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A Novel Romance

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Anthea congratulated herself for taking a headache tablet before meeting with her client because, no matter how greatly she had hoped otherwise, she had firm expectations about the tone and direction of this meeting, all of which were coming true.  And, all of which could give a headache to a headless baby doll.  As the agent-slash-manager for the illustrious mystery writer Mycroft Holmes, she had labored long and hard to get the stubborn tit to consent to one of his novels being turned into a film and that long and hard labor had been necessary because said stubborn tit thought the idea was as good a one as swallowing raw sewerage.  Something that was still leaps and bounds above what he thought of the actor the studio wanted for their leading man…

      “What possible reason could you have against him for the role?”

      “I would think the reason would be blindingly apparent.”

      “Not to a sane person!”

      “As you have oft proclaimed, I am insane.”

      “Funny.  Or not, because I do think there’s something wrong in that head of yours but, since it keeps turning out brilliant novels to set the mystery world on fire, I really don’t care about that bit of looniness.  This looniness, however, I do care about, because I cannot, for the life of me, imagine what you have against him.  He’s the right age, can manage the look you envision for your protagonist, has talent…”

      “On the latter point, especially, we disagree.  Profoundly”

      “You genuinely think he’s not a talented actor?”

      “I have browsed through the various samples of his work and they are the basest sort of drivel.”

      “Drivel that’s made hundreds of millions at the box office.”

      “The ignorant masses do enjoy their drivel and will gladly pay for large bowls of it spooned into their drooling mouths.”

True, but since that didn’t help Anthea’s argument, she declined to make her agreement audible.

      “A lot of those ignorant masses also buy your novels, might I point out, so maybe they’re not precisely as ignorant as you want to believe.  For fun, though, let’s play a ‘do you remember’ game, what say?  Do you, Mycroft Pettifogger Holmes, remember how much money your books on political history added to your coffers?  I seem to remember a very pointed conversation between you and my father about your imminent eviction from your flat, your brother being pulled from college for non-payment of fees and what strategy you should follow to prevent those pesky sorts of things from happening.”

It was the lowest of low blows, and Anthea knew it, but she also knew it was the truth and, when her most eccentric client needed the truth, she wasn’t afraid to give it.  Mycroft had a phenomenal mind and a true talent for writing, but until the segue into mystery writing, he’d amassed to his name the sum of several highly-regarded academic tomes and a below-average bodyweight since he could scarcely keep himself fed on the profits from them, given the number of people who appreciated detailed and incisive treatments of the government of ancient Assyria or some other faraway land could happily sit around a table at her favorite pub.  A small table, at that.  Her father had been nothing short of blunt about the situation and it, ultimately, was exactly what Mycroft needed to move forward, so that was the model she continued when she took over the firm.  That didn’t mean it was easy though, especially when she could see the hurt in Mycroft’s eyes.

      “Is this the point where I am I supposed to say ‘touche?’ “

      “No, it’s the point where you remember that not every talented person can simply follow their muse wherever it may take them.  They still have to eat, pay rent and all the other things that keep body and soul together.”

      “However, as you have indicated, these dreadful affronts to cinema have made outlandish amounts of money.  I would expect that this Lestrade person would be richly rewarded for this contribution to the studios’ accounts and could follow his muse if it chose to go to Antarctica.”

      “Yeah, he’s rich.  So are you.  Remind me how many non-fiction titles you’ve written lately?”

      “That is an utterly different thing.”

      “No, it’s not.  I do suspect you’ll write those sorts of books, now and again, someday but you’d probably see about the same level of sales as your original foray into that area and the taxes on this house, as well as your brother’s lunacy… we’d have to look long and hard at your investments to see if they’d keep you afloat if you decided to go in that direction permanently.

      “Pfft.”

      “Very articulate.  Truly, I’m overwhelmed by the complexity of your verbiage.  Besides, you like writing mysteries and, I suspect, Greg Lestrade enjoys the sorts of films he makes now, too.  But, it’s not all he’s done.  Did you even look beyond his more recent projects?  Lestrade has stage work to his credit and some well-regarded independent films in his early days.”

      “Which fell to the wayside when fame and fortune beckoned.”

      “Kettle – you’re black.”

      “Pish tosh.”

When Mycroft began to fall into a recursive rhetorical pattern, it usually meant he was simply spinning words to hide what he truly wanted to say, something Anthea knew from long and painful experience.

      “What’s… what is the real problem, Mycroft?  I know you’re not entirely happy with the idea of this film…”

      “I abhor the idea.”

      “… fine, you abhor the idea, but you seem to have a special level of abhorrence for Greg Lestrade.”

      “That is untrue.  I simply… yes, I may have turned away from my original inspirations for writing, however, that does not mean I look upon my more profitable work with any less a doting eye.  It is important to me… it matters more than I can express.  From naught but my own thoughts I create people, realities where, before, there was nothing but the empty page.  I am not ashamed to confess that I treasure my work, I take no small amount pride in it and it is it wrong that I wish to protect it from… the besmirching effects of the so-called entertainment industry?  My work inspires the minds of those who read it, I have countless letters and messages as testament to that fact and that is, to me, the apex of possible praise I could receive. My work inspires thinking, actual thinking.  Why would I, for any reason, want to turn that into insipid pablum for the intellectually lazy?  To denigrate my work, debase it… the insult both to me and my readers would be crippling.”

Anthea sighed, both from the vehemence of Mycroft words and that he had not deviated from his mindset one whit since she went full-out to get him to accept this film pitch.  He had fiercely resisted every previous effort for a television or film treatment of any of his novels and had only relented this single time since the film studio making the offer had, under their umbrella, a division that made smaller, more intellectual or artistic films that her client genuinely enjoyed.   Part of the contract was that the film would be produced under their watchful eye, though marketed and distributed by the parent company to maximize its audience.

However, the current sticking point was the clearly stipulated clause in the film-rights contract that Mycroft had final say on the actor to portray the lead, which was one of Mycroft’s most popular protagonists.  The studio had very firm ideas about who should have the role and Mycroft had firm ideas that their firm idea was utter shite.  She would keep trying to convince her client that he was being daft, as well as encourage the studio to move on to another candidate her client found more suitable, but this was an immovable object meets unstoppable force situation and she was the one being crushed in the middle.

      “Nobody wants you to debase or denigrate your work, Mycroft.  If anyone knows how important your work is to you, it’s me and I would never allow that.  The contract we got for you is the best I’ve ever seen to ensure the film stays true to both the letter and spirit of your book and… I don’t think Lestrade is going to ruin that.  Not in any manner.”

      “The man can do little but race about firing guns or bedding buxom blondes!  Oh, and let us not forget, battle space aliens or act the fool for some nauseating bit of romantic fluff that should be outlawed like anthrax.”

      “He’s been in a fairly diverse body of films and, yes, I will admit they tend to be blockbusters and not the little esoteric productions you like that most people can scarcely follow since it’s all archaic references, triple-meaning imagery and communication being mostly accomplished through microexpressions and interpretive dance.  That being said, your work would not be well-served by ghostly legions of Grim Reapers performing a ballet, so maybe we should try something a bit different.”

      “This Lestrade person has not portrayed a single character of intellect in his entire career!”

      “Not your level of intellect, no, but since the number of people in your category can be counted on one hand with fingers left over, that’s not something to damn him over.”

      “Oh, there shall be damning, and it shall be mighty.”

Anthea rolled her eyes and decided it was best to let this drop for now and attack it fresh tomorrow.  The mole was entrenched in his hole and not even dynamite would be able to extract him.  And, she’d completely forgotten to bring his favorite chocolates to this meeting.  They could usually be counted on to nudge him a few inches out of his hole to feel some sunshine on his face.  Which was something she actually wasn’t certain he’d voluntarily done in years.  Sleep all day and work all night had been his pattern as long as she’d known him, and moles didn’t change their spots any more than leopards.  If he didn’t have to occasionally make himself present to receive an award, which took weeks of convincing, she doubted his skin would ever feel the touch of the sunshine.

So, chocolates tomorrow and maybe a new pen.  He did prize his writing-utensil collection, though he wrote on a computer, and her connections should be able to ferret out something especially tantalizing by tomorrow night.  At this point, she was not above using outright manipulation and bribery to see this deal sealed.  It was too important, even though His Majesty couldn’t see that.  His fans were dying for a film treatment of his books and the additional exposure would being him a new legion of fans to his books.  And, more books sold meant more money, not only for him but for the various causes he supported, which he took almost as seriously as his writing.  Shit on a sharp stick!… she was definitely off her game tonight, because she hadn’t raised that particular point once!  And a powerful point it could be, when leveraged properly.  Absolutely time to regroup and attack on a new front tomorrow.  Of course, she had to phone the studio tonight and report on her progress, but… she was nothing if not talented at saying a lot while saying little at the same time…

Chapter Text

I love you, Greg!

Look this way, Greg!

You’re amazing, Greg!

Marry me, Greg!

Just one quote, Mr. Lestrade!

Greg kept his smile larger and brighter than the hot Los Angeles sun he was sweltering under as he waved to the crowd of fans and reporters, making certain to stay clearly in front of the display for his new film as the studio press agent had reminded him to do.  This was not his favorite part of new film projects, not in the slightest.  Yes, he realized the importance of publicity and, yes, he realized that it was part and parcel of the enormous fees he received for his work that he play the dancing monkey for the studio press battalion… it was just such bollocks!

Three interviews before breakfast, one during breakfast, a photo shoot for an entertainment magazine after that, then here for a special screening of his new film that was prefaced by a few additional brief interviews and photo opportunities… he wasn’t that interesting a person!  Fortunately, nobody seemed to care that he pretty much said the same things over and over for each interview, all of which was previously scripted and evaluated by the studio people and the photo shoots simply required him to follow whatever directions the photographer gave, which were also evaluated and negotiated by the studio.  Only now and again did he luck into an interviewer or photographer who went off script and interacted with him more as a person than a studio asset.  Those were the times he actually had a bit of fun, always followed by tut tutting and browbeating by studio drones who were terrified any unapproved statement or pose would somehow come back to bite them in the arse.

But, for now, he had to continue standing here looking, waving like an animatronic Disney figure and talking into whatever microphone was pushed into his face.  His instructions had been most specific – smile, wave, speak, smile more, stay in front of the display.  Of course, those instructions were easy to forget when he saw was a kid in the crowd, dressed as one of the characters he’d played in another film or sporting a handmade pair of his trademark sunglasses, which always made his heart grow ten-fold in size.  Then the film display could fucking take care of itself while he signed something or took a photo and spent a moment talking with these little joys.

Who were his favorite, in many ways.  They didn’t see his films because he was handsome or sexy, something he never particularly saw but each to their own taste, or only because they liked the action, adventure and a good laugh, but because he’d made a character real for them.  He helped tell a story that meant something beyond the special effects or car chases.  It was why he’d become an actor, really.  To express himself creatively and bring the heart and soul of a story to life.  Challenge his ability to step beyond his skin and inhabit a new one so successfully that he, himself, was no longer there.  The littlest fans reminded him of that and he adored them for it.  And, of course, he adored the shifty fucker arriving on scene with his usual ‘why the fuck is this my life’ expression on his miserable face who did his bit to keep the films coming for those little fans to enjoy.

      “Anderson, you ugly bastard.  Why are out here in the sunshine, you ghoul, when… oh, did the studio call?”

Which was a fairly ongoing thing as ‘the studio’ comprised a scandalous number of people who might have claims on his time, but there was one call he’d been waiting for and the look on his manager’s face gave him two answers at once.  Yes, ‘the’ call had been made and, no, the news wasn’t good.

      “He still won’t agree.”

      “Fuck!  What’s wrong with that bastard?  Does he… I know I don’t know him, but did I do something to him in a previous life?  Shit on his cat or something?”

      “I think a cat would move if you tried to take a shit on them.  Or turn your arse into bloody strips of agony for your troubles.”

      “There’s a place you can shove your bit of analysis and it would be agony when you tried to push it back out.”

      “Save your testiness for someone who’s not trying to get this to work for you and actually has a logical, analytical mind to tear your cat-shitting arguments into shreds.  Like the cat would your hairy arse.”

      “It’s not hairy. And it’s been on-screen enough for me to provide loads of evidence in my favor.”

      “Don’t remind me.  I have to sit through your films far too often, not to mention see you on set during filming, and still bear the mental and emotional scars.”

      “Oh ha ha.  But… jokes aside, I need this, mate.  I need this film.”

Anderson sighed and nodded, since they’d had this conversation more than once since the studio broached the idea, one that had Greg shouting over the phone that he’d do it, before a word of contract negotiation had been spoken.  Fortunately, Greg had been shouting at him so, if the deal was ever sealed, it wouldn’t be for peanuts with three other peanut-wage films thrown in for good measure.

      “I know.  That’s why I’m still working to get you signed.  And, in truth, the studio wants this nearly as badly as you do.  You were their first choice and they see your casting as the magical unicorn that will bridge the film between the small, intellectual-film audience and the mainstream.  This project could hit multiple demographics with the right lead and they think that’s you.”

      “But this Holmes bastard doesn’t agree.”

      “No, he doesn’t.  He’s not happy with your work and thinks you’re wrong for the role.  That you won’t be able to portray his character the way he was written, turn him into some gun-waving, snark-spewing berk and he’s holding firm.”

      “And his word is law.”

      “For that role, yes.  And the studio doesn’t want to play hard with him because he can yank their rights over this.  I have to tip my hat to his representation… she doesn’t fuck around and the studio is balls over a barrel until he’s happy.”

      “What can we do to make him happy?”

      “I have no idea.  Build a time machine so you can start your career over from scratch?”

      “Don’t think I haven’t dabbled with that idea.  More than once, over the years.”

      “Yeah… I know.  And I am trying, Greg.  The studio heads would take mine off with an axe if they learned of it, but I scheduled a lunch meeting with Holmes’s agent for the day after tomorrow and…”

      “Brilliant!  I’ll wear my nicest…”

      “I don’t care what you’re wearing because you’re not going.  This is a behind-the-berks’-backs meeting where, hopefully, I can get some off-the-record information that will help your case.  Your being there won’t make that happen.  And, no!  Close your mouth about you being charming or better able to plead your case or anything that teeny brain of yours is thinking would be a brilliant addition to the conversation.  This is one of those things better done without the talent involved.  She won’t speak as candidly if you’re sitting at the table any more than I would if her bloke was joining us.”

Greg huffed a frustrated sigh, but he suspected Anderson was right.  Actors had their own candid conversations when their agents and managers weren’t there to hear and the last thing he wanted to was scuttle any chance he had of getting this role.  It was too important to him.  He’d waited desperately for one real acting role to come his way, one chance to show people he was more than a money-making machine… this was that chance.  He could feel it in his bones and if he lost it, who knows how long it would be before he saw another?  If he ever saw another, which, at his age, wasn’t highly likely.

      “Ok… ok, I see your point.  Day after tomorrow, you said?”

      “Yeah, I’ll fly to London tomorrow and do a bit of asking about on my own before I talk to her.”

      “Alright… anything I can do before then, just let me know.  Copies of my films, reviews, I could probably get testimonials from various directors I’ve worked with, on short notice, if I had to.  if anything crosses your mind, tell me and I’ll see it done.”

Something Anderson didn’t doubt in the slightest.  Greg would make himself loony trying to pull together whatever material he could to further present him as the right candidate for Diogenes Bell, the complex, yet brilliant, detective that was the protagonist for one of Mycroft Holmes most popular series of novels.  The character was a rich one, extremely layered and nuanced, just the sort of role Greg had been aching to land, but the studios never offered.  This time, the offer was not only being made, but being fought for, so the opportunity was more than a golden one.  It was a diamond-studded, pure platinum opportunity and if Greg lost this part… it would crush him.

      “I will, Greg, I promise.  I get the sense that this Holmes fellow wants someone more serious and skilled as an actor, so I’m going to do my best to emphasize your early career, when you had more chances to really show how talented an actor you actually are, and, further, talk about how hard it is for an average, ugly, fairly smelly chap like you to portray the interesting, suave, handsome men Holmes might see now on the screen.  You have to be an amazing actor to pull of something like that.”

Greg laughed and recognized Anderson’s attempt to calm some of his anxiety.  It wasn’t working, but the show of support was welcome, nonetheless.

      “I’ll take a snap of myself right after my alarm sounds tomorrow morning, to give you some evidence to present for your argument.  Until then, though… I suppose I best get back to smiling and waving.”

      “It is what you’re good at.”

      “Thanks.”

      “If you’d like, though…”

      “Yeah?”

      “Once you’re done here, I may have secured permission for you visit a children’s ward at one of the hospitals and donate a few cases of toys.  Without a train of photographers following along to get in the way.”

If the average person knew how much the superstar Greg Lestrade did for charities, they’d be astonished and, likely turn it into a media frenzy that would do nothing but stab at Greg’s tender heart.  Greg made obscene amounts of money, but never hesitated to use that money or his name and influence to help out a person or group that was struggling.  If there were more people like him in the industry, this world would be a much better place…

      “Really?  Brilliant!  That is absolutely and positively the most brilliant thing I could have heard right now.  My mood is officially boosted.”

      “I thought you could use a reward for today’s nonsense.  As well as getting you out of that Vogue party tonight because you’ve got a score of early interviews tomorrow and if you don’t get some sleep, you’ll look worse than you normally do.  With photographic evidence to follow.”

      “I could kiss you right now.”

      “Since that would make me vomit, I will back away slowly and tidy up a few things, so I can actually make my flight tomorrow.  When you’re done here, ring me and we’ll visit some kiddies.”

Anderson clapped Greg on the back and watched his friend put on his ‘star’ face as he returned to promoting his new film.  Which would be another in a very long string of films that made a staggering amount of money and left Greg feeling vaguely unsatisfied as an actor.  He could understand that, academically, but it was hard to make studio heads see that a man practically drowning in money and fame wanted something that would give him neither of those.  Well, it was his job to represent his client’s interests, lucrative or not, and that is what he would do.  Heaven and Earth would be moved to try and land Greg this Holmes project and, if he couldn’t do it, then nobody could.  And nobody would kick themselves harder for failing…

Chapter Text

Anderson had made good use of his pre-meeting time in London to learn what he could of the enigmatic Anthea and pull together some additional material to boost his client’s profile for the role.  He’d visited a few of Greg’s very old friends from the theater and low-budget film days and gotten copies of impossible-to-find photos and press clippings lauding his performances, as well as hearty encouragement to pass along their contact information for some personal recommendations of Greg and his acting work.

Then, he’d made a reservation at what he hoped was a restaurant to put Anthea in a good mood for discussing this tangled web.  One of his own acquaintances had to deal with her for another of her firm’s clients and, apparently, decided an extremely upscale establishment where the food was exquisitely sculpted and the biggest names in entertainment and politics rubbed elbows would serve to impress.  It hadn’t.  So, he was wagering that she might appreciate a location that was cozy, friendly and served hearty portions of the best Italian food he’d ever eaten.  And, that wager was about to be tested since his lunch guest was now being shown to his table.

      “Mr. Anderson?”

Was the name of the man who stood to pull out Anthea’s chair then dropped back into his own when she gave him a look that said his idea of somewhat-sexist chivalry wasn’t going to be met with gladness.

      “Philip, please.  Or just Anderson.  Mr. Anderson became a bit embarrassing after The Matrix.”

At least his weak joke earned him a ‘ok, you might not be completely dreadful’ nod.  It wasn’t much, but he’d take any goodwill he could get at this point.

      “Fair enough… you may call me Anthea.”

Another thing Anderson had learned and had impressed upon him with skull-denting force.  Anthea was Anthea.  Yes, other names existed, but you were certainly not privileged to speak them lest you and your descendants be cursed through time with the foulest of bedevilments.

      “Thank you.  And, thank you for meeting me like this.  I know you’ve been dealing with the studio people, but…”

      “You wanted to make a personal pitch.”

      “I did.  A glass of wine before lunch?”

Having taken his wagering all the way to Ascot, Anderson had seen a bottle of unfancy, but wonderfully-flavorful red brought to the table to breathe and was happy that the eye Anthea ran over the label was an approving one.

      “A glass of that is always welcome.  Not many people realize how nice it is, given how little you pay for it.”

Success!

      “Price and quality don’t necessarily go hand in hand.”

      “Your client comes at a very high price, if I remember his fee for his last few films.  Maybe I should rethink this meeting if you’re not even sure he’s good for the part.”

Anderson paused pouring a second and cursed that he’d lulled himself into complacency!  That’s not how it was supposed to go.

      “Hence the ‘necessarily’ caveat.  Sometimes price and quality are very happily matched.”

      “Sometimes.  Oh, this is just as good as I remember.  And, I have to say, if my nose can be believed, and it always can, the food here is good, too.”

      “It’s been one of my favorites for years.  Steady local clientele and operates on the principle that making you happy makes them happy.”

      “Very good to know.  I may need to add this one to my list.  So… what do have to say to me, Anderson, that the studio hasn’t?”

Down to business… that was what he was ready for.  Given those in their profession saw nearly every moment of their day consumed by this matter or that, efficiency was paramount if you wanted to remain a member of their profession for any length of time.

      “Possibly little, given they’ve been pushing hard for Greg but, what I can add is how much he wants this part.  It’s right for him and he’ll do an incredible job with it.”

      “Maybe.  There is a great deal of subtlety with this character, a lot that has to be conveyed with tone, inflection, facial expressions, presence… I haven’t seen much of that from your client.”

      “Not because Greg can’t do it, more because the studio leverages other aspects of his talent in his films.  And… it’s not something that has my client’s enthusiastic approval.”

      “No?”

      “It’d be a lie to say he’s not happy with his films or what the money and exposure enable him to do with his life, but it’s left one part of him unfulfilled and that’s the part that wanted to be an actor in the first place.  The part that drew him to his first audition and to haunt the London theater scene learning all he could to make his own performances better.  He signed on with films that could scarcely afford film, let alone someone to wield the camera, because the part he’d play was genuinely interesting and challenged him.  Same with the roles he took for the stage.  Greg’s an actor, apart from being a film star, and that’s why he wants this role.  It’s a chance to do what he truly loves, and I honestly can’t think of another person who’d fit the character better than he would.”

The waiter arrived to take their order and Anderson hoped it gave Anthea a moment to think about what he said.  And she ordered the ravioli!  That was always exceptional and would do its own part to persuade her he knew what he was talking about.  A man who knew ravioli surely knew actors, right?  Frankly, ravioli was more complex, in some ways…

      “Why has Mr. Lestrade waited until now to reach for a part like this one?”

      “He hasn’t.  He’s been pressing to get different sorts of parts for a long time.  The problem is, once you’re pigeonholed, it’s hard to break out.  Studio executives and producers know what they can use you for to make the most money and aren’t willing to let that money-making potential go to waste.  And… they’re probably worried he’d make a mess of it and embarrass himself.”

      “Then why are they pushing him for this film?”

      “Because it has potential to be big.  Yes, it’s thoughtful, but there’s a great deal of suspense and enough action that it would keep Greg’s current fans happy, but could bring in another type of filmgoer into their tent.  And… your client has a lot of books to his name.  One successful film could lead to more and that’s something they like – a franchise.  Even if it ultimately moves into their television division to be developed there.  They don’t really care about Greg or your client, they’re just looking at the bottom line and what will make that happy.”

Anthea nodded as she took another sip of her wine and had to admit that Anderson seemed to have the right end of the stick.  She didn’t represent anyone in the film industry, but she dealt with those who did often enough that she could spot someone who was smart and realistic, as opposed to someone who was clueless or a liar.  That was a nice feather in her tablemate’s cap, whether he realized it or not.

      “Harsh, but it runs fairly along the lines of what I already suspect… but, again, why hasn’t Lestrade simply used his leverage to get a few smaller films, if that’s what he wants?  Or take time to do a bit of theater?”

      “It’s surprisingly hard.  At his level, you get signed for multi-picture deals and the studios have the greatest say about what those films will be.  Greg actually gets a clause in his contract that he can do a film of his choice when he has a deal like that but… he’s not often approached with anything that intrigues him.  Small filmmakers assume he’s too expensive or wouldn’t have interest in their work.  Some likely assume, too, he’s a ‘star’ and might be too demanding or have too high of filming or production expectations and they shy away.  It’s tragic, because he’s precisely the opposite.  He’s one of the most normal men you can imagine.  Does his own shopping, sneaks away for a few at his local when he’s in London and there’s a match on…  A play would be difficult, too, because it’s a large time commitment, unless it’s a very limited run.  Shooting a film can go quickly for the actors, but a play’s a different matter and with shooting schedules revised on short notice a goodly percentage of the time, he doesn’t want to commit and leave the stage production scrambling to replace him.”

      “That’s a point in his favor.  Mr. Holmes values integrity and sense of commitment.”

Yes!  Scored points are lovely, happy points… now, could he score more loveliness and happiness…

      “And that’s what I hope to learn from you.  Why is he so against Greg?  What can we do, on our side to change his thinking?”

As the food arrived, Anthea mulled the question of the day.  In truth, she didn’t know what would make a difference to Mycroft’s lodged-in-cement thinking and had hoped from this meeting to glean whatever tidbits she could about Greg Lestrade to see what might appeal to her client.   Being a ‘normal’ man wouldn’t do much, since Mycroft had about as much respect for normal people as he did film stars, but a sense of honor might.  Respecting obligations and commitments… that was the sort of thing Mycroft, himself, found important.

      “In truth, I doubt he’s specifically against your client, just… anyone in his situation.  Mycroft did’t want this film made, to begin with, and the more Hollywood-y it is, for lack of a better term, the more unhappy he’s going to be.  Your fellow is about as Hollywood as they come though, yes, I know he’s based here in London.   And… Mycroft’s possessive of his work.  When he has a new novel, or a reprinting of an older one, he has control over every aspect of publication – cover art, fonts used, kerning, pagination… name it, his fingers are in the pie.  Each of his novels is tailored precisely to his specifications and… I can’t say it’s been a mistake.  His works are used for bookcraft exhibitions and seminars.”

      “And there aren’t the pies here for him to finger.”

      “That’s certainly part of it.  He also values his work.  Takes pride in it, truly sees it as an accomplishment to treasure, but also to guard and protect.  It’s an extension of himself, in many ways, and he doesn’t take that lightly.  And, you have to admit, books don’t always get the treatment they deserve when a film studio gets its hands on them.”

      “Oh, I’ll gladly admit it.  It’s criminal the rubbish I’ve seen churned out for what was actually an amazing novel.  But, I’ll tell you this… Greg is one of the few actors I know with the clout to push back against a producer or director veering off into the shrubbery and making a mess of a script or source material.  This wouldn’t be the first film he’s done that was adapted from a book and they’re considered some of the very best out there, partially, because he called out ‘artistic license’ for what it really was, ego, incompetence or lunacy.  And the producers listened because he can walk from a film if he genuinely believes it’s being butchered during filming.  He’s done that, too, so when he raises the point, it’s taken seriously.  Once it’s in post-production, he’s got less say, so I can’t offer any guarantees for that end, but if your client wants an ally on set during filming and a powerful ally, at that, Greg’s the man he wants.”

Anthea savored what was the best ravioli her mouth had tasted in… forever… and tried not to give too much evidence that Anderson had scored a major point.  That would appeal to The Hermit, though it might be agony for Greg Lestrade who would have to deal with her client’s incessant demands for information and responses to that information when it didn’t please him.

      “Interesting.  What’s your client’s take on the character?”

Should he give Greg’s actual impressions or something a bit more… who knew what.  Well, since he didn’t know what, might as well go with the truth.

      “That he’s empty.  He’s a person, too, who’s nearly given up believing that the emptiness can be filled.  He’s brilliant, but it’s a sharp brilliance that cuts people too soft to withstand it.  There’s a light in him, a nearly blinding light, but it’s at a frequency that few to none can see, so they see no light, instead.  He’s trapped by his own genius, a good man, in his own way, but not sure, himself, if he’s a happy one.  Greg thinks that the descriptions he’s seen or read in the media about Diogenes Bell is off the mark.  He’s not lost… he knows exactly where he is.  He’s just not certain if that place coexists with this reality or not.”

Points, points, points… apparently, Mr. Greg Lestrade had a brain in that pretty head of his.  One that saw things closer to what Mycroft imagined for his detective than the critics perceived, or many of the readers.  This meeting was certainly worth the bother of rescheduling a bevy of other appointments and maybe, just maybe, it might pay dividends when she had her next conversation about the film with Mycroft: Man of Mystery…

      “I’ll say this for Lestrade… he’s not stupid.”

      “No, he’s not, though that doesn’t always come through in his press.  Too many media outlets prefer to play up his looks and don’t give four seconds or four words to the fact he’s actually intelligent.  Not highly educated, he left school at fifteen, but education doesn’t always equate to intelligence.”

      “No more than price does to quality.”

      “Precisely.”

Anderson ate a mouthful of his excellent lunch and banked that the tiny smile on Anthea’s face said this meeting was bearing fruit.  It might be a few small berries, but that was more than he had when he walked in here.

      “What else, Anthea?  What else can I do, can Greg do, to sell him to your client?  I can give you references of people who worked with him on the sorts of projects Mr. Holmes seems to respect.  He’s well-read and Mr. Holmes is one of the authors he admires, from before this project was even being whispered about.  Greg’s dedicated to his craft, takes it seriously and he won’t do any less for this project.  Maybe… maybe he should have the chance to tell this to Mr. Holmes in person.”

      “Hmmmm… that’s… tricky.”

For so, so many reasons that not-Mr. Anderson didn’t need to know at this moment.

      “If he wants to know who Greg is, dig into how he sees the character and his ideas on portraying him, that’s going to be the best way to do it.”

      “I don’t disagree, I’m simply saying it’s tricky.  Let me talk to my client about it.  We have a meeting this weekend about his new book and that will be a good time for me float the idea by him.”

      “This weekend… couldn’t you do it sooner?”

      “No, I’ve got a meeting for another client tonight and the next two days …”

Are Thursday and Friday, which are Mr. Holmes’s writing days.  One does not visit Mr. Holmes on writing days.  One does not speak to Mr. Holmes on writing days.  One tries not even to breathe loudly near Mr. Holmes on writing days, nor wear colorful clothes, shiny jewelry or have painted nails.

      “Mr. Holmes has his own matters to tend to.  But, I will speak to him on Saturday and… I might be able to persuade him into a phone conversation.”

      “Greg will want face to face.”

      “What your client wants isn’t the priority in this situation.  Let me see what I can manage, and I’ll let you know.”

      “When?”

      “If I’m lucky, Saturday night or Sunday morning.  Mycroft might want to think a little before he gives me any sense of how he’s leaning, though, so don’t be surprised if it takes a little longer.  But, I will say this… I’ve got a bit more to go with now than before.  And, you said you had some names for me as references?”

      “Yeah… I’ll text them to you.”

      “Good.  The more I can bring to the table, the better.”

      “That sounds like you’re in favor of Greg getting the part.”

Anthea dabbed her lips and credited Anderson with candor, which she appreciated in their line of work.

      “I do, actually.  A few physical things I might alter to make him better fit Bell’s appearance in the books, but a good bit of that can be solved through makeup, hair and wardrobe and… the rest works for me.  I think he’s a good choice, the right choice… ultimately, though, it’s not my decision.  I’ll do what I can, but when Mycroft makes up his mind, there’s no power on Earth that can change it.”

      “Perhaps a little tiramisu will give you a touch of otherworldy power?”

This smile on Anthea’s lips was precisely what one would expect from a person who knew the negotiating force of stellar cuisine and wasn’t afraid to use it themselves.  It was good when a colleague spoke your language.

      “There’s no harm in trying.  I’m a firm believer in alternative paths to power.”

Anderson settled back in his chair and felt a welcome amount of tension bleed out of his core.  He wasn’t going to get ahead of himself, though, this still could fail and easily, at that.  He’d gotten the impression that this Mycroft Holmes wasn’t one a manager or agent could simply point this way or that and give them a shove to get them moving in the needed direction.  But, Anthea had been with her client since her father retired, from what he’d learned, and a relationship that longstanding gave you ways to read situations and, at minimum, make your very best case.  It was highly similar to what he had with Greg… he couldn’t always get the prat to budge on a certain point of a deal, but he could get closer and work a better compromise than someone else might.

If, ultimately, Greg didn’t get his part, it wouldn’t be for lack of trying on multiple people’s parts.  It’s just… Greg was a good man to make his own arguments and was a genuinely affable chap, to boot.  A simple meeting might be exactly what was needed to unlock this puzzle.  Maybe over a leisurely bite of tiramisu, he could nudge Anthea further towards that idea.  If not… well, this restaurant also delivered for special customers, which he could proudly claim to be, and he had two days for their fabulous fare to batter at her defenses…

Chapter Text

      “That’s all?”

Anderson made a rude gesture at the phone, wishing his client could see it, then made a mental note to text Greg photo of the gesture once he’d ended the call, because it had been a particularly well-executed example of the breed.

      “What did you expect, you prat?”

      “I… more!”

      “Brilliant.  Look, I had a very positive meeting with Mycroft’s agent and she stated clearly she supports you getting the role.  Anthea is best positioned to champion that opinion to her client and would know how to approach him to maximize her chances.  If she says she’ll talk to him on Saturday and try to broker a phone conference, then I feel certain it’s because she’s confident that’s the best way to move forward at this point.”

      “That’s two days away!  For a fucking maybe!”

      “And that’s not a problem, timing-wise.  This is still in the planning stages, Greg, and the studio can easily wait for awhile if they think they’ll ultimately get what they want.  And they do want this.  Mycroft’s got more than one novel in that series and each is ripe for a film or television treatment.  Maybe even a mini-series, they’re doing well in a lot of markets and landing that is money, money, money.”

      “What are thinking, something like Poirot or Miss Marple?”

      “Maybe.  This film a massive test balloon for what might be possible, so they’re not going to blink that we’re on hold at the moment, because progress is being made and they don’t need final casting decisions at the moment.  The publicity machine isn’t ready to start running and a little intrigue as to who will be the lead is always good to spur interest that filters into word-of-mouth mainstream.  It’s fine, Greg.  Stop worrying.  About the additional wait, that is.”

That was easy for Anderson to say, in Greg’s opinion.  He wasn’t the one sitting here, in a hotel suite, on pins and needles because… aaarrrggghhh!

      “Tell me the truth, then.  Do you think Holmes is going to agree to a meeting?”

      “Anthea used the word ‘tricky’ for a face-to-face, but… let’s just look at the possibility of a phone call now and get some ideas together for how to make that work to best effect for you.  If he agrees, I’ll try and get more insight from Anthea about how best to approach him during that call, but if he’s more of a ‘oh fine, let’s do it’ and rings straight away, we should be prepared.”

      “I still think this should be done face-to-face.”

      “As I was told, quite pointedly at that, your wants aren’t priority in this situation.  Let Anthea do her job, Greg.  She thinks his interests, at least for the film, are best served by getting you on board, so she is going to sell you, probably better than you or I could.”

As much as he wanted to believe that, Greg simply couldn’t.  Nobody could sell him better than himself.  Even Anderson trotted him to meetings specifically for that reason!  Smile, charm, dazzle… it was all shite, of course, but, in this business, it worked.  He could accept being tethered here for today’s meeting, but… it didn’t make sense beyond that.  If Holmes’s problems were with him, personally, then the discussion about those problems should in-person, too.

      “Greg?  You still there?”

      “What?  Oh, yeah.  Just thinking.”

      “That usually means a headache on its way for me.”

      “Not always…”

Maybe this time, though.

      “… how long will you be in London?”

      “Until tomorrow morning.  I’ve got an early flight booked.”

Good.  Then you’ll be in the air for a hundred years before you find out I was in the air a hundred years today to… do something.  The exact nature of what that is may still somewhat be in the development stage, but it will be something and it will be done.

      “Alright.  I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

If we do a bit of video conferencing, otherwise nope.

      “Ok.  I’ll check in with a few people before I go, just to mine any final information about this Holmes character, then we can get a battle plan together.  Dinner tomorrow night, if I’m able to keep my eyes open?”

      “Sounds good.  I won’t pencil it in, since I know how knackered you are after a long flight.”

      “Yeah, that’s probably for the best.  Arsehole.”

      “Prick.”

With the traditional farewells bestowed, the call ended, and Greg quickly phoned the studio travel division to get him a non-stop flight to London leaving as soon as he could get to the airport and, then, to a friend in the studio who would be happy pass along Mycroft Holmes’s address or find it, if they didn’t have it already.  It would be crippling, but he’d accept a little crippling to knock on Mycroft Holmes’s door and shine the Greg Lestrade grin right into his eyes.  Or, more probably, begin a monologue from a Pinter play to catch the bloke’s attention.  Whatever worked.  Whatever the fuck worked, he would do, and he wouldn’t know what that was until he could look Holmes in the eye and read what he saw there.  A phone call wasn’t going to give him that.  Of course, he’d have his own headache from Anderson yelling at him, but that plus the crippling was a small price to pay for getting this role…

__________

      “Ugh…”

      “Sir?”

Greg sat up straighter and smiled at the train attendant who was, helpfully, bringing him the death-by-caffeine cup of coffee he’d requested.  The crippling was in full swing and he remembered every time he flew back to London from LA and how it unfailingly sucked balls.  Maybe this was a bad idea.  He looked like hell, felt like hell and certainly wasn’t thinking as clearly and sharply as he could.  Probably should have stayed the night in London and started fresh, but no… his feverish little pea brain said this was brilliant and not one neuron in there was willing to take the opposition’s side and make a case.  Cowards.

      “Thanks.  How long until we arrive?”

      “Oh, not long at all.  It’s a nice day, too, so I hope you have time to take in the scenery.  The village is a lovely one, the sort they put in the tourist brochures to make England look like it does in all the films and on the telly.  But… well, you would know all about that, wouldn’t you?  You… you are Greg Lestrade, aren’t you?”

The gleeful look on the young man’s face was one Greg recognized from countless people who had recognized him and finally worked up the courage to admit it.  But, since it had gotten him premier service, even for this first-class section, he wasn’t going to complain.  Walking to get his own coffee might literally have killed him at this point and he was already facing being crippled as it was from this perhaps-stupid decision.

      “That I am.  I’m glad you’ve heard of me.”

      “Heard of you!  I’ve seen... I don’t think there’s a film of yours I haven’t seen.  Would you… I hope it’s not an imposition…”

That hand gesture was another one Greg recognized and he rallied to put on his most winning smile for the quick selfie, which genuinely thrilled the attendant and, as genuinely, put a lift in Greg’s spirits.  Maybe he didn’t do Shakespeare, but he did make people happy, and there was value in that.  A lot of value, actually…

      “Thank you!  This is… I’ve never met a film star before!”

      “I hope that means you’ll buy a seat for my new film.”

      “I am!  I’ve been reading all the stories about it and it looks like one of your best.”

      “It’s a fun one, that’s for certain.  And… oh, looks like we’re about there.”

      “What?  Oh, you’re right.  I’ve got to get back to it, I suppose.  Thank you, Mr. Lestrade… it was… amazing to meet you.”

Watching the young man dart away, Greg drank down his coffee in three large gulps, then gave his head a good scratching, which made his hair a chaotic patch of weeds, but that just complemented the rest of his appearance, to his mind.  First stop, a nice little place where he could have a bit more coffee and something hearty to eat to keep that coffee from eroding his stomach lining, and which would let him use the loo for a quick bit of personal grooming.  The last thing he wanted was to look like a vagabond when trying to convince Holmes that he was a mature, serious actor.  Yeah, he hadn’t properly thought this through… but, since that described a vast quantity of his life’s decisions, onward and upward it would be…

__________

      “Is there anything else I can get you, sir?”

Progress to date - not one flicker of recognition on anyone’s faces, which was brilliant and excellent coffee, which was doubly brilliant.  The thick burger cooked exactly as he liked it was triply brilliant and he felt only a million percent better than he had when he walked into this cozy pub which was within staggering distance from the train station.

      “No, I’m good, thank you.  Unless… do you, by any chance, know where the writer, Mycroft Holmes, happens to live?”

Ok, that was not a happy look on his server’s face.  Or, not so much not happy as wary.  Wonderful…

      “Might I ask why you want to know?”

And, now, almost every person in the place was giving him the face.  Locals protecting their own… a grand thing except when it worked against you.

      “I’m… I’m supposed to meet with him about a certain matter.”

And, of course, do look over to who must be the manager or owner, who is smirking as if I just said I was going to propose marriage to the man, then back at me to shake your head.

      “No, you aren’t.”

      “I am!  I’m supposed to meet him today to discuss some business and…”

Now, the whole place was smirking at him.  If this turned out to be Royston Vasey, he was doomed…

      “No, you’re not.”

Should he try the grin?

      “You’re selling something, aren’t you?”

The grin failed!  She thought he was a salesman.  That didn’t bode well for his longevity as a sex symbol…

      “I’m not selling anything.  See any sample cases or anything?”

      “Uh… you can do that sort of thing with a mobile now.”

Shit!  He was an old geezer!  He was his dad.  This was the most depressing day of his whole fucking life.

      “I’m still not selling anything.  He and I are supposed to meet and have a simple, friendly chat about…”

They were laughing at him, now!  He was his dad, in the fucking center of Royston Vasey, and Anderson didn’t know where he was to send a rescue party.  If he even tried to phone for help, his mobile signal would probably route to the bloody TARDIS who would tell him to sod off for being a lying old man with weed-patch hair.  At least the manager-type seemed ready to take a little pity on him…

      “Oh, tell him, Ginnie.  Wagers, everyone?”

Greg looked around as wallets came out and a quick stack of notes grew on the bar, along with betting slips for whatever it was that had interest running high.

      “Ummm… Ginnie, is it?  Can I ask what’s going on?”

      “Oh, nothing.  Anyway… where’s Dave. Dave!  Drive this bloke to the manor, would you?”

Spotting the middle-aged fellow draining the last of his pint as he rose from his seat, Greg wasn’t entirely sure if accepting a ride to an unknown location was the smartest choice in the world.  However, since it did seem to be taking him where he wanted to go…

      “Got it covered.  Watch starts the moment we arrive.  Alright, sir.  Let’s get you to your simple, friendly chat, shall we?”

      “Ok… thank you.”

Tossing on the table a sum equal to what he hoped would cover his bill, Greg stood, cleared his throat and smiled weakly before following his benefactor out of the door, with the sounds of chuckling following in his wake.

      “I take it the manor is more than a pleasant walk from the village?”

      “Oh, you could say that.  I’ll check I have enough petrol before we leave, though, just in case.”

Petrol?  Oh bloody wonderful.  He was being driven to Scotland to be slaughtered amongst the sheep.  Nobody would find his body for days and the sheep would probably desecrate his corpse in every manner of mean-spirited ways, too.  Miserable creatures.  For that, he was having lamb for dinner every night for a month.  Except, he didn’t like lamb.  They were already desecrating him!  This wasn’t going to end well… not in the slightest…

Chapter Text

      “Bloody hell!  How much further?”

They’d passed Scotland and their maniac sheep, and were headed towards Greenland!  He probably slept during the Atlantic crossing, which was a pity, since he might have caught sight of a puffin or two.  Could have asked them if they knew anything about the temperament of the sheep population of Greenland.  They seemed to be wise and knowing birds, at least from what he’d seen in the nature programs.  Of course, with his luck, David Attenborough was taking payoffs from the Scottish sheep and this was all a massive conspiracy to ruin his life.  And, no, for the record, he was not an hysteric…

      “Oh, another ten minutes.  Give or take.”

      “Give or take, what?  A century?”

      “Mr. Holmes likes the country life.”

      “Which country?”

      “Sounding a little tetchy there, mate.  And here I thought you were anxious to see him for your friendly meeting?”

      “I didn’t think it would be in Greenland!”

      “We’ve scarcely been driving half an hour.  And that’s slow driving, at that, since the roads are… well, some bits aren’t best called roads.  Lanes, maybe.  Cart tracks works, too.  Badger paths, might be the closest to the truth.”

This wasn’t, at all, what Greg had expected.  A famous novelist would have a nice home, likely, and the rural location fit, too, but… there were rural manors and there were rural murder houses that started life as insane asylums where they put the luckless relations in wealthy families who walked about in bedsheets and proclaimed themselves the wrath of God before trying to stick a knife in the butler’s back.

      “Fine, I get it.  You need a fucking tank to make it to Holmes’s house.”

      “It does help.  The only person who might have one of those, though, is old Greeley, since he’s got a bit of a taste for things a sane person wouldn’t own.  Maybe you can hire him if you find your way back here for another happy chat.  Don’t mention his teeth, though.  He’s sensitive about them.  For fairly obvious reasons, to be fair, if you’ve ever seen teeth before in your life in either a human or non-human mouth.”

Another happy chat… that would depend on the outcome of this one.  So far, his confidence level had taken somewhat of a dip, but there was still enough to see this through to the end.  A successful end.  See?  That was confident!  Very confident.  Dripping with lovely, lovely confidence.

      “Yeah, well… what can you tell me about Holmes?”

      “Mr. Holmes?  He’s… a proper gentleman.  Asset to our community.  We can always count on a few signed copies of his books to put in the annual ‘the fucking church has something wrong with it again’ fundraiser, as well as a tidy personal donation.  And, when the little nippers were selling seeds to start a garden at the primary school, he matched whatever they raised in funds and paid for the bird feeders they wanted to put in, too.”

That sounded… like nothing he could use.  He knew enough people with posh country homes who did much the same, mostly to keep the locals happy so they didn’t complain too loudly when some stupid party ended with a farmer’s fence being rudely violated by the sportscar of someone very rich and very drunk.  But, he also knew enough people with posh country homes who simply made their little contributions because they were happy to do their part for the community they were part of, even if it was for only bits and pieces of the year.

      “Alright, here we are.  Hold on, mate, it gets a bit bumpy from here.”

A point proved by Greg being bounced so hard his head hit the roof of the car.

      “Ooh, that one’s gotten worse.  I’ll tell Terry to do something about it.  He runs an eye over these badger trails and keeps the weeds from overgrowing them and the holes from getting too deep.”

Implying, in Greg’s opinion, that Holmes didn’t get a lot of visitors.  So, not only a country squire, but a bit of a hermit.  He had heard the term ‘recluse’ used to describe the writer before, however, thought it was just to add a bit of color to the man’s biography.  Apparently not…

      “Probably a good idea.  Look, can I phone you when I’m done here and…”

      “I’ll wait.”

      “That’s… that’s kind of you to offer, but I’ll likely be awhile and…”

Why was the man laughing?  Admittedly, it was refreshing that he wasn’t being recognized by any of the villagers, but being laughed at by them was a touch of an ego blow.

      “Nah, you won’t.”

      “I… probably will.  We have a lot to discuss, so…”

      “Nah, you don’t.  But, good on you for giving it a try.  And, looks like you can get started on that.”

Looking out the windscreen, Greg saw the large structure looming ahead, looking exactly like the murder house he was just imagining, which did not do a lot for his sense of having fallen into a dystopian village where nonlocals were toyed with before being burned at the stake.

      “Um… nice house.”

      “That it is.  Looking particularly cheery today, too.  Must be the sunshine.”

This was cheery?  Yep, he was about to be dismembered and the pieces burned at the stake.  One little stake for each finger and toe…

      “Must be.  Ok… you still waiting for me?”

Please say yes.

      “Absolutely.  Now, go on.  Let’s see how this goes.”

Greg narrowed his eyes and narrowed them tighter as his driver took out his mobile, waited until he set foot outside the car, then tapped something, grinning while he did it.  But, that wasn’t his concern right now – the murder house was.  Why hadn’t he been in more horror films!  Then he’d know what to do.  As it was, all he had was knock and politely ask if Mycroft Holmes was at home.  That was weak.  He’d definitely be the first to die in some slasher film.  The good-looking, clueless dad type who gets the first axe to the chest…  Well, here went nothing…

Knocking what he hoped was an appropriate number of knocks for a door the size and, likely, thickness of an oak tree, Greg waited a moment, then another moment, then a third before the door was answered by a young woman with a kind face that wasn’t looking particularly kind at the moment.

      “Deliveries in the rear.”

      “I’m not delivering anything, ma’am… I’m here to see Mr. Holmes.”

      “No, you’re not.”

This again?  Did someone phone ahead to warn her?  What if this was part of the clearly-orchestrated plot to distract him while they found all the necessary stakes to burn his body parts?  He’d better keep a watchful eye out for pitchforks and torches…

      “I am, actually.”

      “Nope.  Goodbye.”

How a small woman like her could get the massive door slamming in his face in the blink of an eye just confirmed Greg’s suspicions that he’d left normal reality quite a ways back and slid into a realm that loved to fuck with the mind of jet-lagged actors.

Knocking again, hard this time and hoping the large door knockers weren’t actually denting the ancient wood, Greg waited until the same irritated, kind-faced woman answered.  To glare at him.

      “What now?”

      “I really need to see, Mr. Holmes, so if you’d just…”

      “No.”

      “Isn’t… I don’t mean to be rude, but isn’t that for your employer to say?”

      “No.”

      “Why don’t you go and ask him?”

      “No.  Oh, Dave drove you.”

Waving at my driver and pointing at your watch… this is stage-worthy panto but not… and you slammed the door on me again.  Lovely.

      “Ready to go, sir.”

      “No, I’m not.”

      “It… it wasn’t really a question.”

Oh.  Well, maybe not, but Greg Lestrade wasn’t going to the stake without a fight!

      ‘Sir, I really wouldn’t keep knocking like that.  You’ll just… fuck it, this is always fun to watch.”

Greg ignored everything but the repeated knocking on the door, though he did deign to pay attention to the large shotgun being held by his current nemesis that was pointed directly in his face.

      “That’s enough of that.  Be off with you or we’ll have to call someone to collect what’s left of you.”

She still had a kind face and the murderous gleam in her eye almost looked like a twinkle.

      “I…”

The sound of a cocking firearm had fully made its way into the genetic memory of all humans and triggered every possible physiological alarm to start flashing, blaring and waving hand-lettered ‘Run you fool!’ signs until you, finally, ran like a fool.  Or, in this case, nod politely and stroll away as calmly as possible.  Like a fool.

      “And… time.”

      “What?”

      “Oh, nothing.  Ready to go.”

      “Still not a question, right?”

      “Not in the slightest.”

      “Then, home Jeeves.”

Yes, being laughed at again.  This time, though he’d made a pithy joke to warrant the laughter.  Though, in his heart, he knew his joke wasn’t the reason.  Not at all.  But, no burning at the stake, yet, so some victory would be claimed.  At this point, he’d take all he could get…

__________

      “Dave!  What’s the number?”

Greg glared at the people in the pub, who were precisely the same people he’d seen when he left there to start his journey into nowhere.

      “Six minutes, fourteen seconds.  Ties to be broken if someone guessed Molly would get her shotgun.”

The loud whoop from a middle-aged woman who was waving her pint in the air made Greg’s eyes roll and he dropped into a seat at the bar to order his own pint.  Then, struck by a stray tendril of inspiration, cancelled his order and stood up again.

      “Right.  I suppose I should make my way back home.  Not seeing the success here I’d hoped for with my… business matters.  Though… I do know a few people in the area.  Friends from the city who wanted a quieter life.  You know how it is.  Anyone have a car to hire so I could make my way about for a day or two?”

Laughing!  And… more wagering.  Fuck.  At least the bloke behind the bar was trying to pretend he wasn’t laughing…

      “Oh, got friends about, do you?  That’s a nice thing and the weather’s supposed to hold so plan for a picnic or something fun in the fresh air.  Let’s see… Sarah?  That husband of yours still hire a car out now and again?”

An older woman at a corner table made a grand show of giving the question deep and serious thought that Greg’s professional opinion merited as BAFTA-worthy.

      “Yeah, when he’s got one that runs.”

      “Have any now?”

      “Might have.  Won’t be cheap, though.”

And, by the size of the woman’s smile, Greg knew the ‘won’t be cheap’ would make his wallet cry.  But, he had a larger wallet than these evil people knew, so they’d somewhat be crocodile tears.

      “I recognize it’s short notice, madam, and understand if there’s a… surcharge for the inconvenience.”

      “Alright, then.  I’ll phone the old bugger to find the keys and… where’s my grandson?  There you are!  Put that pint down, Robbie, and take this bloke to get his car.  Check it’s got petrol, too, and the tires have air.”

      “Yes, Gran.”

Greg watched a tall, lanky man gulp down his beer, rise and then make a follow-me motion that had Greg leaving the pub a second time.  To start Plan B.  Kind-Faced Gun Woman… Molly… said deliveries were in the rear.  Maybe there were staff in the rear who were more amenable to passing a few words with a visitor.  Staff who might appreciate, too, a gleaming grin and few quid to help a good cause.

Of course, after paying for the car, he’d probably have to find somewhere to get cash.  Why didn’t he charge for photos like other film stars!  He could have gotten twenty quid from the lad on the train to hide in his shoe just for emergencies like this.  Definitely had to practice some of that forward-think he’d heard about.  Maybe Anderson could get a book or two for him on the subject…

Chapter Text

Well, it was a car by the strictest definition of the term, but since the badgers that made these particular trails could easily outpace him, it was a very near thing.  No use complaining, though, because it did run, didn’t utterly deplete his accounts to hire and had the necessary petrol to make this trip out to the Hammer House of Horror and Shotguns, as well as back again.  If, of course, he actually wasn’t murdered and buried in a shallow grave, which was sounding better than his dismembered-and-burned theory from earlier.

Deciding it was probably best not to simply drive up to the house, Greg parked the car out of sight and made the rest of the way on foot, feeling only astoundingly ridiculous as he crept through the tall sections of grass and used shrubs for cover so that he could make it to the rear door unseen.  He should have worn something more… camouflaging.  Stupid Greg… think ahead next time when you’re preparing a sneak attack on an asylum-cum-murder house.  But, at least he’d made it to the door without a load of birdshot in his arse, so that was a victory… and this door looked far friendlier than the one at the front of the house.  Nice little bell to ring, too.

      “Running a bit late today, aren’t you… you.”

Oh no.  Kind-Faced Woman!  And her final ‘you’ was said exactly as one expected before the knife was drawn that was going to slit your throat.

      “Hello.  I… I think we got off on the wrong foot earlier and I wanted…”

      “You’ll be starting back minus a foot if you don’t go away.”

      “Look, I’ve got business with Mr. Holmes…”

      “No, you don’t.”

      “Not this again!”

      “Truth doesn’t change just because you don’t like it.”

      “I do have business with him!”

      “Ahem.”

      “Did you just say ahem.”

      “Yeah.  Didn’t actually need to clear my throat, but I wanted the drama.”

      “Ok… carry on.”

      “Ahem… for your information, today is not a business day, so there is a percent chance of naught that you have a business appointment.  Second, Mr. Holmes does not discuss business with anyone but his agent.  If you had something real to discuss and not whatever it is you’re lying about, you’d be talking to her.  Now, before you lose both your feet, sod off.”

Greg pushed back against the door being slammed in his face and keenly felt every one of his years and every bit of his hatred of exercise for its own sake as he found himself losing ground quickly in the door-pushing battle.

      “Just let me talk a moment, will you!”

      “No!”

      “I’m not a bloody salesman!”

      “Who said you were?”

Oh right… that was the girl in the pub.  Moving on.

      “Can’t we just have a cup of tea or something and…”

      “No!”

      “Come on!  It’s a long way back and… whoops!”

Greg suddenly pitched forward as the door was flung open and he stumbled into one large body, which was actually a better thing than stumbling into the second, smaller, older one who was holding a frighteningly-impressive knife.

      “See, Mrs. Hudson?  I told you this one was loony.”

      “That you did, Molly dear.  Charles, kindly toss out the rubbish, will you?  I’ve got to get these potatoes peeled else I’d do it myself.”

Greg did not take the tall man’s pleasant smile as a good sign and implemented the classic back away with hands out in front of you, palms forward to help ward off imminent demise maneuver.

      “Wait!  Just wait, will you?  What is wrong with you lot?  Fellow just wants a simple conversation and…”

Oh no, Granny Knifewielder was shaking her namesake at him!

      “You come here, unexpected and uninvited, and create a fuss large enough that poor Molly has to forcibly try and keep you out of our home.  Now, care to guess how the local magistrate is going to view your ‘fellow just wants a simple conversation’ story?”

Poorly.  He’d be put under whatever the fucking village had for a jail and they’d all likely take turns shoveling dirt in on top of him.  Maybe he’d get a straw to breathe through, so he didn’t suffocate and die.  Maybe.  Over-the-top had officially been reached, exceeded and growing distant in his sideview mirror…

      “Yeah, ok.  You’re right and I apologize for being a bit… adamant… about things.”

      “Very polite of you, now, as Molly said, sod off.”

Granny Knifewielder and Molly the Murderous, yet Kind-Faced, Woman would succeed exceedingly well in the hellscape that was the entertainment industry.

      “Can I… look, can we just sit and talk a moment?  I promise I won’t create a fuss, I just… I really could use some tea if you have it.  Coffee would be better because I’m genuinely dead on my feet and… maybe not thinking as clearly as I normally would be.”

The three people in the kitchen besides the actor shared a look that to Greg said ‘The loony man wants coffee but, in fairness, we can drop poison in it if the aforementioned fuss does arise, so there’s really no harm in letting him have a cup.’  Truthfully, Greg was a touch torn between fleeing for his life and accepting the chair that the tall man pulled out for him at the small staff table, but accepting it did mean sitting, and that sounded remarkably wonderful, at the moment.

      “Thanks, ummm… Charles, was it?”

      “That it is, sir.”

Right… if he wanted to play a detective in this film, he should maybe try thinking like one.  Ok… bloke with neatly-pressed trousers, a crisp white shirt, tie that wasn’t quite fixed as if he was on a break or waiting for work to start, freshly polished shoes and…  yeah.  There was a jacket hanging on a hook and a cap sitting on the small table beneath.

      “Chauffer, by any chance?”

      “Very good sir.  I do act as driver for Mr. Holmes.  As well as perform other small functions, as they become necessary.”

Like evicting pushy old bastards despite my genial smile, thought Greg, who suspected that the eviction would occur rapidly if he did something else on the loony scale and that eviction would not be a pain-free experience.

      “Good to meet, you.   I’m… I’m Greg.”

      “The film star, yes sir.”

What?

      “What?”

      “You are Greg Lestrade, the film star.  I did expect someone taller, but the camera is not always the most reliable teller of truths, in my experience.”

Oh good, Kind-Faced Woman was nodding at him.  Probably realized that she could sell his dead, taxidermized body for good money on the collectibles market.

      “Oh!  That’s were I’ve seen you.  I thought it might be on one of those telly programs about escaped convicts or men who did something filthy in a public loo that got filmed by someone with their phone who uploaded it to YouTube or something.  There’s a lot of strange things on YouTube but, I suppose, that’s why I keep going back to have a look.”

Kind-fa… Molly should be a writer for an entertainment magazine.  That wasn’t the worst description of himself he’d ever heard, and he’d read a lot of unflattering things over the years.

      “Never been filmed having a wank in a toilet, thank you very much.”

      “I was thinking of filthier things, actually.  You look the type.”

Bloody perfect.  But, given he had done a few fairly filthy things on screen in his lifetime, he must have some degree of ‘type’ to help pull that off.  Yeah, moving on from that now…

      “Thanks.  So… maybe you see, now, that I’m not some random bloke trying to break in to steal your knickers or something and… I really do have business to discuss with Mr. Holmes.”

Lovely.  All three were shaking their heads in that ‘poor deluded, or lying, bastard’ manner that kept the iron gate tightly shut against him getting his meeting.

      “Why does everybody think I’m lying!”

Another shared look, this one more of a ‘who wants the job?’ sort had Greg accepting Mrs. Hudson’s offered cup of coffee with something less than confidence the tide was turning.  He was actually happy Charles won the lottery, as the driver was the only person, so far, who hadn’t threatened him with a weapon.

      “It’s Thursday, sir.”

      “Yes.  For… several more hours.”

      “Thursday is a writing day.”

      “Is that a riddle?”

      “It is… the reality.  There shall be no business conducted on a writing day.  Also, no phone calls are accepted, the mail is not read, and the ambient noise level of the library and Mr. Holmes’s study must not exceed 35 decibels, though the weather is given special dispensation since Mr. Holmes has not fathomed out a method, yet, for bending it to his will.”

      “Uh… is that all?”

      “Oh, by no means, however it should serve to impress upon you why we are well aware that your claims, shall we say, lack a foundation of truth.  Further, Ms. Anthea would have notified us well in advance if there was any potential perturbation of Mr. Holmes’s schedule.”

      “She…uh… I’ve been working with her, actually.”

      “That does not sound terribly convincing, Mr. Lestrade.”

      “No?  No, I suppose not.  But, it’s not… entirely a lie.”

      “Um hmmm…”

Charles cut eyes over to Mrs. Hudson who, Greg had failed to notice, was on a mobile and nodding her head.  Knowingly.  Now, she was walking over to hand the mobile to him.  It was highly doubtful it was about his birthday or the sales figures of his last film’s DVD release… so the odds this was a happy call couldn’t be called high.

      “Uh… hello?”

      “YOU STUPID BASTARD!”

Someone was angry with him.  A female someone.  Oh no…

      “I…is this… Anthea?”

      “I thought you were supposed to have at least one functional brain cell in that thick fucking head of yours!”

Apparently, it was.

      “I… look, I know that you…”

      “You don’t know anything, you melon-headed… numpty!  Has he seen you?”

      “Do you mean Mr. Holmes?”

      “WHO ELSE DO YOU THINK I MEAN?  CHURCHILL!”

      “I suppose not… and no.  I have had a shotgun shoved in my face, though.”

      “Good to know Molly is on top of things.  Now, you listen to me and you listen well.  You will get out of that house.  You will not return.  You will not do a single, solitary thing to put your snubby little nose in Mr. Holmes line of sight or your ridiculous voice within his range of hearing.  You will not disturb him in any manner whatsoever.  Do I make myself clear?”

      “Clear as crystal, but…”

      “SHOVE YOUR BUT’S UP YOUR… BUTT!  You have no idea how on the precipice this deal is and one feather landing on the wrong side and you’re done. It’s over.  There will be no coming back from it.  None at all.  He’ll lock that door forever and your chance will be gone.  Do you understand me?”

      “Yeah, I do.  You used small enough words.”

That was cheeky.  Probably a mistake.

      “Don’t be cheeky with me, Greg Lestrade, or Mr. Holmes will be the least of your worries.  Now, get out of there immediately and don’t do another thing to kick the legs out from under this deal or, so help me, you won’t have any legs left to kick with!”

Definitely a mistake.  And, it seemed the official theme for his day was limb loss.  Bloody marvelous.

      “Fine.  I’m going.  Happy now?”

      “No, because I still have to sell you to him and that’s gotten a lot harder to do now that I know what a stupid person you are.  Mr. Holmes admires or, at least, credits intelligence, maturity and rationality.  You, apparently, lack all that, so… I need a drink.”

In the old days, Greg’s ears would be ringing from the sound of a handset being slammed down on its base, so he put a +1 on the win column for the modern era.

      “Apparently, I am advised to make a strategic retreat.”

      “Do you require transportation, sir?”

Given vehicles driven by chauffeurs tended to be gorgeous, comfortable ones… yes.  However, he had a slower-than-a-badger, 2nd gear doesn’t quite hold so tell it to fuck off if you have to, prince of a car to return, so the answer must, sadly be no.

      “I’ve got a car, thanks, Charles.”

      “Very good, sir.  Then I suggest…”

A small beeping sounded in the kitchen, which prompted a hurried turn of heads towards the kitchen door that led into house and wild flurry of activity, most of which was directed towards getting Greg out of his chair and hustling him out the rear door but, since Greg was not a man who suffered hustling without some idea as to the reason, his small degree of ‘now, see here…” prevented the sword of Damocles from missing his skull when it fell and successfully cleaved his brain in twain.

      “Mrs. Hudson, the soap in my bath has taken on a rather repulsive shape.  Do replace it at your earliest… oh.  I see.”

Greg gulped loudly at the sight of Mycroft Holmes, standing in the doorway of the kitchen and staring at him with what did not begin to approach approval.  If there was a colder stare to be found in England, Greg hoped it was doing something useful such as keeping a good bottle of Champagne cold and not making a bloke’s testicles draw up into his body, as his might be doing right about now.

      “Mr. Lestrade…”

Slap on smile, look confident and barrel forward!

      “Mr. Holmes… I’m very glad to meet you!  I’d hoped, actually, to have a word with you if…”

      “Mrs. Hudson?  Do see to my soap and, given the circumstances, I will have my breakfast served on the Limoges and not the Wedgewood, this evening.   I have been most put off of the color blue for today.”

And, with that said, Greg watched Mycroft turn and leave the kitchen without another word.

      “Ummm… what just happened.”

A commiserative pat on the back was not quite what Greg expected from the chauffeur, but he appreciated it nonetheless.

      “Whatever business you may have had with him, sir… you can consider it closed.”

      “But…”

      “We’ll phone Ms. Anthea and tell her the news so you don’t have to.  It seems something she may need to know.”

Greg scanned the three faces left in the kitchen, besides his own, and saw nothing but ‘you poor bastard.’

      “Oh.  Thanks?”

      “You’re welcome, sir.  Are you certain you don’t require a ride back to the village.”

      “No… hired a car, thanks.”

      “Does second gear function properly?”

      “Oh, you know Mr. Howard.”

      “Just skip it completely when shifting.  Strangely, the car doesn’t particularly seem to mind.”

Smiling as gently as he could, Charles nudged Greg out of the kitchen and carefully closed the door behind him.

      “Bollocks!  I thought he’d make a cracking Diogenes Bell.”

Mrs. Hudson and Molly seconded that notion with suitable gestures made at the closed kitchen door and the man taking the long walk back to his car.  Molly gave a special one, for measure, because she’d had hopes, too, at least of seeing the film made and this might make Mr. Holmes reconsider the entire thing!

      “Stupid bugger.  He would have been amazing in that part, if one even exists anymore.  Though he really does look shorter than he does in his other films.  A touch older, too.  And more scruffy.  But a solid shave and bit of that makeup the actors wear would fix that right up.  Mr. Holmes could back out completely now, if he’s irritated enough and he certainly looked it, didn’t he?  Is there anything we can do to help, you think?”

Molly’s question was already on both Mrs. Hudson’s and Charles’s mind, but neither of them could think of a comforting answer to give.  Charles let Mrs. Hudson take the lead on breaking the news because he had disable the chimes for the longcase clock in Mr. Holmes’s study and make certain all the blue-spine books were turned so that his employer did not become more peevish than he was already.  A little forethought went a long way with Mr. Holmes…

      “I wish we could, dear, but what is there to do?  Mr. Holmes has misshapen soap and he’s blacklisting colors.  That’s already got his mind in a sour place, let alone finding that berk in his house without so much as by your leave and… well, there’s nothing for it.  Let’s get back to work and… if anyone thinks of anything, let me know.”

Mrs. Hudson’s assessment wasn’t what Molly wanted to hear, but things were what they were.  There wasn’t a more decisive man than Mr. Holmes and once that decision was made, that was it.  Might as well have it tattooed on your bum.  And didn’t that Greg Lestrade have a very nice bum, now that she thought about it.  At least she could say she’d seen it in person, which was more than most people could boast.  Well, Anthea surely delivered some of Lestrade’s films to Mr. Holmes to look over and the first thing he’d do, most likely, was throw all of that in the rubbish.  Once she emptied his bin, she’d have her night’s entertainment sorted, even if there wasn’t a bit of bum to be seen…

Chapter Text

      “You berk.”

Greg sighed and tapped the mobile against his ear.  When Anderson was angry, he approached Anthea in shouting volume.  When Anderson was mad, his voice was about as cold and penetrating as Mycroft’s stare.  This was a very stellar example of the latter.

      “Yeah, that’s fair.”

      “What got into you, Greg?  Anthea and I were working on this and… do you know how loud she is when she’s angry?  I had to listen to her tearing you to shreds for fully putting this deal in the toilet, then tear me to shreds for letting you put this deal in the toilet.  I think it’s fair to say that any future business we may have had with any of her clients just flew away and took a large crap on our heads while doing it.”

      “I know.  I know I know I know… I really thought it was best that I plead my case in person.  Show him I’m more than a headshot in a folder or some one-dimensional prat prancing about on screen.”

      “Well, you showed him you were a prat alright.  Anthea’s phoning the studio tomorrow to tell them you’re officially out as a choice for Diogenes Bell and they need to find someone else.  Nice job.  Really, just an amazing job on your part fucking this up completely.  When will you be back in LA, so I can kick your arse up and down Wilshire Boulevard?”

      “I’ll start back to London tomorrow.  I missed the last train, so I found a room at a surprisingly-quaint inn here in the village and I’ll take an early train tomorrow.  Then… maybe I’ll spend a day or so in London to… think.”

      “I can reschedule what you have going for the weekend, but you need to be here by Monday.  We’ve got a full slate of interviews and several telly appearances that you can’t miss.  The studio is already going to be annoyed with you if they get wind of why Holmes formally cut you out of the film, so… let’s stay as deeply in their good graces as we can.  Ok?”

      “That’s probably a good idea.  I… I am sorry about this, Philip.  I fucked up, it’s all on me and… I’m sorry.”

Listening to the long-suffering sigh through his mobile, Greg kicked himself again for being a complete disaster.  Anderson had worked hard for this and he’d kicked that hard work right in the teeth.  Along with whatever profits would have flowed into his agent’s accounts because of this film and any others that might follow.  It was a shallow concern, maybe, but he was Anderson’s only client and his earnings were what paid his agent’s bills and mortgage.  There’d be lots of other projects but, in their business, you didn’t take any work for granted.  Public opinion and tastes could change nearly overnight and the wildly successful found themselves listening to a silent phone and looking at an empty email folder in very short order.

      “I know you are.  Just remember, next time, that I know my job better than you do and listen to me when I tell you something?”

      “I will.  This… it just meant so much to me, I got blinded to the fact that I have you watching my back for a reason. ”

      “That you do… Ok, I’ll see you on Monday, if not sooner, and we can look through a few scripts I’ve held aside until we knew for certain about the Holmes project.  They’re good fits for you and I can almost guarantee that if you say yes, you’ll be signed immediately.”

Meaning more action-packed blockbusters or charming romantic comedies that were scarcely distinguishable from any of the others he had done in the past.  Wonderful.  But, it was his due, given the one chance to change that had been destroyed by his own stupidity and impulsiveness.  Maybe Anthea was right… he wasn’t the best choice for the role.  His own actions were testament to that fact.

      “Sounds good.”

Greg terminated the call and flopped back down on the bed of his tidy guest room, wishing he was falling onto a very sharp sword rather than an admirably comfortable mattress.  He’d made a true and complete mess of this and had even ignored his own brain when it was raising a few flags of doubt.  He was Greg Lestrade, man of action!  The only way to solve this problem was to jump into the thick of it, guns blazing, grin flashing and laying waste to the villains right, left and center.

He hadn’t been this stupid since he was a kid.  He’d done a lot of stupid things, then, but that’s what was expected of you when you were young, working-class, more-than-slightly cocky and trying to find your place in the world.  Of course, the consequences of that stupidity weren’t much in the grand scheme.  Black eye, lost a job in a shop you didn’t particularly want anyway, get the bent eye from your parents or some constable who had been young and stupid once himself, so he gave you a head slap rather than an arrest record…

Now, the consequences were far worse and that was why he had Anderson on his team.  He’d been a young punk once himself, although a more bookish and studious punk… which really didn’t fit now that he thought about it, but complex people were tops in his book, nonetheless… and they’d first met when there was still a lingering streak of punkishness in their blood, which made them connect and want to grow that connection into a professional synergy that… well, nobody could say it hadn’t been successful.   More successful than either of them could have dreamed, even when a bottle of whisky in their blood had them standing on the table in a pub orating about how the team of Anderson and Lestrade was going to take the entertainment industry by storm.

Well, he’d rained a monsoon of piss on that today but, it wouldn’t change a thing, oddly.  He’d go on being the superstar who smiled on command, tied more and more wildly-profitable films to his professional belt and, since he was aging particularly well, segue into roles for debonair, rakish ex-agents or admirals of space fleets or whatnot.  Oh, and couldn’t forget the quiet, older man whose spirit and zest for life was reignited by the young and beautiful heroine.  He was still going to be rich… too fucking rich to be decent… and successful and have a career that made other actors positively emerald-green with envy.

And, there was no question that he’d continue to try and leverage that success to help others, when he could, and… maybe he should do more of that.  That might help fill that place inside that was growing louder and louder with whispers about his life… having little meaning.  Yeah, he could do that.  Probably should anyway, because he always believed that you did what you could to help where you saw a need.  Look for more charities that supported causes he believed in.  Donate more to smaller, struggling theaters and acting programs.  He’d talk to Anderson about it on Monday.  When he was back in LA.  In the heat.  And the sunshine.  And the fans… who made all of that good work possible.

It took a further forty seconds of self-pity for Greg to launch himself off the bed, run a hand through his hair and start off towards his temporary local.  They knew him there, in a sense. He was something of a celebrity now and he might as well wallow with a pint in his hand than wallow without one.  Beer made wallowing so much more fulfilling… and the inn was about equidistant from the pub as the train station, so staggering back when he’d finished wallowing would be a simple thing, indeed.

__________

      “Oh, you’re back.  What can I get you, mate?”

How nice that the same man tending bar earlier was still here.  As were, as he’d anticipated, most of the patrons.  His adoring crowd.  Maybe someone would buy him a pint.  That would be nice.  Little show of friendship and camaraderie for the man who’d won some of them a hefty spot of cash.

      “Pint of lager, please.”

      “Coming right up.  How’d your visiting with friends fare today?”

Oh fuck off with your fucking knowing grin.

      “As well as could be expected.”

      “That bad, huh?  Shame… but that’s the way it is, sometimes.”

      “Yeah, I suppose so.”

      “Well, here you are.  One nice pint of our finest lager.  That’ll put some wind back into your sails.”

      “Thanks.”

Ok, at least the lager was good.  An exceptional vintage for dedicated wallowing.  Evening starting on the right foot, unlike the rest of this fucking nightmare.

      “Oh, hello, sir.  Fancy, as they say, meeting you here.”

The foot had betrayed him!  He should have known.  The feet/leg dismemberment conspiracy had only gone underground to leap out and attack when he least expected it!

      “Ah, yes… Charles, right?”

      “That it is.  Might I join you?”

Given there was an empty seat next to him and the pub was bustling, saying no would not only be rude, it would be the sort of rude that made you feel dirty about yourself.  He may have no feet or legs left, but damn it all, he still had good hygiene!

      “Certainly.  I’m a bit surprised you’d want to, though, given… today.”

Charles smiled as he took the vacant seat and made a gesture that Greg assumed meant ‘bring one of my usual’ to the man behind the bar.

      “To be honest, we see a lot of that sort of thing.  Fans of Mr. Holmes’s works, aspiring writers who hope to have him read their novel, individuals who believe they could better represent him than Ms. Anthea… the list goes on and on.”

      “Molly seems to have a good handle on things.”

      “That she does.  Her family owns the bakery and… well, the village is somewhat protective of Mr. Holmes.  On a day she was making a delivery, one of the aspiring novelists happened to try and gain an audience.  He was bit too pugnacious for the maid we had at the time and Molly stepped in to sort matters out.  Ultimately, they both found better-suited employment by exchanging jobs.  Our maid is now a contented member of the bakery staff and Molly is happily ensconced with us.”

      “Oh, well… that’s convenient.  I admit, it's a bit difficult to see her gun-toting self as maid.”

      “Yet, that is her title, insomuch as any of us can be anointed with a single label. It is a very small staff and we do a variety of jobs to keep the household running.  Given it is, by necessity, a round-the-clock household, the more versatile the staff, the better.”

      “Round-the-clock?”

      “Another reason, sir, we knew your story rang a touch false.  Mr. Holmes does not rise until late afternoon, at the very earliest, and lives a most nocturnal existence.”

      "Oh… yeah, I didn’t know that.”

But every person in this evil village did, obviously.

      “Not surprising, as it's not something widely known, though, also not a secret.  Molly takes what would be termed, the day shift, and Martha, Mrs. Hudson, covers the nighttime hours.  I span a more intermediate time frame as running household errands and the like is done by day, but Mr. Holmes’s rare forays from the house occur at night.”

      “Makes sense.  Well, I’m glad it works for all of you.  Since…”

      “Since you won’t be working with Mr. Holmes after… the debacle.”

      “Well put.”

      “It’s a shame, though… you did have the support of Ms. Anthea.”

      “That bridge is burned.”

      “To the ground, I have not doubt.  I can’t help but feel, however… the true villain here was… audacity.”

      “That’s true.  I should have waited for my agent to work something out, even a phone conference, but I raced forward like a loony, waving an audacity flag like I was rallying my troops.”

      “Most colorful, sir, however, you misunderstand my meaning.”

      “I do?”

      “Yes.  Audacity was the root of today's debacle but, more specifically, it was the particular flavor of audacity presented that did the deed.”

      “I have no idea what that means, and I’m not even drunk yet.”

      “For the moment, that might be a helpful thing.  In any case, despite what many perceive, Mr. Holmes does respect a bold and audacious maneuver.  Dedication, determination… what do you know of his early career?”

      “Nothing, really.  I’ve read what little there is online about him, but there’s not a great deal.”

      “Which is certainly by design.  Regardless, Mr. Holmes was not a man born to wealth.  His family had little to fund his education and he worked tirelessly to see himself through college and, later, did the same for his brother.  However, a history degree is not one that typically leads to wealth, or even a livable wage, and he took a job at the British Library to keep some form of roof over his head while he made a start on what he hoped would be a career as the author of historical treatises.  A hope that was bolstered given his greater access to books on areas of his interest that demonstrated, to his mind, that he could easily do a better job on the topics or history or politics that the authors who had, to date, been published.”

      “There can’t be much in the way of riches, there, either, can there?  I can’t say I can name a single person who writes in that field, besides Holmes, that is.  I did read his early works and, frankly, they were brilliant. At least to my level of understanding.”

      “Correct, both on the income and brilliance fronts.  However, the particular realization about profitability did not arrive until later.  His more proximal thoughts concerned securing a publisher.  There are a goodly number of publishing houses that specialize in academic tomes, however, they entertain writers from rather lofty levels of academia, which Mr. Holmes was not.”

      “He had a degree, didn’t he?”

      “A degree is not multiple degrees, or one at the doctorate level, from a prestigious university where he was not, currently, employed or had recently retired.”

      “Gotcha. Small circle that's hard to break into without specific credentials.”

      “Precisely. Therefore, his first manuscript was often returned, unread or with the scantest of comments indicating it had not been read with any appreciable attention.  However, by lucky happenstance, Mr. Holmes was tasked to provide a tour of the library to one such lofty, credentialed academic, though the man was, in Mr. Holmes's opinion, bereft of intellect, insight or skill with prose. During this tour, though, mention was made of a meeting this individual had with his publisher at a certain restaurant that very evening.”

      “Wait… are you telling me Holmes crashed their meeting?”

      A more apropos description that you might imagine.  To begin his campaign, a trip was made to the bank to deplete his accounts and the funds were used, in part, to bribe a waiter for use of his uniform and to take, for short time, his role serving tables, one of which was particularly notable. In that borrowed garb, Mr. Holmes gathered the appropriate plates, placed them on a tray, brought the tray to the table and dropped the entire meal onto Mr. Lofty and Credentialed's impressive suit.”

      “Oh, that’s… that’s just petulant.  I’m still not following.”

      “If that was where the story ended, it would be a rather unsatisfying a story, I do admit.  However, while the restaurant manager rushed his patron to the loo for what they could manage for a cleaning, Mr. Holmes began enunciating to the publisher why he felt the now-absent academic was a buffoon, complete with a list of bullet-points from the man’s works to support his claims.  He then pulled from his jacket his own manuscript and laid that, his contact information, and a sum he had calculated would cover the suit-cleaning costs, on the table and strode away.  That publisher was Ms. Anthea’s father.”

      “Oh… now the following has commenced.  Let me guess, he signed Mycroft to a book deal.”

      “The very next day.  He was impressed both by the brilliance of Mr. Holmes’s writing but, also, by the particular audacity of his approach.  And, as he learned later, the extreme risk, given the action did leave Mr. Holmes utterly destitute and… well, if you fully understood how spectacularly difficult it was for Mr. Holmes to wear someone else’s clothing, let alone participate in the breaking of dishes… it was an effort only someone of unique dedication and commitment could possibly perpetrate.”

      “So… the flavor of my audacity was actually…”

      “Rather below that of an unsalted, boiled potato.”

      “That’s not good.”

      “No, I’m afraid not.  Common, predictable… anyone could do such a thing, so it didn't present you as a man willing to go to Mr. Holmes’ own lengths to gain what he desired.  And, truth be told, it didn’t highlight your talent, either.  Admittedly, there was little time for that to occur, but it certainly didn’t help.”

Charles took a moment to sip his ale and Greg used that same moment to think.  And what he thought was that Charles had a point.  Not only had he been stupid, he’d been commonly stupid.  Might as well have been a salesman for all the flare or panache he’d put into his scheme.  Not a bit of anything in there to sell him as clever, committed or talented.  Nothing whatsoever.  He hadn’t even worn a disguise!  Which might, actually, have been daft, but it would have shown some degree of cunning.  Even Charles saw how pathetic it had all been.  And was kind enough to point it out.  In some detail.  Somewhat unknown and unreported detail. Which one might… if one were so inclined… call helpful detail.  With insight.  Insightful, helpful detail…

      “Charles, is it fair to assume you know a person or two in this village?”

      “Somewhat fair.  I’m not able to mingle as much as I might otherwise, but I do know an appreciable cross section of the citizenry.”

      “And, would it also be fair to assume you might know from whom in the village to get… a few things.”

      “Hmmm… it is certainly possible, though I couldn't offer a guarantee, you understand, until I had a better picture of what was being asked of me.”

      “Fair enough.  You… is this your evening off or…”

      “Oh, not necessarily.  None of us have specified days off, we simply look several days ahead and prepare a schedule that Mr. Holmes approves, not that he notices if that schedule is or is not adhered to with any degree of precision.”

      “That’s helpful.  Then… maybe you could offer a fellow a small amount of your time?  All in the name of a good cause, of course.”

      “Hmmm… I might be able to do that, yes.  Provided that fellow was willing to cover, say, this pint and a second.”

      “Oh, I was hoping to... get started on a little something.”

      “Mr. Holmes’s writing cycle is a series of ebbs and flows of productivity.”

That was a bit of a non-sequitur. Unless, it wasn't...

      “Which… is something I might… a person might find helpful to know?”

I see that grin, Charles.  You might be trying for inscrutable, but you’re not succeeding.  Or you’re actually succeeding wildly and simply relieved I’m finally grabbing the useful end of the stick.

      “People are curious creatures, sir, that cannot be doubted.  To clarify, for curiosity-quashing purposes, during the flows, there is little anyone can do that will be perceived in anything other than a virulently negative light.  During the ebbs, when he might pause to enjoy a cup of tea and a few biscuits… something else might occur.”

      “I see.  Might, this particular time of night be considered flow time?”

      “That it might.  Very good deduction, sir.”

      “I am hoping to play a detective someday.”

      “Really?  I had no idea.”

      “Just a random thought of mine.  Sometimes, though, they lead somewhere.”

      “When, perhaps, you are considering serving a mountainous platter of well-spiced, succulent audacity?”

      “Is there any other form?”

      “I do hope not.  What a boring place the world would be, if that was the case.”

Chapter Text

Humans were, barring exceptional examples, profound creatures of habit, a fact that had been abjectly ignored by the attacker since they failed to note that Lord Grenville-White was unfailingly half an hour late for lunch on Thursdays since he took those few moments of time to stop in for a pre-luncheon honey-cream bun at Alsen’s bakery, which they only prepared on Thursday’s and made available for purchase at precisely 11:45 am.  Had they made not of or remembered that simple fact then,

      “BLAST!”

This was utterly unsporting of the weather, given his 9:41 pm check of the forecast clearly stated there was no rain predicted, let alone lightning!  How was he supposed to review his progress or enjoy this soothing cup of tea given the intrusive and unruly flashes of light on his monitor!  It was not possible.  Not in any manner.  Lovely… he would need, at minimum, seven minutes with the draperies closed to even begin to claw back his mental faculties.  Perhaps Mrs. Hudson would bring a few more biscuits to nibble while his brain regained its equilibrium.

Mycroft tapped the small glass sculpture on his desk three times before rising to close the drapes and quickly wished he hadn’t risen in the first place as what he was seeing through his study window was… incomprehensible.  His brain was already experiencing disequilibrium and now it was promoting hallucinations!  That were waving at him.  In between… good heavens, that Lestrade man was juggling torches!  What… oh dear, this was severely discombobulating his humors…

Throwing open the window, Mycroft took a better look at Greg, who had torches, of the sort that a constable might carry when doing his nightly patrol, flying through the air and flashing beams of light in all directions, including into the author’s study.  They weren’t as attention-getting as the flaming peasant-torches Greg had wanted to use, but Charles made it clear that any accident involving Mycroft’s grounds would be looked upon with extreme disfavor and, also, that if he set himself on fire it would certainly disadvantage him from achieving the necessary look for the role, what with the lack of hair and, in some areas, patches of skin.

      “Are… are you insane!”

      “Me?  Not a bit of insanity in me that I know of, Mr. Holmes, but other people might have a different opinion.”

      “What… what is the meaning of this?  I demand you leave my property this instant!”

      “Nope.  This is a great spot for juggling and I’m going to take advantage of it.  Can you juggle?”

      “I… that is… irrelevant.”

      “Nah, it’s a good question!  People often have skills that aren’t well known, or they keep to themselves.  Did you know I could juggle?”

      “That… no, I did not.  Now, leave immediately!”

      “But, I’m just getting started!  This is only three torches… watch closely, now…”

Greg threw the existing three higher into the air, then kicked a fourth up with his foot and added it to his performance.

      “What do you think?”

      “That you are… trespassing!”

      “About my juggling, I mean.  Come on, be honest.  I can take constructive criticism.  You’re good at that, right?  Read your book about Britain’s post World War Two involvement in Vietnam and you gave the government’s actions a thorough analysis, pros and cons both, so I can appreciate your input on something as simple as my juggling.”

“Ah, Mr. Lestrade, you are familiar with Mr. Holmes’s non-fiction… ensure that you mention that early on as it will likely buy you at least a tiny mote of grace.  I would wager he is unconvinced you are actually capable of reading.”

      “You…wh… you read my analysis of Operation Masterdom?”

      “Yeah!  Always been a bit of a history buff and nearly fell over when I realized you’d done quite a bit of writing on some very interesting topics.  I did think you were a bit harsh on that Gracey fellow, but I couldn’t dispute any of the points you made for being that harsh.  Overall, a balanced treatment of something I’d not really heard much, if anything, about.”

Greg continued to juggle and kept an eye on the writer who was standing backlit at the window and… not moving.  Or speaking.  Or, as far as Greg could see from the illumination of the bright moonlight, blinking.  Until he was.  With a very random pattern that might be spelling out something in Morse code or might be summoning the aliens Greg postulated dropped Mycroft off on Earth when he was a baby.  Pressing on…

      “You know, I wondered about the Major General in… I think it was in the third book of your Adele Flatley series.  I don’t think he was precisely based on Gracey, but he did seem to be based on someone.  Too many retired military types come off fake in books and films.  Either drunk and doddery or utter martinets and I’ve met a number in my day, none of whom were that extreme.  Some right bastards, that’s for certain, but they made decisions based on the situation they were in and did what they thought was right, even if hindsight proved them wrong.  Was there someone in particular you based that bloke on?”

      “I…well… that is to say…”

      “Please do.  I’m anxious to hear it.”

      “Oh… yes, well… no, I cannot say Major General Burnside was based purely on a single model, however, I did select various traits and historical points of his service record from genuine military examples.”

      “Yes!  Good to know I was somewhat on the mark.  Speaking of on the mark… want to see something?”

“Mr. Holmes, despite his somewhat aloof demeanor, is a voraciously-curious man.  Use that to your advantage.”

      “Wh… that is… I have no idea.”

      “I’ll take that as a yes.  Ok, making sure none of these torches are damaged… one and two and three and four, in my hands and in the air no more… I won’t take a bow just yet, but… you have an umbrella in there?  A cane maybe or a fireplace poker?”

      “What… whatever for?”

      “Toss anything you have like that out to me and I’ll show you.”

Mycroft’s head began to move very much, in Greg’s opinion, like that of a bird’s when it was turning this way and that to see and hear all directions around it because it suspected there might be something in one of those directions that it should know about at the moment, for good or for ill.

      “One… one moment…”

After a little jig done completely out of Mycroft’s sight, Greg darted a few steps forward so the distance between him and the window was halved.

      “I… this is an umbrella.”

      “That it is!  A good choice, too.  It’ll work brilliantly.  Now, grasp it there just below the handle and toss it straight out here.”

      “Why?”

      “A question that will be answered directly after you do the tossing.”

Greg was actually surprised Mycroft simply did as requested, and with a perfect arc, so he could catch it with the tip balanced by his outstretched right foot.

      “Oh.  Oh, I see.”

      “Amazing, right?”

      “No… not particularly.”

      “Ok, amazing might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you toss a pencil and see if you can do this with your finger.  Go ahead, I’ll watch.”

      “I… no.”

      “Come on, try it for yourself.  I’ll even give you an easy one.  Just set the pencil on your finger and balance it.”

      “That is absurd.”

      “It’s just balance, not brain surgery!  You know what makes things balance, I suspect.”

      “The…”

“If you are sufficiently successful to begin a conversation, realize that Mr. Holmes may present as dour, at times, but has a notable sense of humor and appreciates such in others, provided it is clever and demonstrates a marked intelligence.”  

      “Go ahead, I am preparing to be astounded by your erudite response.”

      “Very funny.  For your information, an object balances when it is subject to rotational equilibrium, otherwise referred to as balanced torque, or if the object’s center of mass remains aligned with its base of support.”

      “See!  If you know what it is, then you should be able to do it.”

      “Knowing and doing are two entirely different things.”

      “You’re right!  Takes talent and practice.  I didn’t have much of the former, but I’ve had loads of the latter.  My first job, actually.”

      “You… were a juggler?”

“Circus work?  That is certainly not for a layabout.  Emphasize your work ethic, especially for your acting career.  Mr. Holmes admires those who take pride in what they do and do not shirk the effort required to succeed in their undertakings.”

      “Clown, actually.  Sort of.  More of a body to do whatever was needed, but usually that was a clown sort of fellow, so that’s mostly what I did.  I left school at fifteen and, when I did, Mum and Dad said that if I wasn’t going to do my part to get food on the table, then my arse wouldn’t be sitting at the table, so off I went looking for something and, wouldn’t you know it, a performing circus troupe was visiting the area.  It looked like fun, at least more than sweeping floors or stocking shelves in a shop, so I popped in to the manager’s caravan and said I wanted a job.  He laughed at me, of course, being a scruffy little punk with no appreciable skills for circusing or anything else, actually, but I kept on at him, said I’d take the lowest job they had, if necessary.  Do my part, for a fair wage, and work hard.  Work hard until the job was done and done right.  I think it was more to get me out of his caravan so he could watch the match that he told me to go and find one of the clowns and tell them to start me on a few performing skills.  Juggling was what they started me on straight away!  Got your pencil yet?”

      “No.”

      “Oh come on, let’s see what you can do.”

      “It is past the middle of the month.”

      “Why does that matter?”

      “I do not use pencils after the middle of the month.”

      “O…k… do you have one, at all, though.”

      “Yes.”

      “Then just get the beastie and see if you can balance it.”

      “It is past the middle of the month.”

      “Balancing falls into the category of ‘using’ the pencil?”

      “Would you disagree?”

“Mr. Holmes has his quirks, many and… quirky.  They, ultimately, are minor and if one simply, as they say, rolls with it, interactions with him are surprisingly easier that you might assume.”

      “I… no.  No, I would not.  Alright then, you can just watch me.  Hold on, this is sometimes rather startling…”

Greg kicked the umbrella upwards and caught its tip on his chin, to continue to balance it, grinning both that he’d succeeded and that he was certain he’d heard a small gasp of surprise from Mycroft.

      “Tah Dah!”

      “That appeared to be most dangerous.”

      “Can be!  I’ve nearly blinded myself or broken my nose more than a few times and have sported a very intriguing series of bruises from practicing this trick.  But, if I hadn’t, I couldn’t do… can I get a little help for a second?”

      “Pardon?”

      “Climb out here for a moment and give me a spot of help.”

      “I… no.”

      “Oh, come on.  If you don’t, you won’t be able to see my next trick and, now that you’re aware of it… you know that will bother you.”

Because you’re exactly the type, dear Mr. Holmes, who can’t let something like that lie without it itching your brain nonstop until you have to investigate and pour on some lovely mental-satisfaction lotion.  And here you come… making the most prim and proper exit out of a window in the history of window-exits, which likely went back to mud huts since you can’t really have windows in caves.

      “Thanks!  See those torches?  Could you pick them up and toss them to me, one at a time, when I tell you?”

      “No.”

      “What!”

      “They…”

      “What’s wrong with them?”

      “They are facing me.”

      “And you don’t like that.”

      “Not particularly.”

“Some of Mr. Holmes’s quirks… he can be made uncomfortable by certain situations and, though it is not debilitating, his distress is genuine. A kind heart takes the necessary, small steps to alleviate what it can of his troubles.”

      “Ok, fair enough.  You tell me what to do to turn them away.  Can they just be offset or turned completely around?”

      “I would prefer a full 180 degree repositioning, but I shall accept less.”

      “Alright then.  Give me some directions…”

Mycroft guided Greg to nudge the torches to face a different way and, when they were to his satisfaction, picked them up, keeping the lenses pointed away from his face.

      “I have them.”

      “How’s your aim?”

      “Exceptional, actually.”

      “Brilliant!  Toss one into my hand.”

Greg raised a hand and Mycroft deftly tossed one torch to smack directly into Greg’s palm.

      “Another!”

Repeating the action, Mycroft startled that the torches began to be tossed in a circular pattern in front of Greg’s chest, though he was still looking up into the sky, so the umbrella would remain balanced.

      “Third one!”

This one created the juggling pattern Mycroft was far more used to seeing and he, honestly, had no idea how the actor was accomplishing the feat.

      “Last one!”

Remembering there was a fourth, Mycroft tossed it in exactly the same manner as the first three and watched Greg bring it into the pattern, feeling entirely incapable, himself, of pretending to anything other than admiration for the act.

      “That is most remarkable, Mr. Lestrade.”

      “Told you, you didn’t want to miss this.”

      “You cannot see the torches, so I fail to understand how you are accomplishing these actions.”

      “It’s about knowing your body and having a strong sense of timing and control.  When I started on the stage, I was actually ahead of a lot of the other newcomers with that, even though I hadn’t done any formal acting training.  When you’re on stage, you have to convey a lot with your body.  Have to know how to make it do what you want, even if you’re just standing still, but shifting position to better glare at the mustache-twirling villain.  Have to make the pace of the turn perfect, keep the exact angle and posture you want through every part of it, contort your face into precisely the look you want to convey your meaning… helps if you know how your body behaves and how to make it do what you want it to do.”

      “Oh… I admit I had never given that appreciable thought.”

      “Most people don’t.  Then, of course, you have to speak your lines and match the tone, enunciation, cadence, etc. to your body language and expression to fully convey to the audience what the playwright envisioned with their words.  That bit I know you understand, being a writer.”

      “I… yes, I do.”

Oh, I do like the tone of your voice, Mr. Holmes.  That tapped right into your head, didn’t it?  On we go…

      “Picking exactly the right words to tell your story, bring your vision to the reader in a way that’s rich and full, and gives them room to picture things in their own mind, but along the lines you want for your story to be told.”

      “That… that is not an unperceptive analysis.”

      “Thank you!  That’s important to me as an actor, too.  Knowing, to some degree, the value of the words a writer writes.  Sometimes you have make changes, because films are short compared to the time you need to read a book, but… I think it’s carried too far, much too often.  Do you notice that?  Films don’t resemble the book they’re based on at all?

“Remember, above all, sir, that Mr. Holmes’s objections are rooted in his fear his work will be butchered.  That his efforts will be shabbily treated, spat upon, even… he cannot bear the thought of that.  Not in the slightest.”

      “Yes!  It is appalling how atrociously admirable works are butchered by the uncultured film industry.  It is an utter disgrace.”

      “Good, then we think alike on that.  That’ll make it easier for us to work together to make sure what you want to see on the screen actually happens.  Check over the script and ongoing changes, see the set design and wardrobe match up with what you picture in your head, make certain no butchery occurs that will cock up everything and make the project something you’re not proud of.”

      “Excellent. That is precisely what I…”

Greg tried not to smile and did a tremendous job of it both because he did not want to jinx this and because he was actually having a harder and harder time keeping up his circus act, given he hadn’t done this sort of thing for this long in decades…

      “Mr. Lestrade… did you… did you just bamboozle me?”

      “Bamboozle?  Great word!  I’ve got to remember that one!”

      “Answer the question, sir!”

      “I’d have to say, no, there was no bamboozling as I didn’t say anything deceitful or sneaky.  Just spoke the truth and it was truth that was important to you.  Helped put a worry to rest.  And I meant every word of that.  You and me working as a team on this.  Even when I’m filming, I can give you updates and get you clips to view so you can keep an eye on things.  It’s not the way it’s done, often, but I think this film needs to be treated carefully.  It’s for intelligent audiences and they can’t be fooled or placated by amazing visuals or a soaring musical score.  They’re going to want to be challenged the way they are with your books, get the chance to think… they don’t want to be insulted.  I don’t want that, either.  I want a gorgeous film that tells your story in a way that satisfies you, your readers and the people who come in not having read a single of your books.  But, after they see the film, they’re looking for the novel to read and a few more of yours besides.”

      “Kindly cease your performance.”

Greg drew in a deep breath and flipped the umbrella over his head using his chin, then turned attention to catching each of the torches carefully before setting them down on the ground.

      “I have ceased.”

Being tossed off the property was perhaps what Greg expected at the moment, but coming nose to nose with the author who stared into his eyes with an intensity that actually unsettled the actor did not appear anywhere on his list of possibilities.

      “I see.”

      “You see what, Mr. Holmes?”

      “Anthea will arrive on Saturday.  You may meet with her at that time to discuss the arrangements.”

Stay cool, stay very very very very cool…

      “Alright.  Not a problem.  Anything you want to talk about now?”

      “It is a writing day.”

      “Forgot.  Sorry about that.  And I’ve already interrupted you, which is something else I apologize for.”

      “I shall overlook it this single time.  Now, given my staff has been observing matters through the window, you may have a refreshment before you depart.  They shall, I am certain, be delighted to assist you with that.”

And without another word, Mycroft turned and walked towards his study, climbing back through the open window, which was closed behind him.  Then opened twice more and closed for a total of three closings to the evening.  Which seemed fitting, in Greg’s opinion, since this evening deserved as much final punctuation and celebration as they could muster.  And, given the eager faces he could now see pressing against one of the house’s large windows, he suspected the celebration might have already begun and he was late for the party.  Well, if there was a person who enjoyed a good party, it was Greg Lestrade.

Provided the party wasn’t too loud or smoky and filled with drunks vomiting on the furniture.  Oh god, he was getting old… however, since that old man was the perfect age for Diogenes Bell, he wasn’t going to complain too much about it…

Chapter Text

      “No.  I did not hear you correctly.”

      “Sorry, arse face, but you did.”

Two large slices of exceptional cake sitting comfortably in his stomach, as well as a few cups of delicious cake-complementing tea was making Greg quite cozy and content, but that didn’t diminish the smugness he was feeling at his agent’s clear disbelief at the sudden, game-changing turn of events.

      “You have the part?  After mucking it up like a mucking-up professional, you are going to play Bell.  Your tired old juggling routine, that hasn’t pulled anyone in a pub since Churchill was born, won you the role?  I’ve seen it… it’s not that impressive.  Not impressive enough to turn this completely around.  Not impressive enough to impress your Gran and she actually liked you.  Did you drug him, Greg?  You can tell me, and it’ll be cheap to buy my continued silence so you don’t languish in prison.”

      “Unbelievable, isn’t it, and not a bit of drugging was involved.  But, to be fair, I can’t take all the credit.  Mycroft’s driver gave me a lot of behind the scenes information that got me moving in the right direction and… well, he also had some ideas about how to get a conversation going and not fuck it up entirely.”

      “You owe him a car or something for that bit of help.  You’re famous for fucking up conversations!”

      “What a craptastic friend you are.  Anyway, he probably has a nice car, already.  Or, he probably gets to drive a nice car, so I’ll have to think of something else.  He deserves it, though… Mrs. Hudson and Molly, too.  It was something of a group effort, I gathered, to fathom out what might break through Mycroft’s Great Wall of Final Decision.  They didn’t wat to see this deal die any more than we did.  I think… I think they’re sincerely proud of their boss and see the film as something as a reward for his hard work and genius.”

      “Then they definitely deserve a little gratitude from you.  I certainly thought this was over.  I had damage control plans laid out in case the studio went a bit violent on you, spin in case the media caught wind of things… I worked harder for a job you didn’t get than to get you the job in the first place!”

      “I’ll buy you a pint for your troubles.  Which, frankly, was going to be the gist of my evening before the pixie dust fell on my head.  Many, many pints that I cried into, followed by a slow, wobbly stagger back to my room to puke a few times and fall asleep.  I had a solid, proper night of wallowing planned and it was completely cocked up by my getting that part.  Dashed unsporting of Mycroft to do that, actually.  Fouling up my evening plans in such a cruel and callous fashion.  But, to be fair, given the number of books he’s written, he may not have the time for wobbly staggering and puking, so he might not recognize the importance of that in a man’s life.  Or, maybe he does recognize it, he’s just highly efficient with his non-wallowing hours and has no tolerance for non-efficient wallowers.  I can understand that.  Maybe I should take lessons.  It seems a useful life skill.”

      “Are you done?”

      “No, I can go on like this for long time since I’m… I may not be drunk on alcohol, but I do feel pretty happy-headed at the moment.  Can you be drunk on happiness?  Is that even possible?”

      “Likely so, especially now, since… shit.”

      “I shit very effectively, thank you.”

      “For the record, you don’t, since I’ve had to wait half a morning for you to get out of the loo more times than I can count, but that’s the last we’ll speak of that because… you’re old and gross.  Anyway, I’ll have to contact the studio to tell them the good news and you’ll have to start preparing.  Let me see what I can do to ease your current publicity obligations.  I’m not sure how much of that load I can lift, but I suspect they’ll agree to something since this is a major step forward for a film they’re somewhat frantic to get off the ground.”

      “Thanks.  That’ll actually help since you’re right… it will take work to prepare for Bell’s character.  I’ve got to remember what it means to really act again!  Maybe sit in on a few workshops and dust off some skills.  And, I’ll also need to start exploring inroads to follow through with the promise I made to Mycroft, so…”

      “Wait.  Wait one moment.  Promise?  What did you promise?”

Oh yes.  Forgot that agents get a bit touchy about things like promises.   Especially ones given about an ongoing production that they, themselves, didn’t actually have control of, no matter how critical this silver-haired bugger might be to that production.

      “Uhh… nothing ridiculous.  I just told Mycroft that I’d see he had a bit of input into how things were going with the film.  Comment on the script, get a look at the wardrobe, view some clips to see if things are looking the way he wants, work to get some changes he wanted made… that sort of thing.”

Though, now that he said it, that all sounded like a lot.  A very lot.  Ok, maybe he’d made a teensy mistake here…

      “What!  Greg, you know that doesn’t happen. They keep authors as far as they can from filming to avoid exactly that sort of thing slowing production to a crawl and making everyone involved completely mental!”

      “Yeah… sometimes.  Not all the time, though.  If an author has enough clout, they can have a lot of say.  Just look at the whole casting business!  Mycroft had total veto for that.”

      “Ok, I admit that was consequential, but once an author sells the film rights, what they can and cannot approve is severely restricted.”

      “Well, the severity is going to have to be ignored because I have zero doubt if Mycroft doesn’t get his input and doesn’t like the final product, he not only will never allow another of his works to be filmed, hell do everything he can to sink this film to the bottom of the ocean.  I honestly wouldn’t put it past him to put everything in his life aside to make that happen.  Besides… a major reason he agreed to me in the role was that I’d be his connection to the film to help him keep watch over things.  He doesn’t get his input, he could still play his rejection card, toss me to the wolves and unplug the whole production.  That should be enough leverage with the studio to give him what he wants.”

      “Maybe.  But there is absolutely no guarantee of that.  None whatsoever.  That was a big risk, Greg.  A very big risk.”

Probably.  Definitely.  But Greg Lestrade is the master of cool and nonchalant, in his own mind, at least, so going forward as if this isn’t a big deal and all is right in the world.  Anything else might upset his cozy and content cake belly, which could return the puking end of his night to the realm of possibility and nobody wanted that.  Especially the maid who had to take away the bedding if the puking occurred quickly and he couldn’t make it to the toilet in time.

      “Nah, not so much, in my mind.  Between me, The Amazing Anthea and your pitiful self, we should be able to get Mycroft a few pies to stick his fingers into.  He’s not stupid, so he has to know he won’t have complete control, but a few things tossed his way for decisions or advice, listening to his ideas on the script or set design… I already told him that there have to be differences between book and film and he realizes that’s true.  Think big, monkey boy.  Keep Mr. Holmes happy so we can make a cracking, award-winning film that we parlay into more cracking, award-winning films or some long-running, quality telly.  We can make that happen, I have no doubt.”

Nonchalanting like he won prizes for it in school.

      “You are so full of shit… now I know why you’re in the toilet half the day!  But…”

      “Come on, Anderson, reveal the large and lovely but…”

      “You may have a point.  Just don’t promise him anything else, alright.  I’ll need to talk to Anthea and see how we might be able to manage this… how much it would take to make Holmes happy, but… oh, hold on, got another call…”

Greg smiled widely while Anderson put him on hold, then drew in a large, cleansing breath.  Holmes would get his bit of say, he felt certain of that.  It wouldn’t be much, but if the man could feel part of the process, it would go far more smoothly for all sides and that could only spell, in the long term, good things for the film.

      “Well, speak of the devil and she will appear.  I’ve got The Amazing Anthea on the other line and she’s wanting to know what did you use to drug Holmes and where can she get some.  Great minds, apparently, think alike.  I’ll talk to you later, alright?”

      “Yeah, sounds good.  Oh, and I have to go back to Mycroft’s house on Saturday and meet him with Anthea there, so…”

      “Not a problem.  I can be there by Saturday.”

      “Ummm… talk to her about it first, though, alright?”

      “What’s wrong now?”

      “Nothing.  It’s just I… I have a better idea of why she was hesitant about that face-to-face meeting and… we’ll take her lead on this.”

      “What do you mean ‘we?’  You were the one who threw her lead into the mud!”

      “Then prove you’re a better man than me.  Bye!”

Greg flopped back on his temporary bed a second time, but this time he met the mattress in a far different mood than his first collision earlier in the evening.  He’d done it.  He had fucking done it.  New rule… in the future, use his stupid head and his stupider ears for more than decoration for his neck.  Listen to people who know better than him and do not, for any reason, just blunder through things like a stoned rhinoceros.  He was going to be smart, patient, mature… all the things he wasn’t under normal circumstances, but these circumstances weren’t normal.  Far from it.  They were… heavenly.  And he would not be the one cast out of that heaven because he was unworthy of all that if offered.  This was too important to fuck up… again.

So… linger here in Royston Vasey tomorrow and Saturday then present himself, ready to do business, on Saturday night.  That did mean need to find some clothes and toiletries, but the amenable locals would happily provide it all for the right price.  Renting the torches had only cost him eight billion quid, so what could a plain set of togs and toothpaste do to his accounts?  No, don’t ask that… best not tempt fate.  These people were cagey and seemed to have strong connections to the netherworld.  Take nothing for granted.  Always keep a watchful eye on the comings and goings.  He needed to be all about vigilance, keen-eyed observation and no getting sucked into the netherworld where they had no need for film stars and he’d spend eternity shoveling sulfur into the swirling, fuming hellpits.  It’s be practice, too, for playing the world’s most intelligent and successful detective, who proudly sported clean clothes, sparkling teeth and didn’t carry even the slightest whiff of sulfur about his person…

__________

      “You are luckier than you can imagine, you stupid actor.  If you ever wanted to play the lottery, this is the week.”

Greg grinned at Anthea who’d met him at Mycroft’s door at the appointed hour, which had been relayed to him by Anderson who then spent twenty minutes cursing that he had been banned from the meeting and only stopped cursing when it was agreed upon that he’d fly into London today and meet with both him and Anthea tomorrow for a debriefing.

      “It’s a burden I bear with grace.”

      “You… His Majesty is willing to take a chance on you, but you’re not beatified yet.  Now, you and I have matters to discuss first, then Mycroft is going to expect you to join him for lunch.  His lunch.  Which is everybody else’s post-dinner nosh, but it’ll be scrumptious so if you don’t eat every bite, he’ll probably suspect you have worms or something and Mrs. Hudson will murder you for insulting her cooking, so eat and smile while you do it.  And whatever you do, don’t start juggling chairs or doing the Dance of the Veils or anything like that.  Ok?”

      “Not one veil?  I’ve got some gorgeous ones I picked up at Marks & Spencer.”

      “I will strangle you with that ugly tie.  In fact…”

Anthea quickly grabbed Greg’s newly-purchased, though not at Marks and Spencer, tie and dragged it over his head, tossing it into a small rubbish bin next to the side table flanking the front entrance.

      “Hey!  That’s new!”

      “New or old, it’s hideous.  Besides, I noticed him frowning at my necklace, so he could be against red today and this failed attempt at burgundy may set him off for being too close to red or simply because it’s the most ghastly thing anyone’s work around their neck since the noose.  I don’t want to chance it.  Follow me.”

Anthea returned Greg’s rude gesture with, paradoxically, more elegance and more vulgarity than his example, which made the actor realize fully how much work he needed in the rude-gesture area of his career.  Perhaps he’d get more practice during their meeting. There would likely be many moments where a well-applied rude gesture would be appropriate.  Already today was paying benefits!  And he was getting a little tour of Mycroft’s nice house which was… well, it was exactly what he’d expect for a converted murder-asylum, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t interesting.  And, frankly, gorgeous.  The woodwork, alone, was mesmerizing.

      “This way.  We’ll use the solarium.”

      “It’s nighttime.”

      “Are you going to be this disagreeable when you lunch with Mr. Holmes?”

      “Maybe.  Does he have strong views on the pro-sunshine agenda?”

      “Oh… you’re trying to be funny.  You really shouldn’t, it’s not a strength.  But, in any case, the joke is on you, funny boy since, yes, he does have strong views on the pro-sunshine agenda and they center fully on the abolition of all pro-sunshine viewpoints in Western culture.”

Probably why the writer flipped his days and nights and was as pale as plaster.  And he’d spent the last bit of forever in LA… in the sun.  In the sunniest sun a British person could every want to endure.

      “Shit.  I’m tan.  Very tan.  Drinking rum out of a coconut on a Caribbean beach sort of tan.”

      “A fact that has likely not escaped his notice.”

      “I’ll say I was kidnapped and staked out on the beach just after I finished my coconut full of rum.  And it was over a mound of fire ants, too, so I didn’t enjoy it in the slightest.  I probably have a few pimples on my back somewhere that I can say are lingering ant bites if he needs proof.”

      “Oh my god.  No wonder Anderson drinks.  There… sit.”

Anthea pointed to what looked to be a highly comfortable chair in the large and airy room which, Greg felt certain, was absolutely spectacular in the daytime, with sunshine streaming in through the leagues of glass, helping nourish the somewhat startling assortment of flowering plants that inhabited the space.  This was a room he’d adore spending a few hours reading in and not only to work on his coconut-rum tan…

      “Thank you, but I think there may be a touch too much glare at that angle because of the blinding moonlight.”

Greg accepted being shoved into the chair as his due for being a prat and… for feeling a bit giddy about actually being in this house again and, better, having a lunch date with Mr. Mycroft Holmes.   That was the flourish on the signature, wasn’t it?  A tie-less lunch to talk about the character, maybe get some insights from the great man himself about what was going on inside Diogenes Bell’s head.  This was some properly brilliant stuff!  Much better than when he had some arrogant director telling him, ad nauseum, what his vision was for a scene that was going to last two seconds on screen and put some hard-working stuntman’s life on the line or the poor bloke wouldn’t be paid.  Much, much better indeed.

      “Now, you foolish actor… why on Earth did you promise Mycroft he was going to participate in production?”

Oops.  What was the Defcon scale for situations like this?  Why didn’t they show useful things like that in the documentaries!  The BBC had a lot to answer for in terms of his education…

      “That’s not what I promised.  I just said I could gain him a little access to the process, so he could see what was going on.  Why are you shaking your head?”

      “Because you have no idea what you’ve done, and I can’t wait to sit there with my popcorn and watch the fun.  But, it’s all going to be your problem and it solves my problem of having to do it, since his agreement with the studio already allows him some oversight into a few areas beyond casting.  Now, I won’t have to be the one liaising between him and the luckless bastards he wants to boil in oil for whatever atrocity he thinks they’ve committed against his work.  My life just got a lot easier.  Worlds easier. Yours, however, did not.  Not in any manner whatsoever.”

      “Wait…  He… he already had the ability to do all of that?”

      “Yes.  Not that he knew about it, of course.”

      “WHAT!”

      “Look, it was inevitable that he’d go loony if he didn’t know what was going on or learned something from the news or whatnot that infuriated him.  It was just a question of when and how much loony and fury would ensue.  If necessary, I could say we strong-armed the studio into a few concessions and he’d feel not only happy about the input, but also like we’d won a battle against the entertainment industry, which would please him to no end.  Consider it my emergency button.  Now, though, he’ll get the same result, but I can simply sit back with champagne and let you do the work.”

Anthea was a she-devil.  Her hair was full of more than secrets…

      “What happened to your popcorn?”

      “It made me thirsty.”

      “Makes sense.  Ok, then, I’ll keep that little tidbit to myself and we can work out the details of me doing the part.”

      “I already did that with Anderson.”

      “Oh.  Ok… I suppose Mycroft didn’t know that before he asked me here on Thursday, so… time for lunch?”

      “Wrong.”

      “Ok.  Part deux.  What am I wrong about and why did you drag me in here if not to discuss business?”

      “We are discussing business.  However, I wager you have more you want to talk about than I do, and now’s a great time for that discussion.  Before you fall deeper down the rabbit hole.”

Oh… time for the talk.  Which, he had to admit was a vital one, if he was going to be working with someone as… complex and unique as Mycroft Holmes.

      “You’re referring to the Mycroft rabbit hole.”

      “Is there any other hole relevant to this conversation?”

      “Actually…”

      “Think carefully.”

      “Then no.  No, there isn’t.  But, in truth… Mycroft seems…”

      “Yes?”

      “He can’t be too much of a misery if the village and the staff here protect him like an uncle hiding from a gold-digging ex-wife.”

Was that a smile?  She-devil smiles were hard to interpret, what with the fangs and perfectly-applied lipstick, but it did seem to meet all the relevant criteria.

      “They do, don’t they?  I’m never certain exactly how much of it all he recognizes, but the village adores having their own lifted-from-a-novel rich eccentric living out here in the great spooky manor.  And, not just because it draws in a fair amount of tourists but… he fits into the little Mapp & Lucia thing they have going on.”

      “He has a familiar role in their ensemble cast.”

      “Spoken like a confirmed Hollywood shill, but correct.  And, now and then, Mr. Holmes decides he needs to refresh his perspective for a scene in a chapter and takes himself out into the village where they pointedly ignore him while he observes… not very unobtrusively, either… and takes a few notes for this or that personality trait or name or physical attribute he wants for a character.  He’ll wander through the book shop, sniff the flowers, have a glass of his favorite scotch that they keep in the pub for when he’s having a sip-and-eavesdrop evening.  I think he actually believes nobody notices him more than they would any other patron and… everyone is happy.”

Somehow that was the most adorable thing Greg could possibly imagine involving a grown man and he could imagine a lot of adorable things for grown men, being one himself.

      “Strangely, I can see all of that happening with no trouble at all.  I’ve met some of the locals and they’re their own type of unique.  I probably shouldn’t ask, but…  is there something specific… a diagnosed condition…”

      “For him?  Most likely, and if you asked his horrendous little brother, he’d most certainly give you a list of possibilities, most of them fabricated from his own peevish brain.  But, the fact of the matter is that Mycroft Holmes sees himself as… himself.  He is who he is and there’s nothing wrong or broken or in need of fixing about him.  All of his peculiarities, his quirks and oddities… they’re no different to him than someone who prefers wearing pastels over dark colors or you liking over-ripe bananas and burnt bacon on toast.”

      “How’d you know about… oh, fuck you, Anderson.”

      “He felt he had to warn me.  For the record, you are disgusting.  In any case, I’m aware you talked to Charles and he gave you a bit of advice about Mr. Holmes…”

      “Yeah, he said just to go with things and, I have to admit, that does seem to work.”

      “It definitely does.  And every day is something new to just go with.  You can’t predict what’s going through his head, so don’t bother trying.  One day, this or that is fine, the next day he can’t even look at it.  It’s how that detail fits in with the bigger picture and he doesn’t even know, at any given time, how a sound or image or situation is going to impact him.  He doesn’t try or want to be difficult or offend, it’s never about that.  It’s about how he genuinely feels and thinks at that precise time, but if what he asks of you or wants to do or not do is truly a problem, you can tell him.  He does understand that he’s not alone in the world and, even with people he employs, that he’s part of something and not sitting above it.  I’ll remove my earrings in a trice, if they’re upsetting him, but, once, he was bothered by my new manicure and I was not going to change that for any reason.  It looked damn good on me and cost a fortune.   I did, however, do my best to keep my hands out of sight as much as possible and that worked well enough.  Sometimes, though, not a thing can be changed or amended so he simply has to live with whatever is disturbing him, the same as any of us might.  He can do that and will, so don’t hesitate to speak out if necessary.”

      “Charles said something similar about that, too.”

      “He would know, he’s been with Mr. Holmes longer than anyone besides me.  There are some things that you do expect, such as he has a thing the number three, colors are especially attention-getting for him, he can fixate on routine, minor bits and pieces like that… but once you get into the rhythm of it all, it’s not especially difficult to work around and through.  It actually becomes second nature and you realize that he is just himself and you accept him the way he is as you would any person.  Or… you don’t.”

Greg thought a moment about what life must have been like for Mycroft before he had people watching his back like a mercenary army who were paid in gold and always on time.  He considered himself a fairly average, nothing special sort of fellow, fame notwithstanding, and he’d had to deal with his fair share of arseholes and nasty-spirited snakes who thought being rude, snide, and a general bully was a show of strength that he, for some reason, was supposed to respect.  What those people would hurl at or do to someone like Mycroft made his heart ache.

      “Which is why you keep his face-to-face meetings off the table.”

      “Until I get to know the person who wants the meeting a little better.  You know how the world works.  Some people are just bastards and evil ones at that.  Or, they’re actually decent, but a bit too decent… in some ways that’s worse, since they mean well, but begin to treat him like a child or focus on what they see as his ‘problem,’ rather than the man himself.”

      “I wager he positively despises that.”

      “And you’d be right.  By nature, everything else aside, Mycroft is an introvert, so keeping himself out here, away from people, is actually something he enjoys greatly.  It lets him focus on his work, his own hobbies and interests.  When he wants company, he has Mrs. Hudson, Molly, Charles and me to talk to, as well as a few others from his days in London.  And, he has the people in the village who accept him, much like you said, as an expected character in their social stage play.  But… yes, meetings with Mr. Holmes are something I consider carefully and prepare both him and the other party for well in advance, so it goes well for everyone involved.”

      “And the staff take care of those who try and circumvent your diligence.”

      “Take care of with prejudice.”

      “Yeah, I’ve met Molly’s gun.”

      “She’s got several.”

      “Brilliant.  So, moving forward… just go with his flow, unless it’s clearly unreasonable, treat him like I would anyone else, though maybe with a bit less nonsense since my nonsense can get a bit boisterous, and introverts don’t tend to like that from my experience.”

      “Not bad.  You may survive this yet.”

      “I did a murder mystery weekend for charity once and, not to brag, but I was the last one standing.”

      “Then you and he should have a lot to talk about, especially since, if I remember, while you were loudly announcing the killer’s identity, you forgot about the ‘poison’ in the punch, took a long drink, which turned your tongue blue and became a victim of your own ego.”

      “I have no memory of that.”

      “Should be fun learning your lines, then.  Mr. Holmes likes using large, obscure and hard-to-pronounce words in his books.”

      “Lunchtime yet?  Me need food in very tan belly.”

Anthea shook her head but decided the actor had passed the most critical test, the Mycroft Holmes Character Assessment, so she could set aside her worry that tonight would explode in blood, body parts and archaic Elizabethan epithets.  It appeared Greg Lestrade was very much as her countless hours of research had painted.  A surprisingly normal individual who was professional, but easy to work with and was valued by the executives of film and television studios not only for his bankability, but the lack of drama, scandal and demands that too often plagued stars of his magnitude.

She’d keep her eye on him, and a close one at that, but maybe, just maybe, he’d be one of those rare people who connected with Mycroft, rather than simply bounced off of him, then kept him at arm’s length.  Her client would never admit it, never in a million years, but he did get lonely, at times, and someone near his age that he might phone to share some news or host for a meal might help that a little.  It was probably too much to hope that Mycroft would come to view Greg as a friend, but if she happened to do just that, nobody but her would be the wiser.

      “We have a few minutes.  I’ll show you more of the house, if you like.  It was badly in need of restoration when Mr. Holmes bought it and… well, what can I say?”

      “It’s a picture-perfect creepy murder-asylum?”

      “Exactly.  Do you have any idea how much thought and effort it takes to achieve that look?  Mr. Holmes grew up reading every sort of horror and ghost story and when he saw his chance to actually give himself a home that looks like it’s the backdrop for an Edgar Allen Poe tale?  He leapt on it like a tiger on fresh meat.  It was that or build his own space-colony model, since he also read twenty libraries worth of science fiction, but this seemed more fitting for the countryside.”

      “It’s a good match for the mystery writing bit, too.  Need some inspiration, just wander your own corridors imagining the sorts of vicious murders and whatnot that might happen.”

      “Do you know that scene in The Primrose Path where Bell is walking down a nearly hypnotically-long corridor and he imagines what was going on in the victim’s mind as they were being chased along that very same path to crash through the stained-glass window at the end and fall to their death?”

      “Don’t tell me that’s real.”

      “See for yourself.  It’s not the original stained-glass window at the end, though, so that’s a bit of a let-down.”

      “Oh, had to be changed during the renovation?”

      “Had to be changed when Mr. Holmes threw a weighted mannequin through it to see if the effect was as dramatic as he intended it.  Well, Charles and Mrs. Hudson did the throwing while he stood back and watched, but it was fairly spectacular, nonetheless.”

      “That… that actually doesn’t surprise me for this house.”

      “Nor should it.  It wasn’t nearly as interesting, though, as when they tried to burn Molly at the stake.”

      “What!”

      “It was more a working out the logistics of building a pyre big enough to burn a person, what size and thickness of stake was needed so she just couldn’t snap it or drag the thing out of the ground and dart away, how far away could you see the flames or smoke that might alert the fire service something was amiss… Molly didn’t actually have to be in the fire for that last bit, but she did wear a long, white dress and loose hair to make the effect very dramatic up to the point they tossed a torch onto the wood.  The village had a lovely time watching the whole business.  Mr. Holmes even had a refreshment table set up for a pre-human-bonfire nibble and drinks afterward as a thank you for playing… well, the villagers, who were hiding a big secret and burning to death the person that had discovered it.  That was from The Soul of Darkness.  Very good sales for that one in both the mystery and gothic-horror markets.”

      “Oh my god… I worried about being dismembered and burned the first time I came out here!”

      “Dismemberment was another experiment altogether.  Come on, I’ll tell you about it while we take the tour.”

Greg happily hopped out of his seat and waited for Anthea to lead him out of the solarium, feeling more than slightly anxious to carry on with his visit.  Honestly, not a thing he’d heard so far made him any less enthusiastic about the upcoming project.  In fact, his enthusiasm was growing by leaps and bounds.  Not only was Holmes a brilliant writer, but he definitely appreciated a bit of adventure and drama in his life.  This had the potential of being more than a lucrative deal and a career-refreshing role, but… a hell of a lot of fun.

Of course, he could also be completely wrong, and it’d be him racing down an eerie corridor with a crazed author chasing after him, knife in hand and bloodlust in his eyes.  He’d have to ask Charles how much force it took to actually shatter a stained-glass window.  He’d feel properly embarrassed if he crashed into one and it just rattled a bit while he spilled onto the floor.  Might spare his life, though.  It had to be hard to hold a righteous bloodlust in place when you were laughing at a berk who was just humiliated by a few weedy panes of colored glass…

Chapter Text

      “Ah, there you are, Anthea.  Escorting Mr. Lestrade for a tour of the house?”

Greg turned and smiled at the sound of Mycroft’s voice, which was welcoming, but ever-so-slightly laced with curiosity about what stories might have been shared in his absence and, also, a touch of hesitance as if he was concerned the tour might not have been a pleasant one.

      “It’s more this sad actor made a run for it and I chase him to make certain he didn’t steal anything valuable.”

That it took Mycroft a half-second to realize Anthea was joking was just too perfect, to Greg’s amused mind.

      “Ah, a noble cause, indeed. Mr. Lestrade, if you have exhausted your desire to raid my antiquities for the benefit of your accounts, might I offer you some lunch?”

Anthea smiled smugly at Greg’s ‘I’m watching you’ gesture and took her leave of the two men who, hopefully, would have a genial lunch and simply get to know each other a little better.  This was, by no means, Mycroft’s strength, and she had offered to stay and… moderate… but he’d declined, so she could only hope the few suggestions she’d given would be enough for this to be successful for both men.  Somehow, given her recent words with the actor, she suspected it would…

      “Lunch sounds great, actually.  I’ve sampled Mrs. Hudson’s baked goods, so I have no doubt we’ll be served something delicious.”

      “An astute analysis.  Do follow me.  I would ask, how have you enjoyed your tour?”

Greg made note of the slightly tensing of posture and tone, strengthening his theory that Mycroft was a little worried about his answer.

      “This house is amazing.  I’ve never seen anything like it except on a film set and those had nothing on this for grandeur and presence.  I’ve always wondered if places like this actually existed except on the screen or in a book… I’m glad at least one does.”

      “Oh… that is very kind of you to say.”

Definitely worried I didn’t like your house, Mr. Holmes. I may not be a real detective, but I can see the tiniest of pleased smiles, no matter how hard the person doing the smiling is trying to hide it.

      “And I’m not surprised that it makes an appearance in some of your books.  Anthea showed me a few places where a scene from one of your novels takes place and… I have to admit that you really did a brilliant job of describing the setting perfectly.  Absolutely captured the feel of the room or corridor or piece of furniture.  I honestly never would have believed the kraken coat rack the murderer used in Death has Many Faces was real!  It seemed to unique, so completely barmy that it had to be a figment of your imagination.  Where on Earth did you find it?”

Yes, smile more openly, Mr. Holmes.  And, as you’re studying my features to see if I’m lying, you’ll see that I’m not.  That fucking thing is a work of art.  A weird bit of art lifted from a Bosch painting, but art, nonetheless.

      “It is most intriguing, is it not?  My maternal grandfather was a furniture restorer by trade and, once, he was called to an old manor home, not entirely unlike this one, to refinish a variety of items, for the gentleman who owned the house was marrying and his bride had rather specific ideas about the condition of her surroundings.  Apparently, also, the future lady of the house declared that the coat stand was to be taken away so her eyes never again had to look upon its hideousness.  Grandfather adopted the poor, maligned artifact and it became a fond member of our family furnishings.”

      “I’m glad it didn’t end in the rubbish!  Must have been a fairly boring bride who didn’t want this in their house.  Maybe it’s not to everyone’s taste, but at the very least, it’s something to inspire a bit of conversation and you’d think the lady of a fine house would enjoy having it on hand if only for that reason.”

      “A valid point.  Especially if the lady in question has little in her own conversational repertoire from which to pluck a suitable topic when the need arises, as I suspect was the case with this woman.  She…”

      “Go ahead.  Reveal her shame.”

      “She wanted an entire room done in yellow.  Everything.  Nothing was to be left… un-yellowed.”

Which was, apparently, very much not aligned with the Mycroft Holmes School of Color Sensibilities.

      “No!  Not yellow!”

      “I am happy you are as revolted as was I when I heard the tale.  An accent cushion, perhaps, or delicate yellow flowers in the wallpaper, but… the idea of an entire room adorned in the color of urine is utterly loathsome.”

      “Maybe she thought it was buttery?  Who doesn’t like a nice bit of butter of something warm and tasty.  A good scone, some toast, some perfectly-prepared potatoes…”

      “Hmmmm… not a perspective I had considered, though I remain opposed most vigorously to the concept.”

Greg grinned at how utterly serious Mycroft was about this and felt certain that the man would launch into an angry diatribe against the décor if invited to anyone’s home that had the unfortunate honor of sporting yellow as its primary decorating theme.  Or had disappointing doorknobs, since Mycroft made a point of giving a quick buffing to several along the corridor, as well as running his fingers across the surface of the massive sideboard that sported some elaborate and murder-heavy pieces of sculpture.

      “I would expect no less.  And… I have to say, you’ve got good color balance in this house, from what I’ve seen.  I spend a lot of time talking to set designers and art directors, so I know how important it is for atmosphere and selling a viewpoint to get the colors right.”

      “Oh… thank you.  It… it is a scheme I have found pleasing.  No shade or tone more flagrant than others.  In general, I tend to avoid color flagrancy whenever possible.”

      “I think that’s good advice for anyone.  Won’t catch me walking about in a garish yellow tie or sunshine-y bowler hat, for example.”

      “That would… no, I cannot even contemplate such a thing.  Fortunately, we are arrived and may focus on more agreeable topics.”

Mycroft opened the large pocket doors to the dining room which Greg was happy to see maintained the same ambience as the rest of the house, including a long table adorned with large, intricate candelabras and ornately carved chairs.

      “Do have a seat, Mr. Lestrade.  I shall ring for Mrs. Hudson to serve.”

      “I’m actually surprised she didn’t insist I be fed in the kitchen like house’s faithful hound.”

      “There… may have been some discussion as to what was the appropriate setting for our little chat.”

      “I knew it.  Can’t blame her, though.  She did get watch me eat a piece of cake with my hands, so probably thinks my table manners were something I lost along the way in life, like my flexibility and my ability to drink cheap lager.”

      “Cake… with your… hands?”

Mycroft’s expression, to Greg’s mind, was exactly what he’d expect of someone who’d seen the aftermath of him drinking too much cheap lager.  He’d seen it himself, before. In the mirror.  In the morning.  With his head pounding out its recrimination like the drummer of a punk rock band.

      “Umm… it was sort of a going-away piece.  I’d had one, properly consumed with a fork, then was taking my leave and snatched another since she was walking by with the tray that had a few cut pieces left, beckoning me sexily.  I shall not, however, use my fingers for lunch unless it’s for a universally accepted eat-with-your-fingers food product such as bread, chips or a biscuit.”

      “Bread is somewhat assured, but neither chips nor biscuits are scheduled to make an appearance.”

      “Pizza?”

      “That, also, is not on today’s menu.”

      “Then there’s another off my list!  I’ve tried to eat pizza with knife and fork, but I can’t.  I just can’t.  It hurts my soul.”

      “Dear me… that is not a condition I advocate for good health.”

      “Then, are you a finger-pizza man or a fork-pizza man?”

      “I… I do prefer to use a knife and fork.”

      “Well, that couldn’t be more perfect.  One fingerer and one forker.  Though… fingerer isn’t really something I should boast about in public and the right accent turns forker into something not to boast about, either.  Or, maybe to boast a lot about, depending on the intention and ego of the person being referenced.  This is why I should leave words to you.  They just get me into trouble.”

Mycroft seemed almost embarrassed by his tiny snort of laughter and Greg waggled his eyebrows to make himself seem even more ridiculous, which earned him a bent eye from Mrs. Hudson as she arrived with their soup.

      “You just say the word, Mr. Holmes, and I’ll toss that one out on his ear.  Manners of a dog, and don’t believe otherwise.”

Mrs. Hudson had heard her employer laugh before, but it was generally a quiet, reserved sound, very much unlike the hearty chuckle she received for her words, along with Greg’s satisfied giggle.

      “Wonderful.  Already the nonsense is starting.  I suspected as much.  Well, if either of you is wearing your soup bowl like a hat when I come back, don’t expect even a bite of anything sweet once you’re done with lunch.”

      “How about a tea kettle, Mrs. Hudson?  Can I wear one of those as a hat?  You’ve got one in the kitchen large enough for my thick head, if I remember correctly.”

Greg covered his soup bowl as Mrs. Hudson made a move to snatch it away, snickering that he was fully retuned to the age of five.

      “Oh, might I… yes, I believe I would look most fashionable in a red, conical wimple sort of thing.  Or… perhaps not red.  A respectable green might suffice.”

Greg stopped snickering long enough to nod sagely at Mycroft’s addition to his silliness, then grinned cheekily at Mrs. Hudson, who made certain her back was to her employer when she gave Greg a ‘well done’ wink.

      “Both of you will be the death of me.  I’ll die twice!  That’s not a fate fit for woman nor beast.  Now, don’t let your soup get cold because I won’t bring out hot food if there’s cold soup left in these bowls.”

This time, both Greg and Mycroft nodded sagely, then shared another laugh after the housekeeper left the dining room with one final glare directed at each of them in turn.

      “Good to know, Mr. Holmes, I’m not the only one who’s seen Over the Garden Wall.”

      “I appreciate the story, as well as the animation, though it was not explicitly crafted for the adult audience.  It is a pleasant thing to view on the odd rainy day when… when a more calming form of entertainment is to my taste.”

      “It’s well done, that’s for certain.  I’ve told my agent that I’d love to do an animated film someday.  That and, maybe, some audio work.  There’s a lot of brilliant radio plays and audio dramatizations being made now and that sounds like a challenge I’d love to take on.”

      “Truly?”

      “You sound surprised.”

      “I am.  A man of your status in the film industry… doing a radio play?”

      “The scale of a project or the fee isn’t really important to me, Mr. Holmes.  It’s about what satisfies me as an actor.  What challenges me and gives me a real sense of accomplishment.  I listen to a lot of what’s being produced now and what’s been done in the past and try to imagine how the performer approached their role.  How they made their choices and for what reasons.  It’s a different form of acting and I’ve never tried it.  There’s definitely a lot of appeal in that.”

      “I… I very much enjoy listening to audio performances.  I have a large collection of them, actually.”

      “Really?  That’s wonderful, what I’d like to have someday.   Sit back, close my eyes, and just listen to an old favorite or discover something new I’ve been dying to hear.  You’re a lucky man, Mr. Holmes.”

Greg happily sampled his soup and missed Mycroft tapping the rim of the soup bowl at the proverbial north, south, east and west points of the compass while he scrutinized his guest.  He had not been certain about Gregory Lestrade, even after Thursday’s bit of theatre.  His instincts and observations told him the man would excel in the role of Diogenes Bell, however… his instincts for who was this person as a man were not firmly fixed on a decision.  He could accept, reluctantly, that an individual could be a talented actor, though a distasteful person, and had worried slightly about the brashness and open geniality of the man currently enjoying Mrs. Hudson’s excellent tomato bisque.  A truly talented actor could, potentially, fool him into thinking he was someone of character and interest, at least for a brief time.

Today had been entirely about settling his own mind about the basic character of the actor and, so far… his original instincts seemed to have been correct.  A man of surprising interests and a talent for conversation, with both humor and insight.  A person who took a serious approach to his work and enjoyed a challenge. This was not the individual he had imagined from the insipid films in which Lestrade appeared.  And his appetite was certainly a hearty one, which would make his housekeeper positively giddy.

      “Mrs. Hudson certainly doesn’t need to worry about cold soup with me!  This is delicious… it amazes me how some people have the talent to turn the stuff I see at the market into delicacies like this.  I can make a mess of heating a cold carton of takeaway.”

      “Individual talents are rather like films, I suppose. Some are worthwhile and impactful, others far less so.”

      “I’d agree with that.  Though, in fairness, a great personal talent is pointless if it’s not used and even the simplest talent can make a true difference if it’s effectively applied.”

Greg gave himself a small +1 in his win column as he watched Mycroft absentmindedly wag a spoon at him.  The fact it was only one of three spoons next to the soup bowl, each similarly sized, but with a different decorative pattern did not diminish the victory.  Besides, there were also three forks, three knives, a small toast rack with various cloth napkins on offer and two distinct sets of stemware – one set with clean, elegant lines and a second of heavy cut crystal.  Fortunately, his own setting was a touch less complex.

      “An interesting point and one with which I have personal experience.”

      “Oh, you’ve got a hidden talent you’d like to share, Mr. Holmes?”

Maybe it was a bit inappropriate to give Mycroft a ‘look,’ but Greg gave him a properly scandalous one anyway and found it simply in character with the man that Mycroft’s face contorted into a true and proper look of serious contemplation as he thought through the question.

      “I have a number of them, actually, but I was thinking more of my brother, Sherlock.  He has a wealth of valuable talents, as well as frivolous ones, however… he has only in recent years begun to make any appreciable use of them.”

      “Younger brother?”

      “Yes, very much so on some days.”

      “Let me guess, it took him a long time to find himself and his place in the world.”

      “Precisely.  It is an old and rather clichéd story, but clichés are sometimes extant for excellent reasons.”

      “What did he finally settle on?”

Mycroft took a moment to ring for Mrs. Hudson to take away the soup course, then smiled in a way that Greg didn’t understand, but it was a smile, so he assumed good news was on the way.

      “He is a consulting detective.”

      “What?”

      “Sherlock is a consulting detective.  He offers his services to private clients and New Scotland Yard detectives.”

      “A consulting detective… your brother is Diogenes Bell?  You modeled your character on your baby brother?”

This smile was as enigmatic as the first, but Greg felt confident the reason for it would be as fascinating as the basis for the first.

      “The other way around, actually.  Sherlock has a brilliant mind, a keen eye for observation and a wealth of scientific talents, however, his demeanor is… well, it is not, shall we say, one to inspire cordial interactions with most of the human species, unless they are supernaturally patient and allow him time to peek from behind his barricades and show his true heart.  Unfortunately, this has made it difficult for him to find a career path that brings him the satisfaction and interest he craves.  Sherlock claims never to read a word I write, yet began to ask questions about my new protagonist not long after the first few books in that series were published.  They were couched in insults, as is his way, but they demonstrated a clear fascination with the concept behind this person and the path they had crafted for themselves.”

      “One your brother wondered if he could follow, too.”

      “Well spotted.  And, to his credit, he has been most successful.  His acquired a flatmate somewhat recently, as well, who has become a willing and able assistant with the work and encouraged Sherlock to broaden the scope of the cases he is willing to accept.  They have become quite the team, in point of fact, and… well, I suspect they are becoming a team for more than a simple business relationship.”

Mrs. Hudson’s eyes widened slightly as she entered the room with the lunch entrée, but she was greatly pleased by what she was hearing.  Mr. Holmes actually seemed to be… relaxed.  At least, as relaxed as the poor man ever was and clearly enjoying himself.  It was such a shame her employer had an aversion to most of the human race.  He had more to offer the world than his books, but so few ever learned that fact.  Perhaps, though, this Greg Lestrade might come to be a more regular feature of Mr. Holmes’s life.  That silly writer needed a friend, whether he thought so or not, and that cheeky bastard Lestrade might be a good choice.  He was certainly keeping Mr. Holmes engaged and chatty, which was something of a rarity…

      “Don’t forget that skinny mass of curls is invading next weekend, Mr. Holmes.  At least for Saturday. I’m hoping he gets bored and leaves because… oh, he flusters the entire household with his nonsense.”

Mycroft nodded knowingly, but Greg was fairly certain Mrs. Hudson’s tone indicated the household didn’t mind the flustering nearly as much as she let on.

      “Yes, apparently Doctor Watson has been promised a weekend away from London to, I believe it was, breathe fresh air and have some actual dirt under his feet.  I have no idea why the dirt element is a necessary thing, but the man was in the Army, so I suppose one must allow for strange fancies.”

Both Mrs. Hudson and Greg heroically kept a straight face, though Greg did appreciate Mrs. Hudson needing to steady herself a moment by grabbling his shoulder.

      “That we must, sir.  And, since you both did the soup proud, expect chocolate when you’re ready.”

This time, Greg did laugh, as Mycroft gleefully rubbed his hands together and laughed harder when Mycroft adopted the most perfect naughty-boy grin a man their age could muster.

      “I must confess, Mr. Lestrade, that I am somewhat enamored of Mrs. Hudson’s chocolatey concoctions.”

      “If you weren’t, I’d say you were loony!  Maybe I should find a cook to hire.  Not that I’m home often, but that would certainly make the experience a far happier one than when I’m skulking about the local eateries and making friends with London’s delivery drivers.”

      “I was most pleased when she applied for the position.  In any case, I do hope you a fond of the fish.  Saturday’s lunch is always graced by fish.”

      “Oh, I can murder a good piece of fish. Grew up near the sea and there was plenty to be had for cheap, so mum cooked more than her fair share.  I’m going to wager it’ll need a touch of salt, though, not because Mrs. Hudson is too light-handed, but because Mum may have been a little heavy with it and… ok, what’s wrong?”

Because you’re making that ‘oh dear’ face, Mr. Holmes, and appearing a bit unsettled by something.  Could it be…

      “I set the salt cellar down in the wrong place, didn’t I?”

      “It… it should be nearer the pepper.”

      “Because they’re a set.”

      “Yes.”

      “Something I should have thought of myself.  Here we go.”

Greg moved the salt the three-thumbs width required to put it back at its original position, then kept his eyes on Mycroft who made nudging motions until he had it precisely oriented according to Mycroft’s specifications.

      “So, tell me about this business with your brother’s flatmate.  I’m always open to a bit of romantic gossip.”

Another small tendril of confidence threaded through Mycroft’s bones and made conscious note of its soothing effects.  He was not unaware of the uniqueness of his nature and how it was perceived by others, but his new acquaintance seemed surprisingly unperturbed.  It was… refreshing.

      “Then, with gossip shall I thee regale.”

This time it was Greg rubbing his hands together in anticipation and Mycroft settled in to enjoy his lunch and the simple act of conversation.  It was not entirely what he had expected for their meeting, but it was exceedingly illuminating.  And, frankly, most delightful…

__________

      “Well, I have to thank you for this, Mr. Holmes.  I’ve had a great time and learned a lot about the character.”

Greg stood in the doorway of the great house, trying to remember the last time he’d enjoyed an evening to this degree.  Nothing but a meal and a long chat, but… it was nice.  Very nice, indeed.

      “And I thank you, Mr. Lestrade, for coming.  I do hope you will feel free to contact me with any questions about… any aspect of the novel.  I know once we are further along in the process, we shall speak and meet often, however, I am a firm advocate of long-range planning.”

      “That sounds great, actually.  I’m sure I’ll make use of your kind offer.  So… I’ll be meeting with Anthea and Anderson tomorrow.  Anything you want me to pass along or focus on?”

      “Hmmm… I cannot think of anything, however, should something strike me…”

      “I’ll text you with my mobile number and…”

      “I do not text.”

      “Oh… ok, hold on.”

Greg patted himself down, then made a scribbling motion, feeling completely unsurprised when Mycroft drew an exquisite pen and small notebook from his jacket pocket.

      “Write this down…”

Making sure Mycroft had his mobile number correctly scribed, Greg decided not to ask for Mycroft’s own, suspecting that if the author didn’t offer, he was ready to or wasn’t particularly happy about receiving unexpected phone calls.

      “Thank you, Mr. Lestrade. This is most helpful.”

      “Could you… how about Greg, since we’re going to be working closely together?”

      “I… I may have that familiarity?”

      “Of course!  I’d appreciate it, actually.”

      “I see.  And… are you hoping to refer to me as Mycroft?”

Uh… maybe not when you pose it that particular way.

      “Well, that’s not for me to decide and I am certainly not one to impose.”

      “Yes, you have demonstrated some degree of propriety.”

Which was in no manner saying that ‘Mycroft’ was on offer.  Ok, that would be a challenge for another day.

      “Part of my charm.  Goodbye, Mr. Holmes.  I have no doubt we’ll be speaking again soon.”

Greg made to lift his hand to shake, then lowered it, seeing the slight look of worry skitter across Mycroft’s face.  Instead he smiled brightly and nodded his farewell, before turning and walking towards his still-hired semblance of a vehicle.  He had his hand on the door handle before Mycroft’s voice hit his ears.

      “Mr. … Gregory?”

      “Yes?”

      “I… do call me Mycroft.  It seems the equitable thing.”

Equitable wasn’t the worst thing in the world, to Greg’s experience, and it was clear that the concession had been a large one on Mycroft’s part.

      “Thank you, I’d be honored.  Until we meet again.”

      “Yes.  Yes, until then.”

This new smile on Mycroft’s face was one Greg honestly valued, since it was one that said Mycroft was feeling rather buoyant at his small gesture of… well, not of friendship, perhaps, but of someting more than nodding acquaintance.  But, in fairness, to Mycroft the gesture had not been a small one.  Somehow, Greg suspected, it wouldn’t be as long as he might have predicted until he heard his mobile ring.  And, frankly, he couldn’t say he was anything but happy for it…

Chapter Text

It is him!  I told you it was, Lydia.

Greg!  Can I have your autograph?

Just one quick snap, Greg?

I’ve seen all your films, Greg!

Greg had held out a tiny hope that his standard leaving for an appointment earlier than was necessary wouldn’t actually be necessary this time, but, apparently, he couldn’t ever be on the major streets of London for more than a moment or two before he was recognized.  Then, it was slow going towards his target as he signed things, smiled for photos, chatted a moment with every person who wanted to speak to him… it was part of the price he had to pay, he knew that well enough, but it had been somewhat glorious to spend a couple of days in Royston Vasey’s sister village where he’d been left blessedly alone.

Of course, he also hadn’t realized that the village had recognized him, but collectively decided that they’d treat him much like Mycroft – just another chap toddling about who was affable enough if you just let them toddle and didn’t make a fuss.  However, once word got around that he had returned his car and checked out of his room at the inn, Molly was dispatched to drag him to the pub where a stack of various items awaited his signature, people were dressed in their go-to-church clothes to have a photo and the old birds checked, with both pinches and photos, that his arse was as succulent as they’d certainly not seen in any of his films that they may have rented a few times mostly because of his succulent arse and how it moved when it was doing something particularly filthy on camera.

However, it was still different.  It wasn’t the same as the fans out here on the street or at a premiere.  They weren’t awed by him or overly excited… it was more like ‘oh, well, might as well have a snap with that fellow in case he isn’t making his way back here soon.  Nice little keepsake of the old chap, who wasn’t quite as dreadful as Hollywood types are supposed to be.  Besides maybe I can sell it someday on the Internet and make a few quid.’  He could see why Mycroft had a successful visit when he ventured out of Dracula’s Castle and how he could feel comfortable around that many people.  It just took the right people and, sometimes, life brought you a bit of luck in that area…

Now, if only Anderson hadn’t been a complete twat and agreed to meet at one of the little off-the-beaten-path restaurants they usually visited when they were here, and not something ridiculously priced and right in the thick of where he’d be recognized in a heartbeat, he could actually be eating right now and not just stepping inside and waving at the crowd who’d followed him on the street.  Just for that, the twat’s wallet was going to scream in pain…

      “Ah, Mr. Lestrade.  So good to see you, sir, and looking very smart, I must say.  Your party is waiting, if you care to follow me.”

Thank you, Mr. Manager or Owner or whoever you are who waved off the young woman who is apparently your normal hostess so you could fawn over me.  Hell is other people…

      “Oh, look, Anthea.  It’s Gregory.”

      “Gregory, darling, come and have a seat.  We’ve been absolutely dying for you to arrive.”

And these two people were particularly demonic versions of hell.

      “Fuck you and you, madam, can have a heaping helping of fuck you since you apparently talked to Mycroft and… you’re evil.”

Making certain to be polite and thank the well-dressed smiling man still loitering at his side, Greg pulled out a chair, stole Anthea’s glass of champagne and drained it in one gulp.

      “And why are we here, anyway?  There’s countless places that serve food and not plates decorated with a few wisps of organic matter, and I can walk there, browse a few shops, eat in peace and actually enjoy myself.  The only reason you meet in a place like this is… why are you two smiling?  Oh, fuck me, this time.  How many photographers are hovering about getting material to push into the entertainment news tonight?”

      “Ummm… a few.  After I talked to Anthea, I phoned the studio to re-confirm that this was going forward, and they decided to get a bit of a jump on publicity.  So, we’re having a nice meal with the agent of Mr. Mycroft Holmes to talk about the upcoming film, the first ever of one of his books, which will star the old and flabby Greg Lestrade.”

      “Bloody perfect.  I’m so glad I came back to London for this.  I should have flown on to LA and dropped a vomit bag out of the plane right on both of your heads.”

Anthea made the time-honored gesture of using a hand to bounce her exquisitely-styled waves and ended it with a gesture that might have been interpreted by the unknowing as a poorly-performed peace sign.

      “I had my hair done for this meeting, so you would have been killed by my special ninja brigade the moment you stepped off the plane.  Besides, you had your country holiday, Gregory dear.  Now, you have to pay for it with a little work.  And, I think we’ll have another bottle of champagne, since you guzzled mine like it didn’t cost more than my dress.”

      “Holiday?  What with you and Molly threatening me within an inch of my life and going about in a death mobile, I think that ‘holiday’ is the wrong word for it!  And order what you like… Anderson’s paying.”

      “Nope!  I’m poor.  And, I don’t have my wallet.”

      “Why the fuck not?”

      “You were coming.”

      “Wonderful.  My agent the scrounger.  The studio can pay, then.  This is their publicity stunt, after all.”

That started Anderson and Anthea waving for the wine steward to take advantage of the studio’s bottomless bank account.

      “The both of you are shameless.”

      “You get all the perks, Greg, not me, your poor as-aforementioned impoverished agent.  And Anthea works in books!  Publishing houses don’t lay out the cash like the film studios, do they Anthea?”

      “Pfft… no.  They expect people to be more genteel and not grub for perks.  But, bugger that.  I want my champagne and the most expensive food this hideous dump offers.  Oh, and cake.  I saw something go by on a tray that looked sinful and I need a little sin in my life.”

Greg wondered if he was even needed for this meeting, but realized that he was being pimped for perks so trying to make a getaway would only get him tackled and chained to his chair until the two agents had their fill of luxury.

      “Ghouls.  Actually, I would think Mycroft would be peeved if he learned that this was going to be splashed over the sordid news programs I suspect he hates with the intensity of the heart of the sun.”

After several moments of ‘oh, how cute,’ ‘Mycroft would be peeved,’ and mocking laughter, Greg stole Anderson’s champagne, drank it and poured the last drops of the bottle into the empty glass to serve as his only friend in this conversation.

      “For your information, cash cow… I already discussed this situation with Mr. Holmes and got his approval.”

      “What?  No no no, Anthea, there’s no way Mycroft agreed to this sad bit of pantomime.”

      “He did, when I reminded him that the film would need publicity and the more I did, the less he’d have to do, which delighted him to no end.  Frankly, if we can get one interview out of him on this, I’ll be surprised, but just putting the idea in his head was enough to get him to gleefully agree to me having a high-powered lunch meeting for the cameras to catch and, maybe, giving a few quotable sentences to some reporter who might happen by and find that sort of thing interesting.”

      “You’ve already done it, haven’t you?”

      “Naturally.  They’re just lingering to get some video to run and a few photos to add to the article that will appear in the paper tomorrow.  I have been a very busy bee today, in point of fact.  Alerted our publisher to get with the studio so they can talk new covers for reissues of The Devil’s in the Details, and what sort of back-cover copy and forward they might want.  Of course, Mycroft will have final approval like he always does, but I think we can get him in the spirit of things to accept something a bit more flamboyant that his usual preference.  And we’ll likely do a box-set holiday printing of all the Diogenes Bell books.  That sort of thing always does a brisk business, even with ebook sales soaring, but with the publicity from the film stoking the fire, it could run through two printings and, fingers crossed, settle into the main market for year-round sales.  I’ve wanted to do one for awhile, but His Naysaying Majesty was in quite the fine set of spirits when I phoned, so it seems this year is the year.  He’s always against anything, as he sees it, gauche and ostentatious, so we’re jumping on this while his mood is a good one.  Want to let me know the reason why his mood is such a very good one, Gregory darling?”

With two people grinning at him, smugly, at that, Greg hoped that the restaurant offered more than champagne, because he could feel the need for a good six or seven glasses of whisky beginning to brew in his veins.

      “We had a nice lunch!  That was it!  Chatted about some common interests, like good radio drama and old films, gossiped about his brother… just a nice, pleasant lunch.”

      “Uh huh… let me fill in a bit, Gregory…”

      “Will you stop calling me that, demon woman?”

      “No.  At least not today.  Tomorrow, it’ll be boring, so I’ll have my fun while I can.  In any case, Mycroft almost never entertains people he doesn’t know and for him to actually have enjoyed himself… how naked did you get and is there video?”

Oh good, the Dastardly Duo were sniggering at him.  Thank you, Mr. Wine Steward for being prompt with the champagne and for first pouring a glass for the person who seems to need it most.

      “Funny.  In the meaning of the word that is precisely the opposite of the meaning of the word.  However, if you’re that desperate, the old dears in the village took a few up-close snaps of my arse and I’m sure they’ll let you have a look for a tidy fee.”

      “That’ll be the knitting ladies.  They do enjoy their tea and scandal.  Or gin and scandal, as the case may be.  They meet formally on Wednesday evenings and Mr. Holmes actually sits with them now and again when he’s at the pub, and listens in on their conversation.  He says they’re a valuable source of inspiration, but I suspect it’s more he’s got old biddy sensibilities for the sordid and tawdry, meaning he likes it far more than he’d let his grandchildren know, not that they exist, and has his own share of well-thumbed seedy paperback romances under his bed, near his chamberpot and slippers, for when he has a hard time sleeping.”

The image of a nightshirt-wearing, stocking-capped Mycroft, propped up in a massive bed with a Mills & Boons romance in his hand made Greg’s mind happy, partly because he could genuinely believe it wasn’t a figment of Anthea’s overheated imagination.

      “Well, for your information, Mycroft didn’t take any photos of my arse and I didn’t put it out there to show, anyway.  We just… talked.  Spent some time discussing Bell, which was helpful, but mostly just talked as any two people might over lunch.  Except, of course, you two people who talk about horrid things to make my life miserable.”

Anderson’s rude gesture was hidden from potential cameras by the menu he was holding, but he gave it proudly nonetheless.  Actually he was more than happy to let Greg vent a little about this rather minor set-up for a press opportunity.  Part of his job was making certain his client had what he needed to keep from really exploding from stress and little spurts of steam, now and then, kept the boiler’s seams tightly intact.

      “It’s a living, Greg.  It’s why you hired me.  That and my blinding good looks which keeps the fangirls, and fanboys, distracted when you’re trying to buy new socks or arguing with the postman over having your mail crinkled when he pushes it through the slot.”

      “I only did that once and it was the photo Mum had enlarged of her and Dad’s trip to Belize.”

      “Which you shrieked at when you saw it because they were in swimsuits and I had to console you while you had a little cry.”

      “It scarred me.  For life.”

      “That was only two years ago.”

      “Two long years of life with thick, thick scars.”

Anthea watched the two men go back and forth and was content with what she saw.  A good relationship based on mutual understanding that had a solid history behind it.  It bode well for future negotiations and matters of business since she could talk to either of them and wouldn’t have too much worry that the other would respond in a completely unexpected way when they were brought into the conversation.  Normally, you didn’t personally interact with another agent’s client, at least not to discuss business, but this was going to be different.

Mycroft… liked Greg Lestrade.  He didn’t use the term and wouldn’t admit to it if she broached the subject, but the evidence was there.  He’d actually used Greg’s name!  Not ‘that person’ or ‘the actor’ or even ‘Mr. Lestrade,’ but let ‘Gregory’ slide off his tongue as if he’d done it for a hundred years.  And Martha had been bowled over by how easily their conversation had flowed.  Greg, somehow, found the right wavelength to resonate with someone who defied resonating with almost everyone on the planet and it was clear, clear as crystal, that Mycroft had enjoyed that.  Enjoyed every moment of it and Mycroft Holmes having a nice time with another person was reason for celebration.  Further, if her suspicions were correct, her dear Mr. Holmes was not going to let this new connection simply wither on the vine and die.  His voice sounded positively lively on the phone…

      “If you two are done with your dreary domestic bickering, can we order?  Don’t forget, Anderson, we’re meeting with the reporter from GQ for drinks later and I want to have enough time to drain as many glasses of excellent wine as I can from his wallet.”

      “Ooh!  Right… forgot about that.  It’s an upscale place, too, so there’s sure to be some fine vintages in their cellar.”

      “WHAT!  Why… why on Earth are you two meeting with GQ?”

Greg was used to Anderson giving him a disappointed nod, but thought it was somewhat unfair for him to suffer it now in stereo.

      “Greg, my old and doddery friend… it’s called publicity.”

      “Publicity for what?  The film isn’t even past the ‘hey, let’s make a film!’ stage!”

      “Actually… it is past that stage.  With you on board officially, though we do still have to negotiate the contract, but it’ll be fairly much your standard one, so no surprises there… but, anyway, I’ve got the green light to start talking up the film and pushing you in front of more cameras and microphones.  The wardrobe department is starting on sketches for Bell, so we’re going to discuss his look as it appears in the novels and how that might translate to your scruffy self.”

      “You… you have no idea what the studio is going to settle on!”

      “Who cares?  By the time the film is on screen, nobody will remember this little story, but it will be another first step in getting the word out.  Besides, it’ll be a foot in the door to drag this bloke back for a full interview with photos of you modeling some amazing clothes that I can usually negotiate into a few new suits for me, as a side bonus.”

      “Pirates!  Both of you, sailing the high seas, plundering and pillaging every fucking port you visit.”

The matching ‘well, duh, yes’ looks on Anderson’s and Anthea’s faces made Greg suspicious they were separated at birth when one of their eggs was stolen from their dragon-mommy’s nest.

      “I don’t know why you’re complaining, Greg, since it’s me and Anthea meeting with GQ today and not you.  Your old-lady-approved arse will be on a plane, so you can be in LA tomorrow for a lovely suite of interviews for the film you actually have about to land on screen and I’ll meet you Tuesday at breakfast to discuss the other obligations you have on deck for the week.”

      “Ugh… I hate my life.”

      “No, you love your life.  You just hate the things you have to do to actually live your life.  Look on the bright side.  We’re flying back to London next weekend and you’re actually here for awhile doing publicity, so you can purge LA from your blood and be properly British again.”

      “Few days off before that publicity barrage begins?  Please please please?”

      “Anthea, is yours this needy and lazy?”

      “About publicity?  On that score, I’m lucky, as mine is renown in the industry for not doing publicity.  Everyone knows he simply won’t, so nobody even tries anymore.”

      “You’re so lucky.”

      “I know… but I pay for it in other areas.  Many other areas.”

      “And they think they have the hard lives.”

      “Poor lambs have no idea.  None at all.”

Greg honestly wasn’t certain who had the harder job, Anderson or Anthea, but since they each chose their misery, and were enjoying the hell out of his, they deserved it all and more.

      “I hope both of you get hemorrhoids.  Now, about my few days of rest…”

Anderson gave a BAFTA-worthy put-upon sigh and rolled his eyes in a long arc to finally, after a millennium, meet Greg’s.

      “Let me see what I can do.”

      “Don’t trouble yourself too much.”

      “Oh, believe me, I won’t.  But, I should be able to schedule things so you can lay on your sofa for a few days, in your track pants, eating food from a carton, while you watch the telly.”

      “That sounds… beautiful.  I honestly may cry.”

Anderson shook his head sadly, but was already mentally adding a day or so to the two completely uncommitted days he’d built into Greg’s schedule.  Most people wouldn’t expect something like giving interviews and doing photo shoots to be stressful or tiring, but it dragged his friend’s energy down, and if Greg needed a few days to build it back up, then a few days he would have.

      “You in your at-home garb eating greasy takeaway is not beautiful.  It’s soul-crushing but, since nobody has to see it but you, it doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is that the server is giving our table the eye, so let’s let the poor man do his job and make a start on getting some lunch into us.  Anthea, what looks good?”

      “I’m thinking the lamb medallions, but I could go another way.  Or two ways at once.  God, I’m starving.  I had a muffin for breakfast and it was one of those small ones that you finish before you even realize you’re eating it, so you have an existential crisis before your day is even fully underway.”

      “Then starters it is before we go any further!  And, smile, Greg… you’ve got a few lenses pointed your way and your fans will be crushed if they think you’ve had a lousy lunch.  You’ll have to deal with your standard mailbag being supplemented by food packages and I am not persuading Joanne at the studio mail office to open every single one so we don’t have a repeat of the Key Lime Pie Disaster.”

      “It wasn’t my fault!”

Anderson’s ‘pfft’ bought him a commiserative pat on the hand from his dragon sibling.

      “That’s what the guilty always say, so it was definitely your fault.  I don’t even know what that is, but I know it’s your fault.”

      “Your shoes are ugly, Anthea.”

      “Boo hoo.  Anderson?”

      “Well, that one just had to say on American TV that he’d never tasted a key lime pie.  The studio received thousands of them.  Only a small percentage were actually marked so the kind people handling his mail knew to donate them or… refrigerate them.”

      “Ugh.”

      “That’s one way to put it.  Shit… I’ve made myself want key lime pie, now.  When they’re not moldy and rancid, they’re amazing.  I wonder if that’s on the pudding menu?”

Greg waved over their server and prepared himself for a long lunch with the two most ridiculous people in London.  However… he honestly couldn’t imagine any other people doing a better job of keeping an eye on him or Mycroft.  Sometimes you lucked into the right fit for you and, if you were smart, you didn’t let them go.

      “Greg, show Anthea your patented fingers-through-hair maneuver.  The cameras always love that.”

Even if you wanted to murder them like the brother you never had…

Chapter Text

Greg Lestrade’s List of People He Hates

1.  Philip, the Phallus, Anderson

2.  See #1

Ugh… this was exactly the day he’d expected back in LA.  Get off the plane, throw himself onto his bed for twelve nanoseconds, then be dragged from the bed by studio people to make him look human, push something into his mouth to eat, then push the rest of him in front of the various interviewers and cameras to do his best to sell this new film.  At least he had the evening free to… die.

Which is what he wanted to do right now.  The shower he’d taken had not done a fucking thing to boost his energy which, of course, he shouldn’t have expected given he took a cozy, warm one and those are only good for making you feel cozy and warm which is not advised when you wanted to stay awake awhile to try and get your body back on local time.  Maybe it was time for some food.  Room service wasn’t something he liked ordering, for many reasons not involving feeling like a bit of a berk for being too lazy to saunter down to one of the hotel restaurants, but sauntering would only last about eight steps before he fell face first on the carpet runner in the corridor and that was not how he wanted to spend the rest of his night.  So… room service it would be.

Though, in truth, he didn’t want food.  He also didn’t want to be a fussy toddler, but that’s apparently what he’d become.  It wasn’t the worst fate in the world.  Could be a dung beetle.  Though, to be fair, they seemed fairly happy rolling their balls of dung about, so maybe he shouldn’t pass judgement until he’d chatted with a few of them to know about their lives and standards for contentment.  And now… he’d gone loony.  Couldn’t blame the dung beetles for that because they were off minding their own business and not fiddling with his exhausted brain to make it malfunction.

Coffee?  That was an idea.  Hot, black, tongue-stripping coffee.  Which was not room service’s specialty.  Theirs was sort of… blergh.  It failed on every measurable feature of coffeeness.  Except wetness.  It was wet.  I did have that going for it.  Oh god, he was tired…

And, now, of course, his mobile was ringing.  Probably that shifty dragonborn Anderson checking to see he’d done his schoolwork and there weren’t any notes from the teacher saying he’d been a naughty, slothful boy.

      “Hello?”

      “Socks.”

      “Pardon?”

      “Socks.”

      “I’m… what?”

      “Was I unclear?”

      “I… maybe?”

      “Socks could prove vital.”

      “Are you a spy?”

      “No.  I am a writer.”

      “Wait… Mycroft?”

      “Yes.  Were you unaware of that?”

      “I… maybe?  I haven’t had coffee.”

Which was especially troubling because he needed all of his brain power to talk to a genius!  His brain felt like cold porridge in his head and now he had to appear like… a non-porridge head!  This was going to be hard.

      “Ah, I understand.  The stimulating effect of caffeine should not be underestimated.”

      “Apparently not.  Glad you phoned, though.  Always happy for a chat.  About socks, you say?”

A subject where my storehouse of knowledge is decidedly bare, but faking it is the stock in trade of a many an actor in this business.

      “Yes.”

      “Are we discussing, texture, color, how high they go up your leg…”

Something for which there surely exists a proper term, but it is beyond the ken of plain, porridge-brained folk.

      “Likely all of it.  I realized that in the various descriptions of Diogenes Bell, I did not specify any particular style preferences for socks.  The same is true for underpants, however, as those shall not appear on-screen, the omission is not a catastrophic one.”

Greg jumped and landed on his bed, ignoring that he did it in precisely the way a child might, and propped up his pillows to have some back support for his conversation.  That, right there, proved the lack of childishness, because kids didn’t have to worry about old, dodgy backs giving out the next day because they’d been incautious with either jumping or phone conversation-ing.

      “Well, I admit that after a million years in the industry, I can’t actually say I’ve taken great notice of the socks I’ve been asked to wear or that I’ve noticed them on screen unless revealing them was a plot element of bit of character development.”

      “Hmmmm… I still feel the issue must be addressed.”

      “Then address it we shall!  Of course, it might be more efficient to wait until the wardrobe people pull together some sketches.  Anderson said they were setting about that already.”

      “Yes, so I was informed by Anthea.  That is why it is critical to act.  Once enshrined on paper, ideas are brutally difficult to modify, let alone kill.”

      “Alright, then, what is your vision for the socks of Diogenes Bell.  Which actually sounds like a cracking title for a children’s book, but don’t mind me because I’m not entirely in my right mind at the moment.”

      “Yes, you do seem somewhat scattered of thought.  Is there a particular reason?”

      “Particular, no.  Expected, yes.  I had the overnight flight to LA and then nearly jumped straight into publicity work for the film I have opening… shit, I forgot on which day.  Soon, anyway.  It’s just a nonstop stream of interviews, where the same questions are asked time and again, and posing for photographers.  And I have to stay, or pretend to stay, energetic, engaged, interested…”

      “That sounds positively ghastly.”

      “Can be.  Usually, it’s just boring and draining.  At least I don’t have anything until eleven tomorrow morning, so I can get some rest, which will make all that interesting engaged energy easier to affect.  It’s the job, though.  Part of my contract specifies my publicity obligations and I have to take them as seriously as I would anything else or I can’t really call myself a professional.  Or be happy about my level of commitment to the project.”

      “Hmmmmm…. I see.  Whereas I fully agree that one must fulfill one’s obligations once one has agreed to them, I would simply not agree in the first place and avoid the issue of conscience altogether.”

      “I don’t know how easy that would be, even for me.   Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to the people who worked on the film.  Not the studio executives because bugger them, but the other actors, the director, the crew, all the people who do the technical bits away from the direct filming.  They take pride in their work and it’d be a bit shabby of me to not do my part to get as many people as possible to see the results of that hard work.  All these nonsense interviews and photoshoots really do amplify the visibility of and interest in a film, no matter how ridiculous they seem to me at the time.  And, sadly, I’ve seen a lot of great projects just sink into oblivion because nobody even knew they’d been released.  I couldn’t do that to the people who helped make the film.  I wish I could, sometimes, but I can’t.”

      “Ah.”

      ‘Is that a good ah or a bad ah?“

      “Rather difficult to say, on balance, for, again, you raise a perspective I had not considered.”

      “I can’t say I’d expect you to, really.  The film industry’s shit, it really is, but… not everyone who works in it is and they deserve every break they can get.  Wardrobe people are an example.  Give me your sock wisdom, Mycroft, and I’ll pass it along when I’m able, so they don’t catch flame and fire for something that could have been avoided.”

      “Yes, the very reason for my call.  I feel that argyle is an abomination.”

      “And what else?”

      “I think that is more than sufficient, wouldn’t you agree?”

Actually, whether they itch is more of a concern to me, but the fewer worries I put in your mind, the happier both of us will be.

      “Point taken.  And, I’m fairly certain I can convince them out of the abomination if they try to give it life.”

      “Excellent.”

Oh, maybe just one more concern, because I’m actually having fun with this conversation and prolonging it a bit is certainly no hardship.

      “And no yellow, right?”

      “Why would you even consider that option appropriate?”

      “I don’t, that’s why I’m pre-empting it from even a whisker of discussion.  Though… what’s your opinion on gold.  That old-gold or even-older brass color like you’d see for the fixtures on an antique bureau?”

      “How intriguing a question.”

Was it?  Oh good.  The other option was cheeky and that probably wouldn’t have merited an ‘intriguing.’

      “Need to think on it a touch?”

      “Yes.  I have a number of furnishings in the house with such fittings and I shall study them before giving my final decision.”

      “Very wise.  Any other conditions beside abominable argyle?”

Like itchiness.  Might as well open the dam, now that the trickle has started.

      “I am in a quandary.”

Or, let’s keep it at a trickle and see how that goes.

      “Is it painful?”

      “Not as such, but it is vexing.”

      “Might I know what you’re quandered about?”

      “That is not a word.”

      “What?  About?”

      “No, quandered.”

      “Oh, yeah I suspected that, but it sounded good.”

      “Did it?”

      “Uhh… now, I’m not sure.  I am also, now, in a quandary.  About quandered.”

      “This has become rather dire.”

      “I agree.  The dirosity has escalated sharply.”

      “That, also, is not a word.”

      “Did it sound better than the last one?”

      “I… I would rank them as on par for aural pleasantness.”

      “Ok, then no improvement, but I didn’t lose ground, either.  There’s something to be said for consistency.”

      “True.  For example, I am remarkably consistent in my hatred of argyle.”

      “I will make that my first point of conversation with costume design and wardrobe.  I’m not sure they’d look very spiffy over my calves, in any case.   I do try and get in a bit of football when I can, and I like to walk, hike in nice areas, too, so they’re a bit beefy.  Argyle seems something better suited to a daintier lower leg.”

      “My lower leg is most dainty and it is not flattered by argyle in the slightest.”

The tangents for this conversation are numerous and tangenty, indeed.  The original purpose of this thread is as gone with the wind as Clarke Gable.

      “Perhaps… I think it’s more a Venn diagram sort of business where you have to look at several factors and see what overlaps.  Your daintiness must not coincide with the other argyle-relevant elements.”

      “Yes, one would need to map the variables carefully.”

      “Get Anthea to do it.  She seems the type of be a good variable mapper.  Agents need that sort of skill, I would assume.”

And it would be sweet revenge for one poor pitiful actor who shall remain nameless for the purposes of this vengeful act.

      “Oh, very good.  I shall set her upon the task tomorrow.”

YES!  Whatever re-revenge she wreaks on the unnamed poor pitiful actor will be savage and merciless, but some things are just worth it the loss of blood and flesh.

      “I’m sure she’ll do a great job.  So… get any writing done today?”

      “Writing is done on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.”

      “Good to have a schedule.  What’s today for, then?”

      “Today is a reading day.  I consider reading to be highly important.”

One of the reasons for the stack of Mills & Boons under your bed.  Which is a mental image a certain still-unnamed actor will never lose, even from his porridge-filled mind.

      “I agree.  I always have my phone loaded with books to read and drag my Kindle about when I travel.”

      “I abhor electronic books.”

Which is probably why your novels were late going onto the market.  The amount of clawing and scratching the hellfire-spewing dragonwoman likely had to implement to get permission for the books go into that market was something any fan of horror, fantasy or action genres would pay a very good ticket price to see.

      “They’re not for everyone.  In truth, I’d prefer a real book, myself, but I travel so much that it’s hard.  They’re heavy, bulky and I’d probably lose them in hotels, airports… good for the person who finds them, but bad for me.  Digital works for my lifestyle, but if you aren’t gadding about like I am, a proper book might be best.”

      “Interesting.  I suppose I can see the difficulty of traveling with a supply of worthy books.  And to lose one… there are few tragedies so harsh as the loss of a beloved book.”

      “Spoken like a true writer.  Or librarian.”

      “That is my father.”

      “Your dad is a librarian!  That’s brilliant!  That where you got your love of reading and writing?”

      “I have no idea if those traits are genetically-linked.”

Literal and literate have the same root, which is embodied in the man on the other end of this call.

      “Fair point, but I suspect that kids with parents who value reading inspire that in their kids, at least to some degree.”

      “On that, I will agree wholeheartedly.  Our home life was positively brimming with books and the dinner hour was often devoted to discussions about them.”

      “There you have it.  Or, at least, part of it.  It’s probably a bit like the Argyle Conundrum in that there are a lot of factors that play a role, but I do think a home that encourages reading has kids that like to read.  What’s your book of the day?”

      “Today I am enjoying some Walter Miller.”

      “A Canticle for Leibowitz?”

      “Yes, actually.  You have heard of it?”

      “Great book… such a great book.  I don’t know why, but every time I catch an episode of Babylon 5, I think of that book.”

Was that an ‘eep?’  It sounded like an eep, but maybe it was a creak of a chair or someone poked a mouse in a delicate and private location.

      “Oh… you enjoy Babylon 5.”

      “Sounds like you do, too.”

      “It… it is a more cerebral program than many of the genre and I found both the story and character arcs most compelling.”

      “Definitely one of the better sci-fi programs out there.  Smart to have a plan for the show, beginning, middle and end, then shut it down when it’s over.  No dragging it on and on when you’d done what you set out to do.  Sort of like a book, it seems.  Some are just done when they’re done and when sequels come out… you have to wonder why, when everything was perfect the way it was!  That’s not always true, of course, because some books aren’t structured like that, I guess, and I’m like any other berk wondering when the author will put down the scotch and push another installment out onto the market, but some… you just don’t fiddle with what’s pure and perfect the way it is.”

__________

As they took turns peeking through the keyhole of Mycroft’s study, Mrs. Hudson and Molly were at a loss as to explain the clearly… social… phone call their Mr. Holmes had made and, further the impressive range of facial expressions he’d been making which, in no manner, made their way into the tone of his voice.

      “What’s he doing now, Mrs. Hudson?”

      “Having heart palpitations, I think.”

      “Is that good?”

      “I… probably not, but I’m not going to step in and see if he’s surviving.  He’s having too much fun!”

      “Being dead’s not fun, though, I suspect.”

      “I’m not sure if his ghost would be much different than he is now, so let’s just keep a good thought and assume he’ll want tea at his normal time and not just because his ghostly self wants to stare at a cup of what he can’t enjoy anymore because he was stupid enough to die on the phone.”

      “Give me a look, then.  Might be the last time I see him alive and they always ask about that when someone dies.  What were they doing and how did they look.  I want to be sure I have something to tell the police, as well as the reporters.  Think if he dies, I should see about having my hair done for the occasion?”

      “Hmmm… you don’t want to appear too stylish or they’ll wonder why, given you’re a maid in the house and not his wife.”

      “Could be his mistress.”

Stepping away from the keyhole so their laughter wouldn’t alert their target to their spying, Mrs. Hudson shook her finger at Molly, but thought, privately, that a proper… whatever the word was for when you had a male mistress… would do Mr. Holmes a world of good.  Poor man needed his plumbing flushed in the worst possible way…

      “Anthea would have your head for that.  All the fuss it’d create in the press.”

      “True, and if my head’s lopped off I would’ve wasted my hair-styling money.  Dad would have my head a second time for that, since he’s solidly opposed to waste.”

      “Let’s ignore that plan, then, and focus on what’s going on in there.”

      “What is going on in there?”

      “I don’t know… but I like it.”

      “I do, too.  He actually smiled.  He detests using a phone and he smiled!”

      “Whatever we do, we cannot ever mention this to him.  He’ll burn the house down to hide any evidence he was enjoying himself.”

      “You’re right.  We’ll have to catch him red-handed.”

      “We will.  Just not tonight.  Let him enjoy his little chat.  If he’s happy with this one, there could be more.”

      “Ooh!  That means more fun for us.”

      “Exactly.  Now, it’s long past time for you get to sleep, Molly dear.  Don’t forget tomorrow is the gardeners and they like an early start.”

      “Mr. Holmes given you his complaint list yet?”

      “No, I’ll get it at some point.  I think he’s been distracted.  I’ll have it by morning, though.”

      “Alright, I’m off then.  Make sure to tell me everything that happens tonight.  If it’s interesting, of course.”

      “I will.  We’ll have a meeting, probably should involve Charles, too, and discuss… the ramifications.”

      “Ramifications… oh, it’s an amazing thing.  Mr. Holmes might want a friend… I never thought I’d see that.”

      “Nobody did, dear.  That’s what makes it especially wonderful.”

__________

      “I… that…”

      “Are you alright?”

      “I believe I might be having heart palpitations.”

      “Is that good?”

      “Generally no, but I do not believe this occurrence shall be lethal.”

      “Lucky you!  And you’re doubly lucky because you can have a nice read and nibble on biscuits, while I… actually, there’s no reason I can’t do that, at least for a couple of hours.  Then I’m going to pass out and die for awhile, but a good book is something everyone should hope to have when they’re preparing to enter the Great Beyond.”

      “Verily, it is so.  Though… oh.  It is nearly time for my second cup of tea.”

      “Then you must act.  Can’t leave something like that waiting.”

      “No, the importance of a thoughtfully-scripted tea schedule cannot be overstated.”

      “And I wouldn’t try.  I’m very glad you phoned, Mycroft.  This has been fun!”

      “It has?”

      “Don’t you think so?”

      “That was not the intent of my call.”

      “Right, the Sock Scenario.  Well, you can address highly critical issues and still enjoy yourself, can’t you?”

      “I… I suppose, yes, that can be the case.”

      “So, the next time you phone with something vital to discuss, at least you’ll know that it won’t be dreary and soul-deadening.”

      “True.  I have far too much of that with my brother, as it is.”

      “Then I’ll look forward to hearing from you again.”

      “Oh… that…”

      “Having another palpitation?”

      “No, the sensation is somewhat different.”

      “Well, I hope it doesn’t interfere with your reading night.  Or your tea, which is patiently waiting for you.”

      “Not yet, for I am six minutes from ringing for it.”

      “Then I’ll bid you goodnight to get on with your ringing and thank you again for phoning.”

      “I… goodnight to you as well, Gregory.  I am… I am glad we had this chance to converse.”

Mycroft hung up his vintage silver and black Art Nouveau rotary phone and smiled softly.  The socks issue had been properly managed and… he had chatted.  He had chatted and in a most genial manner, if he was to act as his own judge.  Gregory was notably entertained by their conversation, which was of stellar quality if, again, his own standards served as the benchmark, and it had proceeded to its natural conclusion with no… strain.  There had been times when he had the distinct feeling the other party on the line was hurrying the discussion to a close, but that had certainly not been the case here.  What a remarkable conversation, by all accounts!

And what a fortuitous thing that was, given… oh, there was no doubt there would be many aspects of this film project that would require his oversight.  Socks was simply the tip of the iceberg!  And that iceberg was wholly as enormous as the one that brought about the Titanic tragedy.  However, had he been in charge, the ship would likely still be afloat though, perhaps, converted into some bizarre tourist attraction or hotel, such as the Queen Mary.  Nevertheless, there would never have been made about it an insipid film where the stupid boy could easily have survived had he simply joined the useless girl on the floating debris.  Even those flamboyant Mythbusters proved that was nonsense and they were Americans, for heaven’s sake!  Well, his film would not require the Mythbuster fellows to debunk any of its claims.  Mycroft Holmes was on the case and his reach was both long and powerful of grip.

Of course, it would be Gregory who did the actual gripping, however, his calves were certainly not the only part of him well-described as beefy.  A man with thick, powerful fingers surely could extend his own personal grip very suitably for the task at hand.  No matter the quantity and diversity of tasks that were presented…

Chapter Text

      “Bugger…”

Greg scowled slightly at his mobile and for two distinct reasons.  One, it was Anderson phoning, so there was likely business to discuss and he was ready to leave business behind for a couple of days and, two, it wasn’t Mycroft.  Not that he expected the writer to phone, but he did in an odd way, given Mycroft’s unexpected sock call.  If a man would phone because of a stray thought about socks, the field for other flights of fancy was wide, deep and full of rabbits.  He hadn’t heard from the man once this week and, honestly, he could have used the breath of fresh air.  Winding up the LA leg of his publicity tour had been murder and, though his frequent bits of sparring and lunacy with Anderson brought a welcome amount of relief, there was something about Mycroft’s completely, nor nearly so, lack of connection to the entertainment industry helped put a different spin on the conversation that was extremely refreshing.

      “What do you want, Anderson?”

      “It’s more what do you want, Greg?  Perhaps… a flight to London?”

      “We’re booked?”

      “We fly out tonight, rather than tomorrow and I have you with four full free days, then a fifth with only a single morning interview so you have the rest of the day free.  Day six sees us striding fully back into hell, but at least you can sleep in your bed every night and have wild monkey sex with the bedbugs and dust bunnies.”

      “I’ve missed them sooooo much.”

Greg’s weepy voice made Anderson smile and give himself a quick pat on the back for negotiating two extra free days for his exhausted client.  Greg had a reputation, a well-deserved one, for being extremely professional and unfailingly hard-working.  It had served him very, very well in the industry, but it definitely exacted a steep price, at times.

      “I’m sure they’ve missed you, too, you perverted pervert.  Oh, and something new for you…”

      “New?”

      “Well, new and… consider it delivered as a note, written in blood, stabbed to your back with a long dagger.”

      “Anthea…”

      “Well deduced!  Apparently, whatever shenanigans you perpetrated with Mycroft Holmes has caused her some degree of burden and she has enacted upon your person an act of dastardly, yet hilarious, revenge.”

Expected… but loins had not been properly girded for the crash of reality onto his shoulders.  The loins were now threatened and crawling into his body cavity for protection.

      “Tell me.  Do it fast.  Rip the plaster off my hairy skin.”

      “You, Greg Lestrade, are now the official spokesperson, and mascot, of the British Mystery Writers Literacy Project.”

      “That… ok, that sounds brilliant, actually.”

      “You say that now.”

      “Oh god, how bad is it?”

      “Well, I already have you booked for several speaking engagements for primary school and library programs, adult learning centers, old people’s book groups, some fundraising events, that sort of thing.  Wear your specs, they actually make you look fairly intelligent.”

The woman was a master of misery.  But, the misery was for a good cause and he had to admit that if his stupid face would draw attention, and funds, to the project it wasn’t the worst use of his time.

      “Wonderful.  Let me guess, Mycroft’s a member of this British Mystery thingummy.”

      “He IS the British Mystery thingummy.  For all intents and purposes, that is.  Apparently, Anthea strongarms other authors into contributing to the yearly grants and awards fund, but he shoulders a lot of it himself.  They handle the actual appearances, though, so that helps.  Now, however, you’re in the stable as an appearance pony, so there’s happiness all around, from what I’ve been told.”

      “Oh, how delightful that sounds.  And I suspect my fee for this is… a number hovering about the vicinity of naught.”

      “Very much in the vicinity, yes.  However, there is usually punch and biscuits available and I can negotiate you a percentage of the snacks table, if you like.  Not too much, though, because we don’t need you fattened like a contented pensioner when you can still muster a sex scene or two on film.”

      “More than one or two, thank you very much.  I’ve still got more fire in the furnace than snow on the roof.”

      “Not much more.  The coal boy hasn’t visited in awhile, and I think you’re starting to sputter out.”

It was funny how many people assumed a star like him would be bedding a new person every night.  As much as he worked, the only thing he bedded every night was his bed.  And it wasn’t even his own most of the time.  He was a bed philanderer and nothing would ever wash that stain from his soul.

      “That’s true, unfortunately.  Maybe London will put a few familiar faces, and bodies, back in my sphere for a quick and dirty coal delivery.”

      “Clean coal’s the rage, now, haven’t you heard.”

      “Fake news.”

      “True, but for the purposes of my sad jest, it works.  We’ll visit one of our familiar coal faces and see what’s available for a touch of fun, what say.”

      “I say that sounds amazing.  Just being home, having a pint in my local, whether I pull anyone or not, sounds… I’m ready to slip back into my as-normal-as-it-can-be life for awhile.  Far more than ready, actually.”

      “Then that’ll be the plan.  I haven’t paid great attention to what’s got the theatre world buzzing, but I’ll gather the possibilities and get tickets if you see something that interests you.”

      “Perfect!  Really, that would be perfect.  I’ve missed that, I’ve missed it a lot.  Just being able to visit the theatre and experience a live performance, even if it’s some tiny fringe thing staged upstairs of some bloody pub.  LA has that but… it’s not the same.”

      “We’ll look over some possibilities on the flight.  So, move your pale and plump arse towards your luggage and start packing, unless you want me to send someone along to do that for you.”

      “No!  I’m not a baby.”

      “Ok, just checking so you don’t whinge about having do all of that hard work yourself.  I’ll text the flight details and have a car ready when it’s time to leave for the airport.”

      “Can we stop for juicy burgers on the way?”

      “We can have a burger stop.”

      “With spicy curly fries?”

      “All you want.”

      “Yes!”

      “Of course, I’m going to change your seat to the cargo compartment, because I am not sitting next to you when your toxic gas begins.”

      “Spicy curly fries don’t give me gas.  But, if we want to stop for one of those enormous bean and cheese burritos from…”

      “NO!  No… you know the rule.  You can only have those when there are no innocent victims within a ten-block radius of your present location.”

      “Don’t smack talk my curly fries, then.”

      “You are a ridiculous man, Greg Lestrade.”

      “That’s why you love me.”

      “And you’re easy to pickpocket when you’re pissed.”

      “Yeah, that does add a lot to my appeal.”

__________

When you flew first class, there was, at the very least, comfortable seats to sleep in when you had to fly for one trillion hours, and alcohol aplenty to make that sleep a bit sounder than it otherwise might be.  It also helped when you had an agent who scarcely slept at all, ever, and made certain that you were awake and shoved in the loo for a quick make-yourself-presentable session before stepping out into public where the inevitable fans and photographers were waiting.  Greg wasn’t sure how they always knew, but they always knew, and inevitably made getting into the waiting car a long and drawn out process.

But, once inside, he could close his eyes once more, though this time it was more to settle into the feel of being home.  Not for a day as a stopover before carrying on to some location shoot, but for a nice long while so his whole being could recharge.  In truth, he loved to travel, loved seeing the world, new people and new things, but he was also something of a homebody who felt most grounded when he was back in England with its own sights and people.

      “Because I am an incredible talent representative, not that your talent is particularly incredible, I had your house stocked with groceries and given a good cleaning, so everything should be ready for you to simply make yourself at home.  Your non-fan mail should be there, too, but I’ll leave the rest for another day after I’ve gone through it and culled the letters asking for semen samples or gifts of semen samples, which is not something anyone should ever have to see, let alone me, but I bear my burden with dignity.”

      “That only happened once.”

      “You say that like once is actually an acceptable number for receiving semen samples in the mail.”

      “Point taken.”

      “So, you should be set for a day of pure nothing unless you want to venture out later but, regardless, I’ll phone tomorrow with news about those theatre tickets and any other gossip I’ve picked up.  I won’t phone early, though, I promise.”

      “Bless you, kind sir.  I really can use the rest.”

      “I know, Greg.  I tried to spread things out for this leg of the publicity tour so that it’s a few more total days, but less to do per day, so you should get some time to yourself most days.  I did get another script cross my path, do you want me to send it along or wait a bit on it?”

      “Wait.  I’ll look at it in a few days, but… just not right now.”

Anderson nodded and looked ahead to the future to when he could schedule his client a real holiday.  A couple of weeks with nothing whatsoever to do but whatever Greg wanted to do.  The man saw pitifully few of those and was overdue for a more extended period of time to remind himself that he had a life besides the one that appeared on the screen.  He might be able to fit something in with a little creativity.  Fortunately, he had that and a little more to spare when it came to safeguarding his friend.

      “Sounds fine.  Oh, and I’m meeting with Anthea tonight about your new appointment or coronation or whatever you’d like to call it to feel important, so I’ll have more details for you about the spokesperson bit, too.  I actually don’t suspect it’ll be too dreadful and, frankly, it’s good to get you associated with more charity work.  Visibly, at least.  People don’t know a quarter of what you do, and I think they should.”

      “Charity isn’t really charity if you’re doing it for good publicity.”

      “You’re not doing it for good publicity, you’re doing it to help people.  The good publicity is just a side benefit.”

      “Pfft.  Now, shut it while I nap.  The traffic looks nasty, so it’ll be a decade until I see my house.  I’d rather spend it sleeping than listening to you.”

      “Fair enough.  Of course, I’ll take some photos of you drooling and sell them to the fan mags for a few extra quid.  These days off are costing me money, you know.”

      “Fine with me.  Want one where I’m belching up the last remnants of my curly fries?”

      “You disgust me.”

      “I’ll take that as a no.”

__________

Home… bed… fridge… telly… everything as it should be.  It was like stepping into comfortable shoes and looking about to find that everything was right in the world.  Now, if he could only stay awake until a reasonable hour, he could try to put himself back on London time and tomorrow could be a successful day.  And, by successful, he meant lazy and pointless.  At best, poke his nose out to grab the newspaper and have a few drinks with Anderson in the evening, but beyond that… arse on sofa, remote in hand, telly keeping him company… pure heaven.

In fact, that could be today, too!  Order pizza, watch a few films, marathon a few programs he’d missed a tragic amount of recently… if his fans knew what he actually did with his free time, they’d be supremely disappointed.  Anderson liked to float stories about parties and galas and the like and that was fine because it was what people expected and it played to the superstar image.  There wasn’t a lot of superstar fodder in a day of pizza, lager and Doctor Who, but there was nothing wrong with a few secrets in his life.  Sometimes it was the only thing that kept him sane…

__________

Hmmm?  What?  No… not his mobile.  Why didn’t he lock the fucking thing in the loo like he told himself to do…

      “Hoozthsandhoozded?”

      “I do apologize, but that is not a language for which I claim fluency.”

      “Fuck.  Starting over… Who is this and who is dead?”

      “Gregory, do you have an acquaintance that is ill?  I… I am terribly sorry for your distress.”

      “Wait… Mycroft?”

      “Yes.”

      “It’s… it’s 3:00 in the morning!”

      “Yes.”

      “Why?”

      “Because that is the system of time we have agreed upon as a society.”

      “Ok, true, bad question.  Why are you phoning me at 3:00 am?”

      “This is time I phoned when last we spoke.”

      “Was it?”

      “Yes.”

      “I was in LA then.”

      “Is that relevant?”

      “Yes, because of the time difference.”

      “Ah.  Is your claim that you are now not in Los Angeles?”

      “That is my claim, yes.  I’m back in London.”

      “Most fortuitous.”

      “Is it?”

      “Yes, since that shall make easier your trip here for Monday.”

      “Trip?  What trip?”

      “The one you will take here on Monday to discuss further the film and your new obligations for my literacy project.”

      “Uhhh… did I miss a memo?”

      “I have not dispatched a memo, no.”

      “Ok… let me put it another way… did we agree that we’d meet on Monday and I simply forgot?”

      “Not that I recall, no, however Anthea noted that you would require some degree of preparation for your new role as the charity’s spokesperson and the film can always benefit from further conversations.  Already I have a list as long as my arm concerning details that must not be ignored in the planning process!”

Anthea.  Little name, big evil.  Mental note:  never try to play the revenge game with Anthea.  The loss is guaranteed, and the penalty for that loss will be devastating.  One simply does not pit the novice against the master…

      “That… that’s probably true.  I just got in, though and only have a couple of days without things I have to do for the studio, so…”

      “Excellent!  Then I am not intruding on your work obligations, which I know you take most seriously.  Anthea shall be here to begin the discussions and appropriate instruction about the charity and I shall make it a point to rise early so that we can maximize the effectiveness of your visit.  Will you wish to stay in the village or shall I instruct Mrs. Hudson to prepare one of the guest rooms for you?”

      “What?”

      “I suspect remaining with us would be far more efficient and, likely, comfortable, but you are free to choose, of course.”

      “Why would I be needing a room?”

      “The train does not depart for London until morning.”

      “I… I could come by car.”

Which implies the coming will occur.  Damn you, Anthea!

      “It seems rather a waste of both time and fossil fuel for you to use personal transportation, though, in truth, it is the option I prefer when I must venture to London.  However, Charles is highly skilled in driving in the most economical manner possible.”

      “I… I…”

      “Perhaps you should cough if there is a morsel of phlegm impairing your speech.”

      “I’m not phlegmy, I’m just…”

      “Excellent news.  I worried for a moment that you might be catching something of the season’s various illnesses.  Pestiferous things, at the best of times, and we have much work ahead of us so I would be most cross with the bacterial legions if they impeded that in the slightest.”

Oh good, Mycroft would thrash the dastardly germs.  That was something, at least.  Not much, but something.  He’d take anything he could get, though, because it may be all the getting he was going to see for this conversation.

      “I don’t suppose we could just discuss things now, could we?  I mean, you’ve already gone to the trouble of phoning…”

      “No, the issues are far too detailed and diagrams may need to become involved, at some point.”

Diagrams.  Who didn’t love a good diagram?

      “Could…”

Could what?  Could this wait?  He’d be hip-deep in publicity again in a few days, then he had to present at a couple of awards ceremonies, there was the biography program that was doing a segment on him that he had to work on… waiting didn’t seem feasible.  Could he say no, he wouldn’t go?  Maybe.  Anthea said to be honest when Mycroft was being unknowingly unreasonable.  That wouldn’t change the fact that Mycroft would be disappointed, though.  And, to be fair, he was trying to make this a good film.  On top of that, he wanted to help his charity.  It wasn’t a command for no purpose but to be a command, but a hope to cooperate on making a couple of important projects the best they could be.  Mycroft simply didn’t view things like time, travel and jet lag the way other people did…

      “… do you think we could start as early as possible?  Your schedule is fine for you, but I have to keep working during standard working-man hours and I’m not young enough anymore to stay awake all night for this reason or that and function well in the morning.”

      “Ah, yes… I somewhat forgot about that.  Yes… yes, I shall make it a point to accommodate your schedule for this visit.  What time of arrival would work best for you?”

Ok… Anthea, evil dragonborn devil woman was right about just being honest.  It may not always be this easy, but Mycroft was willing to compromise if you laid out a problem clearly…

      “I’d say… given it’s about 3:00 now, how about 3:00 on Monday?  In the afternoon, of course.  Is that too early for you?”

      “Hmmmm… I would have to rise at 2:17 pm, however, I have done so, even earlier, when necessary, so I feel I shall be able to manage it.”

      “Good!  Of course, given Anthea will be there, you can also have another few hours and let her handle the early business.”

      “Very true.  Perhaps I shall take an extra hour and arise at 3: 17 pm instead.  I generally require little sleep, but some small measure is necessary for good health.”

      “Very true.  I’ll have my ugly face on the doorstep at three, but you can make your appearance when you feel you’ve had enough sleep to guarantee a healthy day.”

      “That is a very fair bargain.  However, is there a reason you are planning to wear some form of mask?”

      “What?  No. Why would I do that?”

      “You said you would have your ugly face present.  The implication is that you have several and I assumed you were referring to some form of costuming you possessed.”

      “Oh.  No, just a joke.  No masks will be part of our conversation.”

      “Very good, for I do find them rather ridiculous, though taken alone, and not adorning some foolish person’s face, they can be quite the small works of art.  I have a rather ornate few in my collection, actually.”

      “Let me remember… The Masque of Death’s Disciples?”

      “Bravo, Gregory!  Yes, they were highly inspiring during the writing of that book.”

      “An actor’s memory is one of his most valuable tools.”

      “A most sensical statement.  Shall I notify Mrs. Hudson to prepare a room for your stay?  It really is no trouble as we have far more in the house than the number of people who occupy it.”

He could say no but… why?  Stay the night in the murder mansion, have some of Mrs. Hudson’s good food, learn more about the character he was going to play and the man who created him.  Who could say no to that?  Well, maybe an exhausted old man who needs a day or two of complete lethargy as desperately as he needed food and water, but… hey, he needed to diet anyway, so cutting back on lethargy would just be another part of his reducing plan.

      “That sounds great and I’ll thank you now for your hospitality.”

      “You are very welcome.  And… I am glad that we shall, again, have a chance to converse about matters of common interest.”

      “I am, too.  Maybe, if we have time, we can watch a film.  One of those old ones that make you wonder why they don’t make them like that anymore.”

      “I…”

      “Yeah?”

      “I would very much enjoy that.”

      “Then we’ll see if we can make that happen.  Is there anything else you need right now or can I say goodnight and snatch a few more hours of sleep?”

      “Hmmm… I cannot think of anything sufficiently pressing that it would require our immediate discussion.”

      “Then I’m cleared for sleep?”

      “Yes, I see no reason to believe otherwise.”

      “Then, I bid you goodnight, Mycroft, and will see you on Monday.”

      “I bid you, also, goodnight, Gregory, and will see you at an early hour on Monday.”

Greg listened to the silence of the terminated call for a moment, then laughed softly before placing his mobile within reach in case Mycroft remembered something and didn’t think twice about phoning again.  He had nothing on his schedule tomorrow, so he could sleep late and erase this little bit of being half-awake.  Besides, having a chat with Mycroft was more fun than his normal get up to piss while half-awake, so his night was already on a winning streak.  That was nice… who didn’t want a winning sleep?  Only a dimwitted bumbler and that certainly wasn’t him.  Usually.  When he had a normal night’s sleep, that is.

Oh well, better get used to the non-normal for awhile.  Nothing about this project was going to be particularly normal, he suspected, and Greg Lestrade’s suspicions were to be taken seriously.  Very seriously, indeed.  Unless he was drunk.  Then they should be wholly ignored and, kindly, never spoken of again. By anyone.  And all photos burned, with the ashes buried deep in the secret-safe earth…

__________

Monday.  How… fun…  Oh dear, invoke any form of amusement and the Dark Reaper of Joy appears to enact punishment.

      “Who could you possibly be phoning at this hour, Fatcroft?  Actually, who could you be phoning, at all?  You know no one besides the individuals currently in this house and your rabid agent and, further, you hate phoning anyone on that already-abbreviated list.”

      “Au contraire, brother dear.  I have some small collection of acquaintances that I occasionally must phone, so your thesis is neatly refuted.”

      “You phoned for the Speaking Clock, didn’t you?  It seems a suitably archaic act on your part.”

      “Another thesis is ground into the dust, I’m afraid.  For your information, I phoned Gregory to… issue an invitation to visit on Monday.”

      “Incorrect.”

      “Very correct.”

      “You… do not invite.”

      “Yet, that is what transpired.”

Though do ignore the rather giddy pride I am taking from the fact, for it is unquestionably an unseemly, though highly merited, thing.

      “Given you have absolutely no sense of humor, I assume this is not a jest, however… have you succumbed to some form of middle-aged endocrine shift and purchased a male prostitute?”

      “Certainly not.  What an appalling suggestion.”

      “Then who is this Graham person.”

      “His name, as you are well are, is Gregory, and he is the person who is going to portray Diogenes Bell in the upcoming film of my novel.”

      “I have heard nothing of this.”

      “You have heard a wealth of details about it; your refusal to acknowledge said wealth of details does not negate that fact.”

      “Pfft.  In any case, I have little doubt anyone inveigled into participating in this project is on the lowest rung of the ladder for what passes for acting talent in the film industry.”

      “I suspect you… well, to be fair, you certainly would not enjoy Gregory’s films and, frankly, they are not precisely to my taste either, but he shall do a highly commendable job with the role, nonetheless.  We are working as a team, preparing him for the part and ensuring all elements of the film meet my standards.”

      “Now, I know you are lying.  You would immediately dissolve into a putrid mass of fat and gristle if you even thought about interacting with another person in anything approaching… teamwork.”

      “Well… won’t you be surprised when Gregory presents himself at 3:00 pm on Monday.”

      “That assumes I shall be here to witness your downfall.”

      “Now that the gauntlet has been thrown down, Sherlock, are you saying you shall leave it where it lies, to mock you ceaselessly in an ever-louder voice?  Your personal Tell-Tale Heart?”

Oh, how you quiver in agony, brother dear, as you try to draw your leg from my sharp-toothed trap, yet you shall not prevail…

      “For your information, not that it is any of your business, but John said just tonight that he hoped for several more days here so that he could further explore the wilds and relax in the peace and quiet.  We are here until Tuesday, at the very least.”

      “Then our plans coincide most tidily.  Do run along and inform John of his desire to enjoy my hospitality for a few extra days and I shall return to my work.”

Sherlock pout was precisely as adorable as it had been when he was a toddler, but this new coat he had found truly added a sense of drama to his storming out of a room.  Why he was wearing the coat indoors at this time of day, only Sherlock knew, but to each his own.  What he had to do now was ring for Mrs. Hudson before Sherlock could pry any further details out of her and request that she remain mum on the subject of Gregory, as well as instruct the rest of the staff to do the same.  Sherlock would know they were holding information from him, of course, but he would have no idea of the exact reason.  His brother’s level of agitation and curiosity would be staggering and that would certainly keep him busy and out of a certain long-suffering writer’s hair.

And, on Monday, he would have the immeasurable joy of giving Sherlock a hearty, though proverbial, slap with the aforementioned gauntlet.  Already his phone call to Gregory was paying dividends!  Perhaps he should consider doing that more often…

Chapter Text

Well, that was a better train trip than his first to the land of the lost.  He was actually awake, not as jet-lagged and had brought his own coffee to keep his energy up so that he could do a better job of not appearing a berk when he knocked on Mycroft’s door.  There was only so much you could ask of your guardian angel and he’d used up a large portion of his lifetime quota avoiding being shot in the face by Molly’s impressive shotgun.  Given he planned on living a good deal longer, banking some good karma was always a prudent strategy.

And, now… time for a wait.  That was the one thing about train travel – you had a limited choice of arrival times and the other option for landing in Brigadoon would have put him too close to the 3:00 pm mark to make it feasible, since it was fairly certain tardiness would take a sizable red pen to his banked karma ledger to start striking things off the list.

Therefore, time to a kill a nice hour of time before the hundred-year putter in whatever car-for-hire was available and that hour would be very agreeably murdered in his familiar pub, where he could have a bite of lunch, a few hearty pints and gather his own thoughts about today’s business - Mycroft’s arm-long list of ‘details’ and this new role for the charity.  Anderson had refined the parameters of the latter with Anthea and, ultimately, it didn’t sound like it would take much of his time.  A few additional interviews and adverts for the print and non-print media.  The occasional speech or Q&A at this or that event… nothing that he hadn’t done before and for far-lesser causes.

Definitely looking forward to that first pint, though…

      “It’s Mr. Errol Flynn!  Couldn’t stay away from our tidy little village, Captain Blood?  Or was your eye turned by one of our lovely ladies, like Doris there?”

Who was 75 years old and well-remembered by Greg’s bottom for her knitting-strengthened fingers.  Which looked very ready for another little feel of his manly bum and whatever else he was sporting for manly goods under his neutral-toned, not-too-fussy set of clothes.

      “It was actually your fine lager, good sir, no offense to the buxom and beautiful Ms. Doris.  I’ve been missing it terribly.  How about a pint of that and whatever the kitchen has going that’s especially filling for a man desperately in need of a late lunch?”

      “That can certainly be arranged. Have a seat and Ginnie will take of you.”

Ah, the fair Ginnie, who had made his first visit here so very memorable.  And had made him sign – To Virginia with deepest and sexiest love, Greg Lestrade - on the cover of the film mag she’d brought to The Great Signing Session on the day he departed.  He had to admire someone with a bold spirit and, further, someone who didn’t take shit from anyone, even someone promising deep, sexy love in nearly-illegible handwriting.

      “Hello, Ginnie, you lovely thing.”

      “That’s sexist.”

      “Hello, Ginnie, you hard-working asset to this fine establishment.”

      “Better.  One pint of lager for you and… this.”

Greg stared at the envelope set on the table near his pint and opened his mouth to ask about it before realizing he was alone again.  Alright… putting detective skills to work.  The paper wasn’t that bluish-white you saw for the type of envelope you bought in a package of fifty.  And it wasn’t that strange buttery-cream that some people bought to try and look like they weren’t the sort to buy the package of fifty envelopes.  It was more… linen colored.  And… oh, this was heavy.  Consequentially heavy, in point of fact.  Not thick, so much, but as if the paper was particularly dense.  This was the sort of thing you bought at expensive shops or ordered specially made just for you.  No scent except for the smell of good paper, which was nice, because good paper smelled nice on its own and there was little worse than handling a perfumed envelope that left your fingers smelling of flowers or whatnot for the rest of the day.

No writing on the front or seal or such on the back, but it had been closed by tucking in the flap and not by licking the gummed portion.  Which… didn’t actually exist.  No licky section at all.  Ok… could be the sort of envelope that was never meant to go into the actual post or the person who commissioned its creation specified they didn’t want a licky section to be added.  Because, possibly, licking an envelope flat was a horrifying concept and the staff that had been asked to do it told this person to bugger off.  Hello, Mycroft…

Pulling the paper from the envelope, which was exactly as exquisite as the envelope itself, Greg smiled at the handwriting, which was more exquisite still and worlds beyond what his own chicken-scratching-for-grain scribbling could ever muster, to his mum’s eternal shame.

My dear Gregory,

I anticipate you will arrive on the 1:25 pm train and that you will seek out a soothing location to restore yourself after your ordeal.  I have instructed the owner of the pub to extend to you all possible courtesy and to dispatch his son, young Timothy, to obtain a portion of Mrs. Harris’s delightful Victoria sandwich cake to tempt your palette after what I expect will be a rather substantial meal.  Mrs. Hudson believes her Victoria sandwich to be superior, however, I have pointed out many times that Mrs. Harris spreads the jam with a spoon, as opposed to a knife or spatula-like device, and the difference is both discernable and superior.

I look forward to your arrival later today and expect we shall have a most scintillating discussion about our mutual projects.

Regards,

Mycroft Holmes

This letter was right up there on the adorable scale with those he received from his younger fans and the older ones who were almost scandalized they were doing something as ridiculous as mailing a letter to an actor.  Jam… there was actually no chance that Mycroft hadn’t had two of those cakes in front of him at some point, detailing to Mrs. Hudson the essential elements of his jam position, and, also, that he could detect how jam had been spread on a Victoria sandwich.

And, of course, it would never occur to Mycroft to simply say to come straight to the house, since it would violate their 3:00 pm agreement, but… that was ok.  An excellent meal, what was surely a delicious morsel of cake, a pint or two and a pub where people weren’t paying him any more attention than they would anybody else who wandered in off the street.  Heaven.  He was in heaven.  His own local in London was a small slice of heaven, usually, but there was always a new face now and again that tweeted about seeing him there and he’d have to give up his traditional pint-with-a-match for awhile until things calmed down.  The pub didn’t mind, because they certainly got a revenue boost, but… oh well, more prices he had to pay and, in the grand scheme, it was a small one.  What dear Ginnie was bringing towards his table, though, could not be described by the term small no matter how ironic you were trying to be.

      “Hope you’re hungry.”

That was the most enormous pie he’d ever seen.  A family of four could live in this pie and have room for their dog and budgie.  But, dear god, it smelled amazing…

      “I’m not scared.  I’ve got a hollow leg.”

      “Save room in your toe for your special treat, then.  Mr. Holmes would be very upset if you didn’t eat every bite.”

      “You’d tell him, too, wouldn’t you, Traitor Ginnie?”

      “In a microsecond.”

Greg used the scowl he practiced for the too-many movies that required him to use a ferocious, but sexy, scowl and credited his adversary with an Anthea-worthy waving off of his nonsense as she took his empty pint to trade for a much-welcome sequel.  All in all, he was terribly happy these people were watching Mycroft’s back.  He had no idea how much bother authors endured when they simply tried to live their lives, but Mycroft would detest even the slightest bother and what the village, and Mycroft’s staff, did to keep that to the barest minimum was to be applauded.  That he got a few crumbs of that benefit was nothing to ignore, either.  This pie was amazing…

_____________

      “Ah, Mr. Lestrade.”

Greg looked up at the familiar voice and hoped there wasn’t cream and jam on his face as he smiled at the newly-arrived chauffer.

      “Running a few errands, Charles?”

      “One could say that, sir.  I was dispatched to collect a certain item for which Mr. Holmes has been waiting with some anxiousness.”

      “Oh, what do they call them… galley proofs for a new book?”

      “No, something a touch heavier and… fleshier than your guess.”

Maybe eating all the pie was a mistake.  Or every last delicious crumb of the cake.  And that third pint.  Heavier and fleshier isn’t what Greg Lestrade wanted carved on his tombstone…

      “Message received.  And thank you for it!  Nice not to have to hire a car.”

      “Mr. Holmes thought it improper since he had extended the invitation.  And I am well aware of what is available to hire and the subsequent assault on the posterior of the poor devils damned to the driver’s seat.”

Charles was a god among men.

      “Yeah, I was going to see if there was a cushion to purchase.  The road is nigh on diabolical.”

      “The sheep and badgers seem to appreciate it.”

      “I’m happy for them.  So… time to go?”

      “Yes, sir.  It would not do to be late.”

      “No, no it would not.”

Tossing money on the table and adding a little extra for the aspiring-Anthea who’d tended to him with exceptional professionalism and zero nonsense-tolerance, Greg rose, wiped any trace of cake off of his face and smiled at Charles to get the walk to the car started.  And what a nice car it was.  Large, dark and heavy, which was perfect for comfort across the string of divots and bumps that served as the road to Mycroft’s house.  But, he did have to ask…

      “Tell me this isn’t the only car Mycroft owns.”

      “Oh no… this is the more sedate of our small stable of vehicles.  Mr. Holmes’s tastes are not confined to furnishings and draperies.  Much to my personal delight.”

      “Yes!  I knew there had to be something amazing waiting for those times he’s feeling a little dramatic.”

Or extremely dramatic, which Greg suspected and Charles knew for certain.  But, there was absolutely nothing wrong with that.  A little drama was good for the soul… and a lot of drama could be a great deal of fun…

__________

      “Uh… Charles?”

      ‘Yes, sir?”

      “Where are we going?”

      “To deposit you at Mr. Holmes’s doorstep.”

      “But… why’d you turn when the way to his house was straight on the road we were traveling?”

      “To intersect with a wormhole?”

      “No.”

      “Tesseract?”

      “False.”

      “Ummmm…”

      “Fuck me!  There’s a real road out there, isn’t there?”

      “Must I confess?”

      “Yes, you miserable bastard.”

      “There is a real road, though it, technically, is private and one must have the landowner’s permission to traverse it.”

      “Might this landowner’s initials be MH?”

      “I am somewhat poor with my knowledge of letters, sir.”

      “You and every person in that village is a villain.  A fucking legion of villains and I hope you all get hemorrhoids.”

      “What brutal man you are, sir.  Consider the poor infants!  First, nappy rash and now engorged anal vessels.  Their poor tender bottoms…”

      “I hate you.”

      “Hate lies on other side of the coin which also harbors love, so I am content.”

      “Go write a poem.”

      “Very well… there once was an actor with hemorrhoids, who loathed babies and small shiny androids…”

      “The hate, it burns!”

      “Nappy rash cream should help with that, sir.  I’ll see if we have a tube knocking about.”

__________

Charles’s placid smile as he opened the door to allow Greg to exit the car earned him a gesture Greg generally reserved for Anderson at his most bastardy and it wasn’t surprising, in Greg’s opinion that he received the same rolled-eye response that his agent gave when he was the victim of the Fingers of Vulgarity.  His life was marked by the paying of prices and, now, he was paying the price for his wish to be treated like a normal bloke finally coming true.  Yeah, it was something he could manage on his wage…

However… leaping back into the not-normal bloke territory… why was there a receiving line waiting for him once Molly answered the door?

      “Gregory!  I am glad to have you, again, in my home.”

      “Mycroft… thank you. And awake to greet me, which I appreciate.  I really didn’t need a reception, though.  And… is something wrong with that chap in the middle?”

Because he was beginning to hyperventilate and looked like he was moments from passing out.

      “John?  Oh, dear me.  He does look dreadful.  Sherlock, tend to your… person.”

Something Sherlock was just noticing and feeling no small amount of aggravation that he hadn’t been the first to notice.  How could he, though?  Mycroft had a visitor!  His boring, tedious brother knew a person who would accept an invitation to this mausoleum to willingly wallow in the tedium!  The obviously-addled man wasn’t even over the age of eighty, either, which he had considered might be a possibility, because only an octogenarian would find his brother an acceptable conversation partner.  A deaf octogenarian, at that.  However, there were other matters, currently, vying for his attention…

      “John!  You are disgracing yourself.  Unless you are suffering an anaphylactic reaction, in which case, blink three times so we know to phone for an ambulance.”

      “Gr… Gre… oh my god… it’s you!  Do you know who you are!”

Greg looked behind him quickly in case someone had walked in unnoticed, then fell back into his standard mindset for managing a highly-excited fan.

      “That I do, and I’m honored that you do, too.”

      “It is you!  It’s Greg Lestrade!  Sherlock, it’s Greg Lestrade!  Mycroft!  Why didn’t you say you knew Greg Lestrade!  Greg Lestrade!  It’s him!”

Mycroft and Sherlock studied John like he was some form of bird that hops and peeps incessantly for no apparent reason, but, to Greg, this was nothing short of extremely familiar.

      “Absolutely.  I’m glad you know my work.”

      “I’ve seen ALL your films!”

      “I’ve got a new one opening soon; I hope I’ll have your support for that one, too.”

      “I’ve read all the articles in the film magazines and caught your interviews on the telly and…”

Sherlock dragged John to the cloak closet off the entrance, opened it, shoved John inside and quickly closed it, locking it with a key that was helpfully placed atop the doorframe.

      “Sherlock!  My outerwear is in there!  John could… don it!”

Greg suddenly felt the pieces fall into place.  Sherlock was Mycroft’s baby brother… baby being the operative word.  The extra-satisfied grin on the young berk’s face said he knew that John character wouldn’t be the only one in a tizzy over his ridiculousness.

      “You can burn it and buy new, Fatcroft!  You!  Who are you and what have you done to John!”

Again, Greg looked behind him for a new arrival, this time completely ignoring Mrs. Hudson and Molly’s giggles, and took a steadying breath before replying.  Though not to the dark-haired lunatic pointing at him as if ‘J’accuse!’ was on the very tip of his tongue.

      “Mycroft, if you’d care to tell me what’s going on, I’d really appreciate it.”

Greg had to ask the question another two times to pull Mycroft’s attention from the cloak closet crisis and wasn’t surprised the attention he gained wasn’t near Mycroft’s full reservoir.

      “Yes, I do apologize.  This is Sherlock, my brother, who, as you can see is… Sherlock do go and release John.  He… he must be terribly unnerved by this.”

      “No.”

Sherlock’s ‘no’ won him a swat on the back of his head from Mrs. Hudson who used his reach upward to soothe the impact site to pick his pocket for the key.

      “You’re an evil boy, Sherlock Holmes, and see now if you have even a bite of lemon tarte later for lunch.  Not that you’ll have any teeth in your mouth to chew the crust, since Doctor Watson is going to give you the treatment you deserve for being rotten.”

      “John cannot reach as high as my mouth.”

      “Evil!  And that door’s not so thick he probably didn’t hear that.”

The ‘oops’ look on Sherlock’s face made Greg laugh and he felt far more confident about the situation than he did a moment ago.  These dynamics were well within his comfort zone…

      “Mycroft?  I wager John is too busy thinking about how to murder your brother to even consider modeling your coats and whatnot.”

      “I… perhaps.”

Greg turned to Mrs. Hudson, shared an understanding smile, and motioned for her to give him the key, which he quickly used to free the imprisoned doctor.

      “Sherlock!  You sodding…”

Quick as a flash, Greg spun John to face his direction and favored him with his most no-nonsense glare.

      “Did you, John, try on any of Mycroft’s clothes?”

      “Wh… what?  No!  No, I didn’t even think… why would I do something like that?”

      “Mycroft?  Good enough for you?”

John had known the older Holmes brother for only a short time, but his work put him in contact with a wide variety of people and had given him a leg up on understanding the man who was starting to nod solemnly as if a matter of grave importance had just been settled.

      “Yes… yes, I have confidence in John’s declaration.”

      “Excellent!  Thank you, John, for properly respecting Mycroft’s coats and being a more mature bugger than that one over there who is the only one in this room who deserved getting a smack from Mrs. Hudson.”

Apparently, to John, his ultimate, all-time favorite film star also understood the older Holmes and was willing to step in when Mycroft was feeling uncomfortable about something.  That was… whatever the hell it was who really knew and he didn’t care right now because Greg Lestrade had touched him!  Ok… time not to look like a loony teenager and remember he was a respectable Army doctor and consulting detective’s assistant.  The warmth of that man’s touch did linger, though… it must be part of his special star appeal…

      “Um…. thank you… Mr. Lestrade.”

      “Please, call me Greg.”

Tossing his newly-remembered respectability to the wind by looking as giddy as a schoolgirl, John grinned widely and then turned it into a scowl after Sherlock’s rude noise intruded on his joy.

      “Oh, you’re going to pay for that, you bastard.”

Giddy schoolgirls could manage a highly practiced rage grin when they felt the urge and the urge, now, was a mighty one.

      “You cannot… oh dear.”

As John bore down on Sherlock, Sherlock did something surprisingly smart and ran, which took a turn for the frantic as John gave chase, with the intent to trounce shining brightly in his eyes.  For his part, Greg nodded and considered that matter properly settled.

      “Well… good to see you, Mycroft.  I see you have the family in for a visit.”

Mycroft blinked a bit in surprise at Greg’s casual tone, but rewarded the actor a bounty of congratulations for correctly ignoring Sherlock’s nonsense and getting on with matters at hand.  What a delightful visit this was and it had only just begun!

      “Yes, they were scheduled to leave earlier, but Sherlock doubted your existence and required proof of your mortal state.”

Little brother wanted to stay and play the monkey when big brother had someone over for a visit.  This family might be a bit different than the norm, but the basic familial truths were there, all the same.

      “Oh, interesting.  Well, I am alive and very happy to be out here again.  Anthea arrived yet?”

      “Yes, she is in my study readying certain materials for you to examine.”

      “Then we’d best get started.  Ladies, it’s good to see you, as well.”

Molly and Mrs. Hudson gave Greg a ‘you watch yourself, actor’ pair of narrowed eyes, which softened after Greg cleared his throat and turned back towards Mycroft.  It wouldn’t do to let Mr. Rich and Famous get too comfortable just yet.  Or ever.  Even Mr. Holmes knew who was in charge of the house and Mr. Lestrade had best learn that fact and learn it well.  Though… didn’t he get along marvelously with their Mr. Holmes…

      “So, Mycroft… shall we?”

      “Shall we what?”

      “Go and see what Anthea has ready for me.”

      “Excellent suggestion!  Mrs. Hudson, perhaps some tea?”

It wasn’t necessary for Mrs. Hudson to make a show of giving the idea some thought, but if Sherlock could be dramatic today, so could she.

      “Good idea.  I need a large mug of the stuff right now to keep my eyes open.  A lady needs her sleep, you know, and waking at the crack of creation isn’t recommended to help with that.”

      “Then do prepare sufficient for yourself, as well.  And make it, as they say, the strong stuff.”

Waking just shy of 3:00 pm and needing a hearty caffeine fix.  Greg couldn’t say he hadn’t had days like that when he was younger but, to be fair, he also had a hangover tearing at him and the thought of strychnine was on par with caffeine as a method of making life seem a little better.

      “Gregory, shall we?”

      “Shall we what?”

      “I… I thought we were joining Anthea in my study?”

      “Just a tiny joke, on my part.”

      “Yes, it was not a terribly robust one, I must admit.”

Don’t change, Mr. Holmes.  Honestly, the world needs unique people and you certainly fit the bill.

      “And I concur.  Start walking and do not ask me where.”

      “Drat.  My witty rejoinder dies a quick and unremarked death.”

Greg burst out laughing and Mycroft startled when the actor made a deep, elaborate bow.

      “I submit to the master of jests.”

Mycroft’s proud smile earned him another bow, instead of the rude gesture or punch on the arm Greg might have given someone else, as they started moving towards the study.  It appeared Mycroft Holmes inherited all the humor in the family; maybe that was why his little brother seemed a sour sort.  Of course, one couldn’t form a real opinion after so short an encounter.  Locking another person in a closet had to be factored in, though.  Frankly, that could count for either the humor or sour side of the scales.  A good detective always collected a thorough amount of clues before forming a conclusion, so he’d keep his eyes open for more evidence.

And, oh yes… forgot the little brother was an actual detective.  This visit was absolutely worth the loss of his do-nothing day.   Definitely a point to you, Mycroft Holmes.  You’re making this journey to the Village of the Damned something Greg Lestrade, actor just-short-of-extraordinaire, might start looking forward to a bit more than expected…

Chapter Text

      “I do want to thank you for coming today, Gregory.  Your trousers are most placid.”

To Greg’s mind, there was really no way to ask what the fuck that meant and have it sound polite, so the rolling along paradigm would not be amended.

      “They are at that.  And I should thank you for inviting me.  And for wanting me as the spokesperson for your charity.  That’s a tremendous honor and I’m grateful you see me as a worthy representative for your good work.”

Oh, that made you happy, didn’t it, Mr. Holmes?  Greg Lestrade is a professional recognizer of the shy, pleased smile and couldn’t have missed yours if my eyes were closed.

      “That is… I am glad to know you are content with the offer.  I do take seriously the cause of literacy and, though more intellectual individuals will surely be unaware of your status in popular entertainment, those most in need of the charity’s services shall surely recognize you and that has been proven to make a positive impact on the message of a cause.”

That was the nicest insult Greg had ever received.

      “That’s going to be my goal.  Getting the message out and making it as positive as a message can be.  Especially for those little tykes.  I was never much for school, but I loved to read, and I honestly believe it’s what helped me get as far as I did in life and, frankly, enabled me to appreciate that life a lot more than I might have otherwise.”

Mycroft nodded knowingly and was struck again by how greatly he had underestimated this man.

      “What reading can do for a young mind and soul…  Books were a haven for me, in some ways, in my youth.  No matter what else might be occurring, there was always a grand adventure and world filled with bold promise awaiting in a favorite book.  Or, a delicious puzzle to contemplate.  Perhaps a ghostly bit of fun to send the thrill of terror down my spine.”

Mycroft looked so gleeful at the thought of reading that Greg revised his mental image to include a large pile of well-thumbed horror and science fiction novels next to the Mills & Boons under Mycroft’s bed.   Which, he was now starting to believe was one of those enormous four-poster monsters with curtains on all sides so Mycroft could block out the rest of the world and live in his own self-made one while enjoying his grand adventure or spooky tale of terror.

      “It’s definitely easy to lose yourself in a good book.  More people need to have that experience, really get to enjoy the way books stimulate mind in ways films and the telly simply can’t.  This is going to be a good thing, Mycroft, I absolutely believe that.  I was a bit startled, at first, since there’s normally a good bit of negotiation and preliminary talks beforehand, but the more I thought about it, the more I loved the idea.  And I’m sure you’ll be right on top of checking that things are done right and I present the proper image.”

      “Yes, not a detail shall be left unaddressed.  I take such undertakings most seriously.”

That you do, Mr. Holmes.  Well, before we enter what I suspect is your study, let’s have a test, shall we?

      “Ok, then… give me a serious addressing of these.”

Mycroft’s puzzled look evaporated when Greg lifted his trouser leg to put his socks on display, something that drew Mycroft downwards to examine more carefully.

      “Hmmmm… you present me with an intriguing option.”

A rich, chocolate brown with a small, cream paisley pattern that had Mycroft’s brain at war with itself over whether it was subtly garish or tastefully chaotic, which, in essence, had been Greg’s fiendish plan all along.

      “I thought I’d throw out a test trial to start working out the parameters of sock acceptability.”

      “And a devilish trial is it.  Bravo, Gregory.  I am generally most quick to judge such things, but I am feeling genuinely confounded at the moment.”

      “The best way to test parameters!  Don’t bother with easy questions, go right for the hard ones that challenge you and do it mercilessly.  Push you right to the edge of the precipice.”

Not that paisley was, for most people, a precipice-pusher, but Greg had been certain Mycroft would find it a daunting proposition.

      “Very, very challenging indeed…”

      “Oh my god, what are you two doing out here?”

Oops.  The War God Anthea had arrived and looked ready to get Armageddon started.

      “This is serious socks business, ma’am.  Step back, please, we don’t want innocent bystanders, or you, swept up by the melee.”

Mycroft’s tiny snort of laughter only bought Greg an over-Mycroft-head rude gesture from Anthea, as opposed to a heartier response to his silliness.  Which would still have been a rude gesture, but one of those she saved for special occasions like cheeky actors or their agents.  It was rare for her client to enjoy time spent with another person, let alone enjoy it enough to actually laugh… and nothing would be said that Mycroft was busily inspecting the man’s socks… so the sword of her wrath, for now, would remain sheathed.

      “I’ll melee you both good and hard if you keep wasting my time with your hosiery fetishes.  We have work to do and… Mr. Holmes, can you stop fondling Mr. Lestrade’s ankle long enough to listen to me?”

      “I am merely taking a measurement, imprecise, I concede, of Gregory’s medial malleolus to evaluate its proportion with respect to the pattern.  I suspect that is a highly vital metric for my analysis.”

      “This is your fault, actor boy, and every minute of my time where I’m not enjoying one of Charles’s excellent vodka martinis is one minute you’re going to be appearing as the guest judge for the village’s annual pet parade.”

      “That won’t work on me!  I love animals.”

      “Part of the parade involves costumes.”

      “Pets are amazing in fancy dress.”

      “I didn’t say anything about the pets.   Judges get especially striking ones.  What little of them there is to be striking, that is.  But, you don’t mind being half-naked on screen, so I suspect a leather thong and cape won’t be too much of an embarrassment, even with a cat in your arms and a parrot on your shoulder.”

      “You are so lying.”

      “How certain of that are you?”

Not enough.

      “Mycroft, how about we give Anthea our attention for a bit, what say?  If you like, I’ll put my leg up so you can get a measuring tape or something for more precise measurements once we’re done with business.”

      “Ah, a worthy suggestion. I am never an advocate for inexactness in the decision-making process.”

      “Never a good thing, I agree.”

Mycroft took a few more moments to visually inspect Greg’s sock before rising and following Anthea into his study, where a variety of papers were strewn across his desk, necessitating an immediate reorganization by the desk owner while Greg took a seat and got a look around the room.  Which was as much a library as it was a study and occupied not only space on the ground floor but rose up through the next floor, as well, with a walkway circling the space that expanded into what appeared to be a small reading space adjacent to the upper bank of windows.  Walls on both levels were lined with built-in bookcases except for one on the ground level which housed an enormous, gothic-horror fireplace.  He was now officially in love with this room.  There was lust involved, too.  More of it than he’d like to admit.

      “There… much better.  Oh, and Molly has refilled my boiled sweets!  How felicitous.  Gregory, might I offer you an aniseed ball or, perhaps, a humbug?”

He was in the car with his Gran!  Yes, the particular scent of her favorite handbag, with its seemingly unlimited, and charmingly arcane, assortment of sweets and sewing notions, was gently perfuming the air.

      “Absolutely, but could I have it after our tea?  I’d hate to not have a fresh palette to enjoy a cup of Mrs. Hudson’s finest.”

      “A stellar suggestion.  The aniseed balls might pose a particular problem as I, for one, do enjoy a long, leisurely suck of a flavorful ball.”

Greg’s quickly-cut eyes towards Anthea confirmed that not only did her client have no clue what he just said, the process of explaining it would cripple them both.

      “Then I’ll look forward to indulging later.  So, let’s take a look at all of this!  Anthea, want to start walking me though things?”

Which Anthea happily did, with Mycroft’s frequent interjections providing a healthy mix of clarity and confusion that only ground to a gradual halt when the last items of business had been completed.

      “The both of you have filled my tiny brain to capacity.  I’m glad we had the chance to go over all of this, too, because it’ll help when Anderson and I talk about my appearance and publicity schedule.  Looks great, though!  And, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.  Talking about reading and books with loads of different people, especially the little ones… yeah, I’m both thrilled and honored to be part of this.”

Anthea wondered when she’d last seen her client look so comfortable in a meeting with someone present besides her and credited the actor with having the right instincts for reaching Mycroft on a personal level.  If you didn’t have them from the onset, you could gain them, but that required time and most people who lacked the proper insights didn’t particularly want to invest the time to build their portfolio.

      “Excellent!  I am, also, most enthused for what I envision as a rejuvenation of this project.  It is a successful endeavor, to be certain, but I am confident your contribution will promote an admirable level of growth.”

Deciding that a business acquaintance was one thing, but an actual acquaintance or, better yet, friend would do her client a world… no, a galaxy… of good, Anthea cleared her throat and tried not to smile in something other than a clearly scheming fashion.

      “Alright, I’m done here, for now.  Since there’s still some daylight holding firm, why don’t you, Mycroft, take Greg for a stroll outdoors so he can see the grounds and some of your favorite bits.  It’s not often someone gets a tour of them when they can actually see what you’re pointing out and not have to take your word for it.”

      “Oh, what a delightful suggestion.  Gregory, would you care for a tour of the property?  There are features I suspect will pique your interest.”

      “I’d love it!  Bring along a few balls to suck, while we’re at it?”

Anthea’s lips puckered tightly to prevent any response, especially after seeing Mycroft’s excited smile.

      “The very thing!  Anthea, if you will inform Mrs. Hudson that I have taken Gregory for a small tour and any efforts to prevent Sherlock’s rampaging will be most appreciated.”

      “I’ll tell her, but I suspect Doctor Watson probably broke both of his legs, so rampaging might be off his list of activities for a few weeks.”

      We can but hope.  Gregory, shall we?”

Anthea made her exit to find Mrs. Hudson, while Greg politely waited for Mycroft’s careful counting out of sweets and lining them up in a perfect queue, before carefully folding the still-perfect queue in a piece of paper to take with them on their walk.

      “Want to use the window again or the door this time?”

      “I was rather roguish the first time we met, was I not?”

The fact that Mycroft meant every word of that was like a small puppy cozily napping in the bed of Greg’s heart.  It was just so cute

      “I was mightily impressed.  So, window?”

      “The sill has not been dusted today.”

      “A critical factor?”

      “Quite.”

      “The door it is!  Do you have a door that’ll take me through a part of the house I haven’t seen yet?”

      “Yes.”

      “How about we use that one as our bit of roguish thrill?  Something new and exciting, at least for me?”

Look at your eyes shine, Mycroft Holmes.  The puppy was now awake and chewing on it’s toy.  There’s only so much cute one man could take and Mycroft was sending his cuteometer straight to the red zone.

      “I know the perfect one!  It leads to a small side garden and was, ostensibly, the door by which the former lady of the house greeted her lover before they darted up the back stairs to her bedchamber.”

      “Scandalously roguish!  And a garden, you say?  Any stories that go with it?”

      “Oh, most certainly.”

Hopping up, Greg strode somewhat theatrically to the study door and waited, hands clasped behind his back while Mycroft repositioned several desk items that had been moved, after some discussion, so the various papers could be more easily reviewed.  It also gave Mycroft a moment to tap the glass sculpture on his desk nine times, in groups of three taps, to steady his nerves.  Not that he had reason to be nervous about escorting his guest on a tour, since he had done this before, however… sharing convivial time with another person was a rare thing for him and he had yet to fully settle into today’s experience.

Perhaps it was his brother’s typical disruptive effect, but it could also… for heaven’s sake, he had touched the man’s ankle!  His fingers had been laid upon Gregory’s person, his sock!, and it was not a thing he had ever before done with such a complete lack of forethought.  By modern standards, there was no particular impropriety in the act, and Gregory clearly was not offended, but… he had touched a sock.  That enclosed a foot!  Still attached to a body… it was a heady thing…

      “Mycroft?  Can I help you with something?”

      “What?  Oh, no?”

      “That’s not a convincing no.”

      “Yes, do pardon me.  I became rather lost in the question of socks.”

      “You were mesmerized by how gorgeous mine are, weren’t you?”

Mesmerized was not the worst possible descriptor of his state of mind.

      “I have not fully decided on my approval or disapproval of the pattern; however, I did recall that I have not collected my measurements.”

      “You’re right!  I forgot about that, too; got too caught up in discussing your literacy project.  Want to do that now?”

Good heavens, no!  Have you not listened to my mental dialogue, Mr. Lestrade, and marked the clear signs of mental vexation and… cacophonous musings!

      “Given we shall soon lose the remaining vestiges of sunlight, I believe we should postpone that initiative until afterwards.”

      “Smart and efficient.  On we go, then.”

Yes, fresh air might actually, this once, meet its mythical obligation as a restorative.

      “Most certainly.  The paths are well groomed, so worry not about the status of your shoes.”

Greg’s grin, to Mycroft, was an affirmation that shoe status was a recognized point of importance by the actor.  To Greg it was simply a sign of his enjoyment of the moment.  A garden stroll with good conversation, sweets and closely-guarded footwear.  It was the little things in life that made it worth living…

__________

      “Everything’s poisonous?”

      “Most certainly.  I have worked most assiduously to collect various poisonous plants mentioned in literature or real crime fiction.  At least, those that will thrive in our climate.  I am very pleased with my efforts so far.”

Greg looked out over the large assemblage of plants in the, admittedly, lovely garden, one of many on Mycroft’s property, and felt no real surprise that the other smaller plots they had looked over were only the starting acts for the headline band.

      “This is a truly amazing thing.  I’ve heard of these poison gardens, but never suspected a person would have one on their own property.  And, I never suspected that the plants would be so… pretty.  I would have imagined them as looking like something out of Tim Burton film or a Gorey illustration.”

      “Much like humans, their danger is camouflaged by a pleasant appearance.”

      “That’s the truth of it, too.  To be fair, though, they’re only dangerous to the things that are supposed to leave them alone, right?  I thought I read or saw David Attenborough talk about these poisonous beauties still needing to be pollinated or their seeds strewn about, so the ones that do that are fine with cavorting with their poisons.  It’s just the ones that would trample them or munch them out of existence that feel the proverbial axe blade.”

Mycroft’s happy gasp made Greg feel especially proud of his slightly-remembered bit of natural history knowledge.

      “That is absolutely correct.  It is a somewhat paradoxical pleasure to stroll here in the summer, especially, and view the various insects and birds that are happily enjoying the bounty of their lethal harvest.”

      “Incorrect, Flabcroft, for you refuse to exit your house for anything short of a civilization-razing level of emergency, so I’m wondering what atrocity this film-prancer has committed on your person and where, precisely, is a copy of your last will and testament.”

Greg took note of the ‘bloody wonderful’ look on Mycroft’s face and prepared for another round of baby-brother antics.

      “Sherlock, how kind of you to join Gregory and me for our stroll.  Has Doctor Watson come to his senses and fled to kinder, more agreeable, arms or do you still have inserted in his skull the mind-control device you are using to perpetrate your caddish villainy?”

In a surprise twist, big-brother antics takes the first strike!  This was shaping up nicely…

      “John is currently eating.  It is one of his favorite activities, therefore, I left him to indulge in Mrs. Hudson’s… I have no idea what since I gave the situation the attention it deserved, which was naught.  Besides, while he is eating, he is not behaving shamefully, and I have reached my limit of his ridiculous star-struck behavior for the day.”

Sherlock, at least, seemed equitable in handing out shares of his insults.  There was something to be said for that.  Exactly what, though… it would remain as much a mystery as whatever it was of Mrs. Hudson’s currently indulging John. 

      “Mycroft, can your brother be nice to anyone?  At all?  Ever?”

      “Behold, brother dear!  Already Gregory has gleaned the modus operandi of your existence, to spread discord and vilify the entirety of human species.  Further evidence he shall make a commendable Diogenes Bell.”

      “Is he, also, homosexual like your ridiculous and utterly unbelievable character?”

Greg blinked sharply and looked over towards Mycroft who was wearing an expression that one generally made when a bit of sensitive information had been dropped into the center of a conversation where it was precisely not meant to appear.  Bell was gay… that was not featured anywhere in the novels, but what an interesting tidbit of information to add to his mental files.  Given Mycroft didn’t seem ready to discuss it, though, it might be wise to affect a touch of damage control and take up the issue later without the toddler present.

      “So what if I was or wasn’t, Sherlock?  I’ve read all the books and, frankly, Bell could be played by a gay, straight, bi or trans actor if they had the right look and talent.  Bloke goes about his business, does his job, solves crimes and puzzles… you have a problem with gay people, lad?”

      “That would be somewhat hypocritical of me, Lestrade, as well you know.”

      “I sincerely doubt hypocrisy would stand in your way of being evil-tongued, but I’ll credit you that point.  So, tell me, then, what crawled up your bum to toss out that particular question about the character instead of something else?”

It was rare thing for Sherlock to consider what to say because of potential consequences, but he did on this occasion and decided that the actor could not associate with his brother for very long before learning a certain fact and there was no appreciable harm to be done from revealing it now.

      “Because Mycroft is also gay and… reasons.”

      “Reasons?”

      “John says that is considered funny.”

Greg smirked and began to understand that Sherlock had a bit more in common with Mycroft than a surname.  Another unique person in the world, however, was nothing to bemoan.  It would be interesting to see if Mycroft raised the other issue, though.  Honestly, it would be useful insight into writer-character dynamic, especially since that part of Bell never made it onto the page.

      “He’s right!  My brain was a bit stuck in the poisonous plants, I wager, and that’s why I missed your little joke.  Full marks for it, though.  Mycroft how about… oh no.”

Mycroft was, apparently, still fully offline and was simply standing there, staring into space and blinking with a pattern that, in no manner, correlated to the state of dryness of his eyes.

      “This is on you, lad.”

      “Pfft.  Mycroft’s flummoxing cannot be laid at my feet.”

      “I’m laying it at your feet and pouring the rest of it over your head.  Now be nice or else.  Mycroft?  Myyyyyycroooooft?  How about a tidbit from your sweets stash?”

It took a few more moments to bring Mycroft back from his small mental holiday and Sherlock only made one enormous and dramatic sigh during the wait, which Greg took as a small victory.

      “P… pardon?”

      “An aniseed ball?  I could use a little something sweet right now.”

      “Oh, of course.  One moment.”

Greg gave Sherlock a look that forestalled the younger man making a comment at the amount of time it took for Mycroft to retrieve his handcrafted sweets package, unfold it, carefully choose the exact specimen that met whatever criteria he had set for handing one to his guest and actually perform the required handing over.

      “Thanks!  What now?  I suspect there’s more here to see and I’m ready to see every bit of it.”

Seeing Mycroft was still drawing together the threads of his unraveled thoughts, Sherlock chose to step in, else they might be standing there until dawn.

      “Has Mycroft dragged you to his crypt yet?”

      “No, Sherlock, he has not, and I very much would like to see that.  Mycroft, ready for a crypt caper?  Sherlock, you with us for that or do you need to check on John?”

      “John has food and tea, he does not need me.”

      “A poet!  A detective and a poet.  Mycroft, your brother’s a man of many talents.”

      ‘I… that is…”

Sherlock waved off his brother’s continued daze and wrestled with the unfortunate suspicion that the actor’s words were not mocking and… it was profoundly confusing.  Lestrade was not… what he expected.  Not that he would let that be known, of course.

      “I do not consider poetry related to any form of useful talent.  Much like acting.”

      “Not all talents are useful, that’s for certain.  Come on, while we walk I’ll tell you about a few useless talents of mine.  Did your brother tell you I could juggle?”

Mycroft slowly felt the rictus of shock and agitation fading and found his legs following his brother and Greg without the rest of him consciously recognizing the fact.  Gregory… how deftly he handled Sherlock’s drama!  Far too many lashed out, not realizing that this was Sherlock’s hesitant way of testing the waters and keeping strong barriers between any who might cause him emotional harm.  It was so… glorious to see someone simply, as they say, go with the flow, in terms of his brother verbal acidity and give Sherlock the time he needed to take their measure.

And what to say about Gregory’s response to the… issue of sexuality?  There was no upset, at all, to be seen when the revelation was made.  Either of Diogenes Bell or… of him.  So much to analyze… and the sock incident!  Oh dear, he would certainly need a soothing beverage when they returned to the house.  Perhaps several.  Gregory was staying overnight, after all.  His liver best hope it was made of stern stuff for it was soon to be tested to its limit…

Chapter Text

      “John!  Stop smiling.  Immediately.”

A fantastic tour of an incredible piece of property and it ends with a toothy greeting from Sherlock’s partner.  Greg couldn’t see what the boy’s problem happened to be, since it could have been Molly with her shotgun, and that would certainly have put a damper on the day.

      “That’s nice of you, Sherlock.  John’s happy to see you and you act like a bastard.”

      “John is not happy to see me, Lestrade, he is happy to see you and I have had enough of his infatuation for one day.”

Greg’s rude gesture was most interesting, in Mycroft’s opinion, as it seemed to be a variation of one he had noticed before in the village.  Were there dialects for profane gestures?  What an intriguing notion!  And what an interesting plot element that would make for the next book he was mulling.

      “John, ignore this one and come join us for a drink.  Mycroft’s never had alcohol for breakfast, based on his schedule, but I’m ready for something hard and stiff.  We’ve sucked our share of balls today, so time for a bit of a change.”

Mycroft and Sherlock had no idea why John started giggling at the aniseed ball Greg had held up to prove his statement, or why that giggle was echoed by the actor, but they long ago realized that the minds of others were often illogical and unfathomable for the concept of humor.  It was a better use of their energies to simply ignore the situation and usher the other two men towards the sitting room where Mycroft kept a selection of spirits that were mostly consumed by the staff, but he found the look of the various liquids in fine cut crystal pleasant to gaze upon and insisted the various levels be strictly maintained to not mar the aesthetic.  And, it was a room that quickly met with Greg’s staunch approval.

      “Very nice room, Mycroft.  Looks especially cozy for a long afternoon of reading.  Or for one of those detective types to bring together the suspects to lay out the case and reveal the foul murderer.”

Mycroft felt, again, a small twinge of delight that his personal tastes suited his new acquaintance.  The actor was proving to be a man of appreciable taste.

      “Thank you, Gregory.  It is, in point of fact, one of my preferred rooms for reading.  Or, simply for thought.  For a time, the moon is quite exquisitely framed by that window and it has enhanced many an evening’s contemplation of a particularly-difficult component of a story.”

      “I agree with Mr. Les… Greg, Mycroft.  I could see this room being featured in an Agatha Christie film.”

      “Thank you, also, John.  I do admire Dame Agatha Christie a great deal.”

Greg stepped further into the room and drew in the perfect smell of very old wood and all the history that went with it.

      “Too bad that’s not a scene in our film, Mycroft, because I would love doing a huge reveal like that.”

John’s loud gasp actually had Sherlock growling in frustration as it was now apparent that there would be no dimming of his partner’s lunacy anytime in the near future.

      “Our film!  Mycroft… oh, please tell me that’s why Greg’s here and Mrs. Hudson wasn’t having a cruel joke at my expense, which is what I thought because she is exactly the type to do that and Molly would back her every step of the way.”

      “I thought, John, that such was evident from Gregory’s statement, however, to confirm… yes, we have agreed that he shall portray Diogenes Bell in the forthcoming film of Bell’s first book.”

      “YES!  He’s going to be in your film!  Oh my god!  He’s perfect!  That’s going to be perfect!  Everything’s perfect!”

      “Waddlecroft!  You have, again, turned John into some form of idiotic jumping bean.  This is your fault and my forgiveness for it you shall never have!”

Greg had to admit that John’s bouncing up and down like a toddler dancing to something on the radio was somewhat reminiscent of a jumping bean, though the beans certainly didn’t have John’s sense of rhythm.

      “Ooh, Sherlock… your brother might consider casting you for that society matron that Bell questions in… I think it was near the middle of the book.  She talked a lot like that and you got the haughty-woman-wearing-an-ugly-broach tone down just perfectly…”

John stopped bouncing enough to start laughing, just a touch giddily, and Mycroft looked back and forth between the other three men, realizing that he’d never actually hosted people in his home like this before and, further, would never have predicted it would be characterized by vitality and mirth, rather than some dreadful tedium or his own desperate desire to race away because the situation was tearing his poor nerves to tiny shreds.  It was a staggeringly confusing thing, but… confusing did not necessarily equate to discomforting.

      “… and, you, John… that doesn’t go on your social media until it’s announced officially or the entertainment press officially leak it unofficially.”

      “Mum’s the word!  Oh, this is going to be the most brilliant thing ever… Greg Lestrade as the brilliant detective, Diogenes Bell… it’s… you’re going to be brilliant in the role.  Just brilliant.  And it’s going to be a brilliant film, too!  Brilliant and… even more brilliant.”

      “Doctor Watson, might you have need of a thesaurus?”

      “No, Mycroft… or yes.  I honestly don’t know.”

Sherlock’s scowl deepened, and he cringed from the prediction of how many periodicals his partner would now collect in their flat because they contained some mention of the ludicrous actor or his brother’s puerile film.  They would be overflowing in paper.  That is… more overflowing than they were, at present.

      “Ugh… my assistant is now irretrievably corrupted.”

      “Sherlock, how about you make an attempt at pouring your corrupted, but perfectly correct as to how brilliant the film is going to be, assistant a nice drink and I’ll do the same for your brother.  Mycroft, what’s your pleasure.”

      “It is Monday.”

      “I’ve been in the US a lot, but I’ve never heard of that cocktail.  Good name for one, though, and I’d expect it to be lethally potent and with the slight flavor of salty tears hitting you at the very last moment.”

Mycroft blinked a second and decided the actor was making some form of joke, which Gregory delighted in doing somewhat often, it seemed.

      “I have whiskey on Monday if the libation is not being enjoyed with dinner.”

      “Whiskey it is!  And I’ll have one, too.  Then, we can enjoy a nice chat about the film to bring John and Sherlock up to speed and whatever else crosses our minds.”

      “Hmmmm…”

      “Was that a yummy hum or a thinking hum?”

      “This is not a conversation room.”

      “Ok… your idea was that we’d simply enjoy a quiet drink, then move somewhere else to chat?”

      “I… no, not precisely.  I am only now realizing the situation.”

      “Well, that’s fine.  We can each get our drink, then move elsewhere.  Maybe the solarium?  Anthea brought me there before and it’s lovely.  Would that work?”

      “It… it might be best.”

      “Excellent idea, then.  Sherlock, hold those drinks and walk them to the solarium, which is a much nicer room for a tranquil stretch, sip and chat.”

      “That is inane.”

      “Thank you!  Now, march.”

John quickly relieved Sherlock of the glasses before the detective’s typically-exaggerated gestures cost him some much-desired fine spirits and whistled for Sherlock to follow after him towards the solarium, which succeeded only because Sherlock felt compelled to make certain John was very aware of the true depths of his blackguardly conduct.

      “Now, one for each of us and off we go.  Any… particular glass you prefer for whiskey, Mycroft?  Some blokes are very specific about that sort of thing.”

      “That is true.  I researched the history of drinkware for The Feast of Fear and the opinions on such issues are most adamant.”

      “How adamant is your opinion?”

      “I am seventy-four percent adamant on using one of the heavier crystal specimens on the left.”

      “Heavy crystal glass with a hefty splash of whiskey, happily sipped in the solarium surrounded by good company and better conversation.  That is a recipe for a good hour or so of relaxation.”

Mycroft agreed heartily, however, usually the situation simply involved himself and himself alone, even for the conversation part and certainly didn’t apply to situations involving his brother, however… Gregory was proving somewhat a catalyst for certain things he would not have credited the actor.  Or, for that matter, any other human being in existence.

And, how marvelous was their tour!  So few took real appreciation of crypt architecture, let alone had intriguing ideas for how such a structure might factor into a murderous mystery, besides the hiding of the body.  Not to mention Gregory’s very correct opinion on which of the trees nearest the house would be best for a hanging.  Hopefully, Gregory might remain awake for some time tonight for there was so very much for them to discuss…

__________

Greg hated to do it, but there was no question that he needed to apologize to Anthea.  A solarium was a wonderful room at night and he was a vulgar bumpkin for thinking otherwise.  Almost like sitting outside enjoying the stars and moon, but without worry about grass stains on your trousers or having something race up the back of your shirt, looking to escape the chill.  Once was quite enough for that sort of thing…

      “Ugh… my brain is shriveling from enforced contact with lesser minds.  John!  We have work to do and it is much more interesting than listening to Mycroft drone on about his insipid children’s stories.”

Sherlock’s tone was not quite as acerbic as normal, but Greg wasn’t entirely certain how much of that to ascribe to the detective’s drained whiskey glass or the fact he’d actually been enjoying their little interlude.  The lad had almost seemed content there for a moment, but maybe he’d just been thinking about kittens or something.  Ok, not kittens.  Murders.  Sherlock seemed to find murders as contenting as his older brother.

      “What work?  We’re on holiday!”

Which had been closer to the holiday John had hoped for but never expected since he had Sherlock along, so shattering that record now would be a crime.  Not a fun one, either.

      “Science never takes a holiday.”

      “Untrue.  And you promised this would be an actual holiday, with fresh air and what passes for English sunshine, and I haven’t heard a single thing to make me change my mind about that.”

      “We have a case.”

      “Lying.”

      “I am not lying.   I simply have yet to inform you of it because… reasons.”

John’s face twisted in confusion and Greg burst out laughing both at John’s bafflement and Sherlock dedication to his one bit of Internet nonsense.

      “You created a monster, John.  Now you have to live with it.  Have fun with that.”

      “What?  Greg what are you going on about?  Sherlock, I’m enjoying myself, so why don’t you toddle off and…”

Sherlock leaned over, whispered something in John’s ear that had John hopping off the sofa and nodding at Mycroft and Greg so quickly it seemed his jumping-bean genes had manifested again in one quick burst.

      “Ummm… we have important work to do, so Mycroft… thank you for this lovely drink and Greg… I hope we see you tomorrow before you leave.”

Watching John nearly run after Sherlock, who had already begun marching out of the room, gave Greg some idea of what the ‘important business’ was and just how long it had been since he’d engaged in that particular type of negotiation.  They were starting early, too, which said one or both of them had a lot of stamina.  Lucky devils…

      “My brother must have framed a new research question while we enjoyed our tour.  It is a common thing for him and John does indulge Sherlock to an astounding degree.”

Very lucky devils, indeed…

      “Compromise is good for relationships.  As is indulgence.  Now, though, that means we have the rest of the evening to ourselves… still fancy that film we were considering?”

      “Most certainly, if you are amenable.  I… I set aside a title I thought might be suitable.”

      “Smart.  Oh!  Get your measuring tape or whatever you want to use for my socks.  Let’s do that first, so we don’t forget.”

Mycroft’s face shifted so rapidly from delighted to distressed that Greg felt the shockwave from across the room.

      “I… no, no that is not necessary.”

To the actor, this felt like a Defcon situation and he’d been in two movies that featured that scale, so he felt confident about dragging it from his mental imagery portfolio and pressing it into service.

      “Sure it is!  We already established that you needed data for your analysis and it’ll only take a few moments, so let me turn up my trousers and…”

      “It… thank you, but I have decided a… against that analysis.”

That was halting and hesitant, even for Mycroft.  Slipping another notch into the danger range on the Defcon scale.

      “Want to tell me why?”

      “No.”

That wasn’t halting or hesitant.  Not in the slightest.  Something was terribly wrong and Greg Lestrade wasn’t a man to let that continue if there was anything in the world he could do about it.  And, the most awful thing, was that he had a good idea of what the wrong thing was, and it was enough to break his old, slightly fatty and embarrassingly tender heart.

      “A man has a right to his private thoughts, that’s for certain…”

      “Thank you, Gregory.”

      “… so, I’ll tell you instead.  Or, rather, I’ll say that I’ve known a lot of gay men in my life and never, not a single time, worried about them beginning some form of sexual assault by touching my ankle.”

Mycroft startled so sharply that he nearly fell over and Greg shot out of his chair to catch him, if necessary.  When Mycroft steadied himself enough not to fall, Greg still stayed standing because Mycroft’s pallor had gone dead white and he appeared as if he’d seen the most frightening apparition from the foulest and most terrifying horror story ever written.  None of which Greg had predicted from his words.  At most, he thought he might spark some anger or sense of insult… certainly nothing like this, but he’d forgotten, to his discredit, that he wasn’t talking to someone who might respond to things like other people would in the same situation.

      “I would never assault you!”

Now, Mycroft was shaking, whether with anger or upset, Greg didn’t know, but when it was combined with sharp twitches of his fingers as if he was desperate to grab something or tap something to do something that helped calm him down, the anger hypothesis got kicked into the rubbish and Greg turned his full worry onto the distress theory and how he could help with that.  Especially since it was completely his fault and on him to take responsibility.  But… that help could only happen if he dug out the tumor that started this cancer growing.

      “Exactly.  I know that.  I know that one-hundred percent and I wouldn’t doubt it for a second.  And, I know that you know, as well.  So why are you worried about touching my ankle?  You are, too, so don’t lie about it.  Talk to me, Mycroft, so I can understand.”

Seeing Mycroft was only getting more and more agitated, Greg paused a moment, then reached out and took hold of the whiskey glass that miraculously remained in Mycroft’s hand, since he felt very certain that touching Mycroft himself would not be a good idea at the moment.  However, some connection seemed… important.

      “Is… is this a good room for you now, Mycroft?  Is there someplace you might feel better talking about this with me?  We’re going to be working together and it’s important for both of us to understand each other so that work is successful… and I genuinely want to help, if there’s any way I possibly can.”

      “I… my study?”

      “Let’s go.”

Greg kept hold of the glass and walked with Mycroft, who also held fast to the crystal, towards the study and felt no surprise when Mycroft darted forward to his desk to pick up a glass sphere near his computer monitor and begin moving his hands around the cool, smooth surface.

      “It’s a lovely thing, Mycroft.  Is there a story that goes with it?”

      “Th… there is.”

      “Would you be willing to share it with me?”

Greg smiled his gentlest smile and held it while Mycroft’s eyes darted about, only occasionally taking the risk of meeting his own.

      “I saw it.  It was in a second-hand shop window, when I was a b… boy and it…”

Greg stayed silent as Mycroft drew a breath that seemed, along with having his hands on a favorite object and being in an also-favorite space, to calm his distress, at least a little.

      “… it beguiled me.  I had read of these, crystal balls, in so many stories, seen them in any number of films.  I saved every bit of money I could until I could purchase it.  An utterly useless object, which befuddled my parents, for its cost was not a cheap one, but… I have cherished it greatly.  I have others, too, larger ones, but this one… it fits perfectly in my hands…”

      “That it does.  The exact sort of thing to hold and fiddle with when there’s something on your mind, whether it be a story point or a problem.  And, since we have something of a problem to work through, is there a place in here you’d prefer to sit and talk?”

      “Perhaps…”

      “Yes?”

      “I do enjoy sitting up there for a quiet moment away from my desk.”

Mycroft nodded up towards the space above them, near the windows, where there were two comfortable-looking chairs and a small table, just perfect for sharing a little conversation on a pleasant evening.  Or a not-so-little conversation on a somewhat unpleasant evening…

      “Looks perfect.  Lead the way?”

Nodding again, Mycroft led Greg up the ornate spiral staircase and took one of the seats, leaving the other for the actor.

      “This is really nice, Mycroft.  I can see why you’d find this peaceful.  Surrounded by books and the view is magnificent.  I’m happy you have this spot, I really am.  I’m not happy, though, that something very ugly went through your mind and if I can help, I want to do it.  Can you tell me why you changed your mind about the socks analysis?”

This time, Mycroft’s sigh was more of the type one gives when one has resigned oneself to whatever is to come, but one knows whatever it is, it’s not going to be easy or end the way one might want it to.

      “I… I suppose I worried that you might be made uncomfortable, given Sherlock’s revelation.”

Implying Mycroft had known others who had been made uncomfortable when they found out about him.  But no assuming on this one, only going with facts.  This was too important to get wrong.

      “Have others felt that way when they learned you were gay?”

The rueful smirk on Mycroft’s lips made Greg want to find every single one of those people and do his best to make them see the error of their ways.  The amount of blood they lost in the process would only create space for better, more decent and human-worthy blood to take its place.

      “I’m sorry for that, Mycroft.  I am very, very sorry that you had to experience it.  I know a lot of people who went through similar when they came out and… it’s not right, it’s not fair and it’s certainly not acceptable, so I hate that you were made to feel bad about who you were.  But… you really took a bad turn when I tossed of the line about you assaulting me, which I apologize for since I really did not think you’d take it that seriously and I feel horrible about it.  Mycroft, did… did someone think you might… do something horrid to them, after they learned you were gay?”

A quick cut of his eyes towards Greg was all Greg needed to see the pain they held and he both kicked himself and gave a sage nod of his mental mind for taking that particular approach of getting the truth out of the author.  Some dumb fucker… or fuckers… had that idiotic and bigoted idea that gay men were sexual predators, probably child molesters, too, and let Mycroft know it.  Why did people have to be so terrible?  There was no reason for it and it made the world a much, much darker and miserable place.

      “Is that also why you never actually put in the books that Bell was gay?  You were worried people wouldn’t move past that to see what a genius he was and fall in love with your books?”

      “Partly.”

      “Want to tell me about it?”

Greg knew he wasn’t an actual detective, but it seemed as if Mycroft was losing more of his upset as they talked, though he was now holding his crystal ball close to his chest as if he was holding a childhood talisman against the evils of the world.

      “Ultimately… it was my decision.  When I finished The Devil’s in the Details, I gave it to my publisher to read and he very much enjoyed it.  However…”

      “He didn’t like Bell being gay.”

      “He did not care about that in the slightest.  Personally.  But, he reminded me that the market for that particular genre was a somewhat… traditional… one.  Though the times and the sensibilities were changing, there were still many who might accept a gay character as the villainous murderer or a dreadfully-cliched effete gay man who was used for comic affect… he was willing, most willing, in point of fact, to publish the book as it was, but he knew well my actual reason for writing it, which was money.  I needed money, and I am not using the term ‘needed’ lightly.  I wrote the book specifically to earn necessary funds for both myself and my brother and… though I put my heart, mind and soul into the writing, the cold, sharp truth of its conception could not be denied.  Though I had the full support of my publisher and complete confidence he would do everything possible to market my book aggressively and address any possible complaints, I chose to remove the few small references that indicated Bell’s sexuality.  In hindsight, I still cannot fault my decision, for the ends I desired were fully met by the means.”

      “Did you ever consider putting that back into one of the later novels?  After you’d built your reputation in mystery writing?”

      “Oh… at times.  After a few books, though, inserting that particular aspect of the character into the mix seemed a bit… artificial.  If I was a reader, it would ring a touch false and I would wonder what was the author’s motive for introducing that now, as opposed to including it from the very onset.  I explicitly did not wish Bell’s sexuality to be perceived as… a gimmick.  Something specifically to appeal to the growing number of younger readers entering the mystery world.  I could not have that happen; I simply could not.  The window for such a thing was the first book and I chose to let the window remain closed.  In terms of the character himself… it has not made a difference in his behavior, talents or growth, so I do not bemoan that only a few know of what was never revealed.  I do not regret my decision, but I do, at times, taste the bitterness of shame upon my tongue from it.”

Greg wished more than anything he could just give Mycroft a massive hug, but suspected the writer might not, at all, be comfortable with the gesture, so did as he did before, this time moving across the space that separated the two chairs, to squat down next to Mycroft’s pressed-together legs and reach out to lay two fingers on the crystal ball in Mycroft’s hands.

      “You shouldn’t feel shame for that, Mycroft, not a bit.  You did what you had to do, even if it was painful, and that’s something, actually to be proud of.  But… I know a little how you feel.  I’ve done work I didn’t take a lot of pride in, as an actor, because I needed the money.  Like you say, the ends were met by the means, but I look back on some of that and really wish it wasn’t forever immortalized on film.  But, we move on and use what we gained from that, money or otherwise, to do more and better work in the future.  I’d love to say you should have just published the original book and devil take the bastards who might object, but I also know we live in the real world and it’s a nasty, harsh place sometimes.  If I could, I’d do anything to change that nastiness and harshness, but the best I can do is say those horrible people aren’t me.  I’m happy the world is filled with different people.  It makes the world so much more interesting and amazing.  I love working with people who are different from me because their life experiences bring good things to the table that supplement their talents and skills for film-making.  And, frankly, it makes them them, who is someone I’m happy and proud to know.  You are an amazing man, Mycroft Holmes.  A unique, brilliant, gay, wildly interesting, creative, funny, humbug-loving man and I am eagerly awaiting the results of your Great Paisley Pondering so we can make real and useful progress on the socks issue.  And, dare I say it, begin the debate on belt or braces.  I don’t believe you ever stated clearly which sort of man Bell is for that and I’m wondering if now might just be the time to take that challenge head on.”

What had been an encouraging smile on Greg’s face grew as he saw a glow build in Mycroft’s eyes.  Part of it was colored in the particular shade that said the writer had latched onto the new detail with both hands and part of it was colored with the particular shade that spoke volumes about how much Greg’s words had meant to the man who had no idea how to say it, but whose brain was doing it’s best to show it, instead, by slowly pushing the crystal globe forward so Greg could take it and hold it himself.

      “It’s a heavy bugger!  I should have thought of that.  It’s a grand thing, though… and it does feel lovely to hold.”

While Greg played a moment with the crystal ball, Mycroft took the opportunity to savor the extremely welcome sensation of feeling… supported.  Supported and valued.  Perhaps, even… understood… which was the rarest of the rare.

      “The weight is notable, that is certainly the case.  We can examine the other of my balls, if you like, though… after I complete my measurements.”

Greg grinned widely and not only because Mycroft was the most verbally-innocent person he had ever met.

      “I’d love that!”

      “Excellent.  And what a fresh conundrum you present with the belt or braces proposition.”

      “Thought you’d like that one.  As an actor, it’s important, too, because what you’re wearing affects how you move, as well as how you feel when you’re presenting the character during filming.  So, to sum up, we’ve got very critical measurements to take, balls to inspect, a belt-or-braces battle to wage and a cracking-good film to watch.  This is, I must say, a properly fantastic evening.”

Especially since you, Mr. Holmes. are smiling again and it does my heart very, very good to see it.

      “I concur.  Let me retrieve my calipers and a notepad.”

      “Calipers?”

      “Vernier calipers are far more precise than a standard measuring tape.”

      “I’ve learned something new!  Want me to wait here?”

      “Yes, though I shall need you to sit in your chair, so I may access your ankle.”

      “Back in the chair I go.  Can I continue on with my ball-fondling?”

      “Yes.  Yes, I believe that is most acceptable.”

Mycroft darted back down the twisty staircase and Greg took his seat, stretching out and nodding his thanks to the heavy piece of crystal in his hands.  Mycroft might need a bit of careful handling sometimes, but it was certainly worth it.  That it seemed the writer had lacked that for portions of his life, though, was a tragedy that Greg Lestrade was not going to see happen again.  No matter what, he could always maintain some connection, phone or pay a visit, so Mycroft had someone he could count on to remind him that he was nothing short of exceptional, and not just as a writer.  One of the advantages of being rich and famous, you could always find time for the exceptional things in life…

Chapter Text

      “Turn a little left… a bit more… ok, now let’s do a few without your jacket.”

      “John!  I object to this nonsensical playacting.”

Especially since Sherlock’s intended romantic interlude had been rudely interrupted by Mrs. Hudson banging on their bedroom door to demand all possible samples of belts and braces the sexually-aroused duo might have in their possession.  That John, the fame-besotted cur, had immediately leapt out of bed to begin looking would forever mar the doctor’s permanent record.

      “It’s not playacting, Sherlock.  Do you have any idea how much these photos will be worth someday?  Greg Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes in early wardrobe discussions for their first film collaboration?  The belts or braces question burning in their minds as they tried different examples of each to decide what the brilliant detective Diogenes Bell would sport when he was making use of that brilliance to bring some dastardly murderer to justice?  This is our retirement fund solved in one night, so you just sit there, resign yourself to the fact that not everything in the world is about you, and let me get on with my job.  I think we might need different lighting, though, for this next round.  Greg, move back a little so the lamp catches you at an angle.  That’ll highlight your jawline.”

Not that Greg had a choice in the matter, since Mrs. Hudson and Molly were taking their ‘pose the model’ duties very seriously and were fully on board with the night’s extremely serious investigation.  Once Mycroft had the measurements and photographs to ponder for the paisley issue, attention had turned to the next question where quickly it was decided that physical modeling of the objects in question would be beneficial, given the success with the foot-shrouded socks.  That had instigated a search of the house for all examples of belts and braces, then a rush trip into the village for Molly to wake her uncle and drag him to his clothing shop to rent his entire selection of necessary items for their experiment.  Now, the experiment was coming to a close, which had been marked by the entire household making comment and debating qualities of Bell that fit of didn’t fit every new accessory Greg sported, all the while Mycroft scripting furious notes and specifying photographs that John, who had very willingly volunteered to act as photojournalist for their documentary, should snap to add to his evaluation portfolio.

On Greg’s part, he hadn’t enjoyed a modeling session so much in years!  And this one had a more demanding photographer and media executives than most.  Mycroft was ferocious for detail, even if they were the sort that nobody besides the writer could possibly see as important or notice in the first place.  But, it was actually giving him a great many insights into the character he was going to play and, as importantly, it was making Mycroft happy, so the rewards from this bit of work were overflowing his personal treasure chest, because he was having a ball and that was not something he generally expected when he had to pose for the cameras.

      “How’s this, John?”

And, since this wasn’t going into a magazine, he could make his most ridiculous model faces and poses which made Sherlock gag to add to rubies to that chest of treasures

      “Ooh!  Blue Steel ahoy!  Perfect.  Mycroft… I have to say that, as a fan of both Greg and your character, I’m leaning towards braces.”

Mycroft’s exceptionally-somber look of contemplation prompted Greg to finally begin removing his jacket to make the braces more visible, slowly at first, then with more panache as music played in his head and it turned into somewhat more of a striptease than he’d planned, but the ladies’ catcalls and Charles’s ‘oh, very good, sir’ simply encouraged his nonsense.  He did take care, though, not to toss the removed jacket at Mycroft, instead, flinging it at Sherlock who quickly re-flung it onto the ground as if Greg had thrown him an angry cat.

      “What say, Mycroft?  You agree with John or do you need more time to think?”

Mycroft narrowed his eyes to keenly inspect every aspect of Greg’s appearance, rapidly flicked through his pages of notes and snapped his fingers for John to hand him the mobile, and the trillions of photos it contained, to flick through them as rapidly as the handwritten notes before he handed it back, took a deep breath and nodded.

      “Yes, I am of a mind, at the moment, that braces are the correct option.  I shall not make a final pronouncement until I have given the matter greater thought, but my confidence level is high that my stand shall not change on the issue.”

Greg gave his braces a triumphant tug and snap, while enjoying the small round of applause that Mycroft’s decision merited from the rest of the house.  Not that it really made much difference, but he’d grown partial to the braces, himself.

      “I have to say that I’m glad that’s the direction you’ll probably go, Mycroft.  They feel right, in terms of my own impressions of Bell.  He’s not stodgy, but does have that traditional streak that makes me think he’d wear braces.  Now, of course… we have decisions to make about color and/or pattern.  I see a lot of work ahead of us, but I have no doubt we’re up to the challenge.”

All of which was making Mycroft’s eyes light brightly, which had been Greg’s intention.  The man positively adored these little things and they were, really, so very easy to accommodate…

      “Victory shall be ours, Gregory, my mind is very clear on that fact.”

And, with that pronouncement, Sherlock vaulted out of his seat like the angry cat he had not been thrown, though his hissing made the household take a second look just to be certain.

      “Finally!  John!  We have matters to discuss and, if you are highly fortunate, sex to continue.  That will depend wholly upon your renouncing your position as lapdog for Lestrade.”

John being dragged out of the study while trying to negotiate laphedgehog instead of lapdog firmed in Greg’s mind the decision to send along to their flat copies of some of his early-years modeling photos which were best described as steamy and worth a bloody fortune when you could find them online for sale.  Sherlock would explode and John would dissolve, which seemed sciency enough for Sherlock’s scientific brain would to appreciate if any of it survived being blown into teeny-tiny bits.

      “Will you be needing us for anything else, Mr. Holmes?”

      “Oh… no, Charles, not at present.  Gregory and I have matters to tend to and should be at home the rest of the night.”

      “Very good, sir.”

All the belts and braces samples were collected to return to their various owners and Greg was happy his trousers stood fast on their own since Mrs. Hudson didn’t leave him much time to grab drooping garments as she retrieved the braces holding up his dignity.

      “Are our matters a film, my gracious host?”

      “I thought it appropriate.  The final data analysis for this endeavor will involve my full attention and I have not that to give tonight, nor do I wish to when there are more… fun… entertainments beckoning.”

There was something in Greg’s mind that said Mycroft using the word ‘fun’ was not a common thing and his heart ached a little because of it.  Fortunately, a certain actor had untold skills for making things fun and was ready and willing to use them.

      “Then let’s get started!”

      “We have not prepared.”

Well, that couldn’t stand, even if the concept of preparation for a film on the sofa was a bit unclear at the moment.

      “Ok, then show me what we need to do to prepare and we’ll get started on that first.”

      “Excellent.  This shall go much more quickly with two sets of hands than one.”

Unclear was getting unclearer!  But, since it likely didn’t involve firearms or calculus, chances were the extra set of hands in question could manage somehow.  If not, it was a certainty that Mycroft would detail the inevitable errors and wait patiently for them to be corrected.  Or, maybe, not so patiently for the really stupid ones, but who didn’t work faster with a taskmaster giving their head a knock?  Hopefully, though, the knocks weren’t too painful because watching a film with a headache was something of a let-down…

__________

This was precisely the opposite of a let-down…

      “Mycroft… you have a cinema.”

      “I do.”

      “With an actual film projector.”

      “Yes.”

In what appeared to be several cellar rooms that had been merged into one so that a suitably dark space could be created, as well as one, perhaps, that wouldn’t keep certain staff members awake when the head of the household decided he wanted to watch a film in very grand style.

      “And we have popcorn.  Real popcorn.”

      “Real?  Dear me… I had no idea that unreal popcorn existed.  Is it some form of… oh, the rather crazed ‘health nuts’ do fabricate edibles from the most appalling ingredients, at times.  I would not be surprised if they bastardized popcorn through some dreadful use of rutabaga or Brussels sprouts.”

      “No, I meant the sort of popcorn you pay a bloody fortune for at the cinema just to have it clog your arteries a little more and drag you that extra step closer to death.”

      “Oh, I see.  Yes, Mrs. Hudson is most adept at preparing my small nibble.”

Small?  There were eating their small nibble out of tubs the size of a rain barrel!  Enormous, buttery, salty, smells-better-than-the-best-sex-of-your-life-feels nibble was more like it…

      “And I’ve got an icy cold, sugary Coke to wash the goodness down my throat.  It’s amazing!”

      “Charles is rather fond of that particular beverage, so we stock a healthy supply.  I am more partial to the diet variety of such things.”

Mycroft’s happily waggled beverage made zero sense, to Greg’s mind, given there were a billion calories in the popcorn, not to mention the sweets Mycroft had in his film-watching snack supply, but humans were nothing if not complex creatures.

      “And seats.  Those, Mycroft, are actual cinema seats and I have a professional eye for that sort of thing.”

      “That they are.  I wished, most sincerely, to craft the most authentic experience for these small interludes.”

There was a soft, wistful smile on Mycroft’s lips that told Greg ‘these small interludes’ likely played a large part in the lonely youth of a certain writer with whom he was currently conversing.

      “Spent a lot of time at the cinema when you were young, did you?”

      “Scads.  There was a small venue near our home and… it was a glorious place to lose myself for a few hours.”

      “Sir, shall we be commencing your film soon or should I return at a later time?”

The unexpected voice made both men jump slightly and, then, giggle at their silliness.  However, if there was anything more deserving of a startled jump than a disembodied voice in a darkened theatre in the cellar of a murder-asylum, Greg had no desire to learn what it was.

      “I do apologize Charles.  Yes, we are ready.  Gregory, please have a seat.”

Mycroft moved to a seat on the small row of lifted-from-a-cinema seats and did the proper bum-nudging to lower the bum-supporting element, then plopped down  to settle in for their film.

      “Ready to commence sitting procedure.  This is going to be fun.  What are…”

      “Oh…”

Greg stopped mid-motion and felt only marginally ridiculous freezing in a wildly-awkward position of being bent over with his bum jutting out and hovering just above the still-vertical seat.

      “Problem, Mycroft?”

      “I…”

Problem exists!  Apply Mycroftian situational lens!  Was preparing to sit down, in this seat… ok… got it.  Maybe.

      “Might you prefer having the seat next to you left empty.”

      “The likelihood of elbow contact is punishingly high.”

      “That’s very true.  Hard to rest your arm after a vigorous popcorn-lifting experience and not giving the bloke next to you a bit of a nudge.  Taking the seat two along from you.  Re-commencing sitting procedure and aaaahhh… perfect.  My elbows have never felt so free.”

      “It truly is a jubilant thing.”

      “That it is.  Charles!  Looks like we’re set to go!”

      “Very good, Mr. Lestrade.  I shall manage the reel changes, so simply relax and enjoy your film.”

      “Mycroft… I envy you.”

      “There is much to envy about me, I do admit.”

And he’s not being cheeky.  You just want to pinch the cheek of someone like that… but won’t because the outcome will not be a happy giggle and an ‘oh you’ wave of his hand.

      “What are we watching?”

      “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

      “Yes!  Oh, that’s a brilliant choice.  You actually have a film version of that and not a DVD?”

      “I have somewhat an impressive private collection of classic choices on film.  I appreciate the quality of the viewed product to a simple video or a streamed title, however, I also recognize the convenience of the latter options and have a sizeable collection of titles in those formats, as well.”

      “Again, I am mightily impressed.  Might I know, however, your view on conversation during a film?”

      “Hmmmm…”

      “That doesn’t sound positive.”

      “If it is a film I have never viewed, I frown on such a thing, but I have seen this one a great many times.”

      “So… is your view that conversation during an oft-viewed film is permissible?”

      “To some degree.”

      “Can I count on you to let me know if I’ve overdone the degree?”

      “Of course.  It would impolite to shush you without first remarking that the conversational threshold was being approached.”

      “I feel very relieved.”

      “Excellent.  Now, shush… our film is starting.”

Greg grinned widely and slid down in his seat exactly as he did when he was a lad and a magical film was playing on the big screen.  This screen was smaller than that, but the film was just as magical, and he had a Mycroft to chat with, as a bonus.  Briefly chat with, that is.  In very hushed tones…

__________

      “I don’t care how old it is, that film is brilliant.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot.”

      “I wholeheartedly agree, Gregory.  The repartee is positively scintillating.”

      “Cary Grant is a bonafide pro with the repartee.”

      “Most certainly.”

      “It was hard to know when I was a lad who I wanted to shag more, Cary Grant or Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., since they both put the stars in my eyes, but Grant had that extra zip that won him my imagined throes of passion.  Not that I had much idea what those were when I was fourteen or so, but… Mycroft?  Oh no…”

Tossing the last few remaining popcorn kernels at the writer didn’t reboot his processor, so Greg tried the finger snapping strategy and met with as little success.  Worrying that this new forced shutdown of Mycroft’s mental computer might damage the circuitry if it continued too long, the rash decision was made to flick a few droplets of watered-down Coca Cola onto Mycroft’s face, which quickly contorted into an expression one generally associates with a feline who has experienced the same insult.

      “Ok, that’s better.  Want to tell me where you went there for a moment?”

      “Gregory…”

      “That is my name, yes.”

      “You…”

      “I am me, yes.”

      “You… fantasized about intimate relations with a man?”

      “Oh yeah.  Lots of times.”

There was definitely a tilt towards another processor failure, but Greg’s preemptive Coke flicking kept Mycroft’s mental machinery humming along in proper working order.

      “Gregory… you… you are gay?”

      “No.”

      “What?  I believe… does that not… I am confused.”

      “There’s other options, you know.”

      “Do I?”

That was actually a good question.

      “I would have thought so.  You’re not exactly isolated from the world and it’s… comings and goings.”

      “That was not particularly clarifying.”

Relying on the wink-wink nudge-nudge strategy was working as well as it might for a unsharpened pencil.  Time for the straightforward approach.

      “I have a taste for men, yes.  I also have a taste for women.”

      “You lick your sexual partners?”

      “Oh my god… ok, I take back my ‘oh my god’ because, yes, I do lick my sexual partners, among other tongue-based activities, but focus on the men and women bit for a moment.”

      “I am focusing.”

He’s squinting.  The squint is intensifying.  All this needed was David Attenborough narrating the sequence for it to be a BBC-worthy documentary.

      “Are you…”

      “Say it, Mycroft.  It’s burning a hole in your eyes.”

      “That makes absolutely no sense.”

      “I’m bisexual!”

      “I thought you wanted me to say that.”

      “It seemed to be causing you pain.  I couldn’t live with that on my conscience.”

      “Oh… that is most kind of you.”

      “Thank you.”

However, the look on your face says we’re not done with this discussion.  Not in the slightest…

      “But… Gregory… there is no mention of that in your various interviews and such.  I read a number, and, in fact, mention was made frequently of your tremendous appeal to your female audience, as well as your female sexual conquests.”

      “Conquests is an unchivalrous word, don’t you think?”

      “You may have a point.”

      “Matches the one on top of my head.  But, seriously, my sexuality isn’t something I advertise, though it’s not really a secret.  I suspect most of what’s in those interviews isn’t me bringing up the topic, but the interviewer trying to get information out of me about who I’m currently fucking.  I’ll admit, though, that the various studios publicity departments keep mum when it’s a man I’m seeing, as opposed to when I have a woman on my arm, but I don’t hide it any more than I would make a show of keeping company with a woman when that’s the story.  I keep my private life private, in general, and I’m actually boring enough in that private life that the paparazzi aren’t hiding in my shrubbery very often, because they’ve learned through sad experience that all it will win them is a night that could have been better spent spying on someone more exciting.”

      “I see.”

      “Really?”

      “No, it simply seemed polite to say so.”

      “I appreciate politeness in any and all forms, but you don’t have to be right now if you don’t want to.  What is it you don’t actually see, and I’ll try to make it clearer.”

      “I… I honestly don’t know.  I suppose it is simply more a condition of being somewhat…”

      “Shocked?”

      “That is not the worst possible descriptor of the situation.”

      “Is it that you had an image of me and now you’ve got a piece of data that doesn’t fit with that neat and tidy picture?”

      “That… that is certainly something I find distressing under the best of circumstances.”

      “And these aren’t?”

      “I…dash it all, Gregory, you are bamboozling me again!”

      “I’m so talented I don’t even know when I’m bamboozling and when I’m not.  I’ve bamboozled myself!”

Mycroft’s irritation was manifested by his own throwing of popcorn at Greg’s smugly-grinning face, though he took pains to carefully wipe his fingers afterwards since those kernels had been pointedly not consumed as they contained far too much butter for the butter/salt ratio range he found acceptable.

      “Looks like your shock is fading.  Hard to have great aim when you’re shocked.”

The loud huff coming from the author made Greg’s grin widen and he risked moving himself to the seat next to Mycroft since there wasn’t, now, the excuse of elbow violations to prevent the proximity.  And there was still something in Mycroft’s demeanor that said they’d not reached the over-and-done-with portion of the conversation.

      “There’s no problem, though, right?  You’re still the same Mycroft Holmes I knew before I knew about your preferences… is it any different for me?  Does this change what you think about me?”

      “Yes.”

Not the hoped-for response, but with Mycroft that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

      “Can you tell me why?”

      “No, because I do not understand it yet, myself.”

      “The piece that’s not fitting is a bit larger than you might have expected?”

      “Perhaps.  It was much the same as the first night we met.”

      “You had a complete image of me, or so you thought, and the big, bright, shiny new pieces didn’t mesh at all with what was already there.”

      “To some degree… is it not a jarring thing to discover something like that?”

      “Maybe to some.  It’s happened to me, now and again, I can’t deny that.  Most often, though, I find it exhilarating.  There’s always more to discover about a person.  Even when you think you know them, they can still surprise you.  I’ve known that bastard Anderson for years and he still offers surprises.  Usually of the stench-producing sort, but surprises, nonetheless.  But, I can see why some people might have a different opinion.”

Greg watched Mycroft sit silently for a moment, worrying his lower lip a bit as he stared into the nearly-empty tub on his lap.  At least Mycroft was thinking.  Thinking was a good thing.  Usually.

      “I… Anthea enjoys mango.”

      “The tortoise has green eyes.”

      “I do not understand.”

      “I thought we were taking in code.”

      “No.”

      “Ok, back to Anthea.  You say she likes mangoes.  They have their purpose, I suppose, but they taste a bit… piney for me.”

      “I did not know she enjoyed them until two months and four days ago when she requested Charles prepare for her a… mangorita.  The color was horrifying, but… the flavor was surprisingly agreeable.”

      “So, you recently learned something new about your agent.  Yeah, it does happen now and again.  And liking mango is a lot more paradigm-shifting than being bisexual.”

      “Incorrect.”

      “Very correct.  You don’t have to see me doing any bisexy things, but you do have to see her eating mango.  With the sticky, orange juice on her face and the stringy bits you sometimes get caught between her teeth.”

Mycroft looked so terrified of encountering that situation that Greg genuinely regretted bringing it up.

      “No… no, that shall not happen.  It cannot.”

Regret rising like dough in a warm room!

      “I have no doubt you’re right.  None at all.  Anthea strikes me as a very tidy person.”

      “I shall forbid any form of mango enter this house!”

New rule – no teasing Mycroft about mangoes or any other form of stone fruit.

      “How about, instead, forbid eating one in a manner that would make a properly-fastidious person have the vapors?  You said you did like your mangorita,so that would keep you from having another, which seems, to me, to a bit of self-torture you don’t deserve.  And, as a little tidbit from my vast experience with things like that, you can toss in some strawberries to alter the color if it bothers you too much.  Changes the flavor, too, but I actually prefer strawberry margaritas, anyway, so I’m a bit biased.”

      “That… thank you, Gregory, that may suffice.”

      “Good.  Now… are we ok?”

      “I do not understand.”

Not feeling the sharp surge of surprise another conversation might impart.

      “Are we still ok to do things like watch a film together and chat about it afterwards?”

      “Oh, yes.  Of course!  I suppose my words might have made you believe otherwise, but such a thing never crossed my mind, I assure you.”

      “Alright, then.  Looks like we have that settled.  Care to get started on the chatting for this one?  I have a lot of thoughts about this film and would love to hear how they complement yours.  Or how fuc… stupidly daft you think they are.”

      “I look most forward to dissecting this film with you.  Might we do that in my study?”

      “The perfect place!  Any chance for another Coke while we chat?  Maybe a spot of rum to add to it, as well?”

      “Hmmm… you are most fond of mixed cocktails.”

      “My dad feels nothing but shame when he drags me to his local and I forget where I am and order something embarrassing.  Tasty is tasty, though, no matter how the tastiness is made.  So… off we go?”

      “Yes.  Though…”

Greg’s arse was out of the seat, but dropped back down at the tone in Mycroft’s voice.

      “Yeah?”

      “Gregory… why did you not reveal this information to me earlier?”

      “I’ve only met you a few times, Mycroft, and it’s not a thing that generally comes up in… oh.  Oh, you mean earlier tonight, don’t you?”

      “Yes.  It seems it… the time would seem to have been an appropriate one.”

      “To be honest, I thought about it, but that would have turned the conversation away from where it needed to be, which was directly on you.  That moment was all for and completely about you, Mycroft, not me.  And, I know it bothers me when I’m talking about something, something important, that is, and the person I’m talking to is more interested in bringing up their own experiences than listening to mine.  You know the sort.  You want to talk about your mum being sick and they start talking about when their mum or dad was sick.  You break off a relationship with someone and they start talking about their last failed love affair.  I know they mean it kindly, trying to show, maybe, they understand what you’re going through and do a little of that ‘I survived!’ thing to make you optimistic, feel more hopeful, but… it’s always seemed a touch self-involved to me.  Again, though, other people have other opinions.”

      “I see.  In truth, I cannot say it is a viewpoint lacking foundation.”

Was that good?  Well, Mycroft would surely let him know if it wasn’t.

      “In the interests of full disclosure, though, I will admit that I intentionally mentioned it just now because it did seem an opportune time.  If we hadn’t had our earlier… chat… I probably wouldn’t have, since it didn’t matter to anything we were doing, at least not today.  My friends know about me, though, so I would have mentioned it to you at some point, probably exactly the same way I did tonight because Cary Grant isn’t the only film star that has enticed me from a very young age and this film or that would have started me pining again over a love that never could be.”

Oh no, he’s blue-screen-of-deathing again!

      “Mycroft?  Come on, Mycroft, we can’t discuss our film if you’re just frozen up and blinking, now can we?”

That it took a few more moments of coaxing to bring Mycroft back to the land of the living did concern Greg, though not as much as the fervent gleam that filled Mycroft’s eyes when his processor was letting data flow through again.

      “Gregory…”

      “Ummm…. yes?”

      “Am I… you consider me your friend?”

Mycroft had an uncanny way of making Greg’s heart break and this time it hurt more than ever before.

      “Yes, Mycroft, I do.  Is that alright with you?”

      “Yes.  Yes, it is alright with me.  Would you… would you take offense if I also claimed you as my friend?”

Heart hurting now than even it did a moment ago.  One simple, little word, but it meant the very world to Mycroft…

      “I’d consider it an honor!  Thank you for that – a higher-quality friend I could not hope to have.”

      “That is most certainly true.  Now, I believe it is time to return to my study and continue our discussion.  I shall ring for Mrs. Hudson to provide your cocktail and I may…. yes, I shall join you.  I am feeling most brash and exotic tonight.”

Greg laughed at Mycroft’s highly-excited expression and congratulated himself on achieving friendness with the world’s best and most benignly-brash mystery author.  Definitely something to be proud of and he wasn’t actually joking about that because it was tragically clear that Mycroft’s friends were few and far between.  Well, the realm of friend-potentials didn’t know what it was missing.  It was actually a shame he had to be back in London tomorrow because it would be nice to simply enjoy another day or so with his new friend, but… oh, right.  Tomorrow was a writing day and he’d be the only one awake during the actual day, anyway.  Definitely some tricky details to sort out to move this friendedness forward, but there was time enough for that.

For now, it was time for rum and Coke, as well as some contented sighing over one of his favorite films.  Pity the poor paparazzi hiding in Mycroft’s shrubbery because they were in for some boring photos of two middle-aged men chatting a very proper distance apart in comfortable chairs, sipping the simplest of mixed drinks.  However, some people’s boring was other people’s bliss…

Chapter Text

Greg knew he should have gotten some sleep, but sleeping would have cut into the time spent talking about classic films with Mycroft and making a start on discussing the book that inspired the film which brought him into Mycroft’s sphere in the first place.  There would be a lot of those discussions, if he had his way, because it was astonishing how much more was in Mycroft’s brain about the book than actually made it to the page.  Countless small details that enriched the bigger picture, but didn’t change one critical thing about the story itself.  Then there were the parts that had made it to the page, besides Bell’s sexuality, that were deleted later because Mycroft decided they were unnecessary, slowed down the story too much or began to take it in a direction he didn’t like.  Greg had believed writing to be a hard but, ultimately, straightforward process.  Apparently, like acting, the reality was leagues away from the fantasy.

      “More food?  You’re going to be too fat to play Bell, young man.”

The fact that both Greg and Mycroft had appeared in the kitchen holding out the plates that had formerly held a hefty piece of cake they’d deemed essential a few hours after finishing their popcorn feast, accompanied by picture-perfect pitiful Oliver Twist eyes, was a nod to theatrics that Mrs. Hudson secretly applauded.

      “A jacket will hide the paunch.  Just a spot of breakfast for a poor man soon to hop the train for the ages-long, punishing trip back to London?”

      “I, myself, am not participating in any form of hopping, however, Gregory’s plight is sufficient to act as the burden for two damned souls and that burden can only be alleviated by a nourishing meal.  And tea.”

      “A pair of hounds, the two of you are.  Fine!  I’ll see your bowls filled and have them on the table in half an hour.  Is that good enough or do I have to toss pieces of toast at you to hold back the stomach rumblings.”

      “Toast, please.”

      “I concur.  Toast with a succulent dollop of Tuesday jam.”

Greg narrowed his eyes, but decided that unless it was made with motor oil, there wasn’t really any way in which something described as jam could be awful, even if it was named after a day of the week.

      “Five minutes, then.  Set your plates in the sink and I’ll have toast out to you in a moment.”

Taking Mycroft’s plate, Greg made certain to place them carefully in the sink since he was somewhat certain the old-fashioned design was actually an expensive old-fashioned design and he didn’t want to travel back to London with a bandaged head from a housekeeper-with-wooden-spoon injury.

      “Oh, and that brother of your is already awake and causing mischief.  Don’t expect more than an egg apiece as he’s taken a full two dozen for some ridiculous experiment or other.  I sent Charles with him to make certain he doesn’t explode something.  Again.”

Mycroft pinched the bridge of his nose and wondered if it was possible to simply hire a 24-hour minder for Sherlock, since the good doctor was flagrantly derelict in that position by requiring sleep and toilet breaks at regular intervals.

      “Thank you, Mrs. Hudson.  However, Sherlock should be leaving today, so we have but a short window remaining for his reign of terror to produce its normal quantity of property-destroying disaster.”

Motioning for Greg to follow, the writer took a moment to rearrange the fruit in the bowl on the staff table and reposition the chairs so that each was precisely in the center of its side of the square before continuing on to the dining room where he adjusted the draperies slightly so that the sun failed to send its most glaring rays into the room.

      “Speaking of leaving, Mycroft, I expect you’re looking forward to seeing the back of me so you can get some rest.”

Greg pulled out a chair and waited for Mycroft’s tiny nod before sitting so that no seating arrangement rules were broken.

      “To be truthful, I am a touch fatigued, but it is not an entirely new sensation.  When I have a productive line of thought during a writing session, I tend to follow it to its end, which might see me remaining awake until nearly noon.”

      “Noon!  Oh my… that’s dedication.”

      “Yes, and most necessary if the chapter on which I am working is to carry the full flavor of the message I intend it to carry.”

      “Artists suffer for their art.”

      “It is true, but not something I sorely regret.”

Smiling at how very serious was his new friend, who had missed the initial bit of teasing, Greg found himself already starting to miss having the opportunity to chat with Mycroft about whatever happened to enter their minds.  It was hard to find someone you could talk to without there having to be a specific purpose for the conversation.

      “Can I give you permission to sleep in a little today as a reward for making a lot of progress on the film project?”

      “Alas, though I would welcome that, I…”

      “Yeah?”

      “I feel inspired.  I feel that my newest book would benefit greatly from my letting this burst of inspiration guide my hand while it continues to shine brightest.”

      “Hurray!  That’s something to celebrate!  And, here’s Mrs. Hudson with our celebratory toast and jam.”

The thought of tossing a piece of toast directly on the table in front of Greg was tempting the housekeeper mightily, but the temptation paled in comparison to the dread of how quickly her employer would dissolve seeing crumbs launch like tiny insects over the pristine table covering.

      “And there’s a proper English breakfast on its way once you get this down your throats.  I’ll pack away a little something for you, too, Mr. Actor, because I know the food on the train is dreadful.  Now, toast and tea while they’re both hot because I won’t bring fresh if you let this get sad and cold.”

Quickly setting down the tray and distributing the starter course for breakfast at it’s very uncharacteristic time for the house, Mrs. Hudson made note of how happy her Mr. Holmes looked this morning.  It was a look he wore surprisingly well.  However, he also wore annoyed and pouty well, so now was as good a time as any for this bit of news.

      “Oh, and Mr. Holmes, Anthea said to phone her tomorrow about that radio interview you said you’d cut out your tongue before you’d do.  She said she found a surgeon who has the correct glue to stick it back in your mouth, so your argument’s been thwarted.”

      “Damnation!”

Mycroft’s thunderous pout was so perfectly toddler-like that Greg did a mental run-through for forgotten sweets or a quid or two in his pockets to make him smile again.

      “That sulk doesn’t work on me and you know it, Mr. Holmes.  Besides, it’s your fault you told her that the only interview you’d ever give would be one where you didn’t actually have to leave your house, appear in person or interact with any other humans in any possible way.  You left her just enough room to have you phone in to one of those radio programs.  Besides it’s one of those pre-recorded sort and she’ll have the questions first, so you can have everything scripted and ready to go and it’ll be like reading a speech, except the other fellow will have his bit to toss in so you don’t sound like you’re talking in random bits of nonsense.  Besides, there’ll be a pitch for donations for your literacy project that the one over there sold his body to, so you’ll be doing your good deed for the month.”

Mycroft’s rude noise was as prim and proper as was humanly possible, but suffused with the appropriate level of irritation and castigation to still be called rude.

      “Got spit on your lip.”

While Mycroft frantically reached for his napkin, Greg wagged a finger at the smug Mrs. Hudson who made her own rude noise as she sashayed out of the dining room to check on the feature presentation of their breakfast performance.

      “Plagued!  I am plagued by the vexatious females in my life!”

How Mycroft could perfectly fold a used napkin and have it look unused was obviously a skill known only to a select and secret sect of individuals who had not seen fit to pass along their arcane knowledge to marquee-dominating film stars named Greg Lestrade.

      “I suppose it’s part of their wage for keeping the even-more vexatious bastards away from you so you can go about your business 99.9% of the time.”

      “Ugh… there are days I would gladly trade banknotes for botheration, however, you do have a point.”

      “Interviews are a misery sometimes, that much I’ll admit.  I’ve done more than I can count and still roll my eyes when Anderson tells me I’ve got another on my plate.  This one sounds fairly benign; I’ve had a few like that when I’ve been on location and BBC Radio decides they have a spot to fill.  You get the questions they’re going to ask because it’s assumed you’ll be short of time and can’t have a general ramble that they’ll edit into something coherent.”

      “At times that is the case.  I have participated in these before, but too often for my liking, have been…”

      “Blindsided?”

      “Verily.  They did not remain on the agreed-upon topics and tried…”

      “Yeah?”

      “They wanted details of my newest book!  They wanted me to divulge characters, plot… it was intolerable!”

      “Oh, got nosy, did they?  Did you tell them where to shove their nosiness?”

      “I discontinued the interviews.  And my solicitors gained all copies of the recordings so they could not, in any manner, broadcast their insinuations and interpretations of my statements.”

      “Turned the suits on them?  Smart… sometimes the only thing the berks pay attention to is a team of people in expensive suits presenting them with papers filled with Latin and words that might as well be Latin since you can’t make heads nor tails of them due to their fanciness.  I’ve had to do that a time or two for various things or, rather, Anderson’s had to do that since he deals with the various legal beagles rather than me.”

      “Yes, I do not see you as someone with the appropriate temperament and skills to successfully direct a firm of solicitors towards your intended outcomes.”

      “I… was that a compliment or an insult?”

      “Neither.  Simply a statement of fact.”

Which Greg had to admit was a correct statement of fact, since he was balls at working with solicitors, having tried periodically and gaining himself nothing but an aching head and large bill for the time spent acquiring said headache.

      “Ok.  In any case, I’m sure Anthea will impress upon whoever is interviewing you that you’ll let loose the dogs of war if they try anything sneaky.  At least you don’t have to have an entire telly crew dogging your heels for one of those Who the Fuck are You shows.  I’ve got that on the horizon and… in truth, I may be a tad excited because they always find interesting things about your ancestors, but it’s still a bother.”

      “Oh, I know the sort of program to which you are referring.  I rarely recognize the individual they are profiling, but the historical and genealogical information is usually very interesting.  They have approached me, however, I have given my opinion on the matter in exceedingly concise terms.”

      “Was it two terms that rhymed with duck shoe?”

      “No.  Whatever would that accomplish?”

      “Depends on your inflection, I suppose.  But, I think it… oh.  That looks dire.”

Mycroft followed Greg’s eyes which were staring out of the one window that was fully unobstructed by heavy drapes to see Sherlock, bound and gagged, being led by a rope by a surprisingly nonchalant-appearing chauffer, despite the egg and not-egg dripping from Charles’s hair.

      “Sherlock has been a mischief today.  And it is a day scarcely started.”

      “Looks like your man has it sorted, though.”

      “Charles is very well-provided with useful skills and in a diversity of areas of expertise.”

      “I heard he’s been with you longer than any other of your staff.”

      “That he has.  Charles has been in my employ from not long after the publication of my second novel.”

      “Decided you needed a chauffer to mix with the posh crowd?”

      “Was that a joke?”

      “Yes.  Well spotted.”

      “Excellent.  In any case, I had not particularly considered a driver, however… circumstances demonstrated how convenient such a thing might be.”

      “You rode about in a chauffeured car and decided it was the smart way to travel?”

      “In a sense, though it was Charles driving the car and for the purpose of delivering me to hospital.”

      “What!  Christ, Mycroft, what happened?”

      “Hmmm?  Oh, he was attempting to burgle the house next to mine and gave me somewhat of a fright when I caught him at it.  I slipped and took a small tumble that rather ferociously twisted my ankle.”

      “WHAT!”

      “Worry not, for it was only a sprain and not a break.”

      “I’m more worried about… Charles is a fucking housebreaker!”

      “Was is the more appropriate verb and he was not a common housebreaker.  Charles was a highly successful art thief.”

Greg ran through his mental files for every impression he’d ever had of Mycroft’s driver and found absolutely nothing to prepare him for this.  He was already a terrible detective and making a mockery of his dream film role!

      “I… I have no idea what to say about that except I want to say something about that and I don’t know what it is.”

      “Pardon?”

      “Tell me this story, Mycroft, and don’t omit any details or you’re not getting a single spot of jam for your toast.”

Something Greg emphasized by drawing the jam pot over towards him and creating a small jam prison around it with his hands after checking for unhappy signs that the jam pot occupied an equally-critical position on the table-setting-placement scale as the pepper or any of Mycroft’s multiple pieces of crystal drinkware.

      “What a dastardly man you are, Gregory.  If you must know…”

      “Oh, I must.”

      “… I was in the market for a new residence and rented a townhome that seemed suitable for both me and Sherlock, when he chose to be at home.  Charles had already ascertained that my neighbor had acquired a truly delightful Monet, which Charles decided to liberate and transfer to more appropriate, and lucrative, hands.  On that point, I cannot blame him in the slightest as my neighbor was a vulgarian in every sense of the word and the thought of a lovely work of art in that man’s hands is positively nauseating.  Anyway, the plan was to use the balcony of my bedroom to access a drainpipe, then a small ledge that led to the room where the Money hung.  What Charles had not realized was that the house, which had been vacant, now had a resident, though one without, at present, furnishings so the house still appeared uninhabited.  It was quite the shock for us both when I started downstairs to prepare a cup of tea and he was starting upstairs to begin his work.”

      “Charles is an art thief.  That… I can’t say it doesn’t fit for this particular household, but I certainly never would have suspected that.”

      “Nor did anyone else, for he has not a single arrest, let alone conviction, to his name.  And he was terribly remorseful when I had my fall.  It took him scarcely three seconds to decide against his plan and tend to me instead.  Fortunately, my boorish neighbor also had a car that was available to… borrow… and I was most impressed with the skill Charles demonstrated both in the borrowing and the driving of it to hospital.  I doubt any ambulance could have made the trip so quickly!  As I detest public transportation and find cabs a scandalous waste of funds, I offered Charles an honest way to earn a wage by acting as my driver.  And finder of a suitable vehicle to drive that would fit my needs.”

      “I’m surprised he accepted.  There’s loads of money to be had in art thievery, or so it seems from the films and such.”

      “True, but staying current with the technology of alarm and monitoring systems, increased scrutiny of the movement of goods to certain hands, the influx of new faces into the profession that were not the trusted faces of old… he felt it was an opportune time for a shift in careers.  And, I must say, he has not seemed to regret his decision, nor have I.  The details and insights into the art world and, of course, it’s criminal shadow, have been tremendously helpful in the writing of many of my books.”

Mycroft sipped his tea and Greg simply shook his head in wonder that for all Mycroft’s various adherences to the strict rules of this or that, the man merrily employed an art thief as his driver and Sherlock-wrangler.  Would the complexities and unexpecteds never end?  He dearly hoped not.

      “Has he also helped you choose the various pieces I see in this house or is that all you?”

      “Oh, it is a veritable group effort.  I have some knowledge of art, but Charles is certainly better equipped to spot established artists or predict who would be worth my investment for the future.  He is also very keen at spotting forgeries, which is a most laudable benefit.  Many of the pieces you see in the house, however, were here from the previous owner and it is a fierce negotiation whenever changes are made to the structure or placement of the more prominent pieces, be they of art or furniture.”

      “Negotiation?”

      “Yes.”

      “With who?”

      “The former owner.”

      “How would they know what you did or didn’t do?”

      “Because Mrs. Hudson still resides here, and she is very quick to notice any changes during her daily duties.”

      “WHAT!”

      “Dear me, Gregory, you are most prone to shouting this morning.”

      “Mrs. Hudson… Mrs. Hudson owned this house?”

      “It has been in her family for some time, though they were not the original owners.  When her brother passed away rather suddenly, though not particularly surprisingly, given the man’s excessive love of both food and drink, and his abhorrence of doing much besides watching the telly, Mrs. Hudson found herself with a house and lands that her husband certainly did not appreciate for its lack of proximity to London or his mistress who could also be found in the city.”

      “Did he die a sudden and surprising death, too?”

      “What an admirable guess!”

Nothing else would have fit this fairy tale.

      “So, Mrs. Hudson decided to sell, rather than live out here alone.”

      “Yes, though the sale price was a pittance to her accounts once the various debts her husband had accumulated were satisfied.  It was most fortunate, for us both, that she had a fondness for this restful area and was willing to stay on to see the house kept in tip-top shape.”

      “And make certain you didn’t do anything rotten to her family house.”

      “That, also.”

Though, to his credit, Mycroft had been the best possible person the newly-arrived Mrs. Hudson could have sold this house to, in her opinion.  She’d always found it an odd bit of fantasy and that was as good a description of Mr. Holmes as it was the house, so the two were a perfect match.

      “He’s tried, though!  Don’t think for a moment this one hasn’t tried.  Had to stop the daft thing doing all sorts of nonsense no sensible person would dream of in a million years.  Of course, that’s mostly because those things would have made my job harder and bugger that, I work too hard as it is.  I can’t say I have much loyalty to the house as I never lived here very long in my lifetime, but I’ll be dragged to hell before I let anyone take up the floors just because they don’t like the particular tone that’s struck by Ms. Anthea’s heels when she walks across them.”

      “That was not the only reason!”

      “It was!  You just tried to pretend you wanted something lighter in color because I didn’t know you quite well enough then to know you were lying horribly like an evil little bugger whose broken a window and tries to blame it on pixies or something.”

      “Pixies have never been accused of window breaking.”

      “And you’ve never wanted to make anything lighter in color in all your born days.  Now, eat your breakfast while I watch your brother doesn’t make an escape.  Charles will be in the shower for longer than usual, I suspect, what with egg and something blue in his hair.”

      “Blue?”

      “I’m not taking your brother’s gag off to find out what it is, so it’ll be a happy mystery for now.  Charles will be ready to take you into the village for your train, though, Mr. Lestrade.  And I hate to break the news to you, but I heard Doctor Watson say which train he was hoping to take and it’s the one you wanted, too, so prepare for Sherlock’s looniness which always erupts when he’s confined in a space with other human beings.  I’d say see if you could ride atop the bloody thing, but I think that might be a touch illegal and that wouldn’t be the sort of publicity you’d want.  On second thought, though, you riding atop a train might be exactly the sort of silly publicity you’d want, so make your own decision.  It’s none of my business, anyway.”

Though the look on Mrs. Hudson’s face clearly said that any train-top riding had to be documented on video and copies delivered to her at the earliest possible opportunity.

      “Oh dear, Gregory… I do not envy you your plight.”

      “Any helicopters I can charter?  Farmer with a horse and vegetable cart?”

      “I believe the vehicle you rented previously is available.”

      “Nope!  Not in a million years.  You’ve got cars, you villain.  Give me one.”

      “No.”

      “Yes or I tell the wardrobe department that Diogenes Bell wears argyle socks, a shiny plastic belt with an enormous buckle, and a beret.”

      “You would not dare!”

      “I do dare!  Wait until I get started on the shoes.  A pair of those trainers the kids wear with lights that flash when they take a step or glitter on the laces.”

      “That… that is positively uncivil!”

      “Shoes can’t be civil, so I declare piffle on you.”

      “That… I have no idea how to respond to being piffled.”

      “Then I win!”

      “You most certainly do not!  My lack of response does not equate to a surrender.”

Screwing up his face into a ferocious mask of determination, Mycroft reached over and pulled Greg’s breakfast plate over to create his own prison, this time requiring whole arms, to keep his prisoner safely contained.

      “That… oh, the gauntlet has been thrown down, Mycroft Holmes.”

      “I have no fear of your flaccid threats, Gregory Lestrade.”

      “My threats aren’t flaccid.  They’re diamond-hard and ready for action.”

      “That shall not last given your lack of an energizing breakfast.”

      “I’ve got jam!  I’ll eat the whole container and that’ll keep me full of sugary calories to fuel the hardness and the action.”

      “Untrue!  Or, true only for a brief time as the simple sugars in the jam are quickly metabolized and shall leave you depleted and lethargic in a post-sugar downturn what will ensure my victory.”

      “Shit!  You’re right.  Forgot about the sugar coma.  Ummmm… the rug!  I’ll munch the rug and all its fibery goodness will slow the sugar rush.”

      “You will not defile my exquisite and irreplaceable Oriental rug with your teeth, Gregory Lestrade.”

Greg’s chomping sounds earned him a quick flick on his ear by Mrs. Hudson, who flicked Mycroft’s ear, too, though with the so-far unused jam spoon and used his quick check that he still had two ears attached to his skull to steal back Greg’s breakfast and return it to him, as well as return the jam pot to its proper position on the table.

      “If I have to put you two at different tables, don’t think I won’t.  Now, you, Actor Boy, are going to leave Mr. Holmes’s nice cars alone and you, Writer Boy, are going to have a chat with your brother about the status of his allowance if he causes trouble on the trip home.  And, if I have to step in again to see you two sorted, you can forget entirely about any more popcorn for your film nights.”

The look of horror on both men’s faces was precisely what Mrs. Hudson wanted to see and it was with her own victory in her pocket that she left the vanquished alone to lick their wounds and finish their meal.

      “Mrs. Hudson doesn’t play about, does she?”

      “Not in the slightest.  It is one of her most defining attributes.”

      “Want to hide her pinny after she’s done with breakfast?”

      “Gregory!”

      “Is that a no?”

      “If you provide the distraction, I shall perpetrate the abduction.”

      “We’re a good team, Mycroft.”

      “Unquestionably.”

__________

      “March, you criminal.”

John was not surprised to wake a little later than expected, since Sherlock wasn’t in bed with him, and he was even less surprised that Sherlock had used the late morning to perpetrate his standard level of chaos on his brother’s home.  The bastard was nothing if not predictable, which did make it easier, though, for the staff to have a weather eye out for his antics and a rope on hand when he needed to be lassoed like a stray cow on one of those American ranches.

      “I am not a criminal!  It is highly arguable that crafting explosives from household products is exempt from ridiculous governmental regulations, especially when the experiment is conducted on private property and all aspects of the research are documented according to accepted scientific protocol.”

      “If Charles doesn’t make you ride in the boot, I’ll be shocked.”

      “The hair loss is only temporary.”

      “The man has to keep his hat on if he doesn’t want that bald spot to sunburn!”

      “Sunscreen is freely available even in this accursed corner of the country.”

With a hearty shove to start his partner moving forward, John made mental note that this was, by far, one of the most successful visits they’d ever enjoyed!  Hopefully, they’d return sooner than later… especially if the fellow taking his own turn to bid farewell to their host was going to present.

      “Well, Mycroft, that’s two of my traveling party settled.  Now, I suppose it’s my turn.  It’s been a wonderful visit.  I really had a marvelous time.”

Feeling a little ashamed that he carefully watched Greg’s face for any sign he was hiding the actual truth, Mycroft salved his conscience with the knowledge that not only did his new friend appear to be wholly honest, but was smiling somewhat wistfully, as if he was sorrowful their time together had to come to an end.

      “As did I.  I trust I shall hear from you soon concerning the matters we discussed during our recent conversations.”

      “Uh… no.”

      “Pardon?”

      “No, you won’t be hearing from me.”

      “I… Gregory, did I somehow give offense?”

      “No, you just never gave me your telephone number.”

      “Good heavens, you are correct.  I apologize, Gregory, that was terribly remiss of me.”

Quickly pulling out his notebook, Mycroft jotted down his number and handed it to Greg, who correctly sensed this was something Mycroft very rarely bestowed on anyone.

      “Great!  Now, I can phone you to keep you updated with things.  I know Anthea will do that, but it’s good to get the story from another source or perspective sometimes.”

      “And, of course… not that it is a vital thing, you see, but do not… do not feel you are prohibited from ringing me if… well, one does not need a matter of business to discuss for one to have a discussion, does one?”

Mycroft’s smile was so shyly hopeful that Greg knew he’d find a phone in Antarctica if he had to so Mycroft wasn’t disappointed in how long it had been since they’d spoken.

      “One certainly does not!  I’ll likely be kissing my pillow hello fairly early tonight, but I’ll phone tomorrow to let you know if Anderson had any news waiting for me at home.”

      “Most efficient and most appreciated.  Have a safe journey, Gregory.  I… I hope we shall visit again, soon.”

Greg stood waiting a moment while Mycroft visibly wrestled with himself about offering his hand to shake and it was the sheer pain of the struggle on Mycroft’s face that prompted Greg to extend his little finger and waggle it at the writer.

      “Pinkie promise we’ll do this again soon?”

Now the struggle was replaced by confusion, so Greg wiggled it again and reached out a little closer to Mycroft, which finally brought some understanding to his friend’s face.

      “Ah, I understand.  Yes, I believe that is something on which you have my full agreement.”

Slowly extending and hooking his own little finger with Greg’s, Mycroft gave the combined unit a small shake and smiled widely at his success.

      “We have an accord, Gregory.”

      “That we do.  Alright, it looks like my ride is waiting, so… take care of yourself, Mycroft.  I’ll phone soon.”

Finding it the most adorable thing in the universe that Mycroft unlatched their fingers to wave goodbye, Greg waved back and dashed to the car before he started laughing at their silliness and finding some reason or other to stay another day or two.  With a final wave as the car drove away, Greg settled back on the comfortable seat of the vehicle that had brought him there yesterday and sighed contentedly.

      “Your breath is foul, Lestrade.”

Yes, it was going to be a long trip back to London, but he’d taken a sip of what Mrs. Hudson had put in the small travel bottle of Coke in his snacks pack and it certainly had an extra kick that won his immense approval.  One insulated bottle with cold rum and coke was the perfect thing to enjoy on the way to London where even his VIP seating wouldn’t be enough to protect him from Sherlock on a rampage.  It would make riding atop the train a great deal more plausible, though, which was likely Mrs. Hudson’s fiendish plan from the onset.  She was truly a master at manipulating situations to her benefit and could easily hold her own in the vicious and depraved depths of Hollywood.  So could Molly, for that matter.  And Charles could finance their relocation with a quick theft of something pricey and easy to move.

This was shaping up into its own buddy film sort of thing!  He should get Anderson to pitch it to a studio.  These good looks wouldn’t last forever and segueing into another creative area wouldn’t be a bad idea.  Of course, knowing the unholy trio, they’d want a cut of the profits and a hefty one, at that.  As would everyone in the village because who could leave those loonies out of the mix.  He might end up paying out more in profits than he actually earned!  Well, that was a good idea straight into the toilet.  Luckily, he had others.  He just needed to find someone to invest with him in his idea for an argyle sock shop that also sells gaudy belts and very shiny shoes…

__________

Sherlock and John stowed away with Sherlock warned within an inch of his life that shenanigans would not be tolerated, so there was probably ten or fifteen minutes of peace he could count on, his own seat happily taken with a few small sips of ‘Coke’ taken to quench his thirst and, soon, a nice nap so he had energy to actually make it to his own house once the train arrived in London.  So far, everything was going to plan.

      “You.”

Sherlock… not even five minutes of peace.  Well, the bastard wasn’t getting any of his special travel beverage and that was his final word on the subject.

      “Uh, Sherlock… you don’t have a first-class seat.”

      “I do now.  Behold!  I am currently sitting.”

      “In a seat you didn’t pay for!”

      “True, but I accessed the ticketing records while you were disgracing yourself by giving the stationmaster’s wife your autograph, so they have their accurate passenger manifest, your ego is inflated and I have my seat.  Everyone is happy.  Especially me.  John is also content, for no reason I can immediately fathom.  I informed him that I would be joining you in first class and he began to smile in a very… contented fashion.  He is difficult to understand, at times.”

      “I’m sure he misses you, so trot back and keep your partner company.”

      “No.”

      “Will you, at least, keep quiet and read or something so I can sleep.  I didn’t get a wink all night and I could use a few hours of rest.”

      “No.”

      “Can I pay you to go and sit with John?”

      “No.”

      “Why not?”

      “I can pickpocket you at any time and take what funds I desire.”

      “Lovely.  I’m surprised you haven’t been arrested yet.  You actually are a criminal, all things considered.”

      “A matter of opinion.  Now, we have important matters to discuss.”

      “My nap?”

      “My brother.”

      “His nap?”

      “His film.”

      “You worried it’ll be a disaster?”

      “No…”

Sherlock’s face took on something other than the haughty smirk he’d been wearing, and Greg turned his attention up a few notches for whatever conversation was to come.

      “Then what?”

      “That it shall succeed.”

      “That makes no sense.”

      “It does if you consider Mycroft.  Who is Mycroft, for better or worse.”

      “We’re back to the no sense making.”

      “We are concerned…”

      “Who’s we?”

      “Myself and… others.”

That was a nice variation on Sherlock’s ‘reasons’ theme, so Greg decided to reward that cleverness by not pointing out the magnitude of the lie.

      “Got it.  Do continue.”

      “We are concerned that the publicity and such involved with a film might… Mycroft can scarcely manage the life he has now, let alone one where he is in a veritable fishbowl with all of humanity looking in.”

That was genuine worry in Sherlock’s voice and it was good to know that, now and then, the bratty baby brother mask could slip to reveal the actual person, who had a heart, that hid behind it.

      “That’s… ok, that’s a proper concern, but not one that necessarily applies here.  Loads of books are made into films and you scarcely see more than an interview or two with the author of those books.  Even the more publicized ones like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling aren’t bothered overmuch by the media hounds, it’s the stars of the film that take the brunt of it.  I’ll have to do my usual dog-and-pony show, but I’ll be surprised if Mycroft does more, himself, than have a chat with some reporter from a magazine. Maybe one of the publications for mystery lovers or something might want a scoop and I may go so far as to expect a small radio bit, but I have little doubt Anthea will keep the telly people away and the paparazzi will have zero interest in coming out here for a writer.  To be honest, most of the public don’t care about writers and those who do aren’t interested in them for gossip or scandal.  It’ll be alright, Sherlock.”

      “Can you guarantee that?”

      “No, because if humans are involved, guaranteeing anything is idiotic, but I’d be shocked if Mycroft receives anything more than a bit of cursory interest.  I can talk to Anthea, if you like, and get her impressions.  I’ll ask my agent, too, but I don’t think I’ll hear a different story.  Honestly, I suspect he’d see more interest from the literary crowd and that would be… I can’t see any of that lot being very intrusive or bothersome.  He might want to do a little extra, though, to promote his new book or draw attention to his literacy project, but I doubt the publishing-news reporters are going to be banging on his door, trying to shove a camera or microphone in his face.  Molly would have them running for their lives, in any case.”

      “There is some merit to that last statement.  Very well, I suppose I have no choice but to accept your assurances, however…”

      “However, it’s hard to imagine someone like your brother getting the shite you see celebrities getting from the entertainment press.  And the regular press, for that matter.”

      “The insults the vultures perpetrate is a disgrace to the term civilization.”

      “I won’t argue, Sherlock.  Not one bit.  I’ve lived it for a long time and it can be horrible the shit they sling, especially when it’s all made up in their heads to sell their story to some filthy gossip rag.  But, it’s part of the job, no different that dealing with nasty kids and their snooty parents goes with the job of teaching.  Wish it were otherwise, but it isn’t.  I’ll look out for him, as best I can, though.  Does that help?”

      “No, for you are as useless as a tea kettle to a terrier.”

      “Little fellows don’t like tea?  Well, can’t say they need the caffeine what with their usual level of energy.  Maybe something herbal and soothing, though, would be the thing for them.”

      “As I said, useless.”

      “You’re probably right.  Does that mean I can nod off for a little nap, now, since I can’t possibly be of any use to you?”

      “No.”

      “Marvelous.”

      “I am curious as to why you wish to spend time with Mycroft discussing the film.  Somehow, I doubt that is the standard method for actors to research the parts they play.”

Little brother curious that big brother has a new friend?  You could just ask, Sherlock, but we’ll continue to play your roundabout game and what you make of it all… is likely far more than I ever could and may even be somewhat on the right track, all things considered.

      “Not necessarily.  You gain what information you can in whatever manner you can.  Some live the role, for instance.  You’re going to play a firefighter, so you arrange to do the job for awhile or, at least, as much of it as they’ll allow you to do.  Other actors read everything they can, say if they’re portraying a historical figure.  Talk to anyone still alive who knew them or knew someone, like a parent or grandparent, who knew them.  Everyone’s got their own technique to prepare.  Besides, the first thing I had to do was convince your brother to let me play Bell at all!  That wasn’t easy, let me tell you plainly, and  it wouldn’t have happened, I wager, if I hadn’t pled my case in person.”

      “Hmmm… that much I understand.  Mycroft is inordinately protective of his bumbling detective.”

      “I’d say Diogenes Bell is the polar opposite of the cliched bumbling detective.”

      “Since you are useless, your opinion carries little weight.”

      “I’ve read the books, Sherlock, and talked to your brother about the character, so my opinion carries some weight, at least for shaping how I’ll play the man on screen.  And, I’ll do more of both of those things before I actually get the script and will continue on with that strategy until we start filming.  Plus, your brother’s opinion is something you can’t even begin to say is useless, now can you, since he created the character in the first place.”

      “I can say Mycroft’s opinion is useless, because he has never done a day of detective work in his life.”

      “I doubt many of the authors of mystery books have ever done a day of detective work in their lives.”

      “Hence the vast uselessness of their breed.”

      “Fine, how about you and I chat about being a detective, then?  You can tell me what’s what about the job and I can add that to my knowledge base for when I start to step into Bell’s shoes and put him on film.”

      “That is ridic… wait.  That is not a completely idiotic suggestion.”

      “Thank you.”

      “I will assume, naturally, it was a fortuitous accident and singular aberration, but I suppose even a broken clock is correct twice a day.”

      “Unless it’s a novelty 24-hour clock, then it’s only right once a day.”

      “Shut it, Lestrade.  I am contemplating your proposal.”

      “Can I nap while you contemplate?”

      “No.”

      “Fabulous.”

      “Yes… yes, I believe I can agree to your offer of collaboration.  We shall now discuss my fee.”

      “Wrong.”

      “Right.  You are utilizing my specialized skills to prepare for a role and that qualifies as a consultation.  Do you prefer to be billed separately for each consult or is a monthly plan more amenable to whatever bean counter you employ to manage your funds?”

      “I am not paying you for a friendly chat.”

      “We are not friends, so your refusal is based on a fallacy and, therefore, insupportable.”

      “I’m your brother’s friend, so the friend exemption passes, by proxy, to you.”

      “Wrong.  Let us begin.  You should be taking notes.”

      “No paper.”

      “That you have survived to your elder years is dumbfounding.”

      “Does that give me a senior savings for your consultation fee?”

      “I do not award failure to die with discounted rates.”

      “It was worth a try.”

      “Actually, it was not, but I shall rent you my notebook and a pen so we may commence.”

      “How about you just write down the important points while I nap?”

      “The act of writing further promotes internalization of new material, so you will write and I will tell you what to write.”

Greg sighed loudly and held out his hand to take the notebook and pen Sherlock pulled from his coat, which looked very much like the notebook and pen that Mycroft kept in his own jacket, proving that genetics worked in mysterious ways.

      “Ok, I’m ready.”

      “You are already drawing a… is that a dog?”

      “It’s you!”

      “You are hereby prohibited from drawing.”

      “Nope.  I doodle.  I doodle when we’re doing script read-thoughs, I doodle when I’m waiting for something, I doodle when some poncy berk is using his mouth to pull cash out of my wallet…”

      “I would no more put my mouth in your trouser pocket than I would kiss a plague-infested rat!”

      “You want me to draw you as a rat, you say?  Ok, the dog version was cuter, but I’m flexible.  Now, while I’m ratting you up on paper, go on with your lecture.  I’ll speak up if I have questions.”

      “You are a deplorable pupil, Lestrade.”

      “Yeah, I’ve heard that before.  Few tears were shed when I left school early.”

      “Oh, not even from the art instructor?”

      “She tossed me out after I used my clay to make a life-size sculpture of my cock.”

      “I knew schools suffered financial crises, but to only allow a teaspoon of clay per student is rather tragic.”

      “Now drawing my cock, which will feature eyes and hair that suspiciously looks like yours.”

      “You will not allow John to see that.”

      “I certainly wi… no, you’re right.  He’ll steal it and have it online for sale in a heartbeat and that’s not a legacy I want to leave behind when I die.  It’ll be our own special, private Shercock and I promise to keep it safe from any eyes except mine.”

      “That… that is both wildly unsatisfactory and acceptable simultaneously.”

      “Is that possible?”

      “Apparently so.  Though I would have expected some pan-dimensional vortex to open in the event something like this occurred.”

      “I don’t see one.”

      “Neither do I.  Very well, moving on to Lesson Number One, which shall focus on the proper screen credit for consulting detectives who make invaluable contributions to a film.”

      “Nope.”

      “Continue with your amateur erotic etchings, Lestrade, and I shall take charge of the important details of our association.  Perhaps I should hire an agent of my own.”

      “Good luck with that.”

      “Thank you.  I will phone the lummox you use and interview him for the position.”

      “Nope… wait, hold on a moment.  Sure, you do that.  I’ll make certain to give you his number.”

Anderson deserved it, and this would be the definitive lethal blow for their ongoing prank war.

      “I am happy to see you finally recognize my importance for this project.”

Was it possible that baby brother was feeling a bit left out of big brother’s new success?  Well, that was the most human thing possible and this entire surreal turn of conversation began to make a touch more sense.

      “Should I write that down?”

      “Yes.”

      “Got it.  Now, I believe we were discussing what real detectives do?”

      “No, we were discussing my screen credit, but I suppose that can wait until after I engage proper representation.”

      “That’s probably smart.”

      “Of course it is.  I am a genius.”

      “Should I also write that down?”

      “Yes.  And place a star beside it so you do not forget.”

Chapter Text

      “Is it always like this, Greg?”

      “No, John.  Usually it’s worse.”

John looked at the crowd waiting for Greg to leave the train and felt a strangely conflicted sense of envy and thankfulness that he didn’t have to go through life wading through throngs of fans just to run out for a newspaper.

      “How’d they know you’d be here?”

      “Who knows?  Train employee tweets they’ve seen me, someone at the studio mentions I’ll need a car at a certain time at a certain place and someone overhears… I’m astonished by how quickly information spreads and, frankly, that anyone would care in the first place.”

      “They do seem to care.  A lot.”

If the signs and screaming of Greg’s name was any indication.

      “Yeah, they do.  And I adore them for it, truthfully.  It’s just…”

      “Hard?”

      “Sometimes.  Like now, when I’m two minutes away from having sleep-deprived hallucinations and would murder a nun to be in my bed right now.  But, instead, I have to put a smile on my face, hope I don’t look too grubby or smell too awful and show my appreciation for them being here to say hello.”

      “Don’t you have… security or something to move you through a crowd like that?”

      “On certain occasions.  Major appearances, awards shows or premieres.  Mostly, though, it’s just me.  Or, to be fair, me and my agent.  He does a good job of balancing getting me to or from a car or building with spending time with the fans so they don’t feel ignored.”

      “And he’s not here.”

      “Nope.  He’s in meetings all day and told me to fuck myself when I said he was a piss-poor agent since he hadn’t yet created a clone of himself so I never had to be neglected because of his stupid meetings.”

      “Bastard.”

      “His dad says so, but they look exactly alike so I think it’s just wishful thinking.  So, guess it’s all on me today, then.”

John looked out once more and back at Greg who was taking a deep breath, then thought about his own partner who had fled the scene like his arse was on fire…

      “Well, I suppose… I did do my time in the Army.”

A fact that quickly flicked on a light switch in Greg’s marginally-conscious brain.

      “True.  That you did.  Fancy playing security detail for a superstar?”

      “I do fancy.  I fancy it with an enormous degree of fanciness.”

      “Alright, then.  There’ll likely be a big sedan with the driver standing and waiting, so when you see them, start going in that direction.  My guess is that since Sherlock rocketed out of here as soon as we arrived, he’s already sitting inside the car and berating the driver for not taking him home and coming back for me later, while stealing whatever he can from the amenities they tuck in as a perk.”

      “That sounds about right.  Ok, anything specific I should know beyond that?”

      “I stop for the little buggers.”

      “Stop for kids.  Got it.”

      “And I don’t accept semen samples as gifts.”

      “What?”

      “If it happens, you’ll know.”

      “If it happens, I’ll vomit.”

      “That’s fair.”

__________

      “That was the highlight of my year.  Maybe my decade.”

      “You are a sycophantic weasel, John Watson.”

      “A sycophantic weasel that got to pose menacingly while Greg signed autographs and smiled for photographs and do that bit where you see the security fellows move their charge through the crowd, looking for snipers all the while.”

And nothing Sherlock said was going to diminish the sheer fun of pretending, at least for awhile, that he was part of the film scene, hobnobbing with the rich and famous, even if was only as a bodyguard.  Though, a bodyguard, apparently, got their own fair share of ‘well, look at you’ glances from fans who seemed they might, if they got the right glance back, enjoy a drink and a shag with someone who was, at least, on the hobnobbing rung of the entertainment ladder.

      “It was an amazing job, John.  You even pretended to get info from one of those near-invisible ear things to move us along.  That was inspired.”

      “Thanks, Greg.  I take my roles seriously, even if they’re only supporting ones.  One little kid asked if I had a gun.  I said I didn’t need it since I was a martial arts master.  She was very impressed, although I actually think she could have taken me in a fight.  That was the one dressed like your character from Live Today Die Tomorrow.  Even had your scowl down perfectly.”

      “Wasn’t she incredible!  Said she wouldn’t give a toss about stolen government secrets, but she’d go berserker on anyone who stole her dog and I agreed that was a lot more important that some dumb government stuff.”

And it hadn’t slipped John’s notice that the little girl lit up like the sun when Greg was talking to her, not like he was talking to a child, but asking her real questions about how she made her cosplay outfit and what she liked about that film, and its sequel, as well as the things she liked besides films.  And Greg lit up like the sun, too, which was probably one of the rewards that made the whole mess rewarding.

And what a mess it was!  Even though it was fun to play security man, it was work.  Nobody there seemed particularly dangerous, but some were… insistent… and he’d had to use his Captain voice a few times to settle down someone and have them wait for their turn to get a snap or autograph.  He’d always wondered if the security or studio people around a celebrity were there only for show, but they weren’t.  It took a long time to get to their car and if he hadn’t been there it would have taken longer, with Greg wilting every step of the way.  And, it would only have taken one truly troublesome person in the crowd to turn things dangerous.  Never again would he snicker at some film star with their massive entourage.  Well, maybe he might.  There weren’t too many film stars bigger than Greg Lestrade and they’d made do with one ex-Army doctor and Sherlock shouting periodically from his comfortable perch inside their car.

      “You do enjoy those little fans, don’t you?”

      “I love them!  Even when they’re too shy to talk and their mum or dad have to ask for the photo, I’ll talk to them, ask them questions they just have to nod or shake their heads to answer and… you can see it means something to them.  More than getting an autograph for a collection or something to boast about on social media.  There’s more there and, not to take away anything from my adult fans because I genuinely appreciate them, too, but… it’s different.”

      “Have you two completed your self-congratulation session or should I just continue to sit here and die of boredom?”

Greg contemplated asking the driver to stop so they might shove Sherlock out onto the pavement with a quid or two less than the necessary cab fare to get to his flat, but decided the evil git would certainly want revenge and that revenge would most certainly be both creative and cunning, neither of which would do his peace of mind a lick of good.

      “No, Sherlock, we haven’t.  You know, if you hadn’t sat in here like the queen in her coach, you could have had something to congratulate yourself about, too.”

      “Pfft.  I had more pressing matters that required my attention.”

      “What?”

Sherlock shoved his mobile in Greg’s face and snorted when Greg pushed it back a ways because he didn’t have his reading glasses on.

      “Oh.  Well… there it is.”

John turned the phone towards him and grinned widely at the press announcement of Greg being cast as Diogenes Bell in the upcoming film The Devil’s in the Details.

      “Didn’t expect it so soon, mate?”

      “Not really, John.  In some ways, though, I’m not surprised, given how hard it was to get me cast originally.  The studio is likely hoping to close off avenues for Mycroft to change his mind or, at least, make it a decision that would produce enough backlash that he’d change it back quickly.  I’m surprised Anderson didn’t give me a heads-up, though.  Hold on…”

Greg grabbed his own mobile and checked to see if any texts had arrived, grinning when there was one from his agent that only said ‘Call Me’ which he happily did with John leaning over to hear the conversation.

      “Anderson, you miserable cock!  Why am I learning about being cast in a film from a press release rather than you?”

      “Fuck you, too, Greg.  Why do you think I’m up to my bollocks in work today?  You know that idiotic VP we have a bet on when he’ll be sacked?”

      “Yeah?”

      “He’s been sacked and for the reason that he got drunk at a party, again, and told a reporter from Radio Times about you getting the role.  They phoned the studio press office for confirmation and the studio decided not to play coy with this one.  They said, yes, the film is in pre-production and, yes, you’re signed to play Bell.  Neither of which is exactly or wholly true, but after today they will be.  Anthea is ecstatic, though, since their contract says she gets a preview of announcements like that and, since the studio suits forgot that detail, they owe her penalty money, which she’s already demanded and set a deadline to see it land in her account.”

      “She’s sharp, nobody can deny that.  So… off we go.”

      “Yep and I’ve got a meeting in about fifteen minutes to get a better sense of how fast the ‘going’ is going to be.  I suspect they’ve pushed it up on the release schedule since the initial reaction has been very positive.  Don’t get used to being a layabout, you lazy berk.  It’s not going to last long.”

      “Wonderful.  I’ve got publicity to do for the film that’s about to open and, now, I’ll have to do more for the one that’s just been announced.  I hate my life.”

      “No, you love your life, except when you actually have to do anything with it besides lay on your sofa and read a book.”

      “True.  You’ll phone later?”

      “Yeah, I should have a better idea of things by day’s end, so we can start to map out how this impacts your current obligations.  The good thing, though, is that this little twist should allow me to up your fee, so that new toaster you’ve wanted should be within financial reach.”

      “Brilliant!  I’m so tired of toast that’s half-raw and half-burned.  Later, then.”

      “Get some sleep, you sound like shit.”

      “I look like it, too, so the scales are nicely balanced.”

Greg popped his mobile back in his jacket pocket and made a ‘well, there we go face at John, who was rubbing his hands together in glee.

      “I was here for that!  I was actually here when Greg Lestrade got the green light for this film.  This… stop looking at me like that, Sherlock!  Just because you only get excited when there’s a dead body at your feet doesn’t mean other people can’t get excited for things like this.  Greg… can I now blog about this?”

Sherlock’s groan was very much like one Greg remembered from when one of his co-stars had their appendix burst during a scene they were filming.  Sherlock, however, did it far more dramatically.

      “If you want to get slammed by fans and press people wanting inside scoops, then fine.”

      “Ugh… I didn’t think about that.”

      “Nobody does until their social media is overflowing with notifications and there are people on their doorstep hoping to get some special bit of information to put into a story.  I’d ask, though, that you not say anything about me being at Mycroft’s house.  I’d rather it not get out right now that I’m talking to him about the part because that could push attention his way that Mycroft won’t want.  It’ll seem more expected later on but, even then, I’ll make certain the studio publicity people don’t try to play up that angle so Mycroft sees more of the spotlight than he’d want.”

      “I understand and don’t worry, I agree with it completely.  I will, however, post a few of the photos I got of you with your fans today and talk about what I think of you in the role.”

      “That sounds good.  And, don’t forget that you can interview my consultant there, who is doing his best to kill us with the power of his mind.  That does happen, now and again.  Someone interviews a dialogue coach or bloke who rented some special piece of equipment for a film and people find that interesting.  Well, some do, but it’s a nice bit of history to add to a film’s portfolio.”

      “That’s a great idea!  Sherlock, I am going to interview you for history.”

Both Greg and John shielded their faces from the expected spray from Sherlock’s rude noise and laughed at how it didn’t completely hide the gleam in Sherlock’s eyes from the idea.

      “You know, though, Greg… if you really want to know what we do on a case, how a consulting detectives goes about his job, you should come along for a case.  We don’t have a good one right now, but when we have a juicy one, I can let you know.”

      “Ooh… that’s not a bad idea.  That’s not a bad idea, at all.  And, yes, before you ask, Sherlock, studios do pay for things like that, so I could probably have Anderson negotiate a fee for you.”

      “I have not agreed to it.”

      “Ok, then I’ll give the money to John and he can take me on a case.”

      “I also did not… not agree to it.”

      “Well, when you’ve got your head squared on which one it is, I’ll expect your call.  Ooh, is this you?”

Given the car had come to a stop and the driver was exiting, the odds were pretty good the answer was yes.

      “Sherlock’s and my house and home.  Well, part of it is our house and home.  The other part is our landlady’s flat, but we’ve got a nice bit of space to ourselves.  Want to come up?”

Greg smiled at how hopeful John sounded, and the offer was tempting, but given he’d just fall asleep on their sofa, a postponement was probably in order.

      “I doubt I’d make it to the door, actually.  I’m about to drop off right now, but another day?  And, that’s not a me being polite sort of thing, I genuinely would like to pop by sometime.”

      “Can you do that without your adoring fans following you?”

      “Surprisingly, I can.  When I’m out on a crowded street, I’ll be noticed, but this area’s not bad, it seems.  I stop in at my local more often that you might expect and it’s not a problem.  Unless people know where I’ll be ahead of time, I can often get in and out of someplace without too much bother.”

      “It’s a plan, then!  Sherlock, looks like our bags are waiting.  Greg, it was good to meet you.”

      “Good to meet you, too, John.  Talk to you later.”

      “That you will.”

Without as much reluctance as he might have predicted, John stepped out of the car and waited for Sherlock to follow, who showed more reluctance to leave the vehicle than John might have expected.

      “You will keep your word that Mycroft shall be shielded from the ridiculousness I witnessed today?”

      “I will, Sherlock.  And, if for some reason, not that I can imagine it, but if they get us to do an appearance together, I will make certain he’s not within fifty feet of anyone trying for a selfie.”

      “Very well, but realize that it will not be to your advantage to fail.”

Greg gave Sherlock an understanding nod and found himself harboring a different impression of the detective than he’d had when he arrived at Mycroft’s house yesterday.  The lad was much like his brother in that there was a lot more going on underneath than the surface cared to show.

With both of his new friends out of the car, Greg was able to stretch out on the seat, something he’d been dying to do and estimated how long it would be until it was his door the car was idling in front of while the driver removed a bag from the boot.  There was a good chance he’d be least partly awake when that happened.  If not, the driver would certainly give him a helpful shake to set him in motion.  Or carry him.  If this fellow worked for the studios regularly, then carrying someone who was drunk, stoned, sick or exhausted wouldn’t be a unique event in his professional career…

__________

No, that was positively puerile.  Even a rather dimwitted murderer would not leave such a staggeringly-obvious clue.  However…

      “Phone for you, Mr. Holmes.”

      “Intolerable!  You know very well, Molly, that I do not accept phone calls on Tuesdays.”

      “You do not accept phone calls on Tuesdays, unless it’s a Code Aqua.  It’s a Code Aqua.”

      “At this hour?”

      “It’s seven o’clock at night, sir, not the crack of dawn.”

      “Oh, is that all?  Dear me, I had lost sight of the flow of time with this topsy-turvy two-day… cavalcade of chaos and camaraderie.  Very well, I shall take it in…”

      “Skype.”

      “I refuse.”

      “Your refusal does not override a Code Aqua.”

      “It most certainly does.”

      “Do you really want me to pass that along?”

No.  The outcome would be… scorching.

      “I require tea.”

      “I’ll bring you tea.”

      “And lemon biscuits.”

      “Alright.”

      “Use the Derby, I think.  My constitution requires its invigorating appearance, I suspect.”

      “Royal Crown Derby on its way.  Any particular pattern?”

      “Whatever is most provocative.”

      “Yes, sir.  Tea and lemon biscuits on the way.”

Making certain to point at Mycroft’s computer, Molly left him alone to initiate the Aqua Protocol which certainly merited the lemon biscuits, in her opinion.  He’d be puckering his lips anyway and this would give him a ready excuse if questioned…

__________

      “There you are!  Oh, look at you, Mycroft.  Always so handsome.”

Mycroft’s pained whine had no effect on the smiling woman with whom he was Skyping, and who was wearing her trademark aquamarine pendant around her neck.

      “It is Tuesday, Mummy.  You know I do not take calls on Tuesday.”

      “You also don’t have big news on Tuesdays, usually, but today’s the exception, don’t you think?”

      “No.”

      “What!  Mycroft, love, why didn’t you tell us?  Your father’s practically had to hide under the desk what with all the questions he’s being asked.”

      “About what?  Good heavens, Mummy, but you are speaking utter nonsense.”

      “Have you met him yet?  Is he as handsome as he seems in his films?  He is, isn’t he?  Or even handsomer?  With that sexy voice… my heart’s all aflutter!  I can tell you right now that the library doesn’t have a single copy of your books on the shelves right now.  Not a single one since it got all over the Twitter and such.”

      “It?  Whatever are you…”

Mycroft’s brain, feeling keenly the current lack of tea and biscuits, raced to make sense of his mother’s words and, fortunately, found a thread in the words ‘he’ ‘films’ and ‘your books’ that he felt set him on the right track.

      “Are you speaking about Gregory?”

      “You called him Gregory!  So, you have met him, haven’t you, because you would never do that unless you’d met him and gotten along with splendidly.  Well, I want all the details and don’t leave out a single one or I’ll be very cross and send you a garden gnome or something to show you just how much.”

      “Not another gnome, Mummy…”

      “This one will have little red trousers to go with his pointy hat and I’ll see he gets a comfy home where you usually have cornflowers planted so he’ll truly stand out nicely.”

Molly raced forward and got the biscuit plate and teacup on Mycroft’s desk before her employer broke down into the agitated flurry that seemed to be threatening.  It had to be a gnome assault, again.  Nothing offended his senses worse than a motherly gift of a garden gnome that he was obligated to accept and display, even if it later met a gruesome death via a particular vicious garden tool.

      “I despise gnomes!”

      “I know!  That’s why you’ll tell me everything about that luscious Lestrade lad.  Ooh!  And I want a signed photo.  Something sexy, too.  I’ll have your father print out something on that lovely printer they have at the library and send it to you to get it signed.  Something… oh, I have the perfect thing.  One of those love scenes he’s done, and they show him without his shirt all the way down nearly to his happy place and he’s looking lusty and gorgeous.  I’ll give your dad a timestamp from one of Mr. Gorgeous’s films and have him do that technology thing he knows how to do to print out a clear frame.  Then you can have it signed for me.  When do you think you can do that?”

Mycroft shove two biscuits into his mouth and pouted grandly, much to his mother’s delight.  Her son was such an adorable boy when he pouted.

      “While you’re chewing, Mycroft, tell me how your brother is doing.  I haven’t heard from him in two weeks and that’s more than enough time for him to have been deported or put in the stocks.”

How he was supposed to answer while chewing was something Mycroft’s genius mind couldn’t fathom, but that had never before stopped any of his mother’s requests.  Fortunately, small, delicate biscuits required little mastication.

      “Sherlock is fine, Mummy.  In fact, he and John have been here, in residence, for the past several days, departing only this morning.”

      “And neither of you thought to tell your father and me?  We could have made the trip, too!”

Precisely why that information had not been passed along in any way, shape or form.

      “It was very much an impromptu decision.”

      “Ridiculous.  You’re allergic to impromptu.”

      “One cannot be allergic to an unplanned action.”

      “One can if I say they can and I do.  It’s been ages, Mycroft dear… your father and I miss you both so much.”

      “I shall relay your agony to Sherlock and, perhaps, he might darken your doorstep at some point in the near future.  I do not believe he had any pressing matters to attend to, therefore…”

      “And you?  I have two sons, Mycroft, not one.”

      “One of those sons has a regular and rigorous work schedule and the other does not.”

      “Don’t be silly.  Nobody is too regular and rigorous to not visit their parents.  Or… thinking about it, we haven’t visited you recently.  Why don’t you invite Greg Lestrade for a dinner party with the family so we can meet him?”

      “Absolutely not!”

      “Absolutely yes!  It’s a brilliant idea.  One of my finest.”

      “Gregory is a frightfully busy man and he has no time for a dinner party.  Just today he was telling me about…”

      “Telling you!  Was it on the phone?  In person?  Do you do the computer thing with him, too, like us?  Did he sound lusty and sexy?  I wager he did…”

Mycroft loved his mother dearly.  He almost felt… normal… when he was talking to her because their conversations played right along the lines of those he saw on the television where the long-suffering son had a meddlesome and rather dotty mother.  Truly, there was almost no difference whatsoever besides he had lemon biscuits and tea to help soothe his crippling death.

      “Mummy…”

      “Did he grin?  Oh, that grin… makes my knickers drop right to the floor.”

      “MUMMY!”

      “What?  Your father’s suffered a few near cases of pants drop when he’s seen that grin, too, and don’t you think otherwise.  That Lestrade… nobody can resist the grin.  Nobody.”

The world was on fire and he had nary a thimbleful of water to fight the blaze.  However… if he could withstand a moment of personal honesty amidst the inferno… his mother had a valid point about Gregory’s grin.  And his voice.  It would be the height of self-deception to claim otherwise.  It was, actually, one of the reasons he had been against the man for the role!  Gregory exuded such an air of masculine sexuality it seemed unlikely he could, in any manner, curtail the exudation for a character such as Bell.  Only meeting him and learning of his other, most stellar, qualities did his mind on the subject begin to change.

      “I cannot hear your prattle for I am now deaf.”

      “No you’re not.  You’ve tried that often enough that I know it’s not true.  And putting on that hearing aid isn’t going to work again, so don’t even try.”

Damn.

      “Mummy… if I agree that the next time I speak with Gregory, I shall broach the idea of him, perhaps, meeting you and Father, will that extract from my flesh your teeth and talons?”

      “I’ll need advance notice, so I can find something nice to wear.”

      “If the event ever occurs, I shall do my best to inform you in advance.”

      “And your father and I want tickets to the premiere of the film.”

      “That I cannot guarantee.”

      “I’ll ask Greg.  I’m sure he’ll do it for me.”

      “You… you have never met the man!”

      “Just a minor detail.  Soon to be rectified.  Now, I have Phyllis and Audrey coming for wine and a chat, so I’ve got to dart out for a few nibbles, so we don’t get too tipsy too quickly.  Call your father, dear, and keep him from being bored.  It’s one of those story nights at the library and with all the little tots racing about, the rest of humanity avoids the library, so he’s got naught to do but twiddle his thumbs.”

      “First, this is a writing day, so I shan’t be making any phone calls and, second, Father relishes these occasions since he is being paid simply to read a book of his own.”

      “Phone him anyway and tell him we need milk.”

      “Goodbye, Mummy.  Do enjoy your lack of dairy.”

Mycroft stopped the transmission and tried to decide if he cared about the cliched unmanliness of weeping at one’s desk.  Given that he lacked immediate access to a tissue or handkerchief and recognizing that the horrifying sight of red streaks upon his face would likely send him into a self-perpetuating cycle of tears and frustration, chose, instead, to eat his last two biscuits, frown at his cooled tea and make an annoyed-toddler face at his monitor.  Joyful.  His inspiratory balloon was well and truly popped.

Or not.  Perhaps a bit more tea, something bracing to bathe his little gray cells in a stimulating bath of caffeine and they would deign again to bestow upon him the light of creative inspiration.  If that failed, at least he had a cup of hot tea as a consolation award.  And, he could ring Sherlock and tell him Mummy was hopeful for a visit.  That would stir up quite the tantrum and, right now, the entertainment value of that was not to be undervalued.  Then he would phone Anthea and find out why the announcement for the film, and Gregory’s casting, had occurred without his knowledge.  This was a direct violation of their contract and, hopefully, she was already taking steps to enact the proper penalty.

Then he should phone Gregory and… no, dear Gregory needed his rest, so that conversation would occur tomorrow.  But, occur it would and sooner rather than later.  They had lost their comfortable planning cushion and now must hasten their efforts to cement certain elements of Gregory’s presentation and performance.  Then they could begin on additional aspects of the film and potential casting possibilities for the other roles.  So much to do!  And so little time.  Fortunately, he and Gregory made a spectacularly-successful team and there was nothing they could not accomplish when their focus was turned towards it.  Including, hopefully, keeping Mummy and Father at bay.  Sherlock was enough of a spanner in the works than two larger and more experienced spanners were certainly a thing to be avoided…

Chapter Text

Anderson knew that mobile phones were both the blessing and bane of his existence but some days the lean was very much to one side or the other.  Today, bane was winning by a landslide.  Why was his phone ringing now?  He was scarcely ten steps from his door and there was cold pizza waiting in the fridge for his loving attention…

      “Anderson.”

      “Food.”

At least the bane was speaking a language he both understood and approved of.

      “I’m listening.”

      “The place we met for lunch that day.”

      “I can be there in twenty minutes.”

      “I’m there now and you can do it in ten.”

      “I was going to stop to pee.”

      “Do it in an alley.  I’m ordering wine and if I have to drink it all myself, don’t think I won’t.”

      “Ten minutes it is.”

At least Anthea sounded as exhausted as he felt.  What a fucking crazy day, but somewhat par for the course in his business.  Wine and excellent food was the perfect reward for making it through with his head still on his shoulders, though.  And, since the film was now an official project, he could write off the cost as a legitimate expense.  The whiff of celebration was suddenly in the air and he could always find the energy for that…

__________

      “Eight minutes.  Did you run?”

Basically.

      “Grew wheels and had a beefy lad give me a hard push.”

      “Whatever works.  Wine?”

      “As much as the glass will hold.  I take it you, Mistress Anthea, were in your own maelstrom today.”

      “It’s amazing what one idiot’s drunken ramblings can do to upset your day.”

      “A lot of history can be described that way, I suspect.”

      “Very true.  I had to spend half of the day with the publisher who was panicking about reissuing the book, getting new cover art despite not knowing what cover art to use, how the holiday market should be managed, not knowing the final release date for the film so they don’t know if the holiday market is even relevant… when they were walking in circles waving their fists at the sky and mumbling about graphic-novel tie ins, I escaped out of the window.”

      “That was about my day, too, though without the graphic novels.  At least, for now.  The studio is very happy to collaborate with the publisher on any money-making venture, so I suspect that conversation is looming on my horizon if they want Greg’s ugly mug involved.”

      “Did you get any timeline specifics?”

      “Some, but not specific enough for my liking.  The director they want has two films signed, but those don’t have shooting schedules yet, so the execs are seeing what they can do to fit this one in by locking down a few other things, like, surprise, the script.  Nobody was expecting this to have to move so fast, but it’s not as if this doesn’t happen on a somewhat regular basis, so they do know how, ultimately, to handle things.”

      “Handling things and handling them correctly aren’t the same.”

      “No, they’re not, but there’s a lot of interest in this film, so I suspect it’s going to get priority over other projects that are also in the planning stage.  And, fortunately or unfortunately, it’s a cheap one to make and it’d be a quick one, too.  Greg is probably the most expensive aspect since there isn’t much for special effects, stunt work, CGI, etc.  When the cast and crew have been signed and there’s a script in hand, this’ll go fairly quickly, so I can’t say the publisher is wrong to be in somewhat of a panic.  I’m worried about Greg’s own schedule, actually.  He wants this film desperately, but fitting into what he already has lined up is going to make for a punishing calendar for him.  I’m hoping to clear some of that to make it easier, but… we’ll see.  Sometimes there’s just nothing to do but smile and carry on.”

      “I do feel for Greg here.  At least my client isn’t sharply impacted by any of this, besides my performing various mystical rituals to get him to agree to an interview or two.”

      “Nothing more in your contract than that?”

      “No and don’t think the studio execs weren’t shocked that he wouldn’t move on it.  That was the first hurdle to clear before we even got to the casting discussion.”

      “Lucky.”

      “Stubbornness makes its own luck sometimes.   Oh look, the wine’s gone.”

      “That can’t go unaddressed.  Another bottle, then we order something that’s not liquid to go with it?”

      “The best plan I’ve heard all day.  And, likely, for tomorrow, also.  I have to sit with my client and try to convince him that he can’t take over all aspects of the film, book reissues or weather.”

      “That last one’s going to be a bugger.”

      “I’ll bring him some amulets leftover from my mystic rituals.  They might keep him distracted from the other points of conversation while I smooth a few wrinkles.  Any actual details you have, I’d appreciate you sending them to me so I’ve got the firmest platform to stand on when talking to him.”

      “Not a problem.  Actually… I’ve got another meeting tomorrow about Greg’s scheduling needs and I don’t see a reason you can’t be there.  It’s just a here’s what’s already in place, what can we do to work within or around it sort of thing, but it should give you some idea of where everyone stands at this point.  Starts around ten if that works for you.”

      “I’ll be there.  My client only, not that I should say only, but he only has an in-progress manuscript on his plate, at the moment, but… your client does seem to have him convinced that he’s going to be a vital cog in the film machine going forward, which won’t make my life any easier.”

      “Don’t remind me.  I understand Greg giving assurances to help get the role, it’s manipulative but I can see the point of it in a perverted way.  However, that doesn’t seem to be King Greg’s actual motives and I may need to smack the crown off his head so he remembers he is just a cog in all of this and not in charge of making promises.  He can’t even make promises to himself about giving up coffee!”

      “Well, he’s already promised there will be no argyle socks and Bell will wear braces in the film.  It’s only going to escalate from there, I can tell you now.”

      “Bloody wonderful.  At least, those two we can reasonably wiggle through.  I’ll have a ‘See this?  This is my serious face.’ conversation with Greg and remind him that fun is fun, but there’s a limit.”

      “Mr. Holmes is going to test that limit, too, and test it hard, I can assure you.”

      “Maybe I should meet him.  Get an idea of his wavelength so I’ve got some tools in my toolbox to use on Greg if need be.”

      “That… that’s not the worst possible idea, but it’ll take some work on my part to make that happen.  And, do not show up unannounced like your foolish client because I can guarantee you that two times for that is not going to be the charm.”

      “I won’t, but if you could arrange something, Anthea, I’d appreciate it.  Oh, looks like it’s time to order or this fine fellow is here to toss us out.”

      “It’s not quite late enough for them to close, but if we have another bottle of wine, I can’t promise we won’t be tossed out with the rubbish due to poor conduct.”

      “Are you an on-the-table dancer or a lampshade-on-the-head person?”

      “Depends.  I don’t see any lampshades in the vicinity, so my options are a touch limited.”

      “True.  And I left my dancing shoes at home.”

      “Food and wine is the extent, then.  Lots of both.”

      “Nothing wrong with lots.”

      “No.  No there isn’t…”

__________

Ok… Anthea could hold her wine better than he could.  Fortunately, she wasn’t averse to stealing his wallet so he could pay his share of the bill and make certain he got home safely, though how he ended up in bed wearing pyjamas with small blue bunnies on them, plus a small lampshade on each foot, was a mystery that he was happy never to see solved.  Especially since his bed didn’t smell like the perfume Anthea was wearing, so there would be no boasting to Greg about doing filthy things with the shapely literary agent.  Also, maybe if he didn’t mention anything, Anthea would never release the inevitable photographic evidence she had acquired and that really was best for everyone on the planet.

Now… oh good.  He had time to brush his teeth, vomit if need be and brush his teeth a second time, then make his morning meeting.  Where Anthea would be present, undoubtedly impeccably groomed and without any evidence of a hangover.  He should know better… his mum could always drink his dad under the table and there was no question in their family from whom he got most of his genes…

__________

      “To your credit, Anderson, I’m very impressed what you can do when you’re obviously cripplingly hungover.”

Anthea was impressed.  That almost made up for her being at the meeting exactly as professional and put-together as he’d predicted.  But, she also had used the few minutes before it started to shove a cup of coffee and muffin in his direction, which was kind.  Showing him one of the photos she’d taken last night was not kind, but he had her word that as long as he bought their next dinner, none of it would appear on social media.  Or be shown to Greg, which was leagues worse.

      “Hollywood hones that particular skill to a very fine point.”

      “Then I’m happy I’ve stayed away.  But, this was useful and, at least, it seems that the studio isn’t blind to the publishing end and our pursuit of filthy lucre.”

      “If there’s one thing they understand well, it’s lucre, filthy or not.  But, since the marketing campaign is going to take care to target the reading crowd, they know they’ve got to help draw in that audience.  Alienating the publishing world won’t help accomplish that.  Plus, for them, it’s an avenue of mostly-free advertising.  Win-win all around.”

      “And a win for them is a win for us and our worship of filthy lucre.”

      “Most certainly.  Off to catch your train?”

      “Unfortunately, yes.  I keep hoping Mr. Holmes will move back into his London house, but it’s a hope in vain.  I’ll relay what we learned today and start the campaign to get you into a meeting with him.  It may only be via phone, but if that’s what he offers, take it.  If it goes well, it could turn into something different later on.”

      “I will.  Let me know any other juicy details from your end?”

      “Will do.”

As Anthea flagged down a cab, Anderson pulled out his mobile and hoped Greg had gotten his sleep, tended to the few things he had on tap for the morning and was ready for a strategy session.  With coffee.  More coffee.  And lots of bread products to soak up the stomach acid.  Greg may not have his new toaster yet, but right now, half-raw/half-burnt toast sounded like manna from heaven…

__________

      “I thought I looked like a train wreck today.”

      “You do, Greg, don’t delude yourself by thinking otherwise.  And I got this way negotiating something resembling a manageable work diary for you, so show me your appreciation by giving me coffee.  And toast.”

      “Oh, hungover.  Got it.  I’ll work on your edible medicine while you make me happy by telling me that I’m not in for a no-break year of agony.”

      “You’re not in a no-break year of agony.  But don’t expect many breaks and prepare for some degree of agony.”

      “Worse than the North Sea shoot?”

      “No, that much I can pledge.  I put the likelihood of frostbite or drowning at under ten percent.”

      “Decapitation?”

      “Fifteen percent.”

      “We’ve gone with worse.  Let’s hear it.”

Anderson outlined the new future for Greg, which was very much like the old future, but with a new film slipped in and molded around the existing footprint.  Definitely not as bad as he’d experienced a few times, but…

      “I am going to want, no… need… a holiday after all of that.”

      “Which is why I padded things a touch so we should have a buffer for unexpected, yet totally expected, calls for reshoots or dialogue fixes or over-abundant appearance bookings so you should be able to arrange something nice and relaxing without worrying about having to cancel.”

      “You may just have earned sugar with your coffee.”

      “I feel honored.  Now… this is my serious face, do you see it?”

      “I’m trying very hard not to.”

      “Stop promising Mycroft Holmes the sun and the moon for the film.  Men’s fashion accessories are one thing, and I can probably square that with wardrobe, but nothing else.”

      “Ummm… I’ll try.”

      “That’s not good enough, Greg, and you know it.”

      “It is good enough if we stay in the area of little things that’ll make him happy but nobody else will care about.  Consider it an investment in the future.  The happier he is, the more certain Mycroft is that his opinion will be taken seriously, the more likely it is he’ll agree to let more of his books be filmed.”

      “Why do I think that’s not the only reason you want this?”

      “Because you’re ugly, but not stupid.  He is the author and… he’s got a solid view of his character and the world he created.  It’s right and proper to honor that view as much as we can.”

      “Nope, that’s not it.  Or, at least, not all of it.  Keep going.”

      “It makes him happy!  What’s wrong with that?”

      “Nothing.  Nothing wrong with that, at all, until he’s at loggerheads with the director and this turns into a flaming disaster.”

      “That won’t happen.”

      “You say that now, but I’m warning you that you don’t want that dynamic growing.  We’ve both seen it when stubbornness and drama take a good film and bring it to ruin.”

      “I know, and it won’t get to that point.  I mean… at least not because of me.  I can’t say he won’t get reports from the set by other means and not like what he hears, but between me and Anthea, I think we can address the issue in a way that makes him happy but doesn’t really alter the film.  But, let’s also be truthful – sometimes a film is being botched and an outside player is exactly what is needed to get it back on track.”

      “That’s the rarity.”

      “This is a rare film.”

Anderson’s bleary eyes were still sharp enough to catch the determination on Greg’s face and his brain was just on the right side of functional to recognize there was more there than a desire for the film to succeed.

      “This is important to you, isn’t it?”

      “That’s the most Captain Obvious thing you’ve ever said.”

      “No, because I don’t mean it as obviously as that.  All films are important to you or, at least, most, but… you honestly don’t want Holmes to be disappointed.”

Running a hand through his hair, Greg nodded towards the coffee pot for Anderson to pour himself a cup and remembered to do something to the toaster besides just sticking in the bread.

      “He’s a… Mycroft’s priorities are different than ours and he has a level of passion and devotion to his books and his characters that we, or I, don’t necessarily have when working on a film.  It’s hard to think about someone like that seeing something so important to him butchered.”

      “He’s still getting paid, though.  And handsomely.”

      “It’s not always about money and you know that.  It’s about pride and, frankly, love.  He cares for his work like you would a child and it’s not surprising he’s incredibly nervous about what will happen to it in other people’s hands.”

      “Like an overprotective mum when she does the very first school run for her kid?”

      “Easily.  Also, he could be worried that a shit film would hurt his sales and reputation.  I doubt it, since a shit film might make people actually want to read the book, if they haven’t, to see how it compares, but it’s an understandable worry.”

      “I’m not saying it’s not, but… this has become personal for you, hasn’t it?”

      “No-o…”

      “That’s your yes no.”

      “It’s not my yes no.  It’s my sort-of-yes no.  Mycroft’s a decent fellow.  And… this has the potential to hurt him.  Really hurt, not just frustrate or anger.  His heart would break into a thousand pieces of the film is rubbish and… I’m honestly sure he could easily move past that.  Me, I’ve had flops and I can shrug it off quickly enough, but Mycroft… I don’t think he’d ever be able to shake it off.  Right now, just making what he sees as necessary contributions is keeping him enthusiastic and engaged and optimistic.  And, if I’m lucky, if the film doesn’t do terribly well, I can convince him that it’s the studio’s fault or the director’s or editor’s… help keep his heart together as much as possible.”

      “That’s a lot of I’s, Greg.  Again, this has become personal for you, hasn’t it?”

      “What does that even mean?”

      “Has Greggy found someone interesting, perhaps?  In the ‘my, is it getting hot in here’ sort of interesting.”

      “You’re loony.  It’s nothing like that.”

      “Then what is it like?”

      “What’s wrong with being friends?  Can’t two men be friends anymore without people thinking they’re shagging?”

      “Given I didn’t know you were friends and your brain went right to shagging, I feel the need to explore this more deeply.  How often do you fantasize about shagging Mycroft Holmes and how kinky does it get?”

      “Fuck you.”

      “Feel free to fantasize about fucking me, my rates for fantasy fucking are very reasonable, but let’s keep our focus on Mycroft for now.”

      “We’re friends!”

      “You just met him.”

      “Yeah, well… sometimes you just connect with a person.  They fit with you.  And don’t turn that into anything filthy, you pervert.”

      “It was too easy; I don’t reach for low-hanging fruit.  Speaking of your saggy plums, has Mycroft seen them, and what is his opinion about you doing pornos if this film ruins your career?”

      “You’re the most ridiculous person in the universe.”

      “Do I win a prize for that?”

      “Half-burnt toast and bitter coffee.”

      “I’ll take it.  And, for my acceptance speech, I’ll lead with an ode to your smoldering lust for the famous author Mycroft Holmes, then belch a few times to make room for more coffee.”

      “Friends!  We are friends.  Officially.”

      “That sounds official.”

      “It is.  We… sort of made a proclamation.”

      “You know I cannot let that sit there with its bare arse hanging out.”

      “Yeah, and I can’t blame you.  But, it’s true and… that’s what I mean about Mycroft potentially being hurt.  He puts more meaning into things than other people and sees them a different way.  I toss about the term ‘friend’ without a second thought, but it’s something completely different for him.  Something far more serious and important.”

      “And you entered into this serious and important relationship with him.”

      “Fuck you again.”

      “As long as you’re gentle this time.  Which reminds me, is Mycroft a gentle or rough sex sort of man?”

      “We like to watch films!  Talk about… stuff.  Take long walks.”

That did sound serious and important.  Shit.

      “So, just in the dating stage right now.  Ok… nothing wrong with that.  Lots right with it, actually.  Too many people jump straight to fucking and that’s not the way to go if you want things to last.”

      “Drink your coffee, you bastard.  Hopefully the cyanide I slipped in it doesn’t change the flavor too much.”

      “Is Mycroft a flowers and sweets person or does he appreciate the unusual and unexpected sort of gift?”

Flowers and sweets were certainly something Mycroft appreciated, but he might like something out-of-the ordinary, too.  Wait… why was he even thinking about this?  Anderson was the brain-damaged one, not him!

      “This is precisely why you don’t have any friends, you useless agent.  You’re not worthy.  And an idiot.”

      “You’re imagining his warm, soft lips right now, aren’t you?”

      “I’m imagining yours.  Bleeding and swollen from a collision with my fist.”

      “Bifocals!”

      “What?”

      “That’s my safe word.  I don’t mind a bit of a spanking, but I do draw the line at anything in the region of my face.  It is my moneymaker, you know.”

      “Eat your toast, then die.”

      “I will.  Got any jam to go with my death, though?”

      “Yeah, actually.  Grocery people brought in a strawberry one that’s nicer that what I usually have.  Not as good as Tuesday jam, though, I must admit.”

      “What’s that?”

      “I have no idea, but sometimes not knowing is half the fun.”

      “Like me not knowing about your torrid affair with Mr. Mycroft Holmes?”

      “When I accept my Oscar, expect me to shove it straight up your arse.”

      “Better than what you did to your first BAFTA.”

      “I glued it back together!”

      “Backwards.”

      “Eat your toast.”

__________

Anderson reminded himself for the thousandth time, as he fumbled his key into the door of his flat, not to get pissed on red wine because it was his own personal weapon of mass destruction.  At least Greg was sorted, as well as Greg could ever be sorted, and his appointment tonight had cheerfully agreed to postpone until tomorrow since it would give them an extra hour or so at some party they wanted to attend.  Which was a party he was supposed to attend, for business reasons, but fuck that with a very large fucking implement.  More toast, Greg’s stolen jam, a hot bath, something soothing on the telly, and…

      “Where have you been?  I have been waiting and your flat has replaced my brother’s picture in the OED to illustrate the definition of boring.”

… and he had a housebreaker sitting on his sofa, watching his telly and…

      “Are you eating my leftover Chinese?”

      “Only the eggrolls.  John refuses to allow me more than a single one per meal and that is an abridgement of my civil rights which proves he has fascist leanings.”

A housebreaker with a posh voice and no apparent tendency towards immediate violence.

      “Who is John?”

      “Lestrade’s lapdog.  I have no idea how he reconciles his fascism with his slobbering adoration for the lackluster thespian, however, as both are appalling, it is not worth my time to ponder.  Now, begin reciting your credentials and detail to me why I should engage you as my agent.”

What?

      “I… no.”

      “If you believe I shall hire you, not that hire is the proper term for I have no intention of paying for your services, but in any case, if you believe that Lestrade’s endorsement is sufficient, rest assured that it is not.  I would not credit an endorsement from him for sausages, even if I had eaten one myself and found it to be an exemplar of foodstuffs.”

That’s twice Greg’s name has been tossed out and neither time did it sound like Mr. Housebreaker was trying to lie about knowing the evil sod.  Didn’t hurt to ask, though.

      “You know Greg?”

      “Oh no, not only are you boring, but stupid, as well.  I admit neither is surprising given you work in film and represent Lestrade, but it is my greatest failing that I still harbor some nanoscale hope that not all humans are tedious and dimwitted.”

Asking hurt!

      “I’m not boring!  Or stupid.”

      “I have substantial doubt the evidence is in your favor, but perhaps you can sway my opinion during the interview.”

      “What interview?”

      “My opinion is not swaying.”

      “You… you just sit there.”

      “I intend to.”

Anderson pulled out his mobile, strongly considered phoning the police, but decided another tactic might produce faster results.

      “What do you want, Anderson?  I thought you’d have crawled into a rubbish bin and died by now from alcohol toxicity.  Or my coffee which is lethal in its own right.”

      “Funny, Greg.  Look, I’m at my flat and… there’s some bloke here who says he knows you.”

      “Ok… that’s not what I expected you to say.  Who is he?”

      “Hold on… you, what’s your name?”

      “Sherlock.”

      “He says his name is Sherlock, but I can’t believe that’s real.”

Though your pained groan, Greg, is convincing me otherwise.

      “It’s real.  Though I’m not sure that being true about him.  He’s Mycroft’s brother.”

      “Really?  He’s more of a prat than I would have expected.”

Sherlock’s hiss was loud enough to warrant a small round of applause that Anderson dutifully bestowed.

      “Hard to believe, isn’t it, that someone who’s written all those brilliant novels has that for a brother, but it’s true.  It’s ok to let him in, though, and…”

      “He is in.  He was here when I got home, eating my food and using his arse to warm my sofa.”

      “Don’t you lock your door?”

      “Yes.”

Greg’s smile grew wide and he settled into the experience of Anderson being haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Ghastly.  Good boy, Sherlock.  Make the hungover twat pay for his cruel, cruel teasing.

      “Oh, well, that’s a surprise.  But… Sherlock is a detective, so maybe it’s not surprising he’s picked up a few skills along the way.”

Or got a few lessons from a retired art thief who shall remain nameless, but might be willing to share those skills with an actor who had an unquenchable thirst for learning.

      “Detective?  I thought maybe an actor, since he said some nonsense about me representing him.”

      “Oh yeah, I gave him your mobile number to talk about that, but the lad must have decided to take the more direct approach.”

Which is now making this prank far more prankier than predicted.  Greg shoots, Greg scores!  And the crowd goes wild…

      “What!  You bastard, you did that on purpose.”

      “I don’t think there’s any way to give someone a mobile number besides it being on purpose, but you could be more worldly in that area than me.”

      “And today of all days… how much will it cost me to make him go away?”

Anderson flicked off the bean sprout that Sherlock had throw across the room with surprising accuracy and force for a low-mass eggroll stuffer.

      “I can hear you, Anderson, and must say that your lack of eagerness for my business is a thick, oily black mark against you.”

      “You said you weren’t going to pay me, anyway, Sherlock, so what do I care?”

      “Ah, so you have already agreed to my offer.  Excellent.  Sit and we shall commence the discussion about my consulting fee and screen credit.  I have very specific ideas about the font that should be used, as well as its size and weight.”

      “Greg, get over here now and send your friend on his way.”

      “He’s not my friend.  He doesn’t have warm, soft lips which, by your definition, is necessary for befriendedness.”

      “Now.”

      “Nope.  You want to evict the berk, you do it yourself, but think hard since he is Mycroft’s brother and being evil to him might put Mycroft in a foul mood.”

      “Why do I suspect his brother thinks he’s a tit as much as I do?”

      “That’s for me to know and you, maybe to find out.  Bye.”

Anderson stared at this mobile, which was now little more than a paperweight in his hand and gave it a rude gesture for being the vehicle of his discontent.

      “Miserable mouse-fucker.”

      “Lestrade has that effect on me, also.  Perhaps you are not as limp-minded as I anticipated.”

      “Well, thanks for that.  Now, how about you leave and…”

      “No.”

      “Why not?”

      “I have not finished the egg rolls.  Nor have we scripted a contract for services.”

      “Leave.  You can have the egg rolls.  I’ll even give you a few quid to buy more.  Fresh, hot ones, this time.”

      “I refuse.  At least for at the moment.  I shall, however, take the money when I depart as an installment payment for my consulting fee.”

      “What consulting fee!”

      “You are an abysmal negotiator.  It is clear why Lestrade makes such infantile films.  I am reconsidering you as my agent.”

      “Good!  I have no idea what you’re talking about, but good!  Reconsider on your way out the door.”

      “No.”

      “Oh god… look, can your lunacy wait until I have a shower?”

      “First, I am not a lunatic.  Mycroft has papers with his solicitor testifying to that fact.  Second, yes.  Your pungency is overwhelming even at this distance.”

      “Thank you.  Let me shower and then… we can talk about whatever is rolling about in your head.”

      “Very well.  You may start my tea before you begin.”

      “What?  No.  Why would you even begin to think I’d make you tea?”

      “You are my host and John is not here.”

      “You broke in, so I’m not your host, I’m your hostage, and I’m beginning to feel very fucking sorry for this John person.”

      “I have no idea why.  He is currently enjoying one of Lestrade’s films at our flat and gleefully kissing the screen when the dolt prances across it.”

      “I don’t even need to know John to know that’s not true.  Greg doesn’t prance.”

      “Fine.  Strut.  Is that more appropriate?”

      “Yes.  But, since Greg’s not here, and is a colossal arse, we can use the term prance for the purposes of your exaggerated insult.”

      “So noted.  Now, tea.  The egg rolls are making me parched.”

Suspecting that his kettle would be lethally dented if he threw it at Sherlock’s hard head, Anderson threw a teabag, instead, but did get water heating to dunk the teabag into once it was ready.  Greg was going to pay for this and pay large.  However, if Sherlock was a detective, then the consulting nonsense might not be as nonsensical as it sounded.  Greg did do his research for a new film and talking to a real detective was a sound preparation strategy.  And, this particular detective, no matter how infuriating and obstinate, was directly connected to Mycroft Holmes, himself.  Greg’s new friend.  Indulging the baby brother to keep big brother happy?  Again, not the worst strategy in the world, especially if the indulgence took a large crap on the day of a certain hungover agent.  He’d phone Anthea tomorrow and get the goods on this Sherlock person, but there was nothing wrong with hearing him out now and deciding if he did have something to offer Greg and the film.

If not, heaven knows there were plenty of hangers-on for every film that you tossed a few quid or put their name on the screen because they were the producer’s nephew or cousin of the stunt coordinator.  Just part of the game and it was a game he knew well.

      “This is pauper’s tea.  I demand something suitable for a genius of my standing.”

Sometimes games involved murder, though, didn’t they? Cluedo, for instance.  The killer was Philip Anderson, in his flat, with a tea kettle.  Already he was a winner!  The day was starting to look up…

Chapter Text

      “Whzdedplzltmeslp.”

Greg was extremely happy he hadn’t fumbled his mobile so it landed on the floor, since the idea of moving even a millimeter in this cozy nest he called a bed was about the most terrible thing he could imagine at the moment.  Besides, of course, having to take a call in this cozy nest, in the first place.

      “Gregory, I am exceedingly worried that you have suffered a stroke or other form of brain injury that has produced an inability to properly communicate.  I shall alert the authorities to send an ambulance.  I suppose you are sufficiently famous that they will know your home address and can respond promptly.”

Mycroft!  Well, the cozy nest might permit one call without enacting too great a penalty on his sleep-deprived form.

      “Wht?  No… no promptly.  Nothing respondy.”

      “This is fully supporting my decision.  I… continue to speak with me as best as you can, Gregory, while I use another phone to summon your aid.”

      “No… It’s ok, Mycroft.  I was just very deep in wherever your brain goes when you’re asleep and it was a long journey back out.  Really, I’m fine, but I thank you for being concerned.”

      “Ah, I see.  I am a light sleeper myself, but Sherlock does, on occasion, become fully immobilized by the lure of sleep, which requires nearly an earthquake to prompt him to stir.  I must say, however, that I am somewhat surprised you are still asleep at this hour.  I did wait for what seemed an appropriate time to phone.”

      “Surprised?  What time is…

Seven in the morning.  Or as it was called by sensible people – fuck o’clock am.  To Mycroft, though, this qualified as a late night phone call for Mycroft’s upside-down lifestyle… ok, be decent because Mycroft actually tried to be considerate and that’s a good thing, even if several more hours of sleep would have been so very, very wonderful.

      “Oh, it is time for me to be awake, isn’t it?  Not good to be a layabout.”

      “No, it is not.  I have no doubt someone with your work ethic is normally an early riser, but I suppose your recent visit disrupted your sleep schedule as it did mine.”

Oh, it did, which was why the plan had been to cling to this bed until it got fed up with being clung to like a sloth mummy by its sloth baby and bucked him onto the floor.

      “That is a very astute analysis.  Are you on your way for a little sleep yourself?”

      “I am, in point of fact.  The fatigue is most debilitating, however, I have completed the writing I hoped to accomplish, so it is not impacting my productivity.”

      “Productivity is very important, so good for you fighting off the fatigue until the bitter, bitter end.  Get some good stuff on the proverbial paper?”

      “I did, in point of fact.  After Mummy’s rhinoceros romp through my evening, I found my mind unexpectedly stimulated towards a new direction for a chapter on which I was working.  The result was highly successful.”

      “Your mum phoned… oh, that’s an alternately great and miserable, thing, isn’t it?  You love them and love talking to them, but you also wish sometimes that your phone suddenly experienced a strange electrical glitch so you could have a reprieve without it actually being your fault the call was shut off.”

      “That is a far more elaborate wish than any I have harbored, but I believe I glean your meaning.”

      “It’s always good to be gleaned.  Which reminds me… I should phone my own parents and say hello.  They get upset if I phone often when I’m out of the country because, according to my dad ‘it’s a waste of good fucking money and it all goes to the twats that own the bloody phone companies,’ but I haven’t given them a ring since I got home.”

      “Your father seems a respectably frugal man.”

      “Frugal is a nice word for it.  Pinches pence so hard you hear the metal scream is a better way of putting it, though he doesn’t think twice about spending a fortune on that expensive ice cream they sell in the posh shops.”

      “If there is an area where one should eschew frugality, quality ice cream would be a highly-probably candidate.”

      “True.  And, to be fair, I think it’s because Mum actually loves it and he’d move the sun and the Earth for her if she asked him to.”

      “A romantic.  It is most adorable when the elderly evince a romantic streak.”

      “Adorable and embarrassing at the same time.”

      “The paradoxical nature of parents again emerges.  It is a most complex situation.”

      “I agree.  So, Mycroft… what’s up?”

Because you called and I still don’t really know the reason why.  Not that you need a reason, but I suspect one exists anyway.

      “Ah, yes.  I phoned to formally lay to rest your likely concern that I blame you, personally, for news of our joint venture being leaked at this early and unagreed-upon date.”

That was so profoundly Mycroft it was nearly unbelievable.

      “Thank you, Mycroft, I appreciate that.”

      “Anthea assured me that the revelation was made by a third party who is no longer associated with the film studio and there was nothing you could have done to know of the faux pas or prevent the news from being disseminated.”

      “Loose lips can sink ships and that berk’s lips are looser than most, especially when he’s pissed.  This was the last straw for the studio since announcing a new film is a big thing, publicity wise, and the studios take it very seriously.  They were lucky the reporter contacted them for confirmation so they could see a bit more for an announcement than ‘Oh, some drunken bastard let this spill, just like he did his sixth whiskey.’  And, I have a few quick interviews shoved in this week to jump on this so the news spreads out further and builds anticipation.”

      “Oh dear, that sounds dreadful.”

      “Only a tiny amount of dread involved, I suspect.  Nothing I’m not used to, though I will admit to being a bit annoyed that what little time I may have had to simply relax the next few months just vanished in a puff of smoke.”

      “It… it did?”

      “Again, not something I’m not used to, it’s just bollocks when it happens.”

      “I see.”

What did he see?  It couldn’t be good, because that wasn’t a happy see tone.  That was a wistful see tone.  Maybe even a sad see tone!  That wasn’t allowed.  Mycroft wasn’t allowed to use sad see tones.  They’d agreed to that, or not, during their popcorn feast.  Or it might have been something about shortbread they agreed to, but shortbread started with an ‘s’ just like sad and see so it was fucking close enough.

      “Something wrong, Mycroft?”

      “No.  Nothing is wrong.”

Something was wrong!

      “How about you try that again and try not to sound like a lad who just ate the last of his favorite sweets from the jar and his mum says the shop doesn’t have those anymore.”

      “Dear me, that poor child.”

      “Focus, Mycroft.  You are the poor child for the purposes of this conversation.”

      “I am?  Why am I poor?”

      “Because you don’t have your sweets!”

      “Untrue.  They are in their container on my desk.”

      “Trace this back, Mycroft.  Keep going until you reach the part where I asked you what was wrong and you gave me an answer that… ok, not using any analogies or we’ll go round the twist again.  I promise I’m not overworking myself, if that’s your worry.  I’ll still be spry and eager to step into Bell’s shoes, not a single extra wrinkle on this face.”

      “I am most certain I never specified the number of wrinkles on Diogenes Bell’s face, so why is that relevant?”

The agony was agonizing.

      “Mycroft, what’s got you off-footed about me taking on some extra work?

      “I… I am not off-footed.”

That was worse than your sad see tone!

      “I’m worried you’ll fall over you’re so off-footed.”

      “I am sitting that down, so your assertion is impossible.”

      “Mycroft, would you just tell me what’s wrong!  And don’t say nothing because your voice is very telling and I’ve been practicing noticing things to play a detective, so you best come clean or I’ll call you an evil fibber.”

      “You will not!”

      “I will!  I might even say filthy fibber for the consonance.”

      “Oh…”

      “What?”

      “Most individuals lack awareness of consonance, let alone assonance.”

      “I know assonance.  I’m fond of it, actually.”

And have been since I was a lad because it sounds dirty and that was, as expected, positively hilarious to me and my mates.

      “I am most pleased by that, Gregory.  Too few appreciate the mechanics of language, let alone begin to utilize it properly.”

      “That’s nothing but obfuscatory, Mycroft.  Back to the point of all of this.”

      “I fail to remember it.  But bravo for bringing a rather neglected word into the discussion.”

      “You are worse than your brother!”

      “No person on Earth is worse than Sherlock!”

      “Ha!  You’re wrongity wrong and I’ll let you know how much the next time I see you and… well, don’t get used to those still-existing sweets staying on your desk because they’re slated for a different fate entirely.”

      “That was a tactical error, Gregory, as we are both aware that your schedule prohibits any visits for what amounts to a geologic era.  My sweets shall remain unmolested.”

Ooh… was a tiny bit of fire in your voice, Mycroft?  Not a silly, bantery bit of fire, but something that smacked of, perhaps, genuine irritation or, more likely… frustration.  Maybe because I promised to visit and basically said that’s fucking stabbed in the back since I’m booked with obligations.  Which would be both irritating, frustrating and… possibly worse… since I suspect you take promises very, very seriously.  Pinkie promises, especially.  Doubly especially with someone you’d had a befriending ceremony with and that was a nasty way of saying that because Mycroft opened up himself to having a friend and he deserves better than you being a prat, you stupid fucking brain.  Moving on…

      “Another dive into the wrongity pool!  Don’t think I can’t sneak away now and then to molest your sweets.  I can and, believe me, I will.

      “You… you will?”

That wasn’t frustration.  That was a touch of hopeful disbelief that sounds like it can’t happen, but can and more often than a body might expect.  Target hit square on the bull’s eye.  Have to remember, have to drill into the stupid prat of the brain to remember that Mycroft operates on a different frequency and has a few more worries about things than other people.  Learning, though… always learning.

      “Yep, though, I suppose the way I was talking it didn’t seem that way.  It’s just the way people talk, though, when they’re deluged with work.  There’s always that bit of time here and there, though, for friends, though it may not be as much as anyone would like until the work issues calm down a touch.”

      “Oh… yes, I do admit that it appeared you would be unavailable for… well, for anything, actually.  It… it is good to know it was a misapprehension.”

      “An understandable one.”

      “When, then, can I next expect you?”

Your sweets are going to be molested, Mycroft.  Molested like flavorful balls have never been molested before in the history of time.

      “That I can’t say with confidence because Anderson’s finalizing a few things, so dates could shift a little.  But, it won’t be too long.”

      “Excellent.  In truth, however… this does downgrade my own situation from Operation Aqua Block to something far more manageable.”

      “Ok, you know I have to ask.”

      “About what?”

      “Operation Aqua Block.”

      “It is… nothing.”

      “We’re back to ball molesting full force!”

      “You will leave alone my balls, Gregory Lestrade, or I shall have to take a firm hand to your… shenanigans.”

      “My shenanigans do like a firm hand now and again, but you are not going to drop some Cold War era spy mission name on me then try to nothing it away.  Not gonna happen.  Not in a trillion years.”

      “Might I simply beg this one dispensation?”

      “Oh, you like begging, do you?  That contrasts a bit with the firm hand stance from a moment ago.”

      “I… you have a point.”

      “And my reward is being read in for Operation Aqua Block.”

      “That… you do not know what a thing it is you ask, Gregory.”

Maybe not, but that’s not a genuinely upset tone.  Upset, yes, but not upset upset, so on we go.

      “That’s why the asking is important, so I do know what it is I’m asking.  I’ll be honest with you, Mycroft.  Your humbugs are now in danger and I did see some toffee lurking about that probably yearns to be free from you clutches.”

      “That is utterly unfair!  Those toffees are specially crafted in small batches and only sold to select clientele!”

      “Operation Aqua Block!”

      “It is the steps and strategies I, and the rest of the house, must implement to preempt a visit by... Mummy.  And Father, though, he is never as pestiferous about demanding a visit as is she, so it is extremely rare to launch Operation Bow Tie Barricade.  That is a tremendous blessing as Mummy can sometimes be distracted with mention of a current flower show or other goings-on that she enjoys, but father is more single-minded and difficult to put off track.”

Mycroft’s father wore bow ties.  That… there really wasn’t any other image possible, was there?  Just one thing…

      “Does your dad wear specs?”

      “Yes, why do you ask?”

Because that detail was required to make the image not only right, but perfect.

      “Just curious.  You said he was a librarian and they often seem to wear specs.  So… I take it your mum has been hoping for a visit?”

      “It is entirely against the rules and agreements we have established for scheduling visits, however…”

      “Yeah?

      “Mummy is…”

      “Double yeah?”

      “Mummy is somewhat eager to, perhaps, make your acquaintance.  Why are you laughing?”

Mycroft’s mum was a fan!  Oh, this was brilliant.  Hoping to push her son into getting her some face time with this old, but still holding its own, face.  Yeah, Mycroft was doomed.  Mum’s didn’t let go of that sort of thing, no more than they let go of wanting to meet the new man or woman in your life.  Not that’s what’s going on here, but the sound of a mum on a mission was sounding clearly into the it’s-barely-fucking-dawn hour of the day.

      “Because your mum is leveraging you for the chance to meet my raggedy self.  Did you tell her about me being raggedy and not at all impressive in person?”

      “Hmmm… I admit that tactic did not occur to me.  Mummy is most taken by your appearance on film, however, I do agree that it is far more… muted… in person.”

Muted.  He’d been called worse.  Lots worse.  Very lots worse, in certain cases.

      “That it is.  The hair, makeup and wardrobe people do a cracking job making me look the part of an actual film star.  I can’t be bothered to shave half the time and wear clothes my own mum would tut over and, most likely, bin for being an embarrassment.”

      “Oh my, that does sound…”

      “Ghastly?”

      “That was not precisely the world for which I was searching, however, it performs the task equally well.”

      “Ghastly Greg Lestrade.  It’s sort of catchy!  So, we have to find some time for me to meet your parents, hmmm?  I’ll put Anderson on carving out a day or so, not writing days, for me to pop in and say hello.”

      “What!  No… no no no no, you cannot possibly be suggesting that.”

      “I am suggesting the hell out of it!  Why wouldn’t I want to do something to make your mum happy?  It’s what you do, make friends’ mum’s happy!  You compliment them, be polite, help them get a pitcher down from the high shelf, that sort of thing.”

      “No, you have no idea, Gregory, how… meddlesome is Mummy.”

      “All mums are meddlesome, Mycroft.  I think something happens during pregnancy, shakes up all their body chemistry and activates their meddlesome genes.  It’s science.”

      “I do not think that is correct.”

      “I’ll look it up on Wikipedia, but I’m fairly certain science is heavily involved.”

      “Wikipedia is not a valid source of information.”

      “It’s valid enough for us ghastly types.”

      “I shall not recognize any claim made with evidence taken from Wikipedia.”

      “I’ll tell your mum she’s a looker and make her giggle, just so you go loony.”

      “You would not dare!”

      “I dare!”

It seemed they’d had this conversation before, though in slightly different form.  Given Mycroft was wildly entertaining when he was aghast, it was a conversation they’d likely have again in the future, too.  Often.

      “Gregory, you just declared your time to be punishingly scheduled…”

      “Then I declared that I have time for a visit now and then with friends, so let the daring commence!”

      “Gregory… please.  Mummy shall be positively… giddy!”

      “Yes!  Oh, that’s just the way I’d hope her to be.  Not because I’m an arrogant bastard, but because it’s always a joy to make someone happy with a little conversation or an autograph.”

      “There will not be a ‘little’ conversation.  There will be a nonstop flow of giddiness and interrogation that shall… I will not survive.  There, I have said it plainly.  I shall meet my death and the fault wholly will be yours.”

      “Go ahead and die.  I’ll find one of those taxidermy chaps to stuff you with your arms outstretched so I can put you in my house to use as a coatrack.”

      “That is… diabolical!”

      “And I’ll make you wear different outfits, too, especially at holidays.  Dress up my coatrack in all sorts of fancy dress that everyone who visits will get to see and admire.”

      “No!”

      “Wait until you see what I’ll kit you up with for Halloween.  Oh right, you’ll be dead so you can’t see.  Maybe your ghost will, though.  It’ll be apoplectic, but unable to change a single thing.  Heh heh heh…”

      “GREGORY!”

Oops.  Might have gone a touch too far.

      “Fine, maybe you’ll be one of those ghosts that can move things with the power of your… ghostliness.”

      “You will… I demand that you present yourself at this house and make a formal apology for… oh, I am overcome.”

      “I was presenting myself anyway, to meet your parents, so there.  Ha!  I win!”

      “NO!  No… you…”

      “Bamboozled you again?”

      “YES!  How have you done this?  What eldritch power do you possess, Gregory Lestrade?  You cannot be human, you simply cannot.”

      “I’ve been accused of a lot of things and, yes, not being human is one of them.  Usually it’s because of my incredible sexual stamina, but there’s been other reasons.  Like my nice arse.  But, I suppose that could be lumped in with the sexual stamina in to a single, larger category.”

      “You… Mummy covets your bottom!  This is a disaster!”

      “Your mum is a woman of impeccable taste.  I admire it myself, now and then, in the mirror.”

      “I…”

      “Speechless?  Yeah, it happens.  Usually after someone’s seen my firm, succulent bum, but sometimes before that due to the anticipation.”

      “We will no longer discuss your… anatomy.”

      “It’s looming large in your mind right now, isn’t it?  Just like a creamy, full moon, which is probably why they call it mooning, come to think of it.”

      “urblgrhhz…”

      “That sounded painful.  Please don’t tell me I actually killed you, Mycroft.  If Molly and Mrs. Hudson find your body first, they’ll be the ones to have all the fun with it and not me, which isn’t sporting in the slightest since I’m the one who went to the effort of bringing about your horrible demise.”

      “You and Mummy deserve each other.”

      “Great!  How about your dad?  Think he’ll deserve me or should I give my shoes an extra bit of polish so I make a good impression?”

      “Pfft.  Father is very much like me, so I fully expect… no, in truth, I cannot continue with my intended barb, for I do appreciate shoes that are freshly polished.”

      “How about I credit you with a particularly sharp barb anyway because I know you think of excellent ones.”

      “That is true, so I shall accept my credit and add it to my account.”

      “Good!  Now, I’ll talk to Anderson about which day looks possible, that’s not a writing day, and we can have a nice little visit that will make your parents happy, which will make you happy, in the long term, because you’ll benefit from their good graces due to being a good son and getting them a visit with a film star, who’s actually a raggedy and not especially interesting sort of fellow, but they can lord it over their neighbors from here til eternity.”

      “Hmmm… that is a somewhat valid point.  Mummy and Father are staggeringly easier to manage when they feel satisfied with our familial relations.”

      “See?  Always look for the silver lining.”

      “I suppose you are correct, however, I trust that your standard level of tomfoolery will be ameliorated during the visit.”

      “I will be on my best behavior, I promise.”

      “Very well.  I shall instruct Anthea to coordinate with your agent to secure a suitable window of opportunity for this tete-a-tete.”

      “Are we back to spy missions again?  Please say yes.”

      “I…”

Mycroft chewed his lower lip a moment and though long and hard about his response.  There had been no intent to continue with Gregory’s silliness, however… it would not be the proverbial end of the world to contend otherwise.  It might, actually… be fun.

      “…we could be.”

      “Brilliant!  What’s my code name?  I need a code name.”

      “That is an essential element of a spy’s character.”

      “You’ll need one, too, of course.”

      “I will?”

      “How can we be spies on a mission if you don’t have a code name?  I’d have to leave you home with the laundry or something since you couldn’t go with me on exciting adventures.”

The expectation had been for Gregory to be the spy and recount some ridiculous fantasy for both their amusement, however, his participation, as a full partner in the proposed espionage was expected.  This was… rather exhilarating.

      “You… you would take me on the exciting adventure?”

      “Sure!  I’m good with all the actiony stuff, since I’ve done a lot of actiony stuff on screen, but I’ll need you to be the suave, calculating spy that comes up with all the plans and schemes.”

      “Plans and schemes are somewhat a talent of mine.”

      “See?  Our spy names will have to the sort that sound good when said together, like Steed and Peel, Solo and Kuryakin, that sort of thing.”

      “Yes, that is critical.  There should a natural affinity between the names, so they blend seamlessly into a unit, underscoring the strength of the partnership.”

      “Let’s get started, then!  I have an interview for a magazine spread later this morning, so we’ll have to make maximum use of our thinking caps.”

      “Yes, this could take some time and it is best we begin now.  I shall ring for more tea.”

      “I’ll get coffee started and something over my succulent arse than air.”

      “P… pardon?”

      “I’ll get coffee started, then toss on some clothes.”

      “You said air.  That… that does not imply the wearing of pyjamas.”

      “Oh.  Yeah, I don’t wear them.  At least, not when I’m at home.  Sometimes I do when I’m traveling, if it’s possible that some studio aide is going to key their way into my hotel room with papers to sign or to wake me since I’ve slept through my alarm.”

      “You… you are currently naked?”

      “Uh… technically, yes.”

      “That… one does not sleep nude.”

      “This one does.”

      “That… it is positively debauched!”

      “The debauchery lets my naughty bits feel free, though, and I’m a staunch advocate of liberated bits.”

      “Are you referring to…”

      “Yes.  Yes, I am.  Free and feeling properly aired.”

      “Oh my…”

      “That’s what they all say.”

      “Who all say?”

      “Everyone.”

      “I do not understand.”

      “I can’t say I do either right now.  Would you feel better if got dressed?”

      “Yes.”

      “Ok, let me set down my phone and…”

      “Oh dear…”

      “Starting again.  Let me ring you back after I’ve put on clothes so you won’t have to listen to me being naked and taking steps to correct that fact.”

      “Much better.  I shall, in the meantime, attend to my tea.”

      “Very efficient use of time.  Talk to you soon, Mycroft.”

Greg terminated the call, then stared at the ceiling a few moments before laughing long and loud at the nonsense of the previous minutes.  What were they – twelve years old?  It felt like it sometimes, but… what was wrong with that?  Life was a string of adult responsibilities and obligations, so what was wrong with a spot, here and there, or pure childish fun?

Besides, with the parents descending, childish would be the name of the game.  Parents were notorious for seeing their adult children through the lens of times past, when they lacked the gray hair and wrinkles and their kid is grinning proudly to show off the empty space in their mouth from the tooth they just lost.  Mycroft might be terrified about the meeting, but he’d met enough parents of members of the film crew or press or small fans to know how to manage.  Be genial, ask more questions about them than they asked of him, happily sign whatever they wanted him to sign and pose for every photo they suggested.  Make them feel like they were precisely as ‘important’ as he was, which was actually the case, though they had a hard time seeing that with stars in their eyes.

Of course, with Mycroft’s parents, it’d be a bit different, since… it was Mycroft’s parents.  He had to make a good impression, because… it’s what you did with the parents of the person in your life.  Not that ‘in your life’ was exactly how he should describe Mycroft, because that was a touch too… something or other… for their situation, given the phrase had a rather heavy layer of ‘meaning,’ at times.  Which was not this one.  This was not one of those times.  Other times were.  This one was far away from that collection.  And, now, he had to get far away from naked or Mycroft wouldn’t be able to play spies this morning, which was turning into one of his better mornings in recent memory…

__________

Mycroft gave the bell pull in his study a series of tugs with the proper pattern to signal he wanted tea and returned to his desk to sit and… sit.  Sitting was an enormously successful strategy at the moment.  His legs seemed slightly wobbly and it would not to do suffer a fall.  Especially since he was to host Gregory again and present him to Mummy and Father!  This was on par with the Apocalypse occurring during a supernova when there was a tea shortage in England!

And Gregory was naked!  Nude.  Air clad.  Garmented only in sunlight and soft breezes.  Not a single scrap of cloth daring to conceal his masculine splendor from the admiring gaze of the universe.  It was utterly scandalous!  To sleep in the embrace of soft cotton sheets, letting that embrace caress his skin as would a devoted and tender lover.

Oh my.  That was rather… impassioned.  Which was not, at all, the norm of the person currently sitting to ward off the potential impacts of wobbly legs.  Such a thing was for volatile creatures, like most of humanity, who allowed impulse and emotion to steer their course in life.  That did not describe him.  Not that he lacked impulse and emotion, however, they were moderated by rational thinking, logic and, frankly, decorum.  But… naked.  He had spoken, at length, to a naked Gregory, with the subtle waft of Gregory’s manly scent perfuming the room, uninhibited by a barrier of fabric and buttons.

That was not decorous!  That was… given no one else resided in his skull but himself, perhaps it was acceptable to admit… that it was somewhat pleasant a thought.  One might, for the purposes of analysis or debate, envision a morning where one brought a small tray of breakfast to a second party, who for the purposes of this mental exercise resembles, closely, Gregory, and one is gifted with the fluttering awake of warm brown eyes and the spicy perfume of exposed skin.  Inviting skin.  Skin that beckoned long, sensitive fingers to…

Great Ganymede’s Ghost!  What was happening to his mind?  Such salacious imaginings.  He was not a Mills & Boon writer!  His name was not Jackie Collins!  Some phantasm had bewitched his thoughts and beguiled them towards… areas.  Avenues.  Trajectories.  All of which had been illuminated by only the dimmest of streetlamps during his adult life.  Perhaps it was purple’s fault.  The new flowers in his bath were purple and he had taken quite a turn seeing them when he paused a moment for personal business.

Yes, that was surely the thing.  His relationship with purple was tumultuous at the best of times and for it to launch a strike when he was fatigued was the height of villainy, though the success of the assault must be recognized.  One respected a worthy opponent and purple had been one of his most ferocious adversaries over the years.  Sneaking through his defenses, now and again, with a seemingly affable hue, then plunging in the dagger, at other times, with a shocking display of flagrance.  There.  Mystery solved.  Purple had, once again, chosen the dagger and the impact was more profound and unexpected than usual.  Lawks!  How easy it was to see the problem, once one spared a moment to reapply the power of one’s rational mind.

Of course, when their conversation recommenced, there was no arguing the fact that Gregory would, once again, be naked, though the nudity would be camouflaged by the smoke and mirrors of his clothing.  He would know, though.  It was a truth that could not be denied.  The nudity endured.  And… so, apparently, must he…

Chapter Text

      “The past is a bastard.”

      “That’s not nice, since it’s not a tangible being capable of defending itself.”

      “Philip Anderson is a bastard.”

      “Better.  Stupid and incorrect, but at least it could exist in the realm of theoretical possibility.”

It was a measure of Greg’s exhaustion that the chip he tossed at Anderson only made it halfway when Anderson was sitting across from him at Greg’s kitchen table.

      “Ooh!  More chips for me!  I’m glad we stopped for something because I’m not sure I’ve eaten since yesterday.  Maybe I did, but it was so uninspiring that I’ve completely forgotten.”

Though Anderson did have to admit that his own punishing schedule was nothing to compared to that of the man currently looking like he’d just been exhumed from his grave.  The past couple of weeks were a meat grinder for his client and Greg’s professionalism meant he’d continued through it like a champion, always smiling, always cordial, always showing enthusiasm for what was going on, even if he was briefed on it just minutes before the interview or bit of filming.  And the hands reaching for him were both many and varied.  The last several days had been work for the program on his family history and what they’d negotiated, to free up time in other places, meant a grueling pace that had worn Greg down to the nub.  Time, perhaps, to lighten mood…

      “I did mean to ask, Greg, heard from your boyfriend lately?”

      “Fuck you.”

      “Not now, but I’ll let you know if I truly get desperate.  So, back to the boyfriend…”

      “Mycroft is not my boyfriend!”

      “Notice I didn’t mention his name, but your brain goes right to him.”

      “Who else would it be, since your little joke is the only joke your tiny brain is able to process and your ridiculous mouth is happy to toss it out at regular intervals.”

      “I’ve got loads of jokes!  After all, I have a copy of your CV.  In any case, are you ready for you meet-the-parents ordeal?  It doesn’t look like it, since you need a haircut, your skin is all saggy and pasty, your chip-throwing skills are decidedly subpar… you’re not making the proper presentation as a healthy mate for their beloved son.”

      “We’re not mates!  There was no mating.”

      “I did see Penguins of Madagascar, you know, so now I can add uncreative to your list of failings.  I’ll have a supply of tissues and cloths on me at all times for parental tears of disappointment.”

Because the upcoming ordeal was doubling as a business meeting, so the studio could pay, and agents would in attendance, at least for part of the entertainment.

      “Please don’t remind me that you’ll be there along with Mycroft’s parents.  All I wanted was a quiet day or two to try and stop my brain from melting, but do I get that?  No.  First, I have to discuss business, which I really could do without, but will anyway because Mycroft will adore it.  Then, I get the joy of having to keep the performance going so I don’t humiliate Mycroft in front of his parents.  Then, it’s right back into the thick of it until I fucking drop dead.”

Anderson gave himself a mental punch to the head hearing the honest frustration in Greg’s voice.  To him, this was a great source of amusement, but he’d sort of forgotten that it would be the opposite of restful for his friend, despite the pastoral country atmosphere.  Maybe he could distract the parents for awhile to give Greg, at the very least, a chance for a long walk or a longer nap.  The little village was supposed to be nice… invite the parents for a meal or a few drinks at the pub Greg mentioned to let some opportunity for relaxation flow in his client’s direction.  He could also ask to see Mycroft’s baby photos.  Every mum had a few of those on hand and that, matched with the inevitable cute stories, would keep them distracted for a few hours, at minimum.

      “I’ll do what I can, Greg, to see you’ve got some rest time, I promise.  Don’t forget, the old people love me.  I’ll bring them out for little tipple and story-sharing and you can curl up in a corner somewhere and sleep.”

      “I wonder if Mycroft has a basket by a fire somewhere that’s missing its dog.  I could do that.  I could be a happy hound napping in front of a warm fire, belly full of kibble, dreaming of chasing rabbits.  I could do that and like it, too.”

      “Is it the wrong time to mention I’ve been approached for you to star, so to speak, in a new Pixar film that is rather heavy on the hound-sleeping-in-baskets aesthetic?”

      “What?  Yes!  Yes, it’s the wrong ti… no, no I take that back.  Did they send a script?”

And Project Put Some Wind Back in Greg’s Sails gets underway. Fortunately, Pixar’s interest in Greg was not a lie, so if this led to some eagerness on his client’s part, his client’s agent, currently sitting and eating some surprisingly tasty fish and chips, wouldn’t have egg on his face.  Though, frankly, a plate of eggs wouldn’t be turned away right now.  He really was hungry…

      “A very early draft.”

      “Let me take a look at it.  I’ve been interested in something like this for awhile.”

      “I know, that’s why I’ve been doing a lot of schmoozing with the right production companies to make that happen.”

      “It’s… my commitment wouldn’t happen soon, though, right?”

      “No, you’d have awhile before they’d need you.  Want me to say you’re thinking about it?”

      “Let me read through the script first.  But… if it looks good, I’ll definitely think about it.”

      “Alright, then.  Maybe that’s something you can talk to your boyfriend about.  Let him read the script and see what he thinks from a writer’s standpoint.”

      “I honestly don’t know if that’s a good or bad idea since… this would be a kids film?”

      “Hmmm… as much as any of them are now.  Enough for the adults to notice and enjoy, but lots for the kiddies, too.”

      “I’m not sure if Mycroft would find that insipid or not.”

      “That’s what conversation is for.  And, do take note that you didn’t have a hissy fit over me calling him your boyfriend.  Getting comfortable with the term, are you?”

      “Come closer so I can give you a solid knock.”

      “Nope. But I will steal a few more chips since I suspect you’re too tired to defend your food.”

      “I can’t lie.  My knock would be more of a tap, and not a very vigorous one, at that.  We’ll need to stop for coffee before we catch the train.  It’s going to be a long night.”

      “Mycroft’s night owl thing is certainly a scheduling issue.  But, we’ve dealt with enough of those who work long hours, then want a bit of drinks time after to unwind.  Those days are long ones, too.”

      “True, but I usually nap for the last few hours and let you do all the talking.”

      “That’s my magic-working time.  Your big mouth is closed and I can navigate a somewhat boozy conversation with our counterparts to get all sorts of concessions and signatures on documents.”

      “My clever plan in a nutshell.”

      “I am greatly impressed by your cleverness.  And the new fish and chips shop Anthea told me about.  This really is good.”

      “You two are going to gain five thousand pounds between you, feeding each other’s food fetish.”

      “I am going to tell her that, so prepare to die, clever plan or not.  Boyfriend Mycroft or not, for that matter.  I don’t think even that will save you.”

      “Finish your food, you useless agent.  And don’t wake me up until it’s time to leave for the train.”

      “That is in precisely fifteen minutes.”

      “Nooooooooo….”

      “Forsake the coffee and you can nap once we’re on the train.  I’ll stand guard that you’re not stolen during the trip.”

      “Coffee after?”

      “As much as you can drink.”

      “Deal.”

      “That is my talent.”

      “And making balloon animals.”

      “True.  I’ll never go hungry if I can travel the world doing children’s birthday parties.  I don’t worry about your career burning out, as long as the balloon manufacturers survive.”

      “Your old age is going to be a real joy.”

      “Your envy is sweet as sugar.”

      “That why you’ll have dentures?”

      “Probably.  But I’ll keep my mouth closed so they don’t fly out at a party and scare the kiddies.”

__________

      “Ooh, this is a nice little village.  We have time to a quick pint?”

Greg looked about a moment and didn’t see either a driver or a likely getaway car, so couldn’t see why not.  Anderson had been true to his word and let him sleep like a very tired baby all the way here, so some reward should be forthcoming.

      “I think we do.  Come on, but…”

      “Yeah?”

      “Oh, nothing.  Just smile and carry on.”

Greg fixed his own smile on his face as he entered the familiar pub and wasn’t surprised that (a) a few eyebrows rose at the person who walked in behind him and (b) more than a few banknotes changed hands from whatever wager… what he’d be wearing, what train he’d take, or who knows what… had made its way through the pub regulars.  One of whom was the man behind the bar, fixing the newcomers with a knowing smile.

      “It’s Randolph Scott!  Good day to you, sir.  And with… not sure who you are.  Oh!  Virgil!  Who’s that bloke in the film you like?”

Three male heads turned towards the bartender, but only one must have been Virgil the film buff since only one response was offered.

      “Lee van Cleef?”

      “What!  No, you daft bastard.  That other movie you like.”

      “Orson Welles.”

      “I said skinny.”

      “He was fairly lean when he was a lad.”

      “Didn’t have a beard, though, so fuck off.  Rose you know who I mean, despite your husband being a bit of an idiot.”

      “That Reeves boy.”

Virgil the film buff’s wife got a snap-and-point of success after her husband got other less laudatory fingers offered to reward his performance, and the matter was considered settled.

      “Yes!  Hello, Mr. Keanu Reeves.  We’re honored to have you in our humble village.  And we’re all real, too!  None of that computer nonsense and Mr. Andersons for the likes of us.”

Greg made a ‘oh, this is so richly deserved’ face over his shoulder at Anderson, who groaned softly at the avalanche to come.

      “Not Keanu, my dear fellow, but an actual Mr. Anderson to come stir up a load of bother.  I am pleased to introduce to all of you Mr. Philip Anderson, my agent.”

The expected nods and oh-ho’s landed with an audible thump right on Anderson’s head.  It was now guaranteed that every time he entered this fine establishment, he’d be met with a terrible, but terribly familiar, Hugo Weaving impersonation as a greeting.  Just lovely.

      “It’s a special day, then!  Not that it wins you as much as a sausage, but we’re happy nonetheless.  Have a seat, gentlemen.  Normal pint of lager for you, Mr. Scott?  What about your AI-created friend?”

      “Same.”

Greg grinned widely at Anderson’s loud sigh and steered them towards and empty table a little closer to the door than he usually enjoyed.

      “Thanks, Greg.  I could have remained splendidly anonymous.”

      “If I don’t get to, you don’t get to.  Besides, nobody vomited seeing your appalling appearance, so it’s a better entrance at a pub than you’ve had in years.”

      “That’s not too far from the truth, unfortunately.  I stopped in to an old favorite for a quick one the other day and two women I used to… know… were there, sitting at a table together.”

      “And why am I just finding out about this now?”

      “Because nothing more happened, that I have details about, than I got glared right back out the way I came in.  I like to think it spawned a latent-jealousy, tooth-and-talon war, but I’m not even that self-deluded.”

      “If anyone asks, though, I’ll say the battle leveled the fucking place and the riot team had to be called in.”

      “You’re a true friend, Greg.  Ooh, here’s ours.”

Anderson smiled at the young woman delivering their drinks with a touch of rakish hope in his eyes and honestly didn’t know if the ‘what’s this?’ narrowing of her eyes was a good or bad thing.  Greg’s ‘charming’ grin didn’t make things any clearer, either.

      “As I live and breathe!  The beau… the efficient, industrious and highly-competent Ginnie!  I am extremely relieved you are serving us, as I am now assured we will enjoy an excellent beer-quaffing experience.”

      “You’ve got crud in your eyes.”

      “Shit!  Do I?  Anderson, do you think you could have said something?”

While Greg frantically dug in the corners of his eyes, for what reason Anderson didn’t know but suspected circled around wanting to look nice for his not-boyfriend, Anderson turned up the shine of his own smile, then took a sip of his surprisingly-good lager.

      “Very nice.  Very nice indeed… so, tell me, Ginnie, was it?  Ever thought about working in the entertainment industry?  I am a talent representative, you know.”

      “Is he an example of your credentials?”

She was pointing at Greg.  Who was… Greg was checking the status of his teeth in his pint glass.  Bloody wonderful.

      “No.  I lost a bet and he was the penalty.”

      “Gamblers can’t be trusted.”

      “I inherited him from his former agent who died a tragic death.”

      “Liars can’t be trusted, either.”

      “I’ve known him since his hair was brown and nobody else could be arsed to manage his affairs.”

      “Leave your card.  Oh, and the car is on the way.  Mrs. Hudson said to brace for impact.”

Greg paused checking his appearance, as best he could in his glass, and shared a look with Ginnie that confirmed she wasn’t joking.

      “Ok.  Got any of those protectors the athletes use to guard their procreative equipment from threats?”

      “You’ve got two hands.  Put them to good use.”

      “Fair.  Thank you, Madam Ginnie for your compassion and support.”

A flick of foam from his beer onto Anderson’s face earned Greg the expected curse, but pulled his agent’s attention back to him and away from the figure of the female walking back towards the bar.

      “She catches you ogling like that and you won’t have eyes left in your head.”

      “It’s not ogling if you legitimately respect the person you’re ogling.”

      “You just met her.”

      “Your point being?”

      “She’d eat you up and spit you out.”

      “Again, your point being?”

      “Drink.  Drink all of that and forty more.”

      “Mycroft keep beer in the house?”

      “Probably.  You’re not getting pissed, though.  We’ve got business to discuss.”

      “And you want me ready to hurl myself in front of you to protect your body and my income from whatever surprises we might meet while we’re there.”

      “That may factor into things, yes.”

      “Just as long as you don’t expect me to use my two hands to protect your wee limp willie.”

      “I’ll manage that part.  It’s wee enough that I can just use one hand and leave the other free to hold the very cold and refreshing Coke that I do know Mycroft keeps in the house.”

      “We have a plan. “

      “Which is leagues farther than we usually are at this point.”

      “Sad, but true.”

__________

Anderson had ridden in enough luxurious, chauffer-driven cars that he wasn’t impressed by the one sent to collect them, but he did have to admit to being highly impressed by the chauffer, himself, especially knowing the man’s history.  You could see it, though.  Very chauffer-like in his demeanor, but with a distinct gleam in his eye that said there was a lot more lurking below the surface.  This was a film waiting to be made… and he knew the people who’d want to do it.

      “Anderson, you still with me?”

      “What?  Yeah, just thinking.”

      “That’s not your strong suit, so stop.  Ok, we’re almost there, so remember what I told you.”

      “Thinking is not my strong suit.”

      “Besides that.”

      “I won’t be pulling the lovely Ginnie and she’d blind me if I did.”

      “Still not there.”

      “My idea sack is empty.”

      “Don’t be a prat.”

      “I’m not!  The sack is utterly bereft of ideas!  Naught in there but a few wisps of lint and one of those threads that never seems to match the rest of the stitching of your pocket or handbag or whatever else you’re pulling it from.”

      “Don’t be a prat to Mycroft.”

      “I don’t plan to.”

      “Yeah, but… pay attention, alright?  It’s unhappily possible to be a prat without thinking first, even if you regret it later.  Just… try.”

That had been another conversation he’d had with his client or, rather, a series of them, which focused on what to expect and not to expect and how to respond accordingly.  Greg scarcely put that much effort and attention into preparing for a film role!  It said a lot, a very lot, about how determined his friend was that Mycroft not be distressed or hurt.  The big question was did the high level of determination still fall in the ‘friends’ range of the scale or did it take a step into a new category altogether?  It was going to be the height of entertainment to gather evidence to investigate this particular question.

Shit.  Now he sounded like Sherlock.  Apparently, being visited by the great blackbird at all hours for whatever nonsense the detective thought important had side effects.  It was definitely time to meet that John Watson for a bit of a ‘keep your bloody partner on a leash you lazy sod’ discussion.  Waking up with Sherlock sitting on the foot of the bed because he wasn’t satisfied with the ‘title’ he’d been given for the film credits was one horror too many in his life, which was already filled with them from years working in the industry famous for horrors of all shapes and sorts…

__________

Greg knew he shouldn’t feel worried entering Mycroft’s house, but that didn’t stop him pausing at the threshold and taking a deep breath.  One that came out as a long, shuddery exhalation when he got a look inside at the new receiving line waiting to say hello.

      “There he is!”

Female.  Older.  Pleasantly plump.  Large aquamarine pendant around neck.  About to explode with excitement.  Wearing a raincoat.  The first five said hello Mrs. Holmes, but the last one… well, it was Mycroft’s mum, so anything was possible.  Turn intensity of grin to maximum and radiate every lumen of film-star energy possible.  Mycroft’s mother deserved the full package.

      “And you must be Mrs. Holmes.  It’s wonderful to meet you.”

Step forward, raise her hand for a kiss, hold it a moment while she giggles happily, then step back so you don’t look handsy and creepy.

      “He touched me!  Oh dear… I feel faint.”

      “Your pallor has not paled in the slightest.”

Tall, thin, aristocratic-looking man, wearing gold-rimmed specs and bow tie.  Not a leap of logic to confirm this identity.  The affectionate smack on the arm from Mycoft’s mum was the confirmatory nod.

      “Oh hush, Bertie.   Don’t think I didn’t see your lip wibble when he walked through the door.”

      “There was no wibble.”

      “I’ve got thirty years of experience watching for your wibble and I know it better than my dress size.”

      “Your dress size has not altered in a decade, Dorothy, so I fail to see the relevance of the comparison.”

 Greg smiled at Mycroft who was standing on the sidelines, pinching the bridge of his nose, and decided that getting a look at the parental units was a good thing.  A very good thing, in point of fact.

      “It’s highly relevant and you know it, you awful man.”

Yes, she just pinched her husband’s cheek.  Now, waiting for… yep.  There’s Mycroft’s particular shade of rosy color on the man’s face.  Genetics at work… this was textbook material.

      “Mummy, do stop assaulting Father.  We have guests.”

      “I will not!  Who could resist that handsome face?  It just begs for a little pinch.”

This next pinch was deftly sidestepped by Mycroft’s father, who darted behind his son, making Mycroft the recipient of his mother’s fingery love.

      “There.  Both my handsome men get a little pinch.  I’ll have to get to know these other two better before they get one, but I suspect it won’t take too long.  Especially…”

Mycroft and his father both leapt to stop the raincoat removal, but were a tad too late, something that made Anderson burst out with laughter.

      “… since I wore my shirt for the occasion!”

Which was emblazoned with Greg’s screen-printed face, with his customary sunglasses slung low on his nose so he could give sexy eyes to the person looking back at him.  Who, at this moment, was Greg himself.

      “I thought you could sign it for me, lad, to make it extra-special.  All the ladies are already green with envy of my having this, which I got from one of those sites that sell snaps and shirts and posters and whatnot, but with your signature on it… oh, I’ll be queen for a day, won’t I?”

Knowing there was zero chance she’d take it off later for him to sign, Greg waggled his fingers for Anderson to hand him a pen, of which the agent always had a ready supply for precisely this sort of thing, and made  grand show of signing in large, bold letters, while both male Holmes’s had a small shaky hands fit from the sight of a shirt, even one as ridiculous as this one, being defiled by indelible black ink.

      “Perfect!  Isn’t it simply perfect, Bertie?”

      “No.”

      “Pfft.  These two old girls have never looked so good.”

Greg laughed at the plumping of motherly breasts, as well as the pained groans from the rest of her family.

      “Always glad to make fan happy, Mrs. Holmes.  And, Mr. Holmes, very good to meet you, too, sir.  Let me say thank you, too, for doing the important work of a librarian.  The one I knew when I was a lad absolutely inspired a lot of my love for reading, so I know how much of what you do can touch the lives of young readers.  Older ones, as well.”

Notice, also, that no hand is being extended to shake, which seems to be very much to your liking, if the relaxation of the sudden, slight tensing of your muscles is to be believed.

      “Thank you.  The work is most vital for a literate community.”

      “That it is.  Oh, and may I introduce my agent, Philip Anderson?  He’s really the one who’s made my career what it is, since I couldn’t successfully negotiate giving a juicy steak to a hungry dog.”

Anderson waved slightly and felt somewhat proud that Mycroft’s mother seemed nearly as excited to meet him as his client.

      “A real agent!  Oh, I bet you have the stories to tell, don’t you, dear?  Well, I want to hear all of them, every single one.  This is going to be such fun!  I told you, Mycroft… not a bit of your predicted hellfire raining from the sky or agonized wails of tormented angels.  Silly boy…”

      “Father, mother requires tea.  Or a medicinal tisane.”

      “False.  When your mother desires tea, her nose wrinkles in a precise way that is often accompanied by a nearly-inaudible single smack of her lips.”

      “I was not being literal Father.  I was attempting to, in a subtle manner, request you take her somewhere soothing so she bothers Gregory no further.”

      “Then you should have spoken plainly.  I cannot follow your argument when you take to flights of fancy, Mycroft.”

      “Very well, Mummy requires a calming beverage.  Kindly make that happen.”

      “What beverage do you suggest?”

      “Hmmm… that is a rather good question.  Mummy cannot abide chamomile tea, which is often recommended for such a thing.”

      “What is your opinion on peppermint?”

      “It is touted as relaxing, however, the aroma is… today is not a day for peppermint.”

      “Agreed.  I am already put off by the level of ozone to add insult to injury.”

      “Lemon balm?”

      “I am not, at present, opposed to a gentle citrus scent.”

      “Nor am I.  Mummy, you are having a cup of lemon balm tea to soothe your overly-agitated humors.”

Greg wasn’t sure what made him happier – the look of adoring pride on Mycroft’s mother’s face as she listened to the debate or the knowledge that no matter what other tribulations life had thrown at Mycroft, he’d had a safe, understanding and loving family at home to help him through it.

      “Lemon balm, you say, my dear son?  Well, as long as there’s a nice bit of shortbread to go with it, I’d say that’s a winner!  I’m sure Martha has a little something for these poor travelers, too, so I’ll tell her to send it out while I’m having my tea and stopping your dad from tearing this shirt off my voluptuous body.”

Mycroft’s arm raised to point towards the kitchen at a speed which frightened the air it cut through and it remained in position, while his father escorted his grinning mother in the direction of the point.

      “I do apologize, Gregory.  We tried to hide that dreadful garment from your eyes, but… well, hiding the person wearing the garment was not an option, so our strategy was flawed from the onset.”

      “It’s not a problem, Mycroft.  Believe me, that is far more common that you might imagine, and I don’t mind doing it.  At least that was actually an officially licensed shirt and not one of the ones some bloke knocks off from home to make a quick bit of cash.”

      “Father, apparently, insisted on the legality of the issue.  He is a staunch supporter of the enforcement of licensing and copyright laws.”

      “I would expect nothing less.”

Given he’s a librarian and, undoubtedly, you in several decades.

      “And, Mr. Anderson, it is good you were able to accompany Gregory today.  Anthea is most looking forward to discussing certain matters with you and I believe she said there were new details for my perusal which, I must admit, have me somewhat intrigued.”

Anderson gave the soft-sided valise in his hand a little jiggle and crossed his mental fingers that the new details would meet with Mycroft’s approval.  All small things, in the grand scheme, but the fewer bumps in the road, the better.

      “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Holmes, I’ve long admired your writing.  And I do have some things for you to look over that I hope will meet with your approval.  The studio is anxious to get this underway and I have some preliminary sketches for you to look through, as well as a few of my own notes from a couple of meetings about what they’re hoping for in aesthetic for the film.  Anthea will be here later today, right?”

      “Yes, she had a family matter to attend to, then she will be joining us.  I have no idea why is wasting her time in such a fashion, since it is a birthday party for a cousin she absolutely despises, however… I have forsaken any hope of understanding the arbitrary rules governing obligations in most families.  A random happenstance of birth should not chain you irrevocably to those sharing your genes unless you personally choose to undertake the responsibility.”

Knowing his own mother would walk, if she had to, from the cottage by the sea he’d bought his parents all the way to London to grab him by the ear and drag him to whatever family this or that was going on, Anderson had a great deal of sympathy for Mycroft’s point of view.

      “I know a lot of people who would agree with you, unfortunately, none of them are my mother, so the chains bind me and bind tightly.”

Mycroft nodded solemnly and Anderson saw even more clearly the truth of Greg’s warnings.  It would be very easy to think you were having a laugh with Mycroft, or his dad, and them not seeing what you were doing in the slightest.

      “Perhaps… yes, I shall provide you with a copy of the agreement I scripted and had Mummy sign that outlines the acceptable parameters of such things.  It has been most useful, when she forgets a clause, that I have written evidence to prove my point.”

Very, very easy to have your signals missed and the consequences would not be happy ones…

      “I’d appreciate that.  I have a true and undying appreciation for a well-crafted contract.”

      “Ah yes… part and parcel of your trade.  You will certainly appreciate mine, then, as I had my solicitor script certain elements, however, Mummy has found rather creative ways to interpret and circumvent various paragraphs.  I wonder, now, if you might be able to provide a fresh perspective to help close certain loopholes, given your familiarity with the highly-devious individuals in your line of work.”

Still perfectly serious and Anderson couldn’t help but notice that Greg’s fond smile was very reminiscent of Mycroft’s mother’s when she was listening to her son and husband analyze the tea situation.  Greg Lestrade, actor extraordinaire, was a goner in all but his own stupid self realizing it.

      “I look forward to it.  Someplace I can set this all down so I can get Greg cleaned up and presentable for business?”

      “Gregory appears suitably cleansed and groomed for that purpose.”

      “Have you smelled him?”

      “Oh.  No, I admit I have not.  Should I?”

      “Not if you value your nose.”

      “Gregory, why are you olfactorily displeasing?”

Something that had Mycroft highly curious and, at the same time, highly repelled as he had just dodged the peppermint bullet and was not prepared for a second, more profound, threat to his nasal epithelium.

      “I’m not.  Anderson is being a bastard because he finds it amusing.”

      “I understand.  Much like my brother.”

      “Who Anderson wants to talk to you about, actually.  Sherlock has befriended him.”

      “Oh dear, that can be somewhat a harrowing experience.”

Anderson was relieved that his pain was both seen and openly acknowledged.  Actually, as he thought about it, if there was one person skilled in thwarting Sherlock’s lunacy, it would be the older brother who surely had a lifetime of thwarting securely under his belt.

      “It is.  Maybe you can help me script my own contract to put some chains on him to stop him breaking into my house at all hours.”

Both Greg and Anderson waited politely as Mycroft considered the proposal, which he did will all due gravity.

      “It shall likely be a futile attempt, as Sherlock holds little as important as his own wants, including legal documents, however, I shall gladly throw my proverbial shoulder to the task.  It might, at the very least, give him pause before committing a truly dastardly violation of your privacy.”

      “He’s already eaten my take-way and stolen a pair of my underpants, claiming he needed them for an experiment.”

      “That… I hate to inform you, Mr. Anderson, but those do not, in any manner, qualify as dastardly violations on the Sherlock scale of mayhem and botheration.”

      “Wonderful.  Then I welcome every spot of help you can provide and, further, will pay handsomely for useful blackmail information that I can place in my ‘break glass in case of mayhem and botheration’ stockpile of weaponry.”

      “An excellent idea!  Sherlock can often be made more amenable to basic rules of civility if there are clear and personally-imperiling reasons for him to do so.  My… already our time together is bustling with activity.  I feel most energized, and we have scarcely begun!”

Look at you, Mr. Randolph Scott… just go and kiss the man, Greg.  You’re so puffed up with pride and adoration it’s disgusting.  And that’s not envy talking since you have someone to proud of and adore.  Ok, maybe a small amount of envy.  As big as a mote of dust.  Not even as big as that, actually.

This was going to be a long two days…

Chapter Text

Mycroft’s desk was littered with sketches of a roughly drawn Diogenes Bell, wearing a variety of clothes and accessories that represented the first bit of the night’s actual business and it was going about as well as one could predict, given the cast of characters that was assembled to look at them.

      “Ooh… this is a brilliant thing… Bertie!  Look at that one.  Looks just like your cousin Nigel.”

      “His name is not Nigel.”

      “It bloody well is to me.  You don’t know him, Greg, but he’s… well, if you had to put someone in an advert to represent the perfect snooty Englishman, it’d be him.  His real name is Jonathan Delbert Barnes, but I call him Nigel N. Nigel-Nigel, and to his face, too!  His former wife agrees with me, don’t think she doesn’t.  We still have lunch now and again to chat about things and her opinion hasn’t swayed one bit since she left him for a nice fellow who owns a business selling fans and lamps.  Nice ones, too.  We bought one just last month and Bertie says it has the precise level of lumens or lux or whatever that he likes for reading in bed.”

Anthea and Anderson shared a look and Anderson was 85% certain it was to confirm the fact that they were watching the future of a Mr. Greg Lestrade and Mr. Mycroft Holmes after they’d been together for a number of years that was terrifying to contemplate.  However, since Anderson hadn’t had that particular conversation with his counterpart, he had to hedge his bets with a 15% holdout and avoid bankruptcy if Greg was right and he was a confirmed loony.

      “Mummy, Gregory does not need to hear your daytime telly fantasies about members of the family.”

      “Why not?  They’re clever and funny.”

This new look ratcheted Anderson’s confidence up to 90%.  Time to form an official alliance to either move this forward or nip it in the bud because his and Anthea’s lives did not need the extra burden of dancing around two bumbleheads who were being utterly clueless about the fact they had something or other brewing.  Anthea nearly spilled her martini seeing Mycroft pull his desk chair next to Greg with, what he suspected, was a clear violation of the writer’s normal personal-space boundaries.  That meant something!  Even someone as jaded and cynical as him could see that.

      “Only to you.  Now, we are here to conduct essential business and it was only on the promise of your good behavior that you were allowed to attend.  Kindly keep that in mind.”

      “First, Mr. Firstborn, I go where I want.  Second, you need the opinion of a member of the film-going public, don’t you?  Get some insight into what the rank and file like me are going to want?  Well, I can tell you one thing, we don’t want Cousin Nigel, that’s for certain.  There’s enough of them in films with utility poles up their bums that we don’t need another.  Ooh!  That’s… what do they call it… consulting!  Bertie, how much should I charge our son for consulting on his film?”

      “Hmmmm… I am not aware of the current rates, however, Mr. Anderson likely has a suitable figure to offer.”

      “Find out and then we’ll double it, because it should be a family price, not what they toss out to anyone off the street they drag in for a chat.”

      “You are far more familiar with the history of the character, my dear, as well as Mr. Lestrade’s posture and attributes than a randomly-chosen member of the public.  That should equate to a larger fee.”

      “Yes!  Mycroft, you’re paying me at least double whatever that nice Mr. Anderson tells you to pay and I won’t hear any different.  Neither will your dad.”

Anderson considered not throwing petrol on the fire, then realized that wouldn’t be any fun at all, so bugger being the adult in the room.

      “We pay consultants one billion quid, Mrs. Holmes.”

      “Hurray!  Bertie can finally have a new rug for his little reading room.  We saw one that would work but it was… whoosh, what people charge for a bit of thread that some machine’s cobbled together.  Not even a handmade rug and they wanted two-hundred pounds!  Are they mad?  I think so, and I don’t say that lightly.”

      “Father…”

      “Your mother is correct, Mycroft, that it was a highly suitable specimen.  The pile was uniform to a markedly precise degree and there was not a whiff of lanolin to be noted, which is acceptable for clothing, but not on objects over which one must tread on a daily basis.”

      “We’ve got two billion pounds in our pocket, Bertie dear, so you can have your rug and maybe we see you with some new draperies, too.  You said the ones in there were starting to fold funny.”

      “The lines of the folds are aesthetically illogical.”

      “There you have it.  Not a crumb of logic, Mycroft… you put that two billion quid in my purse before we leave or I’ll know the reason why.”

      “It would be because I do not have that sum to my name, Mother, and, further, you are an hysteric.”

      “A rich one, though.  Two billion… Greg, that’s about your level of rich, isn’t it?  You can tell me what people do with all that cash.  I think I’d run out of ideas once we had the house tidied up and maybe saw Bertie with a new pair of shoes.  Love, how long do we have until you need new shoes?”

      “Barring unforeseen calamity, I am seven weeks from a scheduled shoe purchase.”

      “Is that the buying date or the start shopping date?”

      “The purchase date.”

      “We need to get on with it, then!  You know it takes at least four of those weeks, if all goes well, to find a pair you like!”

      “True… I had hoped to broach the issue within five days, however, decided to postpone a further two in light of our current activity.”

      “Mycroft, you’ve upset your dad’s shoe schedule.  And you owe us two billion quid.  I think putting a dagger right in Cousin Nigel’s eye is just the thing to get back in our good graces.”

      “I… I have utterly lost the purpose of this conversation.”

      “It was not particularly convoluted, son, even for your mother.”

      “It meandered worse than a rebellious river!”

Greg had no idea how the pencil found its way into his hand, nor how it started patting Mycroft’s hand in what was the most now-now gesture a person could make without using any skin to emphasize the now-nowing.  Maybe a few words of support, too, for the man who was currently the ball in his parent’s game of verbal ping pong.

      “I think your mum is just having bit of a lark, Mycroft.  I recognize it because I do the same myself, now and again, and befuddle that beardy one over there into throwing a chip, or rock, at me.”

There, that was some of the confusion leaching away from Mycroft’s eyes, earning Greg’s brain a hearty congratulations for a job well done by its fleshy host.

      “Ah, I see.  Thank you, Gregory.  Mummy is known for using situations to her advantage to promote what she views as humor.  Father, to his great discredit, encourages her far too often and with shameful enthusiasm.”

Both Anderson and Anthea took long swigs of their drinks both to put more alcohol in their blood and to stop themselves from actually throwing a chip or rock at Greg’s head to move the dense thing within kissing range of the man he was successfully comforting with an ease that only the ridiculously-besotted or saints were able to muster.

      “It’s parents, Mycroft.  We know how they are.”

Said with a wink Mycroft didn’t see, but Mycroft’s parents did, which amused his mother and perplexed his father to no small degree.

      “True.  It is heartening that you share my perspective on the topic.”

      “Glad it helps.  But, if we meander back to the beginning, I have to agree with your mum, that this look for Bell is slightly off the mark.  The man’s English, but not one to wear Union Jack underpants and pine for the lost empire.”

Which was a reason Anderson had asked for a variety of sketches be produced, even those that would never be considered by the studio.  Mycroft would get his vetoes and, likely, be more amenable to compromise for the final look given his input had been taken seriously along the way.  Yes, it was a bit underhanded, but wasn’t, at all, outside the limits of what was always done for a film.  You typically had a large number of opinions, of greater and lesser influence, that had to be handled delicately so everything kept moving forward.

      “That is very true.  I had already relegated it to the unsatisfactory list before someone who shall remain nameless, that is you, Mummy, decided to turn this matter into an example of music hall vaudeville.”

Nobody could notice the small series of taps Mycroft’s mother gave her husband’s leg, but if they had, they still wouldn’t have understood that it signaled they had something to talk about that he may not have noticed.  Which, to her mind, was that her little boy was chatting!  He was sitting next to someone and actually chatting, not giving his usual clipped and perfunctory answers to distinct questions.  He was good with family, the staff here in the house, his agent and Sherlock’s young man and could, at least, mill about in the village without too much upset, but that was the extent of it.  And it had taken a lifetime to get to this point!  But here he was, far more relaxed than she ever would have imagined and, even, being affable, for him, to Greg’s agent.  It was a dream come true and she’d make certain her husband was aware of it because if Mycroft suddenly caught a case of the wigglies and tried to scurry into his shell, it would take the both of them, and a large piece of machinery, to drag him back out.

      “Vaudeville, you say.  Want me to do a striptease, son?  Actually, it could be an audition, since there’s a real agent sitting right there who could sign me to my fame and fortune on the spot!”

      “No.”

      “You’re a cruel boy, Mycroft Holmes.”

      “Sherlock has already made himself quite the nuisance to Mr. Anderson and I shall not have you exacerbate the situation.”

      “Sherlock?  Why in the world would he… is he finally going start his music career!  Oh, I’ve hoped for so, so long…”

Greg and Anderson shared a look, that shifted to draw Anthea into their circle, though she only shook her head in response, knowing the Holmes family would do a smashing job of filling in all the details without being asked.

      “Dorothy, Sherlock has made it clear that he will not pursue his violin professionally.”

      “He should!  Our son is a musical genius, Albert Holmes, and everybody should be able to enjoy it.  And it’d bring in more money than his detecting does.  He could still do that as side work, in any case.  Do a concert or record a few songs for an album part of the week and race about catching criminals the rest of the time.”

      “Your personal views on the matter, my dear, do not impact his decision.”

      “They would if you’d throw in your support, you evil man.”

      “Sherlock’s talents for observation and logic are easily as advanced as his talents for music, therefore, either choice is an appropriate use of his skills.”

Seeing a familiar disagreement rearing up, Mycroft decided that stepping in would save a great deal of time and, further, wear and tear on Gregory’s representative who would be badgered and battered endlessly if his mother thought it would gain something to her advantage on the Sherlock front.

      “Mummy, Sherlock is pursuing his interests in the way that… well, he is willing to pursue them and we are all aware how difficult it was for him to find even this path in life.  I suspect we should best let the proverbial sleeping dogs lie and remind ourselves how few worries we have for him compared to years ago when… when they were both plentiful and agonizing.”

The rude noise with which Mycroft was rewarded was both expected and pointed away from him to avoid any possible maternal spittle landing on him and sending the day cleanly into the rubbish.

      “An articulate and concise riposte.  For your edification, Sherlock has approached Mr. Anderson about a consulting position on the film, given Sherlock has modeled his career on that of Diogenes Bell and has been most successful at his craft.”

      “Oh.  Well, that’s not nearly as exciting as him doing something with his music, but it’s not the worst thing he could have done.  You let me know, Philip, if he’s being too much of a bother, though, and I’ll have a word with him.  Sherlock is a dog with a bone when he’s excited about something and needs a quick bop on the nose with a newspaper and little chew on his squeaky toy to settle down.”

Anderson committed himself to buying a squeaky toy as soon as they got back to London and putting it to use whenever Sherlock perpetrated one of his home invasions.  And, he could say it was mother-sanctioned, which would truly make the berk froth at the mouth.

      “I will, Mrs. Holmes, thank you.”

      “So polite.  Now, Mycroft, which of these sketches do you actually like, so we can move on to other things?”

      “First, Mummy, you and Father are not part of the remainder of our discussions.”

      “Yes we are.  What’s second?”

      “The second is dependent on the first, so… I am at a loss.  Gregory?”

Anderson, Anthea, Mycroft’s mother and to a growing degree, Mycroft’s father noted the clean lob of the ball over to Greg in what was clearly a Wimbledon-quality doubles team on the conversation front.

      “Uh… ok.  Here’s a question.  Am I actually needed for the remainder of our discussions?”

      “Hmmm… I had not considered it, but as this specific discussion of Bell would be concluded, for now, I suppose not.”

      “Then how about I suggest this.  I’ll escort your mum for a nice chat and cocktail session, which I know is far too early for you, personally, to consider, but we’ll enjoy it, and your dad can provide their side of whatever might be needed for whatever discussions you’re going to delve into.  How does that sound?”

This series of taps on Mycroft’s father’s leg were more emphatic than the first and alerted the man that his wife was about to burst from some observation that would erupt at the earliest possible opportunity.  However, since Lestrade had suggested a prudent strategy for effectively continuing this meeting, he would not excuse himself to inquire at the moment.  The addition of three distinct slash motions at the end of the message would have indicated a more imminent need to hear his wife’s information and since that had not occurred, this was, by far, the more efficient use of time and his son might benefit from knowing the results of his assessment.

      “I, for one, find Mr. Lestrade’s proposition promising for continuing these discussions in a successful fashion.  Mycroft?  Do you concur?”

Mycroft took a moment to study Greg’s expression and was not entirely certain what he saw there, which confused him mightily since he concurrently liked what he saw there.  He was never one to make decisions on the vaunted ‘gut feeling,’ but found himself sensing on some instinctual level that this was the proper way to move forward.  Thickly layering on another level of confusion that would have to be processed at a later time.

      “I do, Father.  Gregory, Mummy, make free use of the house and the amenities it provides.”

Rather than remind her son that she would do that, in any case, Mrs. Dorothy Holmes gave her husband an acceptably-dry peck on his cheek and motioned Greg to lead on towards the liquor.  This was actually the perfect thing, in her opinion.  And not only because she was going to have cocktails with Greg Lestrade!  She was going to have cocktails with someone who had a feel for her son and who her son actually responded to in a way that was… oh, it was something she’d always hoped to see.  The question was whether Greg was only looking on this as a short-term thing or did he have his eyes on something longer.  She had her fingers crossed for longer, but it would hurt to cross the toes, too.  She’d cross her eyes for a third support, but walking with crossed toes was already going to be hard enough without being able to see where she was walking…

___________

      “Oh, I do love this room.  Mycroft doesn’t see it much during the day, but his dad and I like to sit in here while he’s sleeping and read or listen to something on the radio.  It’s a nice break from the telly… really restful, which is one of the reasons we like coming to visit our son.  At home, it’s busier, which is nice, but sometimes it’s a bit much.  And Bertie does enjoy it, with the flowers and knick knacks to browse through in the village shops and others nearby.  Keeps him occupied with things he likes, tidying the garden, fixing bibs and bobs we find that he takes an interest in.  He’s good with fixing things.  Not like the plumbing or patching a wall, but small, fiddly, detailed things.  They can keep him happy for days!  I have to remind him to go to work, he’s so focused on getting this or that just right.”

Greg grinned and marveled at how cozily Mycroft’s pea fit into his father’s pod.

      “Let me guess, Mycroft will give him a hand if you find something intricate and interesting, but in need of a bit of repair to make like new.”

      “Yes!  Sometimes it takes a nudge, though, if it’s a touch too dirty.  Bertie’s better with that than Mycroft, but once his dad has it cleaned up a little, they’ll both be there, magnifying glasses in hand, rummaging through Bertie’s toolkit… he always brings it with him, dear man that he is… it warms my heart to see them together.  Warms it up like bread in the toaster.”

Pouring two of whatever was in the decanter he’d held up and gotten the nod for, Greg took a moment to imagine that scene and… his toaster had its own slices of bread popped in to toast up warm and brown.  Something which his face whispered softly to the world, but loud enough for the woman in the room with him to hear as clear as a bell.

      “I wanted to say, Greg… it’s wonderful you support Mycroft like you do.  You have a way with him that’s rare, though I’ve always wished that wasn’t the case.  It being so rare, I mean.”

Greg handed over one of the drinks in his hands and waited until Mycroft’s mother had taken a seat before following suit.

      “He’s had a rough go of it, hasn’t he?”

      “I wish I could say no, but it’d be a lie.  Not as bad as some, mind you, because he’s always kept to himself and… well, nasty little kids, and adults, too, like an easy target and he’s done a good job of not being that.  But, that’s not always been enough.  I’m surprised my heart still works, it’s broken so many times seeing him hurt.  As much as I hate having him so far from us, I was glad he found this house.  It’s a good place for him.  All the things he loves and people who treat him properly.  He’s been happier here than I’ve ever seen him, even though… it’s a lonely life.  He does like his solitude, don’t get me wrong, one of those introverts you hear about and it’s all true!  But… he could do with a real friend or two in his life.  Molly and Martha and Charles are close, and Anthea is closer… oh, we worried so much when her father died that Mycroft wouldn’t warm to her as he did her dad, but it worked!  But, he really doesn’t have anyone that I’d call a friend.  Acquaintances, people he’s cordial with, but not someone who’s got that special bond that you only have with a friend.”

      “If it’s not rude to ask… does his father?”

      “Oh, you’re a smart one.  I knew you were a smart one and I’m proven right!  Bertie has two friends… maybe one and a half, since George moved to Canada to help his daughter with her twin boys after her husband passed, god rest his soul.  But Theodore is still close by and… well, he’s another one on Mycroft and Bertie’s wavelength.  They do those volunteer at archaeological dig days and play chess and the like.  They’ve known each other for easily twenty years.  And there’s this new fellow, Malcolm, who came to our area five or so years ago, but he’s at the library almost every day and Bertie’s started to have a bit of brandy at the pub with him now and again.  That’s… well, for my husband, that’s a very big step.  They talk books but, also, flowers, which Teddie isn’t as interested in, being more of a fruit and veg gardener, himself.  Between those two, Bertie has a few nights out a week, easily, and that’s… well, I’m so glad for it, I could burst!”

And she looked burst-ready, too.  In truth, he would be, too, if the person in his life had a few people to spend time with, especially if that person in his life was the type for whom finding those few people to connect with was brutally hard.

      “That’s good to hear. Everyone can use a little time away from home to relax with friends.  Can I ask where you two met?”

      “At school.  He was a year ahead of me.  Didn’t really talk to him, but I knew who he was.  He… well, you know how it is.”

      “He was different.”

      “Yeah.  It’s a horrible, horrible thing, it really is.  They’re pointed out, laughed at behind their backs or to their faces, teased… or worse.”

      “I really can’t imagine going through that.  I don’t what I’d do if that was me.”

      “Probably just the best you could; it’s all anyone can do.  His parents did try and get him into a nice public school, but they couldn’t afford it and nobody was offering any help to make it happen.  I don’t think they wanted a boy like him either!  Evil toffs… but, the low-class berks we went to school with were just as evil, so I suppose there’s no special evil to speak of there.”

      “When did you finally talk to him?”

      “Oh, a few years later.  I was working at the record shop and in he walks to buy a few albums, which they still had then, along with dinosaurs and steam engines.  I introduced myself, told him I’d seen him in school, tried to chat him up a little to see what he’d been doing…”

      “And it was a dismal failure.”

      “Oh, you’re good.  Man looked at me like a bug under one of his magnifying lenses.  Poor thing was genuinely confused as to why I was trying to have a conversation with him!  I suspect that if one of the records he wanted wouldn’t be until for another week he’d have never come back just to avoid talking to me!  But there he was, one week later, for his new prize and how lucky a thing that I was working that day.”

      “And you chatted him up again.”

      “Most certainly.  He’d become quite the looker, in my opinion.  I mean, he was alright when he was in school, but had more of that weedy, needs more skin for the bones, sort of look.  A few extra pounds and little more… confidence, I suppose, in the way he walked and… well, I certainly approved of that!  I told my friend Sheila that he was one I’d definitely have a go with if he was interested.  I was a bit of a naughty girl when I was younger.  Still am, really, but only for one gangly bloke who I can still make blush with something particularly naughty.”

      “Always good to keep the spice in a relationship!”

      “Exactly!  Just don’t mention that to Mycroft.  I’m honestly not sure his poor brain could handle that bit of information about his mum and dad.  Probably short circuit or something!  Anyway, I gave Bertie another little chat-up when he came back for his record and decided it’d have to be me making a move if I wanted to see what he had going under those prim and proper clothes.  And, honestly… I liked him!  Even in those short chats, I thought he was very interesting and he made me laugh, which confused him even more!  Not laughing at him, but laughing with him, even when he didn’t realize he’d said something funny and I had to do a bit of explaining.”

Greg had his own laugh at that, since it was exactly the sort of thing he had to do with Mycroft.  A lot.

      “So, when did you finally get him out for bit of fun?”

      “Not for another year or so!  He’d pop in to the shop once or twice a month, but it didn’t seem to be going anywhere.  Just no real interest on his part.  At least, that’s what I thought.”

      “What changed?”

      “I got a new job!  I decided I wanted to learn to do hair, not something, I admit, that lasted very long or went terribly well. In any case, I was doing a spot of training at the little hairdressing salon a few streets along from the record shop when Bertie strolls in there to buy some new classical piece he wanted and… my friend Anne had taken my job and she nearly fell over when he asked where I was!  And he was very demanding about it, too.  So, she decided she wasn’t going to let that pass without being properly honest and sending him my way, since she listened to me moan often enough about him not having a spot of interest in me, and there I am doing a bit of sweeping when the old… young, then… ostrich walks into the place and says he wants his hair cut!”

That was the most Mycroftian thing Greg had ever heard.  Obvious and oblivious all in one go.

      “Let me guess, this wasn’t one of those unisex businesses.”

      “Good heavens, no!  And, of course, he didn’t notice that in the slightest!  Well, Felicia, the owner, she knew his mum… well, she knew every woman who didn’t cut her own hair and most of those, too… so she assumes he’s just gotten it wrong and says to go and see old William, the barber.  Bertie wasn’t having any of that!  He said this was a hair-cutting business and he was already there, so going somewhere else was inefficient and he wouldn’t do it.”

Mycroftian with a side of Mycroft and refreshing dish of picture-perfect-Mycroft afterwards to cleanse the palate.

      “Joyful.”

      “Like I said, Felicia knew his mum and knew him, besides, so she’s polite and says we’re all busy with other clients, which we were, and he could make an appointment to come back later… she thought she’d just give him a trim herself and not cause a fuss.  Well, he announces, like a king making a proclamation, that Dorothy Burke, that’s me, was not busy cutting hair, she was sweeping, so she could cut his hair now and not have to do the sweeping twice.  Which was efficient.  Bertie’s ever so concerned about efficiency.”

      “Oh my god… he might just as well have asked you out for drink right then and there!”

      “I know!  Well, not then, I didn’t, stupid girl that I was.  Luckily, Felicia had more than her fair share of experience with silly lads who had a bit of a thing for a girl and told him to have a seat and told me to get some shears and start cutting.”

      “How far along were you with your training?”

      “I knew as much as a cat might and without the artistic talent!  Luckily, she didn’t leave me to actually butcher the poor dear’s hair and pulled me aside while he was getting situated, which took about as long as you can imagine with him taking a seat in one of those salon chairs that still had stray bits of other people’s hair on it.  Told me just to do a few snips to trim any ends that looked a touch uneven and… smile.”

      “There we go.  Did you get the message?”

      “Loud and clear.  So, now, I had to smile and work my feminine wiles and realized that I was going to have to do that to someone who was already squirming like a worm on a fishing hook since it’d finally gotten though to his brain that exactly what he’d done and was surrounded by and that someone he didn’t really know was going to put their hands all over his head.  He sat through it, though.  Took everything he had, poor dear, to sit there and let me clip a bit…”

      “Like Mycroft putting on that waiter’s clothes to hand over his manuscript to Anthea’s dad?”

      “Exactly like that!  Oh, my poor, poor son… he phoned me and his dad after that and we had a devil of a time calming him down.  He did it, though.  When it counted, he did what he had to, and that’s the most we can ask of a person.  He went so far beyond what I think he even believed he could, easy as it sounds to you and me, and I was just so proud of him.”

Greg quickly refilled their drinks and spared a thought for Mycroft’s dad, long-jumping out of his comfort zone to talk to a girl.  He’d done some stupid things to get someone’s attention when he was younger, but they were just that – stupid.  A lot of work, sometimes, but nothing like that.  Nothing that had anxiety screaming in his ears the whole time.

      “That’s when he finally asked you out?”

      “No… he was trying, though, but… he could barely get out a word when I asked him a question!  Finally… I had to put him out of his misery and said I was going for a walk when I was done there and asked if he’d like to join me.”

      “Awww… that’s a nice first date.”

      “Except it wasn’t, of course.  My sweet Albert… where was I going, how long would I be, since it looked like rain, was it going to be by the chemist’s because he was entirely put off of the askew flower boxes they refused to straighten…”

Paging Mycroft Holmes, your genes are calling…

      “Why am I not surprised.”

      “Because you know my son.  Doesn’t that sound just like Mycroft?  Got it from his did and that’s the truth. of it   So, I changed that to a little drink at the pub, where they didn’t have flower boxes and we wouldn’t get wet if it rained.”

      “Did that work?”

      “It did.  After he asked if I had enough money, because he only had enough for the record he wanted and if he spent it he couldn’t buy his record.”

Greg burst out laughing and found himself utterly unsurprised by the whole business.  If he’d been his young, shaggy-headed self meeting a young, combed and pressed Mycroft, he could easily see that exact thing happening.  With him rifling through his pockets to see if he had enough for a couple of pints with the boy he fancied.

Not that he fancied Mycroft, so put a big X through that scene and send it back for rewrites so they’re two mates off to have a few laughs at their local.  There, that sounded much more realistic.  That’d get the green light for that, not some cliched romcom with a shaggy rough boy and a prim prince finding love though the magical spell of opposites attract.  Silly!  And overdone.  Well overdone.  Overdone like a ruined steak.  Pshaw… wouldn’t run a single full series in the US.  Wouldn’t get picked up at all here.  Well, maybe Channel 4 would take it.  They took everything.

      “Tell me, at least, that was the first date.”

      “After I said I did have the money and assured him we could stop, first, at the record shop since he hadn’t bought what he wanted and he was worried they’d be closed up when he went back.”

      “And you lived happily ever after.”

      “For three hundred years and counting!  But, that’s the best, isn’t it?  Having a good story that starts it all?  Not just the usual boring sort of story, but something silly and fun.  And it’s been more fun than I could have imagined!  That’s the truth of my Bertie and our Mycroft… they’re smart and funny and interesting and worlds of fun if… if you just give them a chance and take the time to understand them.  So, dear… what’s your story?”

      “What do you mean?”

      “Meeting Mycroft!  I simply can’t imagine it was boring.  I can’t, so don’t try and convince me otherwise.  Come on, give old Dolly all the details.”

Well, given the story was a fun one Greg didn’t hesitate to comply.

      “Juggling!  Oh my heavens… perfect!  Positively perfect!  Mycroft’s ferociously curious and you drew him in like a moth to a flame!  If I’d known you wanted to play his Bell, I’d have been campaigning for you from the beginning, signs and speeches and bribing him with sweets, but it sounds like you didn’t need my help.  Went with your instincts and didn’t give up even when they seemed to have let you down.  That’s just what he needs, too.  Someone clever and creative who doesn’t give up if things go a bit squiffy now and again.  Which they will!  They do in all relationships; it’s just the way of the world.  But, you’re up to it, I can tell.”

That was good to know.  Or not.  Because… there.  Right there.  Gleam in here eye.  And that was a fully-formed knowing smile! They were back in Channel 4 romcom land!  Oh no… apparently, Mycroft’s mum was fully on board with that prat Anderson’s boyfriend lunacy.  Well, there would be no knowing smiles here.  No knowing at all!  Not a crumb.  No crumbs of knowledge would ever land for anyone to pick up and have a gleam over.  Greg Lestrade did hereby declare.

      “I did mean to ask, though, Greg… haven’t heard much about you and that Hawkins woman lately.  That still a go or did you finally come to your senses?”

Red alert!  All hands on deck to do… something.  What the fuck did that mean, anyway?  It was stupid!  If everyone was on deck, who was looking after the engines or boilers or whatnot?  Who was steering?  Not a lot of good having everyone standing out in the sunshine if your bloody boat was slowly puttering to a stop or running into a big rock.  Might as well surrender!  Which actually didn’t sound like a bad idea at the moment if it sidetracked the interrogation.

      “Janine and I were never really together, Mrs. Holmes…”

      “Dolly, love.  We close enough now.  And getting closer!”

AAH!

      “I… I’d be honored.  Anyway, we had a few… dates…”

      “You shagged like rabbits and you know it.”

Yes, but you’re not supposed to.

      “A quick little thing.  More a ‘hey, you look willing’ when neither of us had anyone particular in our lives.  But, since we both get our fair share of publicity, it looked like a lot more than it actually was.”

      “You two were on the cover of every celebrity mag I bought.”

      “Yeah, that sort of thing sells, unfortunately.  More than actual talent.”

      “She is good, I’ll give her that for free.  I’ve seen all her films and she does a smashing job no matter what or who she’s playing.  But, it’s smart you moved along from that.  It’s good to get an itch scratched before it gets too bothersome and it’s nice to have a companion when you’re a bit lonely but… she wasn’t right for you.  Too young, for one thing.”

      “I’m not ancient!”

      “No, but you probably mentioned liking T. Rex and she said it was nice you took an interest in dinosaurs.”

Ok, fair point.  At least, after I played some of their songs, she agreed they had something going for them.  Still thought my dancing was rubbish though.  That hurt.

      “Like I said, only a passing thing.”

      “And now you can concentrate on enjoying the company of someone more your age and… well, who fits you better.  Someone you can be friends with, as well as love.  Someone to last your lifetime.”

      “I… yes, fine, he’s special and wonderful and I have a great time with him, but Mycroft isn’t my boyfriend, no matter what Anderson believes!”

Shit.  Was that out loud?

      “OMG…”

      “No!  Don’t say a word, not a bloody word.  Not even letters pretending to be words!”

      “I knew it!  I knew you were as happy with a firm, sizzly sausage as a warm, steamy bun!” 

      “Nope.  On a diet.  No sausages or buns allowed.”

      “Weak, son, very weak.  There’s only been a few, but there have been a few stories about you having a taste for men and I knew I saw you at the Golden Globes or other awards thing giving an appreciative look at that Ryan Reynolds’s luscious arse.”

He had done that thing.  And he’d liked it.  There was no denying the lusciousness.  It simply wasn’t possible.

      “Fine!  Ok… yes, I’m bisexual.  We do exist.  Huzzah!”

      “I know bisexuals exist, silly boy.  I’m not an old fuddy-duddy, you know.  But, I know it’s probably not the best thing to admit when you’re a film star and sex symbol.  It’s a shame, a true and proper shame, but I know more than a few who had terrible things to say about people like Cary Grant or Rock Hudson or James Dean when it came out they might enjoy the company of men.  So don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.  Besides, my Mycroft lives in the middle of Narnia, so you can get up to whatever you like with nobody the wiser!”

      “We’re not a couple!”

      “Your agent seems to think so and he strikes me as a very observant man.”

      “He’s a loony who delights in making me loony, nothing more.”

      ‘It’s alright, Greg.  I know how it can be when you’re in that whoofy place where you know what you want but not all of you has been properly informed of the knowing.”

Back to the knowing!  It burned like acid…

      “Mrs. Holmes… Dolly… Mycroft and I did… have a friendship ceremony, please don’t ask… but…”

      “Brilliant!  Oh, I’m thrilled for you, Greg, I truly am.  And for my son!  You’re so good with Mycroft and it’s the joy of my heart to see him with you.  My oldest glows like an angel when he’s truly happy and I could read a book at midnight just from the light of his glow today!  He lit up the moment you came through the door and hasn’t stopped glowing since!  A little glow worm is my dear, sweet son and I simply couldn’t be happier for the both of you.”

      “There was no mating!”

That wasn’t the right thing to say.  The evil woman was laughing at him.  It was deserved, but that didn’t lessen the pain.  He was going to burn his copy of Penguins of Madagascar and bury the ashes so it could never haunt him again.  No, he couldn’t do that.  They were too cute and cuddly…

      “Whatever you say, Greg.  Not that I believe a word of it.  What a day!  Oh, I can’t wait to get Bertie alone and catch him up on things.  He’s going to be thrilled, don’t worry about that.  Anyone who makes our son happy will be tops on his list!  I admit, we’d imagined Mycroft being a monk the rest of his life or, maybe, finding some quiet, academic type that he’d be comfortable with, even if there wasn’t a lot of fire between them.  You know what I mean.  But this is perfect.  A big bonfire is what he’s found!  Now that I think about it… isn’t my Mycroft the perfect little acorn!  His big oak of a dad found a bonfire, too, I’m not too proud to say, and look where we are!  Let me tell you, Greg, you’ve got so much to look forward to.  And you can phone me anytime you want for a bit of a chat.  I’ve seen it all with those two and have loads of advice if you need it.  Isn’t that a lucky thing!”

And, as his nemesis began to recount his luck in tremendous detail, Greg stared off into space and wondered if the nothingness would show pity and embrace him now or was it going to be a bastard and wait until he actually died.  With his luck, it was a friend of Anderson and Dolly and would consider it a brilliant joke to let him live a long life so he could suffer as much as humanly possible.  Not that life with Mycroft could be called suffering.  It was a pleasant thought, actually.  Certainly no hardship.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Not that he was thinking along those lines, of course.  But, never let it be said that Greg Lestrade was too dense to enjoy a bit of philosophical and theoretical contemplation on occasion.  Exercise for the brain.  At his age, that counted for a lot…

Chapter Text

Anthea had an overflowing war chest of strategies and weapons to use when dealing with Mycroft, and his parents, but she had to give a nod of credit to Anderson, who wasn’t bad on the instinct front when faced with their particular brand of personal interactions.  She’d had to step in far less than she’d predicted to keep this moving along or interpret for him one of the more esoteric utterances that fell with frequency from the lips of Holmes males.  Of course, Greg tackling the more chaotic member of the party was its own form of help and not a small one, at that.  Fewer esoteric utterances, but far more stories that rambled off into the weeds to be found later only if you sent in a dog-led rescue crew.

      “Excellent.  I am most content with what we have accomplished so far, would you not agree, Father?”

      “The progress was measurable and in a positive direction, so yes, I would agree.”

Anderson smiled that Mycroft and his dad gave the night’s efforts a passing mark and thanked Greg, mentally, for providing his share of good ideas for making these initial discussions a success.  Not that he’d translate that thanks into anything but a flick on the ear and an admonition for being a useless berk, but he and Greg were both well-trained in understanding each other’s highly-camouflaged affectionate gestures.

      “Great!  Always a good thing when a meeting’s successful.  I’ll tidy up a few details with Anthea, then bring this back to the studio to use as they continue on.  Things are certainly in motion and, I have to say, they’re terribly excited about this film.  Not sparing any attention or effort when it comes to bringing on the talent and getting both cast and crew sorted to make this a film to be proud of.  I like what I’ve seen so far, I like it a lot, and I’ve seen enough to judge when a film is off to a good or poor start.  And, of course, your input, Mycroft, is extremely helpful in making that good start happen.”

Only Anderson could hear Anthea’s tiny snort of laughter, but he decided to wait to enact payback.  Yes, it was a bit over the top with the lauds, but Mycroft seemed (a) to appreciate that sort of thing and (b) likely wouldn’t notice it was blatant schmoozy toadying.

      “Yes, I have little doubt my insights will be highly critical for this project’s success.”

Anderson shoots – Anderson scores!  And the crowd goes wild…

      “Absolutely.  Alright, then… Anthea and I will toddle off to speak in the language of our people and enjoy a bit of a celebratory libation for our efforts.  Want me to tell Greg and your mum that we’re done here?”

Mycroft opened his mouth to question why Anderson would question that then realized why Anderson would question that and, further, that his initial response of ‘of course’ might be somewhat hasty.  He loved his mother dearly but her energy… it was oft times as if one was trying to battle a wildfire with a plant spritzing bottle.  And she was certainly emitting the most extreme of high-frequency energies tonight.  Gregory was far better at managing that situation as he seemed more capable of absorbing such energy without having it, paradoxically, drain his own internal batteries dry.

      “Not at the moment, if you will.  Father and I have a few more matters to discuss and that will proceed more effectively with only our voices involved in the debate.”

      “Right, then.  Anthea, you mentioned a tour of the house might be in my future if I didn’t humiliate you and earn a knock on the head instead?”

Anthea smirked because her counterpart had been positively salivating to get a look around the house since his client described it to him.  Apparently, Greg wasn’t the only one who appreciated a properly-appointed Hammer Horror Murder House.  Especially one that was, for all intents and purposes, housing the English branch of the Addams Family genetic tree.

      “On we go, non-simulation Mr. Anderson.  First stop, the family mausoleum with mysteriously-empty tombs, then the pit and the pendulum.”

      “Ooh, glad I’m wearing my old shoes.  Hate to get blood, gore and bits of burial shroud on my new ones.  They cost the world.”

Quickly scooping up the papers while they were both being studied by Mycroft and his father, the two agents bid their temporary goodbyes and hurried towards a drinks refill before their tour.  The work was done and now the fun could begin.  And, with a house filled with these diverse personalities, there was certainly a lot of fun to be had…

      “I believe they feel my house is a structure taken from Poe’s works.”

      “It is not an unimaginable impression for someone not as familiar with the intricacies of his writing as am I, so I did not see reason to correct their statements.”

      “I suspect it was all in jest, in any case.”

      “Undoubtedly.  Rather uninspired and obvious in approach, but the non-genius mind revels in its own forms of humor.”

      “True.  I find myself often in the position of hearing Gregory laugh at something or another and having no idea what has prompted his giddiness.”

      “You should ask him to explain.”

      “I do, and he readily provides what detail is necessary for clarity.”

      “Good.  I have found that an effective strategy when conversing with your mother.  At times, though, it is simply more efficient for the progress of a discussion to allow the matter to pass without comment else I find myself enmeshed in a conversational tangent that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original vector of our discourse.”

      “Yes, I have experienced that very thing myself.  It is enough to acknowledge that Gregory has taken amusement from something said or done.  He is content, and our vector remains true to course.”

      “Precisely.  The lack of understanding for a small point of conversation may irritate somewhat, however, it is a small price to pay for the continued harmony of… oh.”

      “Father?”

Mycroft was used to his father suddenly coming upon some revelation, and noticed it often in himself, as well, but it was rarely accompanied by his father’s seldom-seen and highly-characteristic gleeful grin, which his mother affectionately called ‘The Excited Dormouse.’

      “I believe I have independently discovered the issue about which your mother was messaging me.”

      “Oh dear, was she tapping again?”

      “It is an efficient tactic when she needs to impart information, but the time is not right to do so.”

      “What did Mummy feel the need to impart this time?”

      “That you are in love with Gregory Lestrade.”

      “<………………………..>”

      “Mycroft?  I know you have not expired for you are still breathing.”

      “Mrdk?”

      “That is not a known language.  You are not venturing into fantasy writing are you?  We have far too many fairy or space alien languages infiltrating our current lexicon as it is.  I shall not stand for more from my own son.”

      “Npsheeee.”

      “That is appalling.  Is it supposed to be the tongue of the water sprites or some other capering fae creature?  This is entirely beneath your intellect, Mycroft, and I shall inform you now, though your mother would chide me about lacking compassion, that you are utterly bereft of talent in the area of fabricating languages.  Professor Tolkien was scarcely up to the task and you know in what esteem I hold him and his writings.”

      “Pah… flektle…”

      “That smacks of Klingon.  This film business has clearly gone to your head.  I assure you, there are individuals aplenty to write the scripts for…. oh.  Ah, I understand.  You are considering writing a script for your lover.  I suppose that is not as dunderheaded as I had imagined, though far more a sentimental gesture than I would have credited you at this early stage of your courtship.  In fact, I shall congratulate you for the idea, however, I still must reinforce that your artificial-language skills are decidedly lacking and you should pass that task to another.  What sort of film should we expect, so I can inform your mother?  She becomes greatly excited when your Gregory has a new film in production and it is always signals a flurry of rather ludicrous, yet endearing, nonsense on her part.  I would prefer to be ready for the scope and scale of the ludicrousness as early as possible.”

      “Noooooooooooooo…”

      “That had a tinge of English about it, however, you might simply be appropriating the basic sounds for…”

      “Reviewing countless times the films displaying Gregory’s bottom does not make him my lover!”

The return of Mycroft’s senses did not come at an opportune moment.

      “Alone, that would make you… voyeur is not the correct term, but I am a loss for one that is more suitable.  Where is your dictionary?”

      “My fantasies about Gregory’s bottom are not some lexicographical challenge!”

      “No, they are proof that you are erotically-enamored of your Gregory, as is proper, however, the lure of a new word is one that I can scarcely resist, as well you know.”

      “I am not enamored!”

      “Au contraire.  You exhibit a plethora of relevant metrics.”

      “False.”

      “True.  Shall I enumerate them?”

      “Y… no.  I have no time or patience for your foolish prattle.”

      “The likelihood of my engaging in foolish prattle stands squarely at naught.”

      “Yes, granted, however…”

      “Your mother and I are well aware of your homosexuality, so I fail to see why you would deny the basic existence of your relationship with that actor fellow.  I also fail to see why you failed to… no, I retract my near-assertion.  I see clearly why you might wish to keep such information a secret and not only for the reason of your mother, who shall be most meddlesome once she has possession of this information.  However, what’s done is done and we might use this time to craft a timeline for revealing details of your love affair to her, so you and Gregory have some degree of privacy during these early stages of your affair de coeur.  That seems to be a somewhat critical time for these things.”

      “Am I even necessary for this conversation?  This is as painful as speaking to Mummy!”

      “That is not, in any manner, possible.”

      “Yet, you have achieved it handily.  Father… let me be exceedingly clear and plain.  Gregory and I are not lovers.  We are not in a relationship.”

      “Then explain the bottom conundrum.  One does not ogle a person’s buttocks without some notable degree of interest.”

      “Interest in the buttocks!  That does not equate to the person hosting the buttocks.”

      “Are you claiming that Gregory’s buttocks are more interesting than his other attributes?”

      “I… no, I am not making that claim for it is demonstrably false.  However, one can admire a physical feature without attaching greater meaning to that interest besides the physical.”

      “I see.  You were using it as a masturbatory aid.”

      “WHAT!  NO!  My god, man… have you no shame!”

      “Shame is not a relevant issue at this juncture.  For what other possible reason would you repeatedly gaze upon images of his naked buttocks?  You are not a painter or sculptor, which might explain such a thing.  I admit I cannot claim full certainty that you have not fallen impotent, but given your lack of health issues, I put the probability of such a thing at a very low value.  Therefore, making pleasurable use of an erection inspired by visually-stimulating images is perfectly normal for a man your age.”

      “Oh my god…”

      “You are also not religious, so I am unclear as to why you continue to invoke a deity.”

      “Father… what has… corrupted you!”

      “I am not corrupted.  I am simply trying to glean why you are reluctant to admit you masturbate to the image and, likely, behavior of Gregory’s naked buttocks.”

      “I do not… do that!”

      “Then explain yourself.”

      “That is not required.”

      “Perhaps, but…”

Emotional issues were neither of the Holmes men’s strength, but that did not mean his father could not recognize a moment when Mycroft needed to venture into that area, as uncomfortable and difficult as it might be for both of them.

      “… would it help, Mycroft, if I said that… I believe you have something you wish to discuss and, though we avoid such things as often as possible, this is not the time for such avoidance.  I am willing to listen to you and offer what advice I can, without, if you wish it, information passing subsequently to your mother.”

Mycroft screwed up his face in exactly the same manner as he did when he was a boy and was caught between the Scylla and Charybdis, part of him wanting to talk and part of him wanting to do anything in the world but talk.  However, as it usually did, the need to unburden himself pushed him forward.

      “I have, of late, taken greater notice of Gregory’s physical form and I cannot claim it is disconnected from a growing admiration and appreciation for the non-physical aspects of his being.”

      “You describe attraction.”

      “The word is not entirely misapplied to the situation.”

      “Your behavior indicates you have yet to act upon this.”

      “I have not, that is correct.”

      “Explain.”

      “Explain what, precisely?”

      “If you are experiencing attraction, you should inform him and broker a restructuring of your current association.”

      “I doubt there would exist a ‘current association’ after that particular confession.”

      “Explain.”

      “Father… you are not this oblivious to the basic dynamics of standard human interactions.”

      “True, however, I am not entirely certain of the status of your own analysis or ability to perform the necessary calculations due to lack of experience and insight.”

      “Your age does not, necessarily, grant you wisdom.”

      “Which of us has been married for decades?”

      “You married the only woman for whom you experienced attraction, so if you are attempting to justify a superiority of opinion with a single data point, I shall refer to you any number of treatises on mathematics or logic to demonstrate the profound weakness of your argument.”

      “Your mother was not the first woman for whom I experienced attraction.”

      “I… she wasn’t?”

      “No.  Whereas I did not, I suspect, have the unseemly level of libido as did other males of my age, based on my personal observations and evidence from various media sources, that does not mean I was without such a thing.”

      “But… Mummy is the first one with whom you actually acted upon the attraction, correct?”

      “No.”

      “No?  But… Mummy is infinitely fond of telling the story of your romance and the picture she paints is a markedly different one.”

      “False.  Your mother confines her words to our situation and does not venture into other areas.”

      “She does!  I have heard her tell numerous tales of boys with whom she… dallied.”

      “Have you heard stories about my exploits?”

      “No.”

      “Why not?”

      “I assumed it was for the reason they did not exist.”

      “They do not exist, in terms of consummated action, however, they do exist in terms of intent.”

      “Ah… your attraction was unrequited.”

      “That was my assessment, yes.  I will concede that… I was, ultimately, unable to express my attraction in a tangible manner, as I interpreted the situation to be one that would not make such a thing welcome and set aside my… feelings… accordingly.”

      “I do not understand.  You, just a moment ago, counseled me to take direct action.”

While Mycroft was growing up, his father had been an unfailingly reliable source of logic, understanding and clarity.  Seeing the man, now, hesitate… a twinge of insecurity sparking in his eyes…. was a profoundly disturbing thing.

      “I realize that, now.  And I confess that my statement was a poorly-considered one.  I apologize.”

      “Then… explain?”

Not something Mycroft’s father particularly wished to do, but his son deserved his desired explanation.

      “That is a fair request.  In truth, I lacked, in any manner, a framework for presenting myself to the girls who attracted my interest, especially since the interest was based primarily on hormonal response to their physical appearance.  I knew little of them as individuals and as I tried to gain information on that score I… it became apparent that they did not appreciate my proximity to them or attempts to broach conversation.”

      “Mummy was different.”

      “I had not noticed her in any appreciable manner in school, likely due to her younger age, though it was, admittedly only a year and four months less than my own.  During that period of development, however, one can appear most different with only a few years of growth and, when I saw her in the record shop…”

      “Your hormones had a different response than before.”

      “Yes.  And… though I still lacked the framework to broach more of an interaction than the purchase of my desired recordings, she… she had far greater skill and was willing to apply that skill to fostering a conversation with me.”

      “Did you suspect she was attracted to you, as well?”

      “Not at that point, though, I did deem it sufficiently unusual an occurrence to probe the matter in more depth.”

      “How?”

      “I… continued to visit the record shop.”

      “That scarcely qualifies as probing.”

      “True and I do not deny the fact.  It simply… I was concerned that attempting to be more… forward… might not be the correct strategy.”

      “You worried about, as they say, frightening her off.”

Or being viewed as a buffoon.  Or being laughed at.  Scorned.  Derided.  All things with which he had experience aplenty in his younger life when he tried to make a social connection.   However, the proximal relevance of those worries was low for this particular conversation, so they would, at this point, remain unspoken.  If the situation changed… then they would be discussed.  His son clearly needed assistance and there was no tool he would not use to provide that assistance, should it be deemed necessary.

      “That was a concern, yes.  It was only when she changed jobs that I realized the foolhardiness of my cowardice.   While I evaluated and analyzed and took a highly tentative approach, she easily could turn attention to another boy or find a third job that took her geographically further afield.  I calculated that the probability of appearing too brash was lower than the probability of losing any chance to argue my case that we… we seemed well-matched.  That specific outcome was highly distressing to my mind.”

      “Can you…  what was it about mother that led you to believing you could create a successful couple?  She is wildly different than you in both temperament and personality.”

      “That was a point of interest, actually.  It disabled me from easily predicting her words or actions, so… she has never ceased to surprise me.  You know well how boring it is when one cannot be surprised.”

      “I do.  What else?”

      “She was kind, but not insipid.  Strong, but not pugnacious.  Garrulous, but a patient listener.  Patient in many things, actually.  Which was… helpful.  She demonstrated enjoyment of the time we spent together, there was no deceit in her happiness when shared a moment of time, whether we were doing something active, such as taking bicycle ride, or passive, such as watching a film.  She remarked positively on my appearance and other personal characteristics.  She found me funny, I could make her laugh, which I still do not fully understand, but it was… meaningful.  She… she made me believe that we could be a successful couple without her consciously trying to accomplish that feat.  And, she made me want to be part of a couple if she was the other half.  She was as much a friend to me as a romantic interest and… I cannot imagine a more successful formula for a wife, or husband, than that.”

      “I see.”

And, to his surprise, Mycroft did see what his father was describing.  Saw it and, more significantly, recognized it, as well.

      “Do you find similarities between yours and Gregory’s situation, son?”

      “Yes, I do.  However, one extremely large difference remains.”

      “Which is?”

      “You have no basis to assume Gregory has a sexual interest in men.”

      “False.”

Pardon?

      “P… pardon?”

      “I said ‘false.’ “

      “I heard what you said, Father, however… you have no evidence to support that statement.”

      “Yes, I do.”

      “Provide proof.”

      “Your mother… ah, this is amusing as it returns us to a discussion of male buttocks… your mother has remarked more than once on her evidence-based theory that Lestrade has sexual appreciation of the male figure based on what she perceived as his open admiration of Ryan Reynold’s buttocks during some awards ceremony.  I have no memory of which one as I care little for that sort of thing.”

      “Who is Ryan Reynolds?”

      “I have no idea.”

      “And you are you certain he is male?”

      “The name lends credence to that hypothesis, though, I shall concede that it has become less convincing a thing in recent years.  However, more pressing is your mother plainly stating that this Reynolds person is both male and has buttocks worth admiring.  Something she also, frequently, proclaims about your Gregory.”

      “His bottom is a stellar example of that anatomical region.”

      “I agree.  It exceeds the various societal standards of excellence for the male buttocks and likely performs its locomotory and cushioning functions in a most successful manner.”

      “I believe that to be the case, also.  But, Father… do you believe Mummy’s claims about his sexuality?”

For I do, but independent corroboration by a third-party would be helpful, despite Gregory's admitting that very thing in my presence. It is not entirely odd, is it, to... well, to want to hear such a thing is true from one's parent? No, it was a perfectly proper wish, all things considered.

      “I have no personally-gathered evidence on that score to discuss, however… I have seen him look at you, son.”

      “What?  Whatever does that mean?”

      “I did not mark it at the time as I had not the proper context to interpret the gesture, but… through this new lens, I can state unequivocally that he looks at you much in the way I remember your mother looking at me when we were younger and she believed I did not see her doing it.”

      “Is that good?”

      “Gentle, adoring, fondness is difficult to describe as bad.”

      “Dear me…”

      “I should add, given we are on the subject, that you also look upon him in a similar manner.  I must admit, those observations were most vexing until I attained a relevant perspective from which to analyze them.  Thank you, son.  My mind is more at ease.”

      “I… you’re welcome.  But, Father… what now do I do?”

      “You… speak with your mother.  This is far more her area of expertise.”

      “That… may become necessary, however, I would value your assessment of my options.”

Realizing this was one of the few genuine heart-to-heart conversations they had shared and this one, like those other rarified members of the elite club, was extremely important to his son, Mycroft’s father pushed down his worry that he’d make an utter mess of the whole business and drew together his thoughts, memories and perceptions as best he could to offer advice.

      “There is no shame in needing appropriate time to plan, prepare or gather additional data before committing to a significant action.  However, in the arena of human interactions… do not wait forever, my son.  I was very fortunate that my own hesitation did not lose me the joy of a life with your mother and I would hate to see you lose something that could bring a similar joy to yours.  Muster your confidence, do what it takes to convince you one way or the other, then show courage and act.”

      “What if I approach Gregory with a proposal to explore something more than friendship and he declines my offer?  I would… I have found his friendship to be a wondrous thing, Father.  I cannot bear to contemplate losing it.  For such a short time as has been our acquaintance, I… I genuinely treasure the time we share, even if it is naught but a phone conversation.”

      “No reward comes without risk, Mycroft.  I wish I could assure you otherwise, but lies are not helpful, even when they are more palatable than the truth.”

      “Yes, I agree, however…”

      “If it offers useful assurance, then I will share that I do not put the probability of your friendship permanently fracturing at a high value.  Certainly not a statically-significant one.”

      “Gregory would remain my friend even if he spurned my romantic overtures?”

      “I doubt he will spurn your advances, at all.  I cannot, however, predict the potential long-term status of your relationship; his profession seems one that is fraught with divorce and dissolution of partnerships.  Your mother claims, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, that the work is highly stressful and energy-consuming.  Further, there is the scrutiny of the press and individuals like your mother who seem intent on knowing every detail of an actor’s life.  I cannot, and will not, give you false hope for a quiet, simple life if you take him as a romantic partner, not that it shall last beyond a fortnight.  However… I shall not dash the hope that it could be something that would give your life a degree and type of happiness that I feel confident you would cherish.”

That was not quite as assuring as Mycroft might wish, but far less bleak as he might have feared.  Above all, he knew his father was speaking with perfect honesty, offering his opinion based on, albeit rapidly-performed, analysis of available data.  His mother would speak more from her emotional instincts but, for now… the evidentiary support was surprisingly robust.  However, he was his father’s son, for better or worse…

      “That… It appears I have much to contemplate.”

      “I agree.  I suggest, that you use your contemplation period to observe carefully.  There exists the possibility that I have misinterpreted the situation, on his part, and it would be prudent to confirm my findings through your own methods.”

      “True.  Imprudence leads to many a downfall.”

      “Correct.  Do you require assistance creating an observational chart?”

      “That is a useful suggestion.  I find it easier to glean patterns when I have the complete body of data fully visible and properly organized.”

      “Then let us begin.  I suspect your Gregory can be kept occupied by your mother for eons of time, however, we must rejoin them at some point and it would be wise to be prepared to begin your initiative.  Valuable data could be lost if you are not.”

      “Yes, that is most certainly the case.  I shall choose the appropriate selection of pens.  There is blank paper in the lower shelf of the bookcase nearest the whisky decanter.  Please retrieve four sheets so we may begin.”

      “Your computer would be a more efficient tool and has software ready-made for a data-collection spreadsheet.”

      “True, however… doing this by hand feels… more consequential.”

      “That is clear evidence of sentiment.”

      “Is that wrong?”

      “For this mission?  I would say it is making a start on precisely the right foot.”

Chapter Text

      “Is it safe?”

Mycroft felt both his heart and his body leap in his chair at the unexpected sound of Greg’s voice, since he had assumed the time Anderson had requested to speak with his client about the various negotiated details for the film would take far longer than the fifteen minutes that had actually elapsed.  Fortunately, the cool perfection of his crystal sphere was within reach of his fingertips for a quick, reassuring touch.

      “S… safe for what?”

      “Small joke.  It’s what you say when you’re pretending to worry about or want to avoid some bit of business going on and hope it’s all done now that your nose is actually poking into the area where it was happening.”

Explaining humor!  An excellent data point.

      “I understand.  And, I assume the business in question involves the cavalcade of characters currently enjoying my hospitality.”

      “That it does.  They’re a wonderful cavalcade, but… whew!  I could do with a bit of quiet and a chance to rest my brain.”

      “And you hoped to find that here?”

      “You are a quiet person and are occupying a restful room.”

Gregory was correct on both points as he was, by habit, quiet and his study was profoundly restful when he was not actively writing.  Must add the fact that Gregory made effective use of observation and reason to his data chart.  When, of course, Gregory was not there to witness, lest it bias the data-collection process.

      “I can find no flaw with your assessment.  Shall we move, perhaps, to my reading area to facilitate your relaxation process?”

      “I hoped you’d say that.  It’s an amazing space.”

They shared an appreciation of the reading space!  Father was correct, if he had not been prepared to actively look for data, this could all have been lost to time.  Not that all of the just-collected data points were not previously known, of course.  It was that they were officially known now and that elevated them in… something.

      “Then do follow me.”

If nothing else, as we ascend the staircase, you may take the opportunity to ogle my bottom and note that it is a high-quality specimen if ever there was one.  Not as superb, of course, as yours, Gregory, however, there is little doubt it would compare favorably to that of the Reynolds fellow who caught your eye.  I shall walk slowly so might prolong your gaze at the pertness.

      “Mycroft something wrong with your back?  You’re walking funny.  And slowly.”

Pertness presentation is a failure!

      “No… my shoes felt slick a moment on the stairs.”

      “Ooh, that’s not good.  Definitely walk slowly, then.  But, if you slip, you’ll land on me and I’ve got enough cushion to break both our falls.”

Oh fine.  Boast about your bottom while I mimic back spasms, apparently.  However, you did evince concern about my well-being and that is recordable data, so I shall proffer forgiveness for ignoring my buttocks.

      “Oh, there it is… my lovely, comfortable chair just waiting for my tired old arse.”

Data!  Gregory clearly referred to the chair as ‘my’ and has sensed the telepathic tremors surrounding bottoms.  This was most excellent and certainly a reward for the unspoken forgiveness!  But… oh dear, Gregory appeared most fatigued.  He positively fell into the chair as if his legs simply no longer had the energy to support his frame.  Even with help from his muscular buttocks.

      “The hour is a late one, Gregory.  Are you certain you are not ready to retire?”

      “Not yet, but soon.  It’s been such a whirlwind that it’d be hard to simply nod off at the moment.”

      “Whirlwind… oh my, I do hope Mummy was not pestiferous.  She means well, but extended conversation with her often leaves one a bit drained of vim and vigor.”

      “Not at all!  We had a grand time, I promise.  Enjoyed your fine spirits, shared stories… I genuinely had a lovely time.  Kept me on my toes, that’s for certain, and I think that’s a good thing, all in all.  Your dad’s a quiet one, though, isn’t he?  Seemed to… well, I suppose it’s to be expected that if your mum uses conversation to draw out information about a person, your dad would use other tactics.  I got the distinct impression he was studying me like a lab specimen while your mum and I had our final cocktail.”

Well-spotted Gregory.  Father and I shall compare observations, of course, but the likelihood that our perspectives will differ by more than a meagre few percentage points is laughably small.

      “Father prizes a thorough evaluation of a person and his impressions are firmly grounded in concrete and demonstrable data.”

      “Smart.  Too many people latch onto a few quick, superficial things to make a decision about a person and then it’s ages of work to change their minds, if it’s possible at all.  I have to say, Mycroft, I really like your parents.  They seem to be good, caring people and fun besides.  Fans of my work, too!  Your mum is a trivia treasure trove of knowledge about my films and such.”

      “I do apologize for that.  I was completely unaware of Mummy’s rather unseemly fascination for you.”

      “Nothing unseemly about it!  It’s new to you, I wager, but this is normal for me.  When I chat with fans, it amazes me what they know and remember.  Details of projects I’ve completely forgotten.  And I’m including the project itself, in that!  They’ll remember some quick advert I did for this or that company in the 90’s that I wouldn’t have remembered unless I saw the bloody thing with my own eyes.  They have an honest enthusiasm and interest, which is never something to discourage, unless it gets stalkery or creepy, which does happen, but not too often, fortunately.  Truthfully,  I had a great time answering her questions and listening to her memories of experiencing the work I’ve done.”

      “Then I shall reduce the severity of the rebuke I was preparing to offer her for intruding upon your stay to such a degree.”

      “I’d appreciate that.  What you can do, if you’re still feeling a touch rebukey, is check your mum didn’t bring a massive stack of things for me to sign besides her shirt.  My poor fingers might fall off and if they need me to do some piano playing for the film, since your detective fellow has a talent for it, I’d have to do it with my elbows!”

Mummy would do that, too.  Likely to distribute her spoils to the vast and varied network of hens in her extended flock who clucked as loudly and strewed their feathers as unrepentantly as did she.

      “I shall make certain you are shielded from any further effort on that particular front.  But, Gregory… I admit this was a detail that utterly failed to enter my mind.  Do you actually play piano?”

      “Not a bit!  I have no idea, though, if they’ll use that in the film; not every detail of a character or book makes it into the script.  They have to capture the essence of the characters, but don’t have the time to establish the full picture as a book would, so it’s pick and choose as best the screenwriter can.”

      “What if you are tasked to play for the role?”

      “Well, what often happens is they’ll just show close-up shots of hands playing cut in with the rest of the actor doing a bit of swaying and arm moving and looking like they have a clue.  If not, they’ll hire someone to teach me just enough for things to look real for the few seconds here or there they show me playing.”

      “I… I could do that.”

Why had his mouth opened?  And permitted the emission of sound.  With those words!  Had it gone mad?  Could mouths go mad?  It made no physiological sense, however, his mouth seemed to have accomplished the task with remarkable ease.

      “Do what?”

Drat.  Why did Gregory’s ears have to function properly in unhelpful situations?

      “T… teach you to play piano.”

      “You play?”

Gregory’s expression, at least, did not signal incredulous disbelief.  It was more in the vein of… hopeful anticipation.  Was that good?  Data, itself, was neither good nor bad, simply in support or in refutation of the existing hypothesis.  Which he had completely forgotten to script in a formal and concise manner!  Given Father also forgot that point, however, some forgiveness could be bestowed.  Father was ferocious about a properly-conducted investigation and analysis.  Oh, Gregory was waiting for an answer.  Which he had yet to provide.  Drat, again.

      “Yes, I do.  Expertly.”

      “That’s terrific!  Brilliant writer and now a skilled pianist?  You’re a man of many talents, Mycroft Holmes.”

Compliments!  The data was both rich and jubilant, indeed.  Not that he was awarding a good/bad judgement since, as established, that was not appropriate, however… dash it all, this was splendid data and objective analysis could go and eat a rock.

      “I am, that is true.”

      “I can’t claim the same, to my shame, but I can play a guitar well enough that nobody throws rotten veg in my face while I do it.”

      “That is not a very convincing argument.”

      “I suppose not, but it’s better than people actually throwing rotten tomatoes at me, so that’s something, at least.  Do you have a piano in the house?  I haven’t seen one, yet.”

      “In the conservatory.  Sunday, or a portion of it, is piano day.”

      “Only Sunday?”

      “Well… no.  At times, when I find myself in the grasp of a mental quandary, I may take a small amount of time to play and exercise other elements of my mind, while the elements currently experiencing a disruption take the opportunity to sort out the problem.”

      “Using music to clear the mind?  Time-honored and very effective.  I do the same, now and again.  Got something on my mind, so I’ll take out one of my guitars and play a little to give the brain something else to do besides mull over the same problem without making a whit of progress on it.”

Data, data, data!  Gregory shared an appreciation of music and used it as a mental balm.  This certainly spoke to potential areas of compatibility.

      “I would ask if that is possible often, given you seem to travel frequently for your work.”

      “I admit it’s not as often as I like, but I’ll take along what I call my travel guitar, which is some cheap thing that I can lose or have damaged and not care overly much about it.  Not what I’d call great quality, but good enough for a little quiet strumming when I’m sitting alone in my hotel, letting the day slough off me.”

      “I could not do that with a piano.”

      “You could bring one of those electric pianos.  They’re fairly portable.”

      “And ghastly.”

      “Maybe, but you won’t have to tip the baggage handlers a few thousand quid to carry it for you, like you would a full-size piano.  Would it… can I see yours?”

      “Oh.  Yes, if you wish.”

      “I do wish.  Might I also wish to hear you play something?”

      “Oh.”

      “Is that a ‘yes’ oh or a ‘no’ oh?”

      “More a… I was simply taken by surprise.  I… it was an unexpected request.”

      “It’s alright if you don’t want to, Mycroft.  I won’t be offended if you say no.”

      “It… I do not… only a few have heard me play.”

      “Then, how about I just take that back and we forget all about it?”

That would be best.  Or not.  He was a highly-accomplished pianist and Gregory might be impressed by his musical prowess.  But, what if his performance was substandard owing to the distracting nature of his audience?  Which was a tangible audience and not the amorphous, imagined persons his mind occasionally called up to critique his technique or discuss with him matters associated with the book on which he was working?  Gregory would be appalled by his ineptitude!  Which would be a faux ineptitude brought about only by distraction of Gregory’s majestic appearance.  And that was decidedly unfair!

      “Mycroft?  Yeah, moving on to other things.  What’d you think of Anderson?  Isn’t he a…”

      “YOUR VISAGE WILL NOT DISTRACT ME GREGORY LESTRADE!”

That was somewhat strident.

      “O………k.  I honestly have no idea what that means, but it certainly seems important to you, so consider my visage… fully non-distracting.”

      “I… ahem.  Simply a small moment of mental perturbation caused by… lilac.”

      “Lilac, you say?”

      “Anthea was sporting a lilac scarf tonight and it discommoded me most terribly.”

      “Her scarf was blue.”

      “Was it?  It… it must have been a trick of the light, then, that brought me to dissolution.”

      “Yeah, light can be a tricky bugger when it’s a got a mood for it.  How about a spot of tea to help with that.”

      “Why would tea be of assistance to light?”

      “I was thinking more of it being of assistance to your being susceptible to being tricked by it, since tea is… mentally bracing.”

      “Ah, yes, that is far more sensical a suggestion.  I believe, for now, I can manage without a cup.”

      “Ok, then, stepping back in time a few moments… my agent was highly impressed with your meeting.  Said you had some strong ideas that will be very helpful as we push forward.  I know for certain he’ll have a chat with the lighting director, who they’ve already signed to the project, about your view for the mood of the film.  A lot of the creative types signing on for this film are likely going to benefit from your insights in pulling together the look of this film.  They do amazing things on their own, I’ve worked with a lot of them in the past, but every little bit helps.”

      “Very good.  I admit that I lack the expertise to articulate the proper techniques or methods to fully realize my vision, however, I can, at minimum, make the details of that vision clear to those who can.”

Greg hid his smile as he listened to Mycroft’s words.  The people being brought on for the film were excellent and would give attention to every possible detail because they were top-notch professionals committed to doing their utmost for any project they worked on.  And, from what he’d heard, they were hoping to bring the atmosphere of the novel straight to the screen, so Mycroft’s ideas would fall right in line with what was already in planning.

More importantly, though, Mycroft was now turned away from whatever had distressed him enough into having a blurt moment.  It could have something to do with his piano talent, but that was probably not the case.  Mycroft wouldn’t have mentioned that if he was rubbish at it, so something else was burbling in his mind.  From what Anderson said, they’d left Mycroft and his dad fairly early on, so maybe there was some father-son business that had Mycroft upset.  Both had seemed fine earlier, though… well, nothing for it but keep the eyes and ears open and offer some help if it seemed the right thing to do.

      “Nice to know you’ll have an eye on things.  I’ll be out of the country for a few weeks and then I’ve got a few appearances for your literacy charity, so I won’t have as close a watch on things as I might normally.  Anderson will do my part, but yours is just as vital.  More so, actually.”

Truth be told, nobody had much to do right now, since it was more a threads-gathering time for the studio, but early snags were shit and Anderson was good for predicting those and doing a bit of work behind the scenes to clear various paths or put his shoulder to a barricade if that was needed instead.

      “You… you are leaving?”

Oops.  Someone apparently forgot something and that was a touch unusual for Mycroft.  Something was definitely sitting in his brain and being a bit of a gorilla at the moment.  One without a banana, so it was happy to pound away until it had its lunch.

      “Not this second, but in a few days.  Remember I said I had to do a few reshoots for a project?  Not my latest film, but one I worked on before this had a slew of problems.  Most were on the technical end, CGI effects and the like, but they want to reshoot a number of scenes and I’ve got to be on hand for that.  It happens, not that anyone likes it, but what can you do?”

      “Decline.  However, I presume you will respond that such is not the correct response for a professional.”

      “Your presumption is correct.  But, it’s only a couple of weeks and, fingers crossed, I’ll only be needed here and there, so I can take some time to lounge by the pool, get a bit of sun and do a little reading.”

      “Two thirds of that plan sounds positively dreadful so, on balance, I extend to you my deepest sympathy for your suffering.”

      “I always knew you were an opponent of water and reading.”

      “Amusing.  I cannot imagine why one would… lounge adjacent to a swimming pool.  The purpose of the structure is to provide a place to swim, not to lounge, else they would call it a lounging pool.”

      “Not everyone appreciates vocabulary correctness as much as you do, I suppose.  Do you swim?”

      “I… yes.  I should clarify and say that I have the ability to swim, but it is not an activity in which I often engage.”

      “Is that where the sun part comes in?”

      “Partially.”

The other part is the presence of other people, but you, Gregory, do not need to know that fact.

      “Is the other part about the other people who might also be having a swim?”

Damn your incisive mind!  No!  No… one does not damn a thing, even when it works to one’s disadvantage.  Besides… it is valuable data and raw data should never be disparaged.

      “I do not appreciate intrusiveness into my activities.”

      “I can understand that.  Sometimes you just want to paddle about, float, enjoy the water and here comes some bloke with his friends who are louder than you’d prefer and decide they want race a few laps or act like idiots.  Or, even if it’s a quiet couple wanting their own swim, you feel a bit self-conscious about whatever it was you were doing.”

      “Yes… it is positively beastly of them and I cannot abide beastliness.”

      “I’m not keen on it, myself.  I’ve often thought about having a pool put in my house in London, but… I’m not home often enough to make it worth it.  They take a lot of maintenance and I certainly am too lazy to tend to any of that nonsense just for a quick dip when I feel the urge.”

      “You have sufficient property to consider such a thing?”

      “Uh… sort of.  When I mean ‘in my house’ I actually meant it literally.  I’ve got space inside to put in something, but the construction mess and the other concerns make me veto myself.  My other house has a pool, though, but the ones who get to enjoy that are my mum and dad since they actually live there.”

      “You have two houses?”

      “Yeah.  My house is really the London one.  I bought the second… well, it was really to give my parents a place in the country to enjoy their golden years.  I had a miserable time convincing them to move in, but I finally used the tactic that if they lived there, I wouldn’t have to pay people to keep an eye on things and that did the trick.  A fellow comes by once a week to check the pool and do the heavier grounds work, but that’s about that.  They’re happy, though, and that’s what matters.”

      “I see.  I have tried similar for Mummy and Father, but they refuse to relocate until, at minimum, Father retires from the library.  I am not entirely certain that will ever happen, however, as I would not be surprised in the slightest if he is still staffing the circulation desk after he receives his letter of congratulations from the Queen for having a century of years to his name.”

      “Could be a kingly letter, by that point.”

      “Gregory… that is unkind.”

      “Sorry, mum.  I’ll be kinder in the future, I promise.”

This was certainly important data.  Gregory was comfortable.  Jovial, teasing without malice and… yes, it could not be denied that a fond look just appeared on Gregory’s features.  To what degree did friends demonstrate fond glances?  That must be his next area of research.  It would prove vital for the analysis of this body of information.

      “See that you do.  It is interesting, however… I had not considered an indoor swimming pool to be an option for anything beyond, perhaps, one of those luxury hotels, but I suppose if that construction is possible, then any structure of sufficient size could host something similar, albeit of a more manageable size.”

      “You thinking of one now?”

      “Not precisely, but the idea opens an interesting avenue of contemplation for the book on which I am currently working.”

      “Ooh… can I get a signed copy when it comes out?”

      “My poor fingers!  I shan’t be able to play the piano again.”

      “I’ll buy you some of that muscle cream.  It works wonders, believe me.”

And notice that I don’t draw the conversation back to the piano, Mycroft, which I know you worried about from the flash of ‘oh shit’ that made your eyes glow.  Calming down nicely, though, so crisis avoided.

      “That would be most welcome.”

Along with your conscious choice to leave alone my return to the subject of my piano.  I know well your ability to capitalize upon conversational points, Gregory, and this one was truly ripe with potential.  Further, it is more highly valuable data for my chart.  Four sheets of paper might have been an underestimation.  Six might be a better choice to add several columns for items I have only during this conversational interval specifically noted.  Father will be most pleased, as he relishes a high-volume data analysis and this certainly has the makings of a bountiful one.

      “I will keep that firmly in mind.  And speaking of firmly, I think I’m ready to greet the mattress you have waiting for me.”

      “Might I… we did not agree on a precise span of time for this visit, so might I inquire as to when you shall depart?”

      “Oh… well, I thought I’d hang about a bit tomorrow, while you were sleeping, and visit more with your parents, then have a little more time to chat with you tomorrow night before leaving the next day.  I have to get a few things in order to be away for several weeks, but… would you prefer if I left tomorrow?  That’s not a problem if you’ve got things to do or just want time alone with your parents.”

      “NO!  I mean… no.  I had hoped your response would be along the lines you provided.”

      “Good.  Then I don’t feel so bad crawling into bed tonight.  I’ll try and hold out longer tomorrow night since I can sleep on the train back to London.”

      “I look very forward to it, Gregory.”

      “Then, until tomorrow?”

      “Until tomorrow.  I shall see you at breakfast.”

      “Yours, right?”

      “Of course.”

      “Just checking.”

Greg hopped up and waved goodbye, knowing the silliness would make Mycroft’s eyes roll, and scampered down the spiral staircase, missing the three sets of three taps Mycroft gave to the tip of chin as he mentally organized their conversation into the appropriate columns and rows of his organizational chart.  It was extremely ill-advised to rush to judgement with an incomplete data set, however, given there was nobody to witness the ill-advisedness, he would take the risk and declare… perhaps Father was correct.  The implications… they were seismic in scale.

He must change his shoes.  These were positively not the pair necessary for the level of thought that must commence.  His soothing, faux-shearling slippers to relax potential excited humors?  Or his writing brogues to stimulate his mind.  Dear heavens, he was now bedeviled by footwear!  Tea… yes, Gregory had been absolutely correct.  Tea would focus his attention.  Now, he simply needed to decide what sort he desired…

__________

Exhaustion at near-critical level.  Bed within minutes of warming this sad, saggy old body.  Sleeping late absolutely possible.  Bliss…

      “Ah, there you are, Mr. Lestrade.  I have a series of questions to pose to you.”

Bliss fading like the sun’s rays at dusk.  With a loud, wet pffffbbbbtttt at the end.

      “Oh, hello, Mr. Holmes.  And, please, do call me Greg…”

Or since your nose is wrinkling like you’ve caught whiff of a foul odor…

      “… or Gregory, if it’s more to your taste.”

      “Gregory shall do.  I do not anticipate my questions will take a great deal of time, but if you prefer to be seated while you give your responses, I will not object.”

Can I be laying down?  In my warm bed?  No, probably not.

      “That sounds good.  Back to the solarium or…”

      “No, I think my auxiliary library is a better choice.”

Auxiliary library?  No, not gonna ask…

      “Please lead on.”

      “Yes, I doubt you are aware of its location.”

Greg swallowed down his smile and followed Bertie to the nearest connecting corridor, down the staircase, then to a corner of the ground floor that he had to admit had been missed during his previous tours.  And, once the large door was opened, after the knob was first counterclockwise three times prior to the clockwise turn to enable it to be opened, the appropriateness of the term ‘library’ was clear to see.

      “Ooh, this is nice…”

A medium-sized room with similar cozy, warm shades for the furnishings, rugs and draperies as Mycroft’s study greeted Greg, and it was one with its own sets of built-in bookshelves that boasted little to no empty space whatsoever.

      “I do not like others handling my books.”

      “Then, I promise not to handle a single one.”

      “Oh.  No, that was not my meaning, however, your assurance is most welcome.  When I visit, I use much of my time for focused reading and have collected here a selection of my favorite books or have asked Mycroft to stock newer titles to await me when I arrive.”

      “And they stay here, safe from other hands, until you’re back to greet them again.”

      “Yes.”

      “That sounds very efficient.”

      “It is.  I do not have to take time to inspect them for signs of use that do not fit my personal patterns.  You may have a seat in the green chair.”

Oh Mycroft… nobody could ever play the ‘you dad’s the milkman’ joke on you, could they…

      “Ooh, this is a nice chair.  You and your son have very good taste in comfortable chairs.”

      “Reading while uncomfortable is torturous.”

      “I agree.  I have to do it, at times, on planes, in airports, on set, but if the choice is to be uncomfortable without a book or with a book, I choose doing it with the book, so a little good can come from the torture, at least.”

      “Hmmmmm… I would have to weigh the impact of the experience on my subsequent enjoyment of the book, however, on the surface, there is merit to your viewpoint.”

      “Thank you!  Now, what can I do for you, sir?”

      “Has your DNA been tested?”

      “My… my DNA?”

      “Yes.  The genetic material in the nucleus and mitochondria of your cells.”

      “Yes, sir, I remember that much from school.  Ummm… no?  I’ve never intentionally had it tested, unless it was done along with some other blood tests or the like.”

      “No, that is not a standard medical procedure.  Why have you had your blood tested?  Do you carry a heredity disease or have you been subject to an infectious agent?  If the former, please detail your family history with it; if it is the latter, how often does this occur?”

      “Uhhhh… neither, actually.  I get the occasional head cold and had an infected cut on my arm once, but it’s more that I have an annual physical exam and they draw blood for that.”

      “How often do your health reports document troubling conditions?”

      “I… they don’t or, at least, never have until now.  I’m a fairly fit fellow, at least in terms of my general heath.  Could stand to do a bit more work on my muscle tone, but a few weeks where I have time to use my fitness equipment will take care of that.”

      “I see…”

What?  What do you see?  And why are you writing all of this down?  Is that a chart?

      “… who in your family, if anyone, has conducted a genealogical study of your ancestors?”

      “Well, there’s that telly program they’re working on about me right now and they’re doing that sort of thing.”

      “Yes, I know the one.  It is not entirely sensationalistic, though they provide only the sparsest overview of your lineage.  Is that extent of your knowledge?”

      “Maybe… I remember Mum saying her sister Julia was on one of those websites that helps you do that sort of thing.”

      “I shall need the contact information for her.  Or for your mother if you do not have your aunt’s information immediately in your possession.”

Mum?  And Mr. Holmes?  Ok, that was a script for a comedy that would smash ratings on the telly, but was best avoided in real life.

      “Ummm…how about I just find out for you?”

      “No, it is far more efficient I conduct my inquiries directly.”

Ok… likelihood that Mycroft’s dad could be thrown off the scent.  Low.  Likelihood that Mum would be horrid to him.  Also low.  Mum was… Mum, but she wasn’t dreadful.  Just a touch… dowagery.  Broach-on-the-bosomy.  Not that she had much of a bosom, but that was the least of the problems right now.  But, thinking more about it, she might appreciate Mr. Holmes’s more straightforward approach since it wouldn’t be frivolous or silly or anything that would earn him a stern glare so he took his cap off and squished it in his hands as he backed slowly away muttering his apologies.

      “I’ll leave it… oh, you have your mobile ready.  Nice one, too.”

      “I do not eschew technology.”

      “Very forward thinking of you, sir.”

Greg provided, then confirmed, his parents’ phone numbers, email addresses and made a mental note to phone his parents first thing in the morning to give them notice of an impending inquisition and a small primer on what to expect during the inquisition.  His parents were good souls, at heart, but a bit quick to jump to conclusions, at times.  The first time Anderson came to their house, his father thought he was a rough sleeper looking for a quick handout!  Not that it’d been far off the mark, at that point, but, to his credit, hid dad had slipped Anderson ten quid before threatening to call the constable and have him run off.

      “There we go.  All done here, sir?”

      “No.”

Fuck.

      “Alright, then, what’s next?  I’m happy to help all that I can.”

Not that I have any idea of what this is all about.

      “What is your opinion of children?”

      “They’re not bad with a bit of brown sauce, but a few are a touch too stringy for my liking.”

      “Was that a joke?”

      “An attempt at one.”

      “Hmmm.”

      “A poor attempt at one.”

      “Yes.”

      “I’ll remember that.  To answer your actual question, though, I love them!  Not too many of my films are suitable for the little ones, but enough are that they come out to see me when I do appearances, write me letters and send me photos of them and their pets… I adore it.  I always take time to chat with them when I have the chance to meet them in person, too.  My agent has to budget extra time to get into our away from some event if it’s likely there’ll be lots of kiddies in the crowd since he knows I just can’t walk past them without giving them my attention.”

      “I see.”

What?  I need a translator.  Mycroft’s going to have to teach me to speak this dialect of dad-language so I can muddle through with some idea about what the fuck is going on.

      “Oh?  Do you?”

      “Yes.  Now, my wife has stated that you, currently, have no children, legitimate or illegitimate despite a prolonged and… colorful… sexual history.  Can you confirm that?”

      “Wh… yeah, ok.  I can confirm that I don’t have any kids of my own.”

      “For how much longer do you intend to continue with your typical work schedule?”

      “Oh… I don’t know, actually.  As long as I can or want to.  I’m not ready to retire, that’s for certain.”

      “Hmmmm.”

      “Did I get it wrong?”

      “That is subject to perspective.”

      “Ok.”

      “Are you financially secure?”

      “Uh… yes.  I’m a fairly practical bloke, so I don’t waste my money and I’ve got a highly-diversified investment portfolio to weather blips in the financial market fairly handily.  There are people I trust managing things for me and I’m confident I won’t be in a workhouse in the near future.”

      “I see.”

AARRRGGGHHHH!

      “Do you have any aversions, phobias or superstitions that impact your ability to function in society?”

      “I don’t think so.”

      “You are not certain?”

      “I’m not psychic, so I can’t state, in full truth, that I don’t, since something could arise in the future and I’d rather not sound certain only to be caught out in what seems a lie later on.”

      “You believe in psychic powers?”

      “Uh, no.  I…”

      “Was that another poor attempt at a joke?”

      “Partly.  I also was somewhat serious in that nobody can actually predict what will happen in the future and I know people who have developed aversions and such that they weren’t born with.”

      “Ah, yes, I see your point.  From that standpoint, your answer, setting aside the failed jest, was laudably thorough.”

That sounded good.  Victory!  One enormous, shiny trophy, if you please.

      “And you remain sexually potent?”

That was not a victory trophy!

      “I…”

      “My wife believes that is the case owing to a recent romantic entanglement with a much-younger woman, however, I would prefer not to rely on second-hand information for this particular topic.”

Oh my god… did the man have no shame?  No, apparently not.

      “My cock is in perfect working order, thank you very much.”

      “I see.”

Glorious.

      “I don’t suffer from constipation, either.”

      “That was not on my list of questions, but it is certainly useful information.”

I will not ask for another trophy because I’m genuinely terrified of the result.

      “Always glad to be of help.”

      “Yes… that does seem to be the case.”

Greg had been scrutinized by countless people during interviews, on set, at parties, everywhere he went, actually, but he couldn’t remember a time that he’d been subject to scrutiny as intense as what he was receiving at the moment from Mycroft’s father.

      “I… I do, actually, sir.  I know a lot of people think film stars are self-absorbed and shallow, but I’m proud of the fact that’s not me.  It’s never been me and if I even start to get a touch full of myself, I’ve got Anderson and others to knock me down a peg or two.  When I go to my grave, I want people to remember someone who was, for better or worse, a normal man who tried his best to be decent to others and lend a hand when he could.”

      “I see.”

      “What?  What do you see, sir?  It seems to be a lot.”

      “Various things, differing in impact and importance.”

      “I have no idea what that meant.”

      “I do not see how you could as you are not privy to the framework or accompanying details.”

      “Oh.  Ok.  Well, then… look at the time!  How about…”

      “Mycroft is a good person.”

      “Y… yes, sir.  He is.”

      “Many do not realize that.”

Hmmm… this was an interesting turn in the conversation.  At least it wasn’t about cocks or constipation, though, which was a little win, even if there would still be no trophy asked for or awarded.

      “I suspect they never took the time to get to know him.”

      “That is correct.  He is a genius, has many talents, demonstrates kindness, is generous, loyal, curious, takes interest in many things…”

      “Yes sir, I agree with all of that.”

And a lot more besides.

      “My son’s substantial list of positive qualities is overshadowed for too many people by his… singular nature.”

      “I don’t doubt that, unfortunately.  People can be bastards and too often are for my liking.”

      “On that point, I concur.  Mycroft’s heart is a worthy one.”

Is there a map for this?

      “That it is, from my experience.”

      “I am told you are his friend.”

      “I claim that honor, yes, sir.”

      “And do you take seriously that honor?”

      “Yes.  I know what it means to Mycroft to accept someone as a friend, and I don’t take that commitment lightly.”

And again with the scrutiny.  The newest Doctor Who didn’t get this much scrutiny!

      “Very well, Gregory.  You may continue with it, then.”

      “Thank you?”

      “You are welcome.  I must now speak with my son.”

      “Does this mean I’m excused?”

      “It does.”

      “Ok, then I’m off to bed.  Goodnight, Mr. Holmes.  I hope you sleep well.”

      “I generally do.”

      “You’re a lucky man.”

      “Yes, I believe I am.  Goodnight, Gregory.”

Greg smiled what he hoped was not a weak or about-to-run smile and did his best to stride confidently out of the small library.  It made sense, he supposed, that Mycroft’s dad might want to do his own vetting of his son’s new friend.  Especially with a son as unique and… it would be so easy for Mycroft to be hurt.  Yeah, it made sense, despite the strange questions.  Well, hopefully, he’d made a good impression and both parents were assured that their son wasn’t being played for a fool or set to be forgotten about after awhile.

Definitely time for sleep.  Tomorrow he could worry about more strange and embarrassing questions leaping across his path and think about… other things.  One of which might center on the fact that he could now add Mycroft’s arse to the list of those that had gotten his very appreciative gaze.  Dear god, when he’d walked up that spiral staircase… the man had a truly superlative posterior, that much was certain.  And whatever underpants he wore emphasized the superlativeness to a… superlative degree.  Great.  Now he was going to go to sleep thinking about Mycroft’s bottom.  It wasn’t the worst way to fall asleep, but he genuinely didn’t need a raging hard on when he woke in the morning.  There was little doubt that Mycroft and his dad would somehow pick up residual clues and that would be the icing on the cake of his day… especially when they asked him about it across the breakfast table with many eager ears present and ready to listen…

__________

      “Mycroft, why are you wearing two entirely different shoes?”

Looking down from his perch at his father, Mycroft then looked at his feet and the somewhat forgotten footwear currently keeping his feet only marginally comfortable, given the circumstances.

      “I… I could not decide which pair was more suitable for the task at hand and hoped to combine their effects in a synergistically-successful manner.”

      “Did you succeed?”

      “No, but I decided not to waste further time by retrieving the mate of either to make a uniform pair.”

      “That would have been most inefficient.”

      “Yes.”

Climbing up the staircase to his son’s favorite nook, Bertie quickly noticed the amount of information that had been added to their prepared chart and that two additional sheets of paper had been inserted into the document to attend to unexpected details.

      “Good.  I had hoped you had begun recording data.”

      “I have, in fact… Father.  What is that in your hand?”

      “Are you experiencing trouble with your vision?”

      “No, I was simply not expecting to see a filled-out chart being carried by you, who has no need for a chart of any form.”

      “False.  I had data to collect and a data table was the most efficient manner to present the information.”

      “What data?”

      “Data concerning your potential suitor.”

      “Suitor?  Do you believe we have come to inhabit a Jane Austen novel?”

      “No, for neither of us is wearing a dress or bonnet.”

      “We would look most fetching in them, though, I have no doubt.”

The few seconds of silent time that elapsed before the duet of soft, sniggery giggles began made them seem all the more appropriate.

      ‘Your mother would agree, also.”

      “Undoubtedly.  But, Father… whatever could you have to ask of Gregory?”

      “A plethora of things.  It is my role, as your father, to ensure he is suitable for you and that his interest is, indeed, genuine.”

      “Let me inspect.”

His father’s precise handwriting was very helpful, given the letters resembled those of a 4-pt san-serif font, and Mycroft quickly read through the information which ventured into areas he would not have predicted, though they seemed logical if he adopted his father’s viewpoint as the gargoyle at his son’s romantic gate.

      “This is highly interesting, though, I believe it does qualify as nosy.”

      “I agree.”

      “Gregory… was he upset by your questioning?”

      “Confused, but not upset.  It was a calculated risk on my part, but the probability of anger or excessive embarrassment was acceptably low.”

      “Do you have, now, a firmer basis on which to score his suitability?”

      “I do and I believe he would, if you choose to pursue him or accept his pursuit, be a fitting person to bring into your life.  I will, however, remind you of my previous cautions and reassert a disclaimer that it is not possible to predict, with certainty, what the future might hold.  I… I feel most strongly that, at minimum, he would be a staunch and stalwart friend who would remain in your life as a trusted companion and confidant, even if no romantic overtures were made by either of you.”

      “But, there is potential for overtures.”

      “What do your own observations indicate?”

Mycroft handed over the results of his night’s data-collection efforts and used his father’s few moments of study time to draw in a steadying breath.  Father had taken pains to carry this venture forward and he would not do so if he did not think it was merited.  And he was not adding additional disclaimers to his previous declarations, indicating he felt confident his original assessment was correct.

      “There is clear evidence of emotional bias in your data analysis, son.”

      “Perhaps.”

      “Are the facts accurately recorded?”

      “They are.  My interpretations, however… it is not unreasonable, given the situation, that they demonstrate emotional bias.”

      “True.  And I cannot say that the bias is unsupported by the facts, though the scope of the conclusions might skirt certain confidence levels for significance.”

      “That… that does not mean that I am wrong.”

      “It means, if given the raw data, I would draw similar conclusions, especially in light of the additional data I independently acquired.”

      “You concur that I… do you feel that…”

      “It is time for courage, son.  At a pace you can manage, but be alert for signals and do not leave them unremarked.  And… offer signals of your own.  Your Gregory is neither unobservant nor stupid, so I suspect he will recognize and correctly interpret them.”

      “How do I begin?”

      “From my observations, Mycroft, you already have.  Simply continue to be yourself, show interest in him and his life... perhaps ensure you have additional time to interact without others about to distract and divide attention.”

      “I phone him.  Does that count?”

      “It does.  And… I shall think of some activity in which to engage your mother and others in the household tomorrow night.  That should allow you time to do something private with Gregory.”

      “Such as?”

      “You must make some decisions for yourself, Mycroft.”

      “No.”

      “Yes.”

      “Show me the codified law or regulation that supports your position.”

      “I shall show you, instead, your mother’s photographs from our last seaside holiday.  She wore an extremely…revealing swimsuit.”

      “You would not dare!”

      “I would dare to secure victory in this infantile battle and return you fully to your adult self.”

      “Perhaps I shall concede defeat, then. As an infant, you would have to make my decisions for me.”

      “An infant, also, has no need for a romantic interest.”

That was unhelpful, Father.  Accurate, but unhelpful.

      “I suppose that is true.  For every gain, there is a cost.”

      “It is an unfortunate aspect of reality.”

Mycroft sighed loudly and let his father take both their charts and set the papers aside on the small table next to Mycroft’s empty tea cup.

      “I approve of him, Mycroft.  Further, I believe he would treat you as both I and your mother have always hoped someone would treat you in this life.  Again, whether as a friend, or more, you are lucky to have made his acquaintance.  You showed courage in that initial contact… I have faith you can do it again.”

Watching his father rise and descend the stairs to leave the study, Mycroft sighed again, then toed off his mismatched shoes and drew his feet under him in his chair.  There was data.  Already, from one evening’s collection, there was data.  And it had been analyzed.  By two minds highly-suited for the task.  Who came to similar conclusions.

So… more tea.  Acquire the mate for his comfortable slippers and a book other than the one he had anticipated reading tonight for its tone appeared a bit… foreboding for his mood.  Something lighter, perhaps, and… inspiring.  Something where a risk, ultimately, brought the hoped-for reward.  Preferably not in the form of the death of a rival or enemy.  Oddly, he was not of a mind to surround himself with murder tonight.  There was always time for that, but tonight warranted a different theme.  With luck an idea would come to him while he made himself ready to read.  If nothing came to mind, however, Father would surely have a suggestion.  A lifetime as a librarian should be good for something besides shushing patrons and chiding teenagers photographing the nudes in art history books.  Technology was a troublesome thing at times.  Though a convenient one.  When he was younger, he had to use the library’s copy machine and hope he had enough coins for all of the tasteful nude art he wanted to add to his collection…

Chapter Text

Greg had to give Mycroft a full cargo ship of congratulations for having comfortable beds because once his head finally hit his pillow, the mattress embraced his form like a tender lover to carry him off for a long and blissful sleep.  Long was the word for it, too.  He didn’t need a clock to tell him that he’d slept far later than usual.  Fully into the slothful zone, in point of fact, and wasn’t that the most wonderful thing possible for today?  Yes, it was.

Of course, waking and rising were two entirely different things, so he could cap his sloth rating at this point and simply lay there, luxuriating in the warm, thick blankets and luxuriating further in the fact that he had time to luxuriate.  It was something rarer than rubies in his life.  Not that he was ready to retire yet, but he was beginning to feel more than a little envy for the old gents who could sleep in as they liked, then had the day at their disposal to do whatever they had a mind to do.  Putter about with their hobbies, go off for a pint with their mates, stay up late watching a film… it wasn’t easy having every studio still wanting a piece of your arse for their films, flattering as that was, so most of your days belonged to everyone else in the world but you.  But, the arse-wanting kept him assured of a comfortable retirement, kept his parents in their comfortable retirement and benefitted some very worthy, and needy, charities, so work his arse remained the world’s happy possession to do with as it pleased.

At least a little longer.  Then, maybe, slow the pace somewhat.  Put more rest time in the year’s schedule.  Budget more than a single quiet holiday and put a few extra days on them, too, than he normally might.  Just something to recharge the batteries a bit better than had been happening the past few years.  It was harder and harder, as time passed, to keep going at the rate he, and the studio, had grown accustomed to.  Getting old sucked balls, that was the truth of it.  The alternative was worse, however, so he’d be grateful for his old, tired body and do what he could to keep his dead body at bay for a few more decades.

This was nice, though.  When was the last time he was able to just lie here and soak in the particular brand of happiness when you were lying in your cozy bed, enjoying the perfectly-warm temperature and in the perfectly-comfortable position and all was right in the universe?  Seems like it had been years and that was far too long to go without the indulgence when you were ancient and decrepit with decades to go while getting more ancient and decrepit.  So, indulging it would be and full fucking force.  Ancient, decrepit indulgence might not be fancy or flashy, but it did the trick with its own subtle panache and he was a both a wiling and satisfied audience for the show.

It was a good time to think, too.  Not a single thing tearing at you to dart off and get it started; just you with your own thoughts.  Of which he had zero, so lucky him!  No, that was a foul, foul lie.  He had lots of thoughts, actually.  One smart man was Greg Lestrade.  He could keep up with Mycroft, couldn’t he and Mycroft was a certifiable genius!  Mostly keep up with.  Sometimes things swirled a little above his head and it was the best he could do to simply watch the pretty colors and lights like one of those auroras.  But he knew that it was swirly lights and colors to him, not something he could actually follow and that was smart.  Metacognitive.  Which was a word.  Probably.  He was certain he’d heard it somewhere and it had to do with the knowing what you know and don’t know line of thought.  Probably.  Or it had to do with chakras and astral projection.  Either way, it was interesting, which was always a plus.

Speaking of interesting… Mycroft’s dad was on a mission last night, wasn’t he?  The Spanish Inquisition wasn’t as thorough!  But, when you had a son like Mycroft, thorough was likely a good thing.  How many people had been rude, even cruel… used him for some gain, then said sod off.  He knew Mycroft had been through some ugly things and, apparently, his dad did, too.  Good for him making certain the stupid berk currently luxuriating in this remarkable bed wasn’t evil, conniving or untrustworthy.  But, what an interrogation… the last time he’d been through that was when was fifteen and he’d met Ellen Whipple at her house for a night out and her dad had…

Shit.  Her dad sat him down for a long question session just like Mr. Holmes.  Not as many questions about DNA or blood tests, but it had felt eerily similar.  That was daft, though.  Mr. Holmes wouldn’t be doing the ‘interviewing the suitor’ with him.  He wasn’t Mycroft’s suitor.  There’d been no suiting.  Which wasn’t a word, probably, but it sounded good.  Suiting required all sorts of things.  Official things like… asking the person you wanted to suit to agree to the suiting.  That hadn’t happened.  He would have remembered something like that.  It would have been fairly obvious!

Like the befriendedness business.  And the fact that he happily chatted with Mycroft for a millennium on the phone.  That they sat next to each other when other people were present.  Doing the little coupley things people did, like check with each other before making decisions, not that they’d had many joint decisions to make or any, really, but there were some situations that bordered on that and they’d done the coupley thing!  And the arse.  Not that Mycroft was involved with the arse-lusting beyond owning the arse in question, but that’s what you did to the person you were suitoring!  Was that a better word than suiting?  It had more letters, so that had to make it better, so suitoring it is!

He’d done it, hadn’t he?  Sent out suitory signals that… Anderson.  Fucker hadn’t been joking.  He’d been serious with his boyfriend rubbish!  And Dolly… oh, she was jumping for joy that her little boy had a bonfire on his hands!  And… crappity crap crap.  That also explained the look he’d gotten from Anthea before she went off to get some sleep of her own.  Lovely.  Perfectly fucking lovely.  Then comes dad to lay the law down hard on this clueless, empty head.  Which could somewhat be excused by the fact the head had nearly been crawling down the corridor in exhaustion, but that was a touch pathetic to lean on too heavily.  Especially since his head didn’t have any hands or arms to do the crawling, so it was a pitiful attempt at imagery.

Had Mycroft noticed?  It didn’t seem as if he had, but he could be keeping his cards close to vest.  Which didn’t make any sense, really, in this context, but it sounded smart.  He needed smart right now, too.  He’d gone and flung suitor signals all over everyone in his path and they’d not been polite enough to ignore the fuck out of them, so he needed to be smart about this.  What that meant, he had no clue, but being smart was always important and he’d rested his laurels on smartness more than once during this visit, so he couldn’t be hypocritical and claim something else now.

Fuck a duck… all that was blather.  He wasn’t smart.  He was likely the prime contender for the idiot of the year prize and there were a lot of top-notch contestants in that particular field.  So now… the question was had he flung suitor signals because that’s what he wanted to do or because he was just shit doing friendship properly and had mucked it up like a champion.  Maybe he needed one of those charts Bertie had made.  That was a very efficient way of organizing information and he’d made stellar use of it, too.  Wrote down all the facts, lots and lots of facts, in orderly, labeled columns and rows, so it seemed very serious and consequential.  Which it was!  From the standpoint of high-most patriarch of the Holmes clan protecting his first born.

That was something that had his complete agreement, too.  Protecting Mycroft from evil bastards was extremely serious and consequential business.  Keeping him safe, happy… keep the nuisances out of his hair so he could write and play piano, read and watch his films… watch him smile in that way that lit up his whole face because he was just so pleased that he couldn’t hide it if he tried.

That sounded suitory.  Very suitory, in point of fact.  Felt that way, as well.  If he actually used some of the smartness he’d been boasting about, then he’d make conscious note of the fact that he felt suitory towards Mycroft.  Not in the formal ‘let me escort you to the ball, good sir’ sort of way, but the way that had you wanting to share time and to make the other person happy, stepping in when you could to make things a bit easier for them… admittedly, those parts could be interpreted as friendship, but not the rest.  Not the part about noticing his pert, fill-you-hands-perfectly bum.  Or the part about wondering how it would feel if there were two people luxuriating in this bed right now instead of one.  Wondering what Mycroft’s skin actually felt like and when he might have the chance to touch it and find out.

That was rather definitive, wasn’t it?  It was.  Sometimes you simply couldn’t deny the definitiveness.  It told you to shove your denial up your arse and clench it tight so nothing could creep back out.  Ok, that was disgusting, but the principle was sound.  Mycroft was the most intriguing, wonderful person he’d met in a long time and… there was attraction, besides.  Genuine physical attraction that could be denied only if he denied the definitiveness, but that gremlin was lodged so far up his clenched arse that it was playing his teeth like a xylophone.  Couldn’t deny something that was having a laugh and a good bit of music on the side!  No, you couldn’t.  It was impossible.

So… attraction and an honest desire simply to enjoy the man’s company.  Well, that said it all, didn’t it?  Of course, it was a one-sided saying, and there were two sides to account for here, not counting the gremlin merrily making music in his mouth.  Could he... ask?  Mycroft, not the gremlin, that is.  Probably not.  As forthright as Mycroft could be, that didn’t seem smart, which was very much the theme for the day, apparently.  Mycroft was forthright, but Mycroft also startled easily.  Spooked was a better word, perhaps.  That was the opposite of the desired result.  Had to be a tad cautious, then, but that wasn’t out of his reach.  He wasn’t always a blundering, oblivious carrot.  More times than was healthy, perhaps, but not all of the time.  Not this time.  This time he had to do things right straight off because hurting Mycroft or scaring him might not lead to a second chance to make things right.  And it would be a villainous thing to do, besides.  Greg Lestrade was many things.  Many good things and many bad things, but he wasn’t a villain.

So… drag his arse, and pet gremlin, out of bed at some point, use the day wisely, then see what the evening might bring for chances to be… suitory.  Gentlemanly suitory, to be precise.  One must be a gentleman to suitorfy a gentleman.  That just made sense.  Smart and sensical.  Which was a word, thank you very much.  One he learned from Mycroft, so it had to be true.  Mycroft didn’t use fake words.  Though, with a little prodding, he could probably come up with some brilliant ones.  Maybe they could work on that tonight.  Come up with some fake words, do something fun… sleep could kick itself into the bin because he wouldn’t be having any of its nonsense tonight.

Even if he couldn’t get a firm answer on the suitor front, he could, at minimum, lay more groundwork to plant the seeds in Mycroft’s mind that he would be amenable to a nice spot of suitoring.  Something respectful and paced to make things very comfortable for the man being suitored.  Hot, though.  There had to be an agreeable amount of spice in a proper suitoring.  Spicy flame was one of the few things a bonfire was actually good for.  Well, he’d show just how respectfully and comfortably fiery a bonfire could be when given the right motivation.  And there wasn’t a motivation righter than one Mr. Mycroft Holmes.

Maybe the suitoring should wait until he had his vocabulary back in working order, though.  Being a bonfire wasn’t much good if Mycroft was simply going to laugh so hard at him that he blew the fire out…

Chapter Text

Now and again, with the rareness of his making a plate of eggs that didn’t make him wish he still lived at home so his mum could make them for him, exactly the way he liked them best, Greg had to credit his agent with being a stand-up mate who took steps to make certain his friends didn’t have a toddler-level meltdown from fatigue or frustration.  Today, for example, the agent in question had realized that, now that said client was out of bed, the continued need for relaxation was paramount and quickly made the suggestion that a trip to the village for a little sightseeing was the perfect thing.  For everyone, that is, but Greg.  Which gave Greg, himself, time for a slowly-savored breakfast, then a quiet morning/afternoon in the solarium with a book, not from the off-limits auxiliary library, and a tiny slice of bliss which helped put even more juice back into his sadly-depleted batteries.

 Of course, given the nature of the sightseers, the moment the tour bus returned, it was like watching the troops storm the beaches of Normandy.

      “Oh, you missed a world of fun, Greg.  What a lovely day it is, and all the shops seemed to have put out their very best for the lookers, as well as the buyers.  Bertie found a gadget, too!  Bertie, tell Greg about your gadget.”

      “It is not a gadget, it is a phoropter.  I suspect, by its smallish size, it was part of a kit designed for a professional who traveled to perform his examinations and, likely, sell the necessary spectacles to his customers.  There is a single missing lens, however, replacing it with the requisite specimen is a challenge that I am most eager to uptake.”

      “There, a pho something or other.  He’ll have it cleaned, polished and like new before you know it.  So good with the gadgets, Bertie is.  Our house is like a museum with all the bibs and bobs we have lying about!  Ooh!  I just had a thought… Philip, love, don’t the film people rent interesting bibs and bobs for, what’s it called… ambience!  We’ve got that aplenty, so you should come and have a look at our whatnot to see if there’s something we can make a quid or two off of.  You’ll have to sign something, most likely, that promises it won’t come back with even a ding on it or Bertie’ll have your guts for garters, but I could persuade him to see you sorted with something interesting if the price is right.”

Greg set aside his book and drew in a long, inner deep breath to brace himself for socializing.  Which he excelled at, truthfully, but another hour or so without having to bring those skills to the fore would have been welcome.  Fortunately, he had a few extra moments of anti-social behavior to enjoy since Anderson had caught the conversational ball.

      “There is definitely a department that handles that sort of thing, Mrs. Holmes.  If you want to photograph what you have and send it along to me, I can see if they have use for anything.  No guarantees, though.  They have their own connections and suppliers and can be a bit territorial about that sort of thing.”

      “I’ll get right on that when we’re home.  Bertie!  You can use one of those photo apps for your phone to make our snaps look especially marketable.”

      “I have several that enhance image appearance most professionally.”

      “See!  Professionally, Philip.  That’s worth extra, that is.  Between Mycroft’s two billion quid and this extra cash… we’ll be swimming in banknotes by summer.  I’m going to buy another swimsuit, even scantier than the one I wore on our last holiday.  You can do that when you’re obscenely rich.  Wear whatever you like and if anyone complains, throw a hundred quid at them so they go away and have a drink or five to turn their heads around on the issue.”

      “Your current suit is sufficiently revealing, my dear.”

      “Nope.  Gotta let my ladies see more sunshine!  And the rest of me, too.  Oh!  Oh… Bertie, you and I are going to do one of those nude beach things.  Get sunshine on everything!”

      “No.”

      “Then I’ll use my share of our son’s two billion quid to buy my own beach and christen it Dolly’s Land of Heavenly Nakedness.  Can’t come and have a bit of sun and sand if you’ve got anything on more than shoes and sunglasses.”

      “I will not accompany you.”

      “You most certainly will!  Who’s going to watch my handbag when I toddle off for a swim?”

      “If you have the funds to purchase a private beach, you have sufficient funds to hire a guard for your handbag.”

      “Well, fine then, but remember… he’ll get to see me in the altogether.  Might like what he sees, too.”

      “That is narrow-minded.  Why would you automatically assume your security professional would be male?  Or heterosexual?”

      “You’re right!  Mind’s stuck right in the pitiful, narrow past, like a sad old lady.  Lucky thing I have a liberal, open-minded husband to keep me modern.”

The quick look around confirmed that nobody was willing to take up the topic of Albert Holmes’s modernity, but everyone was ready to take up something from the decanters on the sideboard.  Anderson, in particular, decided that being first among men for the alcohol was an honor he was glad to receive.

      “Well, until you’re a beachfront property owner, dear lady, how about a drink?”

      “I know why Greg keeps you on as his agent, Philip.  You know exactly the right thing to do at precisely the right time.  A big one for me, please!”

While Anderson began pouring big ones of whatever was on offer for the gathering, Greg shot a quick look at Anthea who gave him a slow, knowing smile in return, confirming that she was, unquestionably, on board with his own thoughts from the morning.  And afternoon.  But, it wasn’t a look of disapproval on her face.  Quite the opposite, actually.  It might be considered encouraging and that was important.  Parents had a gene that wanted their offspring to become involved in a relationship, but agents didn’t.  They probably were content with no relationships, at all, since they cluttered up a person’s life and interfered with work.  Anderson had his fair share of comments every time he was involved with someone.  Admittedly, the people he was involved with were usually for the fairly obvious purpose of giving them both a healthy amount of sex and fun, with no particular urge to take things any further.  This was different, though.  And Anderson had been the first one to actually recognize that and bring it out into the open.  Like a complete bastard, of course, but facts were facts.

      “Looks like everyone had a nice day.”

If there was an Oscar awarded for Most Generic Statement Every Uttered, it would be sitting on Greg’s mantle, name engraved but likely misspelled to denote that this was, at best, a booby prize.

      “Your agent indicated that time to yourself to rest was more beneficial than exploring the village, so you were not invited to join us at any point.”

Greg nodded sagely as he could at Mycroft’s father, doing his best not to grin that Anderson’s fiendish plan was exposed in such a plainly-stated way.

      “I’ll thank you for it, Mr. Holmes, as that was exactly what I needed today.  Slept late and spent the day with a good book and a bit of radio.  It’s a myth, at least for me, that film people have most of their days to simply lounge about, do lunch and go to parties.  Any time I can find for some peace, quiet and rest is always a blessing.”

      “As Mycroft also prefers a peaceful and restful environment, this stands as further evidence of your compatibi… oof.”

As if the cat wasn’t dragged out of the bag already, the quick backhand to the belly bestowed by his wife who followed it with a ‘what is wrong with you, you silly man’ glare and wag of the finger dragged its kittens and all their mittens out, too.

      “Yeah… visiting is certainly not a burden what with the peace and quiet Mycroft likes in the house.”

      “The trajectory of my commentary, before I was violently assaulted, was to indicate that, though we, that is to say, all present in this room bar you, shall be engaging in some form of entertainment this evening, you will be continuing with your current endeavor of restful rejuvenation with something more placid.  With Mycroft.  There.  That was not, at all, inappropriate or revealing of our ulterior motives, Dolly Holmes, so kindly keep your thuggish brutality to yourself this time.”

As Dolly gave the room a perfect ‘look directly into the camera’ stare, Greg fought off the other stares, these from Anderson and Anthea who smirked in his direction and seemed to be considering starting a wager on how long it would be before Greg and Mycroft were shagging.  Which would, in all likelihood, be passed along to the village by the house staff so the cottage industry of betting on his life could continue and thrive.

      “My life!  This is my life.  Married to this wonderful man who is so gloriously clueless at times I could kiss him within in an inch of his life.  Come here, Bertie, I want to give you a wet, sloppy kiss for being you.”

      “No.”

Fortunately, handing over two potent beverages forestalled the chase around the room that was about to ensue, and Greg took a long sip of his while trying not to think that if he was to become shaggingly-involved with Mycroft, this was absolutely the sort of extended friends and family situation he wanted to step into.  No matter how loony he was, he could never top this lot.  Greg Lestrade – the rational person in the room.  That was novel.

      “I’m certain that everyone will have an enjoyable night, sir, no matter what they get up to.”

Oh good, now everyone is giggling at me.  Well, it did take Mr. Holmes a moment to step on board, but how fortunate that his darling wife was happy to whisper an explanation as to what ‘get up to’ can mean to the filthy minded, so he could have a small snicker at the expense of one long-suffering actor.

      “Yes, I have no doubt you will ‘get up to’ a series of pleasurable things, Gregory.  Mycroft already has prepared himself by repeatedly watching your films for the specific purpose of… oof.  Damnation!  I may have suffered a bruised diaphragm.”

A frantic session of domestic whispering occurred that resulted in a definitive ‘ah’ from one spouse and a ‘I love you madly, even when you’ve hopped off the train’ from the other.

      “My wife has reminded me that the list of individuals privy to certain lines of information is most limited and, for reasons best not discussed, the stringency of the access restriction must remain intact.”

      “O….k.  I can appreciate that, Mr. Holmes.  Film studios have to keep information compartmentalized sometimes.  I will not inquire further into the sensitive information, nor will anyone not cleared by you and your wife.”

      “Acceptable.  And, I suggest you request a tour of the grounds this evening. It is a most interesting, and restful, experience.”

      “Oh, I’ve done a walk round the grounds already.”

      “That is not the tour to which I was referring.”

Why was Anthea laughing?  That couldn’t be good.

      “Isn’t it?  I would have thought I’d seen the lot what with… seeing the lot.”

      “Incorrect.”

      “O….k.  That sounds like a splendid idea if the night’s not too cool.”

      “The temperature should be most agreeable, however, I have little doubt Martha can provide you with a suitable jumper or blanket.”

Blanket?

      “Cozy!  Very, very cozy.  Why the fuck are you laughing, Anthea?”

      “You’ll find out, actor man.”

      “It’s going to hurt, isn’t it?”

      “Ummmm… that’s hard to say.  I haven’t had a look at things recently, so I can’t say for certain.  But whatever Mrs. Hudson might have for you – jumper, blanket, flask of brandy, bag of weed, smelling salts… just smile and take it all.”

He was going to die.

      “I’ll make sure to do that.”

      “Oh, you’re going to have fun, Greg dear.  Bertie, that was a marvelous idea.  You so good about having marvelous ideas.  Like suggesting this whisky to our silly son.  Mycroft’s got fussy tastes, sometimes, Greg, you should know that now, and he can be a bit stuck in his ways when he’s found something he likes.  His dad finally replaced the whisky Mycroft normally stocked with this stuff so the fuddy-duddy had to try it and, quelle surprise, he thought it was tops!  Which is good because what he used to have was too smoky for me.  I’d like to have a nice sip of whisky, thank you, not have a suck on some old, charred log!  This is leagues better.”

The conversation took on the form of a whisky debate that Greg happily sat on the edges of while he sipped his not-too-smoky drink and continued to relax.  Apparently, their little group was content to enjoy themselves without his begin part of the entertainment and that was more than alright with him.  Whatever lay in store for him later, however, was another matter.  One, unfortunately, he had little doubt he’d have to learn because there was no chance that the idea for this mysterious tour of the grounds wouldn’t make its way to Mycroft’s ear.  Likely through several willing informants.  And, since this was not highly-classified information, there would be nobody stepping in to stem the tide…

__________

      “Gregory!  There you are… Mummy has informed me that you desire a tour of the grounds.  Such an excellent idea, as the others have a dreadful plan to use my cinema for one of the films that Mummy finds exciting.  We shall enjoy a much more enjoyable experience, that I can guarantee. Do meet me outside the easternmost rear door once you have visited Mrs. Hudson and received your jumper and blanket.  She may also provide you with a scarf and it seems there is a small breeze tonight which raises the possibility of catching a chill.”

Mycroft was happy.  Very happy.  The death that was coming on swift wings was going to an evil one, wasn’t it?  Yes, yes it was.  Evil deaths always made murderers happy.  They had a nice laugh while you watched your life flash before your eyes.  That was going to be depressing, too.  Probably would be edited for time and content, just like one of his films for the American telly, and all the good bits would stay on the cutting-room floor.  Dying and watching the boring parts of his life flash before these tired old eyes.  While Mycroft stood there and cackled like a maniacal genius.  At least he’d be warm.  Dying while, simultaneously, catching a chill would just be too much for a sane man to bear…

__________

      “You have got to be kidding me.”

      “I fail to see any aspect of my current status that might be considered evidence of a jest.”

      “That… that is evidence.”

      “My valiant steed?”

      “It’s a golf cart.”

      “A valiant one, however.”

Greg looked at the immaculately-clean golf cart, custom-painted with a steel-blue, charcoal and black palette that suited the writer perfectly except for the fact that it was applied to a golf cart which, in no manner, suited the writer perfectly.  Though… why did Mycroft have to look so cute sitting in it?  With his pleased grin and hands equally spaced from twelve o’clock on the steering wheel.

      “It’s a handsome cart, that’s for certain.  Exactly how bespoke is your steed?”

      “Very.  I had exceptionally-specific instructions delivered to the manufacturer and refused two attempts at delivery for violations of those instructions.  This one, however, was acceptably up to snuff.”

      “I will admit, I never considered something like this.  Might I ask why you have it?”

      “For our tour!  Or, in a more general sense, to use when I wish to go further afield that I would prefer my legs carry me.”

      “How about a car?  Or a bicycle?”

      “This is a far more efficient mode of powered transport for my purposes than a car and does not require any effort on my part other than the motion of my arms and one foot, something a bicycle cannot boast.”

      “That makes sense.  I take it that you’re ready to chauffer me about in your admirable vehicle?”

      “That I am.”

      “Ok.  First, though…”

      “Yes?”

      “What’s its name?”

      “Pardon?”

      “Steeds have names, valiant or not.  What’s this one’s name?”

      “I… I have no idea to what you are referring.”

      “Meaning it has a name, but you don’t want to say it aloud.”

      “Wrong.”

      “Right.  I can see it written all over your face.  What’s its name, Mycroft?  The one you think in your head and put after the ‘thank you’ when it’s given you a comfortable ride.”

      “I…”

      “I’m not boarding a nameless steed. That’s prime fantasy-novel bad luck right there and Greg Lestrade does not consciously court bad luck for love nor money.”

      “It… Herbert.  His name is Herbert.”

      “Be honest, Mycroft.  It’s actually Herbie, isn’t it.”

      “I refuse to confess.”

      “I loved those films when I was a kid!  They were perfect for a lazy afternoon.  Racing, action scenes, a car that could think and do amazing things, for a car, that is… it’s a very good name for steed.”

      “Mrs. Hudson suggested the name, but did not inform me of its origin until after I agreed it was suitable.  I was then forced to watch the film in question, which nearly ended my life due to brain destruction, but I found…”

      “It had grown on you.”

      “Yes.  I could not deny there was a… pluckiness… about the little car that was not altogether dissimilar to my valiant steed.”

      “Pluckiness is a thing to value, that’s for certain.   I do, however, have to reconsider my score for the paint scheme.  I can manage the lack of stripes, but there’s not a number 53 anywhere.”

      “Au contraire.”

Mycroft nodded towards the front of the cart and Greg moved to look, laughing at the plate which had a single number 53 prominently placed in the center.  Even the font was correct.

      “I stand corrected.  Very well, then, you, me and Herbie are off for an exploration of the wilds of your property.  Which, now that I think about it, must be pretty large if a leisurely ramble won’t do the job of taking you fully hither and yon.”

      “It is. I prize very highly my privacy.”

Except when you were hosting the village for a burning-at-the-stake reenactment, but that was understandable.  You had to make allowances for the fun things in life.

      “On we go, then!  I’m looking forward to this, Mycroft.  Always enjoyed a quiet evening drive, even if it was just me and my thoughts as passengers.”

      “I take it you mean a drive in a car.”

      “Yeah, that’s generally the case.  Riding in a golf cart is completely new to me.”

      “I am delighted to offer you a new experience.”

      “And I am thanking you now for it!”

__________

Retracting the thanks!  Retracting and giving it five fucking slaps across the face for being a traitorous bastard!

      “Mycroft!  That’s a tree!”

      “A small one.”

      “Big enough to kill!”

      “Hardly.  Besides, we scarcely clipped it.”

      “Hole!”

      “Where?”

      “Ow!”

      “Ah, there it is.  Only a small one.”

      “Small!  It was as deep as a well!”

      “The suspension of my steed is extensively reinforced for rugged terrain.”

      “My bum isn’t!”

      “Pish tosh, Gregory.  Your bottom is well-equipped to withstand any measure of vehicular turbulence.”

      “Can you not drive the speed of light, at least?”

      “It is scientifically impossible for this cart to move at that velocity, especially given the frictional resistance it is encountering by not being in a vacuum.”

      “You’re driving faster than you can see!”

      “Rather bracing, is it not?”

      “You had a custom motor put in Herbie, didn’t you?”

      “It is positively brimming with pep!”

Herbie the Pep Bug.  Bloody fucking marvelous.

      “Tell me, please tell me, you don’t drive a car like this.  Rabbit!”

      “Fear not, they are notably skilled at avoiding collisions.  And, I do not possess a license to pilot a motor vehicle.”

      “Nobody would give you one, would they?”

      “I…”

      “How often did you fail the driving test?”

      “I do not recall.”

      “But it was a number larger than naught.”

      “Somewhat, yes.”

Thank heavens someone was looking out for public safety.  The man was a menace!  In a golf cart!  If he had a car, they’d have to lock up the women, children and livestock!

      “I can underst… log!”

      “Surmountable.  Do not clench your buttocks, Gregory, that diminishes the cushioning effects.”

      “I’m going to die.”

      “Not today, most likely.  However, it is rather early and our adventures have only begun, so I can offer no assurances.”

      “Funny man.”

      “Very true.  I am happy you agree.”

__________

      “Gregory, why are you kissing the dirt?”

      “Because it’s seen fit not to have me buried beneath it yet.  I’ll do it again if we make it back to the house alive.”

      “Truly you are a silly man, at times.  I must say, though, it is not an altogether tragic attribute.”

      “Does that mean I can drive back?”

      “No.”

      “Didn’t think so.  You look more like Dean Jones than I do, anyway.”

      “I… thank you?”

      “You’re welcome.  I’ll give this to you, though.  We stopped at a lovely location.  Is this lake yours?”

      “It is, in point of fact.  It is not a terribly large specimen, but it boasts a laudable degree of biodiversity, especially when the birds are migrating.  It is one of my favorite places to visit at dawn, just before bed, to catalog the various species that may be found.”

      “That sounds fun, actually.  And, it’s a nice view at night, too.  Owls?”

      “Most assuredly.”

      “I’ll keep watch for them.  They’re some of my favorites.  My gran had an old… she called it barn, but it was more an oversized shed, that fell to ruin, but the owls were happy to make a home of it.”

      “Did they impart unto you mystical secrets?”

      “Nope, buggers didn’t have a single useful thing to say, mystical or otherwise.”

      “A shame.  Father has me in mind of fantasy and mythology today for… reasons… and it seemed a hopeful thing to learn might be true.”

      “Maybe it was just Gran’s owls.  She was more the practical, none of your incense and mysticism malarkey type, so it stands to reason the owls that visited would be of the same mind.  Shall we take a stroll?”

      “Oh.  I suppose.  If you like.”

      “You don’t sound enthused.”

      “I had not anticipated you would wish to walk about.”

      “What would you have done had you anticipated that you didn’t do because you didn’t?”

      “My shoes.”

      “Not the right ones.”

      “I am not wearing my far-field nature shoes.”

      “Are those different than other nature shoes?”

      “Yes.”

      “Ok… I can imagine that, so how about we hop back in Herbie and sit a moment.  Admire the sight of the moon on the water and listen for any stories the owls might want to tell?”

      “That is a more agreeable suggestion.”

      “Hopping!  Ah… there.  Tell me you do this often, Mycroft, because it’s genuinely a lovely way to spend a little time.”

      “On occasion.  As with my piano, it is a productive method, at times, to gain for me a fresh perspective about an issue with a book.  I find this lake, especially at night, to be a highly-effective venue to contemplate murder and its associated complications.”

      “Good for non-murdery contemplations, too, I wager.  Would you mind if I put my feet up for a bit?  Just right there above the dash.”

      “Your shoes are dirty.”

      “Ummm… a little.  Is that too much?”

      “Yes.”

      “What if I promise to wash off any dirt on Herbie when we’re back at the house?  If I’m still alive, that is.”

      “It…”

      “How about I take off my shoes and prop my stocking feet up there, instead?”

      “Hmmmm...  Are your socks clean?”

      “I’d say you could inspect, but it’s a bit dark for that.”

      “My eyes are most keen.”

      “Ok… just a moment… now the other one… here.  I’ll prop them… lean over, raise them, pretend I have core muscle strength, and hold them up for you to see.”

      “Very good.  Oh dear, that does look uncomfortable, however, one does what one must, I suppose.  Now, this one… is marginally acceptable.”

      “Marginally?”

      “Points are deducted for the smudge.”

      “There’s a smudge?”

      “Yes.”

      “Ok, fair.  Does it get a passing mark?”

      “Only just.”

      “I’ll take it; I’m not proud.  The other?”

      “This one… I regret to inform you that it does not pass the test.”

      “No?  Why not?”

      “There is a hole in your sock.”

      “Holes aren’t dirt.”

      “They are portals through which dirt enters.”

      “Enters what?”

      “The inside of your sock.”

      “Which won’t be on Herbie’s head.”

      “That… I suppose that is actually true.  However, that, in some ways is more troubling as the inside of your sock could harbor any and all varieties of upsetting material.”

      “Yeah, that actually has me feeling a little wiggly now, so hold on… there.  The sock is removed to reveal the state of my foot.  Is the foot free from smudges, holes, gremlins, coots and bandersnatches?”

      “Why would a bird be on your foot?”

      “Bandersnatches are birds?”

      “No, coots.”

      “There’s a bird called a coot?”

      “Yes.  In the Rallidae family.”

      “Seriously?”

      “They are not uncommon in this country, Gregory.”

      “I haven’t met any.”

      “Likely you have, you were simply unaware of their designation.”

      “I guess I was.”

      “What form of creature did you believe was a coot?”

      “Troll.  Ogre, maybe.  You hear about old bastards being old coots, so it stood to reason.”

      “I suppose I can understand your misapprehension.  The phrase has various shades of meaning that vary from…”

      “Mycroft?”

      “Yes?”

      “Can I put my feet down because my abs, such as they are, are screaming at me and being very rude about it, too.”

      “Oh, yes.  Please do.”

      “On Herbie?”

      “Provided you do not again don the unacceptable sock.”

      “I’ll let Mrs. Hudson burn it.”

      “That is probably for the best.”

      “Ok… there we go.  This is the perfect way to stretch out in a bespoke golf cart.  All I need is a drink in my hand to make this truly hedonistic.”

      “One moment.”

Mycroft reached around to open what Greg learned was a concealed storage compartment and extracted a bottle of wine and two glasses.

      “Wine!  I don’t know, though, Mycroft. For you, this is drinking in the morning and that’s a step along a very unhappy path.”

      “Oddly, it is something with which I have some familiarity, given the occasional guest I host or visit to the village.”

      “Great!  That means I don’t have to drink alone, which is another path to misfortune.  Pour me a glass of your finest, kind sir.”

      “Oh, I did not bring my finest wine.  It seemed rather an extravagant choice for a simple tour.”

      “It’s just an expression, especially when you know the situation doesn’t call for the finest wine or food or whatnot.”

      “Ah, yes.  I understand.  I do believe you will enjoy this, however.  It is a hearty vintage that seemed most appropriate for the ruggedness of our experience.”

Mycroft thought sitting in a luxury golf cart by a lake was rugged.  That was so adorable it should be illegal.

      “Correctamundo!”

      “Pardon?”

      “Made up word.  I think.  I’ve heard it a lot, but it can’t be real.  That’s too upsetting to contemplate.”

      “I agree.”

      “You have a try at one, though.”

      “What do you mean?”

      “Make up a fake word.  Something that’s not real, but carries a meaning.”

      “No.”

      “Why not?”

      “That is… there are a bounty of words in existence to do the task.”

      “Doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, though.  I’ll start.  This wine is robustalicious!”

      “That is… hmmm…”

      “It was a good one, wasn’t it?”

      “It is utterly ludicrous, however, I believe I better understand your goal.”

      “And it’s fun, don’t forget that part.”

      “I have no data for that.”

      “Then try one!  Make up a word.  Right here and right now.  Use that mighty brain for ludicrousness.”

      “I… I have no idea where to begin.”

      “I’d say adjective or adverb.”

      “Could you… a touch more direction?”

      “Ok… let’s pick something.  How about my hair?  It sort of defines ludicrous, so it’s a proper target for a truly eyewatering fake word.”

      “Your hair is not ludicrous.”

      “I beg to differ.  It’s an unruly mass of weeds that sprouted and nobody can easily control without a few vats of product and a voodoo ritual.”

      “I disagree.”

      “I disagree with your disagreement.  See, run my hands through and it’s nothing but a platoon of sad, old gray soldiers standing somewhat at attention, except for the few that can’t be arsed and are looking about on the ground for spare change.”

      “Incorr… very well, you may have a point on that score, however, I would assign the blame more to the short length, rather than a general tendency towards willful disobedience.”

      “See!  My disagreement wins the day.”

      “Incorrect.  Conduct is but one attribute of hair.”

      “Ok… it’s also greasy.”

      “I have not noticed such a thing.”

      “I use an excellent degreaser.  The lads who work in the motor pool for the studio swear by it for keeping the engines clean and shiny.”

      “False.”

      “You have no proof of the falsivity.”

      “That is not… I see.  Another of your fabricated words.”

      “Your turn!  I’m two ahead now.  You can’t let that stand.  It’s not British.”

      “What?  Truly you are incorrigible, Gregory.”

      “Is corrigible a word?”

      “It is.”

      “Shit.  Then I can’t claim it to boost my record to three fake words.  I’m still ahead by a ginormous margin, though, so best get on it, before you get further behind.”

      “Really, Gregory… that is utterly inane.”

      “Gigantic plus enormous equals ginormous.  Try that.  Put two words together to make one fake word.  You can do it, Mycroft.  I have faith.”

      “Put that way… it does seem… possible.”

      “Give it a try, then.  You can’t really do it wrong, so toss out something to see how it feels.”

      “Alright… I disagree that your hair is ludicrous because… it is argentorgeous.”

      “I… ok, I’m lost.  I’m positive you’ve done it right, but my vocabulary isn’t as big as yours, so it may have gone over my head.”

      “I combined argent, which a root for silver, with orgeous, which is the suffix for gorgeous.  Argentorgeous.”

Which, now that Mycroft said it, seemed a shocktacular confession to make and that his brain offered it up as a first try made it even more revealing.

      “Oh… well… I have to say, that is an amazing first fake word!  You shot right to the top of the scale with that one.  And… I’m glad you like my color.”

Greg’s own brain took several seconds to pick up on the fact that he was doing the cliched shy and pleased smile, which shrieked to the world that he was a teenage boy whose crush had paid him a compliment.  Maturity was never his long suit, but this was a tad ridiculous.

      “I… I am glad that you are glad.”

Mycroft mulled his own maturity and found it profoundly lacking.  However, since he had wine he could drink several glasses and, hopefully, erase the juvenility from his mind.

      “I’m… glad.  Bugger.  Anyway, I like your hair, too.  Especially when that curl in the front is particularly floofy.  It’s a bold fellow, isn’t it?”

      “Oh… yes, it is.  It defies attempts at control and… you like it?”

      “I do, at that.  It’s unique, different.  Gives you that certain bit of panache that loads of people simply don’t have.”

      “I have panache?”

      “Of course you do!  Not the flashy, garish panache that’s more of an embarrassment than a positive quality, but the quiet, subtle panache that does it right.  Makes you someone people notice.”

      “I… I thought I was rather a dowdy individual.”

      “Not being flashy isn’t the same as being dowdy.  You dress perfectly for your body type, with colors that really work for you, for instance.  You hit the right marks, when most people don’t quite get it all to come together...”

It was worth some form of blood sacrifice that Gregory had not witnessed his slipper/brogue debacle.  It would have eroded the panache and that… well, he would never have known about the panache if that had occurred!  Nor Gregory’s appreciation of it.

      “… and it’s not boring clothes, either!  Smart, handsome clothes that say… well, I don’t know what exactly, but good things, that’s for certain.”

Each man took a moment, a long moment, to sip their wine and try to fathom out where the conversation had gone and what were the steps forward to either capitalize on it or run away screaming like four year-olds that had just seen their Gran give her dentures a nudge out of her mouth.

      “I… that is very kind of you to… Gregory.”

      “Did you forget to finish that sentence?”

      “Look.”

Greg followed Mycroft’s pointed finger, which made a Boschian tableau with the expression on his face and took a moment to try and decide exactly what was causing the drama.

      “I got nothing.  What am I supposed to be looking at?”

      “Right there.”

      “My toe?”

      “On your toe.”

      “You mean the bug?”

      “How can you bear it?”

      “It’s just a little fellow.  Beetle, maybe?  I’m not good with knowing one bug from another.”

      “It is… crawling on you.”

      “Yeah, he’s having a bit of a walkabout, but they find adventure in their own ways, I suppose.  Never considered my toe very exotic, but maybe it’s like Borneo or something to him.”

      “Gregory…”

      “Is it bothering you?”

      “Yes.”

      “Is it the bug part or the toe part?”

      “I… it is melding of the two.”

      “So, my toe is ok on its own, and you don’t have a specific thing against our little friend?”

      “Your toe is… there is nothing particular unappealing or monstrous about it and I cannot say with any fervency that I am opposed to insect life.  Many are most beautiful and I have had dragonflies perch upon my finger when I have made it available as a resting spot.”

      “Would a dragonfly on my toe be bothersome?”

      “Yes.”

      “Alright, then!  Now I know what’s what and how to avoid the issue in the future.  Let me just… FUCK ME THAT ARSEHOLE BIT ME!”

      “GREGORY!”

      “AND HE FLEW AWAY LIKE THAT WAS HIS PLAN ALL ALONG!  I’VE BEEN TRICKED BY A BUG!”

      “Dear me… is it extremely painful?”

      “Waahhhh!”

      “Was that assent?”

      “It was a fuckload of assent.  Feels like my toe is on fire!”

      “Let me think… brave heart, Gregory… oh dear… insect venom could be proteinaceous, which might render it susceptible to being precipitated and deactivated by alcohol.”

      “I have no idea what any of that means.  Besides my name.”

      “Move your toe this way.”

Greg extended his foot and watched as Mycroft poured a bit of wine on the insulted digit, as well as his trousers.

      “Oh Gregory, I do apologize.”

      “It’s ok… my toes isn’t feeling better though.”

      “It was only an afterthought that the infinitesimal size of the hole created by the bite or sting would likely not permit an appreciable flow of wine to the affected subcutaneous tissues.”

      “Nope, didn’t understand any of that, but I do love hearing you use big words.  It’s like a calming song on the radio.  Calm is good right now.”

      “Oh… that is heartening to know.  I do tend to be somewhat garrulous in a polysyllabic manner when I am disconcerted.”

      “Very, very calming…”

      “Are you still in pain?”

      “Very, very agonizing…”

      “I… should you rub it?”

      “It’ll fall off.”

      “I doubt that is the case.  Even the most virulent venom would not begin to dissolve bone and flesh at that rapid a rate.”

      “It’s new to science.”

      “It is not and I am presently looking at your toe, which is providing credible, visual evidence that it is still very firmly attached to your foot.”

      “It’s an illusion.”

      “I highly doubt that is the case.”

      “Uh…the venom causes hallucinations.  It’s airborne and you breathed it in.”

      “No, and you are clearly trying to magnify your discomfort.  I know because you have tilted too far into the nonsensical.”

      “I did.  I admit it.  The agony has made my brain malfunction.  Or maybe the bug poison is melting my brain.  That could happen.  I saw it on the telly.”

      “Incorrect.  Even if there was a toxin with that particular effect, the likelihood it would have already wreaked that level of damage in the brief span of five minutes is staggering small.”

      “You don’t know that.  You’re not a bug expert.”

      “I am not an entomologist, that is true, however, if your brain was truly being impacted by the toxins, there would surely be further signs of impairment than silliness.”

      “What about extreme silliness.  I can go there.  It’s easy.  I’ve had a lot of practice.”

      “I doubt that will convince me, nor will it ease your pain.”

      “Oh fine.  Make fun of the dying man.  I wish Mum was here.  She’d do the mum thing and that would be that.  I’d be right as rain.”

      “What do you mean by the mum thing?”

      “Kissing it to make it feel better.”

      “What a disgusting action to suggest!”

      “What’s disgusting about it?  Mum’s do all sorts of things like that.  Finish your half-eaten food, clean your poopy bum, wipe up your vomit… ok, you’re starting to look green and that I can see that with only the moon for light is actually worrying.”

      “Thank you.  There… there is a tangible, and visceral, difference between having an academic awareness of a thing and hearing it described.”

      “Yeah, sorry about that.”

      “Though… Mummy did apply a kiss to bruises or other injuries when we received them as a child.  It did not lessen the pain, but it… there was a notable comfort gained from the gesture, despite its unsanitary nature.”

      “Mum kisses are comforting, that’s true.  I could do with some comfort right about now, too.  Got any food in the secret cubby?  You may as well know now that I am an avowed stress eater.  And pain eater.  And sad eater.  Mad eater.  I like to eat.”

      “No, I am afraid I did not think to include food/ as we would be enjoying a meal upon our return.”

      “That’s ok.  I’ll comfort myself with happy thoughts.  That don’t involve bastardy bugs and their ginormous jaws of death.”

Greg took another sip of wine and breathed in because his toe did sting, though not as much as he was being loony about, but it was a nice chance to get more of a feel about how easily he could talk to Mycroft, something he’d not been at all certain about when they first met.  All the advice he’d been given was proving 100% sound and he was having a marvelous time… watching Mycroft bob back and forth like one of those water-drinking bird toys.  What the fuck?

      “Mycroft… is something wrong?”

      “I…”

      “Yes?”

      “I was…”

Still bobbing and… oh.  Oh oh oh oh oh… this was… interesting wasn’t nearly the word for it.

      “Trying to kiss my toe?”

      “P… perhaps.”

The amount of courage Mycroft was showing went straight to Greg’s heart and he set aside thinking about the full spectrum of possible implications to take one pure moment to admire someone pushing with all their might at their boundaries to do something both kind and amusing because it would make another person happy.

      “That’s an incredibly wonderful thing you want to do for me, Mycroft.  A bit hard, though?”

      “A b…bit.”

More like it’s almost making you break a sweat and that’s not worth a quick toe peck.  However…

      “How about this, then.  I’ll even make sure it’s clean and sterilized for you.”

Greg rubbed the tip of his index finger hard against his shirt, then dribbled a bit of wine on it, avoiding any more stains on trousers, and waved it about for some reason that seemed fitting for the ritual.

      “Is this more manageable?”

Mycroft tiny smile was really all the answer Greg needed, but the squaring of the writer’s shoulders and quick kiss on Greg’s fingertip also did the trick.

      “It is.  Thank you, Gregory.”

      “You’re very welcome!  And, we now have evidence that a kiss of any form, whether bestowed by a mum or not, is a great comfort to the insect-debilitated.  I feel much better.  The comfort is positively filling my veins with anti-agony potion.  I promise to return the favor when you have the need, too.”

Which was, hopefully, a bit of insinuation that Mycroft would catch because, to Greg’s mind, it was about as normal for one adult to promise a healing mum-kiss as it was for an adult to bestow one.

      “You… you would do that?”

      “Absolutely!  I would never take something as magical and helpful as that and not offer it back in return.”

      “A moment, then.”

Taking a deep breath, Mycroft smacked his finger hard enough on the golf cart’s steering wheel for Greg to hear the sharp snap of the impact.

      “Oh dear. That was a touch more forceful than I had planned.”

      “Greg to the rescue!  Hold it up and… what’s that face for?”

      “I just remembered that you recently kissed the dirt.”

      “You’re right… I forgot about that, too.  Hold on…”

Rubbing his lips with his shirtsleeve and using his cleaned finger to wash said lips with several hefty drops of wine, Greg erased, he hoped, all signs of whatever nasty beasties that had Mycroft worried.

      “… how’s that?”

      “A most valorous effort.  You may continue.”

Which Greg did, with a bit more lingering than had Mycroft, especially when the first contact of lips to finger brought a soft, surprised intake of breath from the recipient of the kiss.

      “Better?”

      “I… that is…”

      “Yes?”

      “Much better, yes.”

      “Great!  And… anytime you need my kissing services, just ask and I’ll be very happy to see you satisfied.”

Shit!  That was the most suggestive he could have said!  Which… wasn’t completely outside the arena of what he was hoping to innuendoate into their association.  Which was the fakiest of fake words, but who the fuck cared when finger kissing had occurred!

      “Truly?”

      “Absolutely.  You just let me know where it’s needed and I’m the man to see it done and done properly.”

      “That… that is highly encouraging to hear.”

Was it?  Ok, no questioning anything at this point because the power of the ginormous jaws of death paled in comparison to the power of the almighty jinx.

      “I’m rather encouraged about it, myself.  Now, Mr. Holmes, might I pour for you another glass of wine?”

      “Yes, I would welcome that.  Though…”

Ok, what was up with Mycroft? He looked like he was screwing up his courage to declare he wanted to become a male stripper.

      “… my…”

      “Yeah?”

      “My finger still smarts a bit.”

My oh my… if that wasn’t a clear signal of something, then Greg Lestrade was the worst signal noticer in the history of… signal noticing.

      “Well, we can’t have that now, can we?”

The few seconds it took for Mycroft to swallow down the small spike of anxiety that burbled up were patiently weathered by Greg who waited for the finger to stop wavering between up and down and stay decidedly in the upwards kissing position to receive its second slightly lingering kiss.  This time, the intake of breath from the kissee wasn’t tinged with surprise.  It was tinged with something far different and music to the kisser’s ears.

      “How’s the smarting?”

      “Vanishing like mist in a thunderstorm.”

      “Good.  An achy finger does not make a happy combination with a fine glass of wine.”

      “No, it does not.  I am far more… content now.”

      “Contentment is grand thing.  Think your contentment might extend to making up another fake word for me.”

      “Hmmmm… that is a rather lofty request.”

      “I’m as bold as your curl.”

      “That is deserving of its own reward.  Let me think… the moon is most… gibborific tonight, is it not?”

      “Ok…rific is from terrific…”

      “Yes.”

      “And gibbo… I know this one!  Gibbous!”

      “Excellent, Gregory.”

      “You’re truly getting a feel for this, Mycroft.  All those clever fake words.”

      “Thank you, I am most proud of my efforts.”

And showing that pride with a smile as bright as the gibbous moon itself.  Not Greg had a clue what gibbous meant, since he’d only vaguely remembered it from some documentary he’d watched late at night at some point in his life, but it didn’t matter since Mycroft was happy, feeling confident and sporting two top-quality Gregory Lestrade finger kisses as a little bonus.  And, if he read things right, more kisses might be appreciated, in time.  Maybe not even a lot of time.  Just a bit of time to get comfortable with the idea and screw up a little more courage.  Which, apparently, Mycroft already had in hefty supply.

      “Gregory…”

      “What?”

      “There is another insect on your person.  I believe it, also, has nefarious intentions.  Its posture is positively antagonistic.”

Except when it came to insects with hostile intent.  Which was understandable.  And something that could lead to another finger kiss if he played his cards right.  Fortunately, a spot of gambling was very much something a certain Greg Lestrade enjoyed…

Chapter Text

Exhaustion never felt so good.  But, if Greg didn’t get sleep soon, he was absolutely certain that even the warm glow of Mycroft’s gentle smile would whip his brain into a fussy-baby tantrum that would embarrass the world at large.  That point, though, was not yet reached and the goodbyes were about to begin.

Though… a goodbye was really the last thing he wanted.  It had been a fabulous night.  Like a scene out of one of the countless films he’d made where the couple shares a nearly magical night that serves to bring a wealth of things into focus.  You found yourself looking at the other person differently.  There was something in the way you felt with them that changed with both a subtlety and train-wreck obviousness that shouldn’t be possible, but it was.  If this was a film, there would have been the sharing some food item, a long walk by some body of water, and something unexpected, like happening upon a band playing or a fireworks display… all stupidly cliché, but sold the message that these two people had moved to a different place right before the audience’s eyes and the ‘rom’ part of the romcom was ready to kick into top gear.

 Not that they’d had a sappily-scripted night like that.  Not them.  They were non-fictional and neither of them could be called a paper-doll person, identical to all the others linked together in the long garland of white silhouettes holding hands.  Which was what those romcom couples were so bugger them and their foolish cliches and stupid fireworks-filled nights.  There were no actual fireworks in their night, but it was better, worlds better, than all the bands and fireworks the paper-doll romcoms thought were perfect and romantic.

Once Mycroft convinced him they’d actually arrived safely back at the house and his continued existence was not a final hallucination by his dying brain, they’d been presented with the welcome gift of a surprising amount of additional ‘alone’ time without the rest of the household dogging their heels.  The cinema room was showing a double bill, apparently, so they commandeered Mycroft’s study for something he’d not done before, but it was on his list to do again and soon, at that – listening to an audioplay together, but one Mycroft had already heard, so the bit of conversation here and there to discuss a point plot or character’s motives didn’t meet with the writer’s glowering disapproval.  The only disapproval had come when he burst out laughing at one segment and Mycroft didn’t understand why. Fortunately, that was rectified by a rather intricate and delicate bit of elucidation about why certain characters giggled at the term ‘sausage’ being used rather frequently during a breakfast scene after two of the party at the breakfast table had enjoyed a rather loud and randy time the night before, which the others were not actually supposed to hear.

Then it was several savage games of cribbage, a game he hadn’t played since he was a kid with his grandfather, but which came back to him fast enough that each inevitable defeat wasn’t as humiliating has he might have predicted.  With the occasional glass of something soothing and a great deal of spirited conversation… it was the sort of night you found yourself wanting to be your normal.  To be the thing you could look forward to when you came home after a brutal day.  Or a non-brutal day.  Any day would be perfect if it ended like that.  It was the sort of thing that settled a peace into your bones and, in this world, a sense of peace was more valuable than gold, diamonds or a truly superb cup of coffee.  Which sounded like the elixir vitae right now, but still not as good as that contentment at his center.

But… the goodbyes awaited and if he didn’t start now and with the person about to burst out of their skin with anticipation of a firm goodbye hug, deaths might soon occur.

      “Take care of yourself, Dolly.  No doing anything silly and depriving me of more of your scintillating personality in the future.”

      “Oh, Greg… Bertie and I are so happy to have met you.  You’ll visit again soon, right?  Mycroft will have to tell us when you plan to stop in, so we can visit, too.  It’s been grand, it really has.  I’ll be floating on a cloud for weeks!  Bertie’s going to have to tie a rope to my leg, so I don’t float away!”

      “I’m sure we’ll meet again soon and, in all honesty, I’m already looking forward to it.  Speaking of looking forward to something, Mr. Holmes, I’m certainly anxious to get started with those books you recommended.  I’ll have plenty of reading time while I’m away and I already know which titles are going into my luggage thanks to you.”

Mycroft’s father didn’t appear as if he was about to burst out of his skin, but Greg was positive he saw a pleased gleam rise in the man’s eyes.  As with his son, the clues were there if you just took the time, and had the awareness, to look for them.

      “Your anticipation is to be expected, given my expertise in the area of books and my analysis of your personal tastes.  I was most methodical in crafting a suitable list of books to satisfy your intellect and sense of entertainment.”

      “You… did that?  How… efficient of you.”

      “Yes, it was.  You will phone Mycroft when you disembark the train in London to assure him of your safe arrival, will you not?”

      “I… of course!  Can’t let him worry that his guest ended a visit by dying in a tragic train crash or catching the plague from the coffee they have on offer.”

      “Yersinia pestis is not, to my knowledge, transmittable through coffee.”

      “One less thing for Mycroft and me to worry about, then!  Thanks for that.”

      “You are welcome.  Mycroft, I will be in your study when you have concluded your farewell with your… friend… and we shall debrief.”

The sniggering behind Greg, from the Duo of Evil, earned Anthea and Anderson a behind-the-back gesture from the actor that would have made his mother grab him by the ear for a lecture in proper behavior.  Would have been worth it, though.

      “Yes, Father.  An excellent idea.  Mummy, would you inform Mrs. Hudson that I shall be joining you and Father for your breakfast and remaining awake for another few hours to make a small start on my next chapter.  I suspect that anything involving an overabundance of dairy will not be conducive to my creative abilities, nor shall anything overly round.”

      “Just the dairy or anything fair game for the roundness, dear?”

      “It is an encompassing request.”

      “That means anything?”

      “It does.”

      “Alright, I’ll pass that along while we gossip.  Philip, you take care of this one and yourself, alright.  We want to see you again, too, and not any leaner than you are now.  In fact… send along your address to Mycroft who can pass it to me.  I’ll see you with little deliveries now and again to keep some meat on those bones of yours.  Greg’s got enough meat that he doesn’t need any Dolly Specials, but you… I hope you like cake!”

The whispered ‘fatty’ didn’t escape Greg’s notice and revenge was immediately vowed.  Especially since Greg was a staunch supporter of cake in any and all forms and it was going to be hard enough as it was to get his agent to share the spoils.

      “Thank you, Mrs. Holmes.  I absolutely love cake and will look very forward to each delivery.  For now, you can check with Mycroft for when we’ll be in the country, though, so nothing sits and in front of my doorstep and gets stolen by my bastard neighbors.”

      “Good point!  Mycroft’s good with schedules and charts and the like, so I’ll have him make up one for me of your comings and goings.”

Mycroft’s rolled eyes accompanied his mother’s exit, leaving him to stand there in a visible quandary about how to say goodbye to someone to whom he certainly did not want to bid farewell.  Since Greg was doing the same, Anthea decided that decisive action was necessary or they’d all be left standing like gnomes in an awkward and slightly unsettling garden.

      “I’ll get some departure and arrival dates from Anderson for you, Mr. Holmes, to start on your math project for your mum.”

Anthea nodded her counterpart towards the waiting car, which Charles had smartly entered to sit and enjoy his own book, rather than stand for what could be an awkward and slight unsettling week of goodbye dithering between the turtledoves.  The path to the waiting car, however, didn’t take Anthea anywhere near Greg, but an unnecessary detour and completely fake wobble-because-of-heels put her in a direct collision course with the actor to push him within goodbye-confession distance of her client.  Which he’d best make use of or he would not escape her wrath, which could be very wrathful, indeed.

      “Ummm… ok.  Well, Mycroft, I guess that’s my cue to leave.  It’s been… it’s been a joy, really.  I’m very happy we had this bit of time before I set about doing those reshoots.”

      “I agree, Gregory.  It was delightful, in every way, to have you here again.”

      “You have my number, so you can phone.  I’ll do that, too.  Not phone myself, of course, because that would be pointless and I’m not sure if it would work anyway, but phone you.  Do you do any of that Skype or Facetime or whatnot?”

      “Mummy demands it when she is feeling particularly maternal.”

      “Ok, then I can get Anderson to show me what to do for that, if you’d like.  I’ve never set it up to do myself, but I’ll learn it fast enough, I suspect.”

      “Hmmmm… that is a possibility.”

      “Is that a yes, you would like that or a no, kindly don’t bother?”

      “It is a yes, though, I have no idea the nature of the internet connection you will enjoy while away.”

      “Likely excellent.  This isn’t a remote location shoot, so I anticipate a stellar hotel with exceptional WiFi.  If not, my phone still works.  Or I can send a pigeon.”

      “What would that accomplish?”

      “Uh… I’d tie a little letter to its leg like they show in films, so he could deliver it to you.”

      “You were joking, I presume.”

      “Trying to, but not succeeding.  In any case, I have little doubt we’ll be able to communicate very easily.”

      “Good, for I would not be pleased if you were languishing in some savage land without the benefit of my good humor bolstering your spirits.”

He was serious, too.  Not a bit of joke in any of that.  The man was cuter than a pigeon with a letter tied to its leg and didn’t leave feathers lying about when he roosted.

      “That would be a tragedy.”

      “It would, indeed.  Will… will you consent to visit again, once you return?”

      “Absolutely!  I’ll check with Anderson for the specifics of my schedule and find the first opportunity.”

      “Very good.  And I will ensure that my parents are not present to create their standard level of distraction.”

      “Oh, they’re not bad.  It was fun to meet them, actually.”

The small rock that hit Greg’s back was on the trajectory to have only come from one place and that was the car currently housing his agent and Anthea.  Bastards.  What did they want from him?  No, strike that.  What they wanted was screamingly obvious, but they remained bastards until such time as he saw fit to lift that crown from their thick heads.

      “I am confident they feel the same.  It… it is rare for both Mummy and Father to harbor such a positive view about a person, however, they have indicated that they are highly pleased with the person you are, away from the personality they might have expected from your films.”

Mycroft reached back to touch the spot on his back where he was certain he’d felt a small tap, then looked on the ground behind him, feeling completely confused by the small bread roll that was now lying there looking up at him.  Somewhat sternly, at that.

      “I have been assaulted by bread.”

      “What?  Oh… yeah, looks like you have.  At least my pigeon will have something to eat when it gets here.”

      “The bread would surely have been consumed by another animal at that point.”

      “Very logical.  And zoological, too, which is especially impressive.  Well… I supposed I’d best join the others.  Hate to miss the train and have it be my fault.  I don’t think they’d let me forget that.”

      “No, Anthea surely would not.  She becomes most cross when her agenda has been upended by tardiness.”

      “As is right and proper.  So, yeah… I’d best be getting on.  Until we meet again?”

Greg extended his pinkie for a shake and found his own bit of confusion when Mycroft stared at the finger a moment, then at his feet, then tapped his nose three times before staring at his feet again prior to turning in a tight circle with his arms crossed across his chest, which occurred two more times before he, finally, bent over to give the finger a kiss.  Greg’s bubble of confusion, though was quickly ruptured by the shocked gasp that erupted behind him and had Greg surreptitiously waving at the car to shut the gaspers the fuck up before it the scared the man who seemed inordinately proud at how he’d concluded his arcane wizardly ritual and done something odd, but, in a very strange way, normal for a goodbye between people who’d navigated their own ‘this is it’ romcom evening of magic.

      “Ok… that works, too.  A goodbye kiss.  Done very nicely, in fact.  Shall I… reciprocate?”

      “Given I have bestowed one upon you, I would presume that would be the next step, to satisfy balance.”

There were certain moments in life that landed on you with a thunderous thump and you had two choices.  Ignore them or seize them with both hands.  Seizing was probably not a wise option, in Greg’s opinion, but a careful, close proximity of hands might not be the worst idea.  At least to see if more of a tentative clutch might be in order going forward.

      “Would you… would you mind if I demonstrated a different technique?”

      “For what purpose?”

Could you not be oblivious just once, Mycroft.  I’m shaking in my shoes here!

      “Ummm... to be… educational?”

      “Ah.  Education is something I value, and value highly, so do proceed.”

Locking eyes with Mycroft so he could catch an early-warning flare of distress, Greg slowly leaned forward and laid a kiss on Mycroft lips that was as soft as a breeze that couldn’t blow the fluff off a dandelion.

Oh shit, he was blinking again.

      “Mycroft… come back to me, alright?  Just enough to tell me… oh shit, I fucked up, didn’t I?”

      “I… I… I…”

      “Yeah?”

      “I do not… normally… use vulgarity.”

      “Ok.  Then you can ignore the shit and fuck and whatever else there was in there that was vulgar.”

      “Thank you.”

      “You’re welcome.”

      ‘You… you kissed me.”

      “I… I was trying to be educational.”

      “Oh.  I suppose I did make that request.”

      “Yeah, but I’m sorry if I overstepped.  Truly, I’m sorrier than you can imagine if I did something to upset you.”

      “Gregory…”

      “Yeah?”

      ‘You kissed me.”

      “True. The trueness of that hasn’t actually changed since you said it before.”

      “But… it was a kiss.  Of the kissing sort.”

      “Ummmm… I can’t argue with any of that, no.”

      “It would be most pointless for the kissing was rather evident and somewhat incontrovertible in its… kissiness.  Oh… I must consult with Father for the validity of that word.  I somewhat suspect I fabricated it, but it could have some archaic existence about which I am currently unaware.”

      “He seems very good for things like that.”

      “He is.  Father’s vocabulary far exceeds even mine.  He has been consulted many times by various august organizations for his assistance with language and the etymology of select words and phrases.”

      “I’m all about education.  Very important.  A very important thing for everyone...”

Greg’s brain began weeping and called forth his last glimpse of what had been a hopeful, marvelous dream of his future.  Even though it was only in that tiny, baby kernel stage, it had been an intoxicating vision of cozy nights at home with books, films, radio, games and a brilliant man with whom to share it.  Now he was watching it dry up and shrivel into one of those sad little peas in the package that you pulled out from the rest because there was no way it was ever going to become anything more than a shriveled, disappointing failure of a pea.  He’d done a proper job of mucking things up and had only himself to blame.  Well…he was going to lay some of the blame on the fucking boulder that collided with his back and made him think that support from the whackadoo section of the population was a good omen.  Mycroft looked ready to dissolve into tears.

      “… so, yeah, I suppose I’ll…”

      “Gregory… was e…education the only… was it only for that r…reason I received your kiss?”

The tiny breaks in Mycroft’s voice, threw a blinding spotlight on how much that particular question cost him in courage, for his dissolve-into-tears face had slid one spot down the emotion line into something that was exactly what Greg would expect for someone asking a question they knew was exceedingly consequential but were terrified to know the answer.  And, he knew, to the bottom of his heart, that he’d never take even the tiniest bit of that courage for granted, no matter how many times the man reached out beyond his boundaries for something important to him, successfully or not.  Now, it was a matter of summoning his own courage and answering honestly.  Something that may or may not be intelligible, what with the in-his-shoes shaking still making him feel as if he was riding out an earthquake in a pair of respectable shoes and no-hole socks.

      “No, no it wasn’t.  I kissed you… because I’ve wanted to do that for awhile and it seemed something you might want too, beyond on a finger, I mean.  I’ve been… I am attracted to you, Mycroft.  I won’t lie about that.  Every time we talk on the phone or I visit… it’s more than just a nice time with a friend.  It’s warmer, closer feeling… more meaningful.  I’m not one of those fellows who studies human behavior or anything, but it’s seemed like… maybe you were feeling the same way.  If I’m wrong, I’ll apologize and mean it, sincerely, and I promise it won’t hurt our… oof!”

It was very hard to talk when someone was mashing their lips against yours and even harder when you were trying to stifle a smile at the mashing, which was perfectly Mycroftian in that there was no other physical contact whatsoever between them.  Eventually, Greg had to lean back slightly to lessen the pressure and start guiding the mashing into a gentler, and sultrier, version of the mash.  Which the person, heretofore known as the masher, seemed to quickly fall into and allow to continue for what was a blissful sliver of eternity.

      “Gr… Gregory…”

      “Yeah?”

      “Your lips…”

      “Yeah?”

      “You should use moisturizing balm.”

      “Oh… thank you for the advice.”

      “And…”

      “Yeah?”

      “When you return, will you kiss me again?”

      “I will and with softer lips, too.”

      “I…”

Mycroft quickly gave Greg another no-body-contact peck on his lips, then turned and bolted into the house so frantically that he left the door open behind him and plowed through the spying Dolly, Molly and Mrs. Hudson, who didn’t see so much as a ‘do pardon me’ for their near-death experience.

      “If you’ve broken my client, you pathetic children’s clown, I’m going to shave your head, your eyebrows and all your body hair before throwing you naked and trussed like a roast in front of the Daily Mail offices!”

Greg shot Anthea the gesture she deserved and hesitated a long moment before joining her and Anderson in the car.

      “Oh wonderful.  You’re in love.  You know how you being a besotted dolt makes my job harder.  I’m your agent, Greg, not your love-manager and I’m telling you know that I will not be ordering gifts, making love nest reservations or anything else that will make me vomit up my lunch.”

      “Both of you can share the enormous portion of fuck off I’m beaming into your heads.”

      “Pfft.  Your brain isn’t doing anything more right now than mooning over your snuggle monkey.  Anthea, do you think the village has any plush monkeys we can buy before we catch the train?  Greg is going to be useless unless he has something to cuddle with at night.”

      “If we can’t find one, Charles can.  Charles – your monkey goggles are defogged and ready to search, aren’t they?”

      “Always, Miss Anthea.”

      “There we go.  Greg will get his monkey to kiss and whisper secrets to and maybe he’ll function well enough not to get sacked from every project that was stupid enough to sign him in the first place.  Consider your own wage safely secured by plush-monkey love.”

      “I don’t have to cut the monkey in for part of my fee, do you think?”

      “Maybe a tenth of a percent?  How much can bananas cost?  That, of course, and anti-nausea pills. It will be kissing Greg, so it’ll probably need the large size bottle of those.”

      “Are you two done?”

      “Nope.  Sit back and start your nap, client of mine.  We’ll let you know when it’s time to board the train.  Or, I’ll pay the station lad a few quid to strap you to one of those luggage carts and roll you aboard.”

      “I hate all of you.”

      “Shit, you’re already getting tetchy from snuggle-monkey separation.  Anthea, is there alcohol in here?”

      “There is and it’s perfect for early-morning monkey-missing.”

      “Pour him a large one.  It’s going to be a long day and the more unconscious he is, the better it’ll be for everyone.”

__________

Mycroft hurtled through the house at warp speed, nearly crashing into his study door before he was able to open it and, once he was on the other side, quickly flicked the lock then flew up to his reading space, capping off the startling of his father by hurling himself into his chair so forcefully, it rocked back on its back legs, coming precariously close to toppling backwards.

      “Mycroft!  Have you gone mad!”

      “I… Gregory kissed my face!”

      “Oh dear… properly?”

      “Very.”

      “He has exceeded my expected timetable by a full thirty-six percent.  This is highly encouraging.”

      “Timetable?  Thirty-six percent?”

      “It is inappropriate to be disappointed at that level of progress, Mycroft, as it is significantly beyond what my analysis predicted, and you are well aware of the thoroughness and validity of my analyses.  He is a bold fellow and that, it seems, is to his credit.  I… I find myself feeling most proud of him.”

      “I kissed first!”

      “You did?”

      “Yes.  Are you also proud of me?”

      “I am always proud of you, Mycroft, however… this is unexpected.  Was it a face kiss?”

      “I… no.  It… I kissed his finger.”

      “I see.  Did he wash it first?”

      “I… dear me, no.  I… I utterly failed to remark upon it, either.”

      “Understandable.  When I first kissed your mother, I failed utterly to remark on the fact she was wearing lipstick.”

      “Ugh… the mere thought of that…”

      “The horror of the rather… pinguid… sensation did not register in the slightest until later.  Fortunately, the overall experience was sufficiently pleasurable that I was not overly bothered in the long term.”

      “Our kiss was also pleasurable, however, I recommended Gregory use lip balm, for his lips were a touch rough.”

      “You should take care for many of those are most tactilely unappealing during the kissing process.”

      “I shall have him wipe away any remaining residue before I again partake of his ardor.”

      “Which you seemed to have enjoyed greatly.”

      “I did.  I am not ashamed to admit it, either.”

      “Nor should you be.  There is nothing shameful about expressing affection, as long as it is done respectfully and does not disturb the meals of others in the restaurant at which you are dining.”

      “Mummy was rather rash in her youth.”

      “Age does not preclude rashness, Mycroft.  Something you should have learned already with your Gregory.”

      “True, I stand corrected.  Speaking of rash, do you think it is Mummy pounding on the door?”

      “Hmmm… you locked it, I take it.”

      “It was an afterthought, but one that seems to have been somewhat prescient.”

      “It could be young Molly.  She possesses notable strength, from my observations.”

      “True, but I would predict she would be more controlled and rhythmic in her pounding.  Rather like someone beating a funeral drum.”

      “Hmmm… interesting.  Do you believe you should open it?”

      “If I do not, and it is Mummy, the probability is high she will leave the house and attempt entry through a window.”

      “Are they also locked?”

      “They are.”

      “Then we have time before our conversation is interrupted.  Your mother is woefully lacking in housebreaking skills.  She is without a single recourse when she loses her key and I refuse to leave the library to let her into the house.”

      “You should instruct her in the appropriate skills.”

      “Perhaps.  However… once you and your Gregory desire a private moment for your amorous entanglements, a locked door shall pose no impediment for her nosiness.”

      “Dear heavens, I stand absolutely corrected.”

      “However, that does bring to mind… it is time, I feel, to refresh your memory on the mechanics of sex and the list of indicators you are properly pleasing your sexual partner.   With what sexual act do you believe you will commence that aspect of your relationship?  I am most well-versed in all manner of homosexual sex acts and will provide the necessary level of guidance to ensure your and Gregory’s satisfaction.”

      “I am unlocking the door.”

      “Your mother could have this talk with you, Mycroft.  Would you prefer that?”

      “<………….….>

      “Very well, I shall invite your mother to join us and…”

      “I suspect that Gregory would greatly enjoy oral sex.  We may begin there.”

      “Excellent.  I have read more than a few technical guides for that and speak as somewhat an expert on the subject.  Further, I have been the recipient of your mother’s technique for many years which, I must say, is most exceptional.  A truly laudable starting point.”

      “I… I need a drink.”

      “We have not even breakfasted.”

      “Alcohol is plant-derived, so I shall view it as a vegetarian option to begin my meal.”

      “Oh… I had not considered that.  Whisky for me, please.  Oh, and bring paper and pens.  I anticipate the need for the drawing of diagrams.”

      “Joyful.”

      “Yes, sex is very much a joyful thing.  I am pleased you recognize that as it will surely bolster your enthusiasm during the act.  Your Gregory is a lucky man, Mycroft.  A very lucky one indeed…”

Chapter Text

      “Look at him, Anthea.  Just look at him.”

      “Our little monkey, with his own snuggle-monkey nestled cozily in his arms.”

Because, despite Greg’s hopes to the contrary, a plush monkey was available in the village and was duly purchased to accompany him home.  No confessions would ever be made that Anthea’s statement about the monkey looking more like Mycroft than she would have predicted was very much in line with Greg’s own thinking and cuddling it while he drifted off to sleep on the train was… nice.  Cuddling with Mycroft would have been nicer, but this would do for now and do nicely, at that.

      “At least he’s getting some rest.  I was worried his brain would be too spinny to see anything for sleep and he’s got an interview tonight that I’d prefer he be coherent for.  It’s for Vanity Fair, which always kisses his hairy arse very nicely in print, so I do try and keep them happy with lots of opportunities to do the kissing.  And… ooh, let me check, we should have some weekend predictions for his current film to give him something to crow about… yes!  Still going strong and looking to kick that DC Universe piece of shit into the rubbish and do it easily.”

      “That’s not saying much.”

      “No, but it’s our main competitor for the action-adventure audience, at least until next week when that Escape from New York reboot comes out.”

      “Which is a blasphemy.”

      “In no uncertain terms.  It’s another example of crass money-chasing that proves the number of people with their fingers on the green-light switch are so stupid they should be illegal.  Between you and me, I strongly suspect it’s going to land with a thud.  Not even a bounce afterwards.  Maybe some overseas interest, but… I’ve seen some bits and pieces, talked to a few of the crew, and it’s crap.  Which is lovely for me and monkey-snuggler because there’s not much else for another two weeks that’s any real competition.  With the film still sitting on top of the box office and not likely to fall for a goodly while, it looks like another shiny feather in Greg’s cap and that’s definitely going to help push publicity and interest for his turn as Bell.”

      “Oh, I’m telling all my contacts to get their arses out and buy tickets because I’ll happily take all the ancillary help possible for pushing Mycroft’s project.  When is the studio going to start the hard publicity push?”

      “Soon.  They’re moving on things, but I suspect they don’t want to distract from Greg’s current film, so attention stays focused on it during this honeymoon phase.  If you don’t milk your first few weeks for all you can, you’re losing a massive money window and studios do not like to walk away from money.”

      “Publishers don’t either.  Luckily, Mycroft’s publishing firm isn’t doing any tie-ins for the Blasphemy Reboot That Shall Not Be Named, so they won’t lose any of their precious money on that debacle.  I did hear some chatter about their graphic novel division looking into approving a new line for that universe, but it stalled, probably waiting to get more information about what the film would do at the box office.  Since I never heard about the gears beginning to turn again, I suspect they caught a whiff of the same stinky wind you have and early on, too.”

      “Corroboration of my instincts is always a good thing.”

      “Now, let’s see what you mean about weekend pred… what?”

Anthea stared at her mobile and suspected that if Anderson had any juicy, and possibly problematic, information about their joint venture he wouldn’t have held it back since both their bank accounts and levels of headache depended on things going smoothly.

      “What? What do you mean what?”

      “Uh… did you check your messages?”

      “Yeah, why?”

      “Is there something you’re not telling me?”

      “Probably loads, but nothing I think you’d give a shit about.”

      “Oh, I think I give a very large shit about this.”

Anthea shoved her mobile in Anderson’s face and got confirmation of her suspicions since blanching on command was not a skill humans readily possessed, meaning he wasn’t exactly in the loop for this one.

      “Size of shit has increased exponentially.  That must have happened yesterday or today.  Technically I don’t have to know everything about a film, but I generally do since Greg’s the biggest name on any of the films he’s in.  Maybe they were waiting until we were back in London to clue me in.”

      “Do you want to wake him for his own bit of clueing?”

      “No, he needs the rest.  But we will have a chat once he’s awake, because this certainly will come up in his Vanity Fair interview and he needs to be ready for it.”

      “We all need to be ready for it.”

      “Yeah… yeah we will.  Fuck a large duck.”

      “If that makes you happy, go ahead, but ask me to watch and you won’t have anything left to do the fucking with.  Now, want to give me what you can for insider information, so I can make my own preparations?”

      “Want, no, because it’s all disgusting and horrifying.  But it’ll be all hands on deck for this, so… prepare to be disgusted and horrified.”

      “Glorious.  This isn’t making my day, Anderson.  You’re going to pay and pay large.”

      “It’s not my fault!  We’ll make Greg pay.  It’s his fault, in a roundabout way.”

      “All the contingency plans we’ll need to make…”

      “What’s your schedule look like tomorrow?”

      “Ummmm… free in the afternoon after four or so.”

      “Tapas and wine while we plan?”

      “You have a spot for that?”

      “I do.  One of my special spots.”

Anderson’s special spots were something that had come to have a very warm place in Anthea’s heart.

      “Send me the address and I’ll meet you at five.  Make sure his wallet is ready because I’ll be arriving starving, ready for a drink and won’t settle for rubbish.”

      “I’d pickpocket him now, but he habitually stops for something greasy before an interview, to boost his mood, and if he’s not got his crap food fund on hand, he just might have a meltdown.”

      “Especially after learning about The Shit.”

      “I could actually hear the capital letters there.  Nicely done.”

      “One of my many talents.”

__________

      “Greg… oh, Gre-eg… time to wake up, you stupid berk.”

Greg swatted in the direction of his agent’s annoying voice and clutched his monkey tighter as he tried to cling to his happy sleep.

      “We’re nearly in London you evil toddler and I’ve got to get you presentable for your fans, who you know will be there, even though we have scarcely been out of the city for two days.”

      “Don’t wanna.”

      “I don’t wanna have to try and see you shaved, combed, clear-eyed and de-rumpled, but if I have to suffer, so do you.  Now, put down the monkey and let’s get started.”

      “No.”

      “Oh my god… Greg lift your lardy arse out of the seat and hand Anthea the monkey.”

      “My monkey.”

Which was held even closer, making Anderson wonder if his client was actually awake or functioning on some subconscious level now, while his conscious brain hid in the sleepytime bunker.  Anthea’s knuckle-wriggle in Greg’s ribs and snatching away of his monkey, however, brought Greg’s brain out of the bunker, frantically donning it’s battle helmet while trying to zip the fly of its battle trousers and not trip over its untied battle shoes.

      “Hey!”

      “I will keep your surrogate boyfriend company while you make yourself look like something other than a shabby old gent who skulks about the porn shops and sniffs the merchandise.  And the customers.”

      “That’s low, Anthea.  Low and cold.”

      “But accurate, so let your valet tidy you up for your adoring fans so you don’t scare any of the adults into sterility and children into a life of crime.”

Greg huffed loudly, but knew very well what he probably looked like at the moment and it was definitely in the ‘turning innocent children into criminals’ range.  Probably make them football hooligans and chocolate haters, too, so he had a civic obligation to do something about his pathetic self.

      “Fine!  Only because of the kids, though.  And see if you can find coffee for me.  About a soup pot’s worth should be enough.”

Anthea waved him off and glared at Anderson when he asked if she had a makeup supply on her, though, she privately admitted that his client could use a bit of concealer under his eyes.  The poor man was gorgeous, but nobody looked their best when they more resembled a zombie than a human.  At least he didn’t eat brains… that would endanger her own client and if she had to cut off Greg’s head to prevent him consuming the significant source of her income, she’d do it without mussing her hair or getting even the tiniest spot of zombie gore on her shoes.

__________

Anthea did have to admit, when the evidence was presented, that Greg looked better and actually approached a genuine human disguise.  Anderson’s skill with reviving a zombie were, apparently, top notch.

      “Just in time, too.  We’re about five minutes to arrival.”

Greg gratefully accepted his last-minute coffee from Anthea, but made a rude gesture anyway, to uphold principle.  Ignoring him, Anthea, instead, cut questioning eyes at Anderson who gave his head a little shake to indicate no conversations of consequence had occurred so any entertainment on their part from the developing situation would have to wait.

      “Thanks.  What time’s that interview tonight, valet?”

      “Seven or so.  It… I suspect it’ll be mostly a typical fluff piece, so you should be able to grin, wink, tell some of your sad jokes and we can be out of there fairly quickly.”

      “Perfect.  I go home, I sleep.  Wake up long enough to be a raconteur, then sleep some more.  Maybe shove a bite to eat into my face somewhere in there, but it’s not top priority.”

      “We’ll… we’ll see how that goes.  Ok, looks like we’re… fuck.”

Greg followed Anderson’s eyes out the window and sighed at the sight of the large crowd that had assembled to meet the train.  Then narrowed his eyes and peered harder at the crowd which was not only much larger than normal, but peppered liberally with the media, including camera crews.  Was one of those boy bands on board and he didn’t notice?  The Queen?

      “Fuck is right.  That’s… robust.  I wonder if there’s a ‘run for your life’ rear door on this train.”

      “I can ask.  There’s surely something for loading supplies or maintenance people that fifty quid will open for us.”

This sigh was louder than Greg’s first, but it was one that had all the long-resigned notes in his ‘this is my life’ personal soundtrack.  As much as he’d love to bolt out the back and flag a cab to take him home, it was the coward’s way out and his fans deserved better than a coward, no matter how much that coward really didn’t want to play superstar actor boy at the moment.  Well, the only way out was through, so he might as well start the through bit so he had even a tiny chance of seeing his bed before his interview tonight.

      “Nah, let’s just go.  Publicity, right?  Films to talk up, Anthea might be able to grab a reporter or two and get some free press for Mycroft and his books.  It’s a good thing, really.  At least, that’s how we’re going to look at it.  A very large number of opportunities are out there right now for good things to happen and we’d be stupid to let that fall by the wayside.  Do you… either of you, by any chance, see any of those large blokes who are beautifully suited to escort harried actors to their car when there’s a million people hoping to make that very thing not happen quickly?  Or at all.”

Greg’s hopeful, slightly queasy smile, wasn’t met with anything in return but the ‘poor sad man, shakes of Anthea’s and Anderson’s heads as they gathered their few personal items to carry with them off the train.  Both debated raising a certain issue, but decided that Greg had enough on his plate.  Then, they remembered that The Shit was learned from media reports so the fans, and media, were certain to already now and their monkey-snuggler could likely use a heads-up before venturing into the fray.

Unfortunately, as both opened their mouths to provide that little heads-up to Greg who, they bit off a truly eye-watering, in-stereo curse because the actor couldn’t hear their potential proclamations, having already gathered his fortitude and darted off the train to greet his fans and, fingers crossed, alert any potential studio escorts to his presence.  What he was not expecting was his former flame, Janine Hawkins, to come striding through the crowd to give him a long, full kiss, much to the approval of the crowd and the media, if the hoots, cheers and camera flashes were to be believed.

      “J… Janine?  What the fuck are you doing?”

      “Smile, lover, the cameras are watching.”

      “I don’t care who’s watching!  What do you think you’re pulling?”

      “Nothing!  Just a little publicity for our upcoming film.”

      “Our film?  You and I aren’t in any projects together.”

      “Au contraire.  I was just signed yesterday to that tasty little project you’re doing based on that mystery novel.”

      “WHAT!”

      “Isn’t it great!  You and me together again?  Or not, I really couldn’t care less about that, but I do care about getting a quality part on a film that I’m hearing could be one of those gems that opens a lot of doors for more quality parts.”

      “Then go find your own fucking film and leave mine alone!”

      “Pfft.  You told me, yourself, that I was good.  Better than the rubbish I was being locked into.  And I certainly had to listen to you moan enough about being taken seriously as an actor, when you weren’t moaning for other reasons, that is, so I decided I wasn’t going to wait until I was your elderly age to get some serious roles on my record.

      “I’m not old!”

      “For a man, maybe not.  But for a woman… I’m not getting any younger and my shelf life for the shit I’m normally offered is racing towards its expiration date.  If I want to keep working, I have to have something else to show besides my beautiful face, exquisite body and ability to sell on screen that any actor, no matter how ugly, fat or stupid is the most amazing specimen of manhood ever created.  This was a chance and I took it.  Now, shut up, smile, put your arm around me and remember we have a film to sell.”

Greg threw a look over his shoulder at Anderson and Anthea who both shrugged as he was dragged forward towards the microphones, cameras and excited fans.  Given he’d be occupied for awhile, and could take care of himself despite having his day flipped over like one of those pitiful film scenes when someone actually flips a table for whatever stupid reason they thought was valid at the moment, the agents decided to mingle in the crowd and get some preliminary opinions on the new project and what Greg’s core fan profile was hoping to see for the film and the actor’s role in it.  Never a bad time to do market research, hold an impromptu focus group, that sort of thing. Besides, it kept them from raiding the studio-provided car for whatever alcohol it held, given they’d surely be having their fair share later on and it would be polite to leave the bulk of the intoxicant for the man now igniting his star power as full force as he could for the crowd.  And, given Anderson noticed some people he recognized from Vanity Fair in the crowd, he could leverage that for a postponement of the formal interview, so his client could simply go home and die.  Greg had said more than once, once upon a time, that Janine would be the death of him and, today, that might actually prove true…

Chapter Text

Ugh… was this karma?  Had he done something staggeringly horrid in a past life that was now taking the opportunity to enact its payback?  Felt like it.  He was already running on the last, vaporous wisps of petrol fumes then… Janine.  At least Anderson got his interview cancelled tonight so he could just hide from the universe and its slings and arrows, all of which seemed to be focused on the massive target someone had, apparently, painted on his back.

To be fair, though, he couldn’t disagree with the casting decision.  Janine actually looked the part of the character in Mycroft’s book.  A dark beauty with the sort of smile that could warm your heart or freeze it to ice.  Janine was smart, too, like the character, and able to sell her intelligence on the screen, though it was generally used as a prop for the not-as-smart hero to save the fucking day.  The murdering wife in Mycroft’s book was able to play the devoted, grieving widow while manipulating the investigation away from her and towards her husband’s lover with a deftness that any criminal mastermind would appreciate and Janine was someone who could convincingly play that out on screen.

And… he couldn’t deny they had screen chemistry.  Not necessarily romantic chemistry, but they played off each other well, had a good rhythm and sense of understanding that made their scenes have that natural feel that helped draw in the audience and sell the story.  That would be especially important for this film which didn’t have any of the usual rubbish to fill time and entertain the people like car chases, explosions or aliens-vs-mutants battles royale.  The scenes with Bell and the widow were many, intense, nuanced and a lot had to be said with body language, facial expressions, inflection choices… Janine was a smart pick to pair with him for that.  She was a very good actress, despite being wasted by most studios and he couldn’t, not for a million quid, say she didn’t deserve a chance to prove that.  It was why he chased the bloody film in the first place!  It’d be hypocritical to say she didn’t have the right to do that or try to leverage his own influence towards getting her replaced.

Of course, that meant there was the Mycroft issue to address and that was an issue that had to be handled delicately.  The probability was low that Mycroft was at all aware of today’s forty-year interlude between exiting the train and entering the car where his traitorous fellow travelers had finally decided to use as their hiding, and drinking, spot.  Though, they did set aside one full bottle of a particularly nice scotch for him to use as he pleased, and he pleased the hell out of that bottle before they rolled him out onto the pavement in front of his house.  Now, though, happy buzz in his head or not, he needed to set things out for Mycroft and do what he could to ameliorate the situation.  Maybe drinking that much scotch wasn’t a good idea before this conversation.  Or maybe it was the best idea in the universe.  At this point, it didn’t matter because his fingers had decided his brain was fucking useless and were already using his mobile to set this on-fire-and-wrapped-in-fireproof-angry-weasels ball in motion.

      “Ah, Gregory, I take it you are safely returned to London.”

      “I am safely returned and just stepping into my happy home.”

      “As the train would have arrived some time ago, I take it you were occupied with matters of personal business, errands to which to attend, and other like concerns.”

      “Uh… concerns, yes.  But not the sort I expected.  Or… I did expect some of them but there… well, there was something I didn’t expect and… the unexpected one was… a sticky wicket, or could be… I can’t be sure because I’m incredibly tired and a bit drunk and…”

      “Gregory, are you, at least, seated?  I am highly concerned that you are suffering some degree of mental collapse and I would not wish to see that paired with a physical collapse that would leave you vulnerable to housebreakers or unable to flee your dwelling in case of fire or natural disaster.”

That was dramatic, but the sentiment was appreciated.

      “I am not seated, but… ok, getting a sugary soda and not a beer… and… now.  Now, I am seated and safe from physical collapse.”

      “Excellent.  Now, what has discombobulated you to this degree?”

      “Ummmm… I… you know how it is sometimes…”

      “No.”

      “Yeah, I don’t see how you could, not because you don’t have experience with this sort of thing though I don’t actually know if that’s true or not, but I suspect not, and it’s not an insult, so please don’t take it that way, alright.”

      “I have no idea how to ‘take’ any of that as… truly, I doubted that anyone on Earth could be as confounding in conversation as Mummy, however, you have handily matched her as a verbal whirligig.”

      “I know and I can’t blame the scotch for that, either.  Let me start again…”

      “I would appreciate that.”

      “Me too.  Have you… I suspect you haven’t watched anything online or on the telly today, correct?”

      “Incorrect.  Only twenty eight, now… twenty nine minutes ago I watched a video about new technologies for digitizing various rare and valuable texts to make them available to larger audiences through the internet.”

      “Oh.  That sounds interesting.”

      “It was.”

      “Yeah.”

      “Gregory?”

      “What?”

      “Are you going to continue with your original conversation or are you going to fall asleep?”

Greg looked longingly at his monkey, which was happily sitting on a chair next to his overnight bag, watching him fail utterly as a speech-capable human.

      “I won’t fall asleep.  Hold on a moment, though… you’re at your computer?”

      “I am.”

      “Which means you’re still awake.”

      “I am now terribly concerned, Gregory.”

      “No, it… I just realized the time and that you’re actually awake.  It didn’t occur to me that you’d usually be asleep right now.”

      “Ah, yes.  It is a rare day, in some ways.  Mummy and Father have decided to remain another day or two and… given the… events of the morning… I have found myself not terribly able to sleep.  My glee was far too agitating to permit a restful mind, though I cannot say I mind that in the slightest.”

Shit.  That made this all the worse!  Better in a host of ways, but worse in one and that was the one that was shrieking in his face like a banshee who’d just stubbed its toe on the leg of their sofa while doing the in-the-dark walk to the loo.

      “I have to admit it’s had me gleeful, too.  Very gleeful, in fact.  But… do me a favor and go on YouTube…”

      “Must I?  It is such a cesspool.”

      “Not always.  There’s educational videos there and clips of stuff like your book digitizing thing.  Just go there and… yeah, ok, this will open a cesspool now that I think about it, but search for my name, use Greg not Gregory and I suspect some new stuff will be at the top.  If not, filter for the most recent stuff.”

      “For what reason am I doing this?”

      “Something happened today when I got off the train and you might as well see it while we can talk about it and I can explain what’s going on and what it will and won’t mean.”

      “That is most mysterious.”

      “Which you enjoy.”

      “True.  Very well, I shall do my most waterproof garments and wade into the cesspool of humanity.  I am inputting your name and… dear me.  Gregory, have you any idea how many, I believe they call them hits, appear for your name?”

      “Yeah, I do.  And… I won’t ask you to promise me not to go frolicking among them because that’s not terrible respectful to you, but I’ll caution you that the cesspool is thick, deep and the stench it emits will singe your nose hairs.”

      “Gregory… are there… are you saying there are… compromising videos of you present on this accursed site?”

      “Not in the way you’re thinking, videos of me shagging someone in an alley or something, but there’s loads of… sometimes fans get a bit creative and… do things with clips of my interviews or films and… they’re talented!  I’ll give them that… you’ll find a lot of shagging and other things implied or… pretty explicit and… you don’t need to see any of that.  It’s…”

      “Salacious?”

      “Oh, it’s about forty leagues down the lane from salacious so… just keep imagining it all as a cesspool and leave it well enough alone.  Ok?”

      “I…”

      “Now you’re curious, aren’t you?”

      “I will not deny that.  It is a rather intriguing area you have opened for my examination.”

      “Please don’t examine, Mycroft.  Or… I tell you what.  Ask your dad to do the examination and he can give you a completely objective opinion about whether you should wade in or not.”

      “A stellar suggestion.  Father is a keen analyst for any manner of information presented in any known form.”

      “Then we have a deal.  Now, are you seeing the very recent stuff?  The stuff from today?”

      “I believe… yes!  I note the time for their arrival in the pool of cess is today and for two of the first ten or so I see you standing outside of the train. Though… Gregory, I am most confused by the titles for these.”

      “Something I absolutely expect and that’s why I’m here to… talk to you about it.  Go ahead and play one and I’ll be ready to answer your questions.”

      “I am now, again, becoming concerned, for you are rarely this serious of tone.”

      “I won’t say it’s not warranted, but… it actually isn’t, though you might think so at first.  What I promise, though, is that there really is no reason to be concerned, none at all.  Not a single bit.”

      “Hmmmm… I shall follow your instructions, but I shall also avail myself of a humbug to soothe any possible distress.”

      “That’s a great idea.  Let me know… when you’re done with the video.”

Not that Greg had to wait for a formal announcement since Mycroft’s startled exclamations were useful guideposts for the progress of the video, which was most likely him getting off the train, getting attacked by Janine’s face, then the announcement that she was now signed to a role for the film which she, most professionally, failed to mention was the actual murderer.  When the small shrieks, gasps and soft choking subsided and the silence lingered long and loud, Greg began to worry that Mycroft had suffered some form of heart attack and more was dead because this conversation than the phone line.

      “Mycroft… are you still there?”

      “Oh… yes.”

      “Ok… good.  So… whatever you want to ask right now, go ahead and ask.”

      “Gregory…”

      “Yeah…”

      “That woman…”

      “Janine, yeah…”

      “Why was I not informed that she was being considered for my film?”

What?

      “What?”

      “The widow is an immensely important character and I should have been consulted on potential choices before the final decision was made.”

      “That’s your biggest concern!”

      “What else should it be?”

      “She kissed me!”

      “I… true, but the woman is clearly manipulative, and the entire business was obviously coordinated to provide maximum exposure of the sort to promote the wagging of tongues.  The positioning of the various cameras, her knowledge of that positioning so she could pose to best effect when they were photographing or filming the malarkey… I have no doubt she shall be a profound detriment to this film and I will instruct Anthea to have her sacked immediately.”

      “No… no, that’s not an option.  Or a good idea.”

      “I disagree.  Such a person is so wedded to drama and personal recognition that they cannot, in any manner, muster the maturity and control to properly present my murderer on screen.  I shall not stand for it, Gregory, I simply will not.  I have been very clear about my views on my film and they have not swayed by even a miniscule amount.”

      “You… ok, you’re not at all jealous that she kissed me?”

      “No.”

      “What if I told you that she and I are former… lovers.”

      “I am already aware of that, so I do not see how it could impact my current thinking on the subject.”

      “YOU KNOW!”

      “Mummy has been most informative about the non-acting aspects of your life.”

Dolly… dragging all his dirty laundry out into the open.  Which was now turning into a good thing, so no glaring at the imaginary figure of Mycroft’s mother and making evil-eye gestures at her grinning face.

      “And that doesn’t bother you?”

      “No.  I am not so naïve as to have expected you led a chaste life prior to our… becoming romantically entwined.  Further, you are a man of honor and would not have undertaken our entwining if you were not highly certain it was the proper decision.  That sense of honor would, also, preclude such an immediate betrayal of my affections, especially in such a crass and public manner.  If you worry that the robustness of your sexual life is something I find particularly distressing, rest assured that I do not, given you appear disease-free and, undoubtedly, would have informed me if that were not the case, even if Father’s interview neglected to probe that particular question.”

      “Ok… ok that makes a weird sort of sense and… thank you?”

      “I suppose thanks are merited, so you are most welcome.  Now, back to matters of importance…”

      “No trying to sack her, Mycroft.”

      “I shall if it suits me and it suits me very well at the moment.”

      “Nope, that’s not appropriate in the slightest.  Have you seen any of her films?  Talked to me about her since I would be a good source of information about who she is as a person and how talented she is as an actress?”

      “She positively reeks of opportunism.”

      “That has nothing to do with acting talent.”

      “It does if she has relied on chicanery and manipulation to secure and maintain employment.”

      “That’s not true, at least not for her.  Yes, some people do rely on things other than talent to get by in the industry, but not Janine.”

Though she happily uses chicanery and manipulation in her personal life and to make working with a true arse of a director, producer or co-star easier to bear, but you, Mycroft, do not need to know any of that at this point.

      “Subtlety, Gregory… the role requires subtlety, grace, the ability to project an almost saintly image then shift that projection to something so cold and ruthless that the reader… audience… is both shocked and repelled.  The skill necessary to accomplish that… flouncing about and shaking one’s hair comes nowhere near the necessary standard.  It could not see the necessary standard with a telescope!”

      “Janine can do more than flounce.  That’s why she wants the part, actually.  She wants to do some real acting and not just be a pretty face to reflect well on whatever male lead she’s working with.  And, like me, if you can see some of her earlier stuff, you’ll realize how good she is when given something more to do than be the smart-and-sexy female who spends half her time complimenting the hero while rolling her eyes behind his back because he’s just parroting her ideas like they were his own.  Look at her again, Mycroft, too, and tell me she doesn’t look like your character.”

Mycroft huffed but cut his eyes back to his monitor, letting bits of the video clip play and grudgingly admit that Greg had a semblance of a point.

      “She is too buxom.”

      “Wardrobe can scale back the buxomness.”

      “And too short.”

      “Nope.  That’s just you being evil.”

      “Her chin is discomforting.”

      “Evil.”

      “She has asymmetrical eyes.”

      “More evil.”

      “I wager her voice is that of a crow who gained a highly unfortunate addiction to the crudest form of cigarette.”

      “Filling the atmosphere with all forms of toxic, toxic evil.”

      “Gregory!  I will not abide my film being besmirched by a substandard performance!”

      “You thought I was going to be that substandard performance and that opinion changed, didn’t it?”

      “Only due to your courageous determination and creative use of personal skills to beguile me into deepening my knowledge of you as both a man and actor.”

      “And, until then, you had an incomplete picture, so you thought I was rubbish.  It’s the same thing here.  And, I suspect, you have even less evidence about Janine than you did about me since you didn’t have time to do any research.  Anderson didn’t even know about her being cast, so I know you didn’t have a chance to view anything she’s done.”

      “I see.  I now suspect a conspiracy to bring the most villainous form of doom upon my film.”

      “Wrong.  They made… I’m not particularly happy to say they made a smart decision, but they did.  I’ve worked with her before and she can be a pain in the arse during her free time, but not on set.  She’s a professional who works hard, takes her role seriously no matter how small or, frankly, insulting it is.  I don’t think Janine has aspirations of being the next Maggie Smith, but she does want to keep working as an actor for as long as she can and wants to, which won’t happen in the sorts of parts she gets now.  It’s not fair, not in the slightest, but female roles lean heavily towards young and… I’ve seen scads of good actresses unable to get work once they pass a certain age.  Unless they’ve carved out something else for themselves, acting-wise I mean, they’re done in the industry.  It’s cruel and its wrong, but that’s the reality and it’s not changing as quickly as I or they would like.”

      “My film is more important than simply a rung in this woman’s ladder of success!”

      “It’s me you’re talking to, Mycroft.  Me.  I know how important the film is to you.  You know how aware I am of that, so if I’m saying this isn’t a bad casting decision and that Janine will do a great job with the part, you have to have some degree of confidence that it is.  I wouldn’t promote her if I didn’t believe the choice was a good one; I’d be right there with you, and Anderson, working to get her taken off the film and finding out who signed her in the first place, so we could impress on them what a profoundly poor decision they’d made.  And what would happen if they did it again.  But, I’m not doing that, am I?”

      “Perhaps it is some residual affection that is clouding your judgement.”

      “Nope, because there wasn’t really any affection there to begin with.  Not the sort you’re thinking about, at least.  We parted on good terms, and when our paths cross, which they do now and again, we’re cordial and have a nice time chatting, but that’s all.  That’s all it ever was really.”

      “Besides the sex.”

      “Yeah, but you don’t have to have affection for that.”

      “No, that does seem to be the case, I will admit.  I am most distressed about this, Gregory… I… it is not that I lack faith in your perception, it is simply that I…”

      “You don’t have information to know for certain that my perception would line up with yours for this situation?”

      “Succinct.  And correct.  Once I was able to interact with you, I could to confirm your opinion that you were well-suited for the role.  Until then, however, Anthea was a forceful advocate and, though I have known her for many years and fully trust her intellect and instincts, I could not allow her word to stand as the only foundation upon which to base a changing of my mind.”

      “I can understand that.  At the end of the day, you’re the only one who truly knows your own mind and when something is this important, it’s hard to place all your trust in someone else’s assurances.”

      “Then we are agreed.”

      “I… about what, exactly?”

      “That I shall meet this Janine person and render the ultimate verdict.”

      “No.  And, in case I slurred that a bit, here it is again – no.”

      “I counter with yes and it must be soon, so the role can be recast when… if… I find her unsuitable.”

      “First, the likelihood Janine will traipse out to Royston Vasey is zero and second…”

      “I have seen that program!  Very droll, Gregory.  Your fatigue has not dimmed your sense of humor.”

      “Thank you, now back to the second thing, which is that my arse is going to be away for several weeks, so…”

      “Precisely!  Alacrity must be the watchword of the day!”

      “Nope.”

      “Gregory!  I must properly vet her!”

      “You can’t have final say on the entire cast, Mycroft!  Besides, it’s not in your contract.”

      “There are several nebulous clauses that successfully could be argued in court does allow me final say.”

      “Mycroft… please…”

      “Did you not, only a moment ago, argue that your former paramour is simply trying to gain for herself something she desires?  Why should the situation be different for me?”

      “That’s not what I’m saying.”

      “I believe it is.”

      “No… because I do agree that you have a right to want and try to make this film a success.  Just… look, how about this?  They’re not going to be filming anything for quite awhile, so let’s wait until I’m back in the country and, maybe, I can convince her to come with me for a visit so you can get to know her.  Maybe she and I can run a few scenes, in a roundabout way since I somewhat doubt we’ll have a definitive script by then, and you get an idea of how it will come together when we’re actually in costume and in front of the camera.”

      “It is not idea without merit, but I see no reason to wait such an extended time for the visit to occur.”

      “I do, it’s called me needing to sleep, get ready to actually be away for several weeks and I have a couple of engagements that I can’t set aside between now and hopping the plane.  One of which is an event for your literacy charity.  So… later, alright?”

      “But… you do not leave for several more days.  Surely that is sufficient for a brief excursion.”

      “Possibly, but it will take me time to convince Janine to even agree to come out to visit you and… I can’t manage another trip right now, Mycroft.  I’d love to see you again, positively adore it.  If I could have, I would have stayed those several more days so we could have had more time together.  I would have been thrilled for that, but I can no more set aside my work obligations than you can and that also means I have to find time to get some rest.  That will be today and each of the few nights I’m still in London.  As soon as I’m back, though, I’ll be on my way to see you, I promise that.  Not tomorrow, though, or the day after, not matter how much I might want to.”

      “I see.”

      “Really, or are you just being polite?”

      “No… no, I comprehend your viewpoint and cannot find with it any fault.”

      “Are you angry with me?”

      “Oddly, I find that I am not.  I respect your argument, though I do not wholly agree with it at this point, and am content to set the matter aside until next we can discuss it face to face.”

      “Thank you for that, Mycroft.  Honestly, I’m not trying to be difficult and the last thing in the world I would ever do is hurt you or take a single step in a direction I think would hurt the film.  And I will happily talk to you about this as much as and as long as you want, in person, so you can watch my expressions to see if I’m giving you my full and honest effort.”

      “That will be acceptable.  Now, you should run along and seek your bed.  The timbre of your voice has shifted several times during our conversation and I suspect it indicates that you are growing more and more fatigued.”

      “You are very observant and entirely correct.”

      “As expected.  Do enjoy a peaceful rest, Gregory.  Shall I… would it be inappropriate to phone you tomorrow to learn if you are doing well?”

      “It would not, at all, be inappropriate.  I should be home all evening, so ring me after your breakfast and we can have a chat.  Isn’t it a writing day, though?”

      “It is, but I have accomplished several hours of productive work today that shall offset the loss of time tomorrow.”

      “Very efficient.”

      “Yes, it is.  Goodnight, Gregory.”

      “Goodnight, Mycroft.”

Setting down the receiver, Mycroft narrowed his eyes, thought a moment, ran his hand across his crystal globe and making circular motions over its surface until his brain completed running its current algorithm and it produced a result that was to the writer’s liking.  A quick hop up from his chair had Mycroft walking to the bell pull on the wall to give it three quick tugs and he retook his seat while he waited for his full house staff to present themselves in his study.

      “If my chicken goes dry, Mr. Holmes, you’ll be eating it for every meal until the last dusty, stringy bit has gone down that throat of yours and without a single potato to make it even close to a happy experience.”

      “I shall file that with the rest of your threats, Mrs. Hudson, and give it the same level of due consideration.  Now, Charles… how soon can you provide me with information concerning an actress named Janine Hawkins?”

The look the staff shared was tinged with a thick layer of ‘oh shit he knows,’ but if he didn’t know they knew, everyone would be the better for it.

      “It depends on what you want, how soon you want it and what you’re willing to pay, sir.”

      “A general profile, as soon as possible and I am not inclined to be miserly.”

      “Financials?”

      “Only a cursory overview.”

      “Then I can have something for you in a few hours, sir.”

      “That will do.  Molly, kindly inform your cousin, the police sergeant, that I will be vacating the house for a few days and that I would appreciate an extra eye be kept on the property to ensure my absence is not capitalized upon by tourists and… looky-loos.”

      “Uh… alright, sir.  I’ll phone Roger right away.  How… how long are you going to be gone?”

      “We shall be in London for, perhaps, three days, though I cannot, at this time, provide a firm estimate of our return date or time.”

      “Oh, we’re all going?”

      “Yes, so do plan accordingly.  Mrs. Hudson, kindly pack my luggage and ensure at least one rather formidable suit is included.  Also, I will be avoiding green of any form during this ordeal.  Please plan accordingly.”

      “For meals, too?”

      “Hmmm… I might make a single exception for broccoli, for I do enjoy the manner in which you prepare it.”

      “Alright, we’ll be at the London house, I take it?”

      “Yes.”

      “You know your parents are going to want to come to London with us, don’t you?”

      “Alas, yes I do.  However, I can foist them upon Sherlock and then send them straight home rather than return with us, so the household might return to normal once we are again in residence.”

      “We’ll need two cars.”

      “They shall take the train.  Father finds train travel rather invigorating and Mummy always finds a captive audience a grand thing for her stories.”

      “True.  Alright, then, I’ll let them know and help your mum get their things together.”

      “Very good.  That shall be all for now.”

Three people turned, shared a smirk, then quietly made their way out of Mycroft’s study.  Trips to London were always fun and this one was on course to be very fun, indeed.  Mr. Holmes was on a mission and that didn’t bode well for either his new boyfriend or the boyfriend’s former girlfriend.  But it did bode well for the ones who got the free entertainment from all of it.  And the chance to paint the town a vibrant shade of red when they had a free hour or two and their employer was otherwise occupied…

__________

Bed.  One very large and very empty bed beckoned and with a voice like the most insidious of sirens.  Maybe a quick shower first, then many long and blissful hours of…

      “You blackguard.”

Sherlock!

      “What the fuck are… ow!”

The only thing Greg had expected less than Sherlock’s voice behind him in his house was one of Sherlock’s gloves smacking him across the cheek.

      “I call you out sir, for the betrayal of my brother and his trust.  You may have the choice of weapons, however, I do hope you choose a battle of wits for the time to your defeat would be infinitesimally small and I can return to my experiment before it proceeds to an… unfortunate conclusion.”

      “Sherlock!  You said that experiment wasn’t dangerous.”

      “Wrong, John, I said I did not anticipate it would be deadly and, since we are not present to be immediately killed by the outcome, I cannot be accused of lying.  Now, villain… prepare to face my wrath.”

This wasn’t going to be quick was it?  No, there was absolutely no chance his misaligned stars were going to permit that.

      “Can I, at least, sit for the wrath, lad?”

      “No.”

      “Lovely.  But, given the way today’s gone so far, I can’t say it’s surprising…”

Chapter Text

      “Thanks for this, John.  Really, not something I’m ever likely to forget.”

      “Sorry, Greg, but nothing I said was going to keep Sherlock home once he saw a certain bit of video footage, but I did insist on coming along in case you were actually stupid enough to agree to a duel and my medical services were required.  At a very reasonable rate, though, I promise you.”

      “Funny.  Very funny.  Let me guess, you two saw a clip of me at the train station today and…”

      “Kissing a harlot!”

      “No, Sherlock, not true.  If you’re going to toss out insults, make them accurate.  First, I was the kissee and not the kisser.  Second, Janine’s not a harlot, though she did a tremendous job playing a very high-class one in that spy film she was in two... no, three years ago.  Besides, why would you assume I was betraying your brother in any way with that stupid publicity stunt?”

      “Mummy earlier informed me of your mouth-mauling and, when I completed retching the entire contents of my stomach into the toilet, I realized that the situation put my tedious brother… he is pedantic, pompous, supercilious and fat, but he does not deserve to be cuckolded by a deceitful, and untalented, thespian.  I suspected matters would take a turn for the odious and I was proven correct even more rapidly than anticipated, which deepens the blackness of the mark on your eternal ledger.”

Dolly… well, she could fuck off if she thought she’d be getting a Mother’s Day gift from him!  Not… not that was in any way appropriate, because it wasn’t… yet… or ever!  But the fucking off could still happen and happen with bells on.

      “Putting that lunacy aside for now, how’d you even know where I lived?”

      “I obtained your address from the Register of Despoilers and Debauchers.  And, I shall inform you now that you live in a sty.”

      “It’s not a sty!  It’s… unique.”

      “Wrong.”

      “Right.  Not many people live like this, so the word fits.”

      “Not many people live in a malodorous, cavernous… how many murders have been committed in this hovel?”

      “None.  It was a hat factory.”

      “Dunce caps?”

      “Ha ha ha.  It’s amazing, though, isn’t it?  Brick, high ceilings, loads of massive windows, great acoustics, quiet area… I know it’s not what most people think of when they imagine a film star’s house, but it’s perfect for me.”

      “How many rats did you make homeless when you slithered into this ghastly structure?”

      “It took a bit of work to get it into shape, but all houses need that, even the big mansions you see on the telly.  Plumbing’s shot, roof leaks, windows don’t fit well so the wind blows right through… not this old girl.  She is tight as a drum structurally and… beautiful.  She’s a natural beauty and I adore her.”

      “Proving you are blind as well as lacking any sense of artistry or architectural elegance.”

      “Look at those arches!  They’re magnificent!  Look here, you… no, coasting to a stop on this topic because it’s not important right now.  Listen to me, Sherlock… I’ll thank you for wanting to look after your brother, but…”

      “Yes!  The reason I am here!”

Another glove smacked Greg’s cheek and John’s delighted giggle just made it all the worse.

      “Will you stop that?”

      “No.  Not until Mycroft’s honor has been avenged.”

      “His honor doesn’t need avenging, you bastard!  He doesn’t even think so and, yes, I know that for certain because I got off the phone with him about it only a few minutes ago!”

      “That Mycroft is too naïve to realize the heinousness of your conduct is, in no manner, surprising, which is why it falls to me to act as your judge and jury.”

      “I notice you left out executioner.”

      “John made me promise not to kill you.  Intentionally.  I cannot be held to account for any deaths resulting from accident or… other things.”

      “You can shove your accident or other things up your arse, along with the knowledge that your brother is so much smarter and observant than you that he immediately grabbed the right end of the stick and you still are larking about pretending to be The Scarlet Pimpernel.”

      “WHAT!  That is impossible.”

      “It’s not only possible, it’s the truth.  You didn’t connect, did you, all the cameras set up, all the media vultures circling and Janine waiting until I stepped out to make her big move.  All staged.  All faked for some free, and probably viral, publicity for your brother’s film.  So chew on that and I hope it tastes sour and with that weird musty flavor that things get when they’re starting to mold.”

      “I told you, Sherlock.”

      “Your input is not required, John Watson.”

      “My input is never required when I’m right and you’re wrong.”

      “Pffffffffffffffft.”

      “Nice, and you added in just enough spit to make any ten-year old proud.”

      “Are you two done?”

      “Your input is never required, Lestrade.”

      “It is if it involves your brother and me.  Can we sit down and talk about this?  There’s been no besmirching, no despoiling or anything like that, but I’ll give you the story about Janine and me and what was going on at the train station if it settles your mind and it gets you out of here so I can sleep.”

      “With whom?”

      “Oh, fuck you, Sherlock…”

Greg snatched Sherlock by the scarf around the detective’s neck and dragged him towards the sofa, pointedly ignoring what sounded like John skipping along merrily behind them.

      “Now, you sit the fuck down and open your ears.  Janine and I were together for a not very long time in a not very serious way that’s very over and done with.  No, I didn’t know she was signed to do the film and, no, I didn’t know she wanted the part in the first place, but what’s done is done and I think she’ll do a great job with the role, actually.  Mycroft isn’t so sure, but he and I are going to discuss it further when I get back from Morocco and maybe I can even arrange for him and Janine to meet, so he can see for himself that she’s more than the publicity-hungry sex kitten he seems to believe from that bit of video I asked him to watch.  Yes, me.  I phoned him and pushed it right in front of him so he wasn’t blindsided.  And he correctly saw the antics for what they were, so no jealousy and no bruised feelings.”

      “I see.”

      “Your tone says otherwise.”

      “Wrong.  My tone properly indicates that I acknowledge your words, however, that does not mean I believe them.”

      “Phone him!  Phone your brother and ask him if I’m lying.”

      “No.”

      “Why not?”

      “His voice gives me gastric upset.”

      “You already vomited everything out of your gastric, so that’s irrelevant.”

      “Your opinion is irrelevant.  Mycroft is sadly inept in reading emotional situations and surely failed to properly analyze the evidence.”

      “Weak, Sherlock.  Very weak.”

      “Speak to me not of your sexual abilities, or lack thereof.”

      “I blame you for this, John.  You’ve got scads of access to the proper medications to tranquilize him but couldn’t be arsed to use any of it.”

John waved off the nonsense with a gesture Greg had to admire for it’s professional-grade aplomb, which ensured John would be receiving something in the mail soon that he’d want none of his neighbors to see.  However, since it would be delivered by a hired lad and not the normal post, the neighbors would get a very good look at the… item… and the name of the person who had ordered it.

      “John is well aware of my tolerance to tranquilizers.  I have worked for years to render myself immune to their effects.”

      “Lovely.  So, if you won’t phone Mycroft, what will it take to convince you?  Cash?  Can I pay you?”

      “What a reprehensible, and guilt-proving, suggestion.”

      “So, that’s a yes.”

      “I shall not settle for less than a thousand pounds.”

      “I’ll give you twenty quid.”

      “Five hundred.”

      “Twenty-one quid.”

      “That is not the proper method of price bargaining.”

      “Fine.  Twenty-two quid.”

      “Unacceptable.  One hundred for me and… another hundred for John, since he will nag me mercilessly to use the money for mundane and petty concerns such as rent and food.”

      “Two hundred quid.  Done.  Now, goodnight.”

      “No.”

      “Now what?”

      “First, I do not have the money.  Second…”

Sherlock’s face finally betrayed some of what had brought him to Lestrade’s door and the actor reminded himself sharply that Sherlock protecting his brother was something to encourage, even if it meant taking glove to the face. Twice.

      “… Mycroft is a meddlesome bore, however… he does not deserve to be treated cruelly or used as a ‘not very serious’ plaything.  He… if you have, as he sees it, committed to some form of relationship, he will take that commitment seriously and… Mycroft has been hurt in the past.  Not romantically, per se, but he has been hurt and it is devastating to him.  I will not permit the pachyderm to suffer that again.  He has been happy in his ridiculous mausoleum, away from the dregs of humanity, and I refuse to see that happiness shattered simply because you fail in your responsibility to treat him with respect.”

John’s faux-aplomb had slipped enough for Greg to notice how proud the doctor was of his partner’s speech and, frankly, it was a pride the actor shared.  The Holmes brothers certainly had their singular qualities, but both were head and shoulders above a lot of others in terms of the size of their hearts, even if they did their best to keep that size hidden, at times.

      “It’s not my intention, Sherlock, to ever hurt Mycroft.  The last thing on my mind, actually.”

      “It is difficult to believe that given your reputation and the brevity of your association with my brother.”

      “Ok, that’s fair.  On both counts.  I’m not a monk, I won’t lie about that because I’m not ashamed of it.  I’ve had my share of fun, but not a single one of those I had the fun with will tell you that I was a cad or that I did anything dishonorable while we were together.  That’s not the man I am.  And… you’re right.  Mycroft and I have only known each other a short time, but… honestly, I don’t know what to say on that score.  It’s been a short time and it’s felt like a short time, but… it’s enough.  More than enough.  I was thinking about him, feeling something special for him almost from the start.”

      “That is not the norm for such things.”

      “No, maybe not.  Or maybe it is, and I just noticed before other people might because I’ve had all the business in my past to recognize that this was different.  I can’t promise, and I won’t, that we’ll make anything work between us.  My record for that, as you seem to know, isn’t a good one.  But, I can promise that if it doesn’t work out, it won’t be because I didn’t try or didn’t care or did something disrespectful, treated him poorly, anything like that.”

      “It would not go well for you if you did.”

      “My face will keep reminding me of that in case I forget.”

      “Good.  I will now accept my money and leave.  My disgust with your living accommodations has begun to paralyze my mind.  And my aesthetic sensibilities.”

Greg sighed and pointed a stabbing finger at John before finding his wallet in his jacket pocket and counting out the cash into Sherlock’s outstretched palm.

      “There.  Can I possibly get some sleep now?”

      “No.”

      “SHERLOCK!”

      “I have remembered another item of importance.  As the film is progressing more rapidly than I anticipated, it is critical that you learn, at least so far as your tiny brain can manage, the profession you hope to ape on the screen.”

      “Oh… ok, that’s not a terrible suggestion, however, my tiny brain is, functionally, becoming even tinier since it’s slowly losing cells into their little hibernation stage that I call sleep.  We’ll need to do this another time.”

      “Which will be?”

      “When I’m back in London.  I’ll have Anderson put a few days into my schedule specifically for that purpose.”

      “Insufficient.  Given your lack of talent for observation, reason or logic, we cannot spare a moment ensuring you do not humiliate yourself and, by extension, Mycroft in the film.”

      “It’s more than sufficient, because the film isn’t moving as fast as you seem to think, though, yes, it’s picked up its pace once they announced it was a go.”

      “I, of course, will have to be present on set during filming to critique and correct your performance.”

      “No.”

      “I counter with yes.”

      “I counter with give me back my money.”

      “John, we are leaving.”

John made a grand show of slowly coming back to reality and noticing Sherlock had spoken to him.  If the man wasn’t already set in a profession, Greg would consider turning his attention towards acting.

      “Oh, you remembered I was here?”

      “You have hereby forfeited half of your hundred pounds for… churlishness.”

      “You weren’t going to give me my share anyway.”

      “That is immaterial.”

      “Greg, phone me tomorrow if… you need to chat about anything.”

The quick cut of eyes towards Sherlock, along with the ‘thanks for not beating him to a pulp’ nod reinforced to Greg that in this life, finding someone who truly cared about you was a precious thing, even if it meant they dragged you into mayhem now and again.

      “I will.  And, now you know where I live…”

      “In a slaughterhouse.”

      “Thank you, Sherlock.  Anyway, John, now that you know where I live, stop in when you can.  I do toddle over to my local when there’s a good match on and wouldn’t mind a familiar arse warming the next stool over at the bar.”

      “Thanks!  I may… no, strike the ‘may,’ I’ll definitely take you up on that.”

      “I, however, will not.”

      “Didn’t expect you to, Sherlock, else I would have extended the invitation to both of you.”

      “That is the first non-idiotic thing you have done in my presence.”

      “Let’s hope it’s the start of a trend.  Now… goodnight?”

      “I have no idea if your night will be a good one, but I also have no intention of staying to discover the answer.  John, we will be stopping for spicy beef and eggrolls before returning home.  Have your wallet at the ready.”

      “You have a fortune in your bloody pocket!”

      “I have no memory of that.”

Sherlock’s dramatic twirl and stalking towards whatever door they’d snuck in through... and disabled the alarm... was impressive, Greg had to admit, but not as impressive as John’s tiny shift of features, quick sniff and cracking of his knuckles as he followed after.  For postponing his sleep, the entertainment wasn’t the worst thing to offer in trade and he could, at least, put check the ‘if you hurt him, I’ll hurt you’ lecture off his list of possible outcomes of this morning’s events.  Now, all that lingered was the discussion with his parents, and Mycroft’s parents, and he honestly wasn’t certain which one he dreaded more.  Probably the one with his own parents, since they never approved of anyone he was seeing and it likely wouldn’t be different with Mycroft.

Or maybe it would.  A serious, scholarly person who was independently wealthy and had the manners to make that wealth seem second nature would appeal to them greatly.  The more Mycroftfian aspects of his personality… well, there was a lot his parents would probably overlook for someone who was not, as they had proclaimed of others, empty-headed, vulgar or scheming.  He could hope for that, at least.  And postpone making that particular phone call until sometime… later.  As far in the laterness as he could possibly manage…

Chapter Text

The wonderful thing, or one of them, about having massive windows was that they filled your house with whatever the weather had in store for you.  You got to experience the rain in its gloomy glory, the snow in its sparkling splendor and the sunshine in all its… fuck but the sun was high in the sky.  Yes!  Yes… thank you, kind universe for putting on hold today whatever you have in lying in wait so this poor, sad actor could actually have a long, peaceful sleep.

Greg rolled over to look at the clock on his nightstand and did a gleeful shimmy in bed when he saw the time.  Sleep… he’d gotten more than he’d enjoyed in what seemed a lifetime and it felt good.  Good with a capital G and the OOD deserved all caps, too, so they could have their share.  He’d have to work out a way to actually spend time with Mycroft and not live a perpetually sleep-deprived existence.  Greg Lestrade, which was him, was not too proud to admit that his looks had been a major factor in his success and those looks would turn traitor on him quickly when he sported dark circles under his bleary eyes, an exhaustion-hued pallor and a stubbly chin.  Not the sexy sort of stubble, either.  More the sort that was patchy and uneven and had that weird shine that damned you as a greasy-skinned person or one who’d been too lazy or unhygienic to wash your face that morning.

Well, he’d have plenty of time later to think about that… and more.  Lots more.  Which was good.  He was a champion thinker.  Or not.  Maybe a bit champion and a bit wearing the participation ribbon.  Uh oh… the brain seemed to be suddenly failing.  Did it need more sleep?  Probably not.  It felt very much like he was at that tipping point between having just enough and too much sleep, where, if you tipped across the aforementioned point, you gained nothing but a sluggish feeling and headache that haunted you all day like a Christmas ghost.  Since he had no time for ghosts today, the brain would get breakfast and coffee instead of more sleep and all would be right in the world.  Provided Sherlock didn’t have any surprises hiding behind the hedges for him…

Greg rolled out of bed, threw on a dressing gown, then let his massive yawn propel him towards the kitchen, which was blessedly empty of unexpected guests, to start his coffee while he rummaged for the quickest breakfast he could prepare.  Knowing it might be the dumbest thing he could do, Greg took a quick moment to check his mobile and beamed widely at the message from Anderson that only said ‘Call – no rush’ because it meant he could eat his quick and heart-unhealthy breakfast, catch up on the news and be an average chap with a free morning at his disposal.

But, of course, he found himself phoning Anderson anyway, because he could eat, drink, belch just as easily on the phone as off of it and it would annoy his agent, which would be an additional boon for his lovely day.

      “Let me guess – you just fell out of bed.”

      “Correctamundo!”

      “Oh god, not you and your stupid words.”

      “Me and my stupid words are happy to hear your voice, too, Anderpander.  Now, what is the no rush conversation on you mind that my mind needs to know.”

      “Very no rush, actually.  Just going to let you know that I talked to the studio about Janine’s casting and it went through a surprisingly rigorous process before the decision was made.  No behind-the-works shadiness.  She actually agreed to an audition when her agent started campaigning and they had her in to read through a sample scene.  She even showed up with her hair in a bun and in a ghastly dress she undoubtedly sent someone out to a common-person’s shop to buy, since the character spends most of the book looking dour, dowdy and severe.  They were impressed.  Both with that and with her reading.”

      “I didn’t expect anything different, truth be told.  I’ve faulted her for loads of things, but never her professionalism and commitment to her work.”

      “That also helped, I think.  Despite her public persona, the studios and directors know she’s a hard worker and doesn’t bring any drama with her on set.  So… hear anything on the Mycroft front yet?  About yesterday, I mean.”

      “I dove into the deep end on the pool straight away and phoned him the moment I walked in the door.  Had him go on YouTube…”

      “Never a good idea.”

      “… true, but I kept him away from the fan videos of me fucking every co-star in every film I’ve ever made… human, alien or other… and he was fine with it.  Well, no… let me say that again.  He wasn’t jealous about it because he saw it was set up for show and not real, but he wasn’t happy about her being cast.”

      “I doubt he would be.  I’m meeting Anthea later and I’ll do what I can to paint the correct picture for her to pass along.”

      “Thanks.  I told Mycroft that he and I would talk more, too, when I’m back in the country.  Maybe get him to meet her, once I’ve pushed through her snark to press her serious-actress buttons.  I do think she could make Mycroft feel better about the whole thing, but not if she barges in like she was doing an interview for one of the entertainment programs where they like her to be… exactly what would have Mycroft pull the plug on her casting.  He said it was possible and, honestly, I don’t entirely doubt it.”

      “I don’t either.  I haven’t seen his contract, but Anthea’s hinted it’s… unusual… and, horrid as it is, the studio would cut her before they’d see the film quashed.  Her name won’t draw an audience size like yours will and they’d see it as good business to cut that loss to keep the project going.”

      “I know, so I’ll do my best on that score.  What else do you have for me today?”

      “You’ve got that luncheon for Mycroft’s literacy project with members of CILIP …”

      “Little help.”

      “Library people.”

      “Oh, ok.  Mycroft’s dad will be happy.”

      “Likely so.  It’s not a dreadful restaurant, either, so you won’t be gnawing rubber chicken while you talk about the good work librarians do for society.”

      “That’s certainly not a hardship.  After that?”

      “A ‘surprise’ appearance at a special screening for your new film.”

      “Should I exercise my signing hand in preparation?”

      “Yeah.  And give your teeth an extra bit of polish because you’ll be posing for photos for about four thousand hours.  But, you only have to be there beforehand, so once the film starts, you can take a car home and… do whatever you like.”

      “That sounds perfect.  Tomorrow?”

      “The Vanity Fair interview we sidestepped last night and a few other things, but fairly light.  The next day is a cruel bastard, but then it’s naught for the following one and then… we leave.”

      “Ugh, but yeah! at the same time.  Ok, then, what time should I expect a car for lunch?”

      “About eleven-thirty or so.”

      “That early?”

      “Librarians are the birds that catch the worm.”

      “I won’t have a second helping of breakfast, then.”

      “Especially not the shite you throw on a plate.”

      “It fills the hole.  Phone me tonight about your chat with Anthea?”

      “Yeah, I’ll let you know.”

The quiet on the other end of the phone happily met Greg’s contented sigh as the actor set aside his phone and poured a second cup of coffee.  So far, so good.  A nice, normal day that would end with him, once more, in the loving arms of his bed.  Really, it was a gift.  A special, precious gift and one that would not be taken for granted…

__________

      “Well, it didn’t burn to the ground.”

      “I would anticipate, Mrs. Hudson that the fire service or my insurers would have informed me, should that be the case.”

Mrs. Hudson waved off Mycroft’s logic and made certain he didn’t see her smile, both at his logic and the prospect of being in London a day or two.  Truthfully, she didn’t miss the city as a place to live, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a grand place to visit.

      “Maybe, but they may also have decided not to tell you, so you kept paying them money and they didn’t have to pay you out any in return. The insurance ghouls, not the fire service, that is.  Alright then, Molly, ready to go?”

Molly gave her head a little nod and stepped out the Charles-opened rear door to begin the ‘we’re here and now we have to make ready to be here’ process.  Which was mostly her and Mrs. Hudson having a cup of tea and planning what they’d do with their free time, but the first ten minutes or so would be devoted to inspecting the house to ensure that the cleaning company that had been through overnight hadn’t moved anything, broken anything or left any streaks on shiny surfaces, all of which would give their Mr. Holmes a dizzying case of the vapors.

      “Are you going to sit here like a toad on a log or have Charles give you a little drive around while you wait?”

      “I suspect, Mrs. Hudson, that the toad in question is using his time most productively, in whatever manner is appropriate for his species, however, Charles shall drive me to the British Library and I shall spend there an hour and fifteen minutes examining new additions to certain of their collections.”

      “They’re not open yet.”

      “Nor are they ever when I arrive, however…”

Mycroft’s enigmatic smile made Mrs. Hudson roll her eyes, but give Charles a surreptitious pinch on his arm for being a good lad and keeping their employer happy with his rare, but precious, bits of mischief.

      “Be off with you, then.  We’ll have the house ship shape when you return and then you can have a nice nap before evening.”

      “Do make certain the cleaners did not use any form of floral scents in my bedroom.  I shall tolerate a slight whiff of fruit, but I will not abide flowers that are not present in natural form.  That will certainly make me imagine green and the intolerableness of that situation cannot be overstated.”

The discussion over why fake flowers, but not real ones, would make the writer think of green was a discussion no person who valued their peaceful hour of tea and holiday planning would care to broach, so it was left very much alone.

      “No fakey flowers… got it.  Have fun breaking into a venerable institution.”

Mycroft’s sneaky grin and tap on the side of his nose earned him another set of rolled eyes and a gentle closing of the car door by his housekeeper.  The man was just so cute when he had a little scheme going.  The only thing cuter was when his dad was involved.  Who would be in here later today.  Maybe they’d do an after-hours run through the British Museum.  That always put a smile on their faces.  A tiny one, that is, but they counted just as highly as the big ones…

__________

What a gift… the response to her being cast was phenomenal!  Flooded with calls all yesterday and today, her agent had said, loads of interest in why she was choosing such a small, quiet film and what it meant for her career.  And, only a fraction asking about what it meant for her and Greg as a couple.  Which they weren’t, thank you very much, by extremely-mutual choice.  That was the best news of all, really.  The one worry she’d had about going for this picture was that it’d seem as if she was trying to ride that bastard’s coattails.  Leverage their old romance into getting the part and using him as a tool to get a leg up to different sorts of roles and films.

Which was something she’d wondered about, too.  Her agent and publicist hadn’t shied away from asking, either, because it was a fair question.  But, she hadn’t abandoned her prime philosophy which was to play the game but play it by her own rules.  And… play it on her own two feet.  She’d build what she had, or she wouldn’t have it.  Not that Greg would mind lending a hand… he’d offered before… but that wasn’t her way and never would be.  Not only was it weak, cowardly… but what you built you controlled, you held, and nobody could flick a wrist and snatch it away.  Well… yes, there were situations where that could happen, but they were minimized if your career was built on a foundation of your own hard work and talent, not backroom deals, favors and the like.

Now, who could be knocking at the door?  Flowers?  Champagne?  Some congratulatory gesture from an admirer?  Or her agent, who was prone to that sort of thing, not that she minded.  There’d been many lean times when that had been the only bright spot in her days…

      “Yes?”

      “Good evening, ma’am.  My name is Charles and…”

      “What have you brought me today, Charles?  Sweets?  Flowers?  Smoked salmon?”

      “Alas, I have no physical token to offer you, however I can, if you prefer, write out on a piece of paper the invitation I am to bestow and present it with all due respect and fanfare.  You may even sign for it if you appreciate inserting a touch of realism in your fanfare.”

It was only now that Janine noticed that the man at her door was not the standard delivery person, or even the highly-styled delivery person that some of her favorite vendors chose to match their wares with their intended recipients.

      “Who are you?”

      “Charles, ma’am.  Oh, perhaps I should don my hat to make more evident the nature of my employment.”

      “Ok, stupid me for seeing a man in a traditional chauffer’s uniform and thinking you were a delivery person, but that’s not really answering my question and you know it. And how did you get in here?  The security for this building is ferocious.  I should know, I pay enough for it.”

      “One person’s ferocious is another person’s… amusing.”

      “I’m calling the police.”

      “Your prerogative, of course, however, I doubt Mr. Holmes will be happy that he must spend the evening he anticipated, one of cocktails and conversation with a member of the cast of his film, retrieving his driver from the clutches of the constabulary.”

      “Film?  Wait… Holmes.  Mycroft Holmes, the writer?”

      “The very man.  Mr. Holmes is hopeful for a word with you about your participation in his film project.  He was most… surprised… by your casting and is eager to hear how you view the role.”

      “Why didn’t he phone my agent and set up a meeting?”

      “Because ‘meetings’ often put people, shall we say, on the wrong foot for honest and forthright conversations.  There is a stilted air to them that contaminates the very purpose for the gathering.  It is Mr. Holmes’s hope that a simple, friendly conversation will be far more conducive to learning your ideas for portraying his character on screen.”

Yeah, she’d heard this sort of thing before.

      “Or shove his hand up my skirt.”

      “The reasons that would not occur are multitudinous, but if it alleviates your concern, Mr. Holmes has also met with Mr. Lestrade and undertaken a similar conversation.”

That was unexpected.  And not something Greg mentioned yesterday.

      “He met with Greg?”

      “Yes.  Mr. Holmes takes this film extremely seriously and is most concerned that the actors portraying his characters are properly suited for the task.”

Meaning he wasn’t sure about her.  Was there any surprise there?  No.  Another person who thought her only talent was what genetics handed her in the appearance department.  Which, admittedly, was a thought that would be laid to rest by any of her films which emphasized that exact thing and whatever sexual interest it could ignite in the ‘hero.’

      “And, let me guess, he thinks I’m a no-talent floozy.”

      “To be honest, he has no idea who you are in the slightest, besides the small amount of footage he has viewed from yesterday’s rather gauche publicity stunt.”

      “Oh.  Not something to stroke the ego, but I suppose a blank slate is not the worst way to go into things.  Yesterday, however, wasn’t gauche.”

      “Hmmmmm…”

      “It wasn’t!”

      “Not that it is my place to say, madam, however… I sincerely doubt your standard train-meeting wardrobe is comprised of dresses quite that form-fitting and form-revealing.  Or that red.”

Ok, that bit had been over-the-top, but it made certain all eyes… and cameras… were on her and there was no possible way she could get lost in the crowd of Greg’s fans, who were colorful enough on their own.

      “Fine!  Yes, it was a touch gauche, but it was the most efficient way of blasting my name out there in association with the film.”

      “Mr. Holmes does prize efficiency.  You would do well to emphasize that aspect of your decision-making process.”

      “I didn’t say I was going with you