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John had been missing for 23 hours.  At hour seventeen, Sherlock had finally called Mycroft. While Lestrade, DI Stilwell from Missing Persons, and their team had followed actual procedure to find a missing person, the two Holmeses had discussed, deduced, and bickered in a nearly unintelligible mishmash of French, English, and at least one other language Lestrade didn't recognize. They drank four cups of tea, between them, and ate almost nothing while the cops went through two dozen assorted pastries and six pots of coffee. While Sherlock got more disheveled with each passing hour, Mycroft actually seemed to get buttoned tighter, if that were possible. Mycroft's PA hovered and from time to time took him aside for a conference; Sherlock ground his teeth, pulled his own hair, paced like a madman, then went catatonic, by turns. They were maddening, the two of them, but by 13:50 they seemed very sure that John was somewhere in a particular block of flats, and that they were in the process of narrowing down specifically which flat. Lestrade would gladly accept whatever weird behavior went with the flat number and cause to search; he'd known the Holmes brothers for nearly ten years, and he had more faith in the two of them than anyone.
 
When John was found, bound hand and foot, blindfolded and gagged and propped in the corner of an empty flat like a neglected bag of laundry, Sherlock thumped to his knees and grabbed John's arms and held on. The medics had to shoulder him aside to free John; they took one look at Sherlock and went back for a second shock blanket.
 
Lestrade and Mycroft were standing side by side on the walk when they came out, John still draped in his orange blanket and leaning on Sherlock and one of the medics, to the cheers of the squad. Sherlock's face was a study in distress, relief, cold anger, possessiveness, and, though it sat strangely on him, love. His body hunched over John's protectively as he followed him into the back of the ambulance. He hovered and glared and declaimed while the medics hooked up an IV for dehydration.
 
"Sherlock's irrational attachment is going to damage them both." Mycroft looked like he'd been sucking a lemon, which was not terribly different than his usual facial expression.
 
Greg looked over and said,  "Bullshit," his conviction surprised him, "Everybody wants to be loved, and damn near everybody deserves it.  Even Sherlock-bloody-Holmes." He slid his gaze over to Mycroft's pinched profile. "Even Mycroft Holmes."
 
Mycroft sniffed and fussed with the sleeve of his topcoat where it hung, neatly folded, over his arm. "It does no good to be loved if you are dead. Good day, Detective Inspector." Mycroft lifted his chin to meet Greg's cloudy, unreadable eyes at a downward angle. He had the uncomfortable conviction that the DI was seeing more than Mycroft was entirely comfortable with. "Until next time."  Grip tight on his umbrella, he turned to where Anthea, and his responsibilities, waited.
 
"Mycroft." Greg called after him on impulse, hands still tucked in his hip pockets.  "Pub tonight, to celebrate. Stilwell’s buying the first round, he said so." He grinned wickedly as Mycroft's face shaded from shock, through horror to polite blankness.
 
"Oi!" Stilwell grumbled good-naturedly from where he was scrawling notes, pad tipped up against the nearest window-ledge, "Damn right, and you're buyin' the second, Holmes.  I'll be doing paperwork till I'm ninety because of your idiot brother." He crammed the stubby pencil into the wheat-straw hair over his ear and turned away as one of the uniforms trotted up.
 
"You heard the man--I think you're obligated."  Greg couldn't turn down the wattage of his grin; watching Mycroft struggle to find an appropriate response was just too precious. After a pause that was adequate to let Mycroft know that Greg knew he was fumbling, Lestrade rescued him, walking backward while he talked.  "I'll text you when we pick a place. Get on with you now." Then he turned, not watching Mycroft's quizzical gaze follow him inside.
 

***

 
When the text reached Mycroft, he was deep in consideration of a wheat export project in Kazakhstan and its relationship to human trafficking, the security of highly enriched uranium, and several additional cofactors. 
 
Bonny King Charlie’s, 8 pm.
 
He had less than twenty minutes, if he was going. Mycroft sat back in the chair and gazed out his window, unfocused.  When was the last time he had gone to on a pub night with colleagues? Had it been a decade? Two? He could only vaguely remember having colleagues, rather than superiors and staff.
 
And these were not, he reminded himself, his colleagues. They mostly wanted him to buy a round, because they undoubtedly knew he was posh. With the exception of Greg, they didn't know, likely, how important he was, or how influential. He wasn't sure what Greg wanted--perhaps just to watch him squirm. In any case, the idea of backing down from the challenge was unthinkable, particularly because Greg had kindly handed him a way out.
 
Mycroft reflected that he'd actually been less nervous before meetings with heads of state, even heads of state from military dictatorships with only a dubious concept of diplomacy. Such meetings had the delightful quality that they were predicated upon a fairly rigid set of behavioral rules which, once learned, could be applied in a variety of situations. Pub night at Greg's local was not one of them.
 
He secured his work, snapped off the lamp over his desk, and considered his next order of business:  what to wear.
 
***
 
Greg was just settling in with his second pint when Mycroft rolled in, fashionably late. He was sans vest and tie, though his shirt was the same as earlier, a smoky blue-grey, and he was wearing a more casual jacket. Lestrade wondered idly what it would take to get the man into a pair of jeans.
 
"Hey," he waved Mycroft over.

“I would like to point out that my presence in no way represents taking responsibility for Sherlock’s behavior.”

Greg barks out a laugh. “You sound like you could use some of this."  He slid his pint in Mycroft's direction and motioned the barkeep for another. Mycroft looked at it quizzically as he hitched his trouser leg to preserve the crease and gingerly leaned a hip onto the bar stool. "You definitely need to catch up," Greg added, taking in the view of a nonplussed Holmes with pleasure. The two of them, Mycroft and Sherlock, spent so much time being in charge of every situation, deliberately or not, that it was mildly, meanly satisfying to see them out of their depth.
 
Still and all, Greg didn't want Mycroft to be entirely uncomfortable. "Is beer not your preference?" He asked, belatedly. "Want something else? I'm buying."
 
"It's fine," Mycroft reassured him, just as a cheer went up behind them; apparently a goal had been narrowly missed in the football game on the telly. A spirited discussion ensued regarding whether the goalie was a hero or a marginally functional lout who got lucky. Greg spun around on his stool, hooking both elbows over the edge of the bar and watching the discussion with a smile. 
 
Mycroft watched Greg, getting the sense that no more was required of him for the moment. He leaned one arm on the bar, elbow to wrist riding along the pitted but polished round edge of the bar under his hands. He quickly lost the thread of the sports conversation, and started woolgathering. He had the sense of hundreds of years of British history coming to life in the warm, low light, the hum of laughter and kidding, the worn wood of the bar. The palaces and parliament, for all their somber majesty, didn't covey the same real sense of the people. He had entered government in part because he believed in Britain; this was, in a way, what he worked for, the “country” part of “queen and country.”  He just usually didn't see it quite so personally.
 
Mycroft didn't notice, but Greg did, when his face relaxed out of its typical tension into something that was not quite a smile. Mycroft was a bit pale, his face a bit broad, his eyes a bit small for handsome, but he managed attractive quite well, Greg thought, with his top button undone and a lock of dark auburn hair over his eye. He had known Mycroft for years, peripherally, but sitting next to him this way was...interesting...in a way he hadn't expected.
 
"Want to try some darts?"  Greg nodded toward the side area, where there were three darts lanes, two of them free and the other full of noisy twenty-somethings. Mycroft's mouth moved in a way he couldn't interpret, then he nodded. Greg raised his voice, "Bishop, Patel, darts?" Mycroft stiffened; he hadn't anticipated additional participation in this activity.
 
A stocky young man rose from behind DI Stilwell, grinning and smacking the man next to him on the shoulder, "Come on, Patel, let's show these boys how it's done, eh?"
 
All four collected drinks and made their way to the open dart lane at the far end. Mycroft wished for Sherlock's ability to blend in any situation, at least for a time. Mycroft definitely did not possess that ability; he was having flashbacks to primary school the closer they approached to some sort of athletic competition, however tame.
 
"Relax," Greg said, sotto voce.  "It's just darts."
 
"Competition is competition, Gregory."
 
Greg started to issue his standard protest that hearing his whole name made him feel like a maiden aunt, but strangely, in Mycroft's posh voice, it sounded right.  Gregory.  He snorted and collected darts for himself and Mycroft.
 
"701?" Patel asked.
 
"Sure. You all start."
 
"Mike?"  Patel gestured at his partner, who took the first throws.  Mycroft watched avidly, eyes narrowed in a way that clarified to Greg the family resemblance. Greg took his turn to throw with the weight of Mycroft's gaze on him, then slid back to join him as Patel took his shots.
 
"Right then, have you done this before?" Greg said quietly.
 
"No." Greg had an irresistible visual of himself, wrapped around Mycroft's back, showing him just how to throw. He grinned and didn't move.  "Just don't drop your elbow." He dropped the darts into Mycroft's hands.
 
Mycroft took his place, and yes, he was attractive.  The long legs showed to advantage under beautifully creased trousers, and he'd rolled his sleeves up, precisely symmetrically, of course, revealing the tendons in his arm as he made his first throw.  It was a miserable shot, clunking into the outside edge of the board and straight to the floor.
 
"Eeh-yeah!" Mike crowed, "We'll have no trouble with these two, will we now?"
 
"Don't let 'im rattle ya." Greg called, polishing off his pint, "He's been playing since he was off the tit, he don't have nothin' better to do!"  Both his vocabulary and his diction went downhill in correlation with the quantity of liquor he'd consumed.
 
"Because he sure can't get the girls!” his partner chimed in.  Mycroft was watching the three of them like they were a documentary of a remote culture untouched by civilization. 
 
"Throw the darts already, or it'll take them all night to beat us!"  Greg grinned over at him.
 
Mycroft scowled and threw again, concentrating on his elbow, as instructed, this time. His second hit made it into Top-20, through pure luck, which gave them a respectable start, right before the third netted a 6. He collected his darts and returned to Greg, who was shaking his head in mock-sorrow, eyes twinkling.  "Mate, you were picked last for every team, weren't you?"
 
Mycroft couldn't help smiling back. He rolled a shoulder noncommittally. 
 
"That's Holmes for 'yes', isn't it?" Greg laughed again and went up to shoot. Mycroft found himself appreciating the relaxed stance, the long line from bum to heel, the square, solid shoulders encased in sensible plaid.  Greg could really be quite a sight if he dressed himself a bit more carefully, he mused. He felt an irrational desire to go through Greg's closet, and indulged in a harmless fantasy of re-dressing him for long enough that the man in question had to tap him on the arm for his turn.
 
"Affairs of state?" Greg asked.
 
“Hardly." Made it out of Mycroft's mouth before he checked himself.  He cursed his fair coloring as he felt the flush creep up.  He turned to toss his darts, which was just as well; he missed the wolfish grin that flashed across Greg's face at the indication, however small, of interest.
 
DI Stilwell wandered over.  "Oh, Greg," he said, with mock sympathy, "No wonder you have white hair. This guy can't shoot at all."  Greg just laughed.
 
As he came back with his miserable score, Mycroft monitored Greg obliquely, looking for subtle signs of pique, but Greg showed none.  He was relaxed, and seemed happy, despite being clearly on track to lose horribly.  He seemed more interested in trading mild insults with his colleagues than winning, losing or, indeed, even playing.
 
By the time they were done, Greg had downed his second pint, Mycroft his first.
 
Patel and Bishop headed back to the main pub, victorious and noisy, and Greg shifted subtly closer, nothing that would be noticed by his coworkers, but it was noticed by the man beside him. "Shall we go then?" he asked quietly, "If you've enjoyed as much pub night as you can stand?"
 
Mycroft gave him a long look, his eyelids dropping to half-mast. It was thinking mode for Mycroft, but it immediately made warmth pool in Greg's gut.  After an indecent pause, which Greg's mind helpfully filled for him with speculation about the exact nature of Mycroft's sexuality, Mycroft nodded subtly.
 
Greg led the way.  As they reached the main tables, Stilwell looked up as Bishop elbowed him "Stilwell, this guy's all right, for a Holmes, ain't he?" The whole table laughed.
 
"Yeah, he's better than the other one, but please tell me there aren't more!" Stilwell grinned up at them, "I don't think the Met could take it." 
 
It took them nearly 15 minutes actually get out of the pub, with Bishop and Patel crowing about their victory and ribbing Greg and Mycroft like old friends, all while the other cops were teasing them as well. It was a bit stifling for Mycroft, but also revelatory.  He had made an effort not to exercise the personality traits that came most easily to him, instead to observe quietly, return attention when it was given, and to fit in, as much as possible. Much to his surprise, it seemed to have worked. He was nearly accepted. And perhaps, he thought as he cast a look at Greg, whose crow's feet crinkled up as he laughed at something Stilwell said, perhaps something more.  Finally Greg draped his jacket over his shoulder and tossed a friendly wave to his mates, smiling back at Mycroft as he lead him out.
 
After the close, warm, convivial atmosphere of the pub, the spring night outside felt still and cool. They paused at the entrance, facing each other, hands in pockets.
 
Now, with a Holmes to himself, Greg was not entirely sure what to do with him. All day, he'd followed his instincts; just now his instincts were suggesting that he pull Mycroft into the nearest dark alley, back him up against the wall, and snog the socks off him, which he was almost sure qualified as wildly inappropriate, especially if one party was the British government. He wondered, for a moment, what Mycroft's youth must have been like--had anyone ever pulled him onto a backseat or an alley or a park bench or a convenient sofa, even, and snogged him within an inch of his life?  Greg couldn't quite picture it, but then, Mycroft at 17 was stretching the imagination a bit to start with.
 
They’d been silent for quite a time, he realized, Mycroft just looking at him, curiosity and attention on his face.
 
"Walk for a bit, or do you need to get on?" Greg finally said.
 
Mycroft stepped out, and Greg fell in as he sauntered slowly down the street.  They were quiet past the pub, past three shops, a bus stop, one of the iconic London call-boxes. The question of "why" loomed in Mycroft's mind.  Why was Greg doing this? He’d never shown any inclination that he would like their relationship to be more than professional, although this morning he had said. Oh. Mycroft stops, the shadow of one of Sherlock's revelations crossing his face. This was not about Mycroft, or Greg’s interest, which looked to be a figment of Mycroft’s imagination. 

"This was a demonstration. About. Attachment.” It was not a question, but Greg considered it as if it were.
 
"Maybe. A bit," he said finally. "And it was a night out with mates, to celebrate a good day." He was silent for two strides. "I'm a murder cop, mostly. Usually my victims don't go limping off at the end of the day, alive and more or less well."
 
Mycroft hummed. He hadn't been thinking about his own job, amazingly, for nearly two hours, but he understood. It pulled his think mouth into a taut line.
 
"And maybe I thought it would be--interesting," Greg continued. To learn more, about you, he didn't say, even though it was true, because it sounded like a vapid chick-flick. 

And he had learned more. He'd learned that Mycroft's whole body loosened when Greg was in charge of the conversation, in charge of the interaction with others. He'd learned that Mycroft liked to win, but could be convinced that was not the aim. He'd learned that the pale face would relax its tight lines when he was not under direct scrutiny. Where Sherlock demanded attention, Mycroft avoided it. Both brothers had considerable charisma and obviously deployed it at will for the purposes of manipulation, but his evening with Mycroft had led him to believe that was a last resort for Mycroft rather than his preferred approach.
 
"Interesting."  Mycroft repeated without inflection. Greg grinned, unable to stifle it.  He had Mycroft's attention; it was impossible not to tweak him a bit.
 
"Interesting. For instance, I wonder what you do when you have time off."
 
Mycroft looked at him blankly.  "Time off." 
 
"There's no need to repeat, I heard myself."
 
"I don't have time off."
 
"No weekends?  No evenings?  No time for pub night, or..." He cast around for a hobby, "or, trout fishing or something?"
 
"Trout fishing?"  Mycroft's voice went a third higher, and he looked at Greg with combined surprise and horror.
 
"Ok, maybe not."  Finally, finally, Mycroft's face split into an actual smile, relaxed and happy.
 
"Trout fishing, dear god."  Mycroft chuckled.  Greg felt ten feet tall; he had elicited actual mirth from the somber elder Holmes, who didn't look nearly so elder when he laughed.
 
They didn't notice at first when a quiet, efficient black car pulled up at their side.  The window buzzed down, revealing Anthea's face.
 
"Sir.  You weren't answering your mobile. The matter we discussed earlier is proceeding." Mycroft's usual tense almost-frown instantly snapped back in place.
 
"Thank you, Anthea. One moment."  The window whirred back up, leaving the two men looking at each other, Mycroft with his back to the car.
 
"No worries, I know how it is." Greg smiled ruefully. Mycroft just nodded and clicked up the door handle. "But just so we're clear, it's your turn."  Greg turned and walked away, leaving Mycroft looking after him for a moment, fascination in his eyes.
 
 

Chapter Text

Mycroft called him early on a Monday, nearly six weeks later.

“Gregory?”

His full name on Mycroft’s lips still had that strange effect, especially before his first cup of coffee—he was caught halfway between shivering with lust and the automatic “Yes, ma’am,” that always followed his grandmother’s summons.

“What can I do for you, Mycroft?”

There was a pause that was slightly too long.

“I wondered if you might like to join me for dinner on Wednesday.” Mycroft's voice sounded tinny, as though his connection was tenuous.

"Are you out of the country?" There was a frosty silence.
 
"I can't comment on that, as you know, or would if you thought about it."  Now there was the Holmes shining through, tense and pissy. Greg swiped a weary hand over his eyes.
 
"Pardon me, I've been dealing with your brother all week, I've gotten used to asking every question I can think of in an attempt to get any semblance of relevant information.  Wednesday sounds fine." 

“I’ll send a car around at 7:30.”

The connection was cut.
 
"Seriously?"  Greg stared at his phone. "He'll send a car," he said snottily, to the room at large. 
 
"Sir?" Donovan looked up.
 
"Never mind." 
 
***

When the car deposited him at a quiet, upscale restaurant, he was far from surprised, but he did swipe the toes of his shoes on the back of his trousers before getting out, smiling his thanks at the anonymous driver.

He was greeted at the entrance by a staff member who already knew his name, and led him to a quiet alcove, somewhat sheltered by a half-wall and some rather intense greenery. Mycroft was waiting, back to the wall. He rose as Greg approached, smoothing one hand over his front in a habitual motion. He made an unfinished gesture that might have turned into a handshake, in other circumstances, and an awkward pause followed.

“Detective Inspector.”

“Ah, nice to see you again.” Greg finally fumbled out. He moved to sit, and Mycroft followed. He looked terrible. If Greg hadn’t seen him that night at the pub, he might not have known the difference, but now he could mark the tension in Mycroft’s face and spine, the economy of movement that bespoke exhaustion rather than grace. Not a hair out of place, but his skin was sallow and there were dark smudges under his eyes. If Mycroft had half Sherlock’s stamina, Greg shuddered to think of the pressure his work must entail.

Mycroft also looked even more reserved, as if the tie, and the waistcoat and the shirt all buttoned to the top also held in his thoughts, and his feelings.

When Mycroft sipped his water carefully, fastidiously wiping his mouth afterward, Greg could see his hands were shaking, just barely. His musings were interrupted by their handsome young server.

"Your usual, Mr. Holmes?"
 
"Yes, thank you, Robert."  Mycroft handed back his menu unopened.
 
"And for you, sir?"  Robert smiled, a little flirtatiously, in Greg's direction.  Greg smiled back and ordered the fish.
 
"That'll be out shortly, gentlemen." Robert scooped up the remaining menu and disappeared discreetly.  Greg looked after him, and when he turned back, found Mycroft's piercing eyes on him. He refused to let it unnerve him.
 
"Come here often, then?"
 
"Wednesdays and Saturdays, 7:30, when feasible."  Mycroft answered absently. It made Greg laugh aloud.
 
"You may be less flashy about it, but don't let anyone tell you you're not just as odd as your brother."  Mycroft looked actually offended.  "I'm teasing," he said, more gently.  "You'd think you had no siblings at all, if a little teasing’s that upsetting for you.”
 
"Do you? Have siblings?”  Mycroft swirled his glass without breaking eye contact.
 
"Do you think I don't know you have a whole file full of information about me?"
 
Mycroft didn't look the least bit ashamed, nor did he deny it. "Hearing from you about your siblings is rather different than seeing their names on a list."
 
"I have a brother and a sister." Greg said, "Both of them pretty much normal by any external standard, and crazy as loons by my standards. We teased--we do tease--each other a lot."  There was a short silence while Greg studied Mycroft's interested expression. "What was it like, growing up with Sherlock?"
 
Mycroft dropped his eyes.  "I don't know. I didn't. Mostly. He's seven years younger; I was away at school by the time he was seven." There was clearly more to the story, but Greg didn't want to push.
 
"Sherlock at seven."  He shook his head, "Considering how he is now, that's a truly terrifying prospect. Did he have even less of a sense of propriety? No, wait, don't answer that. Did everyone survive?"
 
Mycroft's head snapped up, and Greg stopped laughing. He suddenly felt exposed as Mycroft's eyes narrowed in a familiar way for a few moments. "Need we discuss my tiresome little brother?" Mycroft finally replied, with more fatigue than rancor.
 
"No.  Of course not."  Greg gentled his voice; he had stumbled into something, clearly. "It's just a common topic of conversation, family."
 
"Mine isn't."
 
Greg took a deep breath and tried not to be pissy.  "All right then, your turn, what shall we talk about?"
 
Mycroft fell silent again, which gave Greg a chance to appreciate the fact that the man was wearing a windowpane suit roughly the color of a sickly algae bloom and, somehow, it looked fantastic on him. It was beyond Greg how some men achieved that kind of alchemy. Not that he looked at men anymore. Hardly ever. Mycroft’s long fingers nudged the handle of his salad fork a little straighter.
 
"I see your point." Mycroft smiled, a narrow tension of his mouth.
 
"Your work is right out, mine's out on account of Sherlock, family's out. Judging from our last--meeting, I'd say football's out."  Greg kept smiling and hoped the world's most observant man's older brother didn't notice the little stumble where he'd almost said "date." "Now that I think about it, can you deduce like Sherlock does?"
 
Mycroft's smile turned smug. 
 
"Yeh, I don't know why I asked that."  He looked up as Robert returned with their meals, a salad with some sort of very plain-looking white meat for Mycroft and a lovely piece of fish with vegetables for Greg. 
 
"Mmm." Greg made a delighted noise around his first bite.  "It's not pub grub, but it's not bad." Mycroft seemed pleased by Greg’s praise, as if he’d done the cooking himself. Greg frowned at Mycroft’s salad, which didn’t seem adequate food for someone so exhausted. The urge to make Mycroft eat some hearty soup and take a nap was nearly unbearable. This must be how John felt.

Greg cocked his head at his dinner partner. Date. Was it a date? He just couldn’t tell, which was unusual. Though he’d been out of dating for many years, he usually had a read on when people found him attractive, or when they were flirting. With Mycroft, he just genuinely couldn’t tell. The man seemed cool, reserved, except that when his behavior toward Greg was compared with his behavior toward others, it began looking downright inviting.

Greg shook his head to clear it. It was obviously going to be his remit to carry on dinner conversation; Mycroft looked like he could barely carry his fork to his mouth and back.

He told a couple of anecdotes, recent cases, kept a relatively inane stream of chatter up, all the while watching Mycroft.

It had been perhaps twenty minutes before Greg's curiosity got the better of him.

"Mycroft, what's wrong?"

Mycroft's head tilted back, just a bit, so he could look down his nose when he said, "I'm sure I don't know what you mean."

"Okay then," Greg replied, running a hand over the back of his neck, "But you asked me here. So if you won't tell me what's wrong, at least tell me what I can do to help." He might have been pushing their acquaintance a bit, but they’d held Sherlock down together while he fought like a wild thing, high as a kite with a cut string. They weren’t any two acquaintances sharing a meal.

Mycroft's brain went momentarily blank, before it filled with memories of the way he'd felt last time they were together. The relaxed, easy banter. Their shoulders brushing as they sat side by side. The warm, accepting light in Greg’s eyes that seemed to imply there was nothing much wrong with Mycroft at all.

Mycroft could feel his mouth tensing into what was inarguably a smile, however small.

“Nothing in particular.” He said. “Tell me more about Sergeant Donovan and the head gardener.”

Greg did.

***

By the end of their dinner, Mycroft had been obviously exhausted; Greg had tucked him into his car that night, and after a certain amount of fretting the next morning sent a brief and somewhat professional-sounding text to check on him. Mycroft replied with an equally brief reassurance, which did absolutely zero to reassure Greg, but left him reminding himself that he and Mycroft weren’t really even friends, in the ordinary way, and that he should not be nursemaiding the man. He wasn’t, after his time with Sherlock, even sure that one could be friends, in the ordinary way, with a Holmes.

Still, they continued to have dinner, at irregular intervals based on their mutually disastrous work schedules. Greg noted that Mycroft always invited him on a Wednesday or a Sunday, to the same restaurant, where they always sat at the same table, and that his suits seemed to have a rotation as well, because every other Wednesday was algae-bloom day, and Sunday appeared to be alternating charcoal or steel blue.

Greg chuckled over this but didn't mention it, unless he just wanted to hear Mycroft say things like, "I am a man of regular habits," in that posh tenor, his face scrunched into a prissy expression that, God help him, Lestrade actually found endearing.

Greg did, however, fight the trend in his own way; he called Mycroft at random, sometimes not to schedule a meeting, but just to talk. This seemed to confuse Mycroft vaguely, though he never showed it beyond a slight lengthening of the pauses in his conversation. Greg also took care never to ask Mycroft to do the same thing twice. They toured a church, visited an aquarium, and on one memorable occasion, the first hint of a warm day that spring, went for a walk in the park. This activity quite obviously baffled Mycroft from start to finish, but when Greg had Mycroft parked on a bench, laughing as he leaned forward between his knees to bite into a messy sandwich Greg had constructed, he felt his mission had been accomplished: the man didn't eat enough, and didn't laugh nearly enough. The two shared a thermos of tea, courtesy of Greg, and a large, neatly pressed handkerchief, courtesy of Mycroft.

"Guess I didn't quite think this through," Greg laughed as he mopped mustard off his chin, then sucked his thumb clean.

When Mycroft returned his smile, Greg could easily imagine the expression was one of fond indulgence.
 
The heavily suggestive atmosphere of their first meeting never recurred; in fact, Mycroft was such a perfect gentleman that Greg still couldn't tell if they were dating. It felt a bit like courtship, in a Victorian sense. He hadn't done that sort of thing, ever, really.  He'd met his wife at a concert, where they'd gotten trashed, and though the memory was wild, he shook his head a bit over it when he remembered. It was amazing, really, they'd lasted as long as they had.

He didn't know all through late winter and early spring, until one Tuesday evening when he and Mycroft were dining together. Mycroft had, as usual, consumed more green salad and less substantial food than Greg thought could possibly be healthy. His dove-grey suit was a soft-looking flannel, and his posture was warm and loose and friendly.
 
Greg sat back with the slats of the chair solid against his back and smiled across the table. "Good week? You look...relaxed."
 
Even as he said it, Greg watched the shutters drop over Mycroft's face and the tension snap back into his posture. Greg turned, not knowing what to expect. He found Sherlock grinding to a halt just down the aisle from them, looming like a great vulture in his dark coat, his face a study in disgust. John hovered behind, exasperation in every line of his body. Greg suddenly remembered telling his staff where he'd be this evening, if anything broke in the case they were working.
 
Sherlock's gaze shifted to Lestrade, deep disdain in every word as he said, “Mycroft, really. I think I'm past the stage that I need constant watching, don't you?" He stalked forward. Both Greg and Mycroft sat placidly, each refusing to be intimidated by someone whose hair they'd held while he puked. “But if I did, aren't you the enterprising detective, to be reporting back to my brother.  What's he paying you?" he tilted his head and leaned forward until he was in Lestrade's space, and said quietly, menacingly, "Is it enough?"
 
“Sherlock,” Mycroft interjected sharply before Greg could even draw breath to protest. "Not everything is about you, you know."
 
Sherlock looked over at him. Now that the first rush of rage had passed, he considered his brother in bullet-points: weight maintained, new suit, pale flannel (ridiculous, but something Mycroft would find both more casual and more festive), out of his routine on a Tuesday night, dining out at a strange restaurant. Dining out with Lestrade.

Mycroft waited for him to finish his assessment, outwardly calm, because that was the only way to deal with Sherlock.
Sherlock, who was gazing at him as if he'd grown tentacles. Sherlock, who spat out a rapid, harsh thirty seconds of Russian.  It didn't do more than make Mycroft blink, but the nonverbal communication between the two was eloquent. Greg felt relatively sure that this was a date.
 
John apparently recovered more quickly; Sherlock was still sputtering when John grabbed his upper arm. "Sherlock, not good," he hissed. "Sorry about that, Mycroft, Greg. It’s not world-in-peril, we’ll text you.” They watched as Sherlock twisted out of John's grasp with a revolted snort. John shot Greg a wide-eyed glance over his shoulder as he followed Sherlock, who was loudly protesting that he wouldn't be held responsible if the Easley case was the Met's usual wreckage. 
 
Greg leaned back, tucked his hands in his pockets and watched the door close behind them before looking across the table. Mycroft’s hands were clasped, and his cool-as-a-cucumber mask was firmly in place, head tilted just so, appearing to look down his nose even at people taller than him. Greg just sucked his teeth, then leaned closer. "I think we should go," he watched the little shift in Mycroft's eyes--shame? hurt?--before continuing. "It's come to my attention," he said slowly, "that I've been neglecting something, and I mean to put it right." Mycroft swallowed, his only betrayal of emotion, then nodded silently.
 
They settled the bill and rose; Greg laid a hand briefly over Mycroft's shoulder blade as he turned toward the entrance.  Mycroft's jaw bunched.
 
Minutes later, they were walking down the street, silence heavy between them. Greg was nostalgically reminded of that first night, on the steps of the pub, but still convinced that probably an alley was not an appropriate venue for a first kiss with someone as posh and precious as Mycroft Holmes.
 
He came back to the present to realize Mycroft had stopped walking a few steps earlier. "Just say it." Mycroft's voice showed the tiniest hint of strain, and he was back in what Greg privately thought of as full-penguin-mode, stiff and buttoned to the neck. It made Greg flash a grin, full of a great well of fondness for the other man as well as a certain humor at his own predicament, being well and truly hooked on such a gent.
 
"No need," Greg replied, and took the two steps into Mycroft's space, watching his eyes open wide in response. He looked at Mycroft, letting his desire show in his face for the first time, but kept his hands in his pockets and made no move to touch. “Do you really want to do this here?” He whispered.

For the first time in perhaps a decade, Mycroft spoke without thinking.

“Yes.”

His gaze was hungry on Greg’s mouth, but he made no move to close the distance. Greg pulled his right hand out of his pocket, moving slowly, and touched, just his middle two fingers, against the side of Mycroft’s neck. A visible jolt passed through the other man as Greg slid his fingertips, in solid contact, back until he could cradle Mycroft’s head in the warm cup of his palm, pulling slowly forward. Greg just touched his lips against Mycroft’s, heard the sharp intake of breath, and did it again, eyes open and on Mycroft’s, which went dark as his whole face contracted with want. It was impossibly hot, and Greg fisted his left hand, still in his trouser pocket, to keep it still, keep this light and acceptable. He couldn’t stop himself from leaning forward again, though, his hand squeezing at Mycroft’s neck, mouth sliding against Mycroft’s, smooth and generous and demanding. The barely-there rasp of stubble was thrilling against Mycroft’s lips, and his hands fisted in Greg’s jacket of their own accord, pulling them together, desperate for the contact.

Greg leaned in harder, sliding his mouth, working his tongue in till their tongues met. A jolt of lust headed straight south, and Greg heard an answering little whine of want, barely voiced, and stopped, pulled back, because he had to move, but he couldn’t move forward, not here.

They breathed for a moment, before Mycroft dropped his hands to his sides and his gaze to a suddenly-fascinating nearby grate. Greg did his level best to keep his eyes above the waistline.

“Well then. Can I see you again soon? This weekend?” Greg’s voice was already husky, from just one kiss. Mycroft’s head snapped up, brows together.

“I’m sorry?”

“Can I see you again?” Greg repeated, not raising his voice. Mycroft was clearly out of his depth.

“Sunday would do nicely.” Mycroft smoothed his vest, a gesture Greg had come to interpret as expressing discomfort. He was still breathing a little unevenly.

“What about Friday?” Greg was starting to enjoy himself, couldn’t stop a little smirk from forming.

“Saturday, perhaps.” Mycroft’s eyes twinkled in response, acknowledging the gentle tease.

“If that’s your final offer.”

“It is.”

“I’ll text you.”

“Call me, please.”

“Good night, Mycroft.” Greg nodded at the long black car pulling up at the restaurant down the block and resisted the urge to touch. He whistled “Sharp Dressed Man” as he walked away with a ridiculous grin on his face, feeling like a teenager again.

 

 

Chapter Text

Saturday was a miss; Mycroft was called out of the country unexpectedly. He barely had time to text a cancellation before the plane took off. That Sunday, John called Greg and they went for a pint. John knew how the ritual was observed, so they talked about football, drank, and played a round of darts. After all that was done, John said, “About Mycroft.”

Greg tensed immediately. He really didn’t want…well, anyone involved in that situation. It seemed to him that his relationship with Mycroft was a very private topic.

“Sherlock told me, later.” John paused, as though getting his thoughts together, “If I hadn’t known Sherlock, I might not have entirely believed it, but he said Mycroft hasn’t had anyone since he was in uni. At all. Friends, or. Anyone. Just. He has his work, his colleagues, and that’s it.” Greg rolled his pint along its bottom edge, watching the liquid shift as he thought about that. He wasn’t sure of Mycroft’s age, but he must be in his forties, which made it twenty years, give or take. “He said, and I quote, Mycroft is emotionally non-functional. Which, coming from him, is….” he shook his head at his pint, “I think he’s trying to help, oddly enough.” John smiled ruefully over at Greg, who smiled back.

“They’re hopeless, both of them.”

John snorted. “You have no idea. Sherlock indexes his socks.”

“You’re kidding.” Greg laughed. “Mycroft rotates his restaurants and his meals. And his suits. He has a schedule.” John barked out a laugh which quickly slid into chuckling.

“You’re not going to win the my-Holmes-is-weirder contest, Greg, may as well give it up.”

“I’m really not.” Greg shook his head. Something quietly thrilled in him at the idea of Mycroft being his.

“Besides,” John smiled slyly over, “How do you know?”

“Detective, remember?” Greg ignored the innuendo.

“Right then.” John laughed again and slapped him on the shoulder.

Later, when his flat was dark and he was staring at his ceiling, Greg considered two decades without mates, dates, a spouse, nearly without family. Greg thought about his ex-wife, his kids, his siblings and parents and cousins, his colleagues and mates, the guys on his casual beer-league rugby team, hell, even the nice old guy who sold him his paper and coffee in the morning at the shop in his tube station. It might not be undying friendship, but it meant something.

And he thought about Mycroft, surrounded by people who wanted things from him, and people from whom he wanted things. About concessions, and negotiations, and information exchange and politics. About public perception. About how many buttons would get him to Mycroft’s skin, and how pale and how untouched it might be.

***

It was early May, a wet and windy day, and Greg was bone-chillingly cold when Sherlock finally, finally pulled a discarded kettle out of the skip, practically roaring with vindication. John looked just as miserable. He and Greg exchanged a look of commiseration before John stepped forward to help Sherlock get out without dropping either the evidence or himself in the unnamed filth of the alley.

John always got this stubborn jut to his jaw just before he said something like, "Enough, Sherlock,"  so Greg knew it was coming and inwardly sent up a prayer of thanksgiving, feeling his hot shower already. 

He was home, and clean, and barely beginning to warm up after piling on comfortable corduroys and a hoodie, when there was a knock at his door. He opened it to see Mycroft Holmes on his porch. He couldn’t have been more surprised if Santa Claus had knocked at his door selling magazines. Mycroft had never, in their months of ‘dating,’ come near Greg’s home, and only rarely near his work. He also looked absolutely worn out, and beyond that, something…Greg didn’t pretend to understand the emotions of the Holmes brothers, but there was some misery, on top of physical weariness. Greg stepped back without a word and motioned Mycroft in. Mycroft stood in the foyer, blinking, for a moment, umbrella in hand, topcoat unbuttoned and swinging away from his body when he raised his hand to swipe at his eyes.

“I’m sorry, I—I felt I owed you an apology in person for Saturday, and—“

“It’s really not a problem, Mycroft. I understand, I do.” Greg eased the umbrella out of his hand, “But since you’re here, won’t you have a cuppa?” Mycroft looked like he was barely conscious. Greg helped him off with his overcoat. Some detached portion of Greg’s mind wondered if he could actually get some solid nutrition in Mycroft in this state. He turned Mycroft back toward him, hands on shoulders.

“Can you stay a bit?” Greg couldn’t stop his thumbs from rubbing a comforting arc on the point of Mycroft’s shoulders.
Mycroft nodded blearily.

“Jesus, when was the last time you slept?”

“Not sure. Been. Across time zones.”

“I’m glad to see you.” Greg put all the warmth he could into his voice. Mycroft was so distracted by the strangely pixillated map of time zones he had in his brain that he didn’t really register Greg stepping closer or unbuttoning his suit jacket. Greg, for his part, had hoped to peel Mycroft out of his jacket in a slightly more titillating situation, but this was necessary, and the way Mycroft tilted toward his touch was its own satisfaction. He pushed Mycroft toward his ancient armchair and sat on the couch arm next to him. “I think we could use that cuppa, don’t you?” Mycroft smiled and nodded.

“Thank you, Gregory.”

Greg left, and by the time he returned with a hot teapot and two cups threaded over his index finger, Mycroft was sound asleep, his head drooping against his own shoulder.

Greg sat on the couch and just watched. There was something deeply satisfying about watching Mycroft relax. He quirked his mouth and indulged in some harmless fantasy about waiting for Mycroft to wake up, seeing the shift to wary attention, and turning attention into a haze of arousal.

Mycroft's deeply curved hairline brought to mind John Wayne, standing tall and squinting at some rocky, dramatic bit of California coastline, and suddenly Greg could see Mycroft in his mind's eye, wind-whipped on the coast, linen pants pale against the dunes, the ruddy beginnings of a tan on his fair skin, his posture challenging to the very elements that whipped the deep bottle-green dune grasses and the saturated grey-blue sea. Greg had never had such a lofty goal before, but suddenly he wanted nothing more than to get Mycroft away, on an actual vacation, preferably accompanied by lots and lots of…well, they’d have to get well past their first kiss for that.

He was still idly filling in details, perhaps half an hour later, when there was a knock at the door. Greg answered the door with ill-humor already brewing. A ridiculously average-looking man stood on his front step, in a dark, anonymous suit, in front of a dark, anonymous car containing another of his kind.

“Detective Inspector, my name is Timothy Allen, I’m a member of Mycroft Holmes’ security team.”

Greg stepped out and closed the door behind him, crossing his arms. “Then I’m sure you’ll understand I’m not really inclined to believe you without corroboration, nor am I inclined to allow you in my home.” Greg got his mobile in hand and started thinking about entrances, exits, and whether he’d locked the back door.

“I understand, sir, but I will have people keeping an eye on the house while he’s here, until your house has been vetted, and I didn’t want to startle you.”

“Or cause a police action when I see you creeping around the garden? Sorry, but again, I don’t know you, and I’m a cautious sort.” Greg’s mind was whirling; he hadn’t even known Mycroft had a security team, and he was definitely not sure why. They stared at each other for a long moment. “Excuse me.” He kept his eyes on the man and dialed Mycroft, even though the poor man was exhausted, because it was the only reasonable solution. As expected, the phone was answered shortly.

“Mycroft Holmes.” There was barely a hint of sleep in the voice.

“Mycroft, there’s a man in front of my flat who says he’s part of your security detail. Timothy Allen.”

“6 feet, thickly built, brown eyes, brown hair, a little too long around the ears, long scuff on the outside of his right shoe?” Greg dropped his eyes. Sure enough.

“Yes.”

“Put him on.” Greg handed the phone to the man, who exchanged a few sentences, including a slightly reproachful mention of Mycroft taking a cab when his car ran behind schedule. Allen handed the phone back to Greg, who ended the call as he heard the door open behind him. Mycroft emerged, fully buttoned and absolutely back in control.

“Gregory, a word.” It came out clipped and professional.

Greg stepped in and shut the door behind him, tilting his head. “I’m not your staff, you know.” He said it without rancor, but with a distinct edge of stubbornness.

“I’m aware.” Mycroft looked uncomfortable. “I—“

“Don’t worry about it,” Greg softened his voice, seeing the other man struggle against exhaustion and god knows what else. “Let’s concentrate on the important stuff for now. You need to sleep, and eat.”

“I have…commitments.” Mycroft smiled a bit. “I do hope to get home this evening, though.” He moved as if to go, and Greg put a hand over the doorknob.

“Mycroft, you can’t keep pushing yourself like this indefinitely. Why don’t you just stay a bit, have a meal and a nap?” Mycroft stiffened, so Greg made a joke of it, “I promise I’ll be a perfect gentleman.”

Now his companion was truly uncomfortable. “I am perfectly fine, and I can send out for something when I get to the office.”

“You can. But is this…This is not…” Greg floundered. He was concerned about Mycroft’s eating habits and his stress level, but Mycroft was such a contained person it was difficult to even express it. Sherlock, though he was just as private in some ways, was much easier to nursemaid, because he was so much less put together. This made Mycroft both more attractive and more frustrating.
Mycroft’s phone, mercifully, rang again.

“I’m perfectly fine, Timothy, I need more time here. I’m aware of the issue.” Mycroft ended the call. His tone was cooler when he said to Greg, “I apologize for the confusion with my security team. This level of—interest“ he tilted a head at the door, behind which Timothy Allen still stood, “—is new.”

“Is it—are you—In danger?”

“You know I can’t—“

“For christ’s sake, Mycroft, this is not hard, and I am not asking for details. Should I worry, or not worry?” Mycroft’s eyes widened slightly. He was surprised, Greg realized, surprised that Greg would worry. “You are impossible. Of course I would worry. I didn’t know what you do is physically risky.”

“It’s typically not. But there are….exceptions.” He turned the umbrella in his hands, thirty degrees, sixty, ninety, pointing the handle precisely to the left. “For you, too.” There was so much Greg wanted to say to that. But it was not the time.

“I know you need to go, but we’re going to talk about this later.” Mycroft nodded once, stepped toward the door, hesitated, hand on the knob. Greg couldn’t tell if he wanted to say something more, or thought he should. Mycroft seemed to err on the side of silence, where Sherlock did the opposite.

Greg stepped into him, put his hand on Mycroft’s. “I wish you could stay,” he said quietly. “I’m sure your staff is very good, but having someone who cares looking out for you is a great advantage.” Something flashed in Mycroft’s eyes, made Greg want to gather him up in his arms and whisper comforting nonsense. Instead he just looked into Mycroft’s blank face for a long moment before sliding a hand down his cheek, the only skin available.

Mycroft opened the door and stepped out into the gray, waning light.

 

 

 
 
 

Chapter Text

It was—unsettling. That was the best word Mycroft could assign to the feeling. The word was both accurate, and pleasingly impersonal. It implied a departure from the norm. Greg was not the norm. Mycroft’s time with Greg was not the norm. Purely social interaction was something he’d not indulged in since the fat, nerdy teen had become the powerful administrator, on the basis of a brain so remarkable and unique there was only one other that approached its flexibility.

His body had become thin and quiet with purposeful neglect over the years, but it seemed it was getting its revenge now. Because when Greg really focused on Mycroft, all the beautiful synthesis in his brain seemed to stop—Mycroft wanted it to stop—in favor of his body, his imperfect, cacophonous body. Already, when he was with Greg, he could feel the drag of his trousers over the hair on his legs and the tension of socks and watch and belt around him, anchoring him into respectable shapes. He knew this was hormonal, ultimately a complex but explainable series of biochemical reactions.

He’d never liked science.

And science didn’t make the feeling easier to handle, especially since he knew the thrum of sexual desire was only a slice of it. More, even, than Greg’s hands on him, he wanted Greg to rule that switch in his brain; he wanted Greg to narrow his choices to a single crystalline yes or no and let the rest fall away. He knew Greg could rule him, which meant Greg could rule a great deal more. It was a classic problem, and one he, and his superiors, never saw coming in his own life.

The problem was even worse, in a way, when they were not together. When he should be considering problems, real, important problems that affected human lives and sometimes the course of history, for Christ’s sake, he thought about the soft, relaxed feeling in his stomach when Greg laughed, and the crisp bite of cold on their cheeks as they walked side by side. He spent far too much time considering Greg’s ill-fitting jeans and sensible shoes. He had an infatuation with a man who wore sensible shoes.

Yes, it had to stop.

***

Greg whistled as he walked toward the restaurant. He had a date—well, he was assuming it was a date until informed otherwise—with Mycroft Holmes, which was amusing the hell out of him. When he turned the corner, there was a distinctively indistinct black car in front of the restaurant, shined to a mirror polish; the rear window rolled down as Greg approached.

"I bet nobody ever called you Mike." Greg grinned down at Mycroft’s shadowy face in the window. Mycroft almost flinched.

“Please get in, Gregory.” Brow furrowed, Gregory did. It was Wednesday, so they were supposed to be having Wednesday’s food, in their Wednesday clothes. Mycroft was indeed wearing the algae-bloom suit, and today’s shirt was the palest tint of green, with a sheen that made it look touchable. He looked cold and unreadable, something Greg hadn’t seen for some time; it had been a week, and they hadn’t talked, either about what happened at Greg’s house, or their one and only kiss.

“What’s wrong, Mycroft?” Greg reached out to lay a hand on Mycroft’s arm, and it shifted, as Mycroft turned to pick up a yellow envelope at his elbow.

“Nothing is wrong, but we do need to have a discussion. You have been cleared to receive some additional information, due to your role as Sherlock’s primary contact with the police. This contains something you need to look at.”

Greg opened the envelope, not sure what to expect. What he found were two sheets of paper with a rogue’s gallery of headshots on them. He studied them for a minute then looked up, a question on his face.

“The first is Sherlock’s security team. The second contains my security team lead and my assistant. To prevent incidents like the one last week.”

“Was that an incident?” Greg continued looking, trying to memorize the faces.

“I was not implying that you caused the problem.” Mycroft said stiffly.

“Uh huh.” Greg drew it out, making it clear that he didn’t believe Mycroft. “And where are we going?”

“To an appropriate venue.” Mycroft turned his head away and got out his phone. They rode in silence for perhaps ten minutes, Greg staring at the streets going by while he tried to figure out what in the hell was going on, Mycroft silently working on his phone.

To Greg’s surprise, they pulled up in front of an anonymous government office building, the kind of place with beige industrial carpeting and hundreds of identical cubicles. They rode up in an elevator, silently, with a member of Mycroft’s now omnipresent security team, and wound up in a small conference room, with seating for eight and a side table with refreshments.

Mycroft sat at the head of the table. Of course. He folded his hands and watched as Greg, bemused, took a seat on the side.

“Gregory, I believe that we have moved in a direction that’s no longer mutually beneficial. I would like to suggest that we—“

“Wow, you really don’t do this much, do you?” Greg leaned back, elbows on the armrests and hands laced together in front of him.

“I’m sorry?”

“Yeah, you kind of are. This is not how you break up with someone,” Mycroft stiffened, very slightly, as Greg continued, “This is how you fire an employee. Which, I think I’ve pointed out before, I am not.”

“I suppose that is irrelevant, since I am not ‘breaking up’ with you,” Mycroft said it with a suggestion that this was something only twelve years olds would even consider, “because we have never had a relationship.”

Heat crept into Greg’s voice. “Okay, first of all, we absolutely have a relationship. We have been doing things together, optional things, for six months. That is called a ‘friendship’. And, if we did have a romantic relationship, and I think we do, we would break it up with some insults or throwing of handy objects, nothing too heavy, and a moderate chance of crying. Trust me, I’m an expert on that part.” He looked wryly over at the side table. “But since the only thing to hand is cold water and hot coffee, maybe you should just walk me through it.”

“I believe I already did.” Mycroft’s hands hadn’t moved from their place, clasped on the table; in fact, his whole body was still, controlled. Greg could see the tension around the corners of his eyes and mouth, in his jaw.

“I’m sorry, in what way, exactly, is this not mutually beneficial?” Greg leaned forward, gesturing between them. Mycroft sat back a bit and flicked at an imaginary piece of debris on the table, giving Greg a look he hadn’t seen in a long time, cold and superior and cagey.

“Perhaps you had noticed, Greg, that our schedules are nearly mutually exclusive, and that our interests are nearly mutually exclusive. For my part, I have noticed that you are an enormous security risk. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to endanger either of our lives or livelihoods over this….association.” Guilt and worry had tugged at Greg’s gut when Mycroft played the security card, but strangely, subsided at the sight of the small, cruel smile Mycroft usually reserved for taunting Sherlock and reconfiguring third-world governments.

“Yes.” Greg said quietly. “I had noticed,” he went to the sideboard for water, just to give himself a reason to move. Mycroft turned his chair to keep a wary eye on Greg, “I noticed that we’re both Type A workaholics who like to win, with schedules to match. I noticed that I like football, and you, for some reason, like opera, which is….horrifying. I can’t comment knowledgeably on your security risks, for obvious reasons, but if Sherlock is…” Greg took a deep breath and tried to call on some of the patience that had gotten him through cases with Sherlock, “If Sherlock is not an unacceptable security risk, I sure as hell am not.” Greg set the water down hard, dark eyes steady on Mycroft’s. “But,” Greg crowded into Mycroft’s space, “I have also noticed,” he said as he put his hands on the arms of Mycroft’s chair, not touching him, “Other interests,” he let his eyes roam over Mycroft’s frozen face at close range, “That are very. Obviously. Mutual.” Some part of Greg’s mind was cataloguing that Mycroft’s eyes were really murky hazel, rather than blue or brown, and that his nostrils were flared slightly, despite the fact that he wasn’t breathing. The rest of Greg was focused on willing Mycroft to close the last few centimeters of space between their mouths.

Greg let it be for long moments, the silence, the charged airspace where his body loomed over Mycroft’s, until Mycroft drew a noisy inhale and pressed back against the chair.

“No.” It was barely a whisper, strangled and desperate.

Greg stood, but didn’t back off. He could practically smell the desire, but the panicked tone of voice was neither reassuring nor sexy.

“Am I wrong?” Greg pressed. Mycroft’s eyes were still wide, pupils dilated with want. Mycroft didn’t respond, focused all his energy on not revealing anything, on remaining still, while his diaphragm felt like it was shrinking, like it was pulling his ribs tight, forcing all the air from his lungs. “All right, I can’t, and I wouldn’t, try to force you into a friendship, and certainly not into anything more, but your reasons are absolute bullshit. And as smart as you are, I can’t help but think you wanted me to know that.” You manipulative twat. Greg looked down at this strange man, who was awkward with friends and graceful with strangers, and wondered for a moment if he’d misread the entire situation. He went back to the drinks, looked at the bit of wall above the carafe while he said, “I had fun, doing things with you, and…it doesn’t happen often, this kind of thing. What we—clicking like that, just as friends. I can only think of a couple of reasons you’d want to stop, and one’s very unflattering to me, and the other’s very unflattering to you.” If Mycroft wanted to distance himself from Greg because of his humble background, that would be horribly snobbish, but if Greg had been pushing Mycroft this whole time, beyond an association he wanted, he would never forgive himself.
 
Mycroft remained silent. Greg gave himself a pep talk. He had not imagined the times Mycroft’s relaxed posture and easy smile had made appearances, or the warm glow of pleasure in his own chest at the sight. He had not imagined Mycroft moving further into his life, dropping in at his office, coming to Greg’s and falling asleep in his chair. He hadn’t. Greg’s jaw clenched, and he finally turned back to Mycroft.

“If you want to quit, fine, I can’t stop you, but I want to know the reasons. I deserve to know. The real reasons. You can call me when you’re ready.” Greg’s hand was on the doorknob when he heard a quiet, “I’m sorry,” behind him. Greg clenched his jaw. He’d already said enough, he knew he had, but he turned anyway.

“Sorry for what, exactly?” He pinned Mycroft with a cold look. Greg knew a thing or two about interrogation too. The look contracted Mycroft’s face from dismay to something else.

“Sorry this is painful for you.”

“Uh-huh. Yes. It is. It’s—but I’ll cope. But you. You better find a way to connect with somebody, even if it’s not me. Because this? This is how you wind up a dessicated old reptile of a bureaucrat with a clockworks for a heart and no conception of the human cost of the decisions he makes, who's unknown and unappreciated and sacrificed at the first opportunity by the masters he serves and unmourned when he’s gone.” And, there it was. He’d said too much, and he could see it, in the stillness of Mycroft’s face. Stomach twisted in knots, Greg left and shut the door gently behind him. The security detail shifted in a way Greg recognized as readiness.

“Don’t worry, mates, he’s as fine as he ever gets.”

Chapter Text

Greg looked up over the half-ream of paperwork he’d been buried under all morning to see Mycroft’s sleek-haired assistant in the doorway. “You have got to be fucking kidding me.”

“I wonder if you might have a moment, Detective Inspector?” She said, as if Greg hadn’t spoken, and closed the door behind her. He gestured expansively, since, like Mycroft, she was apparently going to do whatever suited her. In Greg’s government-rate visitor chair, she looked ridiculously posh, and slightly uncomfortable. Greg let the awkward silence linger. He laced his fingers together on his desk.

Finally, she said, “I am…concerned. That your relationship with Mr. Holmes is affecting his work in a negative fashion. I would like to move it toward resolution.” Greg could feel his face rearranging between confusion and disbelief. He settled on a reply that often seemed to be a first resort for his interviewees.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I am not entirely sure myself. I know you had a late meeting on,” she referred to her BlackBerry, “the 16th, and that he’s been out of sorts since.” She blinked lovely blue eyes, slowly and pointedly. “Internationally out of sorts.”

“What is it, exactly, that you do for him, Anthea, is it?”

“I do anything that needs doing.” Her chin firms up.

“So he sent you here to…”

“He didn’t send me, Detective Inspector.”

“Working independently on this one, are we?”

“Yes. He will not entertain any discussion of this matter.”

“And ‘anything that needs doing’ includes, apparently, running interference with his…” Greg stumbled over the right word, “…acquaintances when he’s being an arse?”

“It does at the moment.” She didn’t contradict Greg’s characterization of Mycroft, or of their relationship, which was something, he supposed.

“Thanks, but no thanks, I’m really not interested in being delegated, or managed, efficiently or otherwise.” He made his way to the door and held it out for her. She stared for a moment, a calculating glint in her eye, then rose to leave.

“If you’ll excuse my saying so, sir, you’re rather perfect,” she paused at the door, close enough that he could see the flecks of gold in her irises, and said, very quietly, “Don’t give up on him.” He watched her carefully tailored form sway out of view.

***

It was mid-afternoon, a rare hot day in London, the weather adding to Greg’s conviction that he’d rather be anywhere else, as he sat in a hard plastic chair in A & E, next to a nearly-vibrating John Watson. Sherlock had been whisked behind the curtain nearly a half-hour previous, and John’s protestation that he was a doctor had hit deaf ears, probably due to the frantic edge in his voice when he demanded to go with Sherlock.

And so they sat in the awful chairs, and Greg dredged up terrible cups of tea and eventually a couple of ice packs, one for John’s head and another for his own jaw. Amazing how miscreants saw fights on television and always aimed for the hardest, boniest portions of the human face. This particular criminal had hands like bricks.

Eventually, an hour passed. Greg let his head drop against the wall in an exhausted stupor. He’d been running after Sherlock for two days; he couldn’t imagine how John felt, after years of it. Something prickled at the back of his neck and he looked up to see a still figure amongst the bustle of patients and relatives and staff and security. Greg’s stomach lurched.

Mycroft Holmes was carrying his umbrella, and wearing a pale grey suit; some hysterical little corner of Greg’s mind concluded that it must be Thursday. Mycroft’s eyes were dark and steady on Greg’s, his face unmoving. He looked worried, though to a casual observer his expression might have passed for vague dissatisfaction. His hand was tight on his umbrella. Greg met his eyes and nodded; Mycroft nodded gravely in return.

Mycroft took in the shift in Greg’s position that said sore legs, the swollen knuckles and the purple shading of a bruise along his jaw that said fight. Greg’s tie was crooked over a rumpled white shirt like a tv detective that would have a flask in his pocket. And his gaze still felt like a physical touch to Mycroft.

Mycroft had watched the CCTV footage from the confrontation between Sherlock, Lestrade, and the two extortionists they’d been tangling with. It had been brief, and brutal, and Greg had not backed down, even when a knife had appeared. Mycroft had suddenly made the connections, to the thousand other times Greg had led or followed Sherlock, often at Mycroft’s request, and done what needed doing, before and after Sherlock was sober, from Devon to Reichenbach. Greg, who was rumpled and exhausted and sitting with John because he was needed. Greg, who wanted to do what needed doing for Mycroft. Mycroft understood in a sickening rush that not only had he made a terrible mistake with Greg, but that it might be un-fixable.

John vaulted out of his chair to meet the doctor who’d taken Sherlock’s case. Greg rose too, and he and Mycroft watched as John spoke briefly with the doctor, then turned back, tension in every line of his body.

“They’ve taken him to the OR,” John reported, “He’s, um, there was some foreign matter they’re having to dig out of the wound, and….” Greg put a hand gently on John’s shoulder.

“Let Mycroft check on where he’ll be, mate, and we’ll get some logistics worked out.” Greg met Mycroft’s eyes again and got a miniscule nod in return. He watched Mycroft’s beautifully tailored shoulders retreat as he led John back to the chairs for more torture.

And they waited.

They waited, first in the hard chairs at A & E, then in the softer chairs of the third floor, where Sherlock would be assigned a room. Mycroft sat silently on Greg’s right. Various individuals turned up with decent tea, and sandwiches, and toiletries and necessities for both John and Sherlock. Mycroft acknowledged them quietly and appropriately. Mycroft had, in fact, done everything appropriate, including keeping well within his own personal space, but Greg felt as if a conversation was going on between their bodies the entire time, silent, slow, and cautious. Even when Greg was talking to John, even when he was listening to the doctor, he was painfully aware of Mycroft’s presence beside him, aware when Mycroft shifted the newspaper tucked into the chair beside him, when his knee bumped his umbrella, when he recrossed his legs.

Shortly after six, Mycroft received a call, and left the room to take it. He was gone so long Greg couldn’t help but worry; he hadn’t spotted Mycroft’s security team, and it was a busy hospital, and…finally, disgusted with himself, Greg got up to check on Mycroft, under the pretense of using the gents'. He was relieved to spot a familiar guard at the end of the hall and hitched up his eyebrows in question as he approached him. There was a long pause as the guard considered; Greg felt rather small next to his impressive bulk. Then the guard tilted his fair head toward an unmarked door just into the turn of the hallway. Greg nodded his thanks and went in, finding himself in an access corridor, burning with blue-white fluorescent light. Mycroft was leaning heavily, one knee hitched up to put his foot flat against the wall and his head dropped back and eyes closed. He roused himself when he heard the door, enough to look over and identify Greg, then he let his head fall back again. There was a bristle of stubble shading his jaw and the bags under his eyes were a deep purple. He had lost even more weight and was fast approaching gaunt. Seeing it reminded Greg that he’d been told, clearly and directly, that none of this was his business.

Greg felt useless, his hands extraneous. He had nothing to offer that Mycroft hadn't already refused. When Mycroft spoke, his light tenor was startling in the stillness of the corridor.

"When Sherlock...errs...the consequences are borne by himself, and by John."

Greg came forward and leaned against the wall at Mycroft's side, mirroring his posture, not touching, but with his shoulder close enough they could both feel warmth.

“If I make mistakes, it can destroy people’s lives.” Greg said it quietly. “The same could be said for Sherlock, and certainly for John. All of us are responsible for, and to, others.”

Mycroft nods without opening his eyes. He’d always been acutely able to understand the impacts of policy and large-scale action on the individual; it was part of what made him so good at his job. “I am not accustomed to caring more about the effects on an individual than the good of the whole.” Greg wasn’t sure if they were talking about Mycroft’s work or something else now. Mycroft turned to look at him, eyes dark and face blank.

“I don’t think that’s true. You look after Sherlock. I’m sure it’s sometimes to the detriment of your other duties.”
Mycroft just closed his eyes again.

“I’m sorry.” Greg had said it in his mind, many times, since their last encounter.

“Sorry?” Mycroft looked both surprised and confused.

“I’m sorry you’re having a difficult time, but I’m also sorry I was unkind to you the last time, when we…” he paused, awkward, “I know you’re not…I was frustrated and I shouldn’t have said. What I said.”

“It was fair.”

After an evolutionary time, Mycroft straightened. His grip on his phone loosened and he tucked it into his pocket, looking at Greg for a moment with that piercing intelligence. There was something both mulish and fragile in his face, and then it was neutral again, and he headed for the door.

***
 
Eventually Sherlock's doctor returned and reported that he would shortly be moved to a room. Mycroft quietly spoke with a woman at the desk, then retreated to the corner to make a call. His hands were steady, his eyes clear, and his posture tight as a sprinter's hamstring.
Greg longed to put a hand on his back and soothe him like a small child.  He looked deliberately at John, who was suffering the consequences of that kind of attachment, and reminded himself that soothing was not his place with Mycroft.

They got John settled, helped him carry up his things and some dinner, which he'd refused to touch earlier. Sherlock was pale and silent, sleeping again, but he’d been awake when they brought him in, irritated and berating Greg, somewhat incoherently, for his mishandling of the case, so it looked like he’d be all right. It also took some of the edge off Sherlock’s invective when John was holding his hand like something precious.

Now that John’s hand was resting on Sherlock's peacefully sleeping form, he seemed more inclined to eat, and thanked Greg quietly, including Mycroft with a glance and a smile. Mycroft still hovered near the door, as if he didn't belong.

Greg started to turn and go when John caught his arm, pulling him back and down. "Do something about Mycroft, mate." John said it under his breath, face hidden from Mycroft by the angle of their bodies. John gave a small smile and an encouraging nod, and Greg felt his mouth twist into something that was not a smile. He didn't reply.

When Greg closed the door gently behind him, Mycroft was standing in the hall, his face pulled into taut lines again. Greg came to the edge of the polite boundaries of personal space and stood there, letting the silence stretch out, until Mycroft nodded minutely and said, “May I offer you a ride home, Gregory?”

Greg was dull with worry and fatigue, but he knew that wasn’t exactly the question Mycroft was asking. He didn’t know how to feel, but his mouth said, “Yes,” before he’d thought it through. “I mean, I’ll need to go back to the office at some point, but home would be…great. I could stand to get some of the blood off, for one thing.” He tried to make his tone light, but Mycroft just nodded somberly and turned to stride down center of the hall as if it were his own castle.

Unsurprisingly, they wound up in a dark, unmarked car, sliding through London with only the whirr of the air conditioning for company.
Mycroft could feel Greg’s gaze on him, unapologetic and curious. Mycroft felt as if he were being torn apart by his own desire, not for sex, because that was easily handled, but for companionship, comfort, refuge. All those things he’d never allowed himself to desire were crashing in on him now, demanding his attention, no matter what crisis loomed at the other end of his phone. The time since their last conversation had been slow and strange, and he had at some point recognized that there was no going backward, only forward. Now if he could just determine how to do so. He could feel his hands fisting, and consciously relaxed them. It was a ridiculous tell, obvious, and he’d broken himself of it many years ago, but tonight, it appeared, all bets were off.

“I know you said…” Greg started, and cut himself off. “I…” He started to touch Mycroft’s hand where it lay in his lap, then aborted, an unfinished little move.

“Please, wait.” Mycroft’s voice was barely above a whisper. He couldn’t, he just couldn’t, have this talk in a car, with the driver watching. Of course, someone was watching, no matter where you went.

Greg’s gaze stayed on his face. “Okay, that’s. Okay.”

He watched Mycroft, while London rolled by outside, unseen.
 

Chapter Text

They stood in Greg’s foyer, neither of them unaware of the parallel to that afternoon months ago. Greg dropped his keys in the dish and stripped out of his jacket, holding it gingerly in one hand, suddenly aware that he was filthy, and achy, and he hadn’t a clue what they were doing.

Mycroft was either unaware or was ignoring Greg’s discomfort; Greg could see the minute eye movements and the taut line of his mouth that meant thinking. The mannerism was a rare point of commonality with Sherlock, but at the moment, Greg didn’t really want Mycroft thinking too much. He wanted to know what was actually going on, not what Mycroft decided he should know.

But whatever happened, Greg wasn’t going to make it easy for Mycroft, he refused to make it easy.

“Gregory.” There was a long pause, as though Mycroft had gotten that far, and come up short on the rest of the sentence. “I may have been in error.”

“Uh-huh.” Greg ran both hands through his hair, simmering with frustration. Mycroft watched the silver spikes rearrange themselves. “You may have been in error. Okay, I am sure I need to be told what that means, but I’m just filthy. If I shower, will you still be here when I get out?”

Mycroft actually looked surprised. “Of course, Gregory.”

Greg couldn’t help it, his mouth tilted at the use of his name, a reluctant half-smile. He stepped back and indicated the small kitchen off the foyer. “There’s liquor in there, and tea, not up to your usual standard, I’m sure. Make yourself at home if there’s anything you need. I’ll be out in ten.” He toed his shoes off and padded through the living area.

While Greg washed efficiently and dug up fresh jeans and a comfortable jumper, Mycroft sat in the living room and stared out the window. It was exceedingly rare that Mycroft reached a point where he had to acknowledge his own emotions, but it was clear to him that he no longer wanted to continue in the path he’d requested, nor was he capable of optimal function under these conditions. He would have to settle for dealing with the numerous problems he foresaw as they arose. There was very little he couldn’t arrange, he reminded himself, even while the uncomfortable thought tried to surface that attempting to arrange the emotions or desires of another person was a delicate matter at best and an unforgiveable betrayal of trust at worst.

When Greg returned, Mycroft was sitting in the armchair, staring out the window with a cup of tea balanced on his crossed knee. Greg’s chest was roiling with conflicting emotions, but Mycroft’s pose struck him funny and he felt a nearly hysterical little grin work its way onto his face. What a sight Mycroft was, every hair in place, tea in hand.
Mycroft, for his part, felt something tighten in his throat; this was a sight he wanted to see all the time, Greg in his most worn-out jeans, hair untidy, face full of amused fondness. Greg must have seen something in Mycroft’s face as another awkward pause stretched between them. “You didn’t really plan this, did you?” He said it quietly. “When we were waiting on Sherlock, and on the way over, when you were staring out the window, ignoring me, you weren’t planning.”

“I wasn’t ignoring you either.” Mycroft’s lashes dipped, and Greg was surprised to notice they were actually the same dark ginger as his hair.

“So I was, what, fifth or sixth on the Holmes priority list tonight?” It came out pissy. Greg blew out a breath and backtracked. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. Just say what you need to say. Please.”

“When we spoke. Before. I was wrong,” Mycroft blurted out. That was’t exactly the way he…this sort of thing always looked easier when other people were doing it. He’d had no trouble giving Sherlock a shove in the right direction, but he felt less than successful on his own behalf as Greg’s face turned wary at his words.

“About what, exactly?”

“I thought that the best thing, for both of us, would be to sever this association—“

“Jesus Christ, you can just say relationship. You’re a grown man.”

“—Relationship, then, before we were both too invested. My position doesn’t really welcome…personal complications. I was perfectly correct,” Mycroft stood and set his teacup on the table with the smallest clink, “based on the knowledge I had at the time, to end our association. I was, in the larger sense, incorrect, because my foundational assumptions were faulty.”

“Um, have you been hanging around Sherlock?” This made Mycroft’s nose pinch up.

“No more than is absolutely necessary.”

Greg couldn’t help himself, he smiled again, even though none of this was funny in the larger sense. The whole conversation was very Mycroft, both endearing and maddening. Greg could tell Mycroft was trying to change his mind, even though Greg hadn’t the foggiest clue what specifically he was on about. The smile melted off his face.
“Just say it,” Greg said it softly, almost kindly, “For god’s sake. Yes or no?” Mycroft looked down at Greg’s bare feet, suddenly tongue-tied. It was just—torturous, being so close to something he shouldn’t want, and couldn’t have, as a result of his own actions. It had been a constant weight, pulling his shoulders taut, for what felt like forever, his body registering its protest to the sheer loneliness of the late nights and early mornings, of the posh and impersonal hotel rooms and his posh and impersonal home. All the things he’d imagined saying crowded together and clogged his throat. He couldn’t be persuasive, or charming, or polite, or even articulate, with Greg there, with his intolerable bare feet and damp hair and dark, kind, tired gaze, and it was all too much. Mycroft’s hand made an unfinished little gesture, and his voice box an unfinished little sound.

“On second thought, shut up.” Greg took the two steps that put them close, and closer. He could hear his voice going rough when he said, “Just shut up.”

He put a warm, damp hand on the back of Mycroft’s neck and slotted their mouths together, firm and sudden and brief. Then he pulled Mycroft’s bowed head into his own shoulder.

“There is no reason you can’t have this.” Greg muttered and rubbed his cheek on Mycroft’s hair as instinct finally overrode pride and good sense. “I don’t care what stupid job you have, or what you think you owe the bloody crown or, or whoever, or your…image or…whatever the problem is. Just. Stop.” Mycroft was breathing deep and harsh.

“I—it’ll be impossible.” Mycroft had a double fistful of Greg’s shirt.

“Hush.”

They stood, in tableau, for long moments, Mycroft relaxing incrementally as Greg’s hand tightened on his nape and he slowly understood that they’d fumbled to the same place, that Greg was still willing to try.

Greg could feel the yielding spawn a tightness in his gut, in his throat, that forced him to action, moving his free hand to slide around Mycroft’s shoulders, to make a shelter around them. “That’s it,” he repeated, barely a whisper around the inexplicable lump in his throat, “I am so glad you’re here. It’s been a very long day. A long month.” There was a momentary stillness, before Mycroft nodded against Greg’s shoulder. Greg’s hand tightened on his neck and Mycroft’s hands slipped forward to ride his waist, barely touching. “All right then, everything’s all right. We’re here now, the rest is for morning.” He felt Mycroft swaying, barely perceptible, not aimless but rhythmic, very slow. He used his free hand to stroke Mycroft’s shoulder in the same rhythm. They stood, until Greg felt that he really might fall asleep, standing up and all. It wasn’t terribly late, but it really had been a hell of a day.
Greg didn’t loose his hand on Mycroft’s neck, just reached out with his free hand and loosened Mycroft’s tie, which snapped Mycroft’s head up, tension back in his neck and shoulders.

“I’m just making you more comfortable, it’s not…” Greg trailed off awkwardly, and Mycroft nodded once, crisp, shrugging off his jacket as well, his hands folding it shoulder to shoulder in automatic, smooth gestures. Greg smiled and took it out of his hands, laying it over a chair arm. He popped Mycroft’s top button just above the knot of his tie, then tugged him toward the couch, feeling Mycroft’s wary gaze slide along his arm, to their joined hands. He pushed Mycroft to sit, and knelt to remove his shoes, revealing ridiculous silk socks. He smiled up at Mycroft, who just looked down his nose, already more like himself. Greg settled in, reclining against the big padded arm at the end of the couch, and tugged the long-limbed and flustered man, till he fitted under Greg’s arm, curled on his side in the narrow space between Greg and the sofa cushions. Greg tugged the throw down on top of them and settled in.
Sod talking, he thought, as Mycroft’s body told him what he needed to know, getting heavier and more relaxed with each slow pass of Greg’s hand across his shoulder. Their breathing slowed and deepened together.

Mycroft could feel everything in him surrendering to the inevitable. His staff probably thought they were shagging, his boss was probably trying to contact him, his brother was going to be insufferable, and Greg’s slow, sleepy breathing under his ear made it all irrelevant.

They slept.

***

The next morning, Greg woke early, and alone, with a raging headache compounded by a crick in his neck. His mobile had two messages, both from Mycroft. One was the name of a local chiropractor, with an appointment time listed that morning, and the other…the other was an invitation to dinner.