Buying gifts was never something Mycroft let others to do. At least, not if the recipients mattered. The PM, the Queen, even parents, Mycroft let Anthea take care of. But for Sherlock (mostly to annoy him) and Q, he would always get gifts himself. And now, this was also true for Gregory.
Gregory was however, a challenge – a new experience – not because Mycroft couldn't read him, Mycroft could read everyone, but because he wasn't sure how to interpret the data. Or at least, not yet.
The driver stopped the car in front of Harrods and Anthea opened his door; she was waiting for him with an umbrella. The weather was considerably bad, too windy for his taste; Mycroft didn't mind rain, but wind...
“Good evening, mister Holmes,” Anthea smiled at him, handing him the umbrella. “Will there be anything else tonight?”
“No, thank you. Have the rest of the evening off. In case of matters of national security, do inform Quartermaster,” Mycroft added, smiling and walked to the door.
The porter bowed his hat to him and took the umbrella. Mycroft smiled at him and walked in.
Inside people were walking with bags, men and women, few children. The lights were delicately illuminating the golden adornments and the air smelled like wet wool, perfume and the shop itself.
Mycroft liked to come here, especially after closing, when there weren't people, but he was in quite a festive mood tonight, so he just looked around and chose to go to the second floor.
The driver joined him soon, he would take the bags of course. Mycroft found it quite amusing, to be completely honest, but even when he tried, he could not carry all the things himself. Sherlock of course would comment nastily, but then he himself would never carry anything if he could make Doctor Watson carry it.
Mycroft looked around, and stepped in one of the boutiques, but neither the umbrellas nor the socks seemed suitable. In his world, the gift should either be useful or mean. The first one was reserved for Q, the second one for Sherlock.
But what about Gregory Lestrade? Forty six year old DI; divorced, with two teenagers, living in a small flat in Camden; no pets, no hobby, besides watching sports (used to play football in college); no habits (stopped smoking two months ago).
The shop was full of beautiful things, things that could make people happy – but they didn't make Mycroft happy, and he was sure they wouldn't make Gregory happy either.
He stopped on the ground floor, surrounded by all the gold and lights and silver and he felt nothing but disdain. Christmas was truly an opium for the masses these days. But then, Gregory would enjoy a little gift. Or maybe some time with Mycroft, but that, even Mycroft himself couldn't grant. On an impulse, Mycroft turned on his heel and walked out of the shop.
Mycroft rarely acted on impulses and as such it was uncharacteristic for him, however, there was a tendency in his family, especially in his younger brother.
Willson – the driver – opened the door for him and he got in.
“Oxford Street,” he ordered, not quite sure if he was mentally ready for this.
He would not find anything for Gregory in Harrods of course, he just needed to see the place to realise that. Such a gift would be too expensive for Gregory to enjoy, would unnecessary accent the difference in their material status. Mycroft wanted something else.
Being a high official for Government gave Mycroft some perks and he never failed to enjoy them. He knew very well how Gregory's flat looks like and he knew perfectly well his soft spot for kitchen utensils. He cooked rarely, but well, and it gave him pleasure to have a new set of knives or a rack for wine glasses.
His kitchen was clustered with all kinds of mugs, empty beer bottles that apparently were somehow exotic, and cooking books. He made himself a safe space that he could relax in, that reminded him of the pleasant times in his youth and Mycroft understood that.
For Mycroft the closest to this kind of space would be the Diogenes. There, in relative silence, Mycroft could work, but without the burden of the office; he could read newspapers for information about his brother and in general, would think about lighter topics. There also, he would be surrounded by humans that did not exhibit their stupidity and there was always a servant there to fill in his cup, a servant, worth mentioning, that was seen and not heard.
The driver slowed down around Oxford Street, but did not ask for directions. He knew better than that; if there was anything Mycroft couldn't stand, it was the West London accent. Last Minister of Defence learned it the hard way.
“Primark,” Mycroft said, looking out.
So many people. London's demographics have changed over the years, but Mycroft didn't dwell on it too much; people were people, sometimes they were different colours, sometimes they celebrated different deities, but in the end, they were all easy to manipulate.
One could marvel at the fact that they have money for all this shopping, with barely more than 1,200 pounds a month. On average they spent around 800 pounds on Christmas; 31% of the families will take credit for the festive time of year. They will spend more than £300 for gifts and around 56% of households will delay paying bills, in order to save money for Christmas. If Mycroft had his way, celebrating Christmas would be another reason to put people into mental hospitals.
The driver stopped at the side of Park Street and jumped out to open door for Mycroft. Ignoring the angry horns and shouts, Mycroft got out with the dignity of a Queen and took out his phone calmly.
Park Street, Mayfair, 9:47. Black Audi; green Toyota; a cab; Mercedes. Double-check if no offenses – MH
He sent to Anthea and then walked on the pavement. The driver shut the door, holding the umbrella over Mycroft's head. People were pouring in and out of the door; inside the lights were too bright and the air smelled like textiles and cheap perfumes. Young people were loud, people were pushing through, clothes were on the floor - misplaced items drove Mycroft crazy. He almost stepped back. Almost.
All it took was a second, and he calmed down. He was the government representative, he should see what people like.
Mycroft didn't think himself snobbish, at least not completely. He liked his tastes, sounds and smells and it was hardly his problem that not everyone could afford the same lifestyle.
The driver was at his side, or at least as much at his side as physically possible with all the people crowding around. Mycroft detested great gatherings of people, the only exceptions were the events for the Royal Family; with only close Royal Family members invited.
He looked around, searching for an indication of where to find anything related to kitchen utensils. First floor; with a sigh, Mycroft moved towards the stairs. Or, at least, he tried to. He took a step, and got stuck in between a middle-aged divorcee searching for cheap but adorable clothing, and two teenage girls browsing enthusiastically through a range of jumpers made of polyester, different only by the size and the print.
Mycroft cleared his throat, but none of the obstacles noticed; he tried to step in again, pushing gently against the bodies, but merely that much touch made him physically sick. He stepped back only to stumble against a mother of three, trying to find the best Christmas deal and keep all three of her monsters in check.
Feeling his stomach twist and his lungs collapse, Mycroft reached to the display table for support. Instead he grabbed teenager’s backpack, quickly letting go of it, murmuring 'I'm sorry'. The teen answered something, but his voice was drowned in the white noise that filled Mycroft's ears.
The driver was at his side finally, handing over a bottle of water, and Mycroft swallowed three long sips, finding stability in the cold touch of plastic. He let out a long breath and looked at Willson. He felt sick, he shivered and was probably pale. Not the way one wanted to be seen in public.
“Go first,” he told the man.
Willson wasn't bigger than Mycroft, but his skills in pushing through crowds were amazing; apparently, he didn't mind being touched by people. They made their way towards the stairs, Mycroft closely behind the driver, trying to avoid any eye contact, with every minute feeling more and more like a hounded animal. The escalator was full of people and Mycroft took the stairs instead, for the first time in many months. Maybe even a year... Ah no, last month, Buckingham Palace...
The first floor was even fuller of people and the merchandise. Mycroft winced, looking around.
“Go to the house department,” he told the driver. “If they have one...” he added bitterly.
How could you keep any Christmas spirit in this place? Either by drinking or by being insane. Both confirmed Mycroft's opinions on the dangers of Christmas.
Willson seemed to be more oriented in the place, maybe he visited with his children when he had them for weekends. His wife left him when she found out he had a lover, now she was married again, and he was still single, seeing his children two weekends in a month.
When the same song started for the fourth time, Mycroft felt a migraine coming. It was ages since he last had one. It was probably not the same song all over again. But it sounded like it. All the music sounded the same to Mycroft, with very few exceptions. Sherlock of course insisted that there is more to the music than just mathematics and physics, but as far as Mycroft was concerned, that was it; it created a nice distraction, maybe a toy for a short while, but not more. If someone took it seriously, they were probably not good in anything else; Mycroft preferred people like this to take on music instead of trying to work in any normal job, Sherlock being of course the best example. He was a skilled musician, but because their Father never approved of his son doing something so trivial, he insisted on a political career, and Sherlock never got enough practice to become a professional musician. That could have been such a relief for Mycroft's life...
Just in front of them stood two young women dressed just like the mannequins around them – the same kind of trousers, the same jacket, the same hat. Mycroft raised his eyebrows; if that was fashion, maybe it would be good to give it back to the French and Italians; the Irish couldn't do it right.
They finally stopped at the first rack with festive kitchen towels. Well, what would Gregory like then? Mycroft looked around to be greeted by the sight of wide-range kitchen tools and gadgets in three festive styles. Well, if that was not a bargain.
Mycroft could of course buy everything, or anything, but that's not what Gregory would appreciate. He was a family man, an emotional man, a man of sentiments. He still kept the cork from the champagne they opened when he was accepted into the police force. In one of the boxes he probably kept his children’s drawings. And of course, even now, he kept the wedding ring and his ex-wife's picture in the wallet. No, Gregory would enjoy something that was bought for him especially, that would have deeper meaning. Mycroft nodded towards the kitchen aprons and the driver moved towards them, Mycroft keeping close behind him.
Here the crowd was different, a few young men trying to locate a gift for their mothers, tourists looking for a nice, little present from Great Britain, but a cheap one too, possibly cute and not cheap looking, not really a tourist kind of gift but also not really anything meaningful or special... Mycroft sighed and turned away. Why would all these people be here at the same time? Didn't they have children to take to swimming lessons or additional French lessons? Maybe the government could give aid to parents for afternoon classes for their children. That would make his life easier next year.
Mycroft reached for one of the towels and rubbed the fabric between his fingers; even wearing the leather gloves, he didn't like the feel of it. It was bright red of course (cursed be Christians and their paradise tree) with three smiling reindeers.
Why that would be a design relevant for Christmas in Great Britain in this day and age was a mystery for Mycroft (unless it was only due to such nonsense as cosmopolitanism), but popular culture always was his Achilles’ heel.
Carefully he examined the mugs closest to him (sold in sets with socks), and wrinkled his nose. Made in China was proudly displayed on the bottom and he put it back down. Maybe not the best.
The kitchen towels were all at least half polyester and the plastic parts were all very poor quality. If only Gregory did not need a gift for Christmas...
As Mycroft knew there were only two things Gregory needed (there was more of course): a corkscrew (Gregory had five already but wasn't able to find any of them) and an oven glove (he had three, but all were now useless due to holes, tears and burns).
Mycroft saw one rack where he could find non-festive kitchen appliances, it would be maybe more practical to get Gregory something like this, but he would definitely be less happy about it. Mycroft knew that in two months time Gregory's friends would visit, maybe his brother, or even his children; they would ask about the glove and Gregory will answer, smiling lightly, because it would bring him the memory of the evening when he opened the gift and all the feelings he had.
Festive oven glove it was then. And a corkscrew, so they would be able to open the wine. But wine he decided to buy a proper one, Mycroft would be damned to drink disgusting wine.
Willson was waiting at his side, half a step away, shielding him from all the people around. Wincing, Mycroft chose a corkscrew that resembled Santa Claus with levers being his legs that could be raised and lowered in order to extract the cork. Some kind of a joke, Mycroft presumed, however he never understood the common sense of humour. On the nearby rack Mycroft noticed a set with an oven glove and a kitchen towel – people loved all kind of sets – and he decided to go with the green one, which had reindeers drinking and eating at the table with Santa.
He looked around, but there were people everywhere. For a second he considered just staying here, behind Willson, until the people were all gone, or calling out a fire alarm and getting rid of everyone... But then he took a breath and turned to his driver.
“We are leaving,” he told him, sounding as calm as ever. The panic inside him made no sense, just an irrational fear of being touched by all these people. Mycroft felt the migraine creeping further onto him.
Willson walked back to the stairs slowly, making sure that his employer was closely behind him. They passed the fitting rooms, where the line extended to the middle of the floor, the kids running around bored, mothers pulling and tugging their children and sales assistants working in the chaos unmoved.
Downstairs the pandemonium continued. The line to the checkout was disgustingly long, all checkouts were working, the Christmas songs played over the crowd and Mycroft had to clench his fingers on the handrail while his body protested against so many people.
Willson stopped as well, looking back, unsure. People pushed past them, a child ran downstairs. Mycroft breathed in and out the scent, the sickening scent of someone's perfumes. A woman pushed against him, cursing in Polish.
“Do kurwy nędzy, to nie poczekalnia. Może jeszcze usiądziesz?!”.*
That made him look up.
“Mogę właśnie dostawać zawału, prosiłbym o odrobinę zrozumienia,” he said calmly and let Willson know they were going down.
The driver stopped to look at Mycroft.
“I can go and pay for it, if you'd like to go to the car, sir,” he offered.
Mycroft considered. No one will care, if he paid himself or not. He’d went in the shop and chose the gifts and it didn't really matter whether he also paid for them at checkout.
He nodded and handed him the two items.
Willson could walk him back to the door, but not beyond it. Mycroft stepped outside. The air was wet and cold and so nice after the warm, sweetish shop atmosphere. He walked away a few steps to avoid the doorway and took out cigarettes. Usually he made a point not to smoke, especially while stressed, but tonight he deserved... Staring at the package, he put it back in the pocket. No. That would be irrational and irresponsible. His body didn't need smoking to deal with stress. He was governing a country on a daily basis, why would one shop make him so shaky? But of course he knew – so many people that he could not control, a living mass, moving and talking, without one single brain. This is what Louis XVI must have felt when facing a mob.
He shook off the morbid comparison, and straightened. Now alert, he looked around. People on the other side of the street were dealing drugs, two teenagers were smoking at a nearby bin and people were passing, passing, passing. The Polish lady walked by him, two Romanians went in, speaking loudly about pyjamas, the shop spit out more Christmas songs.
London around him pulsed with life, as it did for so many years. Sherlock of course loved London, he knew everything about this place, it was his world, the solar system and the rest of the Europe be damned. But for Mycroft, London was always just a piece in the game and people of London an inconvenience.
Willson finally walked out, the paper bag in his hand proudly announcing that they’d just been shopping in Primark. Mycroft winced.
The driver opened the door for him and he got in, the bag put aside in the boot.
“Home,” Mycroft ordered, when Willson got in his seat.
The migraine pulsed somewhere behind his eyes and he rested his head back. Now home, to pack the gifts, that should relax him a little. Tomorrow he would visit Gregory in the office and invite him for a pint . That should do. Anthea updated DI's calendar (apparently he only used his desk one) so if he looked at it, he would not be surprised. If he didn't, then Mycroft would make him a surprise, which was always to be appreciated.
He sighed quietly, enjoying the silence. London passed by slowly as they made their way through the evening traffic, but Mycroft wasn't in a hurry tonight. He could sit down, relax and decide what he would do about the Christmas shopping next year. He could close the shops for the end of December. Maybe that would make people think... Probably not though...