PREPARING THE MIND FOR THE TWIN INVASION BY PRUDENCE AND DARING IN DEALING WITH SUBSTANCES NOT INCLUDED IN THE OUTLINE
Three months into their romantic relationship (at that point, an epistolary and telephonic one punctuated by the occasional weekend of excellent sex and companionship and more sex), Mycroft discovered that he and Anthea shared a creed.
This discovery came about by accident. Anthea, having successfully routed a Russian insurgency harmful to a secret British strategic alliance, had come home to London for a long weekend; Mycroft, having spent a tiring three days in Washington with idiotic diplomats whom he had to manage without properly killing them, met her at her Chelsea flat with the view of taking her out to dinner and then back to his St James retreat. She answered the door in nothing but a smile and her favourite Louboutins, however, and he changed his mind. A quick sexual encounter on the sofa in her main living space, followed by a light supper and shop-talk in her kitchen, followed by a much slower sexual encounter (with variations and accessories) in her actual bed, was his substitute programme.
When he awoke at five in the morning, however, he rued his decision. He could never go back to sleep once he was completely awake, and with Anthea seeming ready to sleep until a proper time for a Saturday morning, he needed distraction. His phone offered no new crises, either, the world having apparently decided to sleep late as well, and Sherlock and Dr Watson having done nothing unduly egregious in the past twelve hours.
The stack of books on Anthea's bedside table seemed promising, however. He glanced over the titles – three histories he'd already read, one biography of a recent politician he loathed, a text on game theory he'd have to tell her was sadly flawed, Ulysses, and something called Cold Comfort Farm. This appeared to be a novel, mid-twentieth century, English. He recalled that Mummy long ago had said she enjoyed it.
After getting up, taking a quick shower, donning the dressing gown he'd had the forethought to leave in Anthea's wardrobe last month, and making himself a pot of tea, he ensconced himself in the armchair in her living space and began to read.
Two hours later, tea finished and two-thirds of the novel done, he looked up to see a dressing-gowned and freshly bathed Anthea approaching. “Good morning, darling,” she said, and dropped down onto the arm of the chair. (Just damp but washed and blow-dried hair; the specially mixed Floris perfume and body cream she wore when off-duty; the bracelet he'd given her two months ago in Moscow; two bruises on her upper thigh, he should be more careful.) She draped herself over him, cuddling in, then looked at what he was reading. “Oh, that,” she said, seeming a bit embarrassed. “One of my adolescent favourites. A comfort read.”
“My dear, don't apologise, it's an excellent book. I'd hire Flora Poste in a shot.” He caught her hand, and kissed the spot on her wrist which generally drove her mad. “And it's brought me to realise something very important about us.”
Lightly, adoringly, with her other hand she teased out his centre curl. “What's that?”
“Both you and I are believers in, and practitioners of, the Higher Common Sense.”
Her laugh trailed off in the middle. “I do believe,” she said meditatively, “you're absolutely right.” The 'as usual' was implied.
He kissed her throat. “Yes. We, my dear, are civilised persons.”
“I agree.” Smiling, she knelt astride him. He pressed his mouth to the opening of her robe, there between her breasts, sipping at her, before he explored further. Her hands cradled his head, fingertips playing with his hair. “I do agree,” she said, more throatily.
Then, in the manner of any civilised couple, they had sex in the armchair, her riding him until they both cried out into the Saturday morning stillness.
The Higher Common Sense and accompanying book of maxims being fictional, of course, there was no extant precepts of the great Fausse-Maigre. So – being who they were – Mycroft and Anthea created them. These creations became their private language, a code only meaningful to them.
One Pertinent Example: Some months later
“Must we, Anthea?” Mycroft said, putting down his Sunday-afternoon briefing papers so that he might properly glare at her. “Must we?”
“You needn't, of course. I won't hold you to your promise,” Anthea said, and put her BlackBerry on the charger, and left his study on silent bare feet.
He jotted down, on one of the cards he kept in his waistcoat pocket for such moments, the following precept: One should give in to passive-aggressive attempts to evoke one's guilt only when one has otherwise good reason to expect profit or pleasure. This card he tucked away in the same pocket.
Then he put away his briefing papers in the lockbox, took off his at-home jacket and knitted tie, and went out and down the secret stairs to the floor below his flat. He passed the file room and his climate-controlled storage space for family treasures before entering a large, light-filled, empty room.
Or, rather, it wasn't empty, because Anthea was there, lunging with a weighted stick in her hand. His second-favourite umbrella – the one with an equally weighted stem, effective furled as a weapon albeit rather heavy as an actual shield against weather – was laid on the floor, just where she was lunging.
He leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms. “My dear, I did not promise I would play cudgels with you on rainy Sunday afternoons when you were in town.”
“Right. That wasn't your promise, darling.” She executed a complicated turn-and-thrust with her stick; any attacker would have had a substantial blow struck against his or her neck. He noted with silent approval her form. “Your promise to me was that you would maintain your field-fitness, with additional preparations before any activity I deemed especially dangerous.”
They did not speak aloud his intended appointment for tomorrow, even here. But he knew she knew.
What he said was, however, a slightly petulant, “You know how I dislike exercise.”
“Other than rambling in the countryside and sex? Yes, I do know. Nevertheless.” She snapped her stick backward, turned, changed her grip, and thrust again. “I would of course expect to bestow the usual reward, should you behave yourself. And I do have four hours before I leave for Heathrow.”
He could move quickly when he chose. His umbrella was in his hand before she could set herself, but she evaded the first strike. The second strike she blocked.
The sound of their weapons colliding rang in the empty space, and again, and again, louder even than their rapid breathing and footsteps. They were both careful to hit only weapons, however, not bodies. This was a simple sparring match.
And, after ten minutes of fairly intensive practice, Mycroft judged they'd played enough. With a twist of his wrist he struck Anthea's weapon out of her hands, and pulled her back so that its clatter onto the floor wouldn't take her crimson-painted toes as well.
“Well, then, my dear,” he said, as smooth as his laboured breathing would allow, “let me just say this --” He retrieved the card he'd written and proffered it with a slight bow.
Her laughter was brighter by far than the grey day, he thought – at which point he was surprised by her reaching into a hidden pocket of her trousers and proffering her own card. His laugh matched hers.
Unless self-sacrifice is directly called for, one should only offer as reward that which one feels will give oneself profit or pleasure.
They did check their phones first, of course, which delayed them due to intransigence by a rogue Minister (his messages) and a confused field-agent (hers). Soon enough, however, she drew him a bath, as the traditional beginning of this particular promised reward. It was naturally a shared one.
Their bathtub sport (hands slipping on porcelain, hands slipping on skin, water lapping over the lip of the tub, a tide, a coming fall) flooded the bathroom before they were done. But as he murmured to her as he dried her off with one of the only two remaining dry towels in the place, “One should contain one's indulgence in pleasure to the spaces appropriate therein.”
She wrote that down for them both before she left. It had been an instructive afternoon.
A Second Pertinent Example: Some weeks after that
Mycroft was seated in the back of his town car, trying to remember all the excellent reasons he had not punched his little brother (at least, not since boyhood) and apply them to the current moment – wherein Sherlock had stolen his government identification again and tried to use it on one of his cases.
The security guard's phone call from the office of one of the goldsmiths involved in the Trial of the Pyx – this particular guard a former member of an elite force Mycroft had overseen some years back – had alerted Mycroft in Paris. (The guard had of course recognised Sherlock and prevented his entrance into a secured area.) It had taken Mycroft seven hours to make it back across the Channel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, time had not softened his temper.
His phone buzzed in his hand. Text, Anthea. He clicked.
Darling, a thought: One always looks more threatening when one lets one's eyes go dead at the critical moment. A
This precept was, in fact, one he'd taught her when she was his assistant, but he might well have forgot it when faced with his thieving little brother's smug face. Always useful to have such a timely reminder (and useful too, he thought, that Anthea was as invested in personal surveillance as he).
My brilliant dear, another thought: One must be grateful for the shared wisdom of others. Thank you. MH
He went up the stairs to 221B with a jaunty step, and applied his Anthea's reminder so very well that when Mycroft let himself loom, his fury palpable, his eyes dead at the critical moment, Sherlock went a distinctly sickly colour. The government identification was in the rightful hands within the minute.
Mycroft sent Anthea the Hermes scarf he'd already purchased for her in Paris and more orchids. It was only sensible to honour her so.
A Third Pertinent Example: Some months after that
Anthea stood in the corridor outside the grimy interrogation room in an undisclosed Eastern European country and wished fruitlessly that she smoked. Anything to aid her planning....
The British traitor within was, she had seen at a glance, going to be difficult: he wouldn't want to admit to anything, much less to passing secrets to a terrorist cell that England needed to be neutralised. He was going to claim ideals, probably, and think himself a bloody hero for facilitating the murder of British citizens. What she needed was a way to open his mouth.
With a flash of a hand she had her BlackBerry out. Her personalised app showed her that Mycroft was in his office in Whitehall. She texted him, Darling, Asim Barker. Leverage? A.
Two minutes went by. She counted raindrops on the frosted glass window (fifty-seven). She counted Barker's footsteps inside the room (three and then a drag on the chain, three and then a drag on the chain...). Then, her phone buzzed.
My dear, School days in Birmingham. Corner shop samosas. MH
As she was assessing this information, nodding to herself, her phone buzzed again.
My dear, A thought: One cannot reason with unreasonable people; one can only feign reason. MH
She smiled to herself as she sent a text. Darling, you're superb. A thought: one is only as good as the people with whom one surrounds oneself. A
Then she sent a follow-up: Darling, do you adhere to your policy re reason with your little brother? A
Twelve seconds. My dear, yes, but it works better with JW. Ring me tonight. MH
Still smiling, she went back into the grimy interrogation room. Using her own skills and the suggestions Mycroft had made, she broke Asim Barker in less than two hours.
A Fourth Pertinent Example, Similar Yet Different: Four years later
Mycroft had one more action item on his agenda for this late afternoon JIC meeting – nothing hugely important, a blip on the radar (metaphorical) in China that required deployment of additional staff – when his phone buzzed. It was bad form to take calls in meetings, of course, but he'd long trained his colleagues in humouring him.
Text, from the burner phone Anthea was using on her domestic op; she'd programmed the number into his phone this morning at breakfast. The text itself: Charles, could you be an angel and come fetch me in Speed Cop the Second?
“If you'll excuse me, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, already on his feet, “apologies, something urgent's arisen. Minister, if you will finish the briefing....”
Halfway out the door he texted back, I'm coming, Flora.
Once he was in the secured lift, he called his driver to have the car brought round. “I'll be driving,” he said, and rang off. The car was ready when he reached the entrance.
A Bentley was not reputed to be a nimble car, but Mycroft managed to slide it through remarkably small openings in traffic. He was across Lambeth Bridge in a trice, with only minimal terror struck into the hearts of some remarkably clumsy tourists from Florida trying to cross the street without looking the proper direction.
He turned onto Lambeth Palace Road, and then onto an almost hidden drive on the Palace grounds. Remnants of the afternoon's rain dripped onto the Bentley as he went through an arch and into a green space.
She was waiting for him, he saw with some relief. Her hands were a bit scratched, however, which did not make him at all happy.
She got in at speed. “Hi,” she said brightly, even as she pulled off the grey wig and stripped off the unflattering and quite disguising outer wear.
“Bag in the backseat,” he said, clipped, and gave her forty-five more seconds to stow everything in the suitcase she'd placed there earlier and then collect her handbag.
“Ready, darling,” she said, hands fluffing her hair back to its normal (albeit slightly tousled) glory.
“Fine.” He manoeuvred the car around and headed back the way he'd come. “You'll want to hide your hands, my dear.”
“Oh. Yes.” She folded her arms, neatly concealing the scratches, and then smiled at him. “Thank you, by the way. He did reach for the phone, so the code confused him just long enough.”
“Nothing too notable.” Her smile widened.
He sighed. “My dear, don't you think that perhaps this sort of... tidying... would be better done by a trusted field-agent, rather than a spymaster like yourself?”
“I shall simply say in response – Buda, seven months ago.”
He made a pained face. Then, as they approached Lambeth Palace Road, an armed guard stepped out into the lane. Mycroft rolled down the window, impassive once more. “Yes?”
“Sorry, we're looking for--” The guard leaned in, surveyed them, and then blinked. “Sir. Ma'am. So sorry. Go on, Mr Holmes.”
“Thank you,” Mycroft said, and silently powered the window up, and silently pulled out into traffic. Then, “You might use my phone to call the Archbishop, my dear, and... reassure him that the mess is managed.”
Laughing, she reached over and collected his phone from his suit pocket, letting her fingertips caress him as she pulled away. He shot her a look. She laughed harder. “Shall I find him in your Contacts under his title or his given name, darling?”
“Look for yourself, you're good at research,” he said. “Oh, and you might also text Andrew that I won't be back in the office today. He can tell my driver as well.”
“I'll be happy to play your assistant again, Mycroft,” she said.
He made another face. “Yes, yes. Would you like to go to the Ritz, my dear? Have some tea?”
Her attention on his phone, she smiled. “No. I think I'd rather like to draw you a bath. As a reward, you know.”
All tension in his face dissolved, and he laughed. “Well. As the precept would have it --”
And together they finished, “One should contain one's indulgence in pleasure to the spaces appropriate therein.”
Mycroft and Anthea were, after all, civilised persons. It was simply common sense.