Peter had practically flung himself out of bed early that morning, swearing like a sailor that he had failed to set his alarm clock the night before. He rushed madly around the room like a whirlwind, hopping one-legged into his jeans while struggling to get a jumper over his head. Sherlock could only observe his carryings-on with mild amusement, relieved that he didn’t pitch over and hit his head on the chest of drawers after he’d managed to get his jeans on. No time to explain, see you in an hour. Quick kiss on Sherlock’s forehead, a lingering one on his lips, and back in whirlwind mode as he swept out of the bedroom and the flat, his departure punctuated by the slamming of the front door.
So Sherlock knows something is up when his lover turns up a little over an hour later with a large package in a plastic bag, and a sheepish grin. He sets aside the newspaper he is reading, crosses his legs, folds his arms over his chest and raises an eyebrow.
“A crown roast of lamb,” he says solemnly.
Peter looks down at the bag and twirls it around to examine it from the outside. “How did you – never mind.”
“You don’t cook.” Sherlock’s eyes trace a path from the bag, up to the man holding it. “You don't know how, and yet here you are with a cut of meat that would pose a challenge even for the advanced cook. Clearly you plan to attempt something ambitious, for the purpose of impressing someone. As I already know that you don't know how to cook, that someone clearly isn't me. Ergo, you've invited someone else over.”
Peter chuckles and walks over to his lover. “Hello yourself,” he says, and plants a gentle kiss on his lips.
Sherlock kisses back; he has missed Peter in the relatively brief time that he has been away -- the detective is capable, after all, of surprising tenderness. But he’s all business a fraction of a second later. “George Smiley. You're going to turn that -- thing into food for George Smiley. You've asked him over.”
Peter’s smile would not look out of place on a five-year-old’s face. “That, I have.” He turns and walks into the kitchen, and Sherlock bounds off the sofa to follow him there.
“You've invited the boss to dinner and you want to make a good impression.”
“Not dinner,” Peter says, and the hesitant way he says it immediately has Sherlock on edge. “Lunch.” He puts the bag on the counter and begins unwrapping the contents.
Sherlock quickly checks his watch. “Oh, for God's sake, Peter Guillam,” he says crossly. “That leaves you with hardly any time for preparation. Of all the impractical ... What do you intend to do with it?”
“It's a roast, so it should be roasted,” Peter explains patiently, like he is talking to a child. When he looks at the roast, now laid bare on the counter, the expression on his face changes from patient to mildly terrified.
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Well then, you could have told me. I could have made other plans. Good luck with that – thing, and I'll excuse myself.” he plants a kiss grudgingly on Peter’s lips. “Have a good Sunday.”
“Wait, what?” The alarm in Peter’s voice is almost palpable. “No. You can't leave. I told him –“
Sherlock’s eyes narrow. “Told him what?”
They’ve had disagreements about this sort of thing before, and Peter is clearly bracing for one. “I said you'd be here.” When Sherlock groans, he quickly adds, “But he's looking forward to seeing you again.”
“Me, why would he want to see me again?”
“Sherlock. You know he's quite fond of you.” Peter reaches out to touch the nape of his lover’s neck and draw him in close for a quick kiss. “And don’t deny this: you’re quite fond of him, too.”
Damn you, Peter Guillam, you think those lips of yours can settle every argument. “Sentimental fools, both of you. And I’ll thank you not to touch me when your hands are contaminated with proteins from that carcass.”
Peter raises his free hand in the air and wriggles its fingers. “Only this hand. The other hand is perfectly clean. Clean enough to do this,” and he pulls Sherlock closer again, this time for a longer, deeper kiss. Sherlock tries to turn his head away, but it’s useless, it’s always useless, impossible to be annoyed with Peter Guillam for longer than five minutes, the absolute devil, and especially not when he is moving his lips over yours and sliding his tongue in between oh just like that and … Wait. Wait.
“Something's happened. To him. And you feel sorry for him. That's why you've asked him over on the spur of the moment.”
Peter sighs. “I really can’t keep any secrets from you, can I?”
“That's why you're with me.”
“That's not the only reason why,” he says, moving in for another kiss, but Sherlock puts him off firmly this time.
“Stop trying to distract me. Tell me what’s happened.”
Peter releases him, and he’s suddenly somber. “The divorce came through last week.” He turns away from Sherlock and busies himself with looking through the cupboards for an appropriate vessel to hold the roast.
This man. This field-hardened agent who’s seen the very worst that his profession can throw at him. This man who lived through his best friend's death, who saw a former lover shot point-blank in the head right in front of him, who has been tortured and abused and tricked into thinking that his whole life and work have been torn to shreds.
This man who buys a crown roast of lamb that he hasn’t the faintest idea what to do with, to cheer up another man who has finally had to let go of an old life.
This beautiful, infuriating man.
Sherlock feels his heart swell with that sweet, painful surge of emotion that he has come to associate solely with this man standing before him, holding plates and dishes of various sizes over the hunk of meat and bone on the counter to see if it will fit in them.
He comes up behind Peter, wraps his arms around his waist, and presses his lips to a hollow in the back of his neck, just below the hairline.
Peter is surprised at this; Sherlock is rarely one to initiate displays of affection, unless they’re in the privacy of the bedroom. “What’s this for?” he asks, gently stroking one of the forearms snaking over his waist.
“Well, it’s certainly not for being a complete idiot,” Sherlock answers testily, his tone completely at odds with the warmth and tenderness that he is holding Peter’s body against his own. “You have three hours to make that -- thing edible.” He shudders. “I’ll wager that could feed an entire family for a month.”
Peter laughs. “You are nothing if not a master of exaggeration.”
“A week, at least. What do you intend to do with it?”
“I don't know. Throw some salt over it and roast it?”
The annoyance returns to Sherlock’s voice in full force, although he doesn’t loosen his hold on Peter for a second. “Oh, for God's sake, Peter. You can't just -- You really haven't thought this through at all, have you?”
Peter is trying to keep himself from laughing, and not succeeding at all. “No, I really haven’t. But how tough can it be?”
“Extremely tough, if you don't know the first thing about roasting a dead animal. And your cupboards are completely bare, unless you want to flavour that beast with Earl Grey.”
“I have salt,” he offers helpfully.
“Oh, God. Must I think of everything?” He finally releases Peter and strides purposefully into the living room to find his mobile phone.
“What – wait, where are you going?” Peter follows.
Sherlock holds a forefinger up to silence him. “John? Yes, I need your input. Crown roast of lamb: suitable flavourings, accompanying dishes and roasting time?”
At the Baker Street flat, John is sitting up in bed, fully alert. His girlfriend of barely two months, Mary, thinks that something is terribly wrong, because he’s gone frightfully pale.
“Now wait, hold on a moment, a crown what??”
“A crown roast of lamb, John. You cook, therefore you must know what to do with such a thing. Peter has invited an important guest to lunch and his reach has far, far exceeded his grasp as regards the main course.” When Peter has the gall to look slighted, he piles it on even more. “Or rather, as regards the entire meal.”
“Wait, lunch? Jesus, Sherlock, you only have three hours?”
“And counting, John. Can you help?”
John is shaking his head; he’s not certain whether to laugh or cry. “How big is it?” He holds up a hand to try and calm Mary as her lashes flutter in alarm.
“I estimate around one, one-point-two kilogrammes.”
“Right. What in God’s name possessed him to –“
“I have asked him that question, John, and the answer has been largely unsatisfactory. I don't expect asking him again will yield different results. Can you help?”
This time there is an edge to the question, and John quickly gathers his wits. “Right. All right. One-point-two kilogrammes, that would take, oh, about 35 minutes at Gas mark 6? For medium?”
Beside him, Mary realises what the crisis is all about and promptly begins to collapse in a fit of giggles.
“All right, but what do we put on it?” Sherlock thunders at him. “It has to taste like something.”
“Well, what have you got?”
John claps a hand over his eyes, shaking his head in disbelief all the while. Not in a thousand years would he ever have imagined himself having this conversation with his flatmate. “I suppose that’s a start. Right. Hang on.” He turns to Mary. “If you would stop laughing for a moment, do you think you could give us a hand here?” He holds the phone out to her, and she tries to compose herself before taking it.
“Sherlock?” Her voice is shaky from trying to hold her laughter in.
“Mary. How nice to speak with you. Could you put John back on the line, please?”
“I understand you and Peter have a situation there,” she says, and she and John have to bite their lips to keep from giggling.
Sherlock glares at Peter. “Peter has a situation. I have a headache. I presume John put you on because you can help?”
“Yes, well, where are you stuck then?” She smiles at John, takes his hand and gives it a squeeze. He lifts it up to his mouth and kisses it, whispers thank you. “A crown roast of lamb. Right. Well, you can’t go wrong with olive oil, rosemary, garlic – wait, are you writing this down?”
“I’ll remember. Olive oil, rosemary, garlic –“
“Black pepper. Salt. Just rub all of that on the meat side. Let it sit for a while to let the meat absorb it. Half an hour.”
“For heaven’s sake, don’t do anything elaborate like stuffing -- you don’t have the time and you’ll just end up at each other’s throats. Stick with baby carrots and mushrooms. Just toss them with salt and pepper and a bit of olive oil and stuff them in the middle of the crown. Buy some sherry and Dijon mustard for the pan juices – you’re a chemist, you’ll be able to tell the right concentration of each element.”
Peter watches his partner take in all this information with the fiercest attentiveness. As he does, he feels yet another wound heal closed and smooth inside him.
“Right,” he is saying. “Thank you, Mary.”
“Proper sherry!” she adds quickly. “None of that goat piss they call cooking sherry.”
“No goat piss,” Sherlock repeats, in all seriousness. “I’ve got it. Peter and I are most grateful. You may tell John that he can begin laughing as soon as I ring off.”
He turns to Peter. “I will be changed and ready in five minutes. Put that thing in the refrigerator. We are going out.”
Peter trails slightly behind Sherlock with a basket, letting his gaze wander up and down the racks and counters. Sherlock’s approach to shopping is entirely different: intensely focused, task-oriented and fast.
“Peter,” he snaps, “Do keep up!”
But Peter, stubborn in his own way, continues to amble along the aisles at his own leisurely pace, forcing Sherlock to double back to him to deposit an item in the basket once he finds it. “You could move along faster, Peter Guillam,” Sherlock says in sheer exasperation. “There’s only two hours left and he is your boss, not mine.”
Peter smiles at him. “Of course.”
At the wine section, looking for sherry, Sherlock asks without looking at him, “The wife. Younger, beautiful, aristocratic. Serial adulteress, surely?”
“Yes to the first three. As to the fourth – there have been rumours for quite some time.”
“Why would he stay?” He is clearly perplexed. “It makes no sense. I would not stay where I was not wanted.”
“It’s not that simple, Sherlock,” Peter says, pointing to a bottle of dry sherry from Jerez. Sherlock puts it in the basket – quick, wordless transaction while their minds are occupied with something else, something that is becoming more and more a part of their rhythm as a couple. “Often, you can keep loving someone even after they’ve hurt you. Often you can keep hurting someone even if you still love them.”
Sherlock looks away, now, careful not to show Peter his face. “Will this happen to us?” he asks, his voice gone suddenly small.
“To us? No, why should it?”
Sherlock is starting to walk away from the wine section, this time with Peter following close behind. “You said often. That implies statistical frequency, which implies that we –“
“Sherlock,” Peter says, catching his lover’s arm and holding him still. “It doesn’t imply anything. Certainly not about us. I was talking about George Smiley and his wife. Full stop. All right?”
They look at each other for a silent moment, in the middle of the aisle.
A light goes off in Sherlock's head. “This insanely expensive and elaborate slab of meat,” he begins. “You’re not doing this to impress him. You’re doing this so that he knows he’s worth the trouble.”
Peter is brought up short by this observation; for a moment Sherlock wonders if he’s taken offence. Peter takes a deep breath, glances quickly up and down the aisle to see if there are people coming, then up at the corners of the ceiling to check if there are surveillance cameras. Then, he sets the basket down on the floor, quickly grabs Sherlock by the lapels of his coat and kisses him soundly. Sherlock is so surprised that his hands fly up and hover uselessly around Peter’s shoulders for a moment or two before he surrenders to the kiss, his heart hammering in his chest as it always does when Peter does this, exactly this.
Then it is over, and Peter grabs the basket with one hand and Sherlock’s hand in the other and breaks into a run, laughing and saying “Come on, come on, we’re running late!”
It is quiet in Peter’s kitchen the next half-hour. It’s funny, neither of them has even discussed with the other the division of roles, but somehow by implicit understanding, Sherlock has taken charge of the meat and Peter the chopping and prep work on the vegetables. They move around each other, careful not to get in the other’s way; if anyone had been filming them, it would have seemed like a dance with no music, with each separate section delineated by a touch, or a whispered word, or a kiss.
When everything is ready to go into Peter’s very rarely used oven, Sherlock has a thought. “Don’t these things always have little white hats?”
“On the ends of the bones. Something about not burning them.”
“We don’t have – how about tin foil?”
The matter is quickly addressed and the assembled, marinated beast finally goes into the oven.
“I need a shower,” Sherlock announces.
Peter nods. “You go ahead. I’ll stay and watch this.”
Sherlock shakes his head vigorously. “You won’t have time. He’ll be here in less than an hour. Jump in the shower with me and we’ll be ready at the same time.”
Peter raises an eyebrow, a smile playing along the edge of his lips.
“Oh, Peter Guillam,” Sherlock says, annoyed. “You have such a filthy mind.”
“I always do, where you’re concerned,” he answers playfully. “Race you to the bathroom.” And he’s off and running.
“You utter --” and Sherlock doesn’t bother to finish the sentence because he’s already running after him.
“I brought some wine,” Smiley says, holding out a plastic bag.
Sherlock takes the bag and looks inside. “Red,” he smiles. “Perfect.”
Peter takes Smiley’s coat and hangs it up on the coat rack. “I hope you’re hungry,” he says.
“Something smells wonderful,” Smiley says, sniffing the air. He looks at the two young men. “I hope you didn’t go to too much trouble! A curry from round the corner would have been sufficient.”
“Don’t be silly, George,” Peter scolds him as he makes his way back to the kitchen with Smiley’s wine. They can hear him muttering. “A curry from round the corner, he says. Sweet God in heaven.”
Sherlock turns to Smiley. “It is quite possible that he likes you.”
“I can’t imagine why.”
“Have a seat, Mr. Smiley.” They face each other across Peter’s low living-room table. “How have you been?”
“Quite well, thank you. I don’t suppose you’ve heard?”
Sherlock nods. “Peter told me. I am … so very sorry.”
“Oh, well. I can’t say I didn’t expect it. Lacon is as sly and cunning as a fox; he’ll come and get you if he thinks you’re useful, and when you’ve outlived your usefulness –“
Confusion flickers over Sherlock’s face. “Lacon?”
“Yes. He quite likes Saul Enderby. I expect the handover should take place within a month or two.”
Sherlock leans back. “Oh.” Forced retirement. For the man who managed to convince the Soviet Union’s fabled spymaster to defect to the West. The injustice – the bald, mercenary opportunism of the whole affair – it makes him want to vomit.
Peter wanders out of the kitchen with a stack of plates and heads to the dining area.
“Peter,” Sherlock calls out, “Mr. Smiley says the handover might take place in a month or two.” He phrases it in such a way that Smiley won’t notice it’s the first time he’s heard the news.
Peter sets the plates down on the table and comes round to them. He and Sherlock exchange glances: so it wasn’t just the divorce -- you knew about this, too?
But this is outrageous.
How can this be happening?
I don’t know. Politics. It's always politics in a place like the Circus.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” Smiley says almost cheerfully, fully aware of the unspoken exchange between the two men but choosing not to acknowledge it. “It is time. Time to move on, time to devote myself to the task of forgetting. Sell the house and everything in it. Retire to the Cotswolds. It’s a plan, eh, Peter?”
Peter tries to say something but all he succeeds in doing is making a strangled noise in his throat.
Sherlock rises to his feet, clearly trying to keep his anger in check.
“I think that roast is about ready,” he says tightly.
In a minute or two, they can hear him clattering about in the kitchen. “Good grief, what has he got in there?” Smiley asks.
Peter regains his composure well enough to say, “I think you’ll be quite pleased.”
“Peter?” Sherlock calls out to them from the kitchen. “You may seat Mr. Smiley now.”
Peter turns to his boss. “You heard him, George. Let’s hope he doesn’t come in with a flaming sword.”
Peter puts Smiley in the chair with the best view of the kitchen door. His mouth falls open when Sherlock emerges with the roast on a large dish, the vegetables piled around it.
“Oh, my.” George Smiley’s eyes, round as saucers behind those severe spectacle frames. “Oh, my.” It’s as though someone has taken away his vocabulary and left only two two-letter words.
Sherlock is brandishing a very large, very sharp knife with unnecessary gusto. “Shall we begin?”
Much to Peter and Sherlock’s relief, the roast has turned out rather well. It isn’t perfect – one small section is singed and dry – but the rest of it is more than edible: tender and flavourful. And that sherry and mustard gravy – Sherlock reminds himself that he must be nicer to Mary the next time he sees her. Much nicer.
“That was wonderful, Peter,” Smiley says, patting his arm. “Thank you.”
“Actually, I didn’t –“ Peter starts to say, but Sherlock cuts him off at once.
“Peter didn’t really want to do without the usual stuffing. But then the weather has turned warmer and he thought perhaps that would be a touch too heavy.”
Peter holds Sherlock’s gaze, then touches his hand briefly. I don’t know why you said that but thank you.
In his own seemingly unseeing way, Smiley registers all of this, some tender secret passing between lovers, and he looks away. He is reminded of all the secrets that have passed between him and Ann over the years, happy ones and painful ones, the stormy secrets of passionate youth and the bitter secrets of later life, when nothing has turned out as you had hoped or planned.
Let these two have only good secrets between them.
“More wine, George?” Peter is asking him now.
“Don’t mind if I do, Peter.”
That night, Sherlock’s dark head is pillowed on Peter’s stronger shoulder while Peter is reading a book. “I think he enjoyed it.”
“I’m sure he enjoyed it.” Peter presses a kiss into the glossy curls. “Thank you for having the presence of mind to work everything out for me.”
A beat. “We should have him over again. And soon.”
Peter puts his book down and wraps both arms around his lover. “See? You’re very fond of him.”
“He doesn’t tax my patience as most people do.” He waits patiently for Peter to stop laughing, then asks, “What is going to happen to you at the Circus, when George Smiley is gone?”
Peter shrugs. “I hear they’re sending me to Brixton again.” When Sherlock turns to him, indignation writ across his face, he just shrugs again. “Bound to happen sooner or later. Doesn’t matter, honestly. Tarr will be with me, so that’s a familiar face.”
“Brixton. That dump. How can you say it doesn’t matter?”
“Nothing matters, Sherlock. This is the Circus. One day you’re the fair-haired boy and the next you’re lining the bottom of a birdcage. That’s the way it is. That's the way it has always been, and the way it always will be. Especially with people like Lacon in charge.”
Sherlock grunts in deep dissatisfaction. “And this Enderby fellow? What’s he like?”
“Oh, he’s all right, I suppose.” He pauses. “But he’s no George Smiley, that’s for damned sure.”
They don’t say anything else for a long time, and then Sherlock turns, pressing his bare chest to Peter’s side. He tilts his head up for a kiss, and Peter obliges in delight.
Sherlock moans as Peter’s tongue slides in between his lips, and soon he is grinding his body against his.
Peter quickly takes charge, flipping Sherlock on his back, aligning his body with his so that there isn’t a single inch of empty space between them. Their cocks rub warm and wet and fully erect against one another, tension building up beneath their bellies. Their hands are everywhere, sliding along arms and sides, grasping napes and shoulders and buttocks, long legs alternately splaying and tangling together.
Peter takes both their cocks in his hand and begins to tug and fondle. Sherlock gasps, writhes, presses himself harder into the contact, his marble-pale skin flushing pink in his arousal.
“Peter,” he whispers, and Peter responds to hearing his name on his lover’s lips by gently biting the proffered neck, so deliciously exposed and inviting and vulnerable. The resulting whimper almost sends him over the edge but no, oh no, not just yet, not until he comes, wait until he comes, watch him because he’s so unbearably beautiful when he comes, you mustn’t miss the moment.
Peter’s hand is moving faster now, and they’re both on the brink, that tightness and fullness in the balls and belly, and the heat and the urgency and oh yes, there you go, my beautiful love, let it all go, I’m right here with you, Jesus, Sherlock, yes, yes, everything, yes.
They don’t move, not for a long time, not minding the sticky wetness that lies pooled between their bodies.
It is Sherlock who speaks first.
“Chicken,” he says, in his customary slow, slurred, post-orgasm drawl.
It’s certainly not what Peter expects. “What?”
“The next time you ask Mr. Smiley over. Buy a chicken instead.”
The guard at the maximum security facility lets Smiley in quickly, even though it’s well past eight o’clock at night on a Sunday. He would have come this morning -- as he had done every Sunday morning for the last four months -- but of course he was preparing to go to lunch with Peter and Sherlock. He’d sent word ahead, and it seemed reasonable to expect that he would be expected, despite the late hour.
“How was he today?” he asks a young, fresh-faced guard of about 25.
“Seemed all right, sir. Had a good lunch, took some exercise in the yard, listened to some music.” The guard opens the door for him. “He’s all set up in there.”
“Thank you. I’ll ring when we’re finished.”
“Right, sir. I’ll leave you to it, then.”
Karla is sitting at the small wooden table, the chess set ready in front of him. He looks at Smiley, his face impassive as always.
“Good evening, General,” Smiley says.
As always, there is no response. Smiley crosses the room and takes the seat opposite him.
It’s an unspoken rule, set not by Smiley but by Karla, that Smiley always plays white.
After Karla plays Bg5 Be7, Smiley clears his throat.
“I fear you may soon be losing a chess partner.”
Karla keeps his eyes fixed on the board, but Smiley knows , as he has known for some time, that he understands what he is saying, understands English and all its nuances. He plays e5 Nfd7. “They’re retiring me. In about six weeks’ time, give or take a week.”
“That means I shan’t have the same privileges – for example, the same access to this facility as I currently do.”
“Although I suppose you’d be quite thankful for that,” Smiley chuckles.
Karla’s hand pauses over the board, then he withdraws it. It’s a reaction Smiley’s only ever seen once before, in all these months -- when he told Karla of the growing rumours about a possible new policy reform in the Soviet Union, glasnost, perestroika. The rumours had grown much louder after the scandal over Karla’s defection had exploded in the international news.
“Sorry,” Smiley says. “That was a cheap shot.”
Playing for sympathy, how pathetic of you. Are you really so desperate for his respect after all this time? He simply tolerates your presence because there’s no one else here to amuse him. He must think you’re an insect. Just as Ann might have done. You should go home and forget all of this, forget everything. It’s time.
“I will not be thankful for that.”
At first Smiley thinks it’s wishful thinking, his mind playing tricks on him. When he looks up, Karla is looking at him.
“I will not be thankful,” he repeats with finality, and then he lowers his head and turns his attention to the chessboard once more.
It only registers now that this is the first time that Smiley has ever heard his voice.
They finish the game in complete silence.
Sherlock draws slowly away from Peter in the middle of the night, careful not to wake him. He glides softly across the room, naked, and gropes for his mobile phone in the dark. When he finds it, he leaves the bedroom, heads to Peter’s study, and makes a telephone call.
“For heaven’s sake, Sherlock, it’s four in the morning,” Mycroft answers the call grumpily.
“Why, were you asleep?” Sherlock demands.
“No. I was working.”
“Well, then, why are you complaining?”
His older brother sighs. “What do you want, brother?”
“This business of George Smiley’s forced retirement.”
Mycroft is silent for a moment. “What of it?”
“You’re to put a stop to it.”
“Yes,” Sherlock says firmly. “At once. You have the authority, and you must put this – Lacon character in his place.”
“Oliver Lacon. You want me to go over the head of the undersecretary in charge of Circus oversight.”
“You already are over the head of the undersecretary in charge of Circus oversight. You are so over his head that you are practically floating in the clouds above him.”
“You realise that you are interfering in affairs of the state."
"You realise that you are boring me when I need you to act on something."
Another deep sigh. "Very well. I shall see what I can do.”
“Don’t see. Just do,” Sherlock says, and hangs up.
Mycroft replaces the telephone receiver in his cradle. Then, he picks up the piece of paper lying on the desk in front of him: the order, which he signed not ten minutes ago, rescinding Saul Enderby’s appointment as head of the Circus and renewing George Smiley’s indefinitely.
“Dear, dear brother,” Mycroft says, with that tiny smile of satisfaction that he reserves for private moments such as this. “How tragically you underestimate me.”