Chapter 1: January: Give and Take
Mycroft Holmes is not a big fan of parties. He likes to consider it a defining aspect of his (well-reputed) character, along with the fact that he only drinks his tea with milk and never sugar, and can’t abide drivers who drive under the speed limit. He is very rarely persuaded to attend anything that might even come close to being described as a ‘party’. He attends the Prime Minister’s annual birthday celebration, of course, but that’s really more of a gathering than anything else. There’s far too much discussion of foreign policy for it to be a party. There’s wine, of course, which Mycroft avoids like the plague – it’s grotesquely calorific, if Anthea is to be believed, which she is, because she’s always right about matters such as this – and cake, which Mycroft hasn’t eaten in over three years, but it’s held in the offices of Parliament, and everyone knows that a party held at work is not a party at all, merely a meeting with a superficial layer of what Mycroft thinks the lower classes might define as ‘fun’, but he defines as ‘trivial social obligations’.
No, Mycroft does not like parties. In hindsight, this does not explain why he decided to accept Mrs Hudson’s invitation to her famous New Year’s bash this year.
He’s been invited for the past four years. The invitation arrives on December 15th every year in the morning post, pink envelope and distinctive cursive handwriting alerting him to the sadly unchangeable fact that Mrs Hudson will be opening her home to the dregs of society once more in order to mourn the passing of a tedious year full of political scandal and welcome another, more tedious year full of yet more political scandal, inevitably involving Russian spies with ample cleavage and guns strapped to each leg.
But Mycroft digresses. Every other year he has received the ghastly rose-tinted envelope, he has wrinkled his nose in distaste and ordered a weary assistant to dispose of it appropriately. Then, without fault, he has returned to his desk, requested a large pot of tea and started writing his annual report on negotiations with Hong Kong.
Not this year.
For some reason – God only knows why, he thinks, and resolves to ask God as soon as possible – this year was the year that Mycroft finally sat at his desk and handwrote an RSVP to Mrs Hudson, confirming his attendance at her party and wishing her a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. He even sent a bottle of rosé. Why did he do that? Had he been ill without his knowledge? Perhaps he’d contracted some sort of brain virus that invaded the frontal lobe, impeding his judgment beyond a reasonable level.
There’s a small, deeply hidden part of his brain that thinks he’d maybe just been tired of seeing in the new year alone with a bottle of sherry in front of an old DVD of Jeeves & Wooster, but he doesn’t like to think about that.
Whatever the reason is, it all culminates in one regrettable fact; Mycroft is sitting on the stairs that announce the entrance to 221B Baker Street, a glass of sparkling wine – it’s not champagne, he knows, despite what Mrs Hudson had gushed when she pushed it into his hand – in one hand and his phone in the other.
The building is teaming with middle-aged police officers, John’s ex-girlfriends and elderly residents of Baker Street, tedious drones and workers in the hive of 221, Mrs Hudson their proud and blushing queen. Mycroft feels horribly out of place. It’s not because of the suit, for a change; the invitation explicitly mentioned a black tie dress code and Mycroft has only seen two people who haven’t strictly adhered to it. Perhaps his suit is slightly more finely tailored than those of his fellow party-goers – he shudders as he realises that the word ‘fellow’ is applicable, worlds apart from their monotonous little goings-on as he is – but he doesn’t immediately stick out like a sore thumb. No, he feels out of place because he’s here alone.
He’s spoken briefly to John and Sherlock, of course. As soon as he arrived, Sherlock had greeted him with a distasteful curl of his lip, a false handshake so sugar-coated that Mycroft feared for his dental health. John, of course, had been far more welcoming, even contemplating giving Mycroft a friendly hug (he never got as far as to actually attempt the gesture, for which Mycroft was rather thankful, but a twitch of his left arm had notified Mycroft of his reconsidered intentions) and offering him a tray of hors d’oeuvres, which Mycroft had, of course, declined. He’s starting to regret that decision now, however. He’s been at this bloody knees-up for two hours and he hasn’t eaten since dinner time. It’s a quarter to midnight now.
He looks at his watch and sighs. 2013 is imminent, its arrival looming on the horizon like some kind of god-awful smell. Of course, only Mycroft knows that 2013 will herald the start of a drugs war with France, but he senses that he’s not the only person in the room somewhat dreading its arrival. He looks to his left. A young girl – 25, he would estimate, 28 at the oldest – hangs onto the arm of an older gentleman whom she believes will offer her financial protection in the coming year as she’s just lost her job (as a tailor’s apprentice, going by the fine cuts on her left hand). The older man talks animatedly to a middle-aged woman, recently widowed and devastatingly elegant in her reigned-in grief. He’s expecting a New Year’s kiss from her. She’s expecting a shoulder to cry on.
Mycroft looks at his glass of wine. He thinks about how trivial this all is. The young girl is going to leave alone tonight.
“You look like someone’s shat on your Persian rug,” says a voice from behind him. Mycroft turns around sharply, still sitting awkwardly on the stairs, and his stomach promptly turns inside out. He doesn’t think it’s literal, although he’s had three glasses of sparkling wine, so anything’s possible. Gregory Lestrade is standing on the step behind him, towering over him at this angle, which is unusual. He’s holding a glass of faux-champagne in his left hand, his right hand shoved nonchalantly into his trouser pocket. He looks entirely relaxed and the complete opposite of how Mycroft feels.
Mycroft is suddenly faced with the inarguable fact that he needs to somehow formulate a response to this that will make him appear suave and humorous.
“I’m not very good at parties,” he replies. He doesn’t feel that this answer quite fit the brief he’d set for himself.
Greg nods and shifts his glass into his right hand.
“I know what you mean,” he says, stepping down so he’s on the same level as Mycroft and sitting next to him. Mycroft feels his pulse quicken. He doesn’t like this. Human beings should not be able to have such an effect on one another. He’s fairly sure that other mammals aren’t burdened by such feelings. He’s never seen a cat blush.
“I would not have thought you were uncomfortable,” Mycroft eventually responds, realising that conversations usually work both ways. “You seem entirely suited to this environment.”
“Thanks very much,” he says, but he doesn’t sound like he means it. He doesn’t sound cross, though, which is a start. He leans in conspiratorially. “To tell you the truth, I always find these things a bit tricky. It’s all social etiquette and stuff, you know? I’ve never been good at that kind of thing. Used to suffer from foot-in-mouth syndrome something chronic as a kid.”
Mycroft is surprised by the revelation. His acquaintance with Gregory Lestrade in the past has not stretched further than clipped greetings at crime scenes, short phone calls regarding his brother’s surveillance status or e-mail exchanges about the weather (clement, this evening). He’s not sure why Greg has suddenly decided that they’re close enough to swap stories and secrets.
He’s also not sure why he’s not adverse to this development. He finds himself wanting to offer an anecdote in response, but of course, if he were to do that, Greg would find out that he’s talking to an unpleasant man with a pleasant enough exterior, and then he’d leave, and Mycroft doesn’t want that.
“You appear to have grown out of it, at least,” he replies. Greg grins.
“Not entirely,” he says. “Still put my foot in it sometimes.” He swills the dregs of his wine around the bottom of the glass. It’s oddly fascinating. “I think I made Mrs Hudson cry.”
Mycroft is surprised to find himself laughing.
“I find that hard to believe,” he says. “She seems to be a rather resilient sort.”
“Perhaps,” agrees Greg. “But apparently not when matters of the wallpaper are concerned.”
Mycroft looks at Greg. Greg is smiling. It seems to be infectious. Mycroft is about to attempt to conjugate some form of response when John stumbles past them, almost tripping over Greg on his way up the stairs, forcing him to shift closer to Mycroft.
“Sorry,” says John. “Got to find Sherlock. Someone said they’ve seen him being sick out of my bedroom window.”
Greg shudders. Mycroft can feel it against his right side. John offers them a consolatory smile and continues his hurried ascent of the stairs. Greg narrows his eyes.
“What’s the deal with him and your brother?” he asks, gesturing back to where John has just disappeared from sight. Mycroft purses his lips. He’s starting to lose count of the number of people who’ve asked this question of him.
“They are good friends,” he answers. “John Watson is a fine man and a good influence on my brother. There is no romantic component to the relationship, despite what many at Scotland Yard seem to think.”
Greg nods, slowly.
“Are you sure?” he continues. “They always seemed, well, y’know. I always assumed.”
“I am quite sure,” Mycroft says finally, tone authoritative. Greg shrugs.
“Just wondered,” he says, and he sounds – Mycroft doesn’t believe he’s imagining this, as he’s not prone to such folly – almost offended. Mycroft’s heart sinks. He’s wrecked this tentative friendship before it’s even had a chance to fulfil its (admittedly probably slight) potential.
“Many do,” he offers by way of reconciliation. Greg smiles a small, tight smile. Mycroft sighs. “I believe I have proved myself to be correct,” he continues. Greg meets his eye, confused. “If you recall, I told you that I was poor at negotiating these events.”
Greg laughs, and it’s a genuine laugh. Mycroft doesn’t hear that often. He’s used to what he’s dubbed ‘politician’s laughter’; head thrown back, hearty peals of false laughter, an end-result that’s beneficial to the actor. Greg’s not acting, and it’s refreshing.
“You’re doing fine,” says Greg. “Honest,” he adds at Mycroft’s doubtful look. “I don’t see why you’ve holed yourself up on the stairs. You should be talking to people, charming the pants off them.”
“I don’t believe I would be capable of that.”
“You’d be surprised,” Greg says, wryly. “I’ve heard a fair few young ladies whispering in hushed voices about the debonair man on the stairs. Think you’ll have a fair queue of contenders for the famed New Year’s snog.”
“I doubt I shall be taking them up on their kind offers,” he eventually manages to say, when he’s sure the shock of speaking won’t force his airways to close. Greg shrugs.
“It’s always nice to be asked,” he says pointedly. Mycroft suddenly realises that he has a vague idea of where this conversation is going. He’s unfamiliar with the territory from personal experience but he’s read enough books and seen enough films to know when he’s being flirted with. He’s not sure he’s read or seen enough to flirt back, but he decides that it’s only right, in the name of fairness, to give it a damn good go.
“Well,” he says. “I expect you shall be asked. Give it time.” He looks at his watch. “Three minutes’ time, to be precise.”
His heart rate is quickening at an alarming extent. Greg grins. Mycroft thinks he can feel the wine going to his head.
“I’ve already been asked,” Greg confesses, leaning closer as though he’s imparting a dangerous secret. Perhaps he is. “A couple of times, actually.”
“Oh,” says Mycroft, because he’s not actually capable of saying anything else.
“I turned them all down,” Greg clarifies. Mycroft nods, unattractively open-mouthed.
“I see,” he stutters. “How unfortunate for them.”
Greg starts laughing again.
“I always thought you were funny,” he says, and it’s such an odd diversion from the expected conversation that it only serves to make Mycroft’s pulse race even more and he’s not entirely sure that he can cope with much more of this. “I mean, intentionally. I don’t think everyone gets it, you know? But I do. I think.”
Mycroft sincerely doubts that, but he appreciates the sentiment.
“I have not been asked,” he blurts out, and where did that come from? Greg looks like he’s trying very hard not to laugh. “About the New Year’s tradition, I mean. Not about my sense of humour or lack thereof.”
He’s babbling. That’s a bad sign. In his experience, when a politician babbles, oil companies escape accountability and prostitutes find their way into the Home Office.
“I could ask you,” Greg offers. Mycroft’s heart stops, or at least that’s how it feels.
“Yes, you could.”
“I mean, only if there’s a chance you’d accept.”
“That sounds fair.”
“Well, should I ask?”
Mycroft hears the start of an excited countdown in the next room. Ten seconds until the dawn of a new year.
He could say no. It would be easy. He’s said no a thousand times before. He’s a man who enjoys his own company. He’s never needed someone else to validate him. He’s never liked being half of a whole.
But he gets so lonely. A Holmes should never be lonely.
Should anyone be lonely?
Sherlock was alone, so alone, and look where that got him.
Sherlock has John. Sherlock doesn’t need Mycroft any more.
Who does Mycroft have?
When did this become about Sherlock? Everything has always been about Sherlock. Not this. This is about Mycroft.
Three seconds until the new year. Last year was spent in isolation. 2013 could be different, so different.
It could be better. It will be better, and he can make it better from the very first second.
Greg’s face falls. He hasn’t asked.
Mycroft doesn’t ask. He’s never been one to ask when he can take.
He’s not a particularly experienced kisser and he’s aware that he makes mistakes that Greg doesn’t, but he doesn’t think it really matters in the end. People are cheering, and it’s not for them, but it could be. Greg looks at him, flushed with a mixture of embarrassment and something else – Mycroft isn’t that naive – and beams, slightly dazed.
“Happy new year,” says Greg, and Mycroft thinks that yes, it is.
Chapter 2: February: Firsts and Lasts
It’s not that Greg believes himself to be unattractive. He’s overheard Sergeant Donovan refer to him as the ‘silver fox’ one too many times to be blind to the fact that, generally speaking, he’s still got it. He’s pretty sure that his nickname down in Forensics is DI Clooney, which isn’t exactly bad for his self-esteem. No, Greg isn’t one of those middle-aged men who hits forty and suddenly has an identity crisis. He can admit realistically that his hair is more salt than pepper nowadays and if those are laughter lines around his eyes, then my God, he’s lived a pretty hilarious life, but he can also stand in front of a mirror and quite honestly say that he’s more than content with what he sees.
So, that’s not the problem. It’s not a mid-life crisis that’s keeping him up at night. It’s Mycroft Holmes. And not in the good way, although it’s not from want of trying. That’s not Greg’s problem, however. His main issue at the moment is that he has absolutely no understanding of the man he’s apparently dating.
If Greg were a man of poetry – and he’s not. Years of failed attempts at wooing his disinterested wife have proven that – he would say that Mycroft is almost otherworldly in his demeanour. It’s something that he just doesn’t understand. Greg knows that on a good day, he looks – at best – slightly crumpled. He’s fine with that. He works long days in an office with a broken air conditioning unit and sub-standard coffee. He doesn’t expect to look like he’s fresh off the catwalk at the end of every day. Mycroft, however, is a different kettle of fish entirely. He seems to work 25 hour days, 8 days a week, and he’s all crisp corners and starched collars and expensive silk ties. He sends texts with semi-colons, hyphens and parentheses. He carries a handkerchief, for goodness’ sake. Greg has always been more of a Kleenex man.
All of this has proven only slightly problematic to date. It’s all part of the process of dating someone, Greg knows, and it’s usually one of his favourite parts, gradually finding out how your chosen partner takes their tea – if, indeed, they take their tea at all, and aren’t some kind of coffee fiend – and what they think of the Oxford comma and where their parents live and where they went to uni. Usually. With Mycroft, it feels slightly less like a journey of romance and a bit more like pulling teeth. However, until now, Greg’s been able to deal with it. It’s only been six weeks since the start of their relationship – is it a relationship after a mere six weeks? Normally, Greg would say no, but there’s something about this particular dalliance that’s changing his mind on that one – and he doesn’t expect to know everything about the other man at this point.
Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day is in two days, and Greg has absolutely no idea what to get for Mycroft. He’s at a complete loss. This is the first Valentine’s Day in three years that he hasn’t spent alone, crying into a bottle of rosé as Fleetwood Mac tell him he should go his own way, and he’s feeling a little like a very small fish in a very large pond indeed.
It doesn’t help that John is fifteen minutes late. He’d responded enthusiastically to Greg’s pleading text, begging him to meet him in the nearest pub for a pint or six and a brainstorming session, but he seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth since then, and it’s been almost an hour. He sighs, rather more dramatically than usual, and downs the rest of his pint. The barman looks at him strangely, and Greg realises that he’s doing a good impression of an alcoholic, sitting in a pub by himself with two pints of beer. He smiles sheepishly and pushes the pint he’d ordered in preparation for John’s imminent arrival away from him, and the bartender raises his eyebrows. Greg looks away. He wonders if he can arrest John for emotional distress the next time he sees him. Just as he’s contemplating downing John’s pint – ensuring that he’ll never be able to return to this particular establishment again, of course – and leaving, a rather hurried looking John bursts in. Greg waves to draw his attention and John grins, taking the seat opposite Greg. Greg pushes the pint of beer towards him and John clasps it.
“You’re late,” says Greg. John shrugs.
“Sherlock,” he replies, and really, does he need to say anything else? Greg slumps.
“I take it he managed to deduce what my problem was,” he says. John smiles at him, pityingly. “And what did he say?”
“That you should forego buying him a present and buy yourself a better taste in men.”
Greg winces. John pats him on the elbow, sympathetically.
“If it’s any consolation, mate,” he says. “I did ban him from keeping toes in the freezer as a punishment. That’s why I was late. Apparently, it takes a while for toes to thaw out. Who knew?”
“Great,” he says. “Not only am I faced with the problem of not knowing what to get my boyfriend for Valentine’s Day, now I won’t be able to sleep for a month.”
“’Boyfriend’, then?” he says. Greg flushes and John looks chastised. “I’m not having a go, you know,” he adds, hurriedly. “It’s just... well. It’s good, that’s all. I mean, if Mycroft’s anything like Sherlock – and I hope to God for your sake that he isn’t – it’ll do him some good to have someone there for him, if you know what I mean.”
Greg smiles tightly.
“Yeah, well.” He steals John’s pint and takes a long drink from it, ignoring John’s wide-eyed glare of disbelief. “He probably won’t have anyone after Thursday, when he dumps me for being a totally shit boyfriend.”
John huffs with laughter.
“He’s not going to do that, you tit,” he explains, rolling his eyes. “From the little I know about Mycroft – and it is little, because Jesus, that man is harder to read than a Dickens novel – it’s a big thing for him to date anyone. He’s not exactly the sort to take it lightly.”
Greg hums noncommittally. “If you say so.”
“Yeah. Another pint?”
“If you’re buying.”
“Aren’t I always?”
Greg wakes up the next morning and makes a mental note to order a full police investigation to discover who, exactly, decided to coat the inside of his mouth with sandpaper and drill holes into his skull. He feels atrocious. He can’t remember feeling this bad even when he fell victim to the great swine ‘flu pandemic of 2009.
He does, however, have a pretty great idea of what he can do tomorrow, and he’s almost entirely convinced that it won’t make Mycroft run a mile, so that’s a plus.
Groaning, he hauls himself out of bed and heads to the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee, thanking God as he does so that he has Wednesday mornings off. Even a mid-afternoon telling-off from Anderson about Sherlock’s attitude doesn’t dampen his good spirits.
Mycroft arrives, as always, exactly thirty seconds early. Greg’s not even sure it counts as being early, really. He’s just used to people being late. However, he’s also become accustomed to Mycroft’s unchanging, clockwork regularity; so much so that he’s opened the door before Mycroft has even rung the doorbell. Mycroft’s lips quirk into an approximation of a smile and Greg feels slightly faint.
“Inspector,” says Mycroft, and Greg doesn’t think that’s fair, really. It shouldn’t be legal to say someone’s job title – someone’s boring, nine-to-five job title – and make it sound alluring and enigmatic and attractive. It just shouldn’t. And it’s not like Greg can even return the favour, because firstly, he has no idea what Mycroft’s job title actually is, and secondly, he works for the government, and that’s not glamorous. Although he does have a nifty black car and a buxom assistant, so it’s not completely dull, either. But Greg digresses.
He steps aside to let Mycroft in and follows him into the living room. He doesn’t know what it is about Mycroft, but there’s something that makes him seem entirely at home in Greg’s poky little basement flat. For all Mycroft should stand out in his pressed suits and cufflinks against the peeling wallpaper and the damp and the un-vacuumed carpet, he doesn’t actually look out of place. When he sits on the sofa nearest the bookcase, as he is now, he looks like he’s always been here.
Greg flops on the sofa next to Mycroft, who is sitting, as always, entirely correctly; back straight, hands folded in his lap. Greg swings his legs into Mycroft’s lap and Mycroft raises an eyebrow, but he’s smiling. Greg likes how he’s allowed to poke into the other man’s bubble of tidiness, mess it up a bit. Not enough to make him look anything other than proper, but enough to make Greg feel like he’s making an impression.
“So,” he says. Mycroft begins rubbing Greg’s foot absent-mindedly and Greg suddenly realises that actually yes, a foot massage is exactly what he needs after eight hours at the office, but how did Mycroft know that?
“So,” returns Mycroft, meeting Greg’s eye.
“It’s the 14th,” Greg continues. Mycroft smiles rather shyly and Greg subconsciously looks for the dimple that appears on Mycroft’s left cheek when he’s embarrassed. It’s there, and it’s utterly endearing. He’s forced to fight back the urge to throw himself at the man here and there and snog him senseless like some kind of randy teenager.
“It is,” Mycroft agrees. He stops rubbing Greg’s feet for a moment and reaches into the inside pocket of his suit jacket, producing a small box. He’s smiling more openly now. On Mycroft, it’s practically a grin. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Greg takes the box and opens it, and he immediately bursts into laughter. Mycroft resumes his attention to Greg’s feet, beaming (well, he might as well be).
“Nice,” says Greg, and it is, actually. Mycroft has clearly used his connections – whatever they may be – in getting this particular gift. It’s an authentic police badge, complete with Greg’s image and ID number, although instead of ‘DI Gregory Lestrade’, it reads ‘DI Sherlock Do Not Steal This – Mycroft’. It’s a good present. It’s fun. It’s insincere, which is fitting; they’ve been dating for six weeks, not six months, but it’s also personal, shows that Mycroft cares. Greg realises he’s reading quite a lot into it. He wonders what that means.
“You like it, then?” Mycroft asks. Greg nods and removes his legs from Mycroft’s lap, changing his position on the sofa so he’s pressed against the other man. Mycroft swallows and Greg wonders if tonight could be the night he actually breaks through the brick wall that is Mycroft Holmes. “I was worried,” continues Mycroft, his voice slightly shaky. “That you wouldn’t.”
“Well, worry no longer,” Greg says. “Because I do.”
He listens to Mycroft’s breath for a few seconds. It’s definitely slightly faster than normal. Still beaming, Greg reaches a few feet to his left and pulls out his gift for Mycroft from the bookshelf. He feels oddly nervous. He doesn’t know if he’s made a huge mistake with this. Either Mycroft will love it or he’ll hate it beyond measure. It’s a total Marmite gift. It’s a risk.
“Here,” he says, awkwardly handing it to Mycroft. “Just a little something, you know. Don’t know if you’ll like it, or...”
Mycroft’s face softens as he inspects the calendar – carefully chosen by Greg, ‘umbrellas through the twentieth century’. He looks at January – Greg has marked on each of their dates, all thirteen of them to date, and circled the dates of all their milestones; first kiss, first time Greg didn’t burn dinner, first time Sherlock didn’t pretend to vomit when one of them mentioned the other – and then at February, March, April, May. Greg hasn’t left the future dates blank. He’s tentatively planned the year, and he’s pretty proud of himself for not doing it like a complete stalker. He hasn’t pencilled in ‘six months baby boy!!!’ or anything creepy like that. He’s just made sure to mark Mycroft’s birthday as well as his own, suggested ideas for how they could spend the first weekend in June (irritating Sherlock) or the second Thursday in March (irritating Sherlock).
“Gregory,” says Mycroft, and then there’s silence as Mycroft traces his finger around the 31st December. Greg has written ‘remember’ in the box for that particular Tuesday. Greg swallows.
“So, erm,” he attempts. “Is that a good ‘Gregory’ or a bad one? Because, y’know, if you don’t like it or you think, well, whatever, that’s fine, I can - ”
He’s cut off by Mycroft’s hand placed across his mouth. Mycroft looks at him and there’s genuine warmth in his expression, something kind and something wondering and something else.
“It was a good one,” he confirms. “A very good one,” he adds, softly, taking his hand away from Greg’s mouth. Greg opens it to speak again but he doesn’t really get very far before Mycroft’s lips are on his and really this is much better than talking, so he lets Mycroft kiss him and he kisses back his thanks. He doesn’t know if he manages to get across ‘I’m glad you like my shitty idea of a present that I only got because John told me Sherlock had written ‘the day my life ended’ on January 1st this year when he found out we were seeing each other’ or ‘I really like the gift you got me and I can’t wait to see Sherlock’s face the next time he tries to pick-pocket me’ or even ‘please keep doing that thing with your tongue and I like the way you taste like coffee and tea because I drink both and I can’t pick a favourite, but you might be my new favourite’, but he’s pretty sure Mycroft gets the message anyway.
After what seems like both forever and only a second, Mycroft pulls away.
“I believe you promised to cook me dinner,” he says. Greg raises an eyebrow.
“I can promise you more than dinner,” he says, and he doesn’t miss the fleeting look of terror that finds its way through Mycroft’s mask of pre-empted emotions and onto his face. He swallows, dry-mouthed. He’s pushed too far. He’s ruined a perfectly good evening and probably a perfectly good six weeks. Mycroft is going to leave.
“Let’s start with dinner.” Mycroft’s voice is quiet and Greg thinks there’s something here, something he needs to know about, but not tonight. He pats Mycroft’s knee reassuringly and stands up, holding out his hand. Mycroft takes it and allows Greg to lead him to the kitchen. It’s not the room Greg hoped the evening would end in, but after a few minutes it’s almost like Greg never said anything and they’re talking and laughing again and then they’re kissing and it’s good, really good.
Even though Greg manages to burn the pasta and they end up ordering Chinese, even though Mycroft goes home without being even slightly debauched by Greg, even though Greg didn’t get to add ‘first time one slept over ;)’ to February 14th, he’s still hopeful for the rest of the year. If Mycroft’s reluctant goodbye and resultant borderline racy makeout session are anything to go by, Mycroft is looking forward to the next ten months, too.
Chapter 3: March: War and Peace
Sorry for the delay in posting on ALL my fics. I've been away. I'm also going away again soon, so update progress will continue to be slow. Sorry, everyone :(
Gregory Lestrade will come to regret the day he decided to introduce Mycroft Holmes to the relative delights of salsa. He doesn’t know why he’d thought it would be a good idea, really. He’s an intelligent man. He passed his O Levels with flying colours (well, apart from Art, but that was a girly subject anyway and he’s never needed to render a village landscape in charcoal since) and he’s generally considered one of the most worldly officers at Scotland Yard. He can’t remember the last time he managed to end a shift without having to give some doe-eyed newbie a pep talk.
No, Greg is not a stupid man. This doesn’t explain why Mycroft Holmes is currently sitting at his kitchen table, wearing a suit that probably cost more than Greg’s flat and an expression of endearing suspicion, warily prodding the fajita on his plate into submission.
“Gregory,” says Mycroft. Greg sighs. He should have served sandwiches, he thinks. Finger sandwiches, little squares with the crusts cut off, served on one of those stupid trays and arranged into the shape of the sodding Union Jack.
“Yes?” Greg responds. Mycroft raises an eyebrow and pokes the fajita again. It would be a comical sight if Greg hadn’t spent so long preparing the damn thing. “It’s just salsa, My. It’s not going to attack you.”
“I dare say it won’t,” Mycroft agrees. “At least, not until the time comes to digest it.”
Greg wrinkles his nose.
“I didn’t know the British government condoned talking about shit at the dinner table,” he says. Mycroft raises both eyebrows – and really, on Mycroft it’s practically a guffaw – and picks up the fajita. Greg actually feels his heartbeat quicken in anticipation. He has no idea why. He feels less nervous at crime scenes. He’s been dating Mycroft for two and a half months now, but this is the first time he’s allowed the other man to taste his attempts at cooking. Greg is the first to admit that he cannot cook to save his life. After the divorce, he survived on Pot Noodles and black coffee for about a month. He did attempt to make himself a meal of beans on toast after two weeks but this ended in a very unfortunate accident in which he ruined his best tie. After that, he decided to stick to what he knew he could do; pour boiling water onto dried noodles made of preservatives, starch and disappointment. Fortunately for him, Sherlock deduced his appalling diet from the colour of his fourth fingernail on his left hand, and before he knew it, he found himself in a black car, sitting next to a man he’d only ever seen in the distance at crime scenes. The man had looked at him tightly, pronounced ‘it’s even worse than I was led to believe’ and promptly took him to the most expensive restaurant in town. If Greg were a more articulate man, he’d say that that was the moment he realised the Holmes family weren’t all bad. As it is, he tends to grin dopily and tell everyone who’ll listen that it was ‘lust at first sight’. He doesn’t say ‘love’. It’s been nearly a year since that first real meeting, but it’s not even been three months since their first kiss, and Mycroft shows no signs of love. Affection, yes, but Greg isn’t stupid. It’s not the same.
He swallows and tunes back in to reality.
“We discussed the Church of England’s refusal to allow ordained priests to officiate homosexual unions this afternoon,” Mycroft says, and Greg doesn’t think his look of disgust is aimed at his attempts at cooking any more. “What else would you call it?”
Greg shrugs. Politics aren’t really his thing. He votes in the elections, of course he does, ticks a box and posts his ballot, but that’s about it.
He wonders if Mycroft disapproves. He makes a mental note not to ask.
Mycroft pauses, the wrap held inches from his mouth. Greg sighs.
“Look, if you really don’t want to eat it, don’t,” he says. “I’m not Gordon bloody Ramsay. I’m sorry.”
Mycroft looks slightly embarrassed for a moment, but Greg blinks and he’s wearing his best politician mask again.
“Thank goodness for that,” Mycroft says drily. “I fear I would be unable to cope with the swearing.”
“Like hell you would,” Greg replies, smiling despite himself. Maybe Mycroft just doesn’t like Mexican food. It doesn’t have to be about his cooking at all. He should have asked, really.
There’s a few seconds of silence. Greg looks at the clock. It’s stopped again. He’s pretty sure it’s not 12:24.
“Gregory,” says Mycroft, and he looks uncomfortable again. “I do appreciate the effort you’ve gone to.”
Greg knows when there’s a ‘but’ coming, and he shifts in his seat.
“However,” Mycroft continues, and Greg thinks that’s Mycroft all over, really, subverting his expectations just enough that it’s unpredictable in a predictable sort of way. “I must confess to some personal... well. Anthea refers to them as ‘personality quirks’, but I fear she’s merely trying to avoid causing any unnecessary discomfort.”
Greg knows all about personality quirks. Connie always put her right shoe on first, used to throw a right tantrum if she could only find the left one. His mother arranges all the medicines in her cabinet in alphabetical order (and God knows she has enough medication that she could do the whole alphabet twice over).
Mycroft sighs and puts down the fajita, steepling his hands under his chin and fixing Greg with a look that’s both imploring and apologetic. Greg feels immediately guilty.
“Not if it isn’t funny. I don’t even laugh at Mock The Week.”
Greg wonders how he ever considered himself a suave conversationalist. He mentally kicks himself.
Mycroft rubs the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.
“I am not in the habit of eating in front of others,” he says finally. "Not without sufficient mental preparation. I usually require at least a week's notice." Greg narrows his eyes. He remembers February; a takeaway shared in front of the shittest film he's ever had the privilege to watch. He remembers that they'd organised it five days in advance and sinks as he realises it must have taken all of Mycroft's resolve to accept. It puts his faff about which gift to buy into perspective.
“Why not?” he asks. Mycroft looks at his plate.
“Perhaps Sherlock will be kind enough to show you a selection of family photographs,” he says. At Greg’s confused look, he elaborates. “There were days when I looked quite different.”
Greg sighs and runs a hand through his hair. ‘Insecure’ is not a word he would have used if you’d asked him to describe Mycroft Holmes six months ago, but it seems to be rather fitting now. He wonders why. The man is – as far as he’s gauged – one of the most important men in the country. Surely a degree of self-confidence is necessary to get that far. Mycroft can’t doubt himself, on a professional level at least. But Mycroft’s posture right now – slightly hunched, rigid, unsure – says otherwise. It makes Greg ache a little.
“Mycroft,” he says again, and because he doesn’t know what else to say he finds Mycroft’s hand under the table and holds it. It’s an oddly intimate gesture for Mycroft to allow and Greg expects him to let go after a few seconds, but he doesn’t. Greg likes to think it means something. He doesn’t permit himself to think what. “Look, you don’t need to worry.” Mycroft meets his eye. He looks disbelieving, cynical. Greg looks right back. “You don’t. For one thing, you’re not exactly heavy. And I’d still like you if you weighed five times as much as you do. So don’t worry about it.”
Mycroft lets go of Greg’s hand. Greg’s heart sinks for the split second it takes for him to realise that the other man is smiling; it’s a small smile, barely registering physically, but it’s there.
Mycroft picks up the wrap again and studies it with the expression of a child inspecting an ant under a microscope.
“Tell me about Anderson,” he says, and takes a bite of the fajita. Greg feels something inside him swell proudly. He doesn’t think it’s just appreciation of his cooking. Mycroft trusts him. It’s something he’s never really had. Even Connie eyed him suspiciously when he had to work late, and she was the one spreading her legs for the PE teacher. Mycroft swallows. Greg grins.
It’s taken three and a half months, but something’s changed between them. He can feel it. The first few bricks on top of the foundations.
“Dull as dishwater,” he responds, beaming. “Would lose a battle of wits with a potato. Brain cell sleeps with the light on.”
He watches Mycroft laugh, more unguarded than before, and something inside him aches like an old bruise, a war wound.
He wouldn’t say it was love at first sight, but only because Mycroft hasn’t asked.
Chapter 4: April: To and Fro
6th April, 2013
Firstly, please allow me to apologise for the poor quality of my handwriting. I am afraid that the weather in North Wales is rather less than clement. I have had to resort to wearing a pair of gloves at all times. It is less than satisfactory.
I am writing to apologise once more for leaving the country without informing you. It was truly unforgivable of me. I would make further attempts to explain my behaviour but my previous efforts have led to my postcards being returned, so I shall have to be content with providing another apology and my assurances that it shall not happen again.
I hope all is well where you are. Sherlock has informed me that you are involved in a rather gruesome case. Please do let me know if I am able to help.
9th April, 2013
It’s not the fact that you didn’t tell me, exactly. I get that you don’t always have a lot of time to let me know about stuff. That’s fine. It’s more the fact that I sent you six texts and rang you four times and all I got was a bloody automated response saying that you were out of the country and thanked me for my enquiry, like you were some pissing mobile phone customer service bloke or something.
Next time, just drop me a line, yeah? I mean, is it really that hard? Tell the Welsh to sod it and send me a text. Just a couple of words. And thanks, but the case is going fine.
12th April, 2013
Thank you for your reply. I am glad you wrote back to me. It is more than I deserve at the moment, I know.
I promise you that next time I am called away on business I will make an extra effort to let you know. It is not always that simple, however. My work is very important and I am not always able to find a spare moment to breathe in and out, let alone contact anyone. However, regardless, I recognise that I do have a duty to try. I can only apologise once more and promise to try next time.
I am glad to hear that the case is progressing well. I must tell you that this week is the anniversary of the death of Sherlock’s first hamster and he may be of less assistance than usual.
I look forward to hearing from you.
14th April, 2013
Yeah, I know. Your work is important. I do know. Really. I think it’s just that I’m not used to being the one who ISN’T the workaholic in a relationship. It’s a weird dynamic for me. I’ll get used to it, though. Promise. Sorry I was such a tit about it all. Will provide wine when you get back to make up for it.
His first hamster? I didn’t know Sherlock was capable of even the most basic human emotions. I take it you’ll be very cross if I tease him about it?
17th April, 2013
Yes, furious. As would John. I fear his wrath would perhaps be greater even than mine.
If it is any consolation, I believe the term ‘workaholic’ still very much applies to you; you frequently remain in your office at the Yard until the early hours of the morning. The only true difference is that you are able to be a ‘workaholic’ in London, whereas I am forced to perform my duties in such exotic locations as Aberystwyth.
I eagerly await the bottle of wine upon my return. I can only offer this in return; the name of the man you are looking for in relation to a recent spate of muggings in North London is ‘Barry Hamilton’. I believe he is distinguishable by his large girth.
19th April, 2013
Barry Hamilton? Turns out we’ve arrested him before. Possession of class A drugs, particularly nasty hit-and-run and attempted domestic assault. Unpleasant character. He’s behind bars now. (To the postman who’s probably reading this - mind your own business!!)
I’ve just realised how bloody old-fashioned we are. I complain about you not answering your phone and yet I insist on sending oh-so-modern postcards.
Lydia is here. She wants to know who I’m writing to. I told her your name. She thinks you might look like this:
22nd April, 2013
A most accurate portrayal. I suppose that this means your daughter will not be surprised when she meets me.
I am afraid that this will have to be the last postcode I send. Negotiations are not going as planned. I may also be back later than I had originally anticipated. I can only apologise.
Best wishes and apologies,
25th April, 2013
What? Back later? Back when? May 1st is our five month, remember? We planned to go out for it. Please be back before then?
I don’t know why I’m even writing this. You’re busy. You won’t read it. And that’s fine. You’re doing important things. You’re not just sitting with your feet on your desk and drinking muddy coffee like I am. You’re allowed to be busy.
Doesn’t mean I have to like it, though.
See you when I see you, I suppose.
27th April, 2013
Just writing to let you know we’re officially charging Barry Hamilton with six counts of murder. Don’t think he’ll be mugging any old ladies any time soon.
RETURNED TO SENDER
28th April, 2013
Returned to sender? What? What’s going on? Mycroft?
I thought we’d talked about this whole going incommunicado thing.
RETURNED TO SENDER
4th May, 2013
I regret that I had to return to Wales so soon, but I do hope you enjoyed the 1st. I certainly did. I apologise for intruding upon your daughter’s birthday celebrations on the 29th but that could not be helped. I hope she likes the dress. It was the best I could do on short notice, I’m afraid.
Please also accept my apologies for spilling red wine on your rug, although that was not entirely my fault.
I would also like to make it very clear that it was incredibly difficult to persuade Anthea to provide a suitable alibi to explain my unplanned absence from discussions, and therefore I do expect some form of recognition of my efforts.
A risotto will do nicely.
Thank you, Gregory.
I'm sorry this is so late. I've been having a bit of a crisis lately regarding my writing, never happy with anything I produce, and I've rewritten this chapter God knows how many times. I've decided to just put it up now, because if I don't, I never will. I hope it's passable.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The first sign that there is, perhaps, something terribly wrong is the fact that Anthea is standing in the corner of Mycroft’s office when he arrives, twisting her false wedding ring around her finger and chewing her lip. On anyone else, it would be a mere indication of anxiety, but on Anthea, it might mean that the world is ending.
Perhaps it is. It would only be the fifth time this week.
Mycroft sets his briefcase down on his desk, taking care to ensure that he aligns it at a perfect right angle with the folder on the Belgium case, and turns to face his worried assistant, his brow furrowed.
Anthea clears her throat, naked without her Blackberry, and Mycroft’s blood runs cold.
“Sir,” she says, and her voice is strangled enough that Mycroft grips the handle of his umbrella a little more tightly than strictly necessary. “I did text you, but - ”
“Level six, yes,” he interjects. “My intervention is not usually required for anything below a level seven.”
Level six. Personal but probably non-political assault on a government employee, or a close friend thereof. Davies from the Administrative Department has had it coming for some time. He did, after all, almost start a war with Syria by mis-spelling ‘Assam’ on a break-room request form.
“I didn’t want to divulge any more information via SMS,” Anthea continues, wringing her hands, and Mycroft isn’t sure whether or not the window is open because it’s suddenly freezing. He could turn to look but is rooted to the spot with something that he thinks feels rather like fear. “It’s DI Lestrade, sir. It’s Greg.”
Mycroft hears something that sounds a little like the incoming tide and recognises it as his own blood coursing through his veins, chasing away from his steadily quickening heartbeat. Outside, a car alarm starts blaring. Yes, the window must be open. Mycroft wouldn’t be able to hear it otherwise. He should close it, really.
He inhales, exhales. Respiring is easy. Breathing is not.
“What about him?” he asks, as calmly as he can manage, still gripping the umbrella so that his knuckles whiten and crack.
Anthea swallows, and Mycroft watches the steady bob of her throat. It connotes worry, fear. His fingers tighten even further on the umbrella handle.
“What about him?” he asks again, and Anthea closes her eyes, breathes in and opens them again, meets Mycroft’s pressing gaze with a look of regret that sends a shiver down his spine. He’s not used to feeling fear. It’s become alien to him since he stopped finding Sherlock crumpled in corners with a needle in his arm.
“His daughter’s been taken,” she says, finally. “All our intelligence suggests that she’s being taken somewhere in North London. We can’t be sure yet who’s responsible; our CCTV images don’t correspond with any known terrorist organisations.”
Mycroft loosens his grip on the umbrella and it clatters to the floor.
“But you know where she’s being held. Correct?”
“We know where they’re headed, sir.”
Mycroft lowers himself steadily into the chair by his desk and steeples his fingers under his chin. They’re shaking slightly, and he feels uneasy at how easily his body still betrays his mind, even after all this time. He supposes it’s a small consolation that Greg’s daughter – Lydia, he thinks, and he’s struck by the realisation that he’s yet to meet her – hasn’t fallen off the radar yet. She’ll be found, and quickly if he has anything to do with it.
He feels a pang of sympathy for the children who inevitably do drop off the radar, but the sadness is misplaced, an unnecessary hamper to progress in this particular case, and so he pushes it to one side and focuses on asking the right questions.
“Has Gregory been told?” he asks, and Anthea shifts her weight from her left foot to her right and looks at the floor. Mycroft closes his eyes. He suddenly feels so very tired.
“Then I am in quite the untenable position,” he says. Anthea looks at him.
“I believe he’s set to find out in - ” she glances at her watch. “- five minutes. It will have reached Scotland Yard about the same time I told you, and he’ll be told shortly, as soon as they’ve verified that it’s not a hoax.” She pauses. Mycroft wearily opens his eyes and gestures for her to continue. He can’t ignore the gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach worse than hunger; the sense of empathy, the knowledge that Greg must be hurting, and it makes him hurt, too. Anthea inhales sharply. “I took the liberty of ordering a car to collect him and bring him here,” she continues. “I hope I wasn’t too forward.”
Mycroft meets her eye and she flushes slightly.
“Thank you,” he says. She smiles sadly.
“He’ll need you, you know,” she says, after a brief moment’s silence. “And you have to be here. I’ve cancelled your meeting with the Korean dignitaries.”
Mycroft opens his mouth to protest, but Anthea raises an eyebrow – although she’s still shifting her weight from foot to foot every so often, still fidgeting with the hem of her fitted black blazer – and Mycroft, too tired to argue, doesn’t say anything.
“The world can look after itself today,” she adds. “DI Lestrade, however, is in a different position.”
“You are actually my assistant, you realise,” Mycroft says. Anthea smiles curtly.
“Just doing my job, then,” she counters.
Mycroft can’t argue with that.
After Anthea leaves, Mycroft sends for a cup of Earl Grey and permits himself to indulge in a drop of lemon and half a teaspoon of honey. It’s not the conventional manner of drinking tea, he realises, nor indeed is it his usual preference, but today is not a day for convention, he thinks. Today might just be the sort of day that’s soured before it’s begun. He doesn’t think anyone would begrudge him something sweet.
The tea cools on the window sill, steam rising from its amber warmth in silvery wisps like the still morning sky over London, and Mycroft tries and fails to distract himself from the fact that Gregory will be here in approximately twenty minutes.
It wouldn’t be inaccurate, he supposes, to say that he’s rather out of his depth. It’s not a feeling he’s used to, nor one he cherishes. He feels more like he’s been pushed in the deep-end than he’s ever felt. He felt calmer before his first meeting with the US President (and look how that had ended, he thinks with a sly smile; the President had stormed out, muttering something about how all British men had something up their arses) than he feels now.
The tea steams less now, so Mycroft cups it in his long fingers – anything to stop them from drumming on the oak of the desk, apparently against his will – and takes a sip. He grimaces. It’s far too sweet.
Perhaps there is a something to be said for convention today after all.
He’s about to make another valiant attempt to drink the sickly tea when there’s a hesitant knock at the door and he comes perilously close to spilling it. He sets the cup down on the desk, takes a deep breath – something he hasn’t had to do to calm himself for years – and steels himself for what Greg might say.
In the seconds before he tells him to enter, he thinks about what Greg might look like. In times of crisis, Greg admits to shutting down and reverting to auto-pilot, often coming across as rather unharried and professional, ultimately succeeding in getting the job done but suffering for it in the aftermath when everything catches up with him and he can’t sleep for a fortnight. However, Mycroft has been witness to Greg at his absolute worst once before, and he can’t say that it’s a better alternative. It was before they met, and he’s fairly certain that if Greg knew he’d seen him in that state he’d refuse to have anything to do with him ever again, but Mycroft has eyes and ears all over the city and he can’t help overhearing things he’d rather forget from time to time, be it shadowy figures plotting to ruin his brother, even more shadowy figures planning coups on the government or the man he secretly admires sobbing in an alleyway, sobbing until he’s raw and dry of tears. Mycroft has never broken like that, never been so unable to bend as to snap, and he remembers briefly envying Greg’s lack of control before remembering that control was to be admired, revered, and not taken lightly. He’d felt desperately sad, then, for this man who he knew so well and yet knew so little about.
Now, of course, he knows him rather better, and he wonders if he’ll have to watch him fall apart again. He’s not so certain he could put him back together the right way.
He exhales. Time waits for no man. Greg needs him.
“Come in,” he says.
The door pushes open, but Greg doesn’t enter. Instead, Anthea comes in and closes the door quietly behind her.
“We’ve got her,” she says, sounding relieved. “Their van broke down and they were stupid enough to ring the AA. It would almost be funny if – well.”
“Where is she now?” Mycroft asks. Anthea is clearly aware of the real question.
“Greg’s coming here to wait while we bring her home,” she answers. “He should be here any minute and she’s about ten minutes away. It’s all worked out rather better than we expected.” She stops, takes a sniff of the saccharine tea, and winces. She knows better than to ask, proffering Mycroft a curt nod and what she probably hopes is a reassuring smile before going to leave, before she’s struck by an afterthought and turns around again, fixing him with a more warily sympathetic expression than her usual guarded mask. “I’m sorry that you weren’t more involved in the operation,” she says. “Only I thought that you might – that it might - ”
“Cuts rather close to the bone, doesn’t it?” Mycroft suggests, returning the smile half-heartedly. Her face falls.
“You mustn’t blame yourself,” she says slowly, over-cautious, Mycroft thinks, considering the relatively candid nature of their conversation thus far.
Mycroft narrows his eyes. If anyone could keep secrets from the British government, he thinks it would be Anthea, but there’s something very wrong here. She knows something he doesn’t. Not that that state of affairs ever lasts for very long.
He thinks about the case, thinks about how it’s been a textbook kidnapping up to now –young girl snatched from her school by men in a white van, driven to the middle of nowhere – and realises with a feeling of dread that he’s been stupid. He hasn’t realised what’s been missing, so caught up was he in feeling sorry for himself.
“There was a ransom note, wasn’t there?” he asks, but it’s not a question. Anthea swallows, eyes wide and darting to the door. He doesn’t blame her. Her intentions are always good, as is her execution, but this time – sentiment is a disadvantage, he tells himself, and should not be put before fact. “Tell me what it says.”
“Sir, I don’t - ”
“I will simply deduce it otherwise. Tell me.”
Anthea swallows and Mycroft watches the bob of her throat. She’s wringing her hands now, more nervous than Mycroft has seen her, and he wonders if she’s worried about lying to him or upsetting him. She needn’t worry about the latter, he tells himself. He almost believes it.
She closes her eyes, resigned, and clasps her hands behind her back. It’s almost a soldier’s stance.
“It purported to be from someone who believes that you owe him a debt,” she states thickly. “The note said that you were the intended victim, not DI Lestrade. You.”
Mycroft clenches his fist, the room suddenly hot and spinning slightly.
If he was the victim, then why target Gregory? Why not Sherlock, or his mother? He and Greg have been careful, he thinks. They see each other in private, don’t take unnecessary risks – they haven’t even held hands in public – and yet they’re still under threat.
Mycroft closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose. It’s been four months and twenty-eight days, and it’s been everything – he’s found himself hoping more times in the past five months than he’s dared to allow himself in the last thirty-nine years – and he’d thought it had been enough, but it’s been too much.
The realisation drops to the pit of his stomach, what he has to do, and he closes his eyes more tightly, willing the world to stop for just a moment. It doesn’t acquiesce.
“Sir?” says Anthea, sounding worried, and Mycroft opens his eyes and manages a weary smile.
“Thank you, Anthea,” he says, managing to keep his voice steady and even. “Send Gregory up when he arrives, would you?”
Anthea looks uncertain but nods, looking at him over her shoulder as she leaves.
Mycroft rests his head in his hands. It’s been too much.
Greg doesn’t even knock, which isn’t unusual. What is unusual is that instead of perching at the end of Mycroft’s desk, legs crossed and arms folded, he slumps into the chair opposite Mycroft and fixes Mycroft with a forced smile. His eyes are tired, ringed with grey, and he hasn’t shaved this morning. He looks awful, Mycroft thinks, and yet wonderful at the same time because he’s Gregory Lestrade and he will never look anything else.
“It’s been one of those days,” Greg says by way of greeting. It’s clearly intended lightly, a joke to ease the tension, but he sounds so utterly wretched that Mycroft has to resist the urge to take his hands, stroke reassuring circles into the soft skin where his thumb meets his palm.
“I’m sorry,” says Mycroft.
And this is the moment, he knows, when he proves himself right, that caring is not an advantage, that sentiment is a ball and chain around every ankle, and yet it hurts. He doesn’t want to be right. He’s ignored the fact until now that his own failure to adhere to that one truth has been in vain, has been an error of catastrophic proportions, but now it’s come to a head. People have been hurt.
The clock in the far left corner of the room has stopped. He makes a mental note to wind it later.
He can still smell the tea leaves.
“I was going to call you here,” he continues, waving his hand airily in a gesture that he knows conveys nonchalance, and Greg looks confused. “Before all this.”
“All this,” says Greg dully, and Mycroft thinks about the way his head fits perfectly into the crook of Greg’s shoulder, but he pushes on because he has to.
“I have something I wanted to tell you.”
‘Wanted’ isn’t the right verb. He can’t let him know that.
There are raindrops on the windowsill and traffic blares outside.
“I’m sorry that the timing is undesirable, but I intended to bring you here to inform you of certain decisions I’ve been forced to make recently. I know that it’s been five months, and I’m sorry that there isn’t an easy method of doing this, but - ”
Greg puts his head in his hands.
“You’re ending it.”
Mycroft thinks of fingertips and being late for dinner and semi-colons in text messages and postcards. He pushes those images to one side and thinks about Lydia, how it had been his fault, how it’ll happen again and again and this is the only solution, as awful as it is.
“I’m afraid I am. Yes.”
“Half an hour after I find out my daughter has been abducted.”
There’s a silence, and it’s more unbearable than words. Heels click on the floor outside the door. The corridor is long. They’re not meant for him.
Greg looks up and crosses his arms.
“Am I allowed to ask why, or would that be - ” he makes quotation marks with his fingers. “ – undesirable?”
Mycroft shrugs – a gesture he does not normally use, believing it to be indicative of slouchiness – to affect nonchalance.
“It was incompatible with my commitments here.”
The past tense tastes bitter, but not as bitter as the element of truth.
“Incompatible. Right. OK.”
Greg stands up, making to leave – Mycroft had not expected it to be as easy as that – and then turns around, pointing an accusing finger.
“Actually, no. It’s not OK. Fuck, it’s... no. It’s not.”
Mycroft swallows, crossing his legs and fixing Greg with what he knows to be a rather withering stare. It’s so at odds with what he’s feeling that it’s almost impossible to perfect, but he’s had years of practice.
“You can’t just sit there in your fucking chair with your fucking waistcoat and your fucking tea and tell me that you’re ending it because it’s ‘incompatible with your commitments’!” Greg continues, his voice rising but still restrained, shaking. “I mean... Jesus. You can’t do that. This is a commitment, Mycroft! You commit to people too, you know, not just work! That’s life!”
Mycroft inhales deeply, exhales slowly.
Make it hurt, he thinks. Make him hate you. He has to hate you.
“I do not wish to commit to people,” he says. “I don’t want to commit to you. I never did.”
The look on Greg’s face before he walks out stands out in Mycroft’s mind as the thing that will haunt him most, more than the ghosts of the men who have died at his word and the people who have lost in his name, and when Mycroft is finally alone with his thoughts, he finds that he doesn’t want them. He wants something else entirely, but he has been selfless. Selfishness would perhaps permit him happiness, but it would not permit Greg safety, and he’ll take Greg’s life over his own contentment any day.
From outside, the rain halts, stops pattering on the window pane, and Mycroft sits and listens to the white noise after the rain.
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