December in London was a dreary matter. Cold gusts whipped up wafts of mist from the Thames, and the near-freezing humid air crept into Mycroft's bones. Streets were packed with Christmas shoppers scurrying to and fro, and the incessantly blinking and glaring decorations threatened to trigger his latent migraine. Even from the safety of his car, he felt more than a bit uncomfortable.
It was with a small sigh of relief that he entered his security code into the pad at his front door. A quiet evening next to the fireplace, with a good book and a single malt for company, seemed to constitute his personal version of pre-Christmas delight. The only way it could have been even better were if Gregory had been available tonight to join him but, alas, his... partner... of several months claimed to be busy with some undisclosed Advent activities.
The smell that greeted him dragged Mycroft into an oriental bazaar in a heartbeat. Instead of the pristine, almost clinical atmosphere he had expected of his home, an abundance of scents was striking his nostrils. Ginger and cinnamon, predominantly. Nutmeg, cardamom, aniseed. Something baking in the oven. Warm and spicy and oh so alluring! A rough male voice drifted from the kitchen singing “Angels Frome the Realms of Glory”, slightly out of tune. It smelled (and sounded)... like Christmas.
Dumbstruck, Mycroft put his briefcase on the sideboard in the hall. He barely noticed that he took off his coat and scarf as well. When had his house ever felt so much like a home? So welcoming, so alive. His feet carried him towards the kitchen, where the singing and the warm spicy scents were streaming from, as if pulled by a magnetic force. The cold and damp from outside faded from his mind and body with every step.
In the doorway he paused to take in the scene. His vast and usually scrupulously prim kitchen was a mess. Every flat surface was littered with... stuff. A baking tray and a rolling pin occupied the worktop, surrounded by an open bag of flour, a honey pot and a sugar jar. A plethora of small colourful containers gathered next to his kitchen scales and a piping bag that Mycroft was sure he didn't own. Some dirty bowls were piled in the sink, waiting to be cleaned. On the table in the middle of the room, lay some cardboard shapes Mycroft could not identify. But most important of all, there was a man. Not any man, of course. His man. His Gregory, clad in jeans and t-shirt, his back towards Mycroft, singing loudly “Gloo-ho-ho-ho-ho-hoo Gloria!”.
Mycroft watched speechless as the love of his life bowed down to the oven to check the contents. His delectable behind, presented in clear view, made Mycroft's mouth water as much as the overwhelming smell. And then Greg straightened and turned. And stopped singing at once. A beaming smile that would put any Christmas tree to shame bloomed on his face.
“Darlin'! You're home!”
It was impossible not to smile back. Mycroft's heartbeat skipped a little bit as Greg came over to him. He held up his hands in an apologetic gesture, Mycroft saw they were sticky with brown dough. “Sorry, love, 'm afraid I can't hug you like this.”
Mycroft didn't have any such reservations. He grabbed his lover at the waist with both hands and pulled him close, his hands running up the back of the t-shirt. “Hello you!” he mumbled softly, his voice full of joy. Greg's face was flushed, his left cheek was streaked with flour, and there was a fat splotch of something sticky in his mussed grey hair. Was that honey?
“You look absolutely delicious, mon cœur,” Mycroft purred and allowed himself the first sample of the delicacies that were on offer.
Gregory tasted of all the riches of the world, as warm and brown as his deep soulful eyes. As Mycroft revelled in all this overpowering Gregory-ness, he still couldn't fathom his luck. It's true, his heart rejoiced, he's here, right here. In my arms. So close, so real! After long years of dreaming and secret longing, his mind still struggled with the reality of their relationship. Gregory was his now, and he held Mycroft's heart firmly and safely in his equally strong and tender hands. Mycroft happily poured his gratitude and wonder into the kiss, and Greg responded just as eagerly.
“As delighted as I am to see you,” Mycroft smiled at his partner when they broke apart, “may I enquire what has brought you here tonight?”
Greg laughed. “You may. You, of course. And your kitchen. See, it’s much larger and better equipped than mine. Hope you don‘t mind.”
“I don't. For what purpose, though, darling?” Mycroft looked around the battlefield that his kitchen has become, amused.
“Thought it‘d be pretty obvious, genius. I‘m baking. There's some tea left. Let's have a cuppa, and I‘ll tell you everything about it.”
After a last appreciative stroke down Greg's sides, Mycroft let go of him. The kitchen was cosily warm, too warm for a full three-piece suit. So he took off his jacket and hung it on the back of a chair. Meanwhile, Greg was washing his hands and pulled a second mug from a cupboard.
“Darjeeling okay?” he asked as he grabbed the teapot. Mycroft hummed his approval and sat down at the table. He picked up one of the cardboard pieces which was shaped like the gable wall of a house, turning it around in his hand.
“It‘s gonna be a gingerbread house,” Greg explained as he poured the tea, “in case you 'aven‘t it figured out yet. For Rosie.”
Mycroft raised an eyebrow. “For little Rosamund? Whatever for? We already bought a medium-sized hoard of presents for her.”
“This isn't just another present!” Greg protested. “It's a Lestrade gingerbread house. And she‘s family!”
“And that requires extensive festive baking?” Mycroft queried with a teasing smile.
Greg nodded, grinning, and put a mug down in front of Mycroft. “Yep. Absolutely.” He sat down on the other side of the table with his own mug. “Seeing that we're something like uncles to her...,” he took a swig and swallowed, “lil' princess is now qualified for a Lestrade family tradition.” He pulled a face and quickly put two generous spoons of sugar into his tea.
“Oh.” Mycroft took a cautious sip. The tea was a bit too cold for his liking but he said nothing about it.
“Yeah, from my mum's side, actually,” Greg told him as he stirred his tea. “When Pattie and me were little, Nan made gingerbread houses for us every Christmas. One each!”
“That sounds... nice,” commented Mycroft and hid his smile behind the rim of his mug.
“It was,” nodded Greg, “More than nice. Nan‘s houses were fantastic! Miles better than anything store-bought.” He took a big mouthful of tea and gestured with his free hand enthusiastically. “Made specially for us.”
Greg‘s phone beeped an alert which he switched off at once, sweeping his thumb over it and putting down his mug. “First batch is ready,” he announced as he got up and went over to the oven. “Gonna be the walls and the roof.”
Mycroft watched in fascination as Greg placed a hot baking tray onto the table in front of him. It was covered with a smooth light brown rectangular layer that smelt like heaven. “Gregory, that‘s marvellous.”
“Hope so,” Greg grinned, “only the best for our little one.” Greg shoved the second tray into the oven. “Mum and me made houses for Pattie's kids when they were little. Bit out of practice now, sadly.” When he returned to the table, he tilted his head provocatively. “Care to 'elp me? I'll show yer how it's done.”
“I'd love to,” Mycroft replied and found it to be true. “I suppose the first step is to cut the pieces using these templates.”
“Right in one, sweetheart. Have to work quickly, though,” Greg said, picking up a small knife, “before it gets hard. Bet yer good at precise cutting, eh?”
Mycroft nodded and found the knife pressed into his hand while Greg laid out the cardboard templates on top of the gingerbread. It was easy enough to cut, straight from the oven, soft and squishy.
Greg's eyes were irresistibly drawn to an elegant hand wielding the knife swiftly, with confidence. He smiled. “This actually your first gingerbread house? Could've fooled me. Looks like you’re a natural at this.”
“Naturally,” Mycroft replied smugly, as he set about cutting a window.
Once the pieces of the house were all finished, Greg grabbed Mycroft‘s hands. “Wonderful, love! Much better than mine ever were.” He pulled a long-fingered hand to his mouth and kissed the knuckles. “You‘re very, very good with your hands, you know that. I love to see them at work.”
Mycroft blushed, twisted his fingers around, his fingertips stroking Greg‘s cheek. “I aim to please.” His fingers traced the shape of Greg's smiling face – Gods above! His adorable smile! Whatever did I do to deserve it? – curving down along his jawline and settled near the corner of Greg's mouth, gently outlining his lips. “To please you, my dearest.”
The smile grew a tad more rakish, and with a quick turn of his head, Greg caught Mycroft's index finger and placed a peck on its sensitive tip. His lover gasped in delight, spurring Greg to move on to the other fingers, kissing and sucking on them – oh so lightly – each in turn. Chuckling softly, he looked up to relish the pink spots on Mycroft's cheekbones and the heated look in his eyes. We'll come back to that later, gorgeous, he thought, pleased with the effect of his efforts, and with a gentle parting nibble at the fingertip he released Mycroft's hand again before kissing him briefly.
Mycroft smiled, his satisfied sensual smile, the one he showed when he knew exactly what both their minds were strolling off to... certain most enjoyable lines of thought. “Shall we continue, darling?”
“Er... right,” Greg said, slightly flustered, “now comes the fun part, decorating. God, I love that! I've missed doin' it.”
“I can see that.” Gregory's enthusiasm was a joy to behold. It was a shame, really, that his niece and nephew were far too busy being cool and aloof teenagers to care about such childish things as gingerbread houses. If only they could see how much fun their favourite uncle had making them.
“We need icing,” Greg declared, “royal icing, loads of it!” And with a sly twinkle in his eye, he added, “could get all kinds of messy, darlin'.”
“You rascal!” Mycroft took the hint and stood to fetch an apron from a hook by the door. It was a plain one, heavy navy cotton, that Greg had given him for his birthday a couple of months prior to encourage him to be more adventurous in the kitchen. He donned it, smoothing it down with an affectionate stroke.
In the meantime, Greg had separated some eggs over a big bowl, the egg white running down his fingers. He wiped his hands on a tea towel and started to whip the clear liquid to a foamy mass.
Looking up, he said, “You could help me by putting the sug–” Sweet Jesus! Myke was rolling up his sleeves! Not in the sloppy careless way other men would do so. No, his gorgeous Mycroft made an art of it. Meticulously, straightening the fold after each turn. And slowly, inch by inch, revealing his adorable pale, slightly hairy forearms. Greg‘s mind got a bit dizzy. Even if the beloved freckles had gone hibernating during winter, Myke rolling up his sleeves was easily one of Greg‘s most-loved sights in the universe. There was an air of seriousness about it, power and determination oozing with every small measured movement – Mycroft Holmes about to do something important – that fired up Greg‘s arousal every bloody time.
“Erm...” he said hoarsely, “...the sugar. Put it in here please, bit by bit.”
“Certainly,” Mycroft agreed amicably as he slid up to Greg‘s side and picked up the bowl with sieved icing sugar with a slight smirk on his face. Bastard! thought Greg, he knows exactly what he‘s doing to me.
Teaspoon by teaspoon, Mycroft added icing sugar to the sticky foam, which grew thicker and milkier as Greg stirred it. “Looks good now,” Greg said after a while. He dipped his index finger into the icing and licked it off. “Mmmm...”
Mycroft started to scoop a bit up with the teaspoon but Greg gripped his wrist. “That‘s not the right way to do it,” he grinned. The index finger dove into the creamy mass once more and presented its prize to Mycroft. Greg wiggled his eyebrows invitingly. “Hmm?”
Mycroft‘s lips curved into a smile before he slowly took Greg‘s finger into his mouth. Greg moaned as his lover‘s tongue licked the sweet liquid off and then sucked on his finger, and he saw Mycroft looking up at him lasciviously through his lashes. Mycroft, for his part, felt his cheeks flaming, seeing his magnificent Gregory so clearly affected, with his eyes blown wide and a blob of the sticky white substance on his lips. Smouldering eyes were devouring him, dark and sweet as sin and twice as hot. “Royal, indeed,” Mycroft mumbled appreciatively, as he released the finger.
With a brief huff of laughter, Greg impulsively cupped Mycroft‘s face with both hands and kissed him fiercely. The taste of icing intensified the sensation, and thus it took a minute or two until they were able to let go of each other. Greg grinned. “Best Christmas baking session ever!”
Whilst Greg spooned copious amounts of icing into the piping bag, Mycroft laid out the gingerbread pieces neatly onto the worktop. His eyes went wide with delight as Greg placed small bowls, jars and packages around them, all containing colourful sweets; chocolate sprinkles, 'hundreds and thousands', jelly beans, little stars and hearts made from coloured sugar, smarties, almond slivers... Greg chose an orange smartie and slipped it into Mycroft‘s mouth, knowing full well that it was his lover's favourite flavour.
“It‘s easy, love,” he explained, smiling encouragingly, “you pick what you want and place it. Glue it with the royal icing. Or you can draw with it. Wanna give it a go?” He held out the piping bag.
Mycroft took it a bit hesitantly and started on a piece of the roof. With small sweeping movements, he drew an orderly line of roof tiles. And then a second, and a third.
“Yeah! That‘s great, Myke,” Greg cheered him on. Mycroft smiled self-consciously but was clearly pleased.
Before long, they found an easy rhythm of working together. The warmth radiating from the oven engulfed the both of them, as did Greg's happy mood. They passed the piping bag back and forth between them every so often. Greg made sure to let his fingers brush over Mycroft's every time and delighted in the slight shiver it caused. Soon Mycroft responded in kind, the long elegant fingers stroking the back of Greg's hand suggestively. When he slowly raised his glance, chocolate brown eyes were waiting for him, twinkling with mirth and promise.
Mycroft gasped. “You look... stunning, Gregory.”
“Tryin' my best,” smiled Greg and picked up the piping bag, “now, what do you think? Should I place a line of dots here?” He indicated the edge of a window.
“Only if you do it on the other side as well. Otherwise it would severely disturb the symmetry and overall aesthetics of the building.”
Greg laughed. “Ah, can't have that now, can we?” He snatched a jelly bean and held it for Mycroft to pick it from his fingers.
Gradually, with every sinuous line of icing, with every sugar loop or smartie attached, Greg could see the tension fade away from Mycroft's body. His shoulders dropped inch by inch, his features relaxed. Only the small vertical line between his eyebrows remained, a sign of how concentrated he was on his work. His lips were curled into a genuine smile that warmed Greg's heart.
“Rosie will love it.” Greg declared, some time later as he was gluing a heart-shaped sweet onto the chimney. “And John's gonna strangle us for all this unhealthy teeth-rotting stuff.”
“Knowing my brother's predilections,” Mycroft remarked, busy arranging a precise line of jelly tots, “she will probably have to fight him for the gingerbread. He has a distinctive weakness for ginger.”
Greg shot him a long glance. “As do I, gorgeous,” he grinned, running two fingers lightly over Mycroft‘s wrist, “as do I.” And after a beat he asked genially, “Did you get extra sweets, you and him? For Christmas I mean. When you were kids?”
Mycroft tensed visibly, and a shadow crossed his face. “Not as such,” he replied stiffly, “our mother did not approve of me overly indulging in sugary food. At any time of the year.” He didn't say anything about Sherlock, Greg noticed. Oh shit! he thought guiltily, that struck a nerve.
“What, even at Christmas?!” he objected incredulously. “Kids ought to get something special then to... to be assured... that they're loved... to feel they‘re something special themselves.” At the pained expression on Mycroft‘s face Greg stopped. Shit again! His partner, who had been relaxed and content a minute ago, now looked away with hurt and embarrassment in his beautiful eyes. Well done, Lestrade! Greg scolded himself sarcastically, you mucked that up massively.
“Right, I‘ll see to it that in my family every kid does,” he mumbled in a lame attempt to distract and scratched his head awkwardly. “So... little Rosie now. If she didn't adore you already, love, she definitely will when she sees this.”
The small smile returned to Mycroft's lips. Doubtlessly he thought of the blond toddler gleefully squealing “Mycoff, Mycoff!” and stumbling towards him whenever he paid a visit to Baker Street – to Sherlock's mild irritation. Having his trouser legs crumpled or sporting a stain of something unspeakable on his jacket was a small price to pay for that display of affection.
“You're not going to give it to her on Christmas Day?” Mycroft asked. “When they come to my parents'?”
“Nah, gonna drop by tomorrow after work. It's the thirteenth, half-way to Christmas. Will help her pass the time more quickly. Can't wait to see her face when I tell her we made it for her.” A small pause. “Think you can make time to join me for that?”
Mycroft brightened up. “I think I might. Even if the Koreans or the Americans decide to do something exceptionally moronic Anthea is certainly capable of handling them for an hour or two.”
“Great!” beamed Greg, glad he had steered Mycroft's mind onto happier thoughts again.
When his phone beeped again, Greg stood placing a peck on the tip of Mycroft's nose. He pulled out the second baking tray from the oven and put it onto the hob. “This is gonna be our foundation,” he explained.
“Mmmm,” purred a cultivated voice behind him absent-mindedly.
When Greg looked back over his shoulder, he saw his partner absorbed with gluing something crispy and chocolate-y above the door of the house. Greg smiled to himself. His Mycroft focused on his task, smiling despite himself, humming a Christmas tune under his breath. Jesus! He was practically glowing with contentedness.
A short while later the pieces were finished, and the two of them stood next to each other, arms wrapped around the other's waist, and appraised their work together.
“Oh, I nearly forgot!” Greg said suddenly. “The door. It needs an 'R' on it!”
Mycroft looked at him, raising an eyebrow. “An 'R'?”
“Yeah, of course. The first letter of her name. With Pattie an' me, we always had them on our houses. A 'P' or a 'G'. So that we wouldn't quarrel whose was whose.”
“Ah, I see.” Mycroft nodded understandingly. “The perils of having siblings, never to be underestimated. But Rosamund is an only child. She won't have to face competition about it.”
“You never know,” grinned Greg, “with your brother around. I wouldn't put it past 'im...”
Mycroft laughed softly. “Most assuredly. Although a statement of ownership to the contrary might not deter him all that much, I'd be happy to equip Rosamund with a little moral argument to thwart any devious intentions from Sherlock's side.”
Greg slipped out of Mycroft's embrace and passed him the piping bag with a mock bow. “Do me the honour then, kind sir! Your handwriting is much neater than mine.” And Mycroft bent over the gingerbread and put a cursive letter 'R' onto the door with as much flourish as he could muster.
Since all the wall and roof pieces were finally decorated to Greg & Mycroft's satisfaction, they found themselves confronted with the task of putting it all together. “Can be a bit tricky,” Greg admitted, “gettin' all four walls to fit and keep them upright.”
“I presume it's merely a matter of precise arrangement, attention to detail and a fair amount of patience,” Mycroft announced confidently.
“Fair enough. I'll follow your enlightened lead, gorgeous.”
Whilst Mycroft used the cardboard templates to stake out the site of the house on the foundation, Greg smeared a fat line of royal icing along the longer edge of a side wall. “Please position it here, Gregory,” Mycroft commanded, “and hold it steady.” His hand touched Greg's lightly and corrected the position a fraction of an inch. “Like this.” Just to make sure it stayed that way, the hand lingered in place while the sticky icing dried, although the tender brushing of slender fingers might have somewhat foiled the desired outcome.
An empty tea mug was utilised to hold up the first wall as Greg prepared the gable wall and let Mycroft's hands guide him gently, careful not to damage the colourful embellishments.
“Kindly hold that piece exactly vertical, my dearest,” Mycroft requested, as he smeared icing down the corner of the house, “it will greatly improve the overall construction.”
Greg grinned affectionately. “As you wish, sir.” Mycroft rolled his eyes.
As the house grew wall by wall, Greg grew more and more excited. “It's fantastic, Myke!” he exclaimed, his dark eyes agleam. And when the fourth wall was in place, he grabbed Mycroft's head and pulled him close for a heated kiss. “Love doin' this with you.”
Mycroft blushed and didn't bother to suppress the pleased smile.
Putting on the roof and keeping it in place while the icing dried proved to be fiddly, and they had to use the mugs and jars and boxes to prop it up. Happy moments flew by with Greg's cheerful laughter and Mycroft's quiet dedication as they decorated the grounds around the house, neither checking the time. When Mycroft at last dusted the whole scene with icing sugar to simulate snow, Greg sneaked up behind him and wrapped his arms around his lover's waist. He trailed his lips along the side of the gorgeous swan neck, licking and nipping. “Maybe next year we can try for a snowman, what d'yer think?” he whispered into Mycroft's ear.
Mycroft's breath hitched, his mind reeled, not only because of Greg's distracting caresses but also his low rumbling words. Next year? We'll be doing it again? He'll still be here twelve months from now? He shivered with giddy delight.
Greg laughed softly at his reaction and nuzzled happily against Mycroft's neck again.
Yep! Definitely the best Christmas baking session ever.
Two days later, Mycroft sat in his office enjoying his mid-morning tea. With quiet pleasure, he allowed his thoughts to drift back to the evening before for a minute. To Rosamund‘s deep blue eyes growing wide with surprise and joy when she saw what her ‘uncles‘ had brought her, to her enthusiastic squeals of “Gegg!” and “Mycoff!”, to Gregory‘s beaming smile. An exceptionally enjoyable visit, all things considered, even if Sherlock had jibed about inane brain-shrivelling domesticity once or twice. Rosamund, bless her kind little soul, had been ultimately generous, and Greg and Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson, John and Sherlock had all received a piece of the gingerbread roof, accompanied by Mrs. H's excellent tea. A very pleasant evening, indeed.
A knock at the door yanked Mycroft from his reverie.
“Sir?” Anthea stuck her head in. “There‘s a delivery for you.”
“A delivery? From whom?”
“I can't say, sir.” His assistant nudged the door open and entered carrying a medium-sized box in her hands. “There's no sender‘s address. A bicycle messenger left it at the front desk.”
Mycroft watched as she put it onto a small side table. The box, about the size of a large shoe-box, was wrapped in a glittering paper printed with Christmas trees. A lopsided dark-red bow completed the festive appearance.
“Security checked it, of course,” said Anthea. “It‘s clean.”
Mycroft stood, grabbed his paper knife and walked around his desk to examine the gift. The wrapping paper was a rather inexpensive one, and the package was obviously not wrapped by a professional shop clerk. Interesting. No address or card, just his name in bold black letters and a warning, 'Handle with care! Fragile!'.
Cautiously, he slid the paper knife under strips of sellotape and flipped them off. Anthea took a step back and watched over his shoulder, clearly curious but not wanting to be too obvious about it.
“That will be all for now, thank you,” Mycroft dismissed her. With a curt nod and a “Very well, sir,” she turned to leave the room. At the door she lingered for a moment. “Shall I bring the documents for the Uganda negotiations in ten minutes?” An impatient scowl from her employer chased her out.
When he was alone, Mycroft unwrapped the box and lifted the lid. A mouth-watering scent emerged from inside, a smell he had recently come across. Could it be...? Yes, in fact, his suspicion turned out to be true – the Secret Santa box contained a gingerbread house! Much like the one Gregory and he had given to Rosamund the previous evening.
Had Gregory...? Reverently, he lifted the baked present out of the box and placed it on the table. Indisputably, the house had a certain... motley, roguish charm about it. It was decidedly more crooked than the one he himself had helped to assemble, and the walls did not quite fit together in the corners. However, it was covered with an abundance of colourful delicious-looking treats, orange smarties most prominent among them. And the door was embellished with a striking letter 'M' in green-coloured icing. Mycroft could hardly believe his eyes.
Wedged between the house and a few miniature candy canes that served as a fence was a small piece of paper, a note. Mycroft picked it up gingerly and unfolded it.
You make my Greg happier than I‘ve seen him for a very long time. He told me you would like this. Welcome to the Lestrade family!
Doris Lestrade (Mum)
P.S. We're looking forward to seeing both of you on Boxing Day.