Light from the fireplace flickered chaotically through the tumbler in Mycroft's hand. He swilled the amber liquid in the glass absently as he stared into the fire.
It had been three days since the disaster in his study and there had been no word from John. Camera feed showed that John had not left his flat since his return from their meeting and no activity on his mobile phone had been reported.
No one had seen or heard from the doctor and it troubled Mycroft to no end.
He wanted to give John space, to give him time to comprehend the reality of Sherlock's survival, but the utter silence worried Mycroft. As much as Mycroft believed in John's resilience, he also knew that John's primary weakness had always been Sherlock Holmes. His brother's faux suicide had created a spider web of fine cracks in John's very being; he hoped that bringing him back from the 'dead' hadn't shattered him completely.
Frustrated as he was, Mycroft's mind had gone into overdrive, exacerbating his fears by running through various scenarios concerning John, each more ghastly than the last. Quintessentially, it was his own Schrödinger's cat problem: Mycroft had no concrete way of knowing John's mental/physical state without calling upon him personally. As per the theory, John could be furious, catatonic with depression, dead and decaying alone in his flat̶—he was everything and nothing at the same time. It was vexing, not knowing, but he had already made the decision to wait for John. It created a vicious circle, but he wouldn't risk upsetting John any more than he already had by stoking the fire he started.
Idly, Mycroft took a swallow from his glass, watching a log crackle in a burst of flame. He was like that log, consumed by his anxiety, by his concern for John.
Consumed by his emotion, exactly what he reprimanded Sherlock for, he thought bitterly. The irony wasn't lost on him.
A mirthless laugh escaped his lips.
He hadn't planned for this to happen. He couldn't have predicted he would become so emotionally entangled in John, with his wellbeing seemingly tied to John's. In months past, it had been a pleasant feeling, but with everything turned on its ear, it was debilitating.
Sad to say, the only thing going smoothly was Sherlock's transition from legally dead to legally alive.
Mycroft's people had spent nearly two days interrogating and 'physically persuading' Sebastian Moran, during which the assassin had refused to cooperate. In fact, Mycroft had perceived that Moran believed his master to be alive and in their custody.
Mycroft had taken the liberty of proving him half wrong…
After coming face to face with James Moriarty's chilled corpse, Moran had been rather accommodating. With proof of Moriarty's death, the fight went out of him, as though every reason for continued defiance had slipped away at the sight of his lifeless master. The sudden change in Moran's behavior made Mycroft appreciate the power Moriarty held over his pawns even in death.
The webs he must have woven in Moran's mind, Mycroft wondered, grudgingly impressed.
With the previous night's progress, the best and brightest of Her Majesty's legal staff had begun compiling a case to posthumously convict Moriarty for orchestrating the assassinations Moran had committed, the children's kidnappings, and the plotted murder of Sherlock's allies. Unfortunately, the law prohibited double jeopardy, leaving Moriarty untouchable for the break-ins, the bombings, and the fatalities from his 'game' with Sherlock.
But now that Sherlock's mission was complete, the detective couldn't care less about the tedious and mundane task of explaining himself to a world that didn't understand him and thought him a fraudulent criminal. Mycroft was left the happy responsibility of smoothing over the details, which he in turn delegated to his legal team.
The lawyers working to exonerate Sherlock of the kidnapping charges were also collaborating with Mycroft's Intelligence team to create a viable alibi for the media (and most likely a jury) as to how a dead man was very much alive, as well as innocent. The press would hound Sherlock if his alibi wasn't available or believable—though the publicity would go a ways helping Sherlock swing back into business.
Earlier this morning, his legal team had assured Mycroft results to review within a few days. There was nothing to do but wait.
Sherlock had not been pleased.
When John shut everyone out three days ago, Sherlock had become a wreck, snapping viciously at anyone unfortunate enough to be in his vicinity— namely Mycroft. Mycroft had put up with the snarky, vindictive, brat of a man-child for two days before his little brother's tantrum reached a crescendo with the morning's news, after which he deemed that enough was enough.
Mycroft had called upon Mrs. Hudson just before noon and they had shared most of a pot of tea before he slowly and carefully explained Sherlock's continued existence. The poor thing had been shaken of course (dropped her teacup from the shock), but on the whole, he felt she had taken the news in stride (he supposed that Sherlock's apparent resurrection was less upsetting than, say, discovering your husband was a murderer).
Regardless, Mycroft left the remaining tea for Mrs. Hudson just in case.
After that, not much persuading was really needed to get Sherlock re-tenanted in 221B.
Mrs. Hudson had missed him, despite how difficult Sherlock had oft been.
Mycroft had held off Sherlock for two hours after their tea, giving time for things to sink in, before the detective bounded in, eager to move back in and resume something resembling normality. Seeing Sherlock had brought the poor woman to tears and Mycroft was extremely relieved when his brother didn't fuss over the hug he was unceremoniously pulled into—he even held her back, consoling her in his dry, brash way.
However, when Mrs. Hudson inquired after John, Sherlock had scowled and told her the doctor was 'aware of the situation', before turning to Mycroft to demand the return of his belongings.
Ever the evader, his little brother.
Until Sherlock's alibi and Moriarty's case was at least tentatively assembled, there had been no reason to deny Sherlock slack in his chain (besides, Mycroft was by no means a masochist). Arrangements were made and, within the hour, Sherlock's possessions were being toted back up the steps of 221B, precariously stacked in cardboard boxes.
Finally leaving his hyperactive brother to his own devices had given Mycroft more pleasure than he'd thought possible.
At least until he had reached the solitude of his home, where there was nothing to distract Mycroft from acutely feeling John's absence. Sherlock was in Baker Street, busying himself as best he could without a case or John to amuse him. Here, Mycroft was alone, bereft of any concrete method of deflecting thoughts of John— and so he found himself sitting in front of the fire in his night clothes with a near empty glass of brandy in his hand.
It wasn't often that Mycroft drank, but the stress from restraining the urge to check on John was becoming intolerable. Initially, he had hoped the brandy would numb him, push his anxiety far enough away so he could breathe for a few minutes without aching for John. Instead, he had been lulled into a lethargic state where he could only contemplate the foremost object on his mind: John Watson.
Maddening, Mycroft thought as he raised the glass to his lips.
A delicate chime sounded through the house— the doorbell.
Mycroft froze before he could take the last swallow. His eyes flew to an antique clock hanging on one of the adjacent walls. It was well past midnight, not at all the hour for proper visitors. Suspicion hardened his features as he stood and placed the tumbler on the mantelpiece. The crackling fire became menacing in the quiet that followed.
Swiftly, Mycroft made his way to the front entrance. Adrenaline drove back the muddling edge of the alcohol as he passed through the halls and into the antechamber. As he approached the door, hope rose unbidden within him. Mycroft aligned his eye with the peep hole. His heart pounded hard in his chest when he saw the man who had been on his mind for three days.
Mycroft rested his head against the door as hope was crushed by doubt.
What if John was here to say goodbye?
He closed his eyes, struggling to master the bitter disappointment chilling his blood.
Straightening upright after a few deep breaths, Mycroft gripped the doorknob. Whatever John wanted, Mycroft was willing to give— even if he wanted his freedom.
Resigned for the worst, he opened the door.
John, who had been partially turned towards the drive, pivoted to face Mycroft. Oddly, John seemed to relax at the sight of him; Mycroft, however, was on pins and needles, though he was careful not to let it show (old habits die hard).
Whether it was the light from the lamp above the door or the dark sweater John was wearing, Mycroft thought he looked a bit peaky. He certainly seemed nervous: he had licked his lips no less than three times since Mycroft had opened the door. The two men stared at each other in silence for a few moments before John cleared his throat.
"Um, hello. I, uh, I hope I didn't wake you?" He fidgeted with his jacket sleeve, a pinched look upon his face.
"No, not at all." Mycroft forced himself to release his hold on the doorknob. Apparently, the doctor's unexpected appearance on his doorstep was enough to make Mycroft forget himself. It was rather embarrassing; he hadn't felt this thrown in years. "Would you care to come inside?" Mycroft asked, hoping to make up for his hesitation.
John's face lit up with relief. "Yes, please."
Mycroft stepped aside to allow John entrance before closing the door behind them. He led the doctor back to the warmth of the fireside.
No reason not to comfortable, he thought prodding a half- burned log to the center of the embers with an ornate poker.
He set the poker back in its holder and turned to John, who had settled himself in one of the sturdy armchairs near the fire. Mycroft eased himself into its twin beside John's, crossing his legs and folding his hands together, giving full attention to his guest.
John licked his lips nervously and glanced down at his lap. He opened and closed his mouth several times, producing only strangled unintelligible sounds when he tried to speak, before falling silent, his brow furrowed in frustration as he stared off into the fire.
Mycroft took pity on the man, clearing his throat to gain John's attention.
"I could tell you precisely how often I considered explaining the truth to you these past seven months, if I thought such platitudes would help. What you went through was inexcusable, but I'm afraid we made the best of a bad situation. It wasn't ideal, putting you through this, but Sherlock was adamant that you were to be kept as safe as possible. I had no valid reason to further complicate matters, which bringing you into the loop would have done, and so I acquiesced to his wishes. I'll admit it was the 'easy' approach to the situation, though it was by no means fair to you. Considering the end results though, I'd say our side fared better than expected, for all the damage done."
Mycroft watched as John absently ran his thumb across his lips, appearing deep in thought. John's gaze was far off, looking at nothing, when he finally found his tongue.
"I suppose the end justified the means, then."
Mycroft frowned at the doctor. "No. There were other ways we could have handled the problem— granted, ones more convoluted and dangerous for the parties involved— that would have spared you much grief, but we chose the most convenient route. As I told you before, you were right to be angry with me. I held the power to ease your pain but did nothing."
John jerked his head back towards Mycroft at that, his expression a mix of anger and hurt. "Nothing? You think providing companionship and peace of mind was nothing? Or is that what all this was? That our 'arrangement' meant nothing, simply a distraction or a way to keep a closer watch on me?"
"No," Mycroft said, his body tight with restrained emotion. "Do you honestly believe I would use such base methods of control if all I wanted was increased surveillance on you? I have subordinates for that, John, trained to use any means, up to and including seduction, and are available at my disposal to spare me the trouble of getting personally involved in 'indiscretions'."
Light thrown from the fire illuminated Mycroft's face, giving his features an intensity that bellied his indignation. "I don't mix work with pleasure because I neither need nor want to do so. When I take a lover, it is by my own choosing, not out of convenience or political obligation."
Mycroft looked away from John's stunned face to the fire. By now, the logs were not much more than embers with flickers of flame. "It has been years," Mycroft said softly, "since I've taken a lover. I'll admit, before you approached me, I had not considered engaging you in such a fashion, but I don't regret what developed in the slightest."
He turned to fix John with an earnest stare. "The only ulterior motive I had in entering into a relationship with you was to help you, to lessen the agony I could see you were in, to allow you to take strength in someone else. If pleasure was found along the way, so much the better; I'd like to think it was mutual."
John's mouth twisted in a wry grin as he ruffled his hair with a hand. "Yes, I um, I agree…definitely mutual…" He trailed off, the slight squirm of his hips a telling sign of where his thoughts had wandered.
Mycroft smirked at the obvious reminiscence.
The glazed look left John's eyes as somberness fell over him. "I think the end justified the means."
He held up a hand when Mycroft opened his mouth to protest.
"Everyone survived, yes? All of the 'target's survived, the assassins tracked down, and Moriarty's organization essentially dismantled, yes?"
He waited for Mycroft to nod his assent of John's summarization before continuing.
"You're right, we fared exceedingly well considering that psychopath wanted Sherlock and his support network crushed, but ended up on a slab for his troubles instead." John chewed his lip thoughtfully. "I think the easy way, continuing the suicide charade, was the best in this case. The assassins backed off, right? Scattered to the winds when they thought Sherlock had done himself in. And if Sherlock hadn't jumped?— We might all be dead. If you had brought me in from the start?—The assassins could have found out the truth if they were watching me, could have picked off me or any of the others to send Sherlock a message.
Sure, we could all have gone underground, deep into witness protection, but that more than anything would have tipped them off and made catching them infinitely more difficult with them on their guard. With Sherlock 'dead' and all of us grieving, they relaxed. They backed off and made enough mistakes to lead you to them when they thought they were safe. I don't think that would have happened if we weren't all kept in the dark. It could have been harder, if not impossible, to bring the last of Moriarty's web down had Sherlock's 'trick' not been as secret as it was. Any of us could have died… Mrs. Hudson…Lestrade…"
John shook his head.
"If they had been murdered…" he trailed off, watching the glow of the dying fire. "I'm okay with it. I can accept and deal with the lies and the shit they put me through because, in the end, we all survived. I think that's worth the pain."
John smiled sheepishly at Mycroft and the cold tendrils of resignation began withdrawing from around Mycroft's heart. With John's acceptance of his and Sherlock's methods, hope was gradually welling up, as it hadn't in nearly four days— and then he remembered his brother.
After their confrontation a few days ago, the subject of John and Mycroft's relationship had not come up since, as though it might go away if Sherlock ignored it long enough. The tension it had created between the Holmes brothers had been nearly tangible and had sparked off Sherlock's temper more than once. Mycroft had been so anxious to get Sherlock back into his old flat that he hadn't paused to consider what else might go back to 'normal' with his return.
He swallowed roughly, not wanting to examine too closely as to why his mouth was suddenly so dry.
"Sherlock has returned to 221B," Mycroft said haltingly, unsure if it was wise to continue bombarding the doctor with surprises.
John startled, having mentally wandered off again. He blinked at Mycroft in confusion for a moment before waving off the statement unconcernedly. "Oh yes, that. Yes, Sherlock mentioned that earlier. No doubt he'll be pleased to get back to more interesting distractions than man-hunting," he said, smiling fondly at the thought.
Retrospectively, it should have been obvious why John had failed thus far to inquire after his brother: he had already been in contact with Sherlock.
A flash of jealousy seared through him before logic retook control.
It was infuriatingly predictable that his brother had kept word from John to himself to spite Mycroft, but John's presence quelled any further surges of irritation. After all, John had said that Sherlock had mentioned moving back to Baker Street, meaning that John's communication with his brother had not been face to face (more than likely via text, knowing Sherlock). His brother may have been in contact with John first, but it was with Mycroft that John had taken the trouble to personally visit.
Mycroft couldn't help but feel a bit smug at the knowledge.
"I take it he has propositioned you for flat-sharing again?"
Mycroft found prying information out of his lover distasteful, but presently John wasn't near as forthcoming with details as he would prefer.
Biting his lip anxiously, John nodded. "Yeah, he asked me," John said, thumbing the cuff of his sleeve.
"I can provide you with assistance when moving if—"
"Turned him down, actually," John interrupted.
Was that a flush blossoming across his face? In fact, the doctor suddenly appeared to be having difficulty looking him in the eye. Mycroft's eyebrows threatened to touch his hairline.
"You turned down Sherlock's offer?" Disbelief colored his words.
Licking his lips, John smoothed his hand through his hair, uncertainty evident in his worried expression. "Yes, yes I did. I, uh, wasn't quite ready yet for… well, the black hole that is Sherlock Holmes," he finished candidly.
Understandable, Mycroft thought.
Dealing with Sherlock Holmes on a daily basis was not only time consuming, it was downright draining. After the emotional hell John had recently been through, it was no wonder why he might balk at being Sherlock's companion again so soon. Still, the decision made Mycroft feel uneasy. Feeling utterly wrong-footed, Mycroft was forced to realign his expectations with reality. He hadn't given it proper thought, what John would do when Sherlock came back, but part of him had always assumed that he would resume his role as Sherlock's partner/caretaker: cause and effect, nature rebalancing itself, as it were. That John Watson was willingly deviating from that path was jarring— and strangely arousing.
With the change in plans, Mycroft needed to proceed with caution. He still didn't know what had brought the doctor to meet with him in person.
John continued to fidget as the low crackle of the embers filled the silence between them.
"Will you be ceasing your involvement with Sherlock entirely or is your decision limited to living arrangements?" Mycroft asked, careful to keep his tone neutral, leaving himself out of his question.
Alarmed, John froze, his sleeve clutched tightly in his fist. "What? No! No no no, I'm not, you know, telling him off or anything. I just need some time to myself to, well," John's face glowed with the heat of his embarrassment, "to figure this out," gesturing hesitantly between the two of them.
Mycroft's brain began extrapolating each and every possible implication of the word, but it was John's body language that gave him pause. The nervous lip biting, the flush across his cheeks and down under his collar, the little unconscious twitches of motion in his limbs— John was exhibiting signs of fear and anxiety, but the hope-filled eyes peering at him in the light of the dying fire sealed Mycroft's conviction.
John wasn't here to end their relationship, he wanted it to continue. He was worried that Mycroft wanted to break off their arrangement. Perhaps Sherlock's return had brought doubts of Mycroft's intentions to the surface? That John could think that he had been used as a distraction or out of some twisted sense of obligation to Sherlock stung more than Mycroft was willing to admit, but, despite any second thoughts, John still wanted him, wanted him even though Sherlock was alive and back and willing to do anything to keep John by his side.
Mycroft uncrossed his legs, feeling the tension drain out of him. A slow smile crept onto Mycroft's face, more real than any he had given in three days.
"When I agreed to enter into a relationship with you," Mycroft softly reassured, "it was by my own free will. I desired to do so. Nothing else could have moved me to entertain an involvement with another person. I am certainly amenable to continuing our relationship, if you are likewise inclined."
For a moment, there was silence but for the quiet smoldering of the ashes before John smoothly got to his feet. He didn't say a word as he crossed the few steps to Mycroft's chair and knelt between his splayed legs. John slid his hands up and down Mycroft's thighs hypnotically slow.
"I think you'll find that I am… more than agreeable," John said as he teased the material with his nails.
The sight of John on his knees made Mycroft's cock twitch. After half a week of preparing for rejection, the doctor's sudden forwardness was enough to bring Mycroft swiftly to hardness.
He started leaking precome when John leaned forward to lick along the outline of his cock. Mycroft took a shaky breath, desperate to calm down, as he gently cupped the nape of John's neck, guiding him closer, silently urging him to continue.
Eager to please, John lipped at Mycroft's confined erection, his hands pressing into the flesh of Mycroft's thighs for support. Looking up at him through his lashes, John shifted his weight so he could press a hand to Mycroft's throbbing crotch.
A strangled moan tore from Mycroft's lips and his hips bucked up into the firm pressure. The need for release was building steadily, his groin tight with several days of repressed arousal.
John opened his trousers and eased Mycroft's turgid cock out as gently as he could. He stroked over the sensitive skin with his fingertips, driving Mycroft mad with touches that just weren't enough.
Amusement shone bright in John's eyes as he grinned wolfishly.
He knows exactly what he's doing, Mycroft lamented.
Thankfully, John had a merciful streak. It wasn't long before he was grasping Mycroft's weeping erection firmly at the base and taking him in as far down his throat as he would go.
A shudder racked through Mycroft at the feeling of being enveloped in tight, wet heat. It was mesmerizing, watching John bob up and down on his length, lips stretched around his girth with tantalizing glimpses of tongue.
Mycroft panted harshly as John worked his cock with the enthusiasm of a rent boy, his eyes fixed on Mycroft's.
A brief scrape of teeth had Mycroft's hips stuttering forward before he could control himself, driving his cock deep down John's throat. John's eyes fluttered shut, his groan muffled by the flesh gagging him.
He liked it, Mycroft thought, wonderingly.
Sliding the hand on John's neck up into his hair, he gripped the short strands and pulled John down onto his length, thrusting up at the same time, fucking his way into John's mouth. He set a punishing rhythm, controlling John's movements on him as the head of his cock pushed against the back of the man's throat.
The intellectual part of Mycroft was intrigued at how the saliva dripping down John's chin, the wet slurping sounds, and the writhing tongue against him brought him such visceral satisfaction. His primal side purred under the onslaught of sensation, loving the way John was allowing himself to be dominated.
John's chin and throat were slick with spit from keeping his jaw slack, but his tongue moved ceaselessly, licking and stroking against the driving length in his mouth.
Mycroft groaned loudly as he fucked John's face. He could feel his orgasm creep closer with every flex of his hips, with every choked moan and whimper from the man around him.
What pushed him over the edge weren't the tears he could see in John's eyes— it was the trust.
This strong, intelligent, capable man was on his knees letting himself be used for Mycroft's pleasure because, even after everything he had been put through, he still trusted Mycroft to give him what he needed, to put him back together when he shattered.
Mycroft thrust hard into John's mouth, holding the man's head in place as he shook violently through his orgasm.
John obediently gulped down each pulse of come that was shot down his throat. He hummed contentedly as he gently cleaned the sensitive skin with his tongue, the hand in his hair having fallen away when Mycroft's body went slack from euphoria. Pulling away from the softening cock, John wiped the mixed fluids off his face with his sleeve.
As the trembling left his limbs, Mycroft tugged John up off the floor and into his lap to straddle him.
John pressed his forehead to Mycroft's, his eyes closed as their noses brushed together.
"You'll let me take care of you?" John asked in a small voice, leaning his body closer to Mycroft's, instinctively searching for comfort from lingering insecurity.
Mycroft reached up to rub John's neck as he unfastened the man's trousers, freeing him from the confining material. Languidly stroking the doctor's aching flesh, Mycroft drank in John's whimpers as he bucked wantonly into the touch.
He pulled John in close to whisper in his ear.
"Only if you'll let me do the same."