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No, it’s true, Anthea isn’t her real name. Her name isn’t nearly as much of a mystery as she likes to make it out to be, though.
Her real name?
Well . . .
She’s Theodora on her birth certificate. Or to be more precise Theodora Amandine, which is the unfortunate yet inevitable sort of thing that happens when one of your parents is Greek and the other is French and both are incurable romantics.
And then! After going to all that trouble of giving their only daughter such a saccharine double-barrel of a name, her parents ended up shortening it to Thea nearly all the time when she was a child. She was Thea to family, Thea when playing with friends.
But there were days when that too felt wrong and she would insist her parents call her Theo instead – and insist it all the more forcefully, the more her mother shook her head and told her she had a perfectly nice name already.
“Must you make such a fuss over a silly thing?” said her mother. “It’s only a name.”
Only a name. This from a woman who thought Theodora (from the Greek, “gift of God”) didn’t precisely enough express the worth of her cherished daughter, but must be further modified with Amandine (diminutive of Amanda, French, “worthy of love”).
“Ah, let the child use a made-up name for play if she likes,” said her father. “It’s only a phase.”
Which wasn’t a satisfactory response either, and generally led to the child in question stamping loudly out the door to commune with the frogs in the pond behind their quiet country home. The frogs weren’t very good conversationalists – Thea generally had to make up both sides of the dialogues she held with them – but at least they didn’t tell her what she was and what she wasn’t.
Soon she was adopting many different names, the wilder the better, much to the consternation of her schoolteachers when she turned in her homework signed in accordance with the personality of the day.
At first she borrowed for inspiration: She was Athena, ancient goddess of wisdom; she was Indiana Jones; she was Saint Catherine of Alexandria, patron to a delightful collection of professions including both librarians and knife sharpeners.
Eventually, though, she gained enough confidence to invent her own: She was Queen Raxxia of the Dark Night Lands; she was Sarai the deadly seven-foot-tall assassin spy; she was the Unstoppable One, a superhero whose seemingly mild-mannered ways hid a secret power to walk through walls.
Inventing identities – and the personality details to go with them – was a habit she carried with her into adulthood, gazing out the window during courses at uni as she pondered whether a shy giraffe trainer, embarrassed by the unusualness of her profession and pretending whenever anyone asked that she was actually a chartered accountant, was more likely to order wine, coffee, or simply sip a glass of ice water when having lunch at a Paris café.
She got quite good at offering insightful responses to professors’ questions about the application of game theory to the social sciences or the implications of human rights law as viewed through the lens of mediaeval political thought, even as another part of her brain was quietly deciding that, while of course she couldn’t speak for all giraffe trainers, if she were a giraffe trainer she would forego all previously mentioned options and order fruit juice instead.
She did it with friends, too, showing up at their parties under invented identities, eager to test out whether she could fool them into thinking she was someone else, even if only for the first few seconds after their door opened to reveal her standing on the doorstep in her disguise. The thrill when she succeeded, no matter how brief the moment before they looked more closely and saw that, no, it was just Thea yet again, was the purest adrenalin rush she’d ever known.
Her friends found it at best a lovable quirk, at worst a minor nuisance. “Oh, you know how Thea is,” one would tell another as they clustered around a bowl of punch or a tray of shots at another student party. “Every day she has to be somebody different!”
Mycroft Holmes was the first person to recognise her penchant for making up full-personality disguises as more than simply a childish oddity she’d never outgrown.
She was hired on as an intern, and she was only ever meant to be an intern. She wasn’t even in Mr Holmes’ department during her eight-week work experience placement.
(In fact, none of the low-level government interns she worked with that summer was quite sure what department Mr Holmes worked for, or if he was perhaps a department unto himself, breezing through their lowly intern world every now and then with an entire court of personal assistants dancing attendance behind him. It got to be a bit of an in-joke around the copy machine and the water cooler, the mysterious Mr Holmes and what his role within the government might actually be.)
Her own job, though, was so easy, so mind-numbingly boring, that Thea started making up secret personas in her head just to keep herself from going mad. No fancy-dress disguises this time; she was only 21 but she did know that would be unprofessional. And that it wouldn’t be an especially brilliant idea to get herself reprimanded, even at a job she had no intention of pursuing further once the eight weeks of the internship were up.
No, she changed her personality with subtle shifts of how she held her shoulders, how she walked, how she positioned her head while she listened to the other interns chattering amongst themselves during the morning coffee break. On a given day she would be a competitive go-getter intent on leveraging this internship into connections in the corporate world; on another she was a mousy type with a tragic past who’d been dumped by her boyfriend but was brittle in her determination not to let anyone know of her heartbreak.
The rule was that she couldn’t talk about any of it overtly; she could only imagine herself as this other person with this other backstory playing out at a subconscious level while she went about her day. It amused her and made her not hate going to work each morning, and it didn’t matter since no one noticed anyway.
And then Mr Holmes saw her.
On that particular day, she was trying out a personality she’d played a few times before, someone she thought of as Anthea. Anthea was a lot like Thea. They looked the same, and spoke nearly identically. But Anthea was more vivacious. She was fearless, outgoing, and a bit of a flirt. She liked men as romantic prospects (which Thea didn’t) but she didn’t suffer fools (which Thea did – or at least, Thea was a little more willing to be patient). Anthea was sharp. She was all the fiercest parts of Thea channelled into a single laser beam.
And Mr Holmes happened to walk past as Anthea was standing with her hand on her hip and one eyebrow raised, listening to her fellow intern Cathy going on about something only mildly funny her cat had done, and it occurred to her too late that Mr Holmes had also passed through yesterday when she was allowing herself a bit of a break from secrets and disguises, and simply being Thea. And Mr Holmes was the type of intelligent person that almost everybody in the world wasn’t, and he couldn’t fail to notice the odd fact that she was now pretending to be somebody different from who she’d been the day before.
The game was definitely up. The only question was whether it was going to be bad.
When Thea arrived at work the next morning, she was summoned first thing by her supervisor, a harried woman who oversaw all the work experience kids.
“You’ve been transferred,” the woman said, not managing to hide her surprise. No one got transferred. It was a summer internship, not an actual job. Her supervisor handed Thea a slip of paper with a room number written on it. “You report directly to Mycroft Holmes. Immediately.”
Mere minutes later, Thea stood in front of Mr Holmes’ desk, feeling utterly inadequate in the cheap blazer she’d thrown on that morning in preparation for another day at an internship where she was only marking time until she could move on to more interesting things.
Mr Holmes surveyed her in a way that made her feel like he was looking at her over the top of his glasses, even though he wasn’t wearing glasses.
“You will join my staff as one of my personal assistants,” he said. His voice was dry and bored. He hadn’t risen from his seat even when she entered his office, and already he looked like he wished he could return to whatever papers he’d been immersed in before she came in. They still lay fanned out on the desk in front of him, but had been discreetly flipped over so none of the writing could be read. Thea knew that because she’d surreptitiously tried. “Initially, this will be for a probationary period of one month. Depending on your performance, you will move either up or – out. Do you accept these terms?”
“What do you do, sir?” Thea burst out before she could stop herself. “It says ‘Accounting’ on your door. I know you don’t actually do accounting.”
“Hm,” Mr Holmes said, and didn’t answer her question. He opened one of the drawers of his desk, removed a creamy manila folder, and closed the drawer again. He withdrew a single sheet of paper from the folder and handed it to her. “Of course, your pay rise will be considerable,” he said.
Thea stared at the paper in her hand, and the number written on it. She thought about how her mum always urged her to do something sensible for once, and how her dad told her she ought to take more risks. This was both.
She looked up at Mr Holmes. “Yeah,” she said. “All right then.”
Mr Holmes never did tell her what his job description was. She was supposed to figure it out for herself, and figure out how she could be useful to it. She saw plenty of other assistants come and go, having failed to live up to Mr Holmes’ strict standards. Or, just as crucially, having failed to win his trust.
Because, as Thea soon understood, most of the bevy of underlings who scurried after Mr Holmes in the more public parts of his work life were not actually privy to the secrets in which he dealt.
Thea eventually was, though. As she proved her worth, Mr Holmes accorded her the respect of treating her as one of his true employees, not just a grunt work drone. And he began to train her, sharpening her into a finely honed tool.
At first, though, he kept her at arm’s length. They never exchanged more than the bare minimum of necessary words, even as he was training her into what Thea privately liked to think of as – though she knew Mr Holmes would detest the pop culture word choice if he knew – a superspy.
The day that changed – the day they started to become a true team, even if an unevenly weighted one – Thea pinpoints to the first time she sassed him back. She can’t even remember anymore exactly what she said; something along the lines of a mock-accusation that he was attempting world domination merely because he happened to be bored that day.
Mr Holmes, startled to hear one of his subordinates speak so fearlessly to him, jerked up his head and looked right across his desk at her, then frowned in annoyance at having been caught in a reaction. Mr Holmes never let anyone see him react.
Grimacing ruefully at himself, he replied, his delivery as bone-dry as ever, “Well, one must have one’s little amusements to pass the time.”
And Thea knew they were going to have an excellent working relationship.
Thea does, actually, get lots of free time. She didn’t make that up only to shoot down Mr Holmes’ baby brother’s new sidekick when he got it into his head to hit on her in the backseat of one of Mr Holmes’ cars. (Though admittedly she probably did have a little too much fun shooting down the sidekick’s advances.)
Dawn likely wouldn’t put up with her if she never got time off from her job, patient though she is about Thea’s irregular hours and clandestine assignments that she can almost never talk about in anything more than vague terms.
She even met Dawn on an assignment, in a roundabout way.
Thea was undercover for Mr Holmes, keeping an eye on a swanky bar sometimes frequented by an ambassador who was of interest to them for various shady habits.
The ambassador never showed that night, though, so Thea was nursing her drink until she could leave without her early departure causing comment. She was killing time by people-watching, making up their stories in her head like she always did.
And then there was this blonde across the room, perched on a barstool, looking devastatingly beautiful and bored. And Thea was half in love before they’d ever exchanged a word, because who was this woman who was pulling off jeans and a tattered sweatshirt and a “fuck-you” attitude in a bar where the cocktail menu started at £100? How’d she even got in the door?
Thea had to know who that woman was.
She gave herself a moment to get into character, to approach the blonde rebel goddess as Anthea. For this, she needed to be that version of herself that was fearless and fierce, all precision aim and bulletproof armour.
But a version of Anthea that liked girls. Definitely that.
When she glided up to the woman she was perfect and cool, a precision instrument trained by Mycroft Holmes himself. She flashed her most enigmatic smile, the one that made men like Baby Holmes Brother’s sidekick forget how human speech worked.
And the blonde woman looked at her, gave a short chuckle of real amusement, and said, “What are you playing at?”
Dawn, it would turn out, was the only person who saw through Thea’s every disguise, without even having to try.
Which meant that with Dawn, Thea never had to act. It became her refuge and her relief, going home to someone with whom she only had to be herself, after days and nights when her job – and often critically sensitive diplomatic missions – depended on her ability to be everyone but herself, and to do it perfectly.
The first time, though, it was a shock. Thea dropped the persona, but was left scrambling for words for the first time she could remember since childhood.
“I – no – nothing,” she stumbled. “I mean, can I buy you a drink?”
The woman winced. “At these prices? God no, please don’t. Buy yourself one, on my tab – my brother-in-law is paying. He’s the one who insisted we come here, and I’m trying to piss him off as much as possible.”
She waved a hand at her dress-code-nonconforming attire and flashed mischievous grey-green eyes at Thea, who found herself rapidly trying to calculate the likelihood of a brother-in-law being “the husband of my sibling” versus “the brother of my spouse” and desperately hoping for the former.
And from that moment on, Thea fell into Dawn like she’s fallen into nothing else in her life: not her studies, which she enjoyed, nor even her work for Mr Holmes, to which she’s maaaybe even a little unhealthily devoted.
But Dawn, for Thea, is something else even than that. Dawn is the light to her dark, the calm centre to her mad superspy life.
Mr Holmes, bless that brilliant, dangerous man, believes in a healthy work-life balance for everyone but himself. He needs his staff sharp and deadly when they’re on duty, which means granting them times when they can belong to themselves, so that when they’re his, they’re his completely.
So nights when she isn’t on duty, Thea and Dawn go out dancing. They’ve instituted a campaign to try out every nightclub in London, and they haven’t achieved their goal yet. (It doesn’t help the way new clubs keep opening, so they have to keep going to more of them. For research purposes.) Thea goes as different people just for the fun of it, in spike heels, or a leather jacket, or even as Theo, never quite forgotten from childhood. Dawn doesn’t mind no matter what her persona is on any given night, because Dawn always sees her for exactly who she is: both Thea and all her alternate Theas at once.
Or Thea comes home from long nights of threatening would-be assassins or pitiful blackmailers to spend lazy Sunday mornings in bed with Dawn, their dark and light hair intertwining on the pillow, revelling greedily in her happiness.
There are times when weekends are the only times they cross paths, or very early mornings, because unlike Thea, Dawn keeps regular hours. She’s a child therapist, working with young kids going through so many different kinds of hard times. She's brilliant at it, gentle and strong in just the right ways, but so different from the toughness she exudes to the rest of the world. Thea falls a little more in love every time she thinks about all these contrasts of who Dawn is.
She calls Dawn Aurora, sometimes, because Aurora means “dawn” and because Dawn deserves an ancient goddess name to match her beauty. And no, that isn’t unnecessarily sappy, thank you very much. Dawn calls Thea my Amazonian warrior, in reference to her job, and it’s only mostly a joke.
Early on in their life together, though, Dawn had to institute a strict “No Mr Holmes in bed” policy.
Not meaning Mr Holmes himself, the person – much as Thea admires his terrifyingly quick mind and ability to distil the truth out of any situation in seconds, even she doesn’t take her admiration that far – but meaning no talk of Mr Holmes’ missions, no mentions of what Mr Holmes thinks about the latest international upheavals, no discussions of how that joke Mr Holmes made really is funny if you think about it the right way, here, let me explain it to you again…
Thea bringing up Mr Holmes too many times in one conversation earns her a very specific type of frown from Dawn that, while adorable, has a tendency to shut down more pleasurable activities quickly.
It’s for the best, anyway. Without Dawn’s influence, Thea would be well on her way to becoming Mr Holmes’ number one fan, and that wouldn’t be very good for either of them, for her or for Mr Holmes. (He already thinks he’s the greatest and most influential person who’s ever lived. And Thea, having seen the way he works, basically agrees. So for better or worse, she’s not much use as a check on his ego.)
So she spends her days learning to be more like the cleverest man she’s ever met, and then she tempers some of that coldness and precision by coming home to the kindest, funniest, sexiest woman she’s ever known.
It turns out to be a pretty good formula for being the happiest she’s ever been.
These days, she still falls back on being Anthea when she can’t be bothered to invent someone else. Usually because her brain’s already doing three things at once and she can’t be arsed to invent a personality on top of all that, if the situation doesn’t absolutely necessitate it.
Mr Holmes smirks when he sees her being Anthea, a smirk that says he knows and sees through all of her layers. He hired her for those skills, and she’s never once failed him.
Sherlock, Mr Holmes’ baby brother, despite his much-vaunted detective skills (learned at Mr Holmes’ knee and only a pale imitation of the original!) barely sees her. Although he’s encountered her in many different guises over the years, he registers her merely as one of his brother’s faceless PAs, and thus beneath his notice.
Thea doesn’t mind. One of these days he’s going to need her help and he will have no idea who she is.
And Dawn. When Dawn catches her playing Anthea, she grins. Maybe because she’s remembering the night they met in that overpriced cocktail bar, when Dawn was engaged in a protracted campaign to piss off her sister’s overbearing husband and Thea was tailing an ambassador who never showed, and they found each other instead.
Or maybe just because Dawn finds Anthea sexy.
But then, Dawn finds Thea sexy, too.
It has always been one of the most stunningly, simply wonderful things about Dawn, that no matter who Thea is today, Dawn sees her exactly as she is.