“I'm not gay.”
“Yes, I know you're not.”
“If that's what this is all about.”
Mycroft shook his head.
“Well.” John drummed his fingers on the café tabletop. “What else is it, then?”
“John, John. I've heard you declare your position, several times. Quite emphatically. Once even, if I remember, in a rather grubby disused power station. Let's have no more about it.”
“Heard me declare – hold on,” John said. “Oh. Of course. That nasty habit of yours. Big Brother is watching.”
Mycroft stirred his tea but didn't drink it. The liquid had been dubiously murky, even before he'd added milk. “Exactly.”
John looked out the window. He slumped.
“Really, John. Am I – is this such a chore?”
John's hair had more grey in it nowadays, since Sherlock had gone. His cane fell to the floor, and clattered. As he leant sideways, he rested his head sadly against the large plate glass window. It left a halo of breath in his wake.
Mycroft might have been mistaken, but he thought he heard, “I'll never forgive you,” against the pane. It wasn't clear to whom John was speaking.
Mycroft sniffed his tea. “I suppose that's the best we can hope for, given the circumstances.”
John turned around and looked at him with genuine disgust. “We can hope? We? Was that a royal we?”
“If you like,” Mycroft said and attempted his tea with a sigh.
The black car with tinted windows showed up a few days later while John was walking home. It was almost routine nowadays. John barely complained as he let himself be taken, this time to an address in Mayfair.
Mycroft was in one of the downstairs rooms, neat as a pin in his three-piece suit.
“Come now, John. Up onto the bed with you.”
John eyed the set-up with suspicion.
“Is the room not heated to your liking? It's quite safe here, I assure you. Would you like music? Something to drink? A pillow?”
“No, it's not that.”
“Well, then. Strip down to whatever feels comfortable and we'll begin.”
John made no move to comply. Instead, he walked around the equipment with its white wipe-down faux-leather surfaces and strategic holes in which to place bodily parts. Tall Anja waited patiently to the side with a selection of oils and towels. What looked like metal scraping devices sat in a metal rack on the floor, dental torture devices writ large.
“Anja is fully qualified,” Mycroft said. “Both in her native Slovenia and here in Britain. Would you like to see her certificates?”
John studied the stiff sheets of paper. All seemed in order, as far as he could tell. Although it was not like she practised the most scientific profession there ever had been.
“She's quite skilled, I assure you,” Mycroft said smoothly.
John took off his jacket and laid down his walking stick. “Okay, then. As long as it doesn't kill more than it cures. What I have got to lose?”
Mycroft smiled, a vaguely threatening occurrence as this displayed his small, glittering teeth. “I'm so glad, John. I only mean to help.”
He watched as the other man took off his shirt and his shoes.
John's hands were on his belt when he realised he was pulling up a chair. “Are you just going to sit there and watch?”
“I thought we could talk like this. You'll be more relaxed. No?” It was alarming how quickly the disappointment flashed on Mycroft's face.
“No,” said John. “Get out.”
Mycroft bowed, a strange formal motion, at odds with his sour expression.
“Of course. As you wish.”
His back was stiff as turned the handle on the door. Suddenly, his features brightened and his eyes flicked to a corner.
John cursed silently. Of course. More fucking cameras.
The door clicked. Mycroft was gone.
“Got an extra towel?” John asked tall Anja, who was statuesque and blonde, and really looked like she could crack almonds in her eyelids, Brazils in her nostrils, and a whole forest of mixed nuts in her thighs.
John covered the bracketed hardware. “Right, let's have you, Peeping Tom.” Then he stripped down to his birthday suit with a laugh.
Twenty seconds later, Mycroft interlaced his fingers in front of his glowing open laptop and made sure all feeds were recording. Ah, yes. Well, HD Camera One was out of action, as he'd planned for, but numbers Two, Three and Four were more than adequate.
“I ask you to look out for John, and this is how you do it? By secretly filming him naked, and regularly abducting him into one of your safe houses?”
That was the type of thing a normal brother would say, he supposed. But Sherlock never had been that.
As a careful older sibling, he had watched a teenage Sherlock try out his painful flirtation with normality. It didn't last long, how could it? Standing from the sidelines on a weekend visit, Mycroft saw his brother ape his new friends at college. Faking their laughs and trivialities, their jumbled emotions. He could have told him to save his efforts. Sherlock never stood a chance.
Neither of them had. Earlier, his own attempt at passing had been longer lasting, if not any less painful.
Back when he was growing up, anything other than the most straight and narrow tendencies was enough to set you beyond the pale on its own. Nowadays, he supposed being gay was almost trendy and cool, or whatever the young people called it.
Not that that things were ever quite so simple.
A post-massage John was much more pliant and suggestible than a pre-massage one. On the third occasion of his hardly-abduction-at-all to the Mayfair house, John was happily taking tea afterwards with Mycroft and even almost smiling.
Mycroft was also in a pleasant mood. The quality of tea was far better now it was under his control. He had just enjoyed a non-interrupted viewing of John Watson, from many angles, and now even better, the man himself was only a small distance from him across a table, and showed no inclination to leave.
He knew it was probably not a good idea to indulge in this – this thing. But he knew just as much that he was not going to give it up.
Why now? Was it because what he'd promised Sherlock? Perverse.
Still, Mycroft couldn't deny it. He felt it high on his face, singing across his cheeks. Every time with John, he felt more alive.
“Oh bloody god,” said the object of his affections. “You were not kidding, were you. She is a miracle. A bloody marvel.”
Mycroft took a delighted sip of tea.
“Not just my leg. My shoulder, everywhere. It's like I have no muscles left. I'm walking on air afterwards. The whole day after, like I'm on a cloud.”
“I'm so pleased.” Mycroft actually was. These days, he wanted nothing more than a happy John. “I only want to take care of you.” Oh dear. Was that too much? Out loud, almost as good as an admission.
John laughed a dirty laugh. “Yeah. I bet you do. You want to 'take care' of me, do you?” He laughed again, enough like Sid James that it should have set alarm bells ringing. “Hey, don't worry, I'm right now where I don't even care. Go ahead, knock yourself out. Yeah. I found your other camera.”
Mycroft froze. His teacup perched on his lower lip.
“You know? The camera in the shelf, your fake book, pointed right at the bed? Could you be any more obvious? But go ahead. Hey, wank yourself stupid.”
Mycroft placed his teacup slowly back in its saucer. There was only minimal shake, he was pleased to note.
“There may be security cameras in your room, John. But I assure you, that is standard procedure for a house of this kind. There is certainly nothing untoward. Whatever you seem to imply, this is not a government-sanctioned hotbed of onanism.”
Not entirely technically true. But essentially in its facts. Of long experience, Mycroft no matter how safe the house, and no matter how long the incarceration, had made it policy never to 'wank' in the premises. He released only in the safety of home. A couple of hours with provocation, even from the astounding John Watson, was nothing. Mycroft had withstood months of safe house time.
John popped a biscuit in his mouth. He noted Mycroft's shaking hands and other tell-tales. Amused, his eyebrows danced.
“Let's see,” he began - and Mycroft cursed his brother and his horrid influence - “You've that red flush across your neck and trailing underneath your collar. Your waistcoat is buttoned up as usual, but has recently become creased. Your hair is different to when we first arrived. All pointing to a sneaky one off the cuff at some point in the last hour.”
“I just took a shower upstairs,” Mycroft informed him. “I have particularly fair skin. This suit is due for the cleaner. Really, must I account to you, John, for all my actions?”
“You took a shower?” John was disbelieving. “Here? In the middle of the day?”
“Yes,” said Mycroft. A cold shower, each time with John. Obviously. After viewing the first 45 minutes of John's feed but before Anja had finished, to give Mycroft time to recover and to tamp down the most obvious of his reactions.
“Oh,” said John. He snagged another biscuit and fake-sighed. “Guess I'm not so attractive to you after all. What a blow. Okay, then. I'm sorry. I got it completely wrong.” He shook his head. “Can you blame me? You're so cloak and dagger it's unreal. Then you get me naked and turn the cameras on and really - do you know what? This is crazy, really crazy, but for a moment I thought you were into it – and I was actually going to make you an offer.”
Mycroft's mouth went dry. He might have started shaking. “Y-you were? What kind of an offer?”
“Oh. Not much. Just to take the towel off the big camera in future, if you turned out to be into it.” John's face ha d gone dangerously innocent.
This was the time to say something, thought Mycroft furiously. Anything.
“But – hey, since you're not. And the cameras are just for routine security purposes and I was way off the mark, no need. You're probably not even gay, for all I know. Definitely not knocking one out over a knackered old soldier like me. I mean, who would?”
John did not seem that upset either way. He poured himself more tea. “You know who is gay, though? Want to know?”
Mycroft hardly dared hope. “Who?”
John leant forward. “Try and guess.”
Mycroft tried to remember about flirting. Because John must surely be flirting with him now, mustn't he? Otherwise what was this all in aid of? The proximity, his eyes, the licking of the lips?
Flirting had to do with being unthreatening, he remembered. Something he never had excelled at. Mycroft pressed his lips into the memory of a winsome smile and leaned in.
“Christ! Mycroft! Are you in pain or something?”
Mycroft quickly stopped his attempt and sat back up again. “No, no.”
“No, no. Go on, John. Please continue.” Mycroft didn't dare another smile.
“Okay. Where was I?”
“Someone was – gay?” Mycroft said, the word sticking to the end of his palate.
“Oh yes. Anja! She's gay.”
“Oh,” said Mycroft. Old news. Anja. “I see. And when did you ask her out?” Of course. It must have been while he was busy in the shower.
“First time she gave me a massage. Right at the end.”
“She's so good. You have no idea. I almost thought I was in love.”
“It doesn't take an hour of bliss to make you ask out a woman, John Watson. You'll do that after five seconds of boredom. So. Still not gay, I take it. Not yet, anyway.”
His amused reaction left Mycroft in little doubt. As if there had been.
Well, it wasn't the perfect moment. But it was one, of sorts.
He set his eyes firmly on John, daring him to take it badly. “But I am.”
John performed one of his astounding double takes, although Mycroft was pretty sure he knew and had for some time.
“Okay. You know I have no problem with that.” John replied, looking into Mycroft's eyes and holding them steady, which was really terribly good of him.
“I'm sure you don't, John.”
But there was something wrong. Their little moment was done, but John wasn't letting him look away.
He nodded. “But I think you're saying something more here.”
“Am I?” Mycroft asked, his heart beating fast.
“Okay, you're saying you're gay, and and perhaps also – that you and... me?”
No, that wasn't what he'd meant at all. “John. But. You're straight.”
John drank his drank his tea. Then he put down the cup and folded his arms tight to his body. “Yes. But my offer's still -” He sank his head into his chest. “You know, the camera. I'll leave the towel off. If you want - God, I don't know what I'm doing. I think I'm still in happy world from Anja. Say something now. Mycroft?”
Mycroft didn't know what he was doing either. But he didn't want it to stop.
“That would be awfully good of you. Yes, John, the camera. Yes, please.”