Lanesborough patrons turned to look as they crossed the ornate lobby and waited for the lift. John spied their reflection in a gilt-edged mirror and noticed that he and Mycroft glowed, like they'd done more in the car then just snog and cuddle. He was still staring at it when Mycroft's fingers laced through his and grasped tightly.
"We'll take our time, John," he murmured.
John squeezed back. He was grateful for the other man's understanding. So much of this felt strange because he didn't know what the protocols were. When he was in love before, he'd taken the girls to dinner, bought them flowers, and in general treated them like princesses. How was he supposed to court Mycroft? Treat him like a prince when he already had more power and money than the Royal Family en masse?
Mycroft, as usual, knew what he was thinking. "Just be you, John. I neither want nor desire anything else."
The suite was empty. Lestrade and Sherlock were still at lunch (even if only one of them was probably eating), and Mycroft explained with a wink, "Mrs. Hudson has been working so hard that my assistant booked her an afternoon at the spa downstairs."
They entered the sitting room and sat side by side on the sofa. When Mycroft's knee brushed John's thigh, they both went still. After taking a deep breath, the elder Holmes opened his briefcase, extracted a file, and held it out.
"It seems that the devil has returned to Devon," he said.
John opened the bulging dossier and willed himself to concentrate.
What he read made his brow furrow. On the morning of February 8, 1855, hoof-like marks appeared in the freshly fallen snow throughout Devon County, with a few sightings also being reported in nearby Dorset. The footprints, which resembled those of a horse, travelled in a single line, precluding them from being of equine origin. What was even more mysterious was that the tracks would lead toward a house or haystack, stop, and then reappear on the other side. Some residents claimed to have seen a sinister figure in the area, but a mass hunt turned up nothing.
"Seems like a superstitious hysteria, doesn't it?" Mycroft commented. "But turn the page."
John did, and found a classified government report dated yesterday, with color photos attached.
Earlier in the week, footprints similar to those reported in 1855 appeared in the village of Woolsery in North Devon. Instead of snow, the marks showed up in muddy laneways and even a segment of newly laid cement in the village itself. John peered closely at the photos, observing that the tracks were small –three inches wide by four inches long at most- and they looked like tiny hoof prints. They also traveled in a perfectly linear fashion, which no four-legged animal could have done. One young woman insisted she'd seen a devil-like creature with spindly legs hopping along a laneway where marks were later found.
"It was written up in the Fleet Street dailies," Mycroft said. "A few paranormal groups are out there, studying the marks left in the cement, but most people think it's a hoax."
"I agree." John put the file on the coffee table. "So why are you saying this is our first case?"
Mycroft reclined against the cushions and steepled his fingertips. "My office has long suspected that this area is being cultivated as a weapons depot site for Black Cell. It's remote and mostly farmland, making thorough video surveillance problematic. A week before these prints appeared, we received word that men were seen unloading a small boat on an isolated shoreline near Plymouth. The party who witnessed it told the local police that the cargo looked like machine weaponry. The police uncovered nothing, of course."
"Of course," John said.
"This wouldn't be the first time a resurrected legend was employed as a frightening distraction for something ominous."
"I know." John nodded. "Baskerville."
A pause. Then John asked, "So you really think there could be more to this than just a prank?"
"We'll soon find out. We leave after Sherlock and Gregory return and get ready."
John nodded again. He wiped his dampening palms on his jeans and shifted to face Mycroft. Heart thudding again, he whispered, "How much time do you reckon we have before they get back?"
Mycroft took one look and easily saw it all: the dilating pupils that signaled John's arousal, the fear and desire that made the smaller man's face alternately blush and go pale. Those searching blue eyes drifted lower and, seeing further proof of John's imminent loss of control, grasped his hand and stood.
"They'll be awhile," he said gently. "Come with me."
John had sworn once, not so long ago, that he could never trust a man who sold out his own brother to an arch-criminal. Now, after trial and repentance and forgiveness, he trusted Mycroft enough to lie back on the man's bed after a slow and careful undressing and preparation, and surrender his body.
When he felt the slow and steady burn, which was accompanied by endearments gasped hotly against his neck, he sighed and wrapped his arms around those broad, sweaty shoulders. A bit of shifting and soothing and then Mycroft angled his movements to send sudden shocks of pleasure through John's body. When John cried out, Mycroft did it again and again, until they were shaking and moaning and convulsing in synchronized release.
Afterward, when exhaustion left them boneless, the elder Holmes whispered, "Thank you" into John's sweaty hair.
John turned his head on the pillow and brushed a stray red hair off Mycroft's damp cheek. "No, thank you. For saving me. For everything."
"Life can surprise us, John. That day we spoke in the warehouse, when I asked you what your intentions were regarding my brother, who would have thought this would come to pass?" Mycroft waved a hand over them both. "I certainly didn't, probably because I didn't want to have those feelings for anyone. I had, and still have, responsibilities that prevent the usual domestic arrangements."
John understood. "I know that we'll never live under the same roof. Or marry, even. And I'm fine with that, honestly. I have responsibilities too, namely Sherlock. I could never leave him on his own."
"And I wouldn't want you to. You and Sherlock complete each other. When I reassured him on that front, he calmed somewhat, although he still wasn't happy. The backhanded endorsement he gave us at Scotland Yard took effort on his part." Mycroft sighed. "But when he sees that I'm not moving you into my town house or setting up a permanent outpost at Baker Street, he'll come around."
John hesitated. "Do you think he sees this as a betrayal?"
"He knows you'd never betray him. He's merely going to be more difficult and demanding than usual until he realizes that your friendship won't change."
They would have said more, but the suite door outside opened. After a brief hesitation, they heard Sherlock call out in edgy tones, "John, come here. Now. I told you I need your help with an experiment. Mycroft, you can stay in there. For the rest of your life, ideally."
"Charming, Sherlock," Lestrade chided.
"He'll be doing this for awhile," Mycroft grumbled as he sat up and reached for his trousers. "Just bite your tongue and bear it."
"I do nothing but bite my tongue around him. I'm surprised I have one left."
"Let me see." The elder Holmes smirked playfully as he turned around, grabbed John's face, and kissed him. "Yes. Investigation confirms the presence of an intact tongue."
"JOHN!" Sherlock hollered, this time with a faintly anxious undertone.
"Christ almighty." John hopped out of bed and pulled his trousers up. "Calm down, I'm coming!"
Mycroft laughed. "Go deal with the devil outside, and then we'll prepare to confront the one in Devon. There's no time to waste. As my dear brother is often fond of saying- the game is afoot."
A/N:And here ends this story! I've had a lot of fun writing it during the last two months. But further adventures in this universe are on the horizon. Right now I'm working on a sequel: the 'Devil in Devon' casefic alluded to in this chapter. I've mapped it out already, and there'll be plenty of paranormal references, an insidious new villain, and a major threat to John and Mycroft's relationship. First installment will be posted on April 1.
P.S. If any of you have been to Exeter / Devon County or know the area, send me a message! Your feedback and insights would be welcome.