Her Majesty's Secret Service Chapter 31.

By the time they had driven all the way down the mountain and back to their hotel, John had slept for an hour and was refreshed enough to want to go out and walk around town. After a shower of course, and not necessarily alone.

Now that the HOUND drug had worn off (and John wasn't getting any younger) by mutual unspoken agreement they restricted themselves to exchanging soapy kisses while they washed each other's hair before getting dressed again for a walk.

After a leisurely lunch John fancied a boat ride in one of the famous Venetian gondolas. Sherlock wrinkled his nose a bit at what the gondolier called his 'serenade' but after a generous bribe he was convinced to shut up. Which Sherlock deduced was the point of the whole exercise.

They were lazing in the boat, kissing occasionally and watching the picturesque (but partially flooded) buildings slip past when John looked up from nuzzling Sherlock's neck and asked, "Your scent, now that it's back to full strength – what is it? I still can't place it. I thought at first it was because it was so faint, but even now I can detect plum and cherry and… something else."

Sherlock was looking at the buildings and idly deducing their history, so he replied absently, "It's maraschino cherry – Mycroft identified it when I presented as a teenager. I didn't even know what that was then."

John frowned, "Those little red cherries that you get in cocktails sometimes, with a slice of pineapple and an umbrella? I wouldn't have thought that was Mycroft's style."

"God, no!" Sherlock made a moue of distaste, "Those imitation cherries are an abomination to the name and shouldn't even be called the same thing. They are made from ordinary cherries with enough food colouring and sugar syrup to drown any taste they might once have had. No, I mean the real thing. The actual marasca cherries from Croatia, soaked in maraschino liqueur – Mycroft sampled some once when he first started working at the Palace. Apparently they were a gift after he had done something particularly clever. I've deleted the details."

John groaned, "Oh great. My lover is so sophisticated and out of my class that I don't even know what his scent is! I bet Mycroft is something equally exotic and unheard of."

Sherlock smirked, "Actually no. He's always been rather embarrassed about it, but his scent is very common. You'd recognize it if you ever got close enough, assuming he wasn't wearing a ton of aftershave to disguise it. You even quite like it, on occasion."

"What do you mean - beer?" John opened his eyes wide in surprise.

Sherlock grinned, "No, even worse. Apple cider." Sherlock laughed in remembrance at his brother's discomfiture, and his laugh was so delighted and carefree that John couldn't help joining him.

Suddenly, Sherlock broke off and addressed the gondolier in a rapid flood of liquid Italian, much too fast for John to follow. John was beginning to realize that this was intentional. But he allowed Sherlock to keep his little secrets and returned his attention to their boat ride.

The gondola landed them in the middle of the tourist district, and Sherlock immediately started darting in and out of the various tourist shops, whirling around and leaving again when they apparently did not stock what he was looking for. John trailed after him, seeing endless variations on Venetian glassware, masks, handbags and reproductions of oil paintings.

Eventually, in a high-end tourist shop which John did not even enter for fear of a heart-attack on seeing the prices, Sherlock seemed to find what he was looking for. At least, he emerged with a smug smile on his face though, to John's relief, without a package which could possibly contain anything resembling the glass-blown square-rigged ship in the window, which stood at least a metre high and nearly two metres long.

Sherlock tracked his gaze and scoffed lightly, "John, what I want with that? It wouldn't even fit in our apartment. However, if I did, they ship them directly home for you and guarantee against breakages."

John was strangely unreassured by this mention of the guarantee. He started wondering what Sherlock could possibly want in glass? A model of the Tower of London? A new microscope or magnifying glass? He didn't think the tourist shops made that kind of specialized equipment. Something for Mrs Hudson? He gave up trying to guess, deciding that Sherlock would tell him in his own time.

They ended their afternoon with a rather early dinner, by Italian standards, which kept somewhat later hours than the English would usually consider quite proper. Sherlock was slightly agitated, which John attributed to a whole day of leisurely inaction. In the end John decided to forgo dessert, despite the enticing cake selection, and they strolled back to their hotel, at the last minute getting some gelato on the way.

"I don't see why they can't just call it ice-cream," grumbled John as they licked their cones and ambled through the last streets of the tourist area. "I thought proper gelato didn't have milk in it but this 'cassata' appears to be some kind of ice cream with fruit in it."

"'Gelato' just means frozen," commented Sherlock, "Here in Italy proper gelato must have a minimum amount of milk solids to be entitled to use the name." He stole a bite of John's cone, "Mmm, sweet vanilla and fruit blended together. I guess this is what we will smell like after we are bonded." He continued down the street as if he had said nothing out of the ordinary.

# # # # # # #

Back in their hotel room, John set about making himself a cup of tea while Sherlock jumped in the shower. Another shower? John wondered. At least he wasn't this hard on the water supply at home, but then he supposed they didn't walk around in the dusty heat this much at home either.

After a relatively brief shower, the warm evening meant that Sherlock was comfortable in just a silk dressing gown. As he moved, the thin material outlined his body in quite explicit detail, proving definitively that he had nothing on underneath. John wondered vaguely why Sherlock wanted to light the fire at all, since it was warm enough in the room already, but his train of thought was very effectively derailed by staring at Sherlock's behind as he knelt on the hearth fussing with the kindling and matches.

John took another gulp of his tea, but he didn't think the heat in his belly had very much to do with the hot drink and a lot more to do with the hot Alpha in front of him, who was now apparently finding the kindling very much to his dissatisfaction.

Finally, the fire was lit and burning to Sherlock's exacting standards. He sat back on his haunches, pulling the dressing gown tight across his buttocks in a way that made John's hands itch to stroke the silk over warm, firm flesh. Of course, that would be the moment Sherlock chose to turn and catch him staring.

"Enjoying the view?" Sherlock rumbled in his lowest, sexiest voice.

John was suddenly certain that the fire had been fine all along, and Sherlock just stringing out the process of lighting it specifically to tease John. Fortunately, he was spared having to answer, as Sherlock sprang up and started rummaging in the pockets of his coat which was hanging on a hook by the door.

"I found something today, which I thought you might find interesting," he said, pulling out a small glass jar. "It was lucky you mentioned you had never tasted maraschino cherries while we are still here in Venice. The Croatian coast is just opposite, and Venice being a port town I was sure I could find some." He put the jar down on the coffee table and flew off to the bar, coming back with two teaspoons.

John picked up the jar and inspected it, but soon discovered he could not read the writing on it. The script was Roman but the language clearly not Italian. The jar itself was filled with dark purple juice and looked to contain about twelve large cherries. The price on the bottom was for a truly appalling number of Euros. Per cherry it worked out to about… no, that couldn't possibly be right.

His mental arithmetic was interrupted by Sherlock taking back the jar to wrench it open. The vacuum seal gave a distinctive pop as it was broken, and Sherlock grinned. "Excellent! I was a bit worried they might have gone off, given how long they have been sitting there. But if the seal is intact some shelf time should just make them age better in the liqueur." Sherlock popped a cherry into his mouth and murmured softly in appreciation. "Yes, a very good version. Try one!"

John was not always very adventurous when it came to food products, but he was admittedly curious. He spooned up one cherry and some juice and tipped the whole lot into his mouth before it could drip on the floor. The taste burst over him in a flood of delicious layers of dark cherry and sweet liqueur. It was like the soul of cherries preserved in port wine, and it was so potently alcoholic John felt almost drunk after eating just one.

"That'sh amashing," he managed to mumble around the cherry stone. He quickly took the pip out of his mouth with the spoon and in the absence of anywhere else to put it, dropped it neatly into the lid of the jar where it sat on the coffee table. "I mean, that's amazing! What is the liquid made of? It can't be just cherry juice."

"It is," returned Sherlock, "The liqueur is made of fermented cherry juice from crushed marasca cherries. They only grow in that part of Croatia, which is why the authentic product is so expensive and hard to find."

"Very rare, very sweet but with a tang of tartness and wholly unreproducible," said John quietly. "Yes, it suits you."

Sherlock blushed slightly as he took one more cherry for himself, then put the jar into John's hand. "You might as well eat the rest. The jar can't be resealed and it will just leak and stain our clothes if we try to pack it."

Sherlock watched in silence while John ate the remaining cherries. The room slowly darkened, until the only light came from the fire. When the fruit was gone, Sherlock found some small port glasses in a cupboard and poured the remaining liquid into them to make it more convenient to drink.

John took a sip, and taste of the liquor was exactly that of Sherlock – rich and fruity, complex, delicious and strong enough to make his head spin. John could only just make out the profile of Sherlock sitting across from him. His distinctive curly hair, the sharp points of his cheekbones and nose, the small chin and impossibly long neck, which probably gave him that incredible baritone voice. John sighed with happiness as Sherlock started speaking – that had been the only element missing to make the portrait perfect. It took him a moment to focus on the actual words.

"…and never missed it until you came along. John, do you realize how much of myself you have given back to me? I was half a man, living in eternal monochrome and not even missing the colours, until you came along and made me desire a full life again. Not only that, but you involve yourself in my life in a way that no-one else ever has even wanted to, let alone tried. You are the doctor to my detective, the soldier who watches my back, the social emollient to my awkwardness. You are my blogger, my interface with the rest of the world. You smooth over my sharp corners without dulling the edge of my insights and you share the Work with me in a way that I never knew I needed. I never wanted a partner before you, but now I can't bear the thought of working or living alone again. You make friends so easily, but you are my only friend and that means more to me than I can say. I don't know if I can ever be worthy of you, but I'd like to try. Please say yes. Please say that you will let me bond you, mate you, even if you never formally wear my collar. I don't ask you to make our bond public, that would be too much to expect, but in private please let me…"

"Sherlock, wait," interrupted John, "What do you mean you don't think you are worthy of me? That's rubbish! I'm the one who would be lucky to have you! You are brilliant, intelligent, musical, sparkling with wit and humour, and so handsome you take my breath away. I'm so… so ordinary."

Sherlock shrugged, "I've never been one for false modesty, and I know I'm nice to look at – but you are the first one who has stuck around me for more than five minutes after I've opened my mouth. You've never told me to piss off, even at my worst. I'm good-looking but," Sherlock's mouth twisted with remembered pain, "you're the only one who has ever wanted anything beyond the outside of the package."

John laughed but there were tears in his eyes, "Ah love, we're a perfect pair, you know. I was always worried people wanted me just for my Omega-ness and sex – you know you never even mentioned that in your list of why you want to be with me?"

"If you say yes, that is an oversight I will promptly correct," said Sherlock with a sly glance.

"Yes, yes, God yes! And no silly ideas about keeping it secret either – I would be proud to wear your collar in any company. I just wish I could mark you in some way to show everyone you are mine, but I don't suppose you would want to wear your shirts with a hole in them to display my bite marks."

"I'm sure we can think of something, my love," whispered Sherlock, as he covered John's mouth with his own. Then Sherlock scooped John up in his arms and carried him to the bedroom, leaving two glasses still half-full of extraordinarily expensive liqueur sitting on the coffee table slowly evaporating in front of the fire.


A/N: Sorry about the fade to black and lack of smut in this chapter, but somehow it just didn't seem to fit with all the fluffy romantic stuff. Ah well, hang in there – they'll get to it! ;)