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Unlike his younger brother, Mycroft Holmes actually does eat, John discovers. "Tell Sherlock that it's a matter of national security," he says and hands John a folder. When John reaches to open it, Mycroft blocks his hand. "You might want to wait for when you're not eating," he suggests.

"Bad?"

"Some of the images are unpleasant."

"He'll probably just throw it away," John feels obliged to point out, and takes another bite of his really quite delicious lamb. Mycroft's brought him to a restaurant this time, rather than the usual abandoned warehouse or car park. When the car had dropped him off, he'd thought it was an accident, but Anthea (he hadn't asked her for her new name this time) had rolled her eyes and told him Mycroft was already inside.

John's suspicious, of course, but that's no reason not to enjoy it while he can. "Is that really why you brought me here?"

"You did say you weren't fond of the previous locales. So you're in a relationship with my brother."

John starts – how had Mycroft known that?

"There are a million different hints, all pointing to the same conclusion. Anyways, I'm sure you already know this, but I'll say it aloud to make it official: if you hurt Sherlock in any way, I will know about it, and you will regret it." Mycroft waved his fork languidly, but his eyes were anything but. "I know where to find you, and where to find your sister, and where to find your parents. No one you care about will be safe, and no one will be able to stop me. Not even Sherlock."

John is, unwillingly, a little bit intimidated (and a little warmed, to know that Mycroft does care about Sherlock, enough to threaten John and his family on his behalf). Kali rubs her cheek against his knee comfortingly, and he passes her a small bite of lamb from his plate. Daemons don't need to eat or drink, as a rule, but Kali still nibbles on things. She claims she likes the taste.

"I care about him," John says. "I'm not going to hurt him."

"You won't mean to, but you might just the same. Sherlock does not usually enter relationships with people; he thinks them dreadfully dull, and you know how he gets when things are dull."

John does. There are bullet holes in the walls to prove it. Sherlock thrives on chaos, and when there's not enough of it to go around, he creates more. "I'll try not to be too dull, then," he replies, and Mycroft nods with a small smile of approval.

They spend the rest of their meal on other matters – how boring the police's current cases are, or trading stories about whatever ridiculous things Sherlock's prone to doing, and the whole experience is surprisingly pleasant. Beneath the table, Kali entertains herself by gnawing on the end of Mycroft's umbrella. Mycroft's sure to notice, but he doesn't mention it.

Before he leaves, Mycroft shakes his hand with a smile and says, "Remember, John. You are important to Sherlock, which means you are important to me. If you need anything, don't hesitate to call."

--

Mycroft must approve of John's new position in Sherlock's life, because the next day he receives a text message from the man that doesn't seem to be addressed to or about Sherlock.


My assistant's name is Scylla now.
MH

John's at work when it arrives, so he ignores it. It's not until he's getting ready for bed, emptying his pockets onto his nightstand, that the message crosses his mind again, and he brings up Mycroft's number on his phone. Predictably, Sherlock has viewed the file John passed on, deducted the culprit, and insulted Mycroft for assuming that 'gruesome' could be used as a substitute for 'interesting'.

Dutifully, he types it out. SH says murderer is the twin brother, and that gruesome and interesting are not the same.

After a moment, he adds, Scylla - After the monster or the princess?

The next morning, there is a reply on his phone (I daren't ask. She orders my lunches.), so before John goes to work, he shoots back a comment of his own (If I ordered lunches for him, do you think Sherlock would eat them?), and before he realizes it, they are sending messages back and forth a few times a day, about a variety of subjects.

It is only when he finds himself emailing Mycroft a picture of Sherlock, asleep on the couch with a pillow over his face and one leg dangling over the armrest, that John realizes that they have, somehow, become friends.

--

John's relationship with Sherlock, however, progresses bafflingly slowly. Sherlock is a man of action and energy. Living with him is a lot like living with a tornado, and John's come to expect Sherlock's cases and demands to regularly disrupt his life and sleeping habits. He is the textbook definition of arrogance.

But in this, Sherlock is uncharacteristically shy.

John's not quite sure what to make of it, because Sherlock pulls him into alleys and kisses him breathless in the middle of a chase. He leans into it when John puts an arm around him, and scratches Kali behind her ears fondly, or tugs on her tail when he's bored (she doesn't mind, and each time John catches him at it, he feels a low thrill in the pit of his stomach).

But while Sherlock's content to press the evidence of his own arousal against John's thigh, or pin him to the wall and suck on his throat until they're both breathing heavily, he never goes any further. In fact, he pulls away, expression going closed and pensive before claiming he has an experiment to attend to, or a suspect to stalk.

"So, is there a reason you don't want to go any further than necking on the couch?" John asks finally, when Sherlock has his hands under John's shirt and seems content to leave them there, stroking his sides and stomach.

Sherlock's silent for a moment, and the soft inhale-exhale of his breath tickles John's ear. "Will there be a problem if I say yes?"

John slides a hand down Sherlock's back. "No, of course not. I just want to know what's wrong. Are we going too fast? Have you done this before?"

Another pause. "I have," Sherlock admits. "But I was in university at the time, and it turned out to be a terrible idea. Not something I intend to repeat."

John tightens his arms when Sherlock starts to get up, and kisses him firmly on the temple. "Then we don't have to go any further than this. Whatever you want, it's fine. No pressure," he promises, and Sherlock relaxes against him.

But that doesn't stop him from jerking himself off furiously in the bathroom when they part, fantasizing about Sherlock's mouth stretched around his cock. He's sure Sherlock knows what he's doing, probably even what he's thinking about, but he doesn't comment.

Kali is just as confused about Sherlock as he. "If he had a daemon, I'd just ask her," she says later, when John's in his bed and Sherlock's in his own, downstairs. Her ears droop sadly.

John scratches the back of her neck, which she always complains itches the most often. "He's Sherlock. He'd probably be mortally offended at the idea of being that easy to figure out."

--

He doesn't mention anything to Harry, but of course she finds out anyways. She calls him during his lunch hour, and when he picks up the phone the first thing she says is, "John, you sly dog! You're shagging your flatmate? After you said, and I quote, 'Don't be ridiculous, Harry. There's nothing between us two, and anyways you know I prefer women.'"

"Don't gloat, it's unattractive."

She laughs again. "As if I care if my brother thinks I'm attractive! Anyways, I read your last blog post. Do you ever talk about something that isn't Sherlock?"

"There's not much else to talk about. He has a knack for finding trouble, and trouble's more interesting than anything else that happens to me."

Harry sighs, and her voice turns serious for a moment. "Just be careful, John. You know I worry about you, and reading about all these murderers trying to kill you, that's downright terrifying. Anyways, how's dating your mad flatmate going? You two getting on better now that you're shagging him?"

"It's going good. Really good, actually. I mean, he's brilliant, but he's not kind, because he wouldn't be Sherlock if he was kind, but he's, he tries. I think he really cares about me, and I care about him, and it's going... good. We get on about the same. I mean, Sherlock's... Sherlock. Still infuriating sometimes, but I think I'm getting used to it."

"Really? What does Kaliope say? Does she put up with him too?" Kali rarely liked John's girlfriends, a fact that had gotten John broken up with more than once when he'd been in secondary school.

"Actually," he admits reluctantly, "She likes him a lot. They get on well together."

He hangs up when Harry crows in delight and starts planning the wedding.

--

Sherlock talks to other people's daemons. Not in the way most people talk to daemons – that is to say, only to pass on messages or as a proxy for their human, but in a way that makes it obvious he expects them to talk back.

Most people politely ignore other people's daemons. Sherlock interrogates them about alibis.

He talks to Kali too, asking her about how their day went, or making comments to her about John's rubbish taste in television shows. Though it should feel strange and intrusive, somehow it doesn't, and the sight of Sherlock leaning forward to speak to John's daemon suffuses him with warmth.

He's not sure what to make of it, and marks it as just another one of Sherlock's many, many quirks.

--

John feels a brief spike of alarm when his phone buzzes while Sherlock's sending a text message to Lestrade about their latest case (wasn't a murder, just a suicide made to look like a murder to get back at the husband for cheating on her). He's not sure how Sherlock will react when he finds out that John's been trading texts with his older brother.

Especially since their current topic is how to trick Sherlock into sleeping more often. Mycroft had suggested drugging his coffee, but John's reasonably certain a movie marathon will work just as well and be more pleasant for everyone involved. He's not a hundred percent sure how Sherlock will react to watching The Da Vinci Code, but he's fairly certain it'll be more entertaining than the movie itself.

"Just what are you telling Lestrade, anyways?" John asks suspiciously, when another minute passes and Sherlock's fingers continue to tap on his phone.

"I already sent the explanation to Lestrade," Sherlock replies absently. "Right now, I'm asking Mycroft about the state of his diet and reminding him that I can taste additives to my beverages because unlike him, I don't destroy my coffee by adding milk to it."

Sherlock finishes, and tosses the phone back to John nonchalantly.

"I told you he already knew," Kali points out smugly, and ducks out of the way when John tries to tweak her ear.

--

He's not sure, but he thinks Sherlock gets along better with his elder brother now. John sometimes comes home to see Mycroft and Sherlock sitting together on the couch, speaking quietly. But as Mycroft is invariably on his way out when John arrives, John can't help but wonder what they're talking about.

When he asks, Sherlock doesn't answer.

--

Now that there's no need for intimidation, Mycroft's meetings with John continue to take place in more innocuous locations, restaurants and cafes and sometimes just casual walks through the city. John catches a glimpse out of the corner of his eye, one time, of a serious-looking man with a Bluetooth headset and the outline of a gun against his coat.

Mycroft nods before John can point it out. "He must be new. The others are better at concealment."

They sit at a bench, he and Mycroft and Kali laying on his shoes, and John asks the question he's been wondering for a while. It's something he's been turning over and over in his thoughts ever since he saw Mycroft sitting at Sherlock's bedside, just the two of them. "Do you not have a daemon either, then?"

"Perhaps you should tell your therapist about your fascination with our daemons," Mycroft suggests mildly.

"I already know Sherlock doesn't have one," John says. Now that he's spending most of his free time with Sherlock, it's obvious.

In Afghanistan, they'd had soldiers with small daemons – lizards, dragonflies, and the like. Each one had been issued a small, bulletproof container worn on the inside of their uniforms, where their daemons could safely reside during combat.

The difference between those soldiers and Sherlock is that Sherlock never looks for a daemon. This isn't really a combat zone, and they're in no danger at home, most of the time. When he gets home, he strips off his outer layers of clothing carelessly, unafraid of injuring or dislodging someone small. John never catches him having a conversation with a daemon who doesn't clearly belong to someone else (someone usually watching right nearby with an expression of deep discomfort).

Mycroft is the same. Not exactly the same, because John's noticed the outline of the capsule, for arthropods, against the fabric of his trousers, next to his mobile. Mycroft even touches it, from time to time, and John had assumed that was it at first, that Sherlock's brother was just paranoid and overprotective of his daemon.

But something feels off about the way he does it. It's a habit as much as it's John's habit to check his pockets for his keys before leaving the flat, and there's no emotion behind it. It makes him think of Sherlock, if Sherlock had cared what other people thought of him.

"You seem to know a lot about Sherlock, Doctor Watson," Mycroft comments, and there is a hint of warning in his tone, as if addressing him by his title wasn't hint enough.

"Not as much as you know about me," John points out. Mycroft bows his head in acknowledgment. "I just wanted to know,” he says with forced nonchalance. “It's not supposed to be possible."

"Your daemon is the most precious thing in the world to you. Anything that harms her, harms you as well," Mycroft says in lieu of a response. "And once she settled, she became a representation of your personality. Strangers are judged by their daemons – the servile have dogs, the dangerous have poisons, and the fierce have predators. The taboo against touching a stranger's daemon is one of the few universal taboos, even though it is unremarkable for two daemons to touch each other. Why do you think that is?"

Mycroft touches the tip of his umbrella to Kaliope's side, and she raises her hackles at him. Then he reaches down, hand held out, towards her. She endures its approach stoically until it gets too near, and when Mycroft makes no indications of stopping, she ducks her head and backs out of the way. Mycroft starts to follow again, and John grabs his wrist.

"Stop."

Mycroft looks at him, and withdraws. "Why?"

"Because I don't want you to touch her."

"Because it makes you vulnerable," Mycroft corrects. "In a world where your soul can be something as small and delicate as a mouse or a spider, the only way humanity can survive is if it's unthinkable to make contact with another man's daemon, except in the most intimate of circumstances."

And of course, to know that is to be empowered to defy it. John doesn't remember whether it was Sherlock or the man himself who'd said it, but now he understands why Mycroft is described as the most dangerous man he'd ever know.

"Were you really going to touch her?" John asks.

"No. I don't need to."

--

John doesn't realize that their meetings together have been Mycroft's way of courting him, until the car pulls over to deliver him back to his flat. When John turns to say goodbye, Mycroft catches John's chin in his hand. He tilts John's head slightly and fits their mouths together smoothly, and John is so surprised that he lets it happen.

It doesn't feel like a first kiss. There's no uncertainty or shyness in it, just confidence. Mycroft kisses him with a comfortable familiarity that makes it feel as if they've been lovers forever, and it's equal parts arousing and alarming.

John pushes him back a moment later, flushed and half-hard and hoping desperately that Mycroft doesn't realize it; the smug expression on his face tells John otherwise. Mycroft's fingers stroke gently over the back of his neck, and he leans forward again. John pushes him back harder, and Mycroft sits back in his seat.

"Problem?" he asks. "You seemed to be enjoying yourself."

John is momentarily struck speechless by Mycroft's sheer nerve. "I'm dating your brother. You can't possibly believe I'd cheat on Sherlock with you," he says finally.

"He won't mind."

"No, I'm pretty sure he would," John replies, and Mycroft gives him a smug, condescending sort of smile, as if he knows something that John doesn't.

--

John spends the rest of the evening trying to figure out how to tell Sherlock, who is currently out investigating a case of poisoning sent to him from his website.

Kali thinks he's being stupid. "When he comes in, just tell him Mycroft kissed you," she says, and forces John to queue up an episode of QI on his laptop for her, because she always has trouble using the mouse on her own.

When Sherlock finally gets home, he takes one look at John, rolls his eyes, and says, "Don't agonize so loudly. What did you think was going to happen?"

"So you know, then?" John asks, and he feels a rush of gratitude that Sherlock can just look at him and know, and do away with awkward conversations altogether. And then the rest of Sherlock's words hit him. "Wait, what do you mean, what did I think was going to happen?"

"You've been dating him for nearly as long as you've been involved with me." Sherlock frowns at John's expression. "You didn't know? How could you not know something so obvious?"

"Obvious? How was it obvious? I thought I was dating you!"

"You've been going out with him nearly once a week for almost two months, John," Sherlock says. "Don't tell me you thought it was completely innocent. You may be stupid, but you can't possibly be that stupid."

But that was exactly what John had thought, and hearing it in Sherlock's voice, full of scorn, makes him furious. "And what? You thought I'd do that to you? You thought I was cheating on you and you didn't do anything about it?"

"What was I supposed to do about it? You want him. Don't pretend you don't."

John doesn't bother to deny it. "So what? I want you more! I thought you wanted me too! Not that I've any idea why, considering how stupid you seem to think I am!" John shouts.

"I don't care that you're stupid! I don't care who you want more! It's not even cheating so I don't care!"

"How is it not cheating that you thought I was dating your brother? What does that even mean? If you don't care about me, just say it!"

"Of course I care about you!" Sherlock roars back. "But it doesn't matter! I'm --" and Sherlock snaps his mouth shut abruptly, expression closing off. "I'm going out," he finishes coldly, and storms out, door slamming shut behind him.

--

Sherlock sends him a text 45 minutes later.

How many belladonna berries would it take to kill a 55-year old woman, approx 60 kilos? And leaves?
SH

Apparently, Sherlock's pretending their fight never happened. John answers him, then adds, I'm sorry.

Sherlock's reply is immediate. It's all right. SH

Are you going to be back soon? John taps out, and hits send.

Looking for belladonna plants near the suspect's place of residence. Don't wait up. SH

Everything's back to normal, then.

--

Sherlock's using John's laptop when John wanders out of his room the next morning, Kali padding sleepily at his feet. "I made you some tea," he says, and motions to the cup of tea on the coffee table. "Good morning John, Kaliope."

Kali wags her tail and lies down under the table, yawning. "Morning."

"You're using my computer again," John points out, and sits next to Sherlock. "What are you doing?"

"Checking my email." Sherlock puts an arm around John's waist, and John relaxes into it.

"You need to stop doing that on my computer," John says. "When did you get in last night?"

Sherlock checks his watch. "About three hours ago."

"So you haven't slept yet." John drags a thumb along Sherlock's jawline; the skin is rough with stubble. "Or shaved. Have you at least eaten?"

"I'm not hungry." Sherlock's never hungry; John's not sure when he eats, but he doesn't seem to be unhealthily thin or losing any weight, so he's willing to let it be.

"Anyways," John starts, but Sherlock cuts him off curtly.

"Please don't make me discuss this with you. I hate these conversations."

"Anyways, Mycroft kissed me, and I kissed him back. I'm sorry, and it won't happen again. I made it clear to him that I wasn't interested."

"But you're attracted to him," Sherlock says, but he doesn't sound angry.

"I won't deny he's attractive," John admits reluctantly, because he knows Sherlock already knows this. "But that doesn't mean I'd ever act on it. I'm with you now."

"You could be with both of us."

John laughs. "What, seriously?"

Sherlock shrugs. "Not conventional, but hardly unheard of, for two people to share a third."

"Not when they're brothers," John says, but Sherlock is getting the 'you and your taboos are so strange' look that he gets sometimes, so John just shakes his head. "I'm happy with just you, but thanks for the offer."

And if Sherlock looks pensive and a little disappointed at that, John doesn't notice.

--

Except now that Sherlock's practically given him his blessing, John's traitorous mind can't stop thinking about it. The memory of their kiss pops into his mind at random intervals. He finds himself reliving the experience over and over again, feeling the ghost of Mycroft's hand against the back of his neck and the firm press of his lips.

It isn't that Mycroft's unusually attractive, because he's not. He's handsome, but no more so than many men John's passed on the street without a second glance. But there's something about him that John can't shake, and he finds himself wondering what would have happened if he hadn't said no, if he'd licked his way into Mycroft's mouth and pushed off his jacket and let their bodies slide together.

He wonders whether Mycroft would have let him hold him down in the backseat, let him use his mouth to take him apart, or if they'd have gone somewhere else – a hotel, with a bed where they could stretch out side by side and learn each others' bodies.

"You want to do it again," Kali accuses, and John knows he can't lie to her. “You want him.”

"I know. I know, but I can't help wanting it. At least you think it's a bad idea, right?"

Kali looks shifty and refuses to answer.

"Kali!"

"I don't know," she says, and lays down, putting a paw over her face. "Can't we have them both? I love Sherlock, but we could love Mycroft too, one day. I don't know him, but I want to."

His phone buzzes.

We can pretend it never
happened, if it will make
you more comfortable.
MH

John isn't sure what he wants, let alone what to say to that. so instead he asks Mycroft what he should do to stop Sherlock from guessing his computer password.

--

In theory, this is the sort of thing John should be discussing with his therapist, during their twice-monthly meetings.

"I notice you haven't updated your blog recently," she prompts, when fifteen minutes have passed and John hasn't said a word. "How are you and your flatmate getting along?"

I bought him a mini fridge for the body parts, so now there's no severed heads next to the eggs, John thinks, but he hasn't told her about how Sherlock gets body parts from the mortuary for his experiments. We still haven't had sex yet. I'm not sure why not, except he hasn't mentioned that they're dating now, and it's a bit too late to bring it up without sounding like he's been hiding things from her (even though he has).

"We get on all right," he says finally, and her daemon hands her a pen. His therapist's daemon has given up on making a connection with Kali, since she's taken to growling at him every time he tries to get near, and has even snapped at him once, when John had had a particularly stressful day. Now, he perches on the back of his human's seat, or sits in her lap.

She writes, No progress on trust issues. "And you still haven't met his daemon?"

"No."

"You don't sound like this bothers you anymore. That's good, very encouraging. How's work?"

"It's alright. A bit boring."

"Have you talked to your sister recently?"

"She called me last weekend."

"What did you talk about?"

She and Clara were thinking about getting back together. She teased him about Sherlock some more, as elder sisters were wont to do. She was trying to cut down on her drinking (again), and John had tried to sound sympathetic instead of skeptical. Their parents wanted them to come visit some time.

"Nothing much. Just how things have been going."

After a couple more minutes, where John mostly stares at the wall and thinks about how much he'd rather be looking at crime scenes with Sherlock (and guiltily wonders whether Mycroft would moan like Sherlock does, when John sucks on his collarbone), his therapist clears her throat.

She really is quite patient with him. "So how have things been going, John? You're not allowed to say 'fine'," she adds with a smile, before he can open his mouth and do just that.

He's had a weapon pointed at him three times in the last two weeks. He wants to fuck his boyfriend's brother, and said boyfriend has suggested he might be okay with the idea. Neither man has a daemon, which is moderately alarming considering even serial killers and madmen have daemons. He can't update his blog because whenever he tries, he can't think of anything to say that he wouldn't mind the rest of the world (but mostly his sister) knowing.

"I think my leg's getting better. It doesn't hurt as much anymore."

--

John receives a text from Sherlock whilst he's at work. Normally, John ignores Sherlock while he's at the hospital, because he likes being able to pay for his share of the rent, and that requires holding down a job, which in turn requires not leaving work at the drop of a hat to bring Sherlock a pen, or a begonia, or a sample of childcare’s hand prints harvested from the glass of a large office building.

But this time the message, followed immediately by the buzz of another one, is more direct about to the point.

Mycroft is in danger.
Come at once.
SH

Never mind. Am en route
to the hospital. ETA 15
minutes.
SH

John waits for Sherlock outside the hospital, after hastily making his excuses. Sarah had raised an unamused eyebrow when he'd said something important had come up. She'd asked, with a resigned air, "It's something to do with Sherlock again, isn't it?" and John hadn't been able to answer.

Sherlock pulls up in a cab, and John slides into the seat next to him when he opens the door. Kali hops in right after him. The cabbie visibly relaxes. The squirrel on his shoulder stops staring quite so hard at Sherlock and scampers back into the man's shirt pocket. Sherlock tends to have that effect on people.

"What happened?"

"Mycroft's in danger."

"Yes, I got that part. What sort of danger are we talking about, here?"

"The life or death sort. He's been taken somewhere, and we're going to find him." Sherlock has his mobile open to a map of the city, centered on their current location. His eyes flicker up to the cabbie. "Go forward and turn right at the second traffic light," he instructs.

"How long's he been missing? Did you call the police yet?"

"The police will be too slow. I've notified the surveillance team at the flat already, but they won't be able to find him before I do. Undoubtedly, they're following us instead."

Wait, what surveillance team at the flat? "There's a surveillance team at the flat?"

Sherlock sighs. "Sometimes I wonder how you get on at all, being so blind to the obvious. Mycroft has been gone between 45 minutes and three hours. He's obviously still alive, so they'll be trying to torture him for information at some point, and I'd like to arrive before that happens."

"And you know where he is."

Sherlock waves his phone confidently. "Yes, of course. I can track him."

"They probably threw out his mobile as soon as they took him. How can you track him?"

Sherlock rolls his eyes. "I'm not an imbecile, John. Really, what use would a tracking device on his phone be? He'd find and destroy it within minutes. That hasn't worked on either of us since I went to university.”

John can't help but notice Sherlock hasn't actually answered his question. “You didn't put a chip in his arm or something, did you?”

“No, of course not. Once he managed to remove the first one, there was no point in trying again."

John sighs.

--

Sherlock doesn't actually give the cabbie a destination. Instead, he just calls out the turns. Thirty minutes later, they're let out at a nondescript house in one of the shadier parts of the city. As they approach it, Sherlock rifles through his coat and hands John his sidearm, which had been in a locked drawer this morning.

John's alarmed to see Sherlock holding a gun as well. That sense of alarm gets worse when Sherlock says, in a voice that sends a chill down John's spine,"We will do whatever it takes to retrieve Mycroft. The police will not be interrupting us today, so shoot to kill, and show no mercy."

Then, he knocks on the door.

John takes the first two guards by surprise when they open the door, shooting them down where they stand, because Sherlock's eyes are alien and cold in a way that is, frankly, more than a little disturbing. If he hadn't, Sherlock would have.

They only have a moment before the noise draws any other men in the building, and they rush inside, where they take cover behind the furniture of a room just off the main hallway. Sure enough, John hears alarmed shouts and the pound of footsteps running towards them.

There is a brief gunfight, in which John manages to take down one more man, and just barely avoids a bullet that passes so close to him he could feel the breeze it made. He ducks down for a breather, and Sherlock shoots Kali a concerned look.

"We're fine," Kali says to Sherlock, when he continues to look at her expectantly. "The bullet was close, but didn't actually hit us."

As they're trading bullets, the last guard's wolverine daemon becomes visible. She darts into the space they're shooting across, body held low to the ground to avoid getting hit by accident. One of her ears is ragged and torn, the sign of pair that got into a lot of brawls. John's not sure what she's doing – scouting, maybe, or trying to get at Kali.

Sherlock shoots the wolverine in the chest, and she drops with a surprised groan. The momentum slides her forwards a few feet, smearing blood on the floor.

A man – relatively young, he can't be out of his thirties yet, dressed in nondescript street clothes, barrels into the room immediately with no concern for himself. A gun dangles forgotten in his right hand. He drops to his knees in front of his daemon, babbling frantically, putting his hands on her, trying to staunch the flow of blood. Sherlock shoots him in the back.

There is a long moment of silence, mostly because John's still trying to process the fact that Sherlock shot someone's daemon.

In that silence, John can hear Mycroft in one of the other rooms. Mycroft's pleading, begging in a shaking, terrified voice for someone to stop, telling them that he'll do whatever they want, anything so long as they leave her alone. I guess he does have a daemon, John thinks to himself, a little hysterically.

They follow the sound of Mycroft's pleas to an opened basement door, moving carefully. No one else stops them. There is a man standing at the base of the steps, waiting for them with a smug confidence that has John checking for snipers out of the corners of his eyes.

But what John notices the most about him is the wicked-looking sword in one hand and a small, steel capsule in the other. He holds it up and says, "Did you know, he's sealed her in here? The edges are welded shut. What kind of a person does that?"

John doesn't recognize the sword itself, but he recognizes the strange shimmer on the blade and the way it's held - the way people who don't use guns hold a loaded gun. It makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, because he knows what it means. Sometimes, he still has nightmares about blades like those, because as bad as separation is, intercision is worse.

There are different ways to separate human from daemon. The most common way, the normal way, is called separation, and is sometimes undertaken voluntarily as a religious or mystic ritual. John doesn't know the details about it, not really – just that it means being away from your daemon, sometimes for days or weeks on end. If done correctly and without trauma, according to the studies, no permanent harm is done to either the human or the daemon, and the bond remains more or less intact.

If done incorrectly, it can lead to intercision, a complete, permanent severing of the bond between human and daemon. It's even more rare than separation, and outside of medical texts and secret government reports, it rarely comes up. Humans who have undergone the process lose their spark, the thing about them that makes them stand out as individuals, and their daemons become lonely, needy things starved of the bond that gives them purpose.

The other way to perform intercision is to physically slice through the bond with a blade made from a specially treated alloy that looks, well, exactly like the one right in front of him.

Kali makes a choked-off, horrified sort of noise, and doesn't protest when John's fingers clench tightly in the fur at the back of her neck, even though he knows it's hurting her. Sherlock takes a step back, an expression on his face that can only be described as half unnerved and half frightened.

The man's face widens into a grin when he sees that they understand the threat. "So why don't you come down here before Mr. Holmes down there gets hurt," he suggests. "And we'll see if you can help jog his memory. And if not, well, I'm sure once I've separated you from your daemons, he'll understand just how serious I am."

Sherlock starts down the stairs without hesitating, and after a moment's pause, John and Kali follow carefully. John's a good shot, but not good enough to kill someone with a gun from his off hand before they can cut something right next to them.

As they get closer, John catches sight of the daemon perched on his shoulder, a gleaming black scorpion. Mycroft hangs limply in a chair set in the center of the basement, looking as if he'd collapse if not for the coils of rope tied around his body.

Mycroft catches sight of he and Sherlock a moment later, and he immediately starts struggling. "Sherlock! What are you doing? Get out of here!"

The man – John still doesn't know who he is, and he suspects it's probably above his security clearance anyways – turns his head partway towards Mycroft, and Sherlock raises his arm, but he's already been seen.

And of course, Sherlock is aiming for the chest, so when he pulls the trigger it's a fatal wound but not instant, and John watches with a breathless horror as the man gives them both a ghastly grin and, with a firm, downward stroke, slices cleanly through the air between Mycroft and the polished metal capsule in his other fist before collapsing to the ground.

Sherlock watches with detached interest as the scorpion crawls down the man's chest until her front claws are touching the spreading patch of blood. "No!" She says to her human, quaking in agitation, and John feels so sorry for her that it aches in his chest, because she doesn't deserve to go through this, no matter what her human had done. "No, you can't! It wasn't meant to be like this!"

Sherlock shoots him again, this time in the head. The scorpion fades until she's nearly translucent, before exploding into a burst of golden dust that dissipates in the air. Dead, then, but Sherlock keeps shooting the body, expression empty. He pulls the trigger over and over until it clicks in his hand. Sherlock looks down at the gun blankly, without comprehension, and in that moment, he looks barely human.

"Sherlock," John says, and then again when Sherlock doesn't respond. "Sherlock. Sherlock, give me the gun."

Kali whines and butts her head against Sherlock's knee, and it snaps him out of his daze. "Right. Of course."

Sherlock lets John take the gun from him without comment, and visibly shivers when John cups his face between his hands. "Are you okay?" John asks, but just then, Mycroft lets out a low groan, and Sherlock's attention focuses instantly on his brother.

He is nearly running as he leaps over the body on the ground and rushes to Mycroft, but he stops abruptly once he's within arm's reach. The effect is reminiscent of a flying bird smashing up against a window.

"I was hoping you'd know better than to come for me personally. I'm quite unharmed," Mycroft says calmly, even though he has a rather wicked looking bruise blossoming on one cheekbone, and one of his eyes is swollen shut. "You missed that they'd have the means for intercision, then? I'm disappointed. John, I can't believe you allowed Sherlock to proceed with such a ridiculous stunt."

To John, it sounds harsh and just a bit condescending, but he's obviously missing layers upon layers of the relationship between the Holmes brothers, because the terrifying emptiness in Sherlock's eyes begins to fill in. Sherlock cups Mycroft's cheek, the uninjured one, and something passes wordlessly between them that is so unbearably intimate that John has to look away.

When John looks back, Sherlock's regained his composure and is staring at the knots on the rope with a single-minded intensity. "I need a knife," Sherlock declares, and holds his hand out imperiously.

"Mr. Hale has one in his boots," Mycroft says to John, and nods at the corpse. "It should be sufficiently sharp."

As he retrieves the knife, Kali nudges his elbow. "His daemon," she murmurs, and picks up the steel capsule in her mouth. It's a small, rounded cylinder, and when she drops it into John's palm, his fingers wrap around it with room to spare.

His mind flickers through all the daemons that could fit in something so small – ant, spider, bee, aphid, flea, fly, ladybird – but none of them seem right. There is a ring of distorted metal around the center of the capsule, where it'd been melted shut, and that convinces him. Mycroft would never do that to his daemon, if he had one.

"It's empty, right?" John says when he hands the knife to Sherlock, who immediately begins to saw at one of the loops of rope around Mycroft's body. He knows he's hit the mark when Sherlock beams proudly at him. "You were bluffing, before."

"Of course," Mycroft says mildly. "I may not do it as often as Sherlock, but I'm perfectly capable of putting on an act. It seemed safer than making Mr. Hale resort to more creative methods of persuasion."

The rope Sherlock's been sawing at splits in two, and Sherlock pulls triumphantly at one part of the knot that looks no different than any other part. Regardless, the entire thing falls apart, pooling on the ground and in Mycroft's lap.

"Brilliant. Now let's get out of here," John says, and Kali nods her agreement.

--

Sherlock shows an uncharacteristic concern for his older brother, walking close enough to Mycroft to be nearly hovering over him. It's a marked contrast from the complete disinterest he shows in the bodies they pass, though Mycroft examines them all with a thoughtful expression. Probably identifying who sent them and how to assassinate their leader.

John is the only one surprised at seeing Mycroft's PA waiting for them on the street. She looks up from her phone and smiles at Mycroft, unworried. "I'll send the cleanup crew in now, sir."

Sherlock nods pleasantly to the daemon on her shoulder. The parrot bows forward in turn and waves a wing at him. A group of heavily armed and armored men hop out of a van in front of a neighboring house. It hadn't been parked there when they'd arrived. John catches a glimpse of wolves in the van, but they remain within the vehicle, displaying no signs of distress. A chill runs down his spine.

"When I said Mycroft was the British Government, I wasn't exaggerating," Sherlock comments in an undertone to John. “He has a lot of power at his disposal.”

Mycroft is having his own discussion with his PA."Is the car ready? Have it deposit us at 221B. I'll be staying there tonight."

John opens his mouth to protest, because no one'd bothered to ask him about it. But Sherlock and Mycroft look at him with the exact same expression of 'I figured this out ages ago, why haven't you?' and he just sighs, because he knows how to follow the basics of Holmesian logic now. If Mycroft had asked, John would have said yes, which meant that there was no point in asking. Naturally.

--

Mycroft refuses all attempts to talk him into stopping by a hospital, claiming he had only superficial wounds, and when John tries appealing to Sherlock for help, he only shrugs carelessly. “He's not badly hurt.”

So Mycroft goes home with John and Sherlock. Now that they're safe (and John had noticed the car that tailed them on their way home, which means they're undoubtedly Mycroft's men, and probably letting him see them on purpose), Sherlock's regarding Mycroft with his usual mix of barely-suppressed resentment and reluctant loyalty.

John goes to make the tea when it becomes clear that no one else will. When he returns, Mycroft is in John's chair, staring at Sherlock, who stares just as fixedly back. He's fairly sure they're having a conversation. “Right, then. If you won't go to the hospital, let me check you over myself. I want to take a look at your ribs.”

“They're only bruised. He can can barely see out of his left eye. His wrists are chafed. He'll have marks from the rope for a week at most, but the bruises will last a fortnight or so. He's fine,” Sherlock says dismissively, and stretches out on the sofa. His bare toes flex against the armrest.

“Thanks, but I want to check for myself.”

Mycroft is worse for the wear but not badly damaged – John's had worse on cases. When John touches his ribs, he hisses in pain, but nothing's cracked, just as Sherlock had said. He traces his fingers over the bruises, and gently rubs the chafe-marks on his wrists. The skin's abraded but not bleeding. Mycroft shivers, but he's not looking at John.

He's looking over John's shoulder, where Sherlock has made room for Kali on the sofa. He's got an arm around her casually, and John flushes. “She likes him,” he mumbles, embarrassed, and remembers the steel capsule he'd dropped in his pocket. He fishes it out and offers it to Mycroft. “Do you want this back?”

“Yes, thank you.” Mycroft takes it and it disappears somewhere about his person. John is momentarily riveted by the gracefulness of his hands.

The heat in Mycroft's eyes makes it clear that he noticed the direction of John's thoughts, and John realizes abruptly that he'd unbuttoned Mycroft's outer layers to examine him, and now has a hand splayed over his bare chest. Mycroft's heart beats against his palm. It's swifter than normal.

John jerks his hand back quickly, and coughs. “Right, well. You're a bit banged up but you'll be okay. Just take it easy for a few weeks and you should be back to normal in no time.”

“What do you see in him?” Mycroft asks Sherlock abruptly, leaning back in the chair. He takes a sip of the tea John brought him. “You never liked anyone else so much, before.”

“Shut up, Mycroft,” Sherlock snaps, and Kali licks Sherlock's cheek. John can't help the sappy smile that spreads on his face. “He's more interesting than anyone you were ever involved in. You have no taste.”

“You like my assistant,” Mycroft says.

“No, I like her daemon. He's rather intelligent, as daemons go. I couldn't care less about the girl.”

For some reason, there's something different about the way Sherlock says that last sentence. It's not the way he and Harry talk. It's the way Kali talks.

And that's when John figures it out. What he'd thought was a puzzle with a missing piece is in fact a puzzle with a missing piece that'd been cut into a dozen, smaller pieces, each one tiny and hidden and sometimes burnt to ashes to prevent anyone from figuring it out.

But now everything falls into place: the way Sherlock touches Kali so casually, the way John's seen him sleep but never eat a full meal, and most damning of all, the way Sherlock acts towards Mycroft, some strange mixture of protective and resentful that has no words, because there's no words for the push and pull of a daemon fighting the metaphysical bond that connects him to a human.

Now John understands why he's drawn to Mycroft, and why he wants him so badly.

But he doesn't want to say his suspicions aloud just yet, so he tests it. He puts a hand on the back of Sherlock's neck, as he's done in the past. Sherlock relaxes into it, but John's watching Mycroft this time. Mycroft tenses immediately, spine straightening. His knuckles go white around his tea, and he looks straight at their point of contact.

Sherlock jerks away from John's touch, and a dull flush rises up his neck. Mycroft relaxes fractionally. "Congratulations, John", he says mildly. "You seem to have figured it out. Though I'm sure Sherlock's been leaving hints for you for weeks."

“I never said he wasn't an idiot, just that he was less stupid than most,” Sherlock snaps at his brother - No, John corrects himself, His human.

“All the texts say that daemons are unable to take human form,” John says cautiously, because now that he knows he's right, he's having trouble wrapping his mind around it. It feels strange to push the words past his lips. What does it even mean to have a human daemon?

“Oh, they lie about that,” Kali says flippantly, and puts her head on John's knee. “I could have before I settled. But it always seemed too strange, and I knew you wouldn't like it, so I didn't.”

“And you know how Sherlock's attracted to doing things that are strange,” Mycroft comments, while John's trying to make a mental image of what Kaliope would have looked like, if she'd put on a human shape.

Sherlock scowls at Mycroft. “Don't speak for me. I hate when you speak for me.”

“So this is it, then. This is the thing you couldn't tell me before,” John says, mind still whirring with the implications. Had Mycroft been aware of all the times he and Sherlock had been touching? It is a vaguely terrifying thought.

"Does it bother you?" Sherlock asks, and there is an unusual levelness to his voice – he doesn't sound bored, or condescending, or amused. He sounds... like he's nervous and hiding it very well. "I was quite unnerved when I discovered I was attracted to you, and it'd only be natural for you to feel repulsed by the idea."

“We're not repulsed,” Kali says immediately, and rubs her head against Sherlock's leg, like a cat. He strokes his hand over her head, and her tail wags. “We care about you. And you,” she adds, more shyly, to Mycroft.

“Oh. Well.” Sherlock looks surprised. He nods. “That's good.”

Then he kisses John. It is nothing at all like how they normally kiss. It is dirty and demanding instead of warm and affectionate, and John realizes with a shock that Sherlock's been holding himself back. Because of what he is. Because of Mycroft.

“Christ,” John murmurs when they part for air, and runs his fingers through Sherlock's hair, deliberately mussing it even more than it already is. Sherlock makes a pleased noise, and so does Mycroft, a sort of choked-off groan.

And Mycroft, Mycroft looks wrecked, like he's the one John's been kissing, and then some. He adjusts himself in front of John without any sign of embarrassment.“You can feel everything I do to him, can't you?” John says. A smirk tugs at the edges of his mouth.

“It's rather more than that. And I suggest, if you'd like to proceed further, that in the interests of comfort, we move this to a bedroom.”

John coughs, suddenly nervous, because they haven't before – he and Sherlock, and he's not sure if that's something he should mention. But Sherlock's already nodding and getting up. “We'll use your room. I have an experiment on my bed that can't be moved.”

--

Mycroft is stronger than he looks, pinning John against the door as soon as they're in his room, devouring him with his mouth, greedy and demanding. It's nothing at all like the detached and impassive man he pretends to be. He tastes like tea and the faint metallic tang of blood, from where the inside of his mouth's been split. John doesn't mind.

His fingers drag against one of the bruises on Mycroft's ribs, and Mycroft makes a choked, confused sound into John's mouth, like he's not sure if he likes it or not.

“He doesn't think he does, but he likes it when you bite,” Sherlock says, in a low voice, and John's not sure which of them he's addressing. Both of them, perhaps. Mycroft breaks the kiss to suck and nip at John's throat, sending shocks of pleasure down John's spine.

“Bed,” John gasps, and manages to successfully tug Mycroft to the bed without tripping over anything and breaking his neck, stripping off his own jumper and undershirt in the process. But Mycroft struggles out of his arms, twisting out of his unbuttoned shirt and waistcoat in one smooth motion, leaving himself bare-chested. He pushes John onto the bed.

Sherlock kneels next to him, partially disrobing as well. He looks at John consideringly, taking him apart with his eyes. “The idea of Mycroft and me together arouses you,” he declares triumphantly, and John can't help his sudden, shameful rush of want.

“I – yes,” he says, and Mycroft kneels as well, on John's other side.

And then suddenly they're kissing, right in front of him, mouths pressed together. Sherlock makes a thoughtful noise, and tilts his head. John can tell the exact moment that Mycroft slips his tongue into Sherlock's mouth, because Sherlock cheeks hollow as he sucks on it. He slides his hand up Mycroft's thighs, undoing the button on his trousers with a practiced familiarity that makes John's mouth dry.

When they part, Sherlock's lips are red and swollen, and he turns towards John with an expectant smirk, as if to say, Well?

“You're gorgeous,” John blurts out, and pulls Sherlock down, whispering in his ear all the things he'd been thinking but been too embarrassed to say, before. “I want to touch you. I think about it all the time, holding you down, making you come. I want to make you scream my name.”

Sherlock shivers when John rolls him onto his back and parts his thighs, tugging his trousers past his hips. He licks a path from Sherlock's sternum to his groin, tasting him. He mouths the bulge of Sherlock's erection through his pants, flattens his tongue against its base and inhales, smelling sweat and musk and Sherlock.

“John,” Sherlock says, his hips jerking upwards. “I, yes, John.” His hands form fists in the sheets, clenching and unclenching as John pulls his pants down too.

Sherlock and Mycroft groan in concert when John wraps his hand around the base of Sherlock's cock and takes its head into his mouth. There is a hand in his hair, and a hand on his shoulder, and a hand rubbing his back.

John glances sideways at Mycroft; he's the one stroking John's back, the warmth up and down his spine. His own trousers are already unzipped, and John catches sight of his cock, hard and leaking. “Keep going,” Mycroft groans.

John hasn't been with a man since his deployment, but sucking cock is like riding a bicycle, and he falls easily into the familiar rhythm. He teases gasps and moans from Sherlock until he's babbling, a steady stream of pleaseJohnfastermoreyes.

“Hold down his hips,” Mycroft says into his ear, and John obediently pins Sherlock's hips with his forearm. “Now watch this.”

Then, he grabs Sherlock's wrists and pins them next to his head, violently enough to make the mattress jolt. Sherlock struggles fiercely against them for a moment, thrashing. John catches a split-second glimpse of his face when he realizes he's pinned, surprised and aroused, before Sherlock's coming with a low groan, cock pulsing in John's mouth. When he's done, John chases the taste of Sherlock in his mouth, committing it to memory.

And then there are two sets of hands tugging him up, pulling him to lie on the bed next to Sherlock.

“I hate when you do that,” Sherlock says to Mycroft, sounding annoyed, and then adds vindictively to John, “He'll enjoy it if you hurt him. He's a masochist. Also, he's already ejaculated.”

Mycroft rolls his eyes and tugs down John's pants, palming his erection with experienced fingers. “Don't be petty, Sherlock. Of course I came when you did, considering the nature of our bond,” he says, and kisses John.

“I'll be petty if I want to,” Sherlock replies immediately, and kisses John too, open-mouthed against his throat. His hand joins Mycroft's.

Between the two of them, John doesn't last long.

--

“What does it feel like when I touch you?” John asks Sherlock afterwards. He feels languid and half-asleep, in that comfortable mental place where there's no filter between his thoughts and his words. Mycroft lies between them, and John puts his arm over Mycroft's chest. He brushes his thumb against Sherlock's shoulder, and watches them both smile.

Sherlock considers for a moment. “A bit like drowning.”

John frowns, because that hardly sounds pleasant, but before he can ask again, Kali's leaned up and put her head on Sherlock's waist, ears pricked forward. “Show us?” she asks wistfully, and Mycroft hesitates, looking to John.

John nods and offers him a smile. “I don't mind. I want you to.”

Mycroft puts out his hand slowly, bringing it towards the soft grey and white fur at the top of her head. The moment he touches her, the rest of the world falls away. All he can feel is Mycroft and Sherlock, in him and around him, flooding all his senses with their presence.

It feels like falling in love.