushing his collarbones through his shirt, before resting his palms again John's neck. He sighs heavily, relaxing further into the door and tipping his head back just the slightest bit to feel Sherlock's fingertips against his scalp. A slow movement, and John feels more warmth, closer now, breath directly in his ear.

"Your shoulders are tense."

John's eyes snap open. All he can see is the hall light above them and a bit of Sherlock's unruly curls sticking out a bit, as though he's been running his fingers through them all night.

"What aren't you telling me?"

John swallows, feels his muscles tighten without his consent.

"Nothing."

He's so dreadful at lying.

"You're dreadful at lying," Sherlock whispers, "especially to me. Now. What did Mycroft say to put you in such a state?"

He scoffs, trying to pull the conversation somewhere else.

"I'm hardly in a state. I'm just tired, is all. Long day at the surgery."

"If it was only the surgery, then your hand would be trembling slightly and your leg would be hurting, in addition to the tension in your shoulders. You're leaning against the door, so your leg is most likely troubling you, and you're tense, but your hand is perfectly steady. Conclusion: you are exhausted and stressed, but not from the tedium of your job. The only explanation, therefore, is that your meeting with Mycroft has upset you. Now," he exhales across the skin of John's throat, tongue just barely peeking out to brush at the moist flesh, "tell me what he's done."

John shudders hard. "God, you're an awful cheat," he moans, as Sherlock drags his full, lush lips against the doctor's exposed neck, hands coming up to grip at Sherlock's biceps.

"Tell me," he says nipping John's jaw.

"I don't want to."

"Tell me." Sherlock sucks at the skin beneath his ear.

John adamantly does not whimper.

"Not. Fair."

"Don't care. Tell me," Sherlock grumbles, sniffing and nuzzling at John's hair before he dips down and bites at the doctor's shoulder.

"Ah!" John cries, hand flying out to grip the detective by the hair, luxurious curls wrapping around his fingers like they want him to stay. "Fuck, you're a nightmare!"

"Tell. Me."

John tugs sharply at the hair in his grasp and kisses Sherlock to within an inch of his life, all the leftover frustration and impotent rage and lingering fears shoved into the taller man's mouth on John's tongue, and they moan together, Sherlock pressing his narrow hips in tight, pinning John against the door, and he wants this. Just this, and everything, all the danger and the excitement and the horrors that no doubt await him in the refrigerator upstairs. He wants all of it until the day he dies, until he doesn't have breath in his lungs, and he loves this man so much it physically hurts sometimes.

"John, what is it?" Sherlock pants when he finally breaks away, sounding broken apart and a bit desperate. "Tell me. Tell me what's wrong. You're upset, I know you're upset, something has to be wrong, please tell me."

He's clutching John on either side of his face, staring at him, and he looks so worried and lost, and John can't have that. John protects him from things like that. Plus, he said please.

"He—Mycroft, he asked what my intentions were towards you. He basically wanted a time-table for when I'd dump you, since he seemed convinced this—our relationship wasn't going to last. He said you'd never leave, but you wouldn't always want me, and you'd find a way to make me leave. I think he was trying to get me to leave before that happened, I don't know, because when I told him I loved you and he could go to hell, he just sort of smiled like I'd passed a test and fuck, Sherlock, I think for a second I actually wanted to kill him."

Sherlock goes very, very still, like the eye of a hurricane and twice as ominous. His eyes are pitch black and smouldering, but not with desire anymore. He moves his hands back to the detective's arms and rubs at them consolingly, saying, "Sherlock, it's fine, I'm not-"

"—I will kill him," he says, voice dark and subterranean. "I will actually fucking murder him."

His lips twist in a snarl that's practically inhuman, and before John can do or say anything more, Sherlock is on him, kissing and biting at his lips with a desperation John has never seen, not even that night when Sherlock climbed through his bedroom window half-asleep, mostly-starved and more or less insane from solitude and crawled into his bed for the first time. John tastes blood, assumes it's his, but just as fast as the assault has begun it's over, Sherlock pulling back to look at John like he holds the answer to every question man could ever come up with, every question Sherlock could come up with, and John's certain he'll never get used to that look.

"How dare he," Sherlock growls, "How dare he try and take you away, how dare he try to make you leave. It's unforgiveable, all of it, but I might have let him live, you know, I might have, if he hadn't gone about trying to convince you that I'll ever get sick of you. How could I, my God, just look at you, it would be like finding the end to pii or finding the end of a sodding rainbow, it's impossible, it can't happen, it'll never happen! I won't get tired of you, I can't, you're everything!"

And then suddenly Sherlock looks lost all over again, and he clutches John closer, thumbs rubbing over his cheekbones, his nose, tracing his mouth.

"You know that, right? You know I won't ever want you gone? I can't function without you. I tried before, it was a goddamn nightmare, it didn't work, nothing works when you aren't there. You understand that, don't you? You know I can't be without you, I will always want you, always, for as long as you want me around."

Apparently six months is still too short a time to get over three years worth of trauma and abandonment issues, because even the mention of it makes John's stomach clench in a vice and cling on to Sherlock like he might still, after all this time, evaporate into smoke if he doesn't hold on. He gasps because he feels like he can't breathe, hands just as restless as Sherlock's, roaming all over the detective's body and of course he knows, he does, but he also knows that in a lot of ways, they aren't okay.

"You know we're crazy right?" he says, "And I don't mean the fun-chasing-smugglers-laughing-at-crime-scenes kind. I mean the kind you need to take pills for. Fuck's sake, we can't even sleep like we used to. You still think people are breaking into the flat every night, hell, you've practically gone nocturnal, and I can't go a single morning without thinking you're going to disappear the second I open my eyes. It's not normal, even by our very lax definition of the word."

"So what!" Sherlock cries, and John spares a brief thought for Mrs. Hudson trying to sleep at such an ungodly hour, but it's crushed under the weight of Sherlock leaning him harder into the door. "So we reinvent normal. We did it before, didn't we? Normal didn't ever include body parts in the crisper for you, and it never included giving a damn about anyone for me. We can have our own normal again, but it won't be the same normal as before."

"I just-" John stops, takes a breath, he doesn't want to say it, but it needs to be said, he knows they're both thinking it. "But things will go back to normal, Sherlock. That's the point. And sure, you need me and you want me around now. But what about when everything finally settles? In another few months, or maybe another year, when we aren't so clingy, when we can function like we used to before all this mess. What if it goes back to how it used to be? When we were just flatmates and you only cared about the work and I was still sleeping with women."

Something terrible happens to Sherlock's face, like a spasm of rage and soul-deep hurt all at once, so powerful he jerks back a few inches before he swoops in again, fingers suddenly harsh in John's hair, yanking his head back and Sherlock muttering low and furious in his ear.

"Is that what you think of me? That all I need is some time to come to my senses? All I need is few good night's rest and maybe a bit of therapy and I'll somehow forget what it feels like to be inside of you, to feel you twisting and panting beneath me, under my hands, writhing in the sheets?"

John's writhing now, head rolling across the wood, hips rolling into Sherlock's as his hands convulse on the taller man's arms, confused and a bit embarrassed that this is turning him on as much as it is.

"You think I'll forget what you sound like when I touch you everywhere you need it, all the places you love and won't ever admit it, the way you moan so sweet, just for me, all because of me? Do you think there is even the remotest chance that a decent meal and some cognitive adjustment will change the way I was wretched without you, will change the fact that you were the only thing I thought of in three goddamn years? Do you think I'll simply get over the fact that you were all that kept me sane, the only thing that made that whole disaster worth it, the only reason I could stomach that fucking game anymore? You are everything. I don't know how I can make it any clearer to you."

"I know all that, I do, I didn't mean to sound like I didn't," John gasps, as Sherlock takes the reprieve from growling to not-so-gently rake his teeth against the doctor's neck.

"Then what? Why bother asking, why bring it up? Unless you-"

Sherlock halts abruptly, pulling back so fast John suspects he might have whiplash, but the look on his face chases any useless thoughts away. He looks gutted, cut adrift, like his lifeline has been severed without anesthesia. John feels ill. And horrified.

"No, no, it isn't that, I swear to you it's not that! I love you, of course I do, and I always will. I told Mycroft that, I told him if you ever did get sick of me you'd have to bloody well kill me. I told him you couldn't do or say anything to make me leave, because I'd never believe you didn't love me."

John has never seen his lover look so conflicted: part elated, part frightened, part dreadfully confused—which is honestly the strangest of the lot.

"Then why bring it up? If you knew I'd never stop loving you, why ask me about it? Why insinuate I would recover from this like it was the goddamn common cold?"

John thinks back to his "chat" with Mycroft, remembers his pitying smile, how he'd been so clinically certain and disdainful at the same time, but then he remembers how Mycroft had opened the discussion, the actual words he'd used, you know how my brother is. . . he will somehow engineer this relationship's destruction. . .the way he'd smiled at John just before he left, the way Sherlock clung to him to moment this very subject was broached. . .

In one blazing second, John knows what it feels like to be Sherlock; to see what other's find obscure, to suss out other's motives and hidden agendas and to see it all line up before him as easy as putting one foot in front of the other, as easy as breathing.

Sherlock always knew what John and Mycroft talked about at their meetings, even without John telling him. And Mycroft knew that. This time, it was almost like he'd been counting on it.

"That fat walrus," John huffs, impressed and a bit disturbed at the unmatched skill with which he's just been manipulated. It was probably the most elegant chess move John's ever seen.

"What?" Sherlock asks, brows furrowed.

John can't help the ridiculous little giggle that escapes him. He's too tired and he really can't be arsed anymore.

"John?"

Sherlock sounds like he fears for John's sanity, which is fair enough. They're both mad as hatters. It's so bloody perfect John could cry. He laughs a bit more instead.

"It's nothing, it's just—oh Christ, Sherlock, I love you so much its insane!"

John wraps his arms around the willowy detective, who tends to follow every declaration of love with an answering one, and when he fails to do so this time it's a testament to how utterly bewildered he is. John would savor this if he were a worse sort of person. As it is, he simply grins smugly into Sherlock's shoulder and hopes he doesn't notice.

"John, are you broken?"

He laughs harder for a second, but manages to calm down eventually. Sherlock sounds like he's getting genuinely distressed.

"Oh God. I'm sorry. It's just—your brother is the most frightening man in Britain. Possibly the entire world."

"I plan on ending his reign of terror very shortly," Sherlock vows, solemn as the crypt.

"Trust me, I think he's fortified his defenses by now," John says, pulling back enough so he can look Sherlock's expression of puzzlement head on.

"Are you going to tell me what you've been raving about? Or will it make you insensible again?"

John smiles broadly, burying his hands in the detective's thick hair. "Tell me first, love. Did you know I will never leave you? Did you know that I'll love you forever?"

Sherlock actually looks insulted. "Of course I did!"

"And did you know that you can never get me to leave?"

"I had—I'd thought that was somewhat implied by knowing you would never leave."

It isn't a 'yes', but John lets it slide because Sherlock seems a bit uncomfortable now.

"And did you know that I'll never believe you don't love me?"

Sherlock bit his lip, and then hesitantly nodded his head.

"And did you know that you will never stop loving me?"

It seems like such an obvious question; how can a person not know how much he loves someone? One would think if anyone knew, it would be that individual. But when the individual in question is Sherlock, what seems opaque is common sense, and what's common sense is a goddamn mystery. Of course Sherlock knows that he'll always love John, but being a scientist he needs this piece of information corroborated. He needs to hear someone say it back to him, to have someone acknowledge the fact of his love for him to finally be secure in its validity. A 'peer review' for the heart, so to speak.

John can tell the moment Sherlock gets it; his eyes light up like Christmas and New Years and John's birthday all came on the same day and they'll be celebrating all of it with back-to-back murder cases, with some marathon sex whenever they can find the time—which, in this ridiculous fantasy, is incomprehensively often. It's a complex expression, but John has gotten quite good at parsing things out when they have to do with Sherlock's face. He is very fond of it, after all. The moment of comprehension comes a half-second later, when all that unfettered joy shuts down quickly to be replaced by acute and inexpressible vexation.

John almost starts laughing again.

"Mycroft," Sherlock mutters darkly. "Your entire meeting with him was nothing more than an excuse to get you alone and furious, so he could send you back here at which time we would have a row that would, in a roundabout fashion, address and subsequently resolve the lingering insecurities I felt as to my own feelings in this highly emotional and mostly foreign experience called love that I currently find myself engaged in."

"Spot on. You must be some sort of genius."

Sherlock glares without heat, and John just grins and grins and grins.

"I said he was the scariest man in Britain. Y'know, most people just take their brother out for a pint if he's having a rough go of it."

"The Holmes' have never been what anyone would call 'normal.'"

"I imagine not. While we're on it, I still haven't met your mother, you arse."

Sherlock shudders, and not in the pleasant way. "Please don't speak of such things when I'm not mentally prepared. Give me about a month and we can approach this topic safely."

"Safely? You need a month to prepare yourself to even discuss your mum?"

"I usually prefer a full year's notice, which is why I can only manage to see her during Christmas; it takes the entire year simply to recover for the next time. But for you I will bear a much shorter reprieve, if you want."

"Well, I wouldn't want to offend your delicate sensibilities. We can wait."

Sherlock glowers and John giggles a bit, ruffling his mad hair before pulling him into a soft, luscious kiss. He only meant it to be quick, a bit longer than a peck, but Sherlock presses into it, pulling John's lower lip between his, pulling John away from the door and further into his lithe frame. When he feels the first swipe of tongue across the seam of his lips he twists his head to the side, laughing.

"Enough of that shite, I'm exhausted. We'll reconvene tomorrow, yes?"

Sherlock smiles, just the barest quirk of the side of his lips. They quirk to the left. How odd. He kisses John once more, just between the eyes, whispering, "I'll hold you to that."

Then he's gone like a flash and John realizes he's left him at the bottom of the steps with all the grocery bags. By now, John's a bit tempted to just throw them out with the garbage and give it up as a bad job. Most of the cold stuff is probably gone off by now, anyway. But John's a soldier, so he musters energy reserves from somewhere and lumbers up the steps to 221B with the bags in hand, and even dutifully puts all the shopping away. It's as he's pulling out the chives—so he has delusions of cooking fancy meals, sue him—that John discovers a piece of paper that most definitely isn't a receipt. It's got a header of some well-to-do realty company and below that are the specs of a very familiar looking house in Kensington that has just been repossessed by the government. For a brief moment, John isn't capable of one coherent thought. And once that moment passes, he feels a bit like crying, only he doesn't.

Apparently, Mycroft is a lot more confident in his and Sherlock's relationship than he'd let on.

As he stands there in the middle of his kitchen, with some experiment involving Venus fly traps and arsenic covering the table, with a box of chives in one hand and a sheet of paper for a brand new life in the other, at two in the morning when the refrigerator's cooling system whirs to life, John has a not-so-surprising revelation.

I'd quite like to marry that mad genius, he thinks, and it's probably the most insane thought he's had all day.

It's probably why he likes it so very, very much.