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by nancy

Mark watched across the board as John considered his next move. They played chess once a week without fail, sometimes two or three times if John's case load at work slacked a bit. The other man's dark gaze remained on the board as he stared at the chess pieces in their advanced placement. They were at Mark's home this time, not a cafe or John's awful flat. Mark refused to set foot in it after seeing it the one time. He was still trying to convince John to get a new place, but had as yet to be successful.

"Stop it."

Mark blinked and asked, "Pardon?"

John glanced over at him with a faint smile and said, "Stop over thinking things."

Mark should have been used to that too-perceptive sense of John's after knowing him so long, but it still flustered him. Dropping his eyes, he said, "I'm not the one taking twenty minutes to make a move."

John chuckled. "Twenty-two. And there. Check and mate."

Mark's jaw dropped a bit as he took in the completely unexpected move. But then, that was John all over. Always making the unexpected move. Leaning back in his chair, Mark asked, "If you were going to make that move all along, why wait?"

John's smile broadened into an actual one and he said, "Wanted to see how long it'd take you to crack."

Rolling his eyes, Mark pointed out, "Not a suspect for interrogation, John."

John stood and cracked first his back and then his neck, groaning in what sounded like pain and grimacing.

It wasn't like John to show that kind of pain. Mark stood and asked, "What happened to you?"

Still rubbing his neck, John admitted, "Fell off a balcony chasing a suspect. I'd've cracked my head open if I hadn't landed in a bin."

Mark always felt a little shaky whenever he heard about a close call. The mobsters had been bad enough, but the serial killer brothers? Pure insanity. Justin had nearly cried over that one, he'd been so beside himself. Mark was thankful he'd only heard about it after the fact; if he'd seen John douse himself with petrol...

"Hey. I said to stop it, didn't I?"

John was a lot closer than he'd been moments ago. Mark looked up at the bigger man and saw concern on his face, maybe even worry. He huffed out a darkly amused sound and said, "You're the one nearly getting killed every other week and you're worried for me?"

A strong hand gripped Mark's shoulder and John said, "I do, yeah. Got a problem with it?"

Mark stared up into those dark eyes with something like disbelief. "You are...insane. Truly. All I do is work from home. You go after psychopaths and killers and mobsters and violent felons every day, John!"

John pulled him in for a tight hug, wrapping his arms around Mark in a manner reminiscent of when Mark had found out about Zoe's death and then found John on his doorstep. This was a far better circumstance. He knew that he wasn't a hundred percent any more, that he still felt fragile even a year later, after Ian's death at Alice's hands. Of course, knowing that Alice was still out there and considered him expendable didn't really help the nightmares.

"Here now, I said stop. It's okay, I won't let anyone hurt you," John murmured, not letting go.

Mark felt the shakes begin and cursed under his breath. Another damned panic attack. His fingers dug into John's broad back and he tried, unsuccessfully, to control his breathing.

"Right. Enough of that."

John manhandled him to the nearest chair and sat him down, swiftly putting Mark's head between his knees. He sat directly beside Mark, a solid, immovable presence with an arm across Mark's back to keep contact.

It took several minutes for Mark's breathing to come back under control and through it all, John simply sat there holding him. Justin thought they were a little mad, bonding like they did over Zoe's death when it should have cut them into enemies for certain. Mark thought he might be right.


Mark nodded and slowly sat upright. It was something of a surprise when John didn't let go, instead sitting back against the sofa cushion and tugging Mark with him. He went willing enough and was promptly tucked in against John's side, an arm draped over his shoulder.

John stayed silent a moment and then said, "I think I should move in."

Mark's jaw dropped for the second time in fifteen minutes. "Pardon?"

That faint, crooked smile reappeared. "You heard me. I don't like you being here on your own all the time. Makes me nervous a bit. Plus you're a much better cook than I am."

"John, you can't just..."

John's mouth covered his in a soft kiss, stopping the words. It was a gentle thing, far more tender than he'd suspected the cop to be capable of and Mark knew he was a more emotional man than anyone else would believe. The kiss was short and when John pulled back, he repeated, "I think I should move in."

Mark blinked at him a couple of times, surprise rendering him mute. He finally managed, "All right."

John smiled and said, "Good. That's settled then," and pulled Mark in close again.

Mark settled against John in surprising comfort and couldn't help a faint smile of his own from surfacing. Always doing the unexpected, that was his John.