He watches his own expression in the mirror as he loops the muted purple silk around his neck. It feels like strapping a siren to his head - and also hopelessly, numbingly inadequate. As he knots the tie, Greg decides it's fitting both for the day and for his life that he's lost somewhere vaguely between the two.
Nobody will notice, he worries, his stomach hardening.
Everybody will notice, he thinks, staring in the mirror.
It's not even really purple.
It looks almost grey in this light - the pattern on it scatters the colour, dispersing it, making this gesture feel even more pathetic than it already does. It's a shoddy shadow of pride, and he knows it. Every year he re-stages this battle. It leaves him feeling faded and garish and valid and tragic and cold.
He's never really sure what he expects to come of it.
When things started really going wrong with Helen, this gesture felt like reaching back into his twenties - grasping hold of the tiniest piece of the brave and free-spirited young man he used to be, pulling that tiny treasure into the present. He'd bought the tie specially. It's from M&S. He arrived at the office that first year almost nauseous with nerves, telling himself he was risking the respect of his entire division all for the sake of a lost possibility. He was married. There was a Mrs Lestrade, even if they slept in separate rooms now. It didn't matter what he'd once been.
In the end, nobody noticed the tie.
Nobody ever notices it.
It's September 23rd, and it's purple tie day. It won't make the least bit of difference - except to Greg. This tragic little ritual always makes him feel crap; giving up on it would feel so much worse. When he was young, he tried to push himself to be more gay. He wanted that cosy certainty, that feeling of community. 'I'm not like most people, but there are people like me.' Then he met Helen, and he pushed himself to be more straight. 'I was young. I wanted to be different. That was all.'
In the end, he did a terrible job of both. It's not a surprise he's terrible at being bisexual, too.
Some days it doesn't even cross his mind. It's not that he forgets he's bisexual - he just forgets to remember. After the divorce, his few dates have all been with women. He nearly got himself out to a gay bar last year, lonely and nostalgic for the first time he'd been to one - the boyfriend he'd met there, twenty-one and drunk and kissing outside in the alley, feeling his soul erupt with a realisation so overwhelming it hurt. I like men.
As Greg pulls on his grey jacket, smoothing the lapels in the mirror, he can still feel some young part of his soul gasping it in shock, forever lost in that moment - raking his hands over stubble, feeling a hardness nuzzling against his own through their jeans. I like men. I like this. Flat chests, closer. Hands, rougher. Women never pushed him back against a wall like he belonged to them. Men did. Women never dragged their hands through his hair and tilted his mouth to kiss him harder.
All that joy, he thinks, numbly collecting his car keys from the bowl by the door. All that... passion.
Now I wear a purple tie once a year.
As he drives to work, trapped in traffic, Greg lulls between memories: gay friends who stopped inviting him to things when he had a girlfriend; awkward rejections - men who said they wanted someone serious about other men, men who joked about 'part-timers', men who seemed to think he'd been tainted by female hands; "I don't really believe in bisexuals," as if he was claiming to be Santa or the Easter Bunny; "a lot of people who say they're bisexual aren't," as if he wasn't mature enough to accept he was gay, as if he was straight but coveting a sprinkle of surface gayness to make him seem more fun than the other straights. He was fifty now, and he still didn't know how to protest that. 'But I've been with women, and I enjoyed it. And I've been with men, and I enjoyed it.' Apparently that's not enough.
When Helen came along, it was almost a relief to give up on it all.
Greg lets himself quietly into the office, and heads to the staffroom to fix himself a coffee. Nobody mentions the tie. It's so much like all the others he wears that it doesn't stand out. Returning with his coffee, he reminds himself he's an idiot, and not to bother with this pointless gesture next year. It's politics for no reason. It doesn't change anything. He's feeling just as invisible as he does everyday of the year.
Arriving for the morning meeting, one of the new DCs glances at Greg's chest.
As Greg sees her thoughts skip, his heart lurches into his mouth on the spot.
A stranger, a junior colleague, has cracked his flimsy bisexual code. He might as well be running this meeting while draped in a glitzy flag, righteously demanding they all validate his sexuality. He can't believe he's been so aggressively political to drag this into the office, where nobody even wants to know whether he's theoretically bisexual - and he wonders at once if all of them cracked the purple tie code years ago. They're just polite enough to know you don't do things like this at work. Every September, their dignified silence is a desperate hint to him: that this is weird, and it's tiresome, and mature people keep their opinions to themselves. He's now horrified a junior member of staff by painting his theoretical sex life about the office - and he's not even had a boyfriend in twenty years, who the holy hell does he think he is? He panics at once that the girl is gay, weary of her preachy bisexual boss and his belief he's got something to complain about; he worries that, worse, she is truly bisexual - one of the young ones, properly committed to it - not an old imposter like him, who dabbled in it so long ago she probably wasn't even born then.
Then he glances down, and realises there's a flake of croissant clinging to his jacket.
And he wonders when it was he got so firmly lodged up his own arse.
It's a normal, dull day. By lunch Greg's forgotten the purple tie. He only remembers when he catches his reflection in the gents while washing his hands, and he gives himself a cold huff and a twist of a smile. Even you don't take it seriously that you're bi, mate. How d'you expect anyone else to?
By three, he's feeling guilty at the realisation he does this hoping someone will notice - hoping someone will clock the purple tie, superimpose the pink and the blue he doesn't dare to wear with it, and the two of them will see each other as if for the first time. Across a crowded room he'll find an ally.
A lover, you mean.
You know you want a gay man to notice. You know you daydream about it.
You're trying to get laid, Lestrade, that's all.
And even if someone did spot you flaunting it, how're you going to explain eight years married to a woman? Curiosity?
Greg heads back to his office, numb, and gets on with his paperwork.
He's tempted to take the tie off, but he's worried it'll draw attention to it. He's hoping most of his co-workers think he just happened to wear an old tie from the back of the drawer today. If he takes it off, they might wonder what's wrong with the tie - why he's gotten rid of it. They might start making connections. He doesn't want that.
Bisexual Visibility Day, he thinks. On which idiots want to show that they're bi, but don't want anyone to see it.
Was I even really attracted to my boyfriends? he thinks, trapped in traffic and halfway home. I mean... I had sex with them, but... was I just making myself be attracted to them? Was I putting on the feelings so that I could be bi?
He remembers how happy his family were, the day he told them he'd been thinking about making an honest woman of Helen.
'We worried you'd just be messing around all your life,' his father laughed, and his mother laughed too, and there was nothing Greg could do but laugh too. They were so happy. He wanted them to be happy. 'Glad you're doing the right thing, son.'
He'd never told them about his boyfriends - about any of it.
It felt like something he shouldn't bring up, unless he was serious. Why cause all that distress, make a fuss like that, if he went and married a woman anyway? They'd have thought he'd made it all up for attention - been going through a dodgy phase. Having problems. Working things out about himself.
He didn't want them to think that.
He wanted them to feel like he knew his own mind. Whenever he'd imagined it ("Mum, Dad... I'm bisexual...") he'd seen himself for a second through the imagined eyes of his parents, and he'd hated what he saw - the questions that arose in his mind. Why are you telling us this? Like he wanted to share with them that he was into spanking or group sex or watersports. Are you going to have a boyfriend? Maybe. More likely girlfriends, because there are more straight women around than gay men. Do work know? Like he really should be careful with these risky proclamations - like he didn't know what he was getting into.
It's 'cause you're a coward... you know that?
Greg glances at himself in the rear view mirror.
You camouflaged yourself as straight while you made your mind up, so you didn't have to put up with the grief for it. So you could have your cake and eat it. Greedy bisexual - seeing it now.
He tries to protest to himself there might have been a guy, someday. There might have come a time. "Mum, Dad... this is my boyfriend and we want to get married." He'd have told them, then.
Why wasn't there, though?
If you were really halfway to gay, there should have been men that came close. But there wasn't. You got to the altar with a woman, not a man. You got there easy. Big cake and a big dress.
It's 'cause you're straight, idiot.
You fooled around a bit when you were young. You experimented. When it came to a serious decision, you went straight for a woman.
As Greg drops his car keys into the bowl, he feels a weary buzz from his pocket. He pulls his phone from his coat, and finds a message waiting there from John Watson. Concerned, he opens it up.
Greg reads the text in silence, his eyes flicking from one line to the next.
He picks his car keys up, turns and leaves the flat again.
Greg literally doesn't need this today.
Sherlock still fails to see why attempting to conceal himself in the penguin enclosure after closing time at London Zoo should be any sort of problem.
"But this is the only place it can be, Lestrade!" he shouts, gesturing at the baffled flock of penguins who are witnessing the scene. "Otherwise she wouldn't have returned to work so quickly after the break-in at her flat!"
Greg pinches the bridge of his nose, hard. Half of Scotland Yard are here watching. John is by his side in the viewing area, looking down at Sherlock with weary despair. Sally looks like she's going to be berating Greg about this until Christmas.
It's been a bad day, and it's only getting worse.
"Sherlock," he says, fiercely. "What are you talking about?"
"Their keeper, Lestrade!" Sherlock replies, as if it's obvious. As the uniformed constables attempt another sly pincer movement to catch him, he darts between their outstretched arms and vaults out of reach on top of a nest box. "She's the twin sister of the jeweller's mistress! She's in on it - the Cardinal Place robbery. Even you can't ignore the signs. The break-in by Sir Simon's thugs spooked her badly, and she's concealed the necklace here. It's the only solution!"
Christ save my sanity.
"Look, mate, I still don't know what you're on about - but please, just get out of there! We'll have the keepers do a search! You're frightening the penguins!"
"They won't know where to look!" Sherlock cries, dodging away from another constable. He executes a daring leap across the water chute, his coat flying. "John, please reason with Lestrade! I'm attempting to solve a robbery."
Greg turns slowly to John.
John doesn't dare. He bites back his smile, folds his arms and coughs, looking down into the enclosure.
"Sherlock," he calls. "Sherlock, how about you accompany the keepers doing the search? Or tell them where to look? This is probably getting out of hand now."
"I'm hardly the one making this difficult!" Sherlock shouts. "I could have completed my search twenty minutes ago, if everyone hadn't insisted on such a fuss."
Greg wonders if this is how it feels when it starts: the slippery downward plunge into insanity.
"Sherlock," he barks, "if you're not out of there in five seconds, I'm going to authorise them to use the net."
John gives a discreet tug of his sleeve.
"Think you've got better than that arriving," he says, nodding over his shoulder.
As Greg turns his head, the sleek black car coasts to a halt.
The back seat opens. Greg's heart tenses, but it's her - the assistant, as groomed and po-faced in her pencil skirt as ever. She circles the car to get the other door.
As it opens, Greg braces himself.
Nothing crosses his face as Mycroft rises from the car. He keeps it together, ignoring the kicking of his heart. Oh Christ, I'm bi.
He's wearing the pinstripe.
God. Red tie. That's his red tie.
Christ Christ Christ -
Mycroft strolls this way in perfect sync with his umbrella, calm and collected, his assistant at his heels.
His eyes are trained on Greg, the authority in this situation.
Oh god - am I actually gay?
I think I'm gay.
As Mycroft extends a leather-gloved hand, Greg somehow manages to grasp it confidently and they shake.
"Inspector," Mycroft murmurs. It feels like the world shrinks in an instant - just the two of them, coiled up in Mycroft's conspiratorial tones. "It seems you've been subjected to unnecessary trouble on behalf of my little brother, yet again. May I offer my immediate - "
As their hands part, his eyes skim down over Greg's tie.
His gaze snags.
His voice cuts, too. Mycroft blinks, losing track of himself for a second - and when he speaks again, his diplomatic purr is gone.
" - regret," he says, startled, "for your inconvenience."
Greg stares at him, unbreathing. Jesus. You know the purple tie code.
You - you know I'm -
Mycroft stares at him, too.
Wait, Greg thinks, his heart clenching. Why would you know the - if you didn't -
"The penguin enclosure, I'm told?" Mycroft says, and Greg's never been so grateful for a reminder in all his life. He swallows, rebooting his brain with a blink.
"Ah - yeah. Just down there. We've been trying to round him up, but he's giving us some trouble."
"I see." Mycroft takes his place at the wall, scanning the scene with a quick calculation. "Inspector, do your response team happen to have access to a large net?"
Jesus. "As a last resort."
"I'm thinking more as a distraction, while another officer relocates my brother into the pool. He can't stand to be wet, and I imagine the added odour of fish will dampen his heroic spirits somewhat. He should then prove easier to retrieve. Dare I ask why he's in there?"
"If I'm right," said Greg, "he thinks there's a necklace hidden somewhere. From the Cardinal - "
" - Place robbery," Mycroft finishes, with a sigh. "Yes, I wondered if he'd get himself involved in that... my brother's love of the dramatic still reigns supreme." His grey eyes narrow, sweeping across the enclosure. "Have the keepers check on any pairs currently nesting."
The director of the zoo decides the publicity is worth not pressing charges. The Cardinal Place robbery, finally solved - with a million pound necklace concealed inside a fake penguin egg.
Sherlock promises to return for a photo shoot with the penguins tomorrow - at least, John promises on his behalf.
Sherlock is now hunched in the back of a police car, soaked to the skin, stinking of fish, and refusing to speak to anyone.
"Technically," Greg says, with a nervous smile at Mycroft as the police car sets off to take John and Sherlock home, "it should be you having the photoshoot. You solved the case."
Mycroft huffs, watching the car pull away.
"I'm sure London suffers enough under the spell of one Holmes," he says. "A second shan't be necessary." He pauses, slipping his pocket watch from inside his jacket. "Inspector, I imagine you've been forced to forego your evening meal dealing with this nonsense. Might I correct that?"
Greg's brain struggles to catch up. "S-Sorry?"
"Would you care to dine with me at my club? I'd like to thank you for your unending patience."
God - you -
"Sure," Greg's mouth says for him, startled. "Sure, I'd - y-yeah. Thanks. That's really kind."
"Excellent." Mycroft gestures towards his car with the umbrella. "Shall we?"
They're drinking after-dinner port in a private room by the fire when Mycroft brings it up.
"How was your Bisexual Visibility Day?" he asks.
Greg's heart thumps. He keeps it off his face with a mouthful of port, buying himself a second to form a half-coherent answer.
"Like most days, to be honest." He hesitates, holding the empty glass in his hand. "How'd you - "
"I've seen you wear that tie on only two previous occasions," Mycroft says, reaching for the bottle on the dresser. He stands from his chair. "Both of them were also a September 23rd."
Greg's brain fuses with a spark. "You - remember when I - ?"
"The first time, it struck me as an unusual departure from your customary palette. I'd called at Baker Street to discuss something with Sherlock which fixed the date in my mind." Mycroft refilled Greg's glass from the bottle, his eyes low, his hand steady. "The second time, you were featured on the evening news in the aftermath of the Peter Spiers murder. I noted the curious coincidence. I'm afraid I have a good mind for dates."
Greg finds himself unsure whether to smile or not. "How'd you link it to - visibility day?"
"I'm a patron of a London charity. They approached me to fund this year's campaign."
"A charity?" Greg's pulse speeds. "A charity for - "
"LGBT support services." As Mycroft resumes his seat, his expression is a comfortable mask of calm. He refills his own glass. "I understand they had great success with the campaign."
"I - I didn't know you were - "
Mycroft's mouth curves. "A fearful place," he says. "The border between visibility and over-sharing."
"C-Christ... I know that one."
"For your reference, I believe myself to be homosexual. No evidence has yet arisen to challenge that."
Greg's hand tightens a little around the glass. Like you're expecting it to? He doesn't quite understand.
Mycroft reads it in his face. He smiles at Greg, gentling him with a look.
"Kinsey believed most or all of us are functionally bisexual to some degree," he said. "That we have the capability of being hetero- or homosexual, even if this trait does not present itself in the current circumstances."
Greg isn't sure what he dares contribute to this discussion. It feels a little rich for someone married to a woman for eight years to be telling a member of the LGBT community - the real LGBT community - the first thing about what it's like not being straight.
But the smile he's receiving is supportive, and he wants to show what that means to him - and so he says, tentatively,
"I've heard sexuality's a spectrum."
"Quite. A fluid one, at that. Asserting anything else seems illogical and unscientific." Mycroft takes a drink, settling back in his chair. "My experience is strongly of attraction towards my own gender, and I prefer my relationships to follow suit - but then, my experience of life has not finished. I haven't all the data."
God. Greg's heart is pounding, just hearing someone talk like this. Christ, of all the people I expected to be learning about attraction from -
"I imagine you've encountered prejudice," Mycroft says, glancing at his tie. "Hence the subtlety."
"Y-Yeah, it's - ... I mean, nothing on the scale gay people must get, but - well, people make assumptions. It can be tricky."
Mycroft smiles, taking a drink.
"Startling how simple concepts can evoke such ire," he says. "Mixed sex relationships are an accepted concept. Same sex relationships are an accepted concept. But one individual comfortably participating in either is apparently a stretch too far for some minds."
God - how can you put it so -
"I-I've been told a few times I don't exist," Greg says, smiling awkwardly.
Mycroft laughs - actually laughs, a soft sound full of amusement. It lights Greg's heart. "I imagine you've been accused of promiscuity, too."
"God... don't get me started." Greg takes a drink, grinning bashfully over the rim. "Serial monogamist. Try telling people that."
Mycroft drinks, amused.
Greg watches him, feeling his heart beat harder. "It was always hard reassuring someone I don't just flip," he said. "Felt like I had to promise I wasn't suddenly gonna get bored of them, go bat for the other team. I never knew how to say it's just both. It's always been both. Both at once. Ever since I was..."
As he realises how much he's speaking, how easily it's happening, Greg's throat tightens.
"Ever since I was, really. S'just always been there." He glances down into his glass; his purple tie rests against his shirt. "Hard to see sometimes, but... it doesn't change. I feel like I should trust it more."
Mycroft's eyes are bright.
"Would you care for more port?" he asks.
Greg smiles, handing over his glass. "Yeah. Thanks."
Somehow it's half eleven. They've spent the evening talking and laughing like old friends, letting the fire burn low. Greg's loosened his tie; Mycroft's jacket has been consigned to a chair. This feels more comfortable than anything Greg's shared with someone in months.
He doesn't want it to end - but he's not of an age anymore where staying up drinking past midnight will work out well, not with work in the morning. The paperwork from the Cardinal Place robbery will need at least a semi-sober brain. He's going to have to use the phrase 'infiltrated the penguin enclosure' like he's not lost his mind.
With a sigh, Mycroft tosses back the last of his port.
"Let me give you a lift, Lestrade," he says, putting the glass aside. "I'd rather see you directly to your door after this much liquor."
Greg smiles, watching Mycroft get up. "Sweet of you."
"Mhm. Entirely my fault you're intoxicated. I could hardly make you take your chances with the tube."
As he watches Mycroft put his jacket back on, Greg's pulse drums a hopeful and hesitant rhythm against his ribs.
He almost gathers up the courage - almost asks - but the thought he might ruin an amazing evening keeps the words in his mouth.
Made a friend, he thinks. S'good enough.
On the way out of the club, Mycroft holds the door for Greg. He puts a hand, briefly, on the small of his back to see him through.
The touch feels like everything and nothing at once - it's still there as Greg gets into the car, a mark upon his skin. He can feel it.
It draws the question up into his mouth once more.
The car ride passes all too quickly, Greg fighting with himself not to ask. It's hard to keep up conversation around the words he wants to say. The back of Mycroft's car is warm and dark, a quietly enclosed space with the privacy screen closed, that curiously male scent of leather and wealth all around them. Mycroft seems to be watching him closely as he talks. Those clever grey eyes are dark and shining, and his small smile makes Greg's stomach twist each time it appears - but it's not enough. It doesn't quieten the fear this might all be ruined.
When they reach Greg's flat, Greg starts to gather together an awkward goodbye - but Mycroft's gloved hand moves to the door.
"Kindly wait, Bennett," he says, opening it.
Greg's heart kicks itself at once into his mouth. He gets out of the car, closing the door with a quiet slam as he tries to decide if he's really seeing what he's seeing. He can't be sure. He doesn't know. He wants it so badly it could all be in his head.
Mycroft comes with him to the door. He walks the short flight of steps with Greg, and it leaves them standing desperately close as Greg fumbles in his coat for his keys.
He can't breathe.
"Thanks, Mycroft," he says, his throat thick. "For - tonight. It was really good to talk... and thanks for dinner."
"Not at all," Mycroft murmurs. He watches Greg nervously fit the key into the lock. "Perhaps you'd join me again in future."
God, that's - surely that must be -
Greg looks up. Mycroft's eyes are focused on him with care, too intense for that to be casual, too invested in the answer. Greg's throat squeezes. His grip tightens around the key.
"Hey," he says. Oh Christ, what am I doing? "L-Listen, I'm - probably about to screw up on a colossal scale here, but I... I wondered if - "
Mycroft steps into his body.
Gloved fingers rake through Greg's hair. Mycroft presses him back against the door, claims his mouth, cups his face and tilts his head up to kiss him harder.
Greg's heart hurls itself into the stars.
Four days later, as they walk into a Mayfair restaurant together, eyes lift from plates of food to watch them pass. Curious glances follow them between the candlelit tables.
Greg reaches back, grinning.
His lover's hand slides into his own.