Three days before Finals, your favourite tutor arrives unannounced at your Balliol rooms. When you ask her why she's here so unexpectedly, so unprecedentedly, she says, “Anthea, I know you're hoping for a government job, know you've actually turned down a job in the Home Office, but, well....”
“Yes?” you say as politely as you can. You are never intentionally rude, and you respect this particular tutor, but you wish to revise a bit more on Walsingham's late 1570s consolidation of state power. You're rather interested in studying power, as it happens: the forms of it, the exercise of it, the toll it takes on those who wield it.
“There's someone I wish you to meet, Anthea. He's in the Senior Common Room.” Your tutor's eyes flicker. “You'll be more comfortable if you wear academic armour.”
When you enter the otherwise empty SCR, the first thing you see is the umbrella. It's ruthlessly furled, and its tip is dagger-sharp.
The blue eyes of the man who carries the umbrella are sharper.
He's only just middle-aged, you see at second glance – his immaculate pinstripes and presentation fooled you at first. His skin still can flush with youth, and although his hair is thinning, it's still very much in evidence, with a centre curl threatening to dip out of control. Forty, you'd deduce from his polish, the faint lines on his forehead. He's not handsome. He's better than that.
“Ms Anthea Matheson,” he says, and extends a languid hand. His grip is surprisingly strong, his fingertips callused. “I'm Mycroft Holmes. Please walk with me.”
Your tutor – he's called her by her first name, interestingly – withdraws. With formal courtesy he gestures for you to pace with him, just a few steps and then turn, steps and then turn. Your gown swirls with each stride, wrapping the two of you together and then releasing.
He tells you that he knows you're tipped for a Double First in History; he tells you that he knows about your interest in Walsingham. “I have a proposition for you,” he says. Ordinarily you'd imagine this to be sexual, but despite your own unfathomable charge when he touches you, he's clearly not that ordinary. “I have an open position in my office. An assistant is needed for my various, er, duties.”
“In what capacity do you serve?” you ask.
He smiles, a sideways glimmer of amusement. “How perfectly put,” he says, and then, “I hold a minor position in the Inland Revenue. Or, at least, that is the official story.”
You nod, waiting for more. You know power when you see it.
“The truth is... somewhat more complicated. If you do indeed earn your Double First, Anthea, I can promise you a position. A position, in fact, from which you can closely examine the workings of power. And, should you suit, as I have no doubt you will, judging from the security clearance I've already got for you –“ his smile is easy, deadly-- “I promise you a chance to look at some rather interesting papers Sir Francis Walsingham left behind at his death. Held in a private archive, you see.”
You agree almost immediately. When he takes your hand again in farewell, you only just manage to hide that he wouldn't have needed to dangle the Walsingham papers. Mycroft Holmes is tempting enough.
After a year in Mr Holmes' employ, one winter night he looms up at you out of the dusk as you leave your Whitehall office. He's been gone all afternoon on a private errand, and now he looks a little wild-eyed beneath his surface cool. “Anthea,” he says, his voice as rough as the wind-driven Thames.
“Mr Holmes?” you say, as ready to serve him as he serves the Crown, as unquestioning.
(He does not work for the Inland Revenue, nor do you. Your work is more demanding and more intriguing than that, building armaments out of information – and should Mr Holmes ever fail a task, more than these United Kingdoms would tremble at their foundations. However, one might as easily say the Thames would run dry or the sky turn emerald green, as say that Mycroft Holmes could fail.)
His gloved hand tightens on the handle of his umbrella, and he frowns down at the steps on which you stand. With your heels and the added advantage of two steps, you think, the height difference is minimised: his mouth would be there if you took a step forward. You do not take that step, much as you long to. You wait.
“Let's have a bit of supper,” he says abruptly, and offers his arm.
You take it with outward, inviolate composure. Your dreams, the fantasies of him which fuel your late-night pleasures in your far too solitary bed, the imaginary undressings and takings, are not his business – perhaps the only thing in London that isn't.
Over fish and steamed vegetables – Mr Holmes is a bit obsessive about his weight – he brings a briefing packet out of his well-cared-for leather case. Your eyes gleam a little. For the first four months of your employment, you'd felt as if every day and every new briefing was the prelude to a viva voce: Russian internal politics one day, the peccadilloes of a member of the House of Lords the second day, the intertwinings of finance and crime the third. You'd outshone the two assistants who'd served him longest; you had begun to feel a sexual thrill at his offhand, “So, Anthea, your thoughts?”
You show none of this, either.
Then he leans over the table and takes your hand in his, and you realise that this is a different moment entirely.
“I trust you, Anthea,” he says.
“You can,” you say.
He nods once, as if you've answered a question he hadn't asked. His eyes are bluer in the candlelight in which this Kensington brasserie delights. With his free hand, he pushes the packet across the table. “I have a little brother,” he says. “And I need help.”
“Whatever you need,” you say.
He tells you about his brother Sherlock, the genius of the man, the self-destructive impossibility of him. Sherlock had overdosed that afternoon – caught in time, he'd been transferred to a private centre for rehab. “Although one can't make him less... bored,” Mr Holmes sighs.
“Could you not find him a job?” you venture.
His face comes alive with bitter laughter. “No. No, I believe that would be the utter fucking limit.”
The curseword sounds so uncharacteristic, so... sexy in that polished voice. You involuntarily think of silk ties and sex against walls, your hands full of thin sleek cotton. You say, however, “Whatever you need, then.”
From that night on, you're charged with supervising the surveillance on Sherlock. And from that night on, at his request, you call him Mycroft.
After a few more years in his employ, you know a great deal about Mycroft.
You know that he sulks when he doesn't get his way – in large-scale political negotiations, which almost never happens, or in slow traffic, which happens every day. “We really should do something about Boris, this congestion charge is useless,” he usually mutters, impatiently tracing the patterns of the wood which decorates his town car. (At these times you pay closer attention to the messages on your BlackBerry. There's usually an uprising somewhere that will cheer him up.)
You know that he terrifies all of the Cabinet on a regular basis, and bemoans the Prime Minister's drooling stupidity in private. “The things that idiot would do if I weren't here,” he says after their meetings, and stabs at loose paper or leaves with his umbrella as if he were skewering a true-blue dolt instead. You know that he's personally stared down three Middle Eastern autocrats threatening war and all but dismantled one nuclear arsenal all by himself. He likes to call a friend at Vauxhall Cross every so often and casually, impossibly articulate every security breach that MI6 has allowed to continue.
You know that when his little brother is threatened, has overreached, has overdosed again, he will sit in a spare DCI's office at Scotland Yard or in a hospital waiting room and... do nothing, just stare at the wall with his hands resting in his lap. He's trying to solve a problem that can't be solved, you know, and you mourn a little every time.
Mycroft knows a great deal about you too. He's a wonderful employer, a challenging one who finds the most interesting of all crises and allows you to weigh in, to be your best for him. He's shown you the intricacies of power you once only studied. This, you treasure. But that's not the way he shows his knowledge.
You find your favourite orchids on your desk for your birthday, the Queen's birthday, and the anniversaries of your first day at work. He's deduced that in your infrequent off hours you enjoy the physical act of writing rather than typing, and he gives you beautifully bound notebooks with handmade paper for Christmas. He doesn't give you a fountain pen, however, as he's also deduced that you already have one; he's seen the curve in your index finger which betrays the polished pressure of your favourite implement.
You don't tell him that you'd like that articulate tongue of his to trace the curve, and then proceed up to wrist, to elbow, to.... Well, you wouldn't tell him. No. He has had his occasional liaisons, which you know as keeper of his diary but don't acknowledge out loud. It's an odd discomfort to know he likes women and yet does not breach the impenetrable wall of your work relationship.
It's a wall that crumbles one afternoon, unexpected as an earthquake and as all-encompassing.
“Anthea,” he says as he appears at your desk, as abrupt on the night you first called him Mycroft. You look up from your briefing papers on eddies of political unrest in Moscow, and wait for further information.
He touches the top edge of your laptop with one long finger, traces delicately along its edge. You force yourself to look up at him. “Mycroft?”
“It seems that my little brother has found a flatmate,” he says after an eternity of silence.
You tense. You should have known this, but the CCTV footage hadn't –
“No, no,” he says, soothing. “This is something no one could have foreseen.”
“By 'no one,' you mean yourself?” you say sweetly.
“Exactly. And I think that perhaps this new arrangement will work out, regardless of my intervention, and make my life, and yours, a bit easier. Still, one wants to be known.” His hand comes to your shoulder, curves around your deltoid, grips. The pad of his little finger circles on your back. You have to force yourself not to purr at the touch.
Besides, the mischief in that serious face of his is too delicious to waste. “Shall we run a little game on this new flatmate of Sherlock's?” he says.
John Watson is a perfect caretaker, you text Mycroft after you've picked up this charming, wary stranger with military bearing and a cane he doesn't need.
I'll be the judge of that, Anthea dear, he texts back almost immediately. You feel warm from toes to hairline.
There in the quiet of Mycroft's car, John Watson interrupts by asking your name. You tell him. When he asks if you're lying, you tell him you are.
This is a good game, you think, and it's all Mycroft's. He is so surprisingly – and promisingly – naughty.
However, while Mycroft is toying with Captain Watson in the parking structure, leading him into temptation as one would a child with a bag of sweets, you see an alarming blip in the Russian correspondence. Something will be coming to a head in Moscow soon, you think.
It's with that in your mind that after Mycroft saunters off with umbrella swinging in the previously agreed-upon signal, you tell Watson you're to take him home. He does stop off somewhere, but you're rather busy with the intercepted diplomatic cries for help. Further, when he tries to flirt with you, you're so engrossed with Vladimir Vladovich's revelations that it's as if you're playing tennis with one hand tied behind your back – you can, but really there's no point.
Mycroft, still grinning from his match, is waiting in the office when you get back. “Well, then,” he says lightly, and then, seriously, “Well. I see something's arisen. What can you tell me, my dear?”
Repressing your whole-body thrill at the sweetness of that, you brief him on the brewing crisis, the betrayals and counter-betrayals, the abuses of power. He listens. Then he picks up the phone and calls his friend at Vauxhall Cross. “Jools,” he says, “I believe you'll have to be heading back to Moscow. Tomorrow. With a ranking member of staff. One who outranks you, actually.”
When he puts the phone down on his friend's squawks, he looks at you, really looks, and it's as if he's dropped the mask you didn't know he had been wearing. Longing – that's what you see, a power you didn't know you possessed. Your hand goes to his face –
And then your and his phones buzz at once, and it's that bloody Sherlock once again.
This time, however, in the car on the way to the crime scene, Mycroft holds your hand. His hand is as strong as when first you clasped it, as callused, but this time you suspect what else he's holding back. It's all you can do to focus on possible Georgian contributions to the exploding Russian crisis, rather than climbing on top of him, undoing his tie and waistcoat, kissing down....
“Anthea,” he says softly, without looking at you. “Wait.”
You've been waiting for years. You can wait for an hour or so more.
And while Mycroft bandies words with his profoundly annoying little brother, while John Watson watches, you suppress your yearning with work, as you've been taught. It's easy enough – you can imagine flames over Red Square, the way things are going.
You can't allow yourself to think about flames. Instead, you text Mycroft's contact at MI6 with a suggestion or two about approaches he should take tomorrow.
When Sherlock and John Watson stride off together, you can feel Mycroft's frowning relief even from ten feet away. And then he looks at you, and the world is fire.
When the two of you get in the back of the car, he tells Fletcher to go to your address. He's never been inside your Chelsea flat, but – “May I?” he says, and lifts your wrist to his lips, kisses the one spot where you're helpless to resist.
He doesn't kiss you again. You quiver the rest of the ride.
Once he's inside your flat, however, he still doesn't touch you. His hands scrupulously in the pockets of his coat, he says, “Anthea, it's time you left my employ.”
“No, it's time. Because you've learned about power, my dear, and you're ready to use it.”
You can see the flush along his cheekbones, the yielding of his mouth, even as he says this. You shrug off your own coat, let it lie there in a heap on the rug. Your heels go next. You think you no longer need to be two steps above to be on his level. Then, as strongly as you can, “You wish me to go to Moscow, don't you.”
“I don't wish--” He stops himself. More easily, “I'd already been thinking of it before the latest mess unfolded and a solution fell into my hands. I've arranged for you to be seconded to MI6, to take care of the Moscow problem. The person you'll be working with... well, I've known Jools Siviter for a long time, and he's, shall we say, useful but limited. You are not.” The smile which touches his eyes is beautiful. “There is no need for you to play subordinate to me any longer, Anthea, and I've a new watchdog for Sherlock. Take the world into your own hands, my dear, and rule.”
The thought of putting into practice all you've learned is tempting, true enough, but there is nothing in this world as tempting as Mycroft Holmes on the edge of lust, of openness, of vulnerability.
You put out your hand. “Agreed. Shake on it.”
Once the contract is solemnised, you don't let go. You pull, but he is stronger still, always will be, and you're the one who moves. You're the one who's spun around and pushed against the wall, just like your fantasies years ago. You're the one who loses her clothes with a few deft Holmesian manoeuvres, the one left standing there in lingerie and a hungry smile.
But Mycroft's the one who in the end goes to his knees, buried in you with your legs locked around his waist. He's the one who whispers your full name in your ear just before you come, your hands wrapped in his loose tie.
The first time he kisses you isn't until after you shower together. With his little curl of hair drying flat against his forehead, he leans into you and learns you with his mouth, with that tongue of his. You learn him back, because you are on the same level, discovering the new world with each touch. You fall asleep on top of him, his hands ticking off the points of your spine.
The next morning, sex is fast, rougher than the night before, your knees pushed up by his strong hands, him deep inside your secrets. It's intoxicating, the pleasure, the things you know about him.
Only when you've recovered your breath do you check your BlackBerry. The crisis in Moscow has worsened overnight. You turn to him and breathe into his ear, “I need to go.”
“Whatever you need, Anthea. Yes,” he says, eyes closed. You suspect he's already seen three moves ahead.
You hope he sees you coming back to him, because you will. You vow it, although not aloud.
He goes with you to Heathrow, and holds your hand all the way. In the First-Class Lounge – no one bothers Mycroft Holmes at the security barrier, with or without ticket – he introduces you to his friend from 6, an attractive and utterly untrustworthy middle-aged man in a suit just a shade less stunning than Mycroft's. “Anthea Matheson, may I present Jools Siviter, who's done his time in Moscow before. I believe you've chatted with him via text,” he says. “Jools, Ms Matheson is smarter than you and technically outranks you, so I strongly suggest you listen to her when she tells you you're wrong. Which you will be.”
“Oh, Angel,” Siviter says, drawling it out, and then shakes your hand. Yes, he's untrustworthy in the most trustworthy ways. You can dominate him when necessary.
You smile sweetly, and then cast a sideways glance at Mycroft. “Angel?”
His eyes gleam in amusement. “A joke at one of my clubs. Never you mind.” He kisses you lightly, definitively. “Text me when you get there.”
You smile. “And have a text waiting for me, Mycroft. Tell me something I'll want to know. “ Thinking of your first meeting with him, the papers he dangled in front of you: “Write me in code.”
“Only you shall be able to decipher my words, my dear,” he says smoothly. Then, eyebrow lifted, “Safe journey, Sneers. I of course shall blame you if anything goes wrong.”
“Oh for God's sake, Angel, leave,” Siviter huffs.
With one last smile, Mycroft saunters off with his umbrella over his shoulder. His mobile is out before he's more than two steps away. You know that he's working again, making the world safe. That is your job, too.
But first – “Sneers?” you say, glancing at Siviter even as your phone buzzes into life. “That is of course self-evident. But why do you call him Angel?”
“Angel of Death,” Siviter says. “Bloody fucking awful portents swirl around that man.”
“You just don't know him,” you say, and bend your head to your BlackBerry, and smile. Because you do know him fully, at last, and it's wonderful.
You are in the end a lover of power, as well as a student.