Actions

Work Header

So Full of Light

Chapter Text

[Spring]

"Detective Inspector," Mycroft said, inclining his head. If he were any less busy cleaning up after Sherlock's most recent attempt to injure roughly 50% of his body in the service of crime-solving, he'd have noticed the blood soaking through the right knee of Inspector Lestrade's trouser leg as he trotted breathless into the waiting room, or the way his deodorant had given up the ghost several hours ago.

Both were ridiculous thoughts, given that Mycroft had to have noticed them in order to note that he had missed them.

What Mycroft did admit to himself that he noticed, however, was that his heart had started to beat a little harder at Lestrade's appearance. As this was not uncommon in the slightest, Mycroft mentally dusted himself off and moved on. "Can I convince you to be looked over?"

Lestrade brushed off the suggestion with a filthy hand. "I'm all right. Has he been—"

"My brother will be fine. Surly, as usual, but fine. He has a compound fracture of his left tibia and a concussed John Watson. Things are going to be rough, but they'll both survive."

"Good." Lestrade blew out a breath and flopped down into one of the hospital's hard plastic seats. "I got here as soon as I could."

"You're very kind."

Lestrade didn't seem to have heard him. He scrubbed his face with both hands and ruffled his hair, making a distracting growling noise. He tongued the oozing cut on his bottom lip and frowned. "I can't believe they ran in there before me."

"Can you not?" Mycroft raised an eyebrow. His own lip hurt in sympathy.

He gave Mycroft a look out of the corner of his eye, and, gratifyingly, huffed a dry laugh. "Of course I can."

"That's what I thought."

Lestrade slid his legs all the way forward so he could lean at an angle back in his seat and stretch his back. He winced. "I wouldn't have thought they'd be here." His voice was full of even more gravel than usual.

"Where did you expect them to be?"

"I figured there was some posh hospital you'd take them to."

"I think a broken leg hardly warrants special treatment, do you?"

"I'm not the one with access to posh hospitals. I don't know what they can do."

"I assure you, the treatment would be the same."

"If you say so." Lestrade stood up to pace, but thought better of it after making it halfway around the tiny room. He sat down in a chair on the opposite side, much in the same way a cat pretends that it has intended to fall off the table.

Mycroft pressed his mouth into a line. "I really think someone ought to look at your knee, at the very least."

Lestrade looked at him, assessed him, and sighed. "Right. Fine." He pushed up with a groan and limped stiff-legged out into the corridor, brushing close to Mycroft as he passed. "Have it your way." He smelled of asphalt and body odour and blood. Mycroft's stomach clenched.

I usually do, Mycroft thought. He pressed his fingers to his lower lip and willed his heart rate to subside.



[Summer]

"The moment we know any more, we'll make an announcement. I promise," Lestrade finished. He stepped out from behind the podium in a strobing flurry of camera flashbulbs. As Mycroft watched him on the monitors, Lestrade ignored all the questions being shouted in his direction and stepped through the double doors to his right.

Mycroft looked up, and there he was in person, wiping sweat off his brow with his sleeve and accepting a bottle of water from Sergeant Donovan. His suit wasn't nearly as bad as his last one, Mycroft noted, before Lestrade looked up and spotted him. But he'd looked good even in that miserable, blue polyester travesty of a garment he'd worn last week. He'd look good in anything.

He’d look better in nothing at all.

"Mycroft," he said.

"Detective Inspector." Mycroft adjusted his grip on his umbrella.

"You were watching?"

"I was."

"Did I do okay?"

"I'm not sure I'm the best gauge of—"

"Bullshit," Lestrade said, then popped Mycroft a cheeky grin. It left something warm and thick burning in Mycroft's gut. "You probably know more about public relations than anyone else here."

"I'm not sure that's entirely true. I'm only—"

"A minor public servant, yes, I'm aware." Lestrade's eyes were sparkling now, and he walked closer. His sergeant was having a terse word with a few constables behind him, but Lestrade didn't seem to care that he was leaving her behind. "Still. Tell me. I know you have feedback, pain in my arse." Mycroft blinked. "Well? What is it?"

Mycroft shifted his weight back and tried not to let his enthusiasm for speaking to Lestrade overwhelm his judgement; there was only so much he should know, much as he would like to help him out. "Tilt your chin up a bit higher when you speak. You will seem more in-command. They might be more inclined to listen to you."

"That pack? I doubt it. But thanks." Lestrade smiled that white-toothed grin again, and Mycroft swallowed to shove down a flutter of nerves. "What are you doing here, anyway?"

My judgement was impaired. "I was in the neighbourhood."

"You're never just 'in the neighbourhood'."

"And yet I was today. How strange."

"Yeah. Strange." Lestrade rolled his eyes. "So when I find out there's some massive conspiracy involved in this case, I'll just phone you up, yeah?"

"Feel free," Mycroft said, trying for as off-hand a manner as possible.

"Oh, I will," Lestrade said, and was promptly spirited away by Sergeant Donovan and the rest of his colleagues. Mycroft stared at the back of him, pleased even to watch him go.



[Autumn]

Mycroft checked his information and directed his driver to take a left, then another left, then to park. He sent Jessica out to the coffee shop just over the road where he knew Detective Inspector Lestrade to be, having a leisurely break in his errands on a rare day off.

She came back almost immediately.

"He won't come, sir."

Mycroft frowned. "What do you mean 'he won't come'."

"I mean just that, sir. He flipped me off and went on drinking his cinnamon mocha." She smoothed her blonde ponytail back from her face and looked annoyed.

"You told him I was waiting?"

"I did all the usual things, yes, of course. I think you may have exhausted his patience, if you don't mind me saying."

Mycroft sighed. He tapped his fingers on the armrest and watched a few pedestrians pass. That woman is late for work at the bookstore three streets over. He is wondering whether he can get away with putting off his haircut for another week. And those two just had sex in his car. Pedestrian indeed.

"What would you like me to do, sir?"

He unbuckled and opened his door to step out onto the pavement, then wavered with indecision. After a moment, he abandoned his umbrella on the seat.

"You're going for him yourself, then."

"It appears I have, as you say, exhausted his patience."

He heard her get into the car behind him as he crossed over the road toward the coffee shop.

As expected, Detective Inspector Lestrade was sitting in the front armchair reading, every once in a while casting a wary eye out the window before going back to his book. Mycroft stood and watched him for a moment before opening the door. He was wearing a brown, waffle-knit pullover, grey trousers, and brown hiking boots. The shirt made his chest and arms look gorgeous. Touchable. Disastrously appealing. Lestrade looked warm and inviting, and Mycroft wanted him so badly it hurt. Mycroft drank in the sight of him in one greedy once-over then took a few seconds to get ahold of himself before entering the building. Lestrade looked up at the sound of the bell and sighed so heavily it could be seen from across the room.

"Good afternoon, Inspector," Mycroft said. He settled himself down tall and proud in the adjacent chair, pulling his mental armour round himself. "I trust you are well?"

"Niceties, is it?" Lestrade said.

"It seems I have no choice but to move the mountain to Muhammad."

"So I'm Muhammad now."

"In this scenario, yes."

"I'm sick of your gentlemanly kidnapping, Mycroft."

"At least you think of it as gentlemanly."

"Well, you do avoid the chloroform."

"As a matter of pride."

Lestrade sighed again. "What do you want?"

A myriad of scenarios flashed through Mycroft's mind. Fortunately, he was not of the constitution to blush. "I only had some questions for you."

"You can ask them here, then."

Mycroft looked around. "I'm afraid not."

"Sure you can." Infuriatingly, Lestrade was pretending to continue with his book. He even turned a page.

"I really can't, Inspector."

"Try."

Not for the first time, Mycroft understood why Inspector Lestrade and Sherlock worked together. They'd never exactly been best friends, but there was a certain sympathetic stubbornness that sometimes made Lestrade feel uncomfortably familiar.

Mycroft sighed and hung on to his annoyance with both hands. "I cannot discuss this case in public, Inspector."

"Well, it's my day off. Your choices are here or tomorrow."

"I need to—"

"Here or tomorrow, Mycroft." Lestrade turned a page.

Mycroft stifled a growl, watched the girl behind the counter fix a drink, studied a young couple texting across the table from one another, and willed his blood pressure down into normal levels. "The nation, and Trelawny Hope, cannot afford a security breach—"

"Sherlock is on it, right?"

"Yes, but—"

"Tomorrow, Mycroft."

Barely, just barely, Mycroft reined himself in from slamming his palm on the arm of the chair in a bid for Lestrade's full attention. Too much of Mycroft's emotional life was caught up with the man already. It was ridiculous. It was intolerable. He stood up and went to get himself a tea while he calmed down.

He sat again with his drink to find that Lestrade had laid aside his book and was sipping his coffee, both hands wrapped round his cup. "Are you ready to behave civilly now?"

A flare of anger burned brighter for a moment before Mycroft swallowed it down. "We must speak about this. The security of the country is far more important than your day off."

"Bullshit. This is about control, and you know it. Sherlock has the case well in hand, which you also know, and any information you'd get from me would be cleanup, and not timely in any way. So why are you really here, Mycroft?"

It was a good question. It was a terrible question. Mycroft jut out his jaw. "Very well. Tomorrow, then." He sat forward in his chair.

"You're not going to finish your tea?"

Sod the tea. "I have things to do today, Inspector. It is not my day off."

"Whatever you say."

"You really won't speak with me."

"I really won't," Lestrade said. He picked up his book again.

Mycroft tightened his hand around the arm of the chair, wishing yet again he had his umbrella. He realised Lestrade was staring at his hand with an amused expression on his face. Their eyes caught.

"Irritating, aren't I?"

Extremely. "Not at all."

Lestrade snorted. "For someone who lies professionally, you're not doing a very good job of it."

It's entirely your fault. You with your shirt and your smile and your categoric immunity to being cowed. Mycroft picked up his tea and sat back in his chair as if he had no intention of moving, which perhaps he did. It all depended on what Lestrade did next.

"Sticking around, then?" Lestrade said. He'd found his place and began scanning the page, pretending he was reading.

"Will it do me any good?"

"I don't know." He licked his finger and turned the page. "Give me til the end of the chapter and you might find out."

Infuriating.

Even more so that, no matter how this turned out, a small part of him would be glad to spend some time in his company. Mycroft sat back to wait, disgusted with himself. And when Lestrade left an hour later without giving Mycroft any news whatsoever, Mycroft could barely summon the will to frown. Instead he was impressed, fascinated, and growing respect for Gregory settled warm and soft in his chest.



[Winter]

Mycroft Holmes's face itched to holy hell.

The beard wasn't his idea, and if he'd had his preference he wouldn't even have begun it. But three weeks ago it was strongly intimated to him that joining in with this ridiculous Santa Relief effort would go a long way towards supporting the cover story for his position. And what with the recent investigations into government cover-ups, even a little bit of obfuscation was worth the effort if it meant they could maintain the current level of funding without interference or oversight.

Obfuscation being the apt term, Mycroft thought, looking into the mirror in the men's. He ran his hand over the reddish growth on his face and scowled. He'd tried to keep the blasted thing trimmed, but no matter what he did it still seemed slovenly. It sat oddly on his face. He loathed it.

Needs must, however. And the ordeal was nearly over; after this party his obligations were through and he would be free to return to his clean-shaven state. The end couldn't come soon enough. The sound of Christmas music echoed from the ballroom, down the corridor, and vibrated the door to the men's. Mycroft was reminded of a horrid wedding he'd attended in the mid-90s. He felt just as out of his element now as he had then.

Indignation churning his stomach, Mycroft pushed out into the fluorescently-bright corridor and hung a left back to the party—and the incredibly-necessary drinks table. He was brought up short by the familiar back of a figure sitting on a bench against the wall, facing away, haloed by a pool of light.

Gregory Lestrade.

Mycroft steeled himself for conflict. The spectre of their interaction at the coffee shop had hung over their heads the last few times they'd crossed paths, and there was a tension between them which hadn't been there before. Mycroft dealt with unpleasant people every day, but his attraction to Lestrade left a sour taste in his mouth, and their relationship was ever-so-slightly… acrimonious. He tightened his hand on his umbrella and stepped along the corridor.

Then Lestrade turned his head, and Mycroft thought he might swallow his tongue.

It seemed that Lestrade's salt-and-pepper hair grew in the same on his face as it did on his head. His beard was bristly, patchy, viscerally appealing in a way that had little to do with aesthetics and more to do with masculine sensuality. Mycroft was stood rapt, conjuring up the rough brush of the beard against his lips without having moved an inch. His apprehension dropped away, lost behind a painful stab of want. God, Lestrade was beautiful.

For Lestrade's part, he had certainly noticed Mycroft's arrival. His jaw dropped ever-so-slightly, he took a visible breath, and he sighed as he leaned forward. Over the swell of the jazzy Christmas music Mycroft heard the faintest little "huh," noise. Lestrade blinked at him, and something in his mouth and eyes sketched a bare suggestion of a smile. "Mycroft," he said.

Mycroft's stomach flipped. Oh god. "Hello."

"I didn't know you were participating." Lestrade's smile had relaxed into something that looked terrifyingly like awe. Mycroft's heart thudded hard in his chest.

"I…yes I am. Yes."

"Sorry. That was a dumb question."

"No, that's…okay." And it was, for some reason. Mycroft was feeling very forgiving in the face of Lestrade's admiration. "It was necessary."

"The question?"

"No, the…" Mycroft gestured at his beard and began to feel warm.

"Ah, right." Lestrade's words tumbled to a halt and he stared some more. "Wow. Erm. So…how have you been?"

"Fine, thank you. …You look…well…"

Lestrade licked his lips. "Thanks. Er, you do too."

Mycroft's heart rate sped, and his mouth went dry. He swallowed again, hard.

"I wouldn't have thought you'd be the type to join in…you know, fundraising."

"What are you trying to say?"

"No, I mean…" Just because Mycroft wasn't the type to blush didn't mean Lestrade wasn't. It was washed out slightly by the glare of the fluorescents, but it was there, communicating his wrong-footedness. "It's seems so…public. Common."

"Are you saying I'm not common?" Mycroft raised an eyebrow.

Lestrade pinned him with a glance and echoed his expression. "No. You're not common at all."

Mycroft gulped, even more desperate for a drink. "It's a very long story."

"What, were you blackmailed into it?"

Mycroft blinked at him. "Well. Not a long story when you put it that way, no."

Lestrade laughed more heartily than Mycroft would have expected, and it made the warmth in Mycroft's gut burn hotter for a moment. He smiled. To his shock, Lestrade smiled back. The moment hung there motionlessly, highlighted by jazz piano and the beat of Mycroft's heart.

"I'll say this, I was glad to do it, but I'll be glad when it's over."

"And why is that?" Mycroft asked, feeling his gears slip back into place, driving the conversation forward. He stood more firmly on both feet.

"I loathe this thing."

There was nothing Mycroft thought of to say that wasn't vastly, overwhelmingly betraying. "Is there any particular reason why so?"

"It's only just stopped itching like hell. And I feel like I'm always getting crumbs stuck in it. I look like a vagrant."

You absolutely do not, Mycroft thought. "I understand completely," he said aloud.

"Yours itches?"

"You would not believe." They both shared a chuckle and locked eyes for a bare moment before Lestrade glanced away to the entrance to the ballroom.

You should ask him to dance, suggested a traitorous, delusional part of Mycroft's mind. It wasn't going to happen.

"Do you know Jenny Torville?" Lestrade said.

"She's one of the organisers."

"She's why I'm here."

"Ah." Mycroft’s stomach lurched and sank.

"Yeah, she's a friend of mine. She talked me into it. And invited me to the party, otherwise I'd never have been here. I'm not exactly a top-drawer contributor."

"No?"

Lestrade raised an eyebrow again. "You know I'm not."

Diplomatic insincerity offered, then rejected. Typical, when conversing with Lestrade.

Mycroft looked down the corridor, watching the couples dance together en masse in front of the live band. Discomfort crawled under his skin. Discomfort and nerves. One more hour, he thought, and then you can leave. He considered heading back into the office to get some work done while it was quiet. He could place the phone call to Korea he'd been meaning to make for the past two days. Next to him, Lestrade shifted.

"I should probably go back into the party."

Mycroft did not look at him. "You have social obligations, I expect."

"I do." Lestrade stood. He stretched slightly, squared his shoulders, and headed for the entrance to the ballroom. A sentence floated back over his shoulder. "Are you coming?"


The music was even more obnoxious inside the room. The bass player had delusions of grandeur, the pianist was bored, and judging by his outfit and hair, the lead singer's goal in life was to be featured on X-Factor. Mycroft's eardrums were planning a revolt and threatening to take his sanity with them. On the other hand, Lestrade had brought him along to introduce him to several of the event's organisers, which was was a small price to pay for getting to spend some time by Lestrade's side. After all, it was Christmas.

Jenny Torville seemed pleasant enough, though what Lestrade saw in her wasn't immediately clear. She was petite and ash-blonde, about their age, and wore a sensible-yet-stylish pantsuit, but Lestrade far outstripped her in terms of charm and sex appeal. He exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December, Mycroft thought bitterly, then forced himself to tune in to the introductions.

"Jenny, this is Mycroft Holmes. Mycroft, this is Jenny Torville."

"It's a pleasure," she said, and she shook his hand brusquely.

"Likewise," Mycroft said.

"Mycroft is—" Lestrade turned slightly in his introduction to see Mycroft's expression, caught the slightest, mildest widening of his eyes, and the beauty—the whip-smart beauty—understood Mycroft’s sudden concern. "—The brother of that consulting detective we use at The Yard," he finished.

Mycroft wanted to let out a sigh of relief: his cover, such as it was, was safe. It would have been fine if Lestrade had ended that sentence with 'a minor government official', but Mycroft wasn't sure if left to his own devices Lestrade would have remembered not to betray Mycroft's security status, his incidental control over the national CCTV system, or anything else Lestrade might have noticed during their long acquaintance.

"Oh, the mad one?" Jenny said, and laughed. "I've heard of him." Her smile was nice, not derisive, and suddenly Mycroft liked her just a little more. But only a little. "I heard he's brilliant and an arsehole."

"Either or both, depending on the day," Mycroft said, giving her a charming smile. "Or the moment." Then he was introduced to Thomas and Naveen and Andrea, and after the usual small talk Mycroft could operate on autopilot again, turning his attention to Lestrade to watch him laugh at Naveen's jokes and absently stroke his beard. Warmth curled in Mycroft's gut, and he let the wistfulness play out for a few tender moments before reeling it back in. When he finally refocused, he caught Naveen in the middle of a story.

"She was doing some work at a local clinic,” he was saying. “And then she went to this fancy dress party one weekend. Dyed her hair purple for it. Looked horrible, I think, but there you go. Kids."

"She's what, twenty-something?" Andrea laughed. Apparently the story was about his daughter.

"Twenty-four. But that doesn't matter. Still a kid. Looked like an ultraviolet light, too. Anyway, she was going to dye it back the next Monday to something more…normal…but for some reason she didn't, I forget why. And can you believe she just went to the clinic anyway? Hair all purple?"

"She didn't."

"She did." They all laughed, and Mycroft pasted on a pleasant expression as if he hadn't had to deal with troubles ten times worse when Sherlock was that age. But banality was banality, whether here at this fundraiser or over in Whitehall, and a running feed of mindless chatter was perpetual. It was simply a thing to be borne.

"Ah, you raised her well enough," said Lestrade, the roughness of his voice like a familiar hand between Mycroft's shoulder blades, ushering him back into the conversation. Mycroft knotted his hands at the base of his spine. "I don't think there was anything to worry about. She'll have known whether it was the sort of place to turn up to, looking like that."

Naveen gave him a sheepish smile. "Thanks, Greg, but…"

"I wouldn't worry about it."

"But…"

"Was she sacked?"

"No. Actually, they liked it, but…"

"No sense borrowing trouble, eh?" Lestrade clapped him on the shoulder. "Come on. There are worse things."

Mycroft watched Naveen's posture relax as he sank into Lestrade's friendly support. People liked Lestrade, Mycroft thought, not for the first time. They felt comfortable around him. Unlike Mycroft, he rarely seemed to find their conversation banal. Mycroft had never had that easy camaraderie, nor had he ever truly wanted it, but there were certainly times during which it would have been…a boon to his work, not having to manipulate his way through. He wondered what it would be like, having that interpersonal quality at his fingertips. Pleasant? Useful?

Satisfying?

He glanced at Lestrade out of the corner of his eye and was startled to find him looking back. Immediately Mycroft pulled his gaze away to follow Naveen's broad hand gestures, but it was too late. The aftershock of the adrenaline was already pulsing like a nerve agent through his stomach. Lestrade’s expression was curiously intent. Mycroft feared what he had seen.

"I think I need a drink," Lestrade said. "Are you four all set?" He asked the group in general, who hoisted their glasses in answer. He looked at Mycroft. "And what about you?"

Mycroft's mind spun. "A glass of wine would be…pleasant." He’d never made it to the bar.

"Any particular kind?"

Mycroft hesitated.

And Lestrade's mouth quirked. "Come with me. It'll be easier than guessing."

"Yes. Yes, too right," Mycroft said, and the adrenaline was back. He followed Lestrade in a weaving pattern around the room and over to the bar. Ordinarily his umbrella felt comforting, like physical security, but it didn't feel so much like armour in this crowd as a lightning rod for attention. He was unsure what people were seeing—how they were judging the tall, awkwardly-proportioned man following Detective Inspector Lestrade, the one with the too-posh suit and the ginger beard and superfluous umbrella.

He hadn't felt this insecure in a long, long time.

The instigator of this insecurity pulled up at the bar and turned to Mycroft. "What'll you have?"

Mycroft scanned the selection, chose a red wine, and pulled out his wallet as the bartender poured.

"What are you doing?" Lestrade said.

"It's a fundraiser. I presumed…"

Lestrade shook his head. "No, Mycroft. I'm buying you a drink," he said, and cracked a bit of a smile—a shy smile, and a lingering one, and suddenly Mycroft was having some trouble with his throat. He swallowed.

"Oh," he said idiotically.

Lestrade's smile broadened just a bit before he turned and ordered himself a scotch, then laid down enough cash for their drinks as well as a quite a bit extra. Mycroft dropped some money on the bar for the bartender's tip and pretended not to see the conflicted expression on Lestrade's face.

"You're incorrigible," Lestrade said as they walked away, stepping well within Mycroft's bubble of personal space. Mycroft told himself it was because he spoke quietly and he needed to be heard over the music.

"I wanted to shoulder some of the burden," said Mycroft. Lestrade bumped into his side once before they wended their way back to the knot of organisers. Mycroft jaw set firm and he could feel his pulse thumping in his throat. The warmth of Lestrade's body lingered.

Mycroft's awareness of his body lingered as well, and it occupied at least one fraction of his attention throughout the entire conversation. Thomas and Andrea were gossiping about some board member or another, and the pettiness was astronomical. He pretended to be interested, however, making the correct sympathetic noises as he drank his wine, even while his attention returned to Lestrade once again: a compass needle seeking out north.

This time when their gaze caught, Mycroft didn’t glance away. Lestrade gave him a tiny smirk from behind his glass as if they were sharing something. Connection crackled between them for a moment before Lestrade’s attention was captured by Andrea, who had asked him a question. Mycroft felt the remnants of it in his stomach for long minutes, a low-amplitude wave of nerves that took an awfully long time to dissipate.

They were finally scattered by the ease with which Jenny touched Lestrade’s arm. He’d made her laugh—made them all laugh—and she had rested her hand on his biceps and grinned with a light that transformed her face.

It was…it was good that he had someone, Mycroft told himself. He deserved to have someone. He deserved to be happy. It it looked as if he made her happy too.

Of course he did.

Mycroft stared down into his wine glass and let the conversation spin on round him. Apparently he wasn’t feeling much like enacting the charm offensive that evening; surely they’d think him dull, but he couldn’t find it in himself to care. He calculated how much longer he had to stay before he could make his excuses and leave.

“…I felt like McClane crawling across broken glass in that meeting,” Thomas said.

“Talking of which, my husband doesn’t agree that Die Hard is a Christmas film,” said Andrea.

“Well, that’s stupid,” Jenny snorted. “Of course it is. I watch it every damn year.”

“It’s such a good film, am I right?” Andrea said, and sipped her drink. “Over the top, but perfect.”

“Seriously,” agreed Jenny. “I mean, cop across the country, unfamiliar surroundings, using what he can to fight against Gruber… Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho. Nobody’s that much of a bad-ass in real life.” She pronounced it in the American fashion.

The four of them laughed, though Mycroft didn’t really understand their amusement. When he glanced over toward Lestrade, he found him staring at Mycroft, an intense light in his eye.

Mycroft raised both eyebrows. What? he tried to ask with his expression.

Lestrade’s smirk spread into a full smile, dark and rich. He leaned in, refreshing the sensation of heat down Mycroft's side. “You have no idea what they’re talking about, do you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Mycroft hoped he’d injected those three words with the proper amount of scorn; the film had come out so long ago, and he worked with the intelligence community. Lestrade could safely assume he'd seen Die Hard.

Lestrade's smile grew, and Mycroft became completely ensnared. “Is that a no?”

The moment wore on, and Mycroft found himself imagining Lestrade crawling across the floor, sweating and filthy. His shoulders were strong, bare and tanned beneath his bloody vest, and in Mycroft’s mind he smelled just as he had at the hospital all those months ago. The thought was not soothing to Mycroft’s nerves.

Mycroft broke eye contact and hid himself in his wine.

Happy trails, Hans,” Thomas said as the conversation spiralled around them.

"I need another drink," Lestrade interrupted. He cleared his throat. "Mycroft.”

Startled, Mycroft looked up.

“Come with me," Lestrade said. Mycroft’s heart lodged in his throat.

Lestrade blithely led them back to the bar, where Mycroft watched Lestrade order himself another scotch and refused a second glass of wine. Lestrade leaned against the bar as his drink was poured, looking for all the world as if he were letting it hold him up.

Mycroft took a sip of his wine for courage before he spoke. "You appear a bit…ready to leave, if you don't mind me saying."

"That's probably because I am."

"I presume Jenny can't until the event is over."

A line appeared between Lestrade's eyebrows. "I presume so."

"It's going to be a long night for you, then."

The line deepened. "I don't understand."

"If you have to wait until…" Mycroft trailed off, beginning to suspect he'd missed something. He watched Lestrade's expression clear.

"I didn't come here with Jenny, Mycroft." he said. "I'm not with Jenny."

Mycroft's brain skidded, like stepping on a handful of scattered marbles. He scrambled to figure out where he'd gone wrong in his deductions, pushing down the welter of emotions currently wrapping round him at the news. Lestrade studied his face intently. Mycroft was reminded that the man standing before him was a cop, and a very good one at that. When Lestrade found what he was looking for a warm, thick smile spread smoothly across his face. Mycroft's heart squeezed.

"You dolt," Lestrade murmured, just loud enough for Mycroft to hear. Before Mycroft could respond Lestrade bit his lip, downed half his drink, dropped a £20 note on the bar and strode past him. He walked three paces before turning and raising an eyebrow at Mycroft.

Mycroft furrowed his brow and shook his head slightly as if to ask, 'what'?

Lestrade grinned and bit his lip again. "Leave the wine."

"What?"

The humour was lost on Mycroft, but Lestrade chuckled and stepped up close, close, closer. When he got within a foot Mycroft took a step back and looked round to see who was watching them. Lestrade also looked round, and his expression turned hesitant. He licked his lips, glanced once more time to see no one was in earshot, then stared straight into Mycroft's eyes. "Come home with me."

Mycroft couldn't move. The sound of the music morphed into the hushed thundering of the surf in his ears, and his pulse beat close under the skin of his throat, and his fingertips felt numb. The world broke apart into pieces and swirled round only to reform into a new, terrifying, wondrous shape. "I beg your pardon?"

Lestrade blinked, then swallowed, and it looked as if he was suddenly very, very afraid he had misstepped. "Nothing, sorry. I was just." He shook his head quickly, a twitch of negation. "I thought—"

"Stop," Mycroft said before his brain could process the relative merits of letting Lestrade think he'd misinterpreted whatever he'd seen in Mycroft's face. He felt everything spin on this moment.

Mycroft had never had the same drive to assuage curiosity that Sherlock had, but just the same, he felt the desperate need to find out. What would Lestrade be like, in that specific scenario? On admittedly-rare occasions he’d indulged with others when the need to scratch the bodily itch threatened to ruin his concentration. He’d indulged when it made more logical sense to do so rather than refrain, because his ability to concentrate was paramount. This wouldn't be any different. Clearly he felt a particular itch, and scratching it made more sense than giving up this chance and letting it irritate forever afterward. It was only logical.

Then his gaze settled on Lestrade, and logic flew out the window. Mycroft swallowed hard and glanced round them again, suddenly ill with fear. It was a disastrous decision, and he should really nip this in the bud before it all went pear-shaped.

But Lestrade was standing there right in front of him, salt-and-pepper beard and open-collared shirt and white teeth, his eyes wide and dark and—for the first time—seeming to look right back, and Mycroft had wanted him so badly, for so long. Logic and desire and fear warred with each other, and as often happened in these situations the odd one out was the loser.

He sucked in a shuddering breath. "Yes."

Lestrade just grinned, slow and warm and relieved.

In a fog of rising hormones and terror Mycroft followed Lestrade to make their farewells to the organisers. He couldn't have said afterward if Jenny had looked at them askance or not; all he held on to was the knowledge that this was happening, this was real, and as dreamlike as it seemed this was a reality in which Gregory Lestrade had looked at him with desire and invited him back to his.

Holy hell.

A few stammered sentences communicated that Lestrade hadn't driven because he'd planned on drinking, and they stopped in near-silence to grab their coats from the check on the way down to Mycroft's car. He wondered if Lestrade could hear how loudly his heart was pounding. This night had gone from awkward to wildly, impressively beyond his realm of experience, and leaving his comfort zone was not something Mycroft took lightly. All of the receptors on his skin seemed to be tuned to Lestrade's position around him. Once again he felt like a compass needle being pulled north all the way down the lift and out to his car in the multi-storey car park.

"It, er, it feels weird to be entering this car of my own free will," Lestrade said, stumbling over the words. The evidence of Lestrade's nerves went a short way towards soothing Mycroft's. He felt slightly less like a novice; if Lestrade were nervous too, perhaps it was okay to be feeling the slight nausea and the tremor and the thundering of his heart.

"Voluntary kidnapping?" said Mycroft, trying to ease into the unfunny joke.

"And I've volunteered myself this time," Lestrade said, and Mycroft couldn't find anything appropriate to say.


The air inside the car seemed to thicken minute by minute the longer they were driving. Mycroft prayed there wouldn't be any traffic at that time of the night, nor bad weather, nor anything that might delay them. He feared his nerve might snap if he had to sit too long in the pent-up, knotted-up, morass of sexual tension; to say that he was unused to it would be an understatement, and while he was prepared to withstand all manner of uncomfortable situations, 'sitting in a car in traffic on the way to something which will possibly result in sexual activity with Gregory Lestrade, a man he'd fancied for so long he couldn't remember when it began' was not any of them. He was remarkably unprepared for this.

If someone had told him that morning he was going to spend that night with Inspector Lestrade, he would have had the person admitted to hospital for a thorough examination. Or perhaps have them declared a saint.

Lestrade gave directions sotto-voce. He sounded so nervous Mycroft felt powerfully compelled to take his hand, but that crossed a line they hadn't come up to yet. It was fascinating, in a purely anthropological way, this situation of driving to a man's house, not having kissed, not having been on a date, but knowing nonetheless that sex was in the future. Mycroft supposed this was what people meant when they talked about sexual chemistry. He wondered where it had come from, all of a sudden. He cast Lestrade a sideways glance and yanked his gaze back to the road when Lestrade caught him looking. Out the corner of his eye, he saw Lestrade's fingers curl and uncurl reflexively where they rested on his thigh.

Mycroft searched for something to say to break the tension. It was odd that he should be having such a problem; he spoke for a living diplomatically, officially, graciously. But as earlier, he suspected anything he said would be seen through from the first and rejected. Lestrade had a magnificent capability for seeing through bullshit, and Mycroft didn't want to give him any suggestion that Mycroft wasn't being 100% honest in this engagement—much as it would be safer for his emotions to do otherwise.

Anything worth doing was worth doing well.

"I can't promise my house isn't a mess," Lestrade said. He folded his hands tightly into a ball. "I wasn't expecting company."

"No matter," Mycroft said.

"Do you drink scotch?"

"I do."

"I have a Lagavulin 16 year that you might like."

"I've had it. I enjoyed it very much."

"I know it doesn't mix well with the wine—"

"I'd love to have some, Inspector."

There was a beat before Lestrade responded. "Greg. You should call me Greg."

"Greg."

"I think it's appropriate, don't you?"

Mycroft's heart thumped. "I think you're probably right."

He tried the name out in his mind. Greg. No. Gregory. The mental sound of it, and the knowledge that he could use it, sent a thrill of nerves down to the pit of him.

Outside a rain started up, pattering lightly on the roof and the windows. Mycroft switched on the wipers. He heard Gregory make a quiet noise, and he took his eyes from the road just long enough to catch the complex expression on his face. "What?"

"I was just— It’s funny. I thought, 'wow, he knows where the wipers are.'"

"Of course I know where the wipers are."

"Mycroft, I’ve never seen you drive."

Which, of course, was true. Mycroft was always being driven when Gregory was around. "I spent many years driving before earning myself a chauffeur."

"Does the government pay for it?"

"Gregory, do you really expect me to say whether—"

"No, no." He chuckled. "I know. Pretend I didn't ask."

"Does anything else about my driving amuse you?"

"Besides the fact that you're doing it?"

Mycroft pressed his lips together into a smile. "Yes."

Gregory took a moment, presumably to assess the situation. "I think it's funny that your hair nearly touches the roof."

"That's why there's so little of it on top. It's rubbed off over the years."

Mycroft was startled by the burst of laughter. He hadn't expected that loud of a reaction. Come to that, he wasn't sure he'd ever elicited laughter from Gregory. Mycroft smiled along with him, and a moment later was startled once again, this time by the sensation of Gregory's hand sliding along the top of his thigh and coming to rest there, its weight warm and heavy and calming. Mycroft's nerves settled, bit by bit, and by the time they were halfway into a conversation about first cars he forgot to be nervous they were going to Gregory's house for sex.

He remembered in a sudden flood, however, once they pulled into Gregory's residential neighbourhood, and reality flared into shocking clarity. It was all lit up for Christmas, with gigantic lit bows on the street lamps and twee white wooden reindeer on the green. The rain increased in intensity as Gregory pointed out a small house, a dark spot surrounded on either side by the twinkle of fairy lights.

"Of course it's raining," Gregory said, sounding grumpy about it. "It was already freezing. Listen, I’ll just run and unlock the house first, then—"

"You've clearly forgotten," said Mycroft. He put the car in park but didn't look at Gregory, fighting down a resurgence of nerves. Gregory made an interrogatory noise. Mycroft pushed out of the car and scooped up his umbrella from where he had tucked it to the side of his seat.

He heard Gregory laugh. "Oh right."

Mycroft waited on Gregory's side of the car, umbrella open, and held it above both their heads as they made their way up the path. Mycroft's back was damp by the time they reached the front step, but Gregory was warm at his front, and the trade-off was more than adequate. He guarded Greg from the rain as he opened up his house, and only reluctantly stepped away once they were inside. He closed the umbrella and set it down on the flagstones. When he stood Gregory was well within his personal space again. Mycroft gulped.

"That was sweet," Gregory said, his eyes looking even more dark than usual in the dim light of the foyer. He took one step in closer and leaned in. Mycroft felt his body heat all down his front. "Very sweet." He smelled of scotch and winter air and gingersnaps and faintly, just barely, the sweat of being over-warm in his coat. A moment later he completed the movement. He pressed his mouth tenderly, firmly against Mycroft's cheek.

Mycroft's heart nearly stopped. His eyes fluttered closed. Gregory's breath was hot, and it sped heavier, faster, as if the simple touch were affecting him. Perhaps it was.

For Mycroft's part, his whole body was attuned to the feeling of Gregory's lips against his beard, ruffling the hairs in the wrong direction, catching and holding the heat of his breath. Gregory began to slide his mouth around, a lazy sort of touch unlike a kiss but unlike anything else either, as if he were simply enjoying the feel of Mycroft's facial hair against his lips. It was monstrously intimate, the lingering touch not sexual but sensual—possibly one of the most sensual moments of Mycroft's life. His heart raced harder and blood sped to the surface of his skin, enervating it, turning up the volume on the reception so when Gregory slid his mouth towards Mycroft's every nerve ending knew precisely what was happening. The only sounds he heard were the thundering of his pulse in his ears and Gregory's shaking breath, but they were loud enough that he almost missed it: the quiet, stifled noise of Gregory making a silent groan deep in his throat.

Arousal flooded through Mycroft's veins as he stood there, letting Gregory take his pleasure in rubbing his mouth into Mycroft's beard. They hadn't kissed, had barely touched, but it was enough to feel himself becoming intensely turned on. Mycroft's lips parted, and he breathed, and he let out a quiet, "oh."

Gregory made that noise again, the clicking in his throat of him stifling a groan, and his mouth slid the last inch.

Gregory Lestrade is kissing you, Mycroft thought. He let it happen, moving his lips against Gregory's, focusing on the fact that something he never thought would happen was warm and wet and smelled like rain. The bristles around Gregory's mouth were pleasant, the inside of his lips slick, and he tasted of peat. Perhaps he's tasting you back, came the thought, and hot on its heels was the soft touch of Gregory's tongue against his own. Further arousal thrilled into his stomach and into his groin. They weren't touching anywhere but their mouths, and still Gregory had every ounce of Mycroft's attention. Gregory Lestrade is kissing you came the thought again, and this time something clicked over in Mycroft's brain so that he fully comprehended what was going on. Beautiful, intelligent, whip-smart, sarcastic, brave, stubborn, painfully-sexy Gregory Lestrade is kissing you. Finally, incredibly, kissing you. Mycroft conjured up the image of him standing in the daylight, grinning, all dark eyes and tanned skin and white teeth, and he couldn't just stand there any more. His heart hurt. It was finally happening, after so many years, and his heart hurt.

He whimpered and brought both hands up as his knees went to rubber. Mycroft captured Greg's face to hold it in place his he tilted his head to deepen the kiss. It was deep, slow, needy, and almost painful with emotion. Mycroft poured into it all the passion he ordinarily stuffed down, all the need and the want and the admiration and the care, all the worry, all the pride, and like Pandora's box having let off the lid the more he let loose the more they filled him. He whined and shook and kissed him until he thought something in his chest might break.

Miraculously, Gregory kissed him back.

When he eventually broke the kiss to press his forehead to Mycroft's temple and pant for air, Mycroft barely felt the hot breath against his cheek. He was caught up in the torrent of emotion inside him, ebbing and rising like the tide, and he squeezed his eyes shut against it, furrowed his brow, and couldn't inhale. Too much. This was too much.

He felt Gregory pull his head away, and was aware he must be looking at his face, but creating a placid expression was beyond Mycroft's control; he'd let it slip too far, and he was having trouble shoving it back down again. His brow furrowed harder.

“Look at you," Gregory whispered, the air of it hitting Mycroft's lips. Gregory cupped Mycroft's face in both hands and brushed his thumbs against his beard. He let out a huff of breath. "Mycroft…" He felt Gregory smooth the pad of his thumb against the furrow between Mycroft's eyebrows. There was a moment, and then Gregory pressed his mouth against Mycroft's cheek again. For the first time, his arms came up around Mycroft's ribs and he squeezed him with a tight hug.

Panic started to form in Mycroft's chest. He'd spent all his time perfectly in control, but now it seemed he could summon none. Emotions he hadn't even known he had were overflowing their banks, and try as he might he couldn't bring them into bounds again. And Gregory's embrace was making it even worse. Mycroft stood there for one more moment and then his resolve shattered. He wrapped his arms around Gregory's shoulders and held him tightly.

"Mycroft," Gregory whispered, and astonishment was in his voice. He gripped harder around Mycroft's coat. He took a deep breath in and let it out slowly, and Mycroft was just aware enough to notice that it shook. "God. Mycroft."

The tone of it hurt. Mycroft whimpered and buried his face against Gregory's shoulder.

"How long?" Gregory said on a puff of air.

Mycroft shook his head.

Gregory adjusted his embrace and tightened it again. "I had no idea," he said.

Mycroft huffed a dry, humourless laugh. "You weren’t meant to."

Gregory squeezed. "I'm so sorry."

There was nothing to do but to save face as much as possible. Mycroft shook his head. "No matter," he said, and he was relieved to hear that his voice sounded clear, if quiet. "There's nothing you could have done."

"I just…didn't realise." Gregory hugged him, took another steadying breath, and began to kiss Mycroft's cheek again, toward his mouth. Mycroft didn't understand why he wasn't pulling away.

"You still want to…" Mycroft said, not knowing how to finish the thought.

But Gregory stepped in as close as possible, so they were touching from thigh to chest, and he pushed his face against Mycroft's cheek. "Yes," he murmured. "God, yes." He kissed him again.

Mycroft's knees almost immediately buckled with the passion in it. Gregory walked Mycroft backward two steps until he was pressed against the front door, pushed their bodies tightly together, and poured desire into the kiss until Mycroft's head spun. He tried to tip it back, but then Gregory's thigh found its way between his legs, ground against him, and found him already hard as stone. Mycroft's knees went weak again just as Gregory moaned. His hands felt for Mycroft's arse beneath his long coat.

"I'd like to—" Gregory said between kisses, and he rubbed his thigh up and between Mycroft's legs just enough that sparks danced in his vision. "I'd like to take you to bed. Now. Please."

And then I'll wake up, Mycroft thought. He moaned. "Yes."

"Yes?"

"Please, Gregory."

For a second Mycroft couldn't realise why Gregory had sucked in a breath and let it out on a long, low moan, but then recognition tumbled in: he'd said his name. Apparently Mycroft wasn’t the only one affected by the sound of his name spoken in desire.

Gregory captured Mycroft's face in both hands to kiss him, softly, over and over and over. The wet noises did something to Mycroft's brain that turned up the arousal and felt like a haze of static. "You are," Gregory murmured in between kisses, but then continued the thought on a breath. "Oh god you're so sexy."

Mycroft couldn't bring himself to pull away to give this the derision it deserved, but he tried. "What."

"So fucking sexy."

"I'm sorry, I—"

"I want to do filthy things to you. I want to see your face when I do them. I don't know what you usually do in bed, but I can't goddamn wait to see what you look like when you come."

Mycroft's brain was straining at the tether of belief. Gregory's voice should never say words like that. He was going to cause Mycroft to lose his mind. "What."

"I want to see if it matches up to my imagination. What you sound like, what you look like, the way your cock feels in my hand, what you taste like when you've come, the way you move…" Gregory let out a rattling groan, his face pressed against Mycroft's cheek. "Don't you want to know?"

"What you…"

"What I feel like when you're fucking me?"

Mycroft's mind came to a stuttering, grey halt. He was vaguely aware of moaning, and the feel of Gregory panting against his cheek. Gregory's hips were gently rolling against Mycroft's thigh, his erection a hard, hot line in his trousers. "Oh my god."

"Now," Gregory said. He broke away and dragged Mycroft by the elbow into the sitting room area, up a half-flight of stairs and down a corridor. It was dark in the house, and most of Mycroft's attention was focused on the ache of arousal flooding his body, but still he was aware of carpeting under his feet and a homey warmth and the stale smell of takeaway. Gregory pulled him to the right and left him standing in the doorway of what must be his bedroom. He flicked on a bedside lamp.

It was far better furnished than Mycroft had expected, and the penny dropped—belatedly, but the realisation was finally there: Gregory's ex had moved out, and he had kept the house. This was the bed he'd shared with his wife.

The oddness of that thought sat queasily in his gut alongside the arousal. Gregory looked at him and blinked for a full five seconds before shaking his head.

"No, stop," he said. "It's been almost two years since. Stop."

"I'm sorry, I just…"

Gregory coughed a laugh. "Never take a Holmes anywhere you don't want them to know everything."

"I apologise."

"No, it's fine. Come in." Gregory adjusted himself in his trousers and took off his coat. "Like I said, it's been two years."

"She…"

"There's a guest bedroom. She stayed in there for the last year, while we were trying to make it work." He shrugged. "You can see how that turned out."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"No you're not." Gregory gave him a wan smile.

"No." Mycroft huffed half a laugh through his nose. "I suppose not."

"Talking of which…" Gregory walked up to Mycroft and pushed his overcoat off his shoulders until it fell to the floor.

"Should I…” Mycroft swallowed. “Should I hang it up?"

"Leave it."

It was an unexpected answer, and it made Mycroft guffaw through his nerves. "Unorthodox."

Gregory growled. "I'm through with waiting."

Mycroft was stabbed with fear and arousal, both at once. He no longer felt like laughing. Gregory looked at the expression on his face and ducked in for a thorough kiss. Mycroft felt Gregory lever his hands under the lapels of his jacket and shove that off as well, as if Mycroft were some sort of a mannequin. The touch of Gregory's hands, only separated from his shoulders and down his arms by the cotton of his shirt, drew all of Mycroft's attention and made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He shivered.

Gregory pulled back to study Mycroft's face. "Too fast?"

The thought of Gregory stopping, the idea that if they stopped they might never start again, clutched at Mycroft's heart. He took Gregory's face in both hands and kissed him as fervently as he dared. Gregory moaned and grabbed at his shoulders. His fingers slipped on the smooth cotton. Mycroft felt Gregory's knees buckle for a moment, and the power of that rose up in his chest and drove him, drove them over to the side of the bed and down. Gregory writhed under Mycroft and arched up beneath him, then wrapped his leg around his thigh and ground against Mycroft's leg.

"Ngh. Perfect," Gregory hissed. Mycroft pressed his face against Gregory's shoulder to hide his expression, but he felt his eyes roll back into his head. His arousal was renewed and painful. Gregory hands were wedged up underneath the back of Mycroft's waistcoat, but were stopped by the cinch-belt. "Off," he said, sliding his hands back out and plucking at the silk. "Off."

Mycroft attempted to unfasten it while still on top of Gregory, but very quickly he realised he was making things more difficult for himself. He rolled to the side and began to strip. It was a pleasant distraction when Gregory began to do the same.

When they were both naked, Mycroft stifled the urge to curl up and hide himself, instead lounging on the duvet in a pose calculated to look somewhere between insouciant and in-control. Gregory skimmed his hand over Mycroft's shoulder, his side, and his hip, and to Mycroft's shock Gregory's cock visibly jumped. Mycroft swallowed. "You're really…quite attracted to me."

"I want to do filthy things with you." Gregory's eyes burned.

"With me?"

"On you. With you. To you." He pushed Mycroft over onto his back and straddled his hips. "Over you."

Mycroft's breath sped and he skated both palms over Gregory's thighs and hips, feeling strangely greedy. "Over me."

"Around you." Gregory stared into Mycroft's face and writhed. A tiny smile quirked the corner of Gregory's mouth. "Don’t move," he said, and rolled off the bed. Mycroft couldn't take his eyes off him, taking in the sight as Gregory dug some supplies out of his bedside table. He crawled back onto the bed and scooted up to lay alongside Mycroft. "You know what I'd most like to do?" he said, cradling Mycroft's cheek in his palm. He nuzzled his mouth into Mycroft's beard.

"I don't, I'm afraid."

"I want to ride you until you your eyes roll back and you can't breathe for the shock of it. I want you to feel me tighten around you as I come. I want you to shake to pieces beneath me and cry out until you're afraid you'll be completely voiceless tomorrow morning. I want to make you scream."

For a second time that evening, Mycroft's brain stuttered. He stared at Gregory's mouth and licked his lips. His mouth felt very, very dry. "You're…filthy."

There was a slight bit of warning in the form of a lascivious smile, but Mycroft nonetheless was startled by Gregory reaching between his legs, cupping his balls, and stroking on up. Mycroft jerked and moaned, but through it still tried to watch Gregory's face. "I don't think you mind that much."

"I…"

"You're not used to a little dirty talk?"

"Most of my—" Mycroft's words caught in his throat as Gregory stroked him again. "My…experiences have been more…perfunctory."

"I consider myself lucky, then." Gregory sucked a kiss into the base of Mycroft's throat and pulled again at his cock. Mycroft dug both heels into the duvet and straightened out his legs, writhing.

So do I. Mycroft's eyes fluttered. You can't begin to understand how lucky.

"So?" Gregory said.

Blearily, Mycroft opened his eyes to look at him in confusion. "Hm?"

"Please?"

"Ngh?"

Gregory chuckled, not unkindly, and nuzzled his face into Mycroft's beard. "I really, really want you to fuck me. Quite a bit."

Mycroft's toes curled. "That sounds…acceptable."

Again Gregory chuckled, and he pushed a line of kisses up Mycroft's neck. "I'm glad to hear it." He rolled over to grab a bottle of lube and a condom. The latter he tossed onto Mycroft's chest. "Do you want to, or should I…"

Mycroft's brain seemed foggy and sluggish—more than he usually associated with sexual activity. He blamed the brilliancy of Gregory's eyes. "Could you be…would you be more specific please?"

Gregory slid back alongside Mycroft and kissed him lightly before explaining. "I was asking if you wanted to put the condom on yourself, or if you wanted my help. But on second thoughts, I want you to lay back while I do it all."

"I'm willing to help—"

Before he could finish Gregory ducked in and kissed him—hard, deep, filthy. "Lay back. Enjoy the show."

"The show?"

Ignoring the question, Gregory poured lubricant onto his hands until they both shone. He shot Mycroft a mischievous look, rolled onto his back, and started working between his legs until his head lolled back and his mouth dropped open. When he swallowed Mycroft watched his adam's apple bob. "Ohhh, god yes. Mmm. This is what I like. Ohh, I've wanted this. I can't wait." With his free hand, he started playing with his cock, pulling the foreskin over the head and letting it slide back, getting it slick and shiny. It looked incredibly hard. Mycroft watched, mesmerised. His blood pounded in his ears. He wrapped one hand around his own cock and just held it, trying to hold on to his rapidly-shredding control. The ease with which Gregory twisted into that position indicated it was something he did a lot. The idea made Mycroft twitch against his palm.

Gregory appeared to have two fingers buried inside himself and his breath was puffing. Mycroft watched how easily his hand slid over his cock and slowly, gently, Mycroft made an exploratory foray with his fingertips to the head of his own cock. The slit was wet, beading up. A stab of lust pinned him for a moment and he moaned. Gregory's eyes opened.

"Condom," he said. "Now."

With the ache between his legs sapping so much of his focus, Mycroft actually had to search for the packet. It had fallen under his shoulder. He willed his hands to stop shaking as he opened it and put the condom on. The Pavlovian region of his brain took the simple motion and the smell of latex and dialled up his arousal, as if his body were prepping him for sex starting from 0 rather than starting from 8. He wasn't sure he needed the help.

Gregory pounced almost as soon as Mycroft was finished, planting his hands on either side of Mycroft's head and kissing the breath out of him, biting his lips, growling. Mycroft's hips twitched.
"Now?" Gregory asked.

Mycroft tongued an abraded spot on his lip. "Please."

"Say it."

"Gregory. I…" Mycroft's cheeks went hot. He composed a response that he thought might elicit the best reaction. "Gregory. Climb on me. Let me fuck up into you until we both reach orgasm."

The smile that spread across Gregory's face was gorgeous. "Look at you." They stared at each other. "What else?"

"What else?"

"What else do you want?"

Mycroft closed his eyes, partly to picture it and partly to shield himself. "I want you to masturbate while you…move, and I want you to…ejaculate on me."

"Yeah?"

Mycroft opened his eyes. "Yes."

"Mmm." Gregory straddled Mycroft's hips again, but this time he reached down and grabbed Mycroft's cock. "Now?"

Lacking words, lacking proper breath, Mycroft nodded. He could barely hear anything else over the sound of his own heartbeat.

The sensation, taken on its merits, was not new. But watching Gregory's changing expression as he sank down, inch by inch, and the way each movement corresponded to the tightness and heat surrounded him, made the motion shoot pleasure down to his toes and across his skin and all the way out the top of his head. He could finally breathe once Gregory was seated all the way down on his lap and the warmth was a steady pulse of gorgeousness wrapped around him.

"Doing okay?" Gregory asked.

Mycroft nodded and swallowed. He wished they had brought something to drink up here in Gregory's bedroom. His mouth was dry. "Beautiful."

"Yes you are," Gregory said with a slanting form of sincerity, and then he began to move.

It had been quite a while since Mycroft had indulged. He began to regret that fact very quickly, as the undulations of Gregory's torso pinged some long-forgotten vestige of Mycroft's hindbrain and made him very turned on indeed. Everything was slickness and forceful movement and pleasure just up to the line of tolerance; something in Mycroft's brain was spinning and whining at the intensity. He curled his toes. It was almost too much. It was very, very nearly too much. He couldn't breathe.

Then all at once Gregory slowed. He leaned forward and dropped a kiss on Mycroft's chest. The motion of his hips, instead of jarring, was like an ocean wave and it was perfect enough that it threatened to pull Mycroft under.

"Ohh, make noise," Gregory said. He trailed his fingertips on Mycroft's throat. "I want to hear how you feel."

Mycroft shook his head. "I don't—I don't make noise."

Gregory jarred his hips forward and back once to shock Mycroft with sensation before going back to the smooth moments. Mycroft felt the very border of his orgasm already approaching. "Try."

It would be going against muscle memory, against habit, against all the small bits of his mind that kept his walls up, but he'd try. For Gregory, he'd try. "Ah," he coughed out. He rolled his head on the pillow as the pleasure built and built, starting to sweep him away. "Ahhh, god." Gregory sucked a kiss into his chest. Mycroft's arousal pulsed tighter and he buried both hands in Gregory's hair. "Ahhh…Ahhh…Ohhh, god. Ohhh, god." Greg was rocking his hips and grunting, little puffs of air against Mycroft's skin. He felt everything—balls and skin and blood—prepare for climax.

"Louder," Gregory murmured.

At the rasp in Gregory’s voice, Mycroft's brain went incandescent with arousal. "Ohhh, god. Ohhh, god. Ohhh…Ohhh…Ohhh…" Gregory bit Mycroft's nipple and Mycroft slammed his head back into the pillow as, with the next heartbeat, his body seemed to collapse like a star and explode with orgasm. The first contractions were too good for noise. They were too good for breath. And then he dropped into an easy series of spasms that felt like heaven, warm as a perfectly-drawn bath, and he was helpless but to moan over and over and over as the bliss spread through him with a million echoing ripples that went on and on. It had been a long time since he felt himself ejaculate upward and into someone.

It had been a long time since he had ejaculated into someone at all.

His orgasm eventually shivered to a close leaving him lying there, feeling emptied and peaceful, his mind a blank. It took him an embarrassingly long time to come back online. He opened his eyes.

"That looked fantastic," Gregory said, his eyes wide. His hand was closed on his cock but he just sat there, staring.

Mycroft managed a nod. His eyes fluttered closed for a moment. "Y-yes."

With that Gregory seemed to remember what he was supposed to be doing. He stroked himself rapidly, grinding down on Mycroft's softening cock, and he got tighter, and tighter, before his jaw clenched. He groaned between his teeth. "It's…not…" He gasped out a note of frustration. "Damn it."

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know. It's not… Here." Gregory pushed up onto his knees and reached between his legs as Mycroft slipped free. Greg dropped the condom over the side into the bin and reached for Mycroft's hand.

"What are you—"

"Here," Greg said, and he straddled Mycroft again. This time, he brought Mycroft's hand between his legs and pushed his fingers to his entrance. It was still slick with lubricant. "Please."

Oh. Mycroft's eyes nearly rolled up into his head. "Like this?" he asked, and pressed his middle finger smoothly, evenly inside him. Gregory's eyelids fluttered. Mycroft understood how he felt.

"More," Gregory said. His voice was even more rough than usual.

Mycroft slowly inserted his index finger alongside the middle. Gregory shivered. "Good?" Mycroft croaked.

"More," said Gregory.

Oh, god. Mycroft pushed in a third and then, at Gregory's urging, the fourth. Gregory was so tight around the base of his fingers, so hot, but the inside seemed to move with every breath Gregory took. Perhaps that was just Mycroft's imagination.

Gregory had stroked himself all through it, but with four of Mycroft's fingers seated inside him his hand moved faster, harder. Experimentally Mycroft curled his fingers to press against the wall and Gregory shuddered out a moan.

"Yeah…" Gregory said, his eyes closed. Mycroft watched him become lost in the building pleasure of it. "Yeah…Move your fingers…"

It was a bit too densely packed to push in and out very easily, but he tried. Even the little bit seemed to have an effect, though; Gregory moaned, and his hand moved faster. Mycroft took a moment to curl his fingers again and Greg jerked. "Sorry," Mycroft said.

Gregory gasped out a laugh. "Oh god no," he said. "That was—that was good. Do that again."

Mycroft pulled out and down and watched Gregory's eyes roll. He pushed against his prostate on the way back up and watched Gregory's mouth drop. He did it again, and again, and Gregory's hand slowed to a precise jerking motion and then everything drew up very, very tight.

He could feel it, Gregory's orgasm, feel it starting from the inside before the first spasm landed on Mycroft's chest. Everything seemed to ripple, in a way, and Mycroft wasn't sure he'd ever experienced anything so beautiful and human in his life. It was mammalian and sexy and it plucked at the pleasure centres of Mycroft's brain even if the orgasm wasn’t about him at all. He watched Gregory go through a sort of ordeal, reaching the other side soaked in bliss, and the emotions Mycroft felt for him hurt in a way they never had before.

Gregory collapsed forward. Mycroft slipped his fingers free and let Gregory fall onto his chest to lie there, twitching with aftershocks, panting and boneless. After a moment, Mycroft wrapped his arms round his ribs and held him. He pressed his mouth to Gregory's shoulder and snatched the brief opportunity to drown in feeling, exquisite and hot and painful.

I would be…I would be helplessly in love with you before the week was even out.

"You okay?" Gregory said, his voice muffled against Mycroft's shoulder.

"Yes." Mycroft cursed the roughness in his voice and tried again. "Yes." When Gregory made to push up Mycroft pulled him back down again. There was no place else to hide his face. "I'm fine."

"Okay," Gregory said quietly. He let them both lie there for a few minutes, resting, coming down from the endorphin high while Mycroft tried desperately to stuff everything he felt back into its tidy, safe, box. He wasn't sure he was successful, but when Gregory pushed up again he at least was ready to give him his most diplomatic of smiles.

"That looked…satisfying."

Gregory nodded and blew out a breath. "Very." He shivered and groaned with the memory. "Fantastic." He kissed Mycroft on the cheek, then pulled back to stare into his eyes. "Thanks."

Out of the corner of his vision, Mycroft caught Greg’s chest flare with a sudden breath. A smile curled the corner of Greg’s mouth before he rolled off the bed, and Mycroft kept in contact with his skin until he could no longer reach. Gregory stretched and ran his hand over his front. "Ugh, I need a shower." He turned around to look at Mycroft. "You too?" Mycroft nodded. Greg gave him a sheepish look. "Mind if I go first?" Mycroft twitched a no.

With that, Gregory padded his way into the en-suite. Mycroft watched him go, then rolled over to press his face into the pillow and try to breathe.

Fuck.

His problems, he realised, started with the fact that the pillow smelled like Greg (and was therefore not going to be of any help to his situation one way or the other) and ended with the fact that he absolutely, positively, without a doubt should not have engaged in this affair from the start. He should have pretended not to know what Gregory was asking when he asked him home. Mycroft should have left the fundraiser alone and gone away without engaging in this monstrous experiment, no matter his feelings for Gregory. No, because of his feelings for Gregory. He should have known better. This was a terrible, horrible mistake.

But not ultimately disastrous, he hoped. He could manoeuvre out of this. He'd manipulated his way out of worse.

He never expected to be tempted with something he wanted so badly as this, though.

…He needed to leave.

With a tremendous amount of haste he wiped himself down with his handkerchief and pulled on his vest and pants over the rest of the mess. His socks, however, were nowhere to be found. Mycroft was searching all over the room for them when Gregory emerged from the en-suite.

"Oh," he said. "Work called."

"Yes." Mycroft took the out, but could barely look at him.

Gregory swallowed hard and approached Mycroft, wrapping his dressing gown tighter around himself. It was dark green, with some kind of lighter green trim. He looked quite handsome in it. He'd look handsome in a burlap sack. It was a familiar thought. "You absolutely have to?" he said. The tone made it clear that despite his words, he didn't believe Mycroft in the slightest.

"I do, I apologise. I just can't find…I can't seem to find my socks."

"Oh. Let me…help…" After a moment of awkwardness Greg got on his hands and knees and looked under the chair in the corner, the bedside table, and the bed, while Mycroft did another sweep of the room. Gregory made a victorious noise and crawled up from half under the bed with Mycroft's socks. "I don't know how they got under there, but…" He shrugged and held them out. "Better dusty than lost, I suppose."

"I suppose," Mycroft said. He brushed them off as best he could and slid them on. It wasn’t until he was fastening the suspenders on them that he realised Gregory was staring.

"…Yes?"

Slowly, Gregory shook his head. "Nothing."

"What are you—"

"I wonder sometimes at what point you learned you weren't sexy."

Mycroft blinked, then went about getting dressed. He didn’t look up. "I beg your pardon?"

"Was it always like this, or is it a learned thought process? I admit, I'm curious."

"Gregory—"

"Or maybe it's just easier. You can dismiss anything anyone says to you if you believe they're lying. Even if it's absolutely true."

With that, Mycroft turned. "Where is this coming from?"

"You give me these looks when I tell you I want you. You don't believe me. Which is ridiculous. It's demonstrably true, so I wonder whether you dismiss the information because it's convenient, or if someone you believed was a giant fucking liar."

Mycroft had no idea what to say. None.

"Why would I have asked you home if I didn't? What do you think I'm getting from this?"

Mycroft swallowed and looked into the middle-distance over his shoulder. "To be perfectly honest, Gregory, I have absolutely no idea."

Gregory sighed, but he didn't answer.

By the time Mycroft had done up his tie and refolded his pocket square Gregory had settled himself on his bed to watch.

"Do you need proof? How can I—" Gregory huffed a dry laugh. "I can't believe I have to talk you into this."

Mycroft stepped into his shoes and knelt to tie them. "You don't have to talk me into anything, Gregory."

"God, forget it. This was a terrible idea." His voice was muffled as he scrubbed his face with his hands.

"It's already forgotten." His stomach full of lead, Mycroft pulled on his overcoat. They watched each other. "Well. I guess I should—"

"Please. Don't go," Gregory said. Mycroft's heart lurched. "Don't go. It'll…It'll be okay."

Mycroft took in his shower-damp hair and the healthy flush of his skin. "No," he said. "It really won't."

Gregory pressed his mouth in a line. His brow creased. "Are you sure I can't convince you?"

"Yes."

There was a moment, and then Greg nodded his head just once. He didn’t look Mycroft in the eye. "Okay. I'll…I'll walk you out."

Mycroft followed him down the stairs and through the house and out to the cold, flagstone-lined foyer. Gregory turned around when they reached the door. "Well." He swallowed.

"Thank you, Gregory. I…enjoyed our evening." Mycroft experienced a small pang of pride in himself. He was doing quite well. At this rate he could make it outside, and have a small nervous breakdown in his car. He held out his hand. "I hope you…have a very Merry Christmas."

Gregory looked down at his hand, and his chest seemed to collapse with a huff of breath. "You've got to be kidding me," he said, and he stepped up to grab Mycroft by the face and kiss him.

There was more depth in it than Mycroft would have thought possible in this situation, and he was kissing back before rationality got a word in edgeways. Both Gregory's hands twisted in his hair, and Mycroft's heart clenched. He whimpered and pressed harder into the kiss; even his skin hurt.

Mycroft knotted his hands in the back of Gregory's dressing gown, and for the last time kissed Gregory with everything he felt: all the mixed-up emotions and painful desire and wishes that he didn't even have words for. It was his last chance. After this moment, he wouldn’t have another. Gregory didn’t bend, faced with the intensity of Mycroft’s feeling. Instead he only pushed back to keep Mycroft from shaking himself to pieces with the first tremors of his own reluctant love. Mycroft choked on emotion and broke the kiss to press his face to Gregory's shoulder and try to breathe.

"Trust me," Gregory whispered. "Please trust me."

Mycroft's throat was drawn up tight. "I can't."

"You can. I promise."

I do. But I can't. Mycroft shoved his face harder against Gregory's shoulder. He was trembling.

"Come back to bed." Gregory pressed his mouth to Mycroft's jaw, speaking against his beard. He stroked his fingers through the hair at the nape of Mycroft’s neck, and the softness of the moment was shattering. Mycroft had to leave, and quickly, before he gave in. This was disastrously close to everything he ever wanted. "Please stay. This will be easier in the morning."

"How could you possibly know that?"

"I just do."

His heart rate slowing, Mycroft was suddenly mind-numbingly tired. The idea of sleeping—just sleeping—next to Gregory would be so lovely.

"Do you have to work in the morning?" Gregory asked.

"Not until the afternoon," Mycroft lied. He wasn’t sure why he said it.

"I'm not in at all. Stay here. Please."

Mycroft felt his chest cave in on itself. Pulling some rigidity into his spine, he stepped back out of Gregory’s arms, stood up straight and tucked his umbrella under his arm. He couldn’t breathe. It felt so cold, away from him. So distant. "It's been..." Devastating. "…Lovely."

Gregory gave him a smile that looked more sad than anything else. "I had a nice time, Mycroft. Thanks."

Mycroft nodded. He didn’t trust himself to speak.

"I'll see you, I'm sure. For…kidnappings, and such."

"No doubt." Mycroft swallowed, looked at his dear face, and forced himself to turn away. "Take care, Gregory."

"Yeah. You too," Gregory said quietly.

The door closed between them with an air of finality.

Mycroft drew in a shuddering breath before walking down the pavement to his car. This was not one of the harder things he'd had to do in recent memory—he could count several which had been more difficult—but nonetheless as Mycroft buckled himself in he felt distinctly as if he were going to be ill.

Did he trust Gregory? Steady, beautiful, strong, capable, experienced Gregory?

Without a doubt.

Did he trust himself?

In this? No.

This is better. It's better this way. For all involved. This is necessary. It's better this way.

Mycroft started the car and headed for home.

Chapter Text

Mycroft showered immediately, thanking his boiler and Thames Water for the copious hot water needed to wash free the come stuck like glue into his chest hair and all the roiling emotions he was having trouble disregarding. He scrubbed himself with a flannel until his skin was splotchy and red, and only when the water began to turn toward cold did he give up on the miraculous healing powers of his shower and reach for the tap.

In his bedroom, he crawled into bed and curled under the covers.

The fact was, he had never anticipated any of it, any at all. His attraction to Gregory had always been just that: attraction. He didn't have time in his life for the complications of a relationship. He wasn't going to remember anniversaries or always be home for supper—or even, for that matter, be home at all. He had to travel. He had to work. He had a life he'd worked hard on, and the idea of scattering that away just for the chance at a steady shag seemed like an extremely poor bargain.

Loneliness was comforting. Loneliness was safe. Loneliness was familiar, and Mycroft liked it.

Mycroft adjusted the pillow under his head and closed his eyes.

Exhaustion seeped through every inch of his body, and Mycroft just didn’t have the will to fight off the inevitable fantasy. It washed over him, and as he sunk into the mattress he imagined Gregory curled up behind him, the slow, steady puff of his breath warm and humid at the nape of his neck. Gregory’s hand was a comforting weight on Mycroft’s hip.

Feeling supported, surrounded, and above all, no longer alone, it was barely any time at all before Mycroft fell asleep.


Once at work, he got down to business.

At least, he tried. There weren’t many meetings, it being the day before Christmas, but there was paperwork to catch up on and minutes to read and a bloody lot of transcripts to analyse. He trusted his team to do their jobs, but there were some things only he could do. It was nice. It felt normal. Real. He felt competent and more himself than he’d been in nearly twenty-four hours.

By the third cup of tea, however, he realised his hands were shaking. He wasn’t sure it was the caffeine.

Images, sounds, sensations kept playing through the back of his mind as he read: The precise arch of Gregory’s back as he rode Mycroft’s fingers. The feeling of Gregory’s orgasm from the inside. And worst of all, the words Gregory whispered just before he left.

Trust me. Please trust me

Mycroft tossed aside his paperwork and buried his face in his hands. He sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. It shook. This was intolerable. It was time.


There was a jewellery box in his mind. It looked identical to the one which sat on his mother’s chest of drawers—light wood, gilded fluting, tiny silver drawer-pulls with ivory inlay. All those little compartments for rings and necklaces, suited to the shape of each, smelling vaguely of wood and dusty velvet and all that metal. The scent of her perfume was mixed up in it too, as well as the cedar of the drawers it sat on and the lavender tucked in among her clothes below.

Mycroft had his aide keep the room clear, then he secured the door and sat upright at his desk to enact the necessary ritual of locking the past day away.

He took out each emotion—the tantalising thrill of being wanted, the joy of finally getting his desire, the marrow-deep satisfaction of sex with Gregory, as well as certain images he thought would captivate him for a long time, such as the precise colour of Gregory’s eyes by the bedside lamp and the flush down his neck in the middle of intercourse—he examined them, and he placed each in the box, never to be experienced again. Then he went a step further and excised as best he could the tenderness, the affection, all the soft emotions he’d ever felt for Gregory. The care he felt for him in the A&E. The electric attraction he’d experienced at Gregory’s press conference. His frustrated, deepening respect that bloomed in the coffee shop. Any of a hundred or more interactions they’d had over the years which had steadily contributed to the current entangle of emotion. One by one he closed away what had passed until finally all was left was logic, rationality, a cold recitation of the events gone by. He knew what had happened, but only in a perfunctory, academic way. It held no emotion for him at all.

He tucked away all the loose ends, and it was done.

It was done.

Mycroft took a steady breath and opened up his office door. It was time to get on with his day.


That afternoon, Andrea walked into Mycroft’s office with a fresh cup of coffee and two paracetamol.

"What’s this?" he said.

"You were in need of it."

"I didn’t ask for it."

"You didn’t need to." She smiled at him knowingly then turned on her heels to go. She stopped at the door. "Sir, you are aware it is the 24th."

"Yes, of course."

"Your obligation to the charity ended yesterday."

Ah. "You find the beard offensive?" He tried to smile at her, but something roiled deep in the pit of his stomach.

She, however, seemed to have no trouble smiling at him, even if it was a mild thing for all that. "No, sir. Actually, I think it looks nice. You, on the other hand, seem to hate it, so. I only thought I’d remind you that if you wanted me to set up an appointment with Westin for a shave it could be gone before you went home tonight."

He thought of Westin and his quiet competence, his professionalism, the neat way he adjusted Mycroft’s face to shave him with as little fuss as possible. He thought of how cold and clinical he was—as he was supposed to be, as he was chosen to be.

"No, that’s fine," Mycroft said, wondering why he wasn’t accepting the offer. It was true, he loathed the beard. He couldn’t have it shaved off too soon.

She peered at him, then nodded her head. "Okay, sir. Just…let me know if you change your mind."

He waved her out and picked up his papers, intending to get a head start on things for after the holiday. He settled into it.

After a while, however, he realised that the familiar ache was back. There was a comfort in it, however—a comfort in the denial, a comfort in the quiet longing, a comfort in the feeling of safe adoration. Things felt crystal-clear and apart from reality. Mycroft felt supremely in control of the emotions, and that was just fine. He read over the analysis from an important talk with Russia and marvelled at how amazing he felt. He drank down most of the coffee, took the paracetamol, and continued to clear off items from his desk.

An hour and a half later, after ploughing through an impressive amount of big- and small-ticket issues from his diary, Mycroft took a breath. That, apparently, was the mistake. He felt it, suddenly, like a trigger. Deep in his chest was the hollow, ragged hole where his feelings for Gregory had been—an object defined by the space left behind. He dropped his pen.

His hands were trembling. His guts had turned to water. He recognised physical symptoms of trauma, and, as his stomach churned and sunk toward his feet Mycroft buried his face. He didn’t know what to do when the usual methods of containment weren’t enough.

On second thoughts, perhaps they were enough, and perhaps that was the problem. He was accustomed to the way the idea of Gregory sat in his chest. He was used to the weight and the warmth of his affection, and the gentle way he served as a touchstone for Mycroft’s humanity. Perhaps locking all of him away had been a bad choice. Perhaps there was something different he should have done.

Hesitantly, carefully, Mycroft closed his eyes and eased open the jewellery box. He took out a short flash of emotion. It looked like the smile Greg would give him when he was up to something—white and even, a trickster fox ready to serve up something amazing. Mycroft’s chest squeezed tight. Gregory.

Weakened, he toyed with the idea of capitulation. If he gave in, if he allowed this, he’d be…he’d be destroyed with love for him. It would ruin him. To enter into a relationship with Gregory would be walking headfirst into his own destruction. Running toward the fire. He was too much a coward to do it.

And yet…

And yet Gregory would run toward a burning building, if it meant a rescue. Surely had done. Could Mycroft ask any less of himself, and with less physical risk? Even if it all burned to the ground, together they could build a new life on the ashes of the old.

Could Mycroft manage to stop clinging to the threads of safety? Peel his fingers away from the familiarity of loneliness and fear and his own personal convention? Was this a habit it would be worth breaking? Dare he reach for happiness…contentment…joy…intimacy.

Oh god. Intimacy.

The thought acted like a hammer and shattered the locks on the jewellery box, and in a rush all the carefully contained emotion came tumbling out. Mycroft covered his mouth with his hands as if to shove everything back in. It was too late. All the things he had locked away as unnecessary flooded forward and filled him up: family, school, work, history, all those missed chances and broken promises, all those choices, and right there at the top was a soul-deep yearning:

Intimacy.

In his mind Mycroft was lying naked in bed with Gregory. They were vulnerable, quiet, talking in hushed tones, and he imagined Gregory touching his face, speaking from inches away. Even the word of it, intimacy, hurt Mycroft’s stomach. He wanted it so badly he could barely stand it. He wanted it for himself as strongly as he’d ever wanted anything at all. He wanted it even more than he wanted to preserve the familiar loneliness, because the desire for intimacy predated it; it had been around far longer, had become a strong, venerable feeling. Ancient, even. Perhaps it was possible that the lack of intimacy gave birth to the loneliness, that the lack of intimacy was the mother of his loneliness.

To enter into a relationship with Gregory, with all its promise of intimacy, would be a reset button. It would put him back at the start, before the loneliness had got its hooks in. With a flash of intuition Mycroft stroked his face and knew immediately what must be done. There was an easy experiment at his fingertips, and it might go a long way toward demonstrating whether…well. It could demonstrate whether giving in might completely ruin his life.

He closed all his files, threw on his coat, and went into the outer office to tell his aide he was leaving.

"So soon?" Andrea said, looking completely unsurprised.

Mycroft’s heart beat in his throat. "I, er, have some things to take care of before the holiday."

She gave him a small smile. "Good luck with it, sir."

He looked at her, at the knowingness of her, and managed to smile back. There was a reason he had hired her, after all. "Thank you," he said.

"Oh, and sir?"

He turned.

"Happy Christmas," she said with that inscrutable smile, and then he was off.


Gregory opened the door with a look of shock. "Oh. Hullo."

"Gregory."

"Erm." He stepped back into the house. "Come in." He peered at Mycroft from head to toe as if looking to see whether Mycroft had left something obvious behind. Mycroft was relieved to see he hadn’t yet shaved.

"I hope I haven’t interrupted anything."

"No. No, I was just. Reading." Gregory stared into Mycroft’s face. "Did you, er, need something?"

"I have a proposal for you," Mycroft said, clasping his hands on the handle of his umbrella for support. Gregory’s spine straightened. "It is the 24th."

Gregory was wary. "…Yes."

"Our obligation to the charity is finished."

"…Yes."

Mycroft stood with both feet planted on the ground and schooled his features into disinterest. "I wondered if you might not be interested in aiding me with some…well-needed… That is, your hands are steady, and…"

Gregory stepped up close. "Are you asking whether or not I’d shave your face for you?"

"Not precisely." Mycroft swallowed. "I was hoping to propose a trade. My help for yours."

For an interminable moment, Gregory stared. His eyes looked very deep. "Absolutely."


There was a slight bit of preparation to be done before they could begin. Mycroft hesitated, then stripped off down to his vest and trousers, laying the discarded clothing on Gregory’s bed. When he finished he entered the en-suite to watch Gregory just as he ran an electric razor over the last of the beard to take down the majority of the hair. With not a little sadness, he watched the bits fall into the sink. "Ready?" Gregory said, snapping him out of his reverie. He looked darkly handsome with his long, ragged stubble.

Want curled in Mycroft's gut. "Of course," he said, a diffident lie.

And then they began.

It was a worshipful act, Gregory sat beside the sink while Mycroft crowded close to scrape his face one inch at a time, feeling delicately with his fingers after each stroke, memorising how Gregory's hair grew differently to Mycroft's own. There was absolute silence in the room except for the swish of water in the basin as Mycroft rinsed out the razor. The sound of his own breathing felt very loud, very fast in comparison. He tried to temper it so Gregory wouldn't know how quickly his heart was beating, but after a few minutes his need for air outstripped his carefully-measured breaths and he had to step back for a moment of space before continuing. Thankfully Gregory didn't say anything; when Mycroft stepped back in, he only smoothed the backs of his fingers over Mycroft’s beard once before before again presenting a perfectly placid expression.

Mycroft uncovered one cheek, then the other, then Gregory's jaw, chin, upper lip, mouth. He worked quickly, neatly, following the perfect lines of Gregory's face with his pulse pounding in his throat, trying only to focus and not take in the entire picture at once; if he thought about it all too hard he thought he would never be able to finish. Better to accomplish the goal now and have a small fit about it later than to never accomplish the goal at all. He considered the word.

Intimacy.

Finally, there was only Greg’s neck left to do. He could see his carotid jumping under the shaving foam. Mycroft swallowed.

"Did you want me to…"

"All of it," Gregory said. He lifted up his chin, baring his neck to the blade, and suddenly the weight of the situation pounded hard with Mycroft's heart.

"I don't…I've never…" You trust me.

Gregory opened his eyes. They were shockingly dark—even darker than usual. Mycroft's mouth ran dry. "The whole thing, Mycroft."

Mycroft ran hot water over the razor again, hoping his hands stayed steady. He worked the angled underside of Gregory's jaw and down to his adam's apple. The entire time was spent with his pulse in his ears. When he finished, he stood up straight. He watched Gregory swallow.

"Finished?" Gregory said. His voice sounded rough.

"Y-yes," said Mycroft. He rinsed out the razor and went to dry his hands on a hanging bath towel, using the opportunity to put his back to Gregory for a moment, taking some refuge in the fact that Gregory couldn't see his expression. He heard him splash water on his face and rinse out the basin. When the tap shut off, Mycroft turned back round.

Gregory was stood there in front of him: the clean-shaven Gregory, the one Mycroft had fancied from afar for so long.

"Good?" Gregory said.

Mycroft had immense trouble finding the words. "I suspect you’re relieved."

"I am." Gregory smiled. Mycroft’s heart stopped. "It was driving me mad."

"I understand," said Mycroft. He clenched his hand into a fist instead of sticking it in his pocket. He was afraid that evidence of his emotion had only been delayed until the task was through, and was now betraying itself as a tremor in his muscles. With a tone of worry he hoped Gregory wouldn’t detect Mycroft’s nerves when it was his turn to be shaven.

Mycroft refused to catch his eye while he prepared to shave, even when Gregory ducked under the sink and pulled out a new disposable razor. Mycroft eyed it dubiously but said nothing. As he used the electric razor as a first pass, he caught Gregory's eye over his shoulder. The expression on his face was a curious combination of wistful and hollow both at once. Mycroft’s stomach flipped. Swallowing hard, he renewed his focus on his own face and wondered what Gregory had been thinking. When it came to Gregory he never seemed to have the data he needed, and that fact was continually frustrating.

Soon Mycroft looked even worse than he had before. He smoothed shaving foam over his face before he could spend much time contemplating it, then waited with his heart in his throat for Gregory to begin. The entire situation was bizarre. Perhaps this was a poor decision.

"Maybe I should leave it clipped," Gregory said as he ran hot water over the razor. Mycroft's eyes widened in horror. Gregory turned around, saw his expression, and laughed, going a little limp in the shoulders. "Wow. I guess not."

"Absolutely not."

Gregory stepped into Mycroft’s personal space. "Even if it's sexy as hell?"

Mycroft hoped he wasn't learning how to blush. "Even if that were true."

Gregory rolled his eyes, assessed Mycroft's face, and began.

It was a strange sensation, having someone shave him with a cheap plastic razor: the blades caught on the hairs and tugged like velcro. He caught himself trying to deduce where the next stroke would hit, and was surprised each time to be wrong. Perhaps that was due to the inferiority of the tool. Or perhaps that was due to unpredictability of the man doing the shaving. Perhaps it was both. Whichever it was, his judgement was notably shaken.

Gregory was so close Mycroft could hear his breath and feel his body heat. The touch of his fingers on Mycroft's chin was so painfully gentle as he tilted his face this way and that, trying to get the best angle, trying to see in the dim light over the mirror; one of the three bulbs was out. Mycroft’s bones ached. He watched the flick of Gregory's focus, the dark of his individual eyelashes, the tiny creases in his forehead and around his eyes, a scar on his temple, all the imperfections and details that together made Mycroft hurt. Gregory smelled of deodorant and sleep and shaving foam.

Mycroft curled his fingers hard into his thigh to ground himself with pain, because he was having a hell of a time staying objective about this experiment when Gregory was so close and alive and adored. Mycroft started dreaming up wild systems that might help rid him of this ridiculous crush in case it failed, but none of them were realistic. The idea of finding someone else to clear his palate, for example, someone for whom he felt nothing, was particularly repugnant. Somehow he could still detect the taste of Gregory's kisses, and wondered if perhaps they were affecting his rationality.

Gregory scraped the underside of Mycroft's chin. Mycroft tried not to swallow, or move, or breathe. The trouble was, he realised, he didn’t want the experiment to fail. He desperately, painfully wanted the experiment to succeed. He wanted everything Gregory was willing to offer.

And then Gregory spoke, and Mycroft was gone.

"I miss this," Gregory said quietly, working on the side of Mycroft's jaw. "Quiet intimacy." Mycroft's stomach clenched. Gregory turned away to rinse the razor and Mycroft took the opportunity to swallow. He closed his eyes to hide the expression on his face, and his heart pounded so hard, so fast he was afraid he was going to be sick. "Maybe you don't care about it, but I do. I miss it."

Caught in a maelstrom, Mycroft flailed for something to say. "I think maybe you're mistaking my quiet for—"

Gregory kissed him softly, once, twice, again. Mycroft melted. Greg pulled away with a bit of shaving foam on his lip and scrubbed it off with the back of his hand. "I'm not mistaking it for anything." He stared into Mycroft's eyes from six inches away. "What are you mistaking it for?" Mycroft's brain swirled. Gregory leaned in to rest his lips on his forehead. "Thank you for this."

Suddenly Mycroft realised how much his chest hurt. His breath shook as he dragged it in and out, but the ache wouldn't dissipate. "I do…trust you," he murmured.

"But not enough." Gregory rocked his head, his lips still against Mycroft's skin. "I understand. It's fine."

Gregory pulled away, rinsed the razor again, and went back to his work. Mycroft closed his eyes and submitted to the feel of it tracing over his face, trying not to worry about where the next stroke would go. His mind roiled. Intimacy. He trapped a noise in his throat; he wanted so desperately to grab Gregory and pull him in and push their mouths together that it physically pained him. Even with all his considerable self control he was having trouble not giving in to the desire. He envisioned a kiss like a thunderbolt, their knees turning to rubber, dropping them to the ground. Crawling into Gregory’s mouth to exorcise all the need caught up in his chest and hands and throat. Soft, aching desire filled him to brimming, and he kept his eyes closed; hiding this from Gregory was likely futile, but the idea of opening himself up to Gregory’s gaze was one of the most terrifying ideas of his life. He stifled his shaking breath to hide it from Gregory, so close by and studying him.

"There," Gregory murmured. Mycroft kept his eyes closed and was momentarily startled by the feeling of a hot, wet flannel stroking his face clean. The sensation was gone, leaving his face to cool in the air, and then Gregory dried him with a towel. All through it, Mycroft’s eyes remained shut.

Then Gregory was dragging his fingertips over Mycroft’s mouth, and it startled his eyes open. Gregory stared. His body heat warmed Mycroft’s front.

"Hello," Gregory said, his voice so quiet he was almost just mouthing the words. He was so, so beautiful.

"Hello," Mycroft tried to say back. It came out as a whisper.

Gregory stroked Mycroft’s jaw and his lower lip. "Finished."

Mycroft could barely speak. "Yes."

He stared at the elegance of Gregory’s eyelashes and the way his eyes flickered to watch the patterns his fingertips were tracing on Mycroft’s skin. Mycroft heard him take a breath and then, without warning, he was leaning up and kissing him.

His mouth was shockingly soft. Mycroft's made an embarrassing noise as his knees buckled. He wrapped his arms around Gregory’s waist and kissed him with all his heart. He pushed even harder into the kiss, want rising up and grasping him behind the sternum and wrenching until he whined. Gregory buried both hands in Mycroft’s hair as they staggered sideways; Mycroft pressed Gregory back against the wall from shoulder to knee. It felt as if he would never be close enough. Gregory moaned into the kiss and Mycroft's bones melted in the heat of it like wax. Come back to bed he remembered Gregory saying, and the echo of it in Mycroft's memory was devastating.

Mycroft whimpered. Gregory broke it and pressed his face against Mycroft's, panting. "Oh my god," he said.

"I’m," Mycroft said, gasping for air, trying to remember how speech worked. "I’m—sorry."

"God. Perfect."

"What’s, er." Mycroft wanted to adjust himself in his trousers. He was half hard already—from the kiss, from the shaving, from Gregory's clean-smelling warmth, from all the soul-deep and long-desired intimacy. "I don’t understand." An impossible thought began, far back in the basest reaches of his brain. What if he wants me as badly as I want him?

Gregory huffed a laugh. "I guess not." His mouth was red, irritated by shaving and then the kiss. Mycroft couldn’t stop staring. It was so soft, and wet, and he craved. "God, kiss me like that again."

Mycroft looked into his eyes, but he seemed sincere. More than sincere; he looked wrecked. Mycroft’s stomach swooped. He heard himself making another broken noise, then he kissed him with so much vigor it knocked Gregory back and forced him to throw out one arm for balance against the doorway of the bath. When he recovered, Gregory grabbed at the back of Mycroft’s neck, his shoulder, his hair, his hips, and pulled him backward into the bedroom.

Gregory’s mouth was a revelation. A miracle. The smoothness of his lips was like nothing Mycroft had experienced in any of his cold, perfunctory sexual experiences; no one had ever been freshly shaven. No one had ever been so smooth. The beard had been glorious but this, too, was a sensory feast to be savoured. Mycroft slowed the kiss to drag his lips all over Gregory’s cheeks. He felt Gregory’s breath puffing erratically against the over-sensitive skin of his own jaw.

"Stay," Gregory whispered. Mycroft squeezed his eyes shut. "Please stay."

Mycroft tightened his arms around Gregory’s waist and tried to breathe.

"Stay with me."

It hurt. His chest hurt.

"Mycroft. Please stay."

Mycroft sucked in a shaking breath and, as he exhaled, bent his head to kiss Gregory again. He felt Gregory’s knees buckle for a moment, and then they were moving toward the bed. He tried to focus, tried to remember each second as Gregory pulled off their clothes, tried to memorise how it felt to have Gregory’s body press against him as they stood at the side of the bed in short, brain-softening brushes of contact, teasing and hardening as they kissed and kissed and kissed. Mycroft thought he might go mad with the intensity of it.

Gregory’s hands were everywhere, sensitising the less-sensitive places, dragging up the arch of his spine and making even his ribcage feel like an erogenous zone. He was left gasping when Gregory stepped back, but gratified to see how aroused the touch had made him as well.

"Sit back on the bed," Gregory murmured. He didn’t break eye contact.

"Sit back?"

"Against the headboard."

As Mycroft complied, Gregory scooped up the bottle of lubricant from the bedside table, then crawled over. Mycroft held his breath while Gregory straddled his lap. "What are your plans?" Mycroft couldn’t bring himself to speak above a murmur.

Instead of answering, Gregory slicked up his hand. He then reached down and stroked Mycroft’s cock where it was standing proud from his lap. Mycroft let his head fall back and his eyes close. "No, don’t," Gregory said. Mycroft opened his eyes and dragged his head back down. "Look at me."

Gregory stroked him delicately but steadily, drawing circles around the head, rubbing the pad of his thumb on the frenulum, pushing slickly around the foreskin. Mycroft fought to keep his eyes open. The feeling of it filled him up like water, the level of arousal and pleasure steadily rising until he could feel it in back of his eyes. Then Gregory stopped.

"Give me your hand," Gregory said. After a moment of processing, Mycroft reached between them. Gregory poured lubricant into Mycroft’s palm and leaned in to murmur against his mouth. "Now me."

Slowly, carefully, he pushed his wet palm down onto the head of Gregory’s cock and then around. He broke their eye contact to look for only a moment, but his gaze was caught there: the sight of Greg’s cock, dark and shiny, slipping in and out of his fingers, the sight of himself teasing the head, pulling up hard enough the foreskin gathered and receded on each stroke…all were mesmerising. Mycroft’s gaze was suddenly obscured, and then Gregory’s mouth was on his, soft and gentle. He felt the touch of his tongue against his lower lip.

"Together."

Mycroft didn’t know what he meant. Then, suddenly, Gregory’s hand wrapped around Mycroft’s cock and everything became beauty and slickness and Gregory’s touch, the feel of his cock and the delicate way Gregory leaned forward to breathe against his mouth.

Gregory touched his tongue to Mycroft’s lip, sending a thrill of arousal down to his core. In return Mycroft tasted Gregory’s upper lip. Gregory tilted his head as if to kiss him, but he left his mouth open and just enough space between them that their mouths brushed against each other with the rhythm of their hands. He could hear the quiet, stifled sounds of Gregory’s throat as he tried not to make any noise. It was just as maddening as if he had let out a full-voiced moan.

The position, of the gentleness, of the intimacy of the act built up Mycroft’s arousal to painful heights. It wasn’t enough to push him over the edge. It wasn’t enough to register as too much. Instead Mycroft felt himself grow harder, felt his lungs strain for air, felt his heart thunder in his ears as Gregory teased him with almost-kisses and stroked him with a wet, steady hand.

Mycroft scrubbed his palm over the head of Gregory’s cock, and he was rewarded with a kick of Gregory’s hips and a broken sound tumbling from his throat. It was almost too much to take. It became even worse when Gregory pressed his mouth over and over to Mycroft’s neck—lightly, with great gentleness. Mycroft’s mouth fell open in bone-melting bliss. His eyes fluttered closed.

"Mycroft," Gregory whispered.

It hurt so badly, the sound of it, the softness in his voice, and it mixed up in Mycroft’s head with the steady play of Gregory’s fingers all over his cock. Emotion tightened his chest and pulsed in his groin and Mycroft had to stop moving before he went mad.

Gregory cracked an eye open and then narrowed it. "Are you—What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong."

"You're…sure?"

Mycroft wiped his face clean of expression and nodded. "Yes."

Gregory stared at him for a moment then, in one heart-stopping movement, swung his leg from over Mycroft’s lap and lay down. He slid under the covers. "Come here," he said.

Mycroft blinked.

"Come on." Gregory trailed the backs of his knuckles over Mycroft’s cheek and Mycroft had no choice but to follow him into the bed and under the duvet. When they were lying alongside each other, Gregory wrapped himself around Mycroft and pressed his mouth to his hair. "Give me a chance," he whispered. "Please give me a chance."

When Mycroft figured out what he was saying he pushed his face against his chest very, very hard. Emotion knotted in his throat, making it tough to speak.

"You keep acting as if it's a burden. Or repugnant. But you’re not…observing." Gregory took a deep breath, his face still in Mycroft's hair.

"But you don't—" Feel like this. This wretched. This miserable.

"Here," Gregory whispered. He arranged Mycroft on top of him, settling Mycroft’s erection into the warm cradle of his hip. He smoothed his hands back from Mycroft’s face. The look in his eyes was fathomless, and Mycroft fell.

When Gregory took two large handfuls of Mycroft's bottom and rocked up against his thigh, letting out a shuddering breath, Mycroft's eyes rolled back behind his eyelids. The way his cock slid in the crease of Gregory's hip was too brilliant to be believed. It was humid under the covers, hot and slick, and Gregory made a perfect little snicking noise deep in his throat every time his cock scraped up against the hair on Mycroft's thigh. With all the control Mycroft usually had over himself, he still couldn't convince himself to stop. It was a bit too compelling, too much like a gift to throw it away.

He clutched at the sheets on either side of Gregory's shoulders and slid forward, panting out breaths that gathered warm and sticky against Gregory's skin. He could feel Gregory leaving fingertip-shaped bruises on his bottom, as hard as he was gripping. Mycroft cracked his eyes open to watch Gregory roll his head back and forth on the pillow, his jaw slack, his expression a beautiful example of ecstasy.

Mycroft bent his head to suck at Gregory's neck, to bite it, to kiss it so hard and fervently that purple marks rose to the surface. He mauled Gregory's neck with his mouth and, instead of pulling away, Gregory just arched up against him with a groan and writhed harder. He threw one leg over Mycroft's hip. Mycroft moaned, pulsed with increased arousal, and gnawed at Gregory's jaw. He got a mouthful of smooth skin and reveled in its maleness, its texture, its smell. He nipped a sloppy line to the tip of Gregory's chin and bit it as Gregory stroked up and down his back and rolled his hips against Mycroft's thigh. Mycroft's blood sang.

Suddenly Gregory grasped Mycroft's hair with both hands and held his head in place to kiss him desperately on the mouth. "God. God, I want you. God, I want you so badly. Everything you do reminds me of sex. You hands. Your hips. God, please. Oh, please." He made several high noises that sounded like begging. "Oh god, please Mycroft."

Mycroft had sublimated down to one raw nerve. He ground his thigh against Gregory's cock and rutted against him and gasped for air and let Gregory's words echo round and round in his brain. Every inch of his skin was aching for touch. The sounds Gregory began to make were filthy, shattering, vibrating in his ear, marking themselves indelibly into his memory. He was going to remember this moment always.

"Oh god, here we go. Oh please. Oh please." Gregory's voice drew up tight. He started shaking. "Oh god yes. Ohhhhhhhhh…" He grabbed Mycroft's bottom and arched up hard against him, jerking wildly. Mycroft felt his hip become slick. Gregory shuddered. "Oh god yes." He twitched as his orgasm wound down. "Oh god yes." He shivered his nervous system back into place and went boneless. "Ohhh," he groaned. "Fuck…"

Mycroft stared at him wide-eyed, trying to memorise every single second. Gregory writhed and licked his lips and panted.

After a moment, Gregory spoke. "You—you haven't come."

Mycroft swallowed. "No."

Gregory opened his eyes and stared. Mycroft couldn’t break away. Then Gregory tilted his head up and kissed him, reaching between them to stroke his cock. Mycroft twitched and all his nerve endings zeroed in on the touch. He moaned.

“Oh, god," Gregory sighed, and he pressed his mouth to Mycroft's cheek. "God, that sound. God, Mycroft."

The sound of his name, scattered on a breath, spoken into his skin, clenched Mycroft's lungs and settled in his stomach like a stone. Gregory stroked steadily, unrelentingly. Mycroft pushed up onto his elbows to give him some space.

Gregory sighed again. His breath was a warm puff on Mycroft's face. "You are so beautiful like this."

An ache started up in Mycroft's chest. He rolled his hips into Gregory's hand, feeling himself draw up, feeling the ache deepen. His brow furrowed.

"Yes. Beautiful. Heart-stopping. Fuck, you're so beautiful."

Mycroft screwed his face up so he wouldn't give anything away. It hurt. God, it hurt. He let his head drop down between his arms and rested his forehead on Gregory’s shoulder.

Gregory began to stroke his thumb across the head and along the frenulum as Mycroft thrust his hips. It was suddenly too hot under the duvet, too close, and his breath was becoming rough. He hung right on the edge of orgasm, something in him having a very difficult time letting go.

"Kiss me," Gregory asked. When Mycroft didn't respond, he asked again. "Please kiss me."

Fear clutched at Mycroft but he did as he was asked, and with the first touch of Gregory's tongue all his defences were destroyed, wrecked, bricks falling pulverised and broken to the ground. Gregory caught the roughness of his breath with his mouth and kept the kiss gentle, banked down, but the fire burned hotter and hotter and hotter. He moaned, almost constantly, as his climax built with a slowness that tortured him. His mind swum. The feeling of Gregory’s tongue, his gasps, the light brushes of his lips, all teased him with sensation that rivalled the twisting pleasure in his groin, tightening the tension like the turn of a screw. Finally, one flick of Gregory’s tongue against Mycroft’s was too far. The thrill shot through him and it all shattered. He sobbed out in panic as he plunged into a full-body orgasm, shaking and convulsing and shooting out hot over and over onto Gregory's hip. His limbs jerked uncontrollably. It was so strong his vision went white, and he spasmed with it even after there was nothing left to spill. He was a shattered husk in its wake.

"Shhh." Gregory wrapped his arms around him as the muscles in Mycroft's arms gave out. Gregory clutched him to his chest. "Shh." He kissed Mycroft's hair. "Oh my god."

Emotion roiled in Mycroft's stomach. He wondered if this time he really was about to be sick, though even if he were, he didn't know what he could do about it; none of his muscular system seemed to be responding. He pushed his face into Gregory's chest. His breathing sounded wet and erratic to his ears. The hormones raging through his system were cloying, terrible, stealing his self-possession and bringing him terrifyingly close to emotional breakage. His feelings were too strong, and it made his body weak. He felt terrifyingly mortal.

Gregory stroked his back. "Mycroft," he murmured again.

Mycroft was helpless but to hold on to him. "Why do you… Why aren’t you…" He couldn’t force the words into the proper order in his head, even if he’d known what the proper words were. "I don’t understand. Why?"

Gregory lifted his head to look into his face. "Why what?"

"Why…" Mycroft looked up at the pillow as if the words would be written there. "You haven’t pushed me away."

For several seconds, Gregory blinked at him. Then he wiped his hand on the sheet and touched Mycroft’s mouth. His fingertips smelled of semen but the look in his eyes was soft, gentle. Intimate. "You are so unbelievably stupid."

Mycroft blinked slowly. "What?"

"Look at me."

For a few seconds, Mycroft studied his face. "I don’t understand."

Greg’s expression gentled and he watched his fingers drag over Mycroft’s cheek. He looked soft. Fond. Affectionate.

Oh.

"You…" Mycroft had no idea how to word it, the emotion he might have missed. "You…feel…for me…"

"I do," Gregory said: the two most improbable, heart-wrenching words Mycroft could have imagined. Mycroft was forced to hide his face against Gregory's skin. He’d missed it. Somehow, he’d missed it all. How had he missed it all? "You were so busy telling me I couldn’t possibly feel anything, you wouldn’t see that I actually did." Greg carded his hands through Mycroft’s hair and bent his head to inhale its scent.

Mycroft thought this time he might really be ill with the emotion churning his stomach. "You hid it very well."

"I wasn’t hiding it at all."

Mycroft lifted his face and stared at him in wonder.

Gregory looked at his expression and sucked in a breath, his brow furrowed, then cupped Mycroft’s face in his hand. "God." He studied Mycroft’s face. "The way you feel about me is just…"

"I’m sorry," Mycroft heard himself saying.

"Shut up." Gregory buried his face against Mycroft’s neck and sucked in a shaky breath. "You’ve been uncharacteristically…no, unbearably stupid. Don’t make it worse."

Mycroft accepted the embrace, hugging him and smelling his skin and relishing the warmth of him. He didn’t want to let go. I was wrong. It wouldn’t take a week. It would only take a day. I would be helplessly in love with you before the day was out.

"I thought you were never going to suss it."

Gregory has feelings for you. It didn’t seem any more probable in his head than it did in reality. "You were waiting."

"Yes."

"You wanted me to deduce."

"It really shouldn’t have been that difficult."

Mycroft stared into his beautiful, perfect face. "You must understand how—"

"You didn’t want to believe it, so you didn’t see it. I don’t think it’s more complicated than that."

Slowly—painfully slowly—the pieces fell into place. In examining the past day, Mycroft recalled the way he’d repeatedly disregarded any hint of Greg’s softer emotions, believing himself too biased to adequately judge the data. He thought he’d wanted it too badly, and that his assessment would be tainted by that fact. He hadn’t even entertained the option that it was true.

It was intolerable, having been so blind. If Mycroft hadn’t been so incandescently happy, he might have been furious with himself.

"You want this," Mycroft said.

Greg watched the shifting expressions on Mycroft’s face and chuckled. He pressed his forehead to Mycroft’s temple, and Mycroft heard him inhale. "How are you so stupid."

Mycroft held on for dear life and mulled everything over. Is this how the experiment ends? Not with a bang, and not with a whimper, but with Gregory finally making it clear he’s been falling for Mycroft too?

"You’re shaking," Greg murmured into Mycroft’s ear.

"I wasn't planning on this," Mycroft said. He closed his eyes and cherished the mere presence of him.

"When?"

"Ever."

"Life rarely goes according to plan, Mycroft."

"That is certainly true."

"Sometimes it's better."

Mycroft opened his eyes.

Gregory touched Mycroft’s face. "I wasn't planning on this either." A smile touched his lips. "But I wished for it anyway."

Mycroft swallowed. "I couldn't promise you a lot of time."

"I couldn't promise you a lot of time."

"I have to travel often."

"People keep murdering each other."

"That's one reason why I have to travel, yes."

Gregory made a strange noise. "Did you just crack a joke?"

"Of course not." Mycroft let the corner of his mouth quirk.

"You're going to be hard work."

"Yes," he said seriously, but he felt the first threads of hope press up into his throat, sparking like joy. "Too much work, I think."

"Well. You already know how stubborn I am."

He was actually smiling. In bed with Gregory, and smiling. "Yes. I do."

"I think it’s one of the things you like best about me."

"Absolutely not."

Gregory was so beautiful like this: naked and flushed and happy and pressed up close to Mycroft’s side. "You like ‘em stubborn and strong and gorgeous as hell."

Mycroft cupped his cheek in his palm and traced his smile with his thumb. At some point in future he might start believing this was happening, but in the meantime he’d simply have to keep touching Gregory for proof. He tried to think of something to say, but couldn’t; all the happiness and affection and relief and anticipation and fear and worry and excitement were fighting for dominance, and nothing he wanted to say seemed enough. Silence is the perfectest herald of joy, he thought, and suddenly he had to bite his lip to keep all the feelings from overflowing. Mycroft felt a prize idiot, but the look on Gregory’s face was a treasure.

"Trust me," Gregory said.

For a long moment, Mycroft studied his face, and basked in the light of Gregory’s happiness. He saw it now. It was too bright to interpret it any other way. "I believe you."

A smile broke across Gregory’s face like the sun. He closed the distance and kissed him, a slow and thorough thing that left Mycroft’s heart racing.

"Have you eaten?" Gregory spoke against his mouth when the kiss ended. His lips brushed Mycroft’s on every word, and he smelled of shaving foam and sex. With one forefinger, Mycroft petted the soft, downy hairs above the crack of Gregory’s arse. It was painfully, disastrously intimate. Mycroft feared he’d never recover. Perhaps now he wouldn’t have to.

"No."

"I’d planned to go to a Christmas Eve supper—"

"Oh." Mycroft was wrong-footed.

"I’m not finished, Mycroft. I’d planned to go, but…" He heard Gregory swallow. "I’d rather spend the holiday with you instead."

Mycroft pulled back to look into his face. "But you have plans."

"Nothing that can’t be broken." Gregory traced Mycroft’s mouth with his fingertips. The gesture was so tender that Mycroft’s heart hurt.

"I could…" Mycroft considered his Christmas plans—a horrible party with horrible people just to keep up appearances, and a quiet day at home. There was no comparison. "I suppose I could shift around my schedule."

Gregory kissed him several times, gently, and the play of his mouth and tongue ensnared Mycroft and ensured he never, ever wanted to stop. "I’ll put together tea, and maybe we could pick up something nice for tomorrow. I wish I’d decorated. And that we had gifts. We should have gifts."

You’ve given me more than I ever imagined I’d receive Mycroft thought. He compared his previous expectations of the holiday with his current reality. There was a curious lump in his throat. Joy. The emotion you’re experiencing is joy. "What makes you think I need a gift?" Mycroft said.

With that, Gregory examined his expression, and smiled. He dragged his knuckles down the sides of Mycroft’s face and caged it in his hands like a precious thing. "Come here," he said, and rather than push Mycroft away, rather than laugh at him, Gregory pulled him close and held him there and brought their mouths together.

It was the season of illumination, of candles and glitter and star-glow tinting the sky. And there in Gregory’s bed, bathed in the dawn of something new, lost in the brilliancy of the kiss, Mycroft was so, so full of light.