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Part One.

Mycroft Holmes could have done greatly without the reception at the Russian embassy,what with having to endure a rather harrowing morning cooped up with the Bolivian delegation, followed by the too elaborate a lunch with the French Ambassador.

He shouldn’t have indulged himself with the foie gras, but he loves it, loves the rich, moist, buttery feel of the fatty substance as it melts against the roof of his mouth. He relishes the intense meaty taste dispersing itself over his tongue. It’s hardly ever served anywhere, though, what with animal rights such an issue these days. And justly so, he always manages to insert smoothly whenever the topic is brought up by one of those sweetly naïve representatives of any animal rights organisation, proclaiming to fight for a better world with freedom and justice for all. Still, the increasing absence of the product on the lunch and dinner tables across the country has the unfortunate side-effect of forcing Mycroft to gorge himself whenever it is available.

It was quite a feat to ignore his bloated stomach during the friendly talks with the spokesmen of the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish parliament that comprised his afternoon, but Mycroft managed to pull it off. In fact, the worst of the stuffed feeling was mercifully massaged away by the discontented droning for three hours straight of the self-inflated non-entities with whom he was forced to smile and nod for the greater good of the general public. During the almost physically painful balancing act of stroking bruised egos Mycroft stuck to water, taking deliberate small sips, and thereby offering the honourable parliamentarian gentlemen a standard of true British frugality. He steadfastly ignored the Devon cream tea ‘Anthea’ had arranged to ease along the meeting.

The hour spent handling correspondence with her was the best time of the day so far. Of all the people in the world there are only two Mycroft trusts completely: Anthea is one of them, the other one being Mummy. Mycroft still misses Daddy, even though five years have gone since he passed away.

Anthea had understood his reluctance to show himself at the Russian embassy but insisted he must go.

“I’ll be gentle but firm with her,” Mycroft assured Anthea to have her confirm that would indeed be the best approach.

Really, to have the First Secretary of the Russian embassy fall in love with him! Flaunting her infatuation openly for all the world to see, too. It has become the bane of his life in recent months. The woman is besotted, incorrigible, out of her mind. Mycroft has tried reasoning, cautioning, warning; he has been gentle, he has been stern, he has been angry with her. He has declined every invitation or attempt at closer intimacy. But Natalia Nikolajevna Vashvarova has consistently refused to regain her senses.

The high unprofessionalism of her behaviour is what irks him the most. Regrettably but unavoidably Mycroft sometimes finds himself put-upon to engage an overly ambitious minion in a friendly guiding chat. During these talks he takes care to impress his subordinate with the one golden rule. They must never – and he can’t stress the never enough – engage themselves in a liaison with a fellow civil servant. Regardless of the gender, regardless of the other party being friend or foe, any sexual relationship inside or outside the halls and corridors where they apply their trade carries the possibility of great danger to the country they all serve, and should thus be avoided. After all, most private rooms provide the other party with an opportunity to attempt to gain a little more than just the brief fitting-together of diverse parts of the human anatomy.

Sadly, this particular Russian does not appear to share his judgement on appropriate behavioural civil servant conduct. Mrs Vashvarova has persisted in her tiresome advances right under the nose of her superior. Mycroft’s stance during all encounters has progressed to an affectation of polite mild disapproval in the direction of his fervent admirer, combined with a warm charm directed at the rest of the assembled eminent company.

In the evening in question her behaviour is worse than ever. Mycroft endures the atrocities for two hours before taking his leave and fleeing the premises of the Russian embassy. He’s grateful the expensive material of his bespoke trousers perfectly hides the trembling of his legs, a sure sign that Mycroft Holmes’ whole and not inconsiderable mental effort has been directed towards maintaining the outward appearance of the collected, incorruptible civil servant.

His chauffeur is holding the door open for him and Mycroft collapses in the backseat, careful not to heave the sigh of relief rising in his chest in front of the driver.
“Home, Sir?” the man asks. Mycroft manages a small nod. The door is closed with a gentle thud, enveloping Mycroft in a cocoon of English righteousness and reliability. His hand fleets over his brow and he allows himself five minutes of indulgent thankfulness that the day is over.

The Bentley glides away from the kerb to weave itself into the evening traffic. Gazing out of the window as the car creeps along amongst the heavy traffic, Mycroft watches the mist that has been rising from the river since he left his office for the embassy, thickening and pervading Westminster and Belgravia, rolling through the streets and over the open places and parks until the whole city of London is effectively sealed off from the rest of the world. A thick blanket of soft dewy damp muffling every sound slowly smothers the bustling activity of the city to a gentle halt.

For one brief moment Mycroft is sure that he’s caught a glimpse of pale skin ghosting out of an open shirt collar, a shock of dark curls loitering under the leafy canopy of the trees that offer no shelter against the veils of clingingly-cold mist. He almost taps on the compartment window to signal the chauffeur to stop the car, but thinks better of it. Nothing but a feat of his imagination, a swivel provided courtesy of his mind – busy with its own obsession – enjoying nothing better after a long day than to conjure up the vision of that haunting throat, the throbbing of the pulse point beneath the earlobe as Mycroft traces the flow of the blood with a reverential brush of his open mouth.

Half an hour later the car rounds the corner of Mycroft’s quiet street. After entering the driveway the gate automatically relocks itself. The CCTV cameras guarding the entrance to the secluded garden surrounding the house spring back to life. Mycroft steps out of the Bentley and confirms he won’t be needing it anymore tonight, wishing his chauffeur a pleasant night. He watches the man retire to his small flat above the garage, then turns towards the garden path that leads up to the house.

The heavy thud of the front door as it shuts behind him signals his liberation, at least for the next ten hours or so. Mycroft puts his umbrella in its stand with the others, hangs his coat on a hook, and eases his shoulders inside his jacket, before making his way towards the dining room, lighting lamps along the way.

His maid, who is also his cook, is enjoying one of her weekly nights off. She usually spends those at her mother’s in Richmond, returning early the next morning in time to prepare his breakfast. Mycroft’s gaze surveys the selection of cold cuts, cheese, crackers, and fruit she has left on the sideboard in the dining room for his evening meal. A slight frown wrinkles his brow as he detects the food has been dallied with. Some grapes are scattered about, a slice of Wensleydale cheese bears the marks of a reluctant bite. The diner found fault with it, obviously, as the innocent food product betrays all the signs of having been thrown down beside the plate, undoubtedly with disgust disfiguring the features of its abuser.

Around Mycroft the house is its usual tranquil entity. He cocks his head and listens with intent for a minute but his ears detect no movement, no sound, just the sombre stillness he needs to encompass himself with at home. Mycroft lifts the piece of cheese close to his nose and carefully sniffs at it, before taking a bite himself. His tongue pushes the crumbly moistness against his palate and he closes his eyes briefly to better enjoy the honeyed acid flavour mixed with a tangy tastiness no Wensleydale cheese has ever been praised for.

Open lips offering themselves to be ghosted over with the tips of his fingers, to be sucked on, and licked, and bruised as he grinds his own mouth against them.

Mycroft eyes the remains of the cheese between his fingers. After slight hesitation he puts the piece back on the plate. His chauffeur is still awake no doubt. He could walk over and ask the man to drive him to the Diogenes club, to the Savoy or any other hotel, to any place away from here. Tomorrow will be another long and tiring day. If he were sensible he would go over to the coat rack, don his coat, pick up an umbrella, and walk out.

Another minute and Mycroft comes to a decision. He flicks off the light in the dining room and swiftly walks down the hall to lock and bolt the front door. He’s too dignified to run, but it’s a hard struggle not to do it, as he hurries to the kitchen next in order to check whether the door at the back is secured as well. Back in the hall he activates the alarm before turning towards the stairway and hitting the light switch, plunging the hall in a darkness that’s invaded only by the faint glimmer of the streetlamps.

Mycroft forces himself to ascend the stairs with deliberately slow steps, his right hand trailing the polished wood of the railing. He doesn’t turn on the light on the landing upstairs.

Once he enters his bedroom, he locks the door before walking over to the window. In passing he notices the open bathroom door, catches a glimpse of a carelessly discarded towel on the dark grey marble of the flooring.

Apart from the light seeping through the crack of the open bathroom door, darkness and silence envelop Mycroft once he has drawn the heavy brocade curtains against the muted glow of the streetlights. He stands still, holding onto the curtains, crushing the costly fabric in his fists, regulating his breath until he can feel the seconds gathering momentum.

Slowly Mycroft pivots on his heels and surveys the blackness around him. He walks over towards the bathroom and turns off the light. He blinks momentarily into the utter darkness before turning around and heading in the direction of his bed.

His ears detect a sound, barely traceable, soft, hitched breathing. In just four steps Mycroft is next to the bed, flicks on the switch of the lamp on the night table to reveal the body draped over his sheets.

Even though he knows his brother is lying in wait for him here, it still comes as a shock. It always does. After all these years Sherlock’s proximity, the view of all that naked creamy skin that continues to glow with health despite all the self-abuse, still sends Mycroft’s temperate dignitary’s blood racing through his veins. Mycroft swallows. His Adam´s apple bobs up and down in a ludicrous, exaggerated movement. He resists the urge to insert his fingers into the knot of his tie to loosen it before he suffocates.

“Hello, Mycroft.” The voice is a lazy purr, the glance resembling nothing so much as the contented look of a cat that knows the mouse held prisoner between its paws can’t escape.

“Sherlock.” Mycroft eases his hand into his brother’s black curls and winds one around his forefinger. He slowly tugs at it with some force, necessitating his brother to struggle up from his languid posture with a wince of pain. “What a pleasant surprise to find you here.”

 

Part Two.

Once, less than a decade ago, life was different for Mycroft. Born into a family of highly distinguished and appreciated civil servants, it had been naturally decreed that he was to follow in his father’s footsteps. At twenty-six Mycroft had already risen dazzlingly fast through the ranks of Whitehall, each day bringing new triumphs to be acknowledged with a slight nod of the head, then carefully tucked away up his – increasingly more expensive – shirt sleeves.

In his private life he was equally fortunate, having acquainted himself with the delightful Miss Cecilia Fitz-Wake in his third year at University. Miss Fitz-Wake was set on an academic Cambridge career so there were no professional objections to a future alliance. Their families found they had much in common and were soon on friendly terms, everyone agreeing the marriage would be a brilliant match. Mycroft and Cecilia were made for each other, each so agreeable and pleasant – they were sure to be very happy together.

Every now and then Mycroft pondered the puzzle of the gradual withering of his initial desperate frenzy in his encounters with Cecilia. Their easy and unimaginative coupling was so different from the almost violent kissing and tearing at each other’s clothes he remembered from the first months. The mad scramble to be naked and to become one with the other, to lose oneself completely by merging with another body. In his weaker moments Mycroft confessed to himself he would have preferred a wife more willing to take the initiative in the bedroom, but they had been together for some years; of course that heated passion was bound to simmer down. Cecilia never refused him, so he really shouldn’t have complained, but should have counted his blessings. Cecilia was funny, and smart, and incredibly clever. What more could a sensible, cautious man; a man destined to serve his country with his considerable abilities, have desired in a future wife?

Maybe he had been too self-possessed, and in his mistaken pride had ascribed to his own accomplishments what had in reality been remarkably good luck.

It didn’t matter. Whatever Mycroft had done wrong, his halcyon days of innocent dreams of absolute power floundered the minute he stepped over the threshold of the small dressing room where his seventeen-year-old brother sat poised in front of a dressing mirror after his performance in the school play of Lady Macbeth. Mycroft had watched Sherlock’s triumph from the auditorium, amidst wildly whooping excited schoolboys, thudding their feet against the planks in a tribute that set the walls of the venerable building vibrating.

Sherlock was busy cleaning his face from the theatrical make-up, scrubbing away with a tissue at the heavy rouge on his cheekbones. He glanced into the mirror at the moment of Mycroft’s entrance, and for a few seconds sat perfectly still, hand raised halfway up to his face. The clasps of the gaudy dress he had worn on stage were partly loosened, causing the ungainly structure to topple halfway down his shoulders. It revealed Sherlock’s stark collarbones and equally stark, angular shoulder blades. His mouth was a bewilderment of red blinding Mycroft from high above those shockingly naked shoulders. They couldn’t have been looking at each other’s reflection in that mirror for more than ten seconds, before Mycroft felt compelled to slant his eyes into the direction of a chair standing near a sidewall, where he seated himself next.

That Christmas was supposed to be the last Mycroft and Cecilia would spend in their own family circle. Mycroft drove Sherlock to their ancestral seat, trying to initiate a conversation in vain. His younger sibling preserved being his usual taciturn self during the ride, deliberately staring out of the window with his turbid gaze, and not deigning to acknowledge Mycroft’s attempts at familial chatter.

Inwardly Mycroft sighed and wondered once again what must have happened in a matter of few years to turn an affectionate, endearing child into this unforthcoming, discourteous cad.

During the drive Mycroft remembered the day when he had first found his door to their communal bathroom locked. The bathroom was handily situated between their rooms, and they had never locked their doors before. To Mycroft the idea of hiding his body away from the eyes of his brother, eight years his junior, was ridiculous in the extreme. He had rattled the door handle before calling out whether Sherlock was all right in there. He had to rattle the handle some more, before being told in a voice perfecting the art of sounding annoyed to staggering heights, to bugger off and leave Sherlock alone.

A little hurt and slightly confused, Mycroft had done just that. The next morning he tried to bring up the subject, but Sherlock had done nothing, but prove that at thirteen he was equally proficient at appearing exasperated as he was at sounding extremely vexed. He sighed in a most put-upon manner; he rolled his eyes and raised his eyebrows at Mycroft in an expressive frown which indicated he’d always suspected Mycroft was a pervert, intent on catching a peek of his brother’s privates. Mycroft endured this treatment for half an hour before giving up. He wondered whether he should be worried, whether he shouldn’t suggest to Daddy to quietly inquire at the school if they had noticed anything out of the ordinary, but after due consideration decided against it. Most likely his little brother’s experience of adolescence differed greatly from Mycroft’s own. He regretted the loss of their easy intimacy, but trusted they would be reconciled once Sherlock reached manhood.

Over the following four years their relationship deteriorated further. Sherlock seemed intent to spoil every family event by behaving in the most atrocious manner. Mycroft will never forget the smirk on his brother’s face when his rude answer to their aunt Philippa’s kind question nearly sent the slightly dotty but lovely old spinster bursting into tears.

That year, it was obvious that if Sherlock had his say in the matter, nothing was going to be any different.

Their first evening at home was to be just the four of them, their guests not arriving until the following afternoon. Having dressed for dinner – Mummy and Daddy insisted one should always be properly dressed while seated at the dinner table – Mycroft walked over to the bathroom to comb his hair. He opened the door and was confronted with a glimpse of firm round buttocks on the body of a wispy sprite. He immediately closed the door again – telling himself he was shocked not by the sight of his brother’s form, but by the fact that the door hadn’t been locked while Sherlock was inside – and retreated to his desk. Shaking slightly he sat down. He stared hard out of the window for five long minutes, only to find his mind was inexorably burdened with the imprint of a naked Sherlock in front of the sink, hand poised on his hip, brushing his teeth.

Mycroft awaited outraged accusations all evening; against what he couldn’t exactly fathom, but he was convinced Sherlock’s creative talent had already drawn up the first plans to initiate the verbal warfare. Contrary to his expectations Sherlock kept to a resolute silence. He threw a tantrum during their game of bridge, though, storming off to his room without wishing any of them goodnight, but that occurrence was hardly unusual.

Mummy and Daddy retired early as well, under the prospect of a busy week ahead, leaving Mycroft in front of the hearth to sip his whiskey and stare into the flames.

The blue heart of a tiny flame flickering over a log at the edge of the fire transformed itself into the tiny dollop of toothpaste he had glimpsed on the left near Sherlock’s bottom lip, just were the flesh curved upward from its heavy full drop. Mycroft averted his gaze and fixed it on the clock that was ticking away on the mantelpiece. Unfortunately the clock was a baroque monstrosity, a heirloom with a long family history, so Mycroft’s eyes fell back on the fire with its small flame embracing and kissing the log.

Now Mycroft found the smudge of toothpaste just in front of his mouth. His tongue shot out to clear it away, just a quick lick, a brush of the lips to make sure the skin on Sherlock’s lips was clean again, free from any impurity.

Christ.

Mycroft stood up abruptly and walked over to the drinks cabinet to pour himself another finger-width of Daddy’s excellent Laphroaig. He found his hand shaking and returned quickly back to his chair.

What was the matter with him? He had just imagined kissing his brother’s lower lip. A voice in his head asked him why he was working himself up so much? What was wrong with a brotherly kiss, a quiet token of affection?

True, Mycroft hadn’t kissed Sherlock since congratulating him upon his thirteenth birthday. But they were a family that expressed their care for each other. Even at twenty-six Mycroft still kissed his father. Surely the image of kissing Sherlock meant nothing but Mycroft’s wish for the resumption of the close relationship he and his brother used to enjoy, before infuriating adolescence descended upon Sherlock like a curse.

Come on, another voice in his mind jeered in a shockingly common accent, get off of it! Brotherly kiss, my arse.

Be quiet, Mycroft told the voice, and the cowardly miscreant crept away, back into the farthest corner of his mind. Good.

Mycroft took another sip of his drink.

It was true. He was honest with himself, like he always is. The kiss that he had envisaged wasn’t just an innocent brotherly kiss.

The blue flame had flickered up, rushing towards completion by consuming the log it fed upon.

Sherlock’s lips part at the touch, the hand holding the toothbrush fallen to his side. “Mycroft.” His own lips open over Sherlock’s to consume the gush of air that is his name. Merely the ghost of a touch, tasting the soft flesh of his brother’s lips.

Oh, the taste, fresh and clean, with a hint of the strawberries they gorged themselves on every summer. Mycroft can feel the warmth of the sun on the skin of his cheek. Sherlock’s fingers brushing it, caressing, and Mycroft bringing up his hands to clasp them around his brother’s head, bury them amidst the mass of curly blackness, in order to angle Sherlock’s head just so. Their noses – well, they both have rather prominent noses – don’t rub awkwardly against each other when Mycroft intensifies the kiss, feeling with his tongue along the ridge of Sherlock’s upper teeth, the beautiful even teeth that they are, and breaching past that wall to feel for the wet velvet of Sherlock’s tongue.

Oh.

Sherlock’s eyes are closed, but Mycroft’s are open wide so he can observe his brother, the rapid movements of his almost translucent lids in synchrony with the twining of their tongues. It is fascinating to watch their frenzy as the kiss becomes hungrier, more passionate. Sherlock’s hand has moved to the back of Mycroft’s head and Mycroft can feel carding fingers through his own hair, sending a delicious trail of shivers down his spine.

Beneath his mouth Sherlock’s lips open for another sigh: “Mycroft.”

The crackling of the fire snapped Mycroft out of his reverie.

He took a hasty gulp of the whiskey, welcoming the burn as it slid down his throat.

What desperate madness was he letting himself in for? Conjuring up images of kissing his brother. Why? Because he had caught a glimpse of Sherlock’s naked shoulders and buttocks? If the annoying little wisenheimer hadn’t insisted on …

Mycroft checked himself. He was starting to rant in his own head!

He was overwrought. He had pushed himself a little too hard lately, what with the never-ending talks on the defence budget, the trade pact with Iceland, and that persistent little problem in the constituency of P. All that aside from the endless bother the drawing up of the invitation list for his marriage had proven to be.

What Mycroft ought to do now was put down his glass, go up, and have a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow morning he would rise early and take an invigorating walk down the park so he would be fresh to help his parents receive their guests in the afternoon.

He would ignore Sherlock the entire week. This would be no hardship as Sherlock’s most likely activity would be to ignore them all. The evening of New Year’s Day Mycroft would travel back to London and the appalling idea of enjoying a kiss with his little brother would disintegrate under the influence of work, conjugal love, and the demands of real life.

The last remains of the fire were dying down when Mycroft placed his glass on the mantelpiece. He knelt down to extinguish the flickering embers with the fire irons. He used the ashes, poking at them and raking them over with a sturdy zeal, taking satisfaction in the thoroughness of his work .He flicked off the lights in the room. In the hall he checked whether the front door was properly locked before ascending the stairs.

He opened the door to his room and felt with his hand for the light switch. His gaze fell on his bed which was placed against the opposite wall. As his mind registered what his eyes were seeing, he pulled the door back to shut it abruptly in his own face, and closed his eyes.

This can’t be true.

He opened the door again and walked into his room.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

Sherlock stared up at him.

“What do you think?”

Across the width of the bed Sherlock had situated himself on his left side, his head propped up by one languid forearm. His other arm rested along his torso, accentuating his slender figure.

He was in his pyjamas, dark-blue stripes against a pale-grey background. The jacket had been carefully arranged to reveal Sherlock’s narrow chest, enabling Mycroft to appreciate the smooth skin over his brother’s pectorals. The waistband of the pyjama bottoms didn’t have much hip to adhere itself to, allowing Mycroft’s eyes to rest on the soft vulnerable shadow thrown by Sherlock’s hipbone over his iliac furrow.

Mycroft chose to close his eyes again instead and lean back against the door. His mouth had gone completely dry.

“Get out,” he said. His intention was to sound harsh, but to his dismay he found the term ‘husky’ provided greater accuracy.

Sherlock huffed. “I’d rather stay. I think you want me to.”

“No, I don’t.” Mycroft’s eyes flew open. He licked his lips against his will. “I don’t want you here, I don’t want to see you, I don’t want to speak to you, not now. Please, have the decency to get up and get out of my room.”

“I know you want to fuck me,” Sherlock rumbled matter-of-factly.

“What did you say?” Mycroft lowered his voice to a hiss. “Are you out of your mind? How dare you speak to me like that?”

“Well, it’s the truth, isn’t it? I saw that look you gave me back at school after the play. Hargrave always looks at me like that whenever he wants to shag me. Which is pretty much all the time.”

“I’m gratified to learn you’ve considerably widened the range of your vocabulary during the last term,” Mycroft said. “And you’ve made some charming acquaintances as well. Pray tell me who may this Hargrave be?”

“Oh, he’s not important,” Sherlock said, breezy. “He’s a complete idiot. I have never even bothered to find out his first name. Amazingly he’s got no gag reflex at all but he does have the most gloriously thick hair. So I get off in his mouth first, while grabbing a handful of that very nice hair, and afterwards I let him bend me over to fuck me. It’s a fair deal – we both get something out of it.”

Sherlock shifted on the bed. The movement caused the pyjama bottoms to ride even lower on his hips, revealing a shade of dark hairs trailing down and hiding under the waistband.

Mycroft slanted his eyes sideways.

“Fascinating,” he murmured, willing a heavy dollop of sarcasm into the word. The intended effect was rather spoiled by his gaze travelling back to Sherlock on its own accord.

“Not really,” Sherlock contradicted him. “Still, it helps to pass the time. School’s so boring.”

Sherlock brought his free hand up to his mouth in an affectation of a yawn. His fingertips traced the bold contour of his lower lip for a fleeting moment before the hand descended down to his hip again. However, Sherlock didn’t settle it back on his thigh. Holding Mycroft’s gaze he pulled the waistband of the pyjama bottoms further down, causing his half-hard member to spring free. He wrapped his fingers loosely around it and started to stroke, ensuring his fingers were spread wide enough for Mycroft to watch at leisure how his little brother lay caressing himself.

“Stop that,” Mycroft said.

“What would be fascinating,” Sherlock drawled, ignoring Mycroft’s injunction, “is you fucking me.” He inched his hips forward in an obscene gesture, while perfecting his lips around a soft little ‘oh’.

Mycroft felt his penis stir. He resolutely instructed it into passiveness.

“I told you to stop. Please, have the decency to listen to somebody else for once in your life. Quite apart from the fact that I don’t, and I repeat do not, want to have intercourse with you, I really don’t see why you would wish for it? Mind you, the question is rhetorical – it’s simply never going to happen.”

Sherlock tittered. Mycroft found himself tightening his fists to prevent himself from striding over and slapping his brother in the face.

“Oh, Mycroft, please don’t pretend you’re so pedestrian as to be hindered by dull conventions and taboos. You’re too clever for that, we’re both too clever. Surely, you should have figured it out by now.”

“I should have figured out what?” Mycroft asked, fighting to keep the bewilderment out of his voice. His mind wasn’t functioning at its accustomed level, not with the mind-boggling sight of Sherlock’s nimble fingers playing over his erect member. Flushed and dark, it quivered in front of the stark background of white abdominal skin and thick black curls.

Mycroft felt himself hardening despite all his effort, the beginning of his erection straining against the flexible cage of his flies. He dug his fingertips into the palm of his hand so he could concentrate on the pain.

“That I’ve wanted this for years now,” Sherlock murmured. “Don’t tell me you never inferred what that suddenly locked door meant. I locked it to protect you, to protect you against me. You appeared to be so content with that dull, stupid bitch.”

Mycroft started and opened his mouth to correct his brother, to defend the honour of the woman he had decided to marry, but Sherlock went on, gaze fixed on Mycroft’s crotch. He didn’t bother to hide his smug, satisfied smile as his discerning eyes followed the incriminating evidence belying Mycroft’s statements.

“Then I caught you looking at me. God, I was so happy; I saw you wanted me, want me, as much as I do you.”

“No, I don’t.”

Sherlock let go of himself and sat up. A petulant look settled over his face.

“Will you stop that?” he asked, genuine exasperation in his voice. “I’m not daft. I’m quite good at observing, thank you very much. Stop acting like a simpering idiot and come over here to do what you’ve wanted to do ever since you got that raging erection just by looking at me yesterday evening. I won’t scream for help, quite the contrary. And I’ll even be so kind as to remind you I’ll be eighteen in two weeks’ time, if that’s what’s bothering you.”

Mycroft stood there, looking at his brother in frozen disbelief. Sherlock rolled himself to the edge of the bed and was halfway across the room before Mycroft came to himself. His hand fumbled for the door handle. He jerked the door open and fled into the corridor, down the stairs, through the hall. His trembling fingers missed the lock of the front door a few times before he managed to insert his key into it. Gasping for breath Mycroft ran outside, throwing the door shut behind him. He was down the steps of the terrace and at the other side of the turf, before he came to a halt.

The cold air slapped him in the face. He stood panting for breath with his hands against his side. He hadn’t felt this exhausted since exerting himself in the swimming competition in his last year at school. They’d beaten Eton.

Mycroft shook his head and turned back towards the house.

What was he doing out here, having fled his parents’ home as if he were a criminal? He was going to get back in and march up to his room, then tell his maddening brother to make himself scarce and if that aggravating little nuisance refused he would …

In the copse behind him an owl screeched, probably chasing a small, furry victim. Mycroft clasped and unclasped his fists several times. He was shivering with cold.

Up in the house the light in his room was still on. Mycroft waited to see Sherlock’s shadow walk over to his own room. Every now and then he checked his watch. Half an hour later nothing had happened. Maybe Sherlock had gone to his room straightaway, while Mycroft was still fleeing.

What a damned, reprehensible situation.

Mycroft sighed. He didn’t relish the prospect of confronting his younger sibling right now. To sit Sherlock down and explain to him the enormity of his proposal. He was tired and he wanted to sleep. But where? Mycroft couldn’t go up and use one of the guestrooms. They were all ready for the people who would be arriving tomorrow, and besides what explanation would he offer Mummy?

Damn you, you damned infuriating wretch.

The cold started numbing his hands. Mycroft put them inside his jacket’s pockets and felt his car keys brush against the fingers of his right hand. He wondered briefly what they were doing there before latching on to them like the salvation to all his troubles. He would sleep in his car. He kept a stack of blankets in the boot and he could lower the back of his seat. It wouldn’t be very comfortable, but anything was preferable to the possibility of a new confrontation with Sherlock.

Tomorrow morning Mycroft would be fresh and himself again. This evening had been… He really needed to sleep.

He walked over to the garage and let himself in. He found five blankets – more than enough to keep him warm – and seated himself in the passenger seat. With his long legs it was rather a tight fit, but he managed to wriggle himself into a position that didn’t feel too awkward. The blankets helped his body preserve its warmth and he began to feel less cold. His eyes slid closed.

It’s amazing how soft and thick the hairs trailing past his fingertips are. Beneath his mouth Mycroft can feel Sherlock’s lips open for yet another sigh of Mycroft’s name. He feels the delicious anticipation throbbing in his chest.

“I know you want to fuck me.”

The persistent ache of the crick in his neck woke him up. Mycroft lay disoriented for a few seconds before sitting up with some difficulty and feeling around with his hand for the handle to raise the back of the seat. Groaning, he massaged the back of his neck.

His hand found the overhead light next. He looked at the clock on the dashboard. Half past six – he’d slept for four hours. Not enough but the idea of trying to catch some more sleep in his car was inconceivable. Besides, the house would be stirring awake soon. Daddy was an early riser.

Mycroft threw the blankets aside. He could take the risk and go back to his room now. Hopefully Sherlock had made himself scarce.

Outside the dark night still reigned. A light frost had hardened the ground. The earth felt proper and firm beneath his soles. High above the stars were smiling down on a world that lay in anticipation of a day celebrating peace and celestial love. Mycroft’s gaze followed the lines of the Plough while he stood a moment, breathing in the clean, fresh air.

Inside the house was draped in tranquillity. The welcoming big Christmas tree in the hall oozed comfort through the crisp pine smell of its branches. Upstairs in the corridor, a beam of light was visible through a crack of the door to his room. He came next to it and listened closely for what felt like a long time, but everything seemed quiet. Mycroft gave the door a tentative nudge with his fingertips and peeked inside.

His room was empty.

He heaved a sigh of relief, then walked in tugging his tie from his neck and starting on unbuttoning his shirt. He glanced at the bed. The cover was arranged as immaculate as if the maid had taken care of it, no crease or dent giving any indication someone had lain on it. The thought that Mycroft had merely imagined the whole scene fleeted through his mind. A false accusation of his innocent brother, a wretched night spent in his car for nought. Overwrought indeed.

Mycroft drew back the cover and gasped.

Those fingers … so slender, so unlike his own …stroking …

Sherlock had spent himself on Mycroft’s sheets.

Enraged Mycroft tore at the bedding. The sheet on the mattress resisted his efforts and he fought a shout of frustration as he pulled at the defiant fabric. Finally the infuriating sheet gave way and he was able to bunch the whole mess into a ball and throw it into a corner.

Mycroft turned towards the bathroom door. He was going to storm through it, into the room of his impudent sibling to give him a very thorough piece of his mind and to order him to stop his disturbing behaviour.

What he did was to save the cover from the mass of soiled sheets and seek shelter beneath it as he lay down on his bare mattress in search of some more sleep.

***

Mycroft woke up a few hours later, stiff and miserable. If Lord Jaganath himself had rolled over his body it couldn’t have ached more. He sat up and rubbed his face forcefully.

Shower. Shave. Brush teeth. With his own toothpaste. Dress in clean clothes, not this crumpled mess. Never want to see the damned things again. Breakfast. Wish Mummy and Daddy a Merry Christmas. And then that long, long walk he promised himself last night.

Mycroft’s eyes fell on the alarm and he groaned. He’d overslept. He had barely an hour before the first guests should start arriving.

A lesser man would have hollered in frustration there and then, but Mycroft wasn’t one of those. He whipped himself up from the bed and strode towards the window to crank it upwards. He leaned out, bracing himself on stiff arms, and gulped in the biting, untainted air, feeling his head clear.

On his way down Mycroft saw Sherlock cross the hall. His brother stared him in the face with a defiant look before vanishing behind the door to the servant’s staircase.

”I know you want to fuck me.”

Mycroft chose not to follow him, but went in search of his parents instead. He found his mother in the dining room together with the hired extra servants.

“Oh, hello darling,” she said before kissing him fondly and wishing him a Merry Christmas in return. “You must have been exhausted to sleep this late. We decided not to wake you. Sherlock told us you were deploring the amount of work you’d had lately. Your father and I found him to be surprisingly pleasant this morning. Quite unlike last evening. Could it be he’s growing out of it at last?”

Mycroft refrained from answering. Instead he went to his father’s study, where he knew his father was fortifying himself with some Chekhov before the guests arrived.

“Hello, dear boy.” His father stood and embraced Mycroft before kissing him warmly. “I say, you are still a little pale around the nose. I do hope the antics of that infuriating man you’re having to deal with aren’t disturbing your sleep. I think I might have hit upon the proper means in handling him. We’ll talk about it later this week.”

Daddy clapped him on the shoulder. “Talking about infuriating rascals – this morning your mother and I were delighted by the Christmas miracle of Sherlock behaving himself for a change. It looks like he’s finally grown up. And have you seen his list of levels? Astonishing. He will be such an advantageous asset once he’s joined us in the ranks.”

“Quite.”

“Well, better go and get yourself some food.” Daddy beamed. “Cook is bound to have kept something warm in the oven for you. Just be certain to be back up here at one. Your dear brother may have decided to work on his attitude, but I wouldn’t count on him actually helping us make it through the next few days.”

Mycroft smiled vaguely and withdrew.

He went down to the kitchen and ate his lunch at the kitchen table with Cook chattering and bustling away. He didn’t hear a word she said.

Walking into the blue morning room Mycroft caught sight of Sherlock standing on the edge of the turf, in the exact same spot from where Mycroft had been gazing up to his bedroom window a few hours earlier. Sherlock was wearing an old, torn wax coat of Daddy’s and a pair of Wellingtons. Suddenly he swivelled and his gaze locked with Mycroft’s. It was as if Sherlock had known Mycroft’s exact actions: that he would come up to the French windows of that room, that he would look out of it in that precise moment. Mycroft couldn’t see his brother’s face very well, but he was convinced he caught a smirk flicker up to light the eyes underneath the fringe of black curls. Involuntary Mycroft took a step back, away from the window. Sherlock turned and marched down in the direction of the trees, a purposeful set to his shoulders.

”I know you want to …”

No! Don’t listen.

“Mycroft, darling. Is everything all right with you?”

He pivoted to find Mummy staring up at him with a look of concern. His sweet mother’s face. He longed for the touch of her hand on his brow, as if he were a little boy again, sick with the flu, and tossing and turning in his bed. Feeling wretched, but still comforted by her presence. Oh God, imagine she should ever learn of the scene that had taken place three rooms away from hers last night.

“It’s nothing. I’ve been pushing myself a little too hard lately,” Mycroft said, smiling at her in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. Being able to school his features in the appropriate expression was one of his highest accomplishments, something of inexhaustible value to him in his work. Sadly the ability appeared to have vanished overnight.

“Oh, my poor boy. It’s just ... Nanny told me she’d found your sheets all balled up in the corner of your room so I was wondering whether you weren’t unwell?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I’ve been a little, but nothing to worry about. I’m fine now. I enjoyed my lunch and am quite looking forward to dinner.”

Mummy smiled. “Well, you would have to be really ill for you to lose your appetite. Promise me to make good use of the week to recover a bit, darling. What would we all do if you were seriously sick?”

In the hall the clatter of the doorbell could be heard.

“Ah, that would be Great-aunt Augusta,” Mummy said, heading to go and open the door for the lively old lady.

Mycroft drew a deep breath, plastered a smile on his face – this one was genuine for he was quite fond of his great-aunt – and followed his mother out of the room.

The next few hours he busied himself with receiving his parents’ guests and generally creating a congenial atmosphere. The candles burned cheerily on the big tree and fires blazed warmly in various hearths. The 1982 Comtes de Champagne that Mycroft had advised his father to offer his guests was met with everyone’s approval, if the rate at which it was disappearing was any indication.

The first hour or so Mycroft caught some worried glances passing between his parents but their frequency declined under his continuous affectation of well-being.

“Didn’t your brother come down for Christmas?” Uncle Richard asked after having waved away Mycroft’s polite enquiry about shooting that season. “Or have your parents finally faced the unavoidable and had him locked away in a clinic?”

“On the contrary.” Mycroft answered. “Sherlock’s manners have undergone a considerable change recently.”

He excused himself and left his uncle sitting on the settee. Having a conversation on the subject of his brother was the last of Mycroft’s wishes, especially with the most ungracious of his uncles.

“Oh, Mycroft.” Aunt Philippa came up to him. “I do need your help. I’ve told you about that animal shelter in my village, haven’t I? Now, you won’t believe what those awful people from the local council have come up with? Who would have ever thought…“

Mycroft tuned her out. He nodded at the appropriate intervals and beamed down on her whenever her vague big eyes wavered up at him. She dawdled at length on her recurring theme of bloodthirsty fiends threatening the happiness of her furry darlings. Mycroft ended the one-sided conversation by offering to fetch another glass of champagne for her.

Two more hours and Mycroft had had enough. If he didn’t breathe some fresh air soon he would choke.

“I haven’t called Cecilia yet to wish her a Merry Christmas,” he whispered to his mother. “I’ll go up and make the call now. I won’t be long.”

“All right, darling.”

Mycroft took the steps up two at a time. In his room he noticed his bed had been made. He folded back the cover. Fresh sheets. Mycroft made a mental note to thank Nanny. He walked over to the window.

Outside the wintry day was drawing to a close. A fox stole across the turf. Mycroft watched the beast with appreciation. Foxes were his favourite animals. He was glad uncle Richard was safely stowed away in the yellow drawing room, and that he hadn’t brought his gun. Daddy abhorred hunting as much as Mycroft did.

The trees stood out darkly against the sky. The light was exquisite, a silvery dusky blue, so soft it struck the eye more as a pearly grey. The same iridescent grey as Sherlock’s eyes.

”Mycroft, yes.”

Sherlock’s eyes are open as Mycroft’s ghosts his lips over his brother’s nose before gliding down a cheekbone to the delicate shell of an ear. He loses his tongue in the maze of whorls and corners to find it back where it’s now licking at the tendon that springs up from the flow of pale skin just a little lower. Endless stretches of pale skin… Soft skin …

Mycroft turned away from the window and the distracting remnants of the evening light. He should call Cecilia. That was what he had come up for. Not to lose himself in maddening, illicit dreams of kissing his brother. Yes, kissing. Nothing more. As if desiring to kiss Sherlock wasn’t bad enough.

He walked over to his desk, picked up the receiver and dialled the phone number of his fiancée’s family home.

“Cecilia Fitz-Wake.”

Thank God, not her mother.

“Hello, darling. It’s me. I apologise for not calling earlier. Merry Christmas.”

“Mycroft.” Mycroft’s ear lapped up the joy in her voice. “A Merry Christmas to you too. How are you?”

“Fine. I had to cut down the conversation with Uncle Richard, but that’s the worst that has happened so far today.”

Cecilia laughed. For a woman she had quite a deep throaty laugh. Mycroft considered it very attractive. In fact, that laugh was what had first drawn him to her.

“I was compelled to do the same with Aunt Geraldine.” Mycroft had met Aunt Geraldine. She would have made Uncle Richard a fine wife.

“So, it’s a draw.”

Another laugh. “Yes.” She was silent for a moment. “I miss you, darling.”

Mycroft swallowed.

“I miss you too.” And he did. With her at his side, surely he wouldn’t be enduring his frightening inclination.

“Next Christmas will be better.”

“Yes.”

Silence. Then: “Are you sure you are all right, Mycroft?”

“Yes,” he lied. He added as an afterthought: “Or maybe not. Maybe I’m a bit overwrought.”

“See?” Now she sounded upset. “I told you you were pushing yourself too hard. You really shouldn’t. Your health is more important than politics.”

“Cecilia, please. You’re exaggerating.”

“What did your mother say?”

“That I should take a rest. And I will. Please, calm down.”

He could hear her breathe on the other side of the line. He closed his eyes and fervently wished she were standing at his side, holding his hand, giving it an encouraging little squeeze.

“All right. I’m sorry. But you never listen.”

“I do listen, Cecilia. Occupational hazard.”

That remark earned him another laugh. “Please, look after yourself, darling,” Cecilia said. “And enjoy your dinner. I should have come over to yours. That Cook your parents have, she’s a treasure.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “I need to go now. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”

She ended the call. Mycroft stood with the receiver in his hand, listening to the insistent whisper that came streaming out of the mouthpiece into the room: ”I know you want to fuck me.”

He slammed the receiver back and sat down at the desk. His hands were shaking.

Against his wish his gaze travelled towards his bed. For a moment he was certain Sherlock was there, head propped up on his arm, gazing back.

Christ.

Good thought. Let Christ bring him his salvation on this day of all days. Mycroft reached over towards the transistor radio at the other end of the desk and turned it on. He would listen to some Messiah or Weihnachtsoratorium to strengthen him.

To his dismay he recognised at once the recitative flooding out of the speakers. Whoever was responsible for the broadcast programming of BBC Radio 3 should be sacked on the spot. To have the audacity to broadcast that opera on this day of all days...

Even the profound incompetents running the BBC should have recognised any other day of the year would have been a more appropriate one for hurling this through the ether into the ears of an unsuspecting public.

To top it all, they were broadcasting his favourite rendition. The Concertgebouw Orchestra with Harnoncourt conducting. The opening bars of the aria sounded. Mycroft extended his hand to turn off the radio but found he couldn’t. He sat listening, entranced, as he always sat when he listened to Margiono’s voice start that passionate declaration, translating the sentences in his mind:

’Come scoglio immoto resta
contra i venti e la tempesta,
così ognor quest'alma è forte
nella fede, e nell'amor.’

Like a rock is not moved
by the wind and the storm,
so this soul stands, strong
in trust and in love.

Steady as a rock she was. A magnificent woman. Unimpeachable, righteous and virtuous. Towering above the abject degenerates who dared to suppose she would concur with their disgraceful proposal.

Mycroft felt his heart leap in his chest at hearing her just indignation. Like it always did before the woodwinds raised their tremulous voices in the background. Those traitorous woodwinds, appearing to assist her in sounding her wrath but soon one heard they were mocking her, announcing her fate. For she was doomed. She would topple. She might demur, deny, desist, but in the end she would fall.

At the end of the aria Mycroft’s trembling hand switched off the radio. He stood up and searched for his car keys in the jacket he had worn last night. He held them in his hand for some minutes.

If the situation really became unbearable he would walk out and drive back to London. His parents were bound to understand and forgive him, what with his earlier admission to being overwrought. He could flee any moment. Save both Sherlock and himself.
Save Sherlock from himself.

Mycroft touched his brow. He was actually feeling rather warm. Maybe he had caught a cold, spending the night in the garage. In the bathroom he drew a damp washcloth over his face.

Feeling a little better he descended the stairs once again. He wriggled his eyebrows reassuringly at his mother’s raised questioning ones, then helped himself to a slice of mature cheddar.

At quarter past seven Sherlock came hopping down the steps. Their parents both looked relieved as they caught sight of Sherlock’s outward appearance.

The previous Christmas Sherlock had “enchanted” the gathering by his choice of clothing: an ensemble that consisted of a filthy, torn T-shirt, several sizes too big, and an equally filthy pair of jeans.

Now he was also bedecked in a pair of jeans, but at least they were clean and held up by a belt. His white shirt looked reasonably clean, too, and he had even made the effort of donning a jacket. It was obvious his hair hadn’t seen a comb all day, but the unruly mop of curls added to the charm of the smile lighting up his features.

“Hello, Aunt Philippa,” he said, descending on the innocent old maid. She blinked up at him with some faint anxiety. “Merry Christmas.” He gave her a peck on the cheek.

He went around the room beaming with benevolence and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. He was shaking the hands of the men, kissing the women, some on the cheek, but for those aunts and cousins with whom they had always enjoyed a greater intimacy, the kiss was on the mouth.

“A very Merry Christmas again, Mummy.” Mycroft heard him say and saw their mother lifting her happy face for a kiss. Their father received Sherlock’s graces with the same glad expression on his face, clasping the head of his youngest between his hands and returning his kiss with warmth.

Slowly but certainly Sherlock edged nearer, until he ended in front of Mycroft.

“Merry Christmas, Mycroft,” he murmured, extending his hand.

Mycroft’s eyes fell closed.

”Sherlock. Kiss me. Please?”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, please.”

Mycroft felt Sherlock’s fingertips grazing the hand Mycroft offered him. When Mycroft opened his eyes again Sherlock had already turned away and was accepting a glass of champagne with a graceful nod of his head.

Mycroft swallowed. He brought his hand up to his throat to adjust his tie.

In the hall the dinner gong sounded. They all filed into the dining room. Appreciative murmurs undulated around the room at the view of the dinner table. Mycroft looked over his mother’s work with admiration. This discreet affluence was her forte. Cecilia had told him she would welcome any suggestion of his mother’s to create the same atmosphere of discerning good taste in the house they’d call their home one day .

They all found their seats at the table. Mycroft was placed between his great-aunt Augusta and his cousin Gwendolyn. The latter was a rather silly girl of sixteen whose main topic of conversation was horses. Luckily Uncle Richard was seated at her other side and, as horses were indispensable in fox hunting, the two were capable of keeping each other occupied.

Sherlock sat near the opposite end of the table. Every now and then Mycroft risked a glance at him to find him toying around with his food and smiling pleasantly at his own table partners, Cousin Elizabeth and Aunt Philippa. Sherlock placed his hand over his glass whenever a servant offered some wine, but he drank quite a lot of water. He didn’t look in Mycroft’s direction once.

Cook had excelled herself once again but Mycroft didn’t enjoy his dinner. He forced himself to take a few bites of every dish to avoid upsetting Mummy, but every mouthful he swallowed felt like he was shoving a knife down his throat. After two hours his ordeal was over and they were allowed to drift into the yellow drawing room for a game of bridge or Tric-Trac.

Mycroft took it upon himself to be South to Aunt Philippa’s North. As the old lady had never quite mastered the rules, the game required his considerable attention. The repetitive ”Are you sure those are the rules?”, “Oh yes, I forgot.” and ”Oh dear!” grated on his nerves. Thankfully the bridge they’d never managed to build was soon blown up. Mycroft assured Aunt Philippa he had enjoyed himself and managed to hand her over to the comforting presence of Uncle Bertram, another animal lover.

When Mycroft looked around the room he found Sherlock was gone.

Thanks to a steady intake of whiskey Mycroft made it through the next hour. Then, around midnight, the company finally began to disperse wishing each other good night and confirming their plans for tomorrow. At long last Mycroft and his parents were the only ones left.

“Well,” Daddy said. “Another Christmas Dinner that went off with a bang. Congratulations, my dear.” He kissed Mummy on her forehead. Mummy beamed up at him.

“That champagne was a very good suggestion,” she told Mycroft. “We’ll have the rest of it sent over to you. But now I suggest we all go to bed. Tomorrow will be another long day.”

“I’ll just step outside for a moment,” Mycroft said. “Clear my head a little. I’ll lock up the house.”

“All right. Good night, darling.”

His parents went up the stairs. Mycroft fetched his coat from the vestibule and checked whether he had his keys on him.

The night air felt crispy and clear after the warmth inside. The moon lit up the house and made the copse throw a shadow over the turf. Frozen grass rustled under Mycroft’s soles. He walked around the house, noticing light still peeking between the curtains of several windows in the guest quarters. His own windows were dark. Sherlock’s likewise.

Why hadn’t Sherlock kissed him? He had bestowed almost every other person in the room with at least a peck on the cheek, so why not his brother? Was he punishing Mycroft?

It was cold. Mycroft put his hands in his coat pockets. He didn’t want to end up with his hands half-numb again.

Or was Sherlock hurt? By Mycroft’s refusal to give in to what Sherlock said he’d been longing to do for years?

Mycroft stepped on a twig. The sharp snap as it broke cracked through the silent air.

And if Sherlock were hurt, had he decided to hurt Mycroft in return? For he must have seen Mycroft was prepared to kiss him …that way. After all Sherlock was, as he’d stated petulantly himself during their nightly encounter, quite observant.

Mycroft had made the round of the house again. Still the only light coming from his windows was the reflection of the moonlight.

Had he forfeited his rights to a kiss? Mycroft huffed and shook his head. As if a kiss was a right he could claim! But he wanted it. He needed it, he needed to feel the touch, the press of Sherlock’s lips against his. They would be warm, slightly damp, because Sherlock would have wanted to give this to Mycroft. The offer of his mouth. He would part his lips to allow Mycroft in to taste him, the deep essence of Sherlock. Their tongues would twine and Sherlock would sigh his name.

”Mycroft.”

Oh, Mycroft wanted it.

He dug his hands into the pockets a little deeper.

He wanted it. And then, while they were still kissing Mycroft wanted to slide his hand from the back of Sherlock’s head down the long line of Sherlock’s back, then rest it on those round buttocks. Just let it rest there …

Another full circle completed. Now all the windows in the house were dark.

… yes, Mycroft would let it rest there for a moment, but then he would press Sherlock against him, so Sherlock could feel what effect his kiss had on Mycroft. On his brother.

Mycroft took a deep breath a few times. Was he really prepared to go further, even in his own head? Oh, but he was already past the watershed, wasn’t he? Why not be honest and admit what it was he really wanted?

To have his way with Sherlock, to have his brother kneel on all fours in front of Mycroft so he could draw Sherlock’s buttocks apart to kiss him. To kiss him on that spot where no brother was ever meant to press his lips.

Yes, he wanted to kiss Sherlock there. He would tease that tight little ring of wrinkled flesh with his tongue until he could feel Sherlock loosen up for Mycroft. And then he would slowly insert a finger and start working him open. He wouldn’t use a whole finger, not straightaway – just the tip at first.

But Sherlock would be tight and dry. Mycroft would hurt him. He’d rather cut off his own hand first before he would ever, ever hurt his little brother.

Vaseline. Mycroft always stocked a small pot for that spot of dry skin on his right shin. He would slather his fingers with vaseline first. And when Sherlock was sufficiently relaxed Mycroft would add another finger, then another, and all the while he would be kissing his neck and his back and his buttocks, pressing open-mouthed kisses all over Sherlock’s body. Because he could, because they’d already come this far. He would lick the skin on Sherlock’s back with long strokes of his tongue.

Oh god, you’re beautiful, stunning, you’re not of this world. You’re the most radiant creature I’ve ever seen. You’re incomparable.

And then, finally, when Mycroft had Sherlock worked all open and ready for him, he would apply some vaseline to himself and penetrate Sherlock. He would ease himself inside, gently and carefully, allowing Sherlock some time to get used to the stretch, and then …

Oh god. Mycroft panted. He raised his eyes up to the dark windows again but they revealed nothing. He could hear his own voice booming inside his head when he told himself what he imagined doing next.

… then I’ll start fucking him. I’m going to fuck that lovely white arse, I’m going to pound into him until we both see stars, and then I’m going to spill my seed deep inside my brother who will be celebrating his eighteenth birthday in two weeks’ time, and afterwards I’ll suck his cock to thank him for letting me shag him. The sound of his moans when he spends himself in my mouth will be the sweetest music to my ears; I will swallow every last drop, ending the most satisfying sexual encounter I’ve ever had.

When Mycroft came to himself again he found he had run to the front door. He opened it and bounded up the stairs, taking the steps two at a time. He threw open the door to his room and turned on the light.

On the bed Sherlock blinked quickly against the sudden burst of light. His pupils were dilated; Mycroft imagined them trying to absorb the faint glimmer of moonlight seeping through a crack between the drawn curtains.

Mycroft shut the door and leaned against it like he’d done yesterday. He struggled to steady his breathing. He looked at his brother who was just sitting there, in the middle of Mycroft’s bed, with his legs crossed. Waiting.

Mycroft walked over to the bed and extended his hand. He trailed the back of his fingers past Sherlock’s cheek, from the high cheekbone down to the round curve of the chin.

Sherlock’s eyes fell closed.

Mycroft cupped Sherlock’s chin and thumbed his lower lip. Sherlock’s tongue shot out for a quick brush at the finger. Mycroft shivered.

He let go. He sat down and untied the laces of his shoes, took the shoes off, and shoved them under the bed.

He swung his legs on the bed and lay down.

Sherlock snuggled his whole body close against him immediately. Heat sank through the fabric of Mycroft’s coat, his jacket, past the barrier of waistcoat and trousers, the handmade shirt and the silk underwear. Sherlock nudged the side of his head against Mycroft’s face like a cat, and Mycroft found his nose and mouth buried in soft curls. A lock danced over Mycroft’s lips; his nostrils indulged on a heady cocktail of freshly-scrubbed skin with a faint lingering of lime-tree blossom shampoo. And strawberries. Sherlock smelt of strawberries in the middle of winter.

Mycroft opened his arms to embrace his brother. Loosely at first but the feel of the lanky form resting there at last made him tighten his grip. A desperate sound wrung itself out from his throat.

Sherlock’s hand shifted upwards; he pressed his forefinger against Mycroft’s lips.

“Don’t worry, Mycroft,” he whispered. “I’ll be good. I promise I’ll be good.”

 

Part Three.

Oh, it’s glorious, as it always is, as it still is, even though the first time was eight years ago – just glorious. Mycroft’s extensive knowledge of the English language won’t provide him with a more appropriate word to describe what he is experiencing.

Propped up on his arms he looks down on the marvel of his brother’s body spread out beneath him. He has built a steady rhythm and each pull is answered with the insistent push of Sherlock’s calves against his back, spurring Mycroft to press himself back even deeper, until Mycroft forgets who is possessing and who is the possessed, then loses himself completely. He shudders through his orgasm while Sherlock holds him and rocks him and murmurs in his ear that he is wonderful, amazing, that Sherlock adores him, that Mycroft is the best big brother in the world.

But if being embraced by Sherlock, being in Sherlock, spending himself in his body is glorious, what word of his mother tongue could suffice to do even the faintest justice to the haunting tremor he feels as he lies paying homage to his brother’s body afterwards?

Mycroft draws Sherlock’s knees even wider apart so that his eyes can inspect at leisure the wreckage he has havocked between his brother’s legs. Up and down his gaze travels. From the erection straining with need against Sherlock’s concave pelvis down to the slowly widening pool on the sheets, then back up to the source of that spreading stain: Sherlock’s entrance, a marvellous ring of hot, slick flesh, still loose, leaking a mixture of lubricant and Mycroft’s semen.

It’s imperative Mycroft touches that sacred spot again. He huffs his breath over the inner sanctum. A tiny whimper rises from Sherlock’s throat. Mycroft understands how sensitive his brother is and how desperate to reach completion, but he holds Sherlock’s wrists – not constraining, just holding. He wants to feast his eyes on the sight a little longer.

“Later,” he promises. He can feel fresh arousal stirring at the bottom of his spine just by looking at Sherlock. Smelling him, too: The spicy musk of sex and sweat and heated skin. Mycroft nudges his nose against Sherlock’s perineum and inhales deeply. His tongue shoots out to lick at his brother’s hole, losing himself in the blend of sperm and lube. And skin that was clean before he defiled it with his lust. He rubs himself against the sheets in renewed pleasure that’s heightened by the sound of Sherlock’s laboured breathing and another whiny: “Mycroft, please.”

“Any moment now,” he accedes. He travels higher, along the gentle valley of the creases along Sherlock’s perineum up to the lightly-furred sac which he gives another loving long lick, gently adding a little pressure. Sherlock spreads his legs wider still. To reward him Mycroft carefully sucks on each testicle, relishing the hitched breathing and whimpering sounds. He brushes his fingers over his brother’s wrists in comfort.

“Mycroft.”

But now it’s a sigh of pleasure, so Mycroft pops the right testicle out of his mouth and licks a long stripe along Sherlock’s length. Sherlock’s abdomen flashes drawn and taut, his whole body intent on imminent release. Mycroft closes his mouth around the head of Sherlock’s erect member and feasts on the taste. He has let go of his wrists and now feels a hand carding through his hair; slanting his eyes sideways Mycroft notices the other twisting the sheets. He keeps his eyes trained on the slender fingers grabbing and wrenching his Egyptian cotton sheets, while he twirls his tongue around the head and works the slit with tender little probes. Sherlock’s fist is drawn tight as Mycroft feels the last quivering twitch against his bottom lip, and then spurts of ejaculate hit Mycroft’s palate. Above him his brother trashes his head wildly on the pillow in exquisite moaning pleasure.

No word can suffice to describe the frenzied, jumbled mixture of contradictory feelings: guilt, lust, love – oh yes, intense and tender love – pride, possessiveness. They all torment Mycroft as he savours his brother’s ecstasy. The terribly inadequate glorious will have to do.

 

Part four.

Back after that first time as soon as Mycroft had returned to London he asked his assistant to contact the American Embassy and express apologies on Mycroft’s behalf for not being able to attend their New Year’s reception. He called Cecilia next and said he would like to see her on that same afternoon.

“If that’s what you wish,” she said. “Of course. I’d love to see you. But whatever for? You’re coming over this weekend.”

“Yes. But I’ve got something important to discuss with you.”

“Oh.” He could hear the bewilderment in her voice. “That sounds rather mysterious. Quite unlike you. Well, I’ll go and buy you one of those fruitcakes you like so much.”

“Please. You needn’t trouble yourself.”

But of course she troubled herself. The warm delicate smell of his favourite orange pekoe wafted up from the small table next to the sofa as he walked into her living room. The egg shell porcelain tea set was laid out; not only had Cecilia bought the fruitcake, but she’d also cut a stack of cucumber sandwiches for him, the cucumber sliced as thinly as possible, exactly the way he preferred it.

All colour drained out of her face when he told her he couldn’t marry her. Mycroft felt like he was sticking a knife into her chest. But he had to do it. So he gave the knife an extra push by being blunter then he would have preferred to be. Saving the real bluntness, of course – the truth behind his decision.

Tears clung to her eyelashes. Mycroft could see she willed them not to start their descent. In that instant he felt nothing but admiration. He knew he would never find a woman like her again.

“Do you want your ring back?” Cecilia asked.

“Whatever you prefer,” he answered.

She held her hand out and sat looking at it for some time. Mycroft looked as well, admiring the shape of her small hand with the tapering fingers. He had been extremely proud of her when she chose the ring. Only the most discerning eye would have appreciated its discreet elegance. Thus her choice had confirmed the sensibility of his decision to ask for her hand.

Cecilia sighed and started sliding the ring off her finger. “It’s the most beautiful thing anyone has ever given me,” she said. “But I’d rather you took it back. I’ll go fetch the box.”

She went over to her bedroom and returned with the small Moroccan leather box. Their fingers brushed as Mycroft accepted it from her. She frowned and put her hand behind her back.

“You’d better leave now.”

“Yes,” he said.

Outside Mycroft walked into the nearest café, ordered a cup of coffee, then went over to their bathroom facilities. He washed his hands for a long time. Next he seated himself at the table where they’d placed his coffee. He drew a card and an envelope out of his pocketbook.

‘Broke the engagement,’ he wrote on the card and put it in the envelope. He addressed it and went out to mail it before driving back to London.

His mother was left breathing deeply at the other end of the line upon hearing the news.

“I knew something was wrong,” she said finally. “You were so distracted the whole week. That poor girl. I feel very sorry for her. Still, if you didn’t love her enough breaking off the engagement was the better option. You did the decent thing, darling.”

“You do realise you just threw away your one chance at marriage, my boy,” Daddy informed him after Mummy handed over the receiver.

Mycroft closed his eyes.

Sherlock’s fingers trail past Mycroft’s upper arm. Sherlock arches his hips upwards, dark voice groaning: “Yes, oh, yes...”

“Yes, I do,” Mycroft answered his father. “But Mummy phrased it expertly: I didn’t love Cecilia enough. The marriage would have been a fraud.”

Sherlock’s thank-you-note to Mycroft’s card arrived after two days. If Mycroft thought he had been brief in his announcement he found his brother had trumped him in the answer.

’Good.’

Mycroft balled the paper in his fist, hot anger flaring up in him. Was that all Sherlock had to say upon Mycroft’s disclosure he was throwing his carefully-built life in disarray for him? What brazen cheek.

The matter-of-factness of that one word made it clear Sherlock had known Mycroft would break off the engagement. Had known Mycroft would do so even before Mycroft realised himself he would go up to Cambridge to burn his boats.

Mycroft rolled the small wad of paper around in his hand. After a while he put it down on his desk and started to unfold it, stroking and smoothing out the creases. Once it was more or less straight again he put it in his pocketbook.

Mummy’s letter arrived the next day. After Mycroft read it through he tore it up with deliberation into the smallest possible shreds.

‘… the only thing of importance to your father and I, dear Mycroft, will always be yours and Sherlock’s happiness …’

To read his mother’s unsuspecting words of comfort for a pain he did not feel, and to see Sherlock’s and his own name twined so closely in her honest wish for their happiness, tore at his conscience and at his soul.

That Christmas week, unbeknownst to their mother and father, both Sherlock and Mycroft had laid the foundations that were to undermine their world. They had embraced and shed their seed in an unholy pledge, and now they were bound to each other.

Sherlock, the most unforbearing of creatures, had patiently waited for Mycroft to understand what Sherlock had grasped earlier. Sherlock had danced like Shiva in his circle of fire, waiting until Mycroft was ready to join him, then had extended his hand to help Mycroft step up into the fiery ring so they could dance together and destroy the world that Mycroft endeavoured so hard to maintain in civilian life.

His love for his brother placed him at a crossroads like Damocles beneath the sword. Whichever road Mycroft chose, the sword would fall and hew through him. His only hope to make it through his life unscathed lay in not choosing. Live the lie of his outward life by day, live the truth of his real life in the hidden seedy darkness of the night, even if his love for Sherlock was more just, more profound, better than anything else he’d ever experienced or would experience in the future.

Seated in front of his desk Mycroft shivered, staring at the shreds of his mother’s letter, before reaching for the paper bin next to his desk and sweeping the flurry of paper into oblivion.

The following weeks the NATO talks combined with the Indian elections kept Mycroft fairly busy. The evenings he was not working he spent either at the opera or in the Diogenes.

One morning he was sitting preparing his interview with the new Ecuadorian ambassador when his assistant brought him the morning post. He laid down his pen and pulled the high stack of letters towards him. He recognised the handwriting on the top envelope immediately.

‘Bored stiff over here. Can’t you organise a spring holiday or something? It would give me something to look forward to, and distract me from the horrid dullness of this stupid, hateful school.’

Mycroft put the letter in the paper bin. He was not going to be commanded around by his little brother. He shoved the stack of letters away and continued noting down the subjects he should touch upon during the interview.

A few days later Mummy rang.

“My dear boy, what an excellent idea. Your father and I were so happy to hear of it. A little holiday will do both you and Sherlock a world of good. He sounded so excited on the phone last night. Where will you be taking him?”

“I hadn’t decided yet,” Mycroft answered. His hand was shaking when he rang off.

Would this be his life from now on? Sherlock manipulating him and forcing Mycroft into doing what he knew he shouldn’t? Was Sherlock really so shameless that he schemed with their clueless, loving mother to help him bed his brother? Wild lust tingled in Mycroft’s nipples, beneath his silk vest and his Hilditch & Key shirt, at the realisation his terrible love for Sherlock might just be matched by Sherlock’s terrible love for him.

Sherlock was waiting for him in front of the gate at the school’s terrain. He opened the back door of the car and put his black duffle bag inside before seating himself in the passenger seat.

“Hello Mycroft,” he said, then stared ahead out the front window, his whole stance indicating exasperation at the simple-minded slowness of his personal chauffeur.

Affronted, Mycroft started the car and drove off. Sherlock twiddled with the radio and found Beethoven’s sixth symphony. They listened to it together, Mycroft fighting the urge to reach out and rest his left hand on Sherlock’s knee. Sherlock either looked ahead or out of the side window, his gaze not travelling over to Mycroft once.

They had already left Maidenhead behind them when Sherlock said: “Take the first junction, would you?”

“Why?”

“Never mind, just do it, please.”

“Sherlock …“

“Just do it, Mycroft.”

A road sign indicating they would reach the Newbury junction soon appeared ahead of them. Mycroft had no intention to take it and kept to his lane. They were approaching the junction when Sherlock’s arm shot out and tugged at the steering wheel, causing the car to veer wildly for a moment. Behind them there was a loud honking .

“Sherlock! Christ! Do you want us dead?” Mycroft shouted.

“I told you to take the next junction,” Sherlock said calmly. “You should listen when I ask you to do something.”

Mycroft flashed the indicator and took the junction, steadying his trembling hands on the steering wheel.

“Right at the next one.”

Mycroft followed Sherlock’s directions until they ended up in a parking lot at the edge of a forest.

“All right,” Mycroft said, switching off the engine. “Now tell me … “

Sherlock had already opened the door and headed off for a path between the trees. Mycroft pressed his lips really tight. For a moment he contemplated driving off and leaving his maddening brother to his fate, but then he stepped out of the car, locked it and followed.

Sherlock was standing, waiting for Mycroft to catch up, but swivelled and dashed off again, once he saw Mycroft. He ran, jumping with agility over roots and branches that caused Mycroft to stumble several times.

At last Sherlock grinded to a halt and pivoted on his heels. Mycroft caught up with him, panting.

“Sherlock, what are we doing here?”

“Kiss me,” Sherlock commanded simply.

He’s stark raving mad. I should be angry. But I can’t, not when he is looking like that.

Mycroft slammed Sherlock’s back against a tree and crushed his mouth against his lips. He felt Sherlock’s hands fumbling for his waistband and flies of his trousers. Mycroft groped wildly to undo the buttons of Sherlock’s jeans and soon they were tugging at each other’s clothes in a frenzy, seeking flesh, until their wrists were rubbing together in a mad rush to finish the other off.

It was dirty and hot and messy. It was also over all too soon with Sherlock licking and moaning into Mycroft’s ear, and Mycroft panting with his forehead resting on the shelf of his brother’s narrow shoulder. Sherlock cleaned them both with a Kleenex he’d produced out of nowhere. Once Sherlock was satisfied that they were both presentable he brought the paper tissue in front of his nose and delicately sniffed at it, before stuffing it into the pocket of Mycroft’s jacket.

“Christ, I needed that,” he said. He trailed his fingers along Mycroft’s jaw before pressing his lips on the pulse point beneath Mycroft’s ear in a reverent kiss. “Shall we go to the hotel now? I assume you’ve chosen something hideously expensive and secluded. Not that it matters – we’re not very likely to venture outside the room.”

He held out his hand. Mycroft entwined Sherlock’s long fingers with his own. He still felt a little dazed.

“I’m glad your vacation was a success,” Mummy told Mycroft over the phone a week later. “It’s such a relief that Sherlock has shaken off his troubled adolescence at last just in time to help you through your first holiday without Cecilia. But are you quite certain you want to take Sherlock to France for two weeks during the summer?”

“He expressed a wish to visit the great cathedrals,” Mycroft said. “I’d love to see Brou again and now that we get on well together, I thought we could go and make up for the last few years.”

After he ended the call he spent a long time looking out of the window.. A gusty wind was whipping the leaves of the big trees in the park and lashing the rain against the windows.

This then, this thing Mycroft felt for Sherlock was the truth, the only truth that mattered. His whole body quivered in longing for a hurried reunion. Their holiday had been far too short to satisfy their need for each other. Yet Mycroft had denied Sherlock a last kiss during their parting in front of the school gates, for fear they would be observed. Now Mycroft was desperate with the thought of that eschewed kiss on his lips.

Still tasting Sherlock’s lips would help Mycroft in letting the lies slip glibly from his. The fictions that spilled out of his mouth effortlessly in his capacity of minor civil servant. Mycroft knew he never served his country better than on those instances he turned the pedestrian maxims of the general public inside out for the higher goal of the ultimate truth. Which might have to be thoroughly raked over the very next day, but inconsistency was the way of the world. Being dishonest with his parents, however, was something Mycroft would never have imagined. The idea had been inconceivable. And yet now…

Mycroft sighed and seated himself behind his desk again. He opened the file on the alarming growth of the financial industry.

***

Every now and then Mycroft would lie awake all night. Those were the hours of black despair when he lay fighting the blame for his misconduct and the resulting horrendous self-reproach. His misgivings jumped straight from the grave where Mycroft had buried them that Christmas night when he chose to bid farewell to ordinary society and step into the realm where his brother dwelled.

During those nights he chided himself for having listened to Sherlock’s beckoning call. He should have steered his ship straight on through the turbid waters to a far shore. But he had capitulated. He had been weak and was paying the price.

Sherlock was different. He was a wild sprite, not interested in his fellowman and the artful boundaries they had erected. He strode through life with giant steps, grabbing what he wanted, sucking it dry, then casting the remains over his shoulder. He didn’t sit down to think about the consequences. He was his own god, his own master and Mycroft shuddered in religious ecstasy each time he cast himself prone in front of the altar he had raised for his wondrous idol.

Some nights he would wake with a start, his brother’s sleeping form next to him instantly anchoring him to heavy reality. Mycroft would toss and turn in his bed, enduring his ever-recurring discomfort. Unable to fall asleep again, lying next to the terrifying object of his desire, imploring himself to lie quiet so he wouldn’t wake Sherlock.

Every single time he felt Sherlock’s hand travel upward Mycroft’s chest to caress Mycroft’s jaw. Mycroft drew the hand to his mouth and started kissing it fervently in a feeble attempt to assuage his guilt.

“Don’t be daft, Mycroft,” Sherlock’s dark voice would rumble, saturated with unwavering faith.

“I love you, Sherlock. I do.” Mycroft knew he was delivering a reassurance his brother didn’t need. Sherlock wasn’t the one in need of anything he didn’t have. Mycroft would shiver and tighten his hold on Sherlock’s body, because he was the one who needed, who wanted. Oh, how he wanted.

 

Part Five.

Sherlock sits up, left arm trailing past Mycroft’s.

“I have to go now, Mycroft.”

Mycroft groans. His hand shoots out to grab at Sherlock’s wrist, all fine bone and sinew and skin. Such soft skin.

“Don’t go yet, it’s still early. Surely you can stay a little longer?”

Sherlock chuckles. Mycroft hears genuine amusement mixed with a sound he identifies as the nearest approximation of remorse for Sherlock.

“You don’t want your maid to find me here, do you? Nor to have your chauffeur enjoy the sight of your brother stealing away from your house secretly.”

Mycroft shakes his head. But the thought of letting go of Sherlock, of having to spend days, maybe weeks without seeing him again, breathing him in, being in him, being one with him…It’s too much to contemplate.

Mycroft shuts his eyes to regain himself and swallows before opening them again.

“You’re right,” he concedes, lets his fingers drop away. He slides his upper body back against the pillows to watch his brother get dressed.

First the black boxer briefs, and Mycroft hates those for they sheath themselves around Sherlock’s buttocks with the tight grip of a lover’s reverent hands, and surely those should be Mycroft’s hands brushing there. Next, Sherlock’s long white arm reaches for the striped silk shirt. For one wonderful moment Sherlock stands poised like a ballet dancer – all supple grace about to leap high up in the air, to defy the laws of gravity for three marvellous seconds. Then all perfection gets hidden by the shirt, the panels closed and buttoned up with deft, quick fingers.

The inadvertent sigh escaping from Mycroft’s lips causes Sherlock to pause. He gazes down upon Mycroft’s prone form.

“I won’t shower today,” Sherlock says.

Mycroft‘s heart swells with joy. Sherlock’s simple statement tells him Sherlock is as loathe as him to say goodbye. During the day Sherlock will bring the inside of the crook of his elbow up to his nose to catch a swift sniff of Mycroft’s scent. He will tap his fingers to his lips in thought and invisible particles of Mycroft’s epidermis will attach themselves to Sherlock’s mouth. Who knows? Maybe in a private moment Sherlock will brush his hand along his crotch to assure himself with the evidence that he is, essentially, Mycroft’s.

Yes, you’re mine. You’re my property and if anyone dares so much as raise a finger against you, if anyone has the audacity to touch one hair on your head, I will unleash all the wrath of the entire British Government upon them and have them kneel in front of you, begging for mercy. And I would never, never, never forgive myself if anything happened to you.

“Thank you,” he says.

How Mycroft would like to indulge in the luxury of not showering either, to be able to wear the memory of Sherlock on his skin all day beneath the abject livery of his bespoke shirt, and tie, and three-piece suit. But he can’t, not with the early cabinet meeting on the trade treaty with China and the lunch with the Japanese ambassador at one.

Sherlock must have heard the regret in Mycroft’s voice for he drops the black jeans he picked up and moves over to the bed to crush his mouth against Mycroft’s. His whole body is plastered against Mycroft’s in one fluid motion. Mycroft finds his own hands flutter desperately over the lean form of his brother at this last chance to imprint the memory of Sherlock onto his skin, his mouth. His mind. His heart. Onto the cool mechanism in his chest that effortlessly enables him, the minor British Government official, to slalom around and smooth over the hitches and hindrances one finds when one is running a former Empire.

Oh, Mycroft is taking in the bitterness every day, paying for his sin. But now he drinks from the sweet cup that is Sherlock’s mouth, drinks deeply, because he can never have enough, because this cup can never run over. If tasting his brother’s mouth is the last thing on earth Mycroft experiences before he expires, he will die a happy man.

He holds on, sliding his hands beneath the rippling silk of the shirt, inside the waistband of the briefs, pulling Sherlock closer, closer, closer still, until they can’t breathe anymore. With a gasp Sherlock wriggles himself free.

“No, don’t,” he says. “Don’t. I have to go.” He jumps from Mycroft’s lap into a flurry of activity, sliding into his jeans, donning his socks, shoes, and a narrow black moleskin jacket. Thirty seconds later he’s gone, not even looking back.

Mycroft closes his eyes. He slithers down and buries himself between the sheets. He draws them over his head and lies there, breathing deeply, filling his lungs with Sherlock. Oh god, why can’t he choose? Why doesn’t he take his leave from Whitehall and flee the country with his brother? Live the truth. Free himself from this mad circle of agonising guilt, and lust, and love that is destroying him. Live his love freely out in the open, somewhere abroad. It’s like Chinese water torture, except much more refined. Which should appeal to him. But not where his feelings for Sherlock are concerned. He can’t live without him, but the thought of taking leave of his duties to his country is equally inconceivable.

The sword is tickling Mycroft’s scalp, searching for the best spot to strike its deadening blow. He’s kneeling with a bowed head for the conqueror, admitting his defeat, recognising he is a despicable coward, desperately clinging to outward appearances.

Mycroft sighs. Losing himself in negativity is useless. He should get up and prepare himself for another day.

In the bathroom, Mycroft picks up the towel from the floor and deposits it on the towel rack next to the shower. He stands under the cleansing water for a long while, not so much enjoying the flow of the hot water over his body, but enduring the necessary purge. The towel is put to use in gesture of a last goodbye to Sherlock.

Mycroft stands in his walk-in closet pondering upon his choice of armour for some time. At long last he goes for a dark grey Cool Wool with a white shirt, an unobtrusive tie, and dress handkerchief in a dusky bluish colour. The colour of Sherlock’s eyes as he gazes at Mycroft in dazed contentment after they’ve made love. Mycroft takes extra care tying the knot of his tie.

Finally he deems himself ready to face the world once more. He walks down the stairs into the dining room where he finds his breakfast waiting for him. He only picks at his food, not because he hasn’t got the appetite but because he wants to be sharp for the talks with the Chinese.

His maid discreetly tsks at him with disapproval as she clears away the plate, but this morning he chooses to ignore her.

“I’ll dine at the Diogenes,” he tells her as he decides on an umbrella. He opens the front door and walks out. The sun is shining; his chauffeur is standing awaiting him with the door to the backseat open.

Mycroft lifts his face to the sun for a moment, enjoys the rays play over his forehead and cheeks.

He seats himself in the car and nods for the chauffeur to start the engine, then drive Mycroft to his corridors of power.

He is looking forward to sampling the Takifugu fish at lunch.