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Winter's Awakening

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“There we go,” Greg said, arms full with their boxes of supplies. He nudged the car door shut with his hip and took a deep breath of the clean Scottish air. “Ah,” he sighed. “That’s good.” On the other side of the car, Mycroft copied him, drawing a deep lungful and exhaling gustily. “Nice to get London out of your lungs occasionally,” Greg added, grinning.

“It’s just nice to get out of London,” Mycroft agreed, swinging his laptop bag over his shoulder and hefting his suitcase from the backseat. He followed Greg to the door of the cottage, an emotional weight settling on rather than lifting from his shoulders as he did so. It was a full year since he had crashed his car at the top of the lane leading to Greg’s cottage. He wondered at how fate had thrown them together. That past year had been...interesting.

Looking back, Mycroft considered that very little of it had been easy. The two of them had danced around each other for a while, Greg processing his feelings for the elder Holmes, while trying to keep the younger one from deducing what was going on. The last thing Greg wanted was for the news of their relationship to get out before they were both ready. Greg had been very vocal on the subject, despite Mycroft finding that he wasn’t as bothered by the prospect as he might have expected. Of course, Sherlock knew something was different, but post-Sherrinford he had been more circumspect, at least with regard to his brother. It surprised Mycroft a little that his brother made no move to vocally deduce either Greg or himself on their return, choosing instead to continue on as before, working on the occasional case, while simultaneously parenting Rosie and finding his feet with John. If he knew what was going on, he chose to keep it to himself. That did not make Mycroft any the less wary, because where his brother was concerned, anything might change at any time.

To begin with Greg and Mycroft had attempted to keep their distance, giving each other space. They had managed occasional dinners, both men under no illusions that their odd working hours would conspire to make things difficult. Of course they were going to have to cancel on occasion but Mycroft had been honestly surprised at just how many times they were forced to rearrange their engagements because of work commitments. Mycroft knew his partner was taking on more duties. Greg’s name had come up for promotion to Chief Inspector, so Mycroft found he couldn’t really object. It was his fault after all. He had met the Police Commissioner at a reception that Easter, and happened to mention the oversight. In Mycroft’s opinion Gregory was long overdue for promotion, at least in part because of Sherlock’s involvement. Mycroft wanted to correct that for his partner. So he held his peace on the subject of missing dates. They had both known that their work was likely to have a higher than average chance of interfering in their relationship before they took their first steps on this new path together. If it became frustrating at times, well, that was to be expected. They exchanged front door keys as they had promised, and came and went in each other’s lives as much as they could.

Six months ago, Greg had surprised Mycroft by being the one to propose that they move in together. Mycroft had agreed quickly, having anticipated that this was their way forward. Missing dinners, rescheduling lunch dates, being late for theatre dates, it wouldn’t matter if they could be in each other’s company for the rest of the time, but Mycroft had realised long before Greg that the man would come to it in his own time and could not be rushed into anything. It had still proved to be a surprise when Greg finally came to the decision though. Waking up together, cuddling, making love, having breakfast… All sickeningly idyllic, Mycroft thought with a smile. All very fluffy and domestic… and perfect too, in its own way.

However, it had not been a walk in the park. Mycroft had found himself getting irritated with Greg’s frankly sloppy living habits, and Greg had got annoyed with Mycroft’s rigidly house proud ways. After one or two robust discussions, in Mycroft’s terminology, both men had done their best to accommodate the other. Mycroft quickly realised Greg hated arguing with him, deducing quickly that their exchanges reminded Greg all too easily of the rows he and his wife used to have, but despite that, Greg would vigorously defend his point of view if pressed. If Greg noticed the strategically placed magazines, left on the couch instead of being put back in the magazine rack, he was careful not to say anything, but he had noticed, and what’s more, Mycroft knew he had. In return, Mycroft had noted that Greg had tried to remember to put his laundry in the hamper and not leave his dirty underwear on the bedroom or bathroom floors.

So here they were, one year on from that fateful meeting in the Scottish Highlands. Mycroft shouldered his way into the living room of the cottage, scolding Anders who dashed between his feet. The dog was like his owner; cheeky, adorable, and roguish. Having a dog in the house had been a little odd at first, but Mycroft found himself getting used to the small presence rather quickly. Anders often diffused the tension between the two men with his antics, perhaps without meaning to, but it sometimes seemed he knew when they were at odds with each other. The dog was a comfort, and Mycroft had got used to having him around. Anders now had a covered run in the garden behind Mycroft’s house, with a kennel at one end for shelter, in which he spent his days while the two men were at work. Mycroft had made sure that the kennel was heated during the winter months which made for very plush accommodation, but he employed someone to go feed and check on the dog through the day anyway, and everyone remained safe and happy.

So here we are, he thought, watching his love light the wood burner, getting a blaze going with which to heat the place through. Snow was forecast but not for a few days, and they had the whole month off. Walking, photography (Mycroft’s Christmas present to Greg had been a new digital SLR camera), and possibly more horse riding was on the agenda (they had been certain to pack their riding gear this time), as was seeing Greg in his kilt again. A little later, Mycroft smiled as Greg came out of the bedroom, clad in his thick cable knit jumper and utility kilt, brazenly showing off his knees again.

“Going by the look on your face, I’m not going to be dressed like this for long, hm?” Greg grinned.

“I will savour the moment,” Mycroft replied. “A fine view such as this requires at least a few moments of contemplation.” Greg laughed and went to light the aga.

Mycroft disappeared into the bedroom to unpack leaving Greg to sort out their supplies. He took out his thick burgundy fleece robe, one of his Christmas presents from Greg. The thin silk one he had packed a year ago, when he had been aiming to spend time in his parents’ centrally heated Scottish property was certainly no use here. The two men had planned to come back to the cottage months ago, planning to spend their anniversary there. It was a few days hence, but Mycroft did not doubt they would find activities to occupy themselves. He tried hard to get his mind out of the gutter where ‘activities’ were concerned, but it was difficult, considering Gregory wasted no time in changing into his kilt. Mycroft paused in his thoughts, hand coming to rest on his case, restless fingers drumming a tattoo on the top. He had a thing to do, a plan of action, but he was uncertain how to proceed.

Mycroft had brought his artists’ sketching pad, paints and pens. He planned to do some sketches of the area if the weather held, and Greg was still working on his book, allowing Mycroft to read it and be his editor.

“What do you fancy for dinner, love?” Greg called, breaking into his thought processes.

“Did you bring that steak and ale pie?” Mycroft asked.

“Yup. You want that? Fluffy mash and peas to go with it?”

“Sounds divine.”

“Bloody Hell, it’s a pie and pea supper, Myc. We turning into a pub?”

“I should hope not. That would imply opening our doors to all and sundry. Pardon me if I prefer our holiday to be rather more private. So let this be an exclusive pub, darling, with two patrons only.”

Greg grinned. “Suits me.” He paused. “Everything okay?”

“Yes, my dear. Why should it not be?”

“No reason, really, you just sounded a bit...I dunno, contemplative, I guess. You sure you’re okay?”

“Yes, Gregory, I am sure. I am just...tired.”

“S’fine, it was a long drive.”

They ate in almost silence, the steak and ale pie done to perfection. Greg had put the radio on and they listened to it as they ate, entertained by Sondheim and Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Mycroft was slightly disturbed by the silence between them though, despite the music. Greg remained a little quieter than normal. They retired early, Greg suggesting they ought to because they were both tired from the journey. Mycroft made no complaint, but went to bed in a vaguely unsettled state of mind.

They managed a trip to Oban the following day, stocking up on fresh supplies again. Greg insisted on a fish and chip lunch and they bought a haggis from the local butcher as well as two aberdeen angus steaks and some mince for bolognese. Walking the harbour side, dodging the sea gulls, Mycroft pointed out some smaller black birds that he did not recognise. “Black Guillemots,” Greg supplied. “They nest around here. Oban’s a spot they come to frequently.”

“Never seen them before,” Mycroft confessed. “What other secrets does this town hold?”

“Couple of decent bands, a couple of castles, a falconry center, an ancient breeds park, ferries to the Islands, and a cat called Parsley.”

“Pardon? Did I hear you correctly? A cat? Called Parsley*?”

“Yeah, he’s kind of an ambassador cat. He’s a Main Coon, big orange lump who enjoys wandering, meeting visitors, you know, generally doing cat stuff…”

“We did not meet him last year?”

“Nope, he’s not always around and it was pretty bad weather last year. His owners probably kept him in. Has a social media following and everything. They run the One Cat Cafe where he lives.”

Mycroft smiled. “Maybe we should pay him a visit before we leave for home.”

“Probably when Anders isn’t with us or it might get ugly. Parsley’s been known to duff up the canine opposition on occasion.”

“A very good point, Gregory.”

The two men sauntered through the town, along the way picking up some things from a hardware store to allow Greg to effect some repairs on their return home. All seemed back to normal between them, and Mycroft put it down to tiredness from the long drive. They stopped to buy some fresh pastries, then motored along home. It was nice not to rush, or be needed anywhere.

By the time they got back, the light was waning, so Greg put the repairs off until the following morning. They spent the evening contentedly listening to Friday Night is Music Night on the radio, while Greg worked on his book. Greg went to bed first though, leaving Mycroft to do the final nightly checks, and was asleep before Mycroft slid between the sheets an hour later.

Bright and early the next morning, Greg went about working on the small repairs around the cottage. Mycroft woke to an empty bed, but he could hear distant hammering and the metallic scrape of a ladder on the wall outside. Mycroft dozed for a while, then took his time getting up, taking a leisurely shower before finally emerging clad in a pair of green corduroy trousers and a thick aran sweater. He made tea and toast, and then on impulse scrambled a few eggs. He laid the table and set out the food, then called through the small window for Greg to come eat.

“Greg, food is on the table. Can you pause in your work?”

There was a muffled thudding, and then Greg appeared at the door, flushed and happy, setting his hammer down on the floor before heading to the sink to wash up. He sat down at the table opposite Mycroft and admired the food appreciatively. “You made me breakfast,” he said, grinning.

“You know it is within my capabilities, Gregory. I am not without culinary skills and it is hardly the first time.”

“No, I know, but...you made me breakfast. We’re on holiday, it’s snowing, and you made me breakfast. Think I’m in Heaven.”

“Snowing? Already? The weathermen got it wrong then?”

“Not exactly, it’s very light. Hardly there in fact. I’m going to put the car under cover after this though. I’ve a feeling there’s more on the way soon.”

After their meal, Greg made sure their car was undercover in the small garage they’d had built on the end of the cottage a few months prior. It had been an improvement Greg had been meaning to make for years but his ex-wife had never wanted him to waste money on the place. Mycroft had insisted on paying, and now there was a sturdy stone-built garage-cum-shed that complemented the existing walls of the cottage while providing excellent shelter for their vehicle and more storage than the previous utility room that had now been encompassed into the garage space. Even with the car inside it still provided both storage and workshop space for Greg to work.

Mycroft lent Greg a hand to finish the repairs, holding tools and handing over screws and nails. They worked companionably but the light again went quickly, dark clouds gathering before they had finished.

“Here it comes,” Greg said, gazing up a the sky. “If we don’t have snow tonight, I’m not a Lestrade.”

“Or descended from the honourable line of Frasers,” Mycroft added. “The forecast said we were in for a few inches.”

“That’s relative,” Greg said. “Up here, a few inches can mean drifts six foot deep against the walls and across the roads. The wind will see to that.”

Sure enough, some time after dinner that evening they both heard the wind getting up, hitting the sidewall of the building with some force. Greg looked through the drawn curtains to see snow flurrying past. “There we are,” he said. “Kinda reminds me of last year.”

“I would rather forget last year,” Mycroft admitted, “bar for the one fact that it brought us together. I still feel rather foolish…”

“No need, love. Anybody could have lost control of their car in conditions like these.”

“Other people, Gregory, not me,” Mycroft said, stiffly. “I spend my life maintaining control over my environment, and it does not sit well with me that I lost that. Slips like that can be fatal. Do not for a moment think I do not know and understand that I might have died…”

“Yet you didn’t. You’re here, now, and you should let it go, love.” Mycroft gazed at him silently. “Last year, you were reeling from what happened to your sister, and you were not thinking straight. I cannot imagine the man looking at me now would fall into that trap again. You are not the man you were last year, love. You’re more focused, sharper. Back to your old self, but...a cut above, just better.”

“You really believe that, don’t you?”

“Hell, yes. I know you. You’re Mycroft Holmes, and you’re King of the World.”

“You’re a joker…”

“Your Jester perhaps?” Greg suggested. “Gregory Lestrade, King of Jesters, and Jester of Kings.” He flourished a bow and Mycroft smiled.

“The Chalice from the Palace has the brew that is true?” Mycroft suggested.

“And the Vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison?”

“No, no, Gregory, The flagon with the dragon has the pellet with the poison…” Both men chuckled over the shared joke of one of their favourite films.

“I think we need that one on the playlist, hm?”

“Definitely. You are my Court Jester, after all.”

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Sure enough, the following morning dawned very bright as the snow reflected the sunlight. White drifts covered everything, despite not being particularly deep, and the weather report suggested that it was here to stay with more on the way at week’s end. Greg grinned, and went about clearing the path at the front of the cottage. More snow fell before he had finished, and he retreated into the warmth of the living space, shedding his jacket and shaking out his hair. He grabbed a towel from the linen pile and applied it vigorously to his head, leaving his hair in unruly spikes. He came over to sit by the wood burner, where Mycroft supplied him with hot cocoa.

“So, here we are,” Mycroft said, taking the seat opposite. “Snowed in again. Dear me. However will we cope?”

Greg laughed. “I just hope nobody wants you to save the world in the next few days.”

“The world will just have to wait,” Mycroft said, sipping his own cocoa. “The apocalypse will have to be put on hold until I get back. I dare say if they’re really desperate, my brother might make a half-decent stand-in.”

“Needs must, as they say?”

“Precisely.” Mycroft chuckled. “Although Anthea is taking more responsibility these days. I think she might cope excellently.” He’d not felt this light and happy for a long time; amusing banter with his beloved man, enforced inability to travel far or contact the real world, good home-cooked food, beautiful scenery, a decent bed, and lots of sex… Has life ever been this good? Can it get any better? He ruthlessly suppressed thoughts of things going the wrong way, and tried to relax into the feelings bubbling up through him. Mycroft let his mind drift to his plans for their stay. His stomach flipped a little again. A whole month, with Gregory… He hoped everything would go according to plan. Their anniversary was tomorrow and he was...very hopeful.

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He woke early, padding on bare feet to the window, peering out to see snow everywhere. More had followed the first fall until the drifts lay thick around them. They were able to leave the cottage but it would be some time before they were driving anywhere. Walking or skiing were their only options from now on. Greg had urged that they take care though, as medical help would have difficulty reaching them, not to mention that getting any kind of decent mobile signal was next to impossible, but Mycroft had insisted they attempt some kind of walk. “Perhaps close to home?” he had suggested, the previous evening as they discussed what they were going to do. Greg had relented and agreed to that, but made him promise not to take any risks.

“Don’t want to dampen your enthusiasm, but I’d rather not have to get you back down off the hills with a twisted ankle…”

“I will take care, Gregory. I promise you. As will you, I have no doubt.” Greg had smiled and nodded, satisfied.

Mycroft left Greg in bed, snoring gently. Throwing on his thick robe, he padded to the Aga, setting a kettle to boil and beginning breakfast. He had Gregory’s present in his case, and he was hoping he could persuade the man into the walk they had talked about after breakfast.

Greg roused to the smell of bacon, and moments later, Mycroft shouldered the door open and presented his love with breakfast in bed.

“Oh, Mycroft...I was going to do that for you…” “I apologise, Gregory. I have been waiting to do this for months. Indulge me, my dear. I really want to spoil you today.”

Happy anniversary, love.”

“And the same to you, my heart. Here you are.” Mycroft sat the tray across Greg’s knees.

“This is amazing. Thank you, Myc.”

Mycroft sipped his coffee and smiled indulgently. “I was hoping you would consider showing me the route we took the first time you took me up to see the glen?”

“Yeah, we can do that.” Greg ate for a while in silence.

“I...um...I bought you something.”

“Got you something as well, arranged it weeks ago, but I admit I forgot about the date until the last minute. I’m a bad man, Myc. When you reminded me, a week ago, I realised I’d lost track of what date it was.”

“You have been busy. I know you’ve been taking more shifts on at work.”

“Yeah. My promotion to DCI is pending…”

“Actually...it isn’t pending anymore,” Mycroft said softly. “Here.” He retrieved an envelope from his briefcase, and handed it over. Greg turned it, examining the Metropolitan Police logo embossed on it, curiosity etched across his features. Opening it, he scanned the contents quickly, then looked at Mycroft with wide eyes. It was the ratification of his promotion. He’d been successful.

“Fucketty fucking fuck,” he murmured, reading the contents again. “Hang on, how come you get to give me this?”

“I...pulled a few strings and requested that I might be given the privilege,” Mycroft explained. “Your Chief Super was very accommodating.”

“Damn me...Mycroft…” Greg paused, a troubled frown on his face. “Tell me, you didn’t have anything to do with this?” he asked awkwardly.

“Definitely not. I can assure you of that,” Mycroft said firmly, quick to reassure. “My involvement stretched no further than being the one to tell you, I did not influence your elevation in rank.”

“If you had, I’d never find out anyway, would I?”

“Seriously, Gregory, I know how proud you are of your achievements. Perhaps a word in the right ear set the wheels in motion, but beyond that, your achievement is deserved, and your own. If I suggested your promotion was overdue, it is merely because you should have risen much earlier than this. I lay the fault of that at my brother’s door. However, I did not influence your hard work, your experience, your test results, your arrest record…”

“Sherlock might have had something to do with that.”

“I sincerely doubt it. Sherlock works fast, he gives you time. I am more than confident that you could get to the bottom of your cases without his help. You were already detective inspector before you allowed him on cases. After all, you are far from being the idiot he makes you out to be, but where time-sensitive cases, such as serial killers, are involved, Sherlock merely shortens the investigative time, allowing early apprehension of the perpetrator.”

“Thanks, I think. Nice to know you have faith in me.”

Mycroft smiled. “It’s not a question of faith. I am surrounded by goldfish, Gregory. Everybody around me is slower, duller, so much so they seem witless. My IQ, like Sherlock’s, is high enough that other people seem slow, stupid, unable to form even the most basic of conclusions. You, however, are different. I have spent my life surrounding myself with tolerably fast thinkers, people with fast reactions, people who are intelligent and intellectual enough to not cause me to tear my hair out in frustration. Yet with you, I feel...at home. Safe. Loved. You are never boring, always forthright…” Mycroft fixed Greg with a look, one eyebrow raised, “...mostly honest…” he said, which raised a laugh from his partner, “...and you are insanely handsome. You are intelligent, intellectual even, and quite a quick thinker, and given what I have just said, consider that the highest praise I can offer.”

“Patronising bastard,” Greg growled, but he was smiling.

“Your patronising bastard,” Mycroft countered, and was met with a kiss.

They dressed warmly, Greg equipping himself with his camera, on a tripod (also a Christmas present from Mycroft) and a rucksack of supplies for their walk. He had packed a thermos of coffee, energy bars and a small first aid kit. The snow wasn’t too deep as they struck out up the lane to the view point. The day was dry and clear, the sky blue. Mycroft found himself experiencing a new sensation as they walked, one which he was loath to admit but couldn’t ignore. The sensation increased the closer they got to their goal. He began to catalogue the symptoms; dry mouth, an uncomfortable clammy sensation under his collar, a weakness of the knees, a tremor in his hands. A shutter going off made him jump. Greg was grinning at him over the top of his camera, seemingly oblivious to his nervous state.

“You can see for miles today,” the cheerful man observed, staring off into the distance. Beside him, Mycroft cast a wary glance at his partner. Something about his manner seemed a little forced.

“Truly, a..a wonderful place. Gregory...I…” Mycroft faltered, words dying on his lips.

“What, love?” Greg turned to him, but Mycroft looked away and stared straight ahead.

“It is...truly breathtaking.”

Greg smiled. “You old romantic.”

“Pft, I am nothing of the sort…”

“I beg to differ.”

“I am sure you do.”

“Mycroft, I’m sorry if I’ve not been...well, the perfect housemate…I...I know I have rough edges…”

“Gregory, stop. Of course we have had...teething troubles, as it were, that was bound to happen, but you have been…”

“Crass? Irritating? Leaving my filthy socks all over, not putting my magazines away, not emptying the waste bins…”

“Gregory, I...I know we have had our….differences, that is true, but...quite honestly, I would be…” Mycroft took a shaky breath. The nerves returned full force.

Greg sighed. “Better off without me, I know…” Greg murmured softly, regretfully. “I am really sorry, love.”

“No...please…”

“Look, Mycroft, I have loved living with you, you know that? It’s been the best time, but...if you want to call it a day, if it’s too much...I wouldn’t blame you, you know. I’d be sad, of course, but…”

“Gregory, please...I understand it has cost you to accomodate me over these past weeks. I am not the easiest man to live with. Sherlock will attest to that, at length and bitterly, I can assure you.”

“Do we make a good team, though?”

“I’m sure we do. Yes,” Mycroft agreed.

“Sure? I mean...dunno what you see in me sometimes. I’m not wealthy, I’m not the most diplomatic of people, I’m not an aficionado of opera or classical music and sometimes art leaves me cold…”

“Gregory, you are...you. I would not wish for you to be something you are not.”

“You’d be…”

“...lost without you now,” Mycroft interrupted, finally meeting Greg’s eyes.

“You would? I...I mean...Mycroft…”

Swallowing his nerves, tugging off his gloves, Mycroft reached into his pocket and drew out a small box. He dropped on one knee in the snow before he could change his mind, in full view of the glen, the open sky and the rolling hills. “I mean it, Gregory Lestrade. I would be lost without you and I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my days with you. Please, consent to be my husband? Marry me?” And just like that, one year to the day since Mycroft Holmes had promised himself he would do this, he looked up to see tears shining in Greg’s eyes, but he was smiling. He held out a shaking hand. Mycroft carefully took the ring from the box and slid it onto Greg’s finger. A sudden cry split the air and both men looked up. Wheeling above them, an eagle flew high, circling on the updrafts. Caught in the moment, unable to speak, Greg drew his lover to his feet and hugged him hard, planting a kiss on Mycroft’s lips to seal the promise.

“Course I’ll marry you, love,” he growled, voice gruff with emotion. “I adore you.”

“I adore you too, love you to the moon and back, Darling.”

“Actually I have something for you as well, but you kinda stole my thunder there.” Greg reached into his inside jacket pocket and withdrew an envelope. “Here.”

“What’s this?” Mycroft took his turn to read the contents. It was obviously a legal document of some sort. When Mycroft saw the address, he realised it was the deed to Greg’s cottage. With a shock, Mycroft realised his name had been added to the ownership details. “What have you done?”

“I have added you to this place’s history, Mycroft. You are part owner of this place now. With me. Us. It’s ours, not just mine.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything, Mr Holmes-Lestrade…” Greg grabbed him for another hug. “Detective Chief Inspector Holmes-Lestrade. Has a nice ring to it. This is seriously the best day of my life, and here I thought you were having second thoughts.”

“I know, and I am sorry. I was...nervous. I am never nervous, Gregory. I have faced down the PM, I have had audiences with Her Majesty, I have dealt with foreign envoys and trade delegations and the CIA...and you manage to reduce me to schoolboy nerves…” Mycroft shook his head. “Only you, Gregory.”

“Told you that you were a romantic.”

Mycroft rolled his eyes. “We all have our flaws, it seems.”

Greg chuckled. “Come on then, we have photos to take. I am not letting this moment pass without a record.” Mycroft allowed himself to be tugged close for a selfie, and Greg made sure the glen was behind them, in all its glory. Our glen now, Mycroft thought, gazing at the remarkable man beside him. My fiance, he thought, a part of him incredulous at his own audacity. Greg glanced at him and they both paused, lost in each other’s gaze for a moment. Like the glen, their future lay before them, beckoning for them to explore. And I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, Mycroft thought, taking Greg’s hand and holding fast.