Chapter 1: The Assessment.
From the personal records of Emma Chilton. BSc. MSc. CPsych.
Twelve years I had worked as a psychologist for Her Majesty’s Government, assessing the mental wellbeing of politicians, police, military intelligence agents etc. Twelve years of secrets that (if I hadn’t signed the Official Secrets Act) would have had me running to the papers.
All public sector staff must undergo psychological assessment annually, my task was to check their stress levels, their relationship status (new relationships needed to be checked out, affairs, divorce etc could leave an asset vulnerable), their emotional stability, morale etc.
This was the 14th assessment I had done that week for MI5/6 and it was to be the last. I had read all the files beforehand and this one was intriguing. No job title was included - which was strange as I had open access security to all files and all levels - and there was no accompanying photograph. I had interviewed the head of MI5 herself and had access to a photo...who was this person that their identity was protected even more than (for want of a better title) M?
The file said Alexander Mycroft Holmes. Known as Mycroft. Wow, there was a name to get you beaten up in the playground. Why would someone choose to be known as Mycroft rather than Alex? That was already rather telling. However incorrect the assumption, names conjure an impression of a person, and ‘Mycroft’ was conjuring nothing more exciting than tax accounts, Eastbourne in February and beige knitwear.
‘Not a good start’ I thought.
Reading on...male, 48yrs, unattached (currently and historically) highest level access, educated Cambridge, IQ 180 plus, car, helicopter and light aircraft licence, speaks 12 plus languages, keen runner, allergic to strawberries.
So, an extraordinarily clever, single, successful hyperpolyglot who can pilot a plane...might be James Bond after all. There was a scribbled post-it stuck on this page, probably from a previous psychologist, which read
'Definite intimacy issues and possible issues around food. NFA'.
Bond with an eating disorder? This may be a more interesting hour than the last 13 I had sat through after all. NFA though? Why No Further Action? Why identify a problem, choose to ignore it, and then add an ‘off the record’ note advertising your possible professional misconduct in not taking it further? Most odd.
'Please be interesting', I internally begged the file in front of me. 'One more boring, self-satisfied Old Etonian with a drink problem whose partner doesn't understand them, and I may just resign'.
I pressed the buzzer to indicate Mr Holmes could enter the secure room at Thames House (MI5’s ‘official’ London HQ where I was borrowing some space for these sessions). The room was windowless and soundproofed, I had been assured it was bug free, but I wasn’t entirely convinced. Someone has to ‘watch the watchers’ - that was my job…but someone had to be watching me watch, right? ‘Best not think about it’ I decided.
The door opened and I braced myself for another downtrodden shell of a human being to enter the room. I fixed my most 'professionally welcoming smile' on my face and waited for James Bond to morph into Mr Bean...but I was entirely mistaken.
A man stood framed in the doorway, paused there for a second, assessing the room, then entered and closed the door. Old style umbrella in hand, he strode confidently into the room and sat in the empty chair without waiting to be asked. Most who entered this room did so sheepishly or anxiously (what were they going to have to reveal? what did I already know?) but Mr Holmes looked for all the world as if he were here to interview me.
He was tall, with perfect posture, and his trim physique looked (even encased in a stunning three-piece suit), at least ten years younger than his 48yrs. There was not a hint of middle-aged spread, no slouch, and as he moved he had...grace, that was the only word for it.
He sat, still holding the brolly, and met my eye coolly. Most of my clients looked at me apprehensively when we first met, but Mr Holmes looked at me with steely grey eyes that were not bored exactly, more resigned to the fact of his attendance.
[Psychologists are not popular in the secret service, we are considered a waste of time by busy assets who are always in the middle of something urgent when the time comes for their assessment.
Why waste precious hours talking about their feelings when there was a terror threat in progress right now or an informant on the phone with vital information to convey?
I sympathised of course, there was no 'down time' in their world, it was a constant barrage of terror plots, spy networks, cyber hacking etc but their attendance was non negotiable.
This meant my clients were often defensive and uncooperative in these sessions, not to mention the fact that I would ask them about things most would not share with their closest friends but that they were compelled to share with me.
So I was relieved to see in these striking, clear and intelligent eyes a willingness to acquiesce to the process, if only to get it over with].
Taking in the very expensive and perfectly tailored grey suit, the sumptuously red tie and the undoubtedly bespoke Oxfords at the end of his long legs, he looked very impressive.
His hair was brown but in the artificial light it shimmered with red tones. He was...beautiful.
I surprised myself with the thought, I didn't usually make personal judgements about the people in my care, they were just faces, but this man…it was as if he were in a spotlight or he was a saint from a medieval painting, he…shone.
In an attempt to regain objectivity, I tried to find fault with his face...one of his ears stuck out further than the other, his nose was large, his hair receding, and yet these supposed imperfections came together in his face perfectly. There was no escaping it, he was quite the most handsome man I had ever seen.
I unconsciously picked up a biro off my desk and put it in my mouth. I tore my eyes away before he could notice I was staring and instead looked at his file.
(Ok, get it together, you have a job to do).
I glanced up to see him still looking at me with an authoritative, controlled look. I made to speak but realised I still had the pen in my mouth (honestly Emma, bit of a giveaway of your thought processes that). I removed it and twiddled it between my fingers instead.
“Good morning Mr Holmes, it can’t be raining, can it?”
I gestured to the umbrella.
“Good morning. No, why? Oh this”.
His voice was the icing on the cake. It was indescribably attractive. It was soft and warm despite its owners attempts to make it sound aloof and sharp. His spoke what people used to call 'the Queen’s English’ - precise, well spoken, obviously 'home counties', it was like listening to music, quiet, heavenly music. I was immediately glad I was recording this session.
He fingered the handle of the umbrella thoughtfully.
“It may rain later”.
I glanced out of the window at the blazing sunshine. He saw the look and clarified
“I like to have it… just in case”.
A security umbrella? That was a new one on me.
“So, Mr Holmes, thank you for making the time to join me today”.
He nodded his head but said nothing.
“I'm sure you know why we are here” (again a nod) “so I think we can skip the preamble and begin the session, ok?”
At this he shifted in his chair and seating his elbows on the arms of the chair he put his hands together and rested his index fingers on the just visible cleft of his chin in an 'I'm ready’ sort of way.
Then I saw it…he was wearing a ring. I mentally re-read his file at speed…no marriage on file, present or past. Maybe this was a new occurrence?
I dived straight in with my first question...
“How has your year been Mr Holmes?”
He replied with no hesitation nor anxiety, but with a relaxed tone and natural speed which was uncommon in these meetings...he was not easy to ruffle apparently.
“Care to elaborate?”
“You know I cannot”.
“I can assure you I have security clearance to hear anything you may need to share with me”.
“I doubt that”.
I sighed inwardly. So he was going to appear to be co-operative but actually be quietly obstructive to the process. I didn't have the energy for this today.
“Did any of your work this year leave you feeling stressed or worried? “
“Yes, all of it. Nature of the beast I am afraid. Next question”.
“Anything specific you would like to discuss? “
His tongue was, for a second, just visible skirting the line of his mouth and then disappeared from sight. I let it go this time, but I would make a note if he did it again.
He had a slightly smug, condescending look on his face now, he was enjoying trying to derail our session by saying so little, confident that he could bend this meeting to his own end...which was finishing as early as possible I imagined. But tough, I had a job to do too. Ok different tack...
“I understand you were involved with the assassination of General Ho-chomski a few months ago”.
“Involved yes, but you make it sound as if I killed him. “
“Sorry, I just meant, you were involved in the official visit and the resulting investigation”.
“I understand you pretty much caught the assassin and the power behind it single handed, the same day wasn't it? “
“Well, I wasn't involved in the…legwork, but yes, if you like. I was able to deduce who had done it, how and why. “
“That's very impressive Mr Holmes”. (Powerful men tend to like a spot of flattery).
“Not at all, it was all quite tediously obvious. May we move on?”
He shifted in his chair. Was he embarrassed? There did seem to be a pink sheen to his pale, slightly freckled skin that wasn't there a minute ago.
“Does it bother you…to be praised?”
His eyes narrowed.
“No, but I do not seek it the way my broth…the way others do. It is not my motivation. I prefer criticism to praise, that is feedback one can work with, can use to improve, to develop, to…”
He didn’t say ‘perfect’, he didn’t have to. I made a mental note ‘perfectionist, possibly to the point of persecution’.
“After the investigation, you and the others who were present at the shooting were offered counselling services and compassionate leave...you took neither. Why was that?”
“I didn't need it”.
“You weren't affected by it?”
“You weren't affected by the General being shot through the head at your table in the middle of the fish course?”
“Well, I didn't eat salmon for quite a while afterwards if that's what you mean”.
He was being flippant, but his right hand had balled into a fist and he was refusing to meet my eye for the first time.
“It must have been very distressing”.
“You have not been a field agent for many years have you Mr Holmes? You are no longer used to this side of the profession. It must have been difficult to watch him die in front of you?” I probed.
“Yes”. His voice was quiet.
“Why didn't you accept help when it was offered?”
Now his voice raised a little with irritation and he looked me directly in the eyes again.
“There was nothing a counsellor or a week at home could fix. I am the best judge of what I need, what I do not need are imbeciles pussyfooting around me asking me how I am feeling or wanting me to write a diary, like John”.
“No one. Just a friend of my brothers. He was in Afghanistan and his therapist advised him to keep a journal. Utter nonsense, I have read it, half of it is nothing more than fantasy”.
“Does it help him? “
He paused, then sighed and said
“Fine, yes, I believe it does”.
“If you feel” (no not feel, read the room Emma) “If you think you might benefit from someone to talk to, or just some ideas to help you deal with these things when they arise, I am quite happy to meet with you and discuss anything you want”.
“Thank you, that's very kind, but unnecessary I assure you. “
Ok. Move on...
“It says here you are currently unattached, is that information still up to date? “
“I am not in a relationship if that's what you are asking”.
I glanced at the ring without meaning to. He saw me look.
“Not even anything casual?”
“Casual isn’t really my area”.
“When was the last time you had someone to share your spare time with?”
“I don't have spare time”.
I waited, long enough for him to begin to feel uncomfortable with the silence and fill it...I was surprised such an elementary trick worked on him.
“I tend not to involve myself with...other people.
“It's easier not having to worry about anyone else”.
“Why would you worry about them? “
“My work takes up all my time, apparently people like to spend time together..”.
“…It could cause conflict. Plus, this work can be dangerous, having significant others just makes them a target, their safety is a distraction”.
“But you have family, right? A…” (I checked my notes) “brother, a sister. Don't you worry about them?”
“They can look after themselves” (he frowned) “for the most part. My brother has people who look out for him and my sister..”. (he paused) “...well, let's just say anyone thinking of going after her would be making a significant error of judgement. Besides, I find people in general to be hard work. I try not to bother with them”.
“Hard work how exactly, Mr Holmes? “
He sighed again.
“They are short sighted, emotional, unable to grasp simple concepts, they are without”.
“Exactly. Without. I have neither the time nor the inclination to babysit”.
“You consider other people to be like children? “
“If you like”.
“So you don't…date?”
I took a deep breath. Nobody ever liked my next question…
“I have to ask Mr Holmes, and please remember everything said in here is completely confidential...but...you have never been married, you have not had a significant relationship at all according to your file, and you don't date. I must ask Mr Holmes (and for security reasons it is vital that you respond truthfully) ...do you pay for sex? “
It wasn't as unreasonable a question as it sounded, under the circumstances. High pressure job, little time, single, it was hardly uncommon in his line of work and, if this was the case with Mr Holmes, my job was not to judge but to assess whether this was behaviour that could be discovered and manipulated by...unfriendly sources. Nothing in Mr Holmes life should be free from scrutiny, that was the nature of these assessments...find their secrets and deal with them before they became a problem for the individual or for the nation. To my surprise, unlike most clients he did not put on a pretence of offence or shock, he just gave a resolute answer.
In any other job, asking my next question would be very unprofessional, if not illegal. But here, nothing was off limits and whenever someone deliberately avoided a question, that is a good enough reason to probe for more information. Besides, I really wanted to know...
“According to your diversity questionnaire, under 'sexual orientation' you have ticked 'prefer not to say'. Why is that? “
“Because I prefer not to say”.
“You understand that Her Majesty’s Government does not care who you go to bed with Mr Holmes, but that there are still ‘groups’ who may feel differently and may use this information against you. We can only protect you if you let us”.
“As I have already stated that I do not enter into relationships I fail to see how it is relevant”.
“But for our paperwork Mr Holmes? “
“But for your paperwork I am heterosexual”.
“And have you..”. but he interrupted me.
“I think I have answered these questions around my sex life as fully as is necessary Ms Chilton, shall we move on? “
“Yes, of course, I was just trying to understand how..”.
I trailed off, I could hardly say 'how someone as clever and successful and gorgeous as you could have stayed alone for so long, or why they would want to’. Intimacy issues certainly, but stemming from where or when? I decided to probe a little more.
“Are your parents still together? “
“Irrelevant. But yes, they are quite nauseatingly happy together”.
“Were you boarding school educated? “
“Home schooled. “
“Any significant deaths during your childhood?”
He frowned at this and shifted in his chair. Again, his tongue moved along the back of his lips and sunk back out of sight. I didn’t let it go that time. He was subconsciously indicating that there were things he was trying not to let out of his mouth, things he wasn't allowing himself to voice.
“Please try and be as open as you can with me Mr Holmes, this is information I can look up for myself after all. Best not appear to be holding things back, it will confuse my report”.
He looked at me but for the first time he looked less certain and his voice was quieter.
“My brother… lost a friend when we were young. He took it badly, the effect on my family was devastating. My brother and I learnt not to trust even those close to us after that. “
“But surely it wasn't the child's fault for dying, how did they betray your trust? “
“I wasn't talking about the dead boy!” he snapped, his voice raised almost to a shout for just a second, before he regained control slightly and his voice levelled.
“Trust opens people up to the most brutal betrayals, being alone is the best protection”.
He stood up suddenly and walked to the water machine, drinking a whole cup of icy water in one go. He was regrouping, regaining his composure. When he returned to his seat his calm demeanour had been restored, as if the cold from the water had cooled his mind as well as his body. It was a good trick, but it wasn’t fooling me. He met my eye challengingly.
“How do you cope with the pressure of your work Mr Holmes? “
“I run. First thing every day”.
“And does it help? “
“For the most part, yes. It is freeing, cerebrally. There are few activities where one can truly let go of all thoughts and be mentally still. “
(I can think of another one, much more fun than pounding the pavements at 6am every morning).
I quickly shook that thought off before an image accompanied it, of those long legs and pale skin, free from their Saville Row armour, glistening and salty, but from some other exertion than running.
What was wrong with me today?
“And I read”.
His voice dragged me back into the room.
“What do you read? “
“Non-fiction mostly, histories. There is nothing coming that hasn’t come before. It helps my work to understand the mistakes of the past”.
“Nothing lighter, no holiday paperbacks?”
I smiled as I said this, knowing the answer, just teasing him slightly. He gave a sarcastic, closed mouth smile in response.
“Not as a rule no. But I did read the Harry Potter series a few years back”.
He smiled genuinely this time, pleased at the surprise in my voice.
“There was a group using a Harry Potter ‘chat-site’ or whatever they call it to send messages, I had to bone up on Hogwarts folklore pretty quickly in order to infiltrate the code”.
“Goodness” I said, not knowing what was more to take in, a HP terror cell or that Mycroft Holmes knew what floo powder was.
“What...er…what did you think?”
He laughed. I don't think either of us were expecting it and it took us both off guard.
“I found it to be childish…”
“It's a children's book Mr Holmes” I chided gently.
“…but there was reference to Greek and Norse myths, a smattering of Latin, some interesting architectural flourishes, and a few of the character studies were intriguing. It was…diverting. The world was...appealing”.
I bit my lip to stop myself asking which House he would have been sorted into, I think I could guess.
“However, even there, malevolent forces were always lurking in the shadows. Which reminds me I do have one or two thousand things I should be getting on with, was there anything else you wished to know? “
“Just two more questions if you don’t mind? “
“Living alone and working such long hours, do you manage to have regular and nutritious meals? “
“You sound like my mother. “
“Never the less..”.
“I don't bother with meals as such, food is fuel nothing more. It is not part of a daily routine like for most people, I eat when necessary”.
“What do you eat Mr Holmes? “
He sighed again. It was obviously his favourite passive-aggressive method of expressing irritation.
“Fruit. I like fruit. It's portable”.
“And... nuts, raw vegetables, I don't cook. “
“Why is that? “
“I lack the time and the inclination. “
“It sounds very healthy although as you say not exactly meals, but you find you can sustain such a hectic work life on fruit, nuts and raw vegetables? “
“Yes. It suits me. I have to eat out for work almost daily, diplomatic dinners etc. I get some protein and carbohydrates then”.
“And for a treat? “
“Yes, special occasions... “ (he looked bewildered) “your birthday for instance”.
He screwed up his face at this, his mouth small and taut and his nose scrunched up.
“I don't do birthday treats. “
“No birthday cake? “
“Cake? Why are you bringing up cake?”
“No reason, don't you like cake?”
He looked furtive.
“My feelings about cake can be of no interest to Military Intelligence. Final question?”
Gosh, the scribbled note may have been right...issues with food. Hmmm.
“Ok, final question...If you could change your current working situation in any way Mr Holmes, what would you change? “
He narrowed his eyes. Something was there, waiting to be said, but he pressed it down with a flick of his tongue. It was the third time he had done it in the hour we had been together.
“I would say a better class of biscuit in the meeting rooms. These government cuts are destroying the tea trolley. You have no idea how much difference a chocolate digestive can make to international relations”.
His eyes sparkled at this, he was having a little joke as well as avoiding the question. I gave a small ripple of laughter to acknowledge the joke and closed my notebook (which I never use during sessions but opening and closing it acts as a useful visual indicator of the beginning and end of a meeting).
“Well, thank you Mr Holmes, for your time and your candour. You may return to your work now, I will send over my report to Human Resources in due course”.
“Thank you. This was..”.
“Not as painful as you had anticipated? “
I smiled and gave him a little twinkle, which he didn’t exactly return but I was sure there was a slight softness behind his eyes that wasn’t there an hour ago. Or that could have been my imagination.
“No, it wasn't. Thank you”.
He got up from his chair and I expected him to walk away towards the door, but instead he walked around the table towards me and gestured his hand. I stood and shook it. His hands were just like the rest of him, thin, elegant and perfectly manicured. His skin was so soft, the effect of a job indoors and a very expensive moisturiser, I mused.
“Goodbye Ms Chilton. See you again next year I expect”.
“Goodbye Mr Holmes”.
Sitting in the room alone again, I waited as long as I could stand before grabbing my session recorder, plugging in my headphones and surrounding myself with that mellifluous voice again.
The next morning an email pinged into my inbox from ‘The office of M Holmes’ via someone called Anthea. No subject heading. I took a deep breath, I had been expecting this. I had sent my report first thing this morning and less than an hour later here it was, a response to my report. How he had got hold of it so fast I couldn’t imagine, he shouldn’t have had access to it at all of course, but I already knew Mr Holmes could access whatever he damn well pleased. I had sent my findings to HR and from there it would have gone to…someone, who oversaw Mycroft Holmes? Oh well, no point putting it off. I opened the email.
All it said was…
'We will meet to discuss this. Mycroft Holmes.'
Oh dear. That was worse than I thought. An angry outburst would have been better, easier to deal with. I responded in a mirroring manner…
'Of course. When, where? Emma Chilton.'
An immediate reply…
'Today, 4pm, the needle. Mycroft Holmes.'
Hee-hee, sounded like a spy’s rendezvous. Cleopatra’s needle, on the banks of the Thames. I wanted to lighten the mood by replying something about wearing a carnation in my lapel or carrying a copy of some John Le Carre novel, but I didn’t think Mr Holmes would be in the right frame of mind for jokes.
I tried not to spend the rest of the day picturing him waiting at the needle - exquisitely dressed, the ginger notes in his hair catching the light, absolutely furious. But what could I do? I had had a very serious heart to heart with myself and this was the best course of action for Mr Holmes and for the service. It was definitely not due to my wanting to see him again, it was entirely the correct decision professionally. I had even asked colleagues (leaving out the details like his name, job, his extraordinary good looks, and my near craving to hear his voice again) and they had agreed with me. Mycroft Holmes had issues with intimacy and for the good of his mental health and his ability to function in top condition, he should spend a minimum of six weeks in 1-2-1 sessions with me to address the issue. It wasn’t my fault, I was just doing my job. I was pretty sure.
At 3.50pm I arrived at Cleopatra’s Needle, a monument possibly gifted but more probably pinched from somewhere and brought back to England hundreds of years ago. It was a lovely stretch of the river, great views, wide promenade, Victorian lighting. It was already approaching twilight and the lamps gave a misty glow to the surroundings. I practiced looking calm, relaxed and completely in the right, but I felt none of those things. What was the point of engineering a chance to see Mycroft Holmes again if he would be angry and not actually engage with me?
This was a mistake, but I had put my name on the document now, as a psychologist I had said he needed help (and he did, that much was true) but I may have overegged the pudding slightly in my sense of urgency that his intimacy issues be addressed. They didn’t seem to have done his work any harm so far, even if they had definitely had an impact on his life away from work. No it was fine, I argued back at myself, as a professional you cannot in all conscience let him go on like this. I would do the same for any other employee at the service, even if they didn’t look like an angel in human form, I was mostly sure of this. Anyway it was too late now, he was coming down the steps to the riverside walkway.
He looked as calm as a millpond, walking slowly down the stone steps, letting his umbrella tap the stone at each step. He looked like he was out for a pleasure stroll and when he saw me he made no indication of what I was sure he was feeling inside. I was so nervous I barely noticed he looked even more incredible today than yesterday. His suit was again immaculate and perfectly cut, and his eyes were bright (with anger no doubt) as he approached me and said brusquely
“Ms Chilton, would you like to walk?” and without waiting for an answer he took off down the promenade, leaving me running to catch up. When we had lost the crowd at the needle, he did not turn towards me but continued walking and said to the air
“This is absolute bloody nonsense, what on earth are you playing at?”
I launched into my prepared speech.
“I am sorry if you feel you have been misjudged Mr Holmes, but I have to report what I believe to be the case. You yourself must be aware that you have an area of weakness around interpersonal relationships, and I believe that addressing this will help you, professionally and personally”.
“Codswallop” he almost shouted, then lowered his voice again, this time to a threatening whisper
“There is nothing wrong with me, it’s it’s”
“Well, yes to be frank. Being different isn’t the same as being wrong”.
The way he said it made it sound like a mantra, something he had told himself many times before.
“True. But in this case, you must see that your life might be easier if you allowed other people into it?”
“Easier? I don’t agree”.
“Happier then. Are you happy Mr Holmes? “
“Have we started the sessions already Ms Chilton? “ He avoided answering.
Okay, lets distance him from the question a little…
“Your brother and sister…do they have significant others, friends? partners? “
“Erm. My sister… does not care for people (other than my brother), it is no hardship for her to be alone”.
“And your brother?”
“He has a few ‘friends’ I suppose you could call them”
“And a partner? “
“We don’t discuss such things, but (he thinks for a moment) possibly”.
“And your sister, is she happy? “
“I would not call her happy no”.
“And your brother? “
“He seems so, on occasion”.
“And on these occasions, is he alone at this time, or is he with his friends and possible partner? “
“Yes, fine, I see the point you are trying to make”.
We walked a while longer in silence, and then I said
“Will you allow these sessions Mr Holmes?”
“You know full well I do not have a choice Ms Chilton. It is in the system now, and while I could overrule the decision it would forever be recorded that I was referred for and did not complete psychological counselling. It would not look good and could be used against me”.
“So you will attend? “
“It appears I am in your hands Ms Chilton”.
“I could…” I hesitated, I didn’t want to offer this, but I felt guilty at possibly pushing this on him a bit too fervently, so I said…
“I could arrange for another psychologist to take your case, if you would prefer. It doesn’t have to be me. It’s important that you are comfortable. If you would prefer a male therapist, or an older one perhaps?”
There were those who didn’t feel they were getting their moneys worth unless their psychologist was a wizened old man with a beard and an Austrian name.
“That won’t be necessary. However, I would like to make the following clear…I am not saying I need your assistance, but I am willing to sit through the sessions and I will do my best to cooperate and engage with the process fully. IF at the end of six weeks you will promise to sign me off as fit with no need to reassess”.
He had made concessions I could see that, he was trying to be accommodating, but I couldn’t in good conscience agree to that.
“I can’t promise that Mr Holmes, you know that. We shall have to see where the road takes us. But I will try to make the process as painless as possible and no longer than it has to be, that I will promise”.
We walked a little further and I heard his phone beep.
“Excuse me, I must take this. I will await our first appointment. Please make arrangements through Anthea. Goodbye”.
And he was gone, just like that. On his phone and off in the opposite direction. I was left to walk to the tube alone, relieved that he hadn’t shown too much anger and that he had agreed to our sessions. I felt excited and guilty, I couldn’t shake the feeling gnawing away at me that I shouldn’t be running these sessions myself, that I should have handed them over the minute I found myself replaying the recording I had made of our first meeting, and replaying it and replaying it.
Chapter 2: Session One of Six. 'Small Talk' Is Not A Swear Word. Or Even Two.
“Good morning Ms Chilton."
Mr Holmes sat in the oversized leather chair in my consulting room. No need now for the soundproofed box at Thames House, my offices are checked regularly by the security services for listening devices and besides, it was much more informal here, natural light, natural fibres, much better coffee. It was exactly the time specified for our appointment, not a minute late, not that I was surprised. I was sitting opposite him in a wingback and tried not to smile too broadly when he entered the room.
Another spectacular suit today, midnight blue with a slight twill. I allowed myself one full indulgent second to admire it.
He wore a suit better than anyone. Suits don’t usually flatter, they cover and homogenise, the bland, shapeless uniform of the office worker, every second person in London wears one every day. But this, it was technically a suit, but it just looked so much more. Maybe it was the waistcoat, three-piece suits are worn less often and maybe it was that which transformed it so. It was figure hugging and he didn’t do up the jacket buttons, leaving the shape of his body much more visible.
The biro in my hand slid into my mouth without my being aware of the movement. 'Honestly, right out of a Freudian textbook' I scolded myself and put it out of reach on the table.
“Mr Holmes” I began, “thank you for your promptness, I am glad you are here”.
He nodded, acknowledging that he didn’t have to be here if he didn’t want to be, these sessions were mandatory, but Mycroft Holmes could make them disappear if he wanted to. I had been reading up on Mr Mycroft Holmes (I had higher security clearance than he initially thought) and was half impressed and half unnerved by what I read. Maybe I was right to insist on these sessions after all.
“Before we begin, I wonder if I might ask a favour?”
I always used this tactic on people used to being in authority and who might feel as if the balance of power had tipped out of their favour by attending psychological support. Let them think I needed them to allow me something, it made them feel more in control. I also used this technique on tantrum prone pre-schoolers, which speaks volumes.
“We are going to be seeing quite a bit of each other in the coming weeks and we will be discussing some personal things, I wonder if you would call me by my first name?”
“Of course, Emily isn’t it?”
I know you looked me up Mr ‘Eidetic Memory’ Holmes, don’t pretend you don’t know my name.
“Emma. And may I call you by your first name?”
He looked uncomfortable, he wanted to refuse but he had already agreed to use my first name, he couldn’t deny me the same courtesy.
“If you like”.
“Alexander isn’t it?”
I saw in his eye that he knew I was getting a little revenge for the Emily comment.
“I prefer Mycroft”.
“Do your family call you Mycroft?”
“Not if I can help it”.
“Very well then, Mycroft it is. As this is our first session we can just outline our objectives and have a first discussion about some of the things we need to cover, is that alright? Nothing too in depth today”.
He nodded, clamming up already and we hadn’t even started yet.
“Ok, so the purpose of these sessions is to talk more about your relationships with others, how you feel about people and if there are any changes we can make to your interactions with others that might improve things for you…socially, familially, romantically”.
He looked away with an intake of breath, he might as well have rolled his eyes, but he wouldn’t have been so rude or so obvious, his point was made though.
“So, could you tell me a little something about the last time you were at a social gathering. What it was, how you felt etc”. Mycroft sighed resignedly.
“I went to a diplomatic dinner for the arrival of the President of…”
I shook my head at him.
“That is not a social gathering Mycroft, that’s a work function”.
“Oh”. He looked downcast for a moment.
“I can’t recall a recent social gathering”
“It doesn’t have to be recent…”
“I can’t think of any, erm, as I am sure you are aware social gatherings aren’t really my forte”.
“Christmas? Did you see anyone then, family?”
“Ah, no. We don’t bother with Christmas ‘get togethers’ on the whole, rarely it happens but when it does it usually goes horribly wrong”.
“I think that sounds like most people’s Christmas with their family”
“No, I mean ‘family members drugging other family members and absconding with classified government property to spend the festivities with an amoral megalomaniac’ he huffed slightly, his eyes narrowing.
This wasn’t a joke obviously. Dying to know more about that but staying on topic I said
“That does sound trying. Any other events you might have been invited to that we could discuss instead?”
He thought for the longest time.
“I was invited to a wedding once”.
“Lovely, tell me about that”.
“Oh I didn’t attend, they only asked me out of politeness, they didn’t really want me there”.
“Mycroft, they invited you, they didn’t have to do that. Didn’t it cross your mind at all that they might want you there?”
“No, it didn’t. My brother made them ask me, I am sure”.
“Did you want to go?”
“No, of course not”.
“Why of course not?”
“Because it is ridiculous, sentimental nonsense. If two people want to be in each other’s pockets for the rest of their lives, why do they need a party to point it out to everyone? Seems like bragging to me”.
“That’s… how you see weddings?”
“It’s bad wine, bad music and Small Talk”.
He said ‘small talk’ with capital letters, like it was something particularly offensive.
“You don’t like small talk” (it wasn’t a question, that would be obvious to anyone who had met this strange, beautiful man).
He sighed again, resigning himself to revealing something.
“I have never been able to do it. I’ve watched other people doing it, I’ve tried it, I can’t do it. It’s not something you can learn from a book and I never figured it out. I can do work talk, I can shmooze ministers, because there is a topic to be discussed, but this? It’s quite the most excruciating thing I can imagine”.
Having read his file I found it hard to believe that idle chat was the most excruciating thing he could imagine, he was in the field for ten years in some pretty hair-raising situations. But maybe that was just it. Maybe he was just scared of different things than most people.
“It’s mostly just practice, when was the last time you tried?”
A look of distress spread across his lovely face, his eyes widened, and he paled considerably.
I smiled sympathetically.
“I’m afraid so”.
“Oh God. Roleplay”.
My thoughts exactly but, cringeworthy though it can be, it works. Mycroft needed to practice talking to people, in a safe environment, where no one could see.
“Don’t be so dismissive, its useful. Come on”.
“I presume I have no choice in the matter?”
“None at all. Right, we are in a club”.
“I am reading at this table, you sit down. Say something”.
“You aren’t supposed to talk in a library” he smiled ever so slightly.
“Don’t be obtuse. Talk to me”.
He sighed dramatically.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”
“No, please sit...”
“Go on” I said, trying to be encouraging.
“That was it” he said, quite seriously.
“Mycroft, talk to me”.
“About what? This is the problem, I don’t know you, what on earth are we to discuss?”
“Anything. The weather, the surroundings, I am reading a book, ask me about it. You are an extraordinarily clever man Mycroft, use your brain”.
He didn’t react to this, he wasn’t embarrassed of his intellect, nor was he big-headed about it, it just…was.
“(Fine)…Excuse me, would you mind my interrupting to enquire what you are reading?”
“(Great start, but you don’t have to be so formal, this is a friendly chat, I am not the Queen) …Its Dickens, Great Expectations. Have you read it?”
“That’s my favourite book, I have read it many times. Erm”
I waited, he was getting agitated, trying to think of what to say next. I waited some more, wanting to help but knowing that it wouldn’t really help, not in the long term. Finally a thought came to him and he brightened, the tension leaving him for a moment…
“Do you know where the bathrooms are?”
“What? It’s a perfectly reasonable question, and one that allows me a swift exit”
“The aim wasn’t to make a swift exit; the aim was to have nice conversation with a stranger”
“Because human interaction is fulfilling and nurturing (he pulled a face and looked away) and you will be happier for it”.
He looked back at me sharply. I ignored it.
“I promise. You will. Try again…”
An hour later and we were both exhausted. He had tried, bless him, but ‘old dog, new tricks’ was the phrase that came to mind. Learning social skills at nearly 50yrs of age was not easy, and I could tell that he was not used to being bad at something. He was visibly tired and was relieved when I said he could go, even if he hid it well.
“Thank you, Mycroft, that was a useful session”.
“If you say so. Back to Vauxhall Cross”.
He got up, grabbed his umbrella and made to walk towards the door. Then he turned.
“Same time next week?”
“Yes, lovely. See you then. And Mycroft? Remember there is homework”.
The door closed behind him.
Chapter 3: Session Two. Why Are You Threatening John?
I felt guilty about how much I was looking forward to today. I never felt excited when having a consultation, it was work, it was important, people needed help. I was committed and interested and motivated, not excited. I imagined how poor Mycroft would be feeling, the roleplay last week had been hard for him, and I wondered if he had even attempted the ‘post session review work’ I gave him. I shouldn’t have called it homework, it made him seem like a child, but I was trying to make light of it. Besides he seemed like a child that day, trying to teach him how to talk to another human being, most grown-ups don’t need to be taught that, not at such a basic level anyway.
Unfortunately I wasn’t going to be any easier on him today either, we had to start talking about his romantic relationships. I didn’t believe what the file said, nobody that attractive and successful can get to 48yrs of age and not have had some sort of attachment, there had to be something. But much as I wanted to know I wasn’t looking forward to asking him about it.
He entered exactly on time, again, and Oh My God these suits were going to be the death of me. Black three-piece, forest green tie. He looked like the King of the Slytherins (in a good way). Again the jacket wasn’t buttoned so all it did was add a frame around his stomach and hips, drawing the eye. I am going to have to do something about these suits I decided, or I am going to ruin my entire pen collection. I was determined to make a real effort today not to use my biro as a substitute for…I mean…for any other purpose than as a writing implement.
“Good morning” he said sitting down.
He sounded stiff, more formal than how we left things. He knew what was coming and was obviously feeling apprehensive. I will tread carefully, at least to begin with.
“So, how was your week?”
“Fine”. I waited.
“I went to a lot of meetings, signed a lot of papers, met a lot of dull people”.
“Did you do anything this week other than work?”
“Speak to anyone outside of work?”
“How about your post session assignment?”
“Did you try Mycroft?”
“I did actually. I texted John”.
“John, that’s your brother’s friend, right? Why did you text him? The assignment was to talk to someone”.
“I know, but I was short on time, it was late by the time I got home every day and I didn’t want to not do it, so I texted John. I never do that. Well, hardly ever. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. I text Sherlock occasionally, but on the whole, I don’t text”.
“What did you text him?”
“Are you well?”
“Ok nice. Short but social, good. Did you get a reply?”
“Yes, he wrote ‘I don’t understand’”.
“Oh. What did you respond?”
“I didn’t. Then I got another text saying ‘what’s that supposed to mean?’ and then one from my brother saying ‘why are you threatening John?’
“You realise if you had replied after ‘I don’t understand’ with something like ‘just making sure everything is good with you’ then the last two exchanges could have been avoided?”
“Yes, I realise that, but at the time I was…flustered”.
He seemed embarrassed to admit to being flustered, I guessed it didn’t happen to him much.
“Oh well, never mind, you tried, that’s good. Now the next time you text John he won’t be so surprised”.
“Why would I text him again?”
“Because Mycroft, the aim of these sessions is to help you interact more with people, and people you already know, like John, is a good place to start. Now, today, we need to move on to discussing your intimate relationships”.
He shifted in his chair, stretching his neck to look out of the window. Trying very hard not to look at the taut expanse of skin this revealed, I stared hard at my notebook and said to the table
“Can you tell me about your last personal relationship?”
“Surely my file tells you all you need to know about that?”
“I would rather hear it from you”.
“I don’t date, you know that already”.
“But you must have had encounters with people, over your adult life, teenage romances? Bad dates? Being chatted up in the supermarket?”
“Not that I recall”.
“I don’t date”.
“I’ve told you before, other people are…not my area”.
“I need more than that Mycroft”.
He slid his tongue along the inside of his lips again, then he made an exasperated noise at the back of his throat. Looking up he said
“People are, on a personal level, difficult to understand and therefore to control. There. I said it. I have control issues, I didn’t need you to tell me that”.
He crossed his arms and looked away.
A ‘sulker’ eh? I filed that away.
“Of course you have control issues Mycroft, everybody does. We all like things the way we like them, and we all try to control our environment to ensure positive outcomes for ourselves. You may be better at controlling your environment than most people, but the problem is…this behaviour isn’t bringing you positive outcomes, is it?”
“It saves me a great deal of time and effort not dealing with idiots and involving myself with entanglements which seem to me to bring distress and misery, eventually”.
“And what do you do with all this time and effort that you have saved Mycroft?”
“I spend it looking after the nation’s security, which is a positive outcome is it not?” He raised his eyebrows at me challengingly.
“For the nation certainly…but what about for you personally?”
“I receive satisfaction from knowing I have done my job”. He looked down at the floor.
“I receive satisfaction from knowing my books are ordered by genre and then alphabetically by author, but it’s no substitute for a real, flesh and blood person to spend your time with”.
He smiled, he didn’t look up, but he said quietly
“That is my system also”.
“Mycroft, we aren’t here to force you into anything. If you truly don’t want any changes to the way you deal with others and don’t feel like having a friend, or something more, would be of benefit to you in any way, then we can stop here. But you are an intelligent man, I don’t think you really look at people talking and laughing with friends, or sharing worries with them, or couples holding hands in restaurants and truly think ‘I don’t want that’”.
He met my gaze but did not answer.
“That wasn’t a question”.
“Let me think about it. It’s not a question of wanting or not wanting it, it’s more about a) can I do it? and b) would it be worth it? Up to now I have always told myself, I can’t do it and even if I could it wouldn’t be worth the time, the energy and the pain that always seemed to be involved. Life is simpler without it”.
“You do put some time and effort into your relationship with your brother though. You text him occasionally, you know what he does, where he goes, who his friends are etc. Is that painful?”
“You are being flippant. Answer the question”.
“It IS painful, a lot of the time, he is not an easy person to get along with”.
“But you do it anyway, why?”
“Because someone has to…because he is my brother…because it is important to my peace of mind”.
“How is it important Mycroft?”
“Because…without him I would be entirely alone”.
He looked small for just a moment, tired and sad.
“Thank you, Mycroft. That couldn’t have been easy. Being alone is something that worries you?”
“Doesn’t it worry everyone?”
“Yes, but most people who don’t want to be alone, don’t make themselves alone on purpose. You see the irony of your situation? If you don’t want to be alone, why push everyone away?”
“I don’t know”.
“Yes you do”.
“No I don’t”.
“You do Mycroft”.
His next words came out all at once, faster, louder and sharper than he usually allowed his voice to be.
“I push people away so I can reject them before they can reject me, is that what you want me to say?”
Okay, careful Emma, nearly there, don't scare him off at the last hurdle. If you can just not tip him over into 'fight or flight' and answer this one last question...
“I want you say whatever is true for you. Was that true?”
But I had pushed him too far. He jumped up from his chair as if he had been jabbed with a pin.
Amygdala hijack. Dammit.
“I think our session is over for today, I have a very important meeting in Oslo I cannot afford to miss. Thank you for your time, I will see you next week”.
He went to leave, snatching up his umbrella and clutching it so tightly his knuckles went white. He got to the door but turned and said in an artificially even tone, as if he hadn't just bolted for the door like the room was on fire
“Any assignment for me?”
“Think about what we have said today, think about what you want, and next week…no suit”.
“I don’t follow”.
“Casual dress next week if you can, I think it would help if you weren’t dressed for work. Please”.
He frowned and left the room.
‘It would definitely help me’ I thought as I closed my notebook. If he can just wear normal clothes that don’t flatter him quite so much, I may be able to concentrate. And I was going to need to concentrate. Only four sessions left.
Chapter 4: Session Three of Six. The Crafty Fag Euphemism.
“I thought we agreed no suit today”.
I said this almost petulantly as Mycroft entered my office, looking dazzling in Navy pinstripes and a silk burgundy tie.
“You did, but...I don’t have anything else”.
“I have pyjamas, and my running clothes…”.
“That would have been fine” I said (some baggy jogging trousers and a sad old t-shirt would have been ideal for helping me focus).
“I didn't think lycra would have been appropriate for our meeting”.
He didn’t meet my eye, but the corner of his mouth slid into a tiny cheeky smile, not a 'I know how sexy that sounds' smile, more a 'wouldn't that have been ridiculous' sort of expression. My skin suddenly prickled with sweat and I felt my face flush hot and red in an instant. Lycra, Christ! This really wasn’t fair. I made an involuntary little whine which I turned into a cough as soon as I heard it leave my lips. I fiddled in my desk drawer and pretended to be finding some scribbled notes and when I felt I could look up again he was sitting in his chair, expectant, ready. Oblivious to the effect he was having. It was sweet really, IQ of 180 and yet completely clueless.
“Ahem, okay then, maybe we could just lose the jacket and tie?”
Anything to diminish the effect that this man had in formal attire. Maybe I could throw a cup of tea over him ‘accidentally’, make him look a little less sublime, a little more human?
He frowned slightly at my request.
“If you insist”.
It was a tough job not to let it show how satisfying it was, sitting there, watching Mr Holmes remove his clothes on my command, even if it was only a jacket and tie. I tried not to enjoy it too much as, standing, he removed his tie with one deft tug and rolled it in a tight spiralled ball, which he tucked away in his right jacket pocket. Then he removed his jacket and, turning his back to me (allowing me a view usually covered by said jacket, and one that had my pen back in my mouth in an instant), he leaned forward and placed it over the back of the chair. He turned back to face me, undoing the top button of his shirt (a sartorial necessity when without a tie rather than an attempt at informality) and said resignedly with his hands raised
“Will this do?”
Will it do? Holy shit - this was worse. And by worse, I mean mind-blowing. With no jacket to hide behind, the waistcoat that hugged at his trunk revealed the long svelte line of his body, and the lack of a top button gave a hint of auburn hair at the base of his neck. For Mycroft he looked as casual as I thought it was possible for him to look, and I couldn't breathe. Fearing the only sound I was capable of making was 'ffnarg' I gave him an 'ok' sign with my fingers and gestured for him to take a seat. He sat there, fiddling with his cuffs and frowning slightly. When my lungs were working again, I said
“How do you feel, dressed like this, Mycroft?”
“Are you cold?”
“No, it's more the lack of a tie than the jacket, I feel...ill prepared”.
“I have no idea”.
“Were you a boy scout Mr Holmes? That’s their motto isn't it, Be Prepared?”
“Now you are teasing me”.
His eyes twinkled ever so slightly. It was glorious.
“Yes, I admit it. Maybe it's good to be out of your comfort zone for a while. “
“I don’t recall ever being in my comfort zone”.
“You mean...in these sessions?”
“No I mean I don't think I have one”.
“Everyone should have a place, a person or a situation that makes them feel at ease, somewhere safe and effortless. Can you not think of anywhere, anything or anyone that gives you this feeling?”
“I'm sorry to hear that, maybe that's something we can look at later?”
“Not necessary. I don't…feel comfortable with the idea of having a comfort zone. Better to be ready than comfortable”.
“Ready for what?”
He did the tongue thing again, pushing down something too secret or too horrible to voice. This flawed and fascinating man, he really was just a collection of learned behaviours and coping strategies.
“For whatever. There is always something, believe me”.
He looked darkly at me, through me, seeing something behind his eyes that I couldn't see.
“Well,” I said brightly and too loud. Mycroft blinked and was back in the room.
“Well, putting that down as a possible conversation for later, I think we better start with where we left off last week”.
“Not more 'how to converse with strangers' roleplay” he said, his face twisted into something like horror, something like disgust.
“Yes, I am afraid so, amongst other things. But this time we are going to be more specific in the strangers we try and talk to.”
“We are going to think about how to talk to a potential date”.
“Oh. God. No”.
The poor darling, I wanted to hug him.
“It's fine Mycroft, really. It starts off exactly the same way as any other conversation that we have practiced, then we introduce a little flirting…”.
“But before we do, there was something we didn't quite finish covering previously”.
“Something that I need to clarify before this next step”.
This was going to be difficult, for us both. But it needed to be covered, just in case there was something relevant, something…physical, regarding Mycroft’s intentional isolation that I was missing.
“So, you said before that...you don't date”.
“You don't pay for sex”.
“And you are quite healthy, physically I mean, everything…works?”
His eyes narrowed fractionally in a 'where is this going?' sort of way.
“So…what do you do when...”.
He raised his eyebrows a little but didn't break eye contact. He was going to make me say it...
“When you feel...”.
He had a sly smile on his face now, he was enjoying watching me squirm for a change.
“When you experience...arousal?” Phew.
He didn’t blink. He still didn’t break eye contact. He just lent his head to the side and said
“What do you imagine I do?”
If he had meant this to come off as sarcastic or exasperated, he failed. To my ears his voice suddenly became deeper, quieter and dripped with mischief, but I told myself I was imagining it.
As if in answer to his question an image flashed into my mind. And wouldn't leave.
“Um. It's fine, we don't have to discuss this any further, that's all I needed to know”.
“I find” he said in a matter of fact tone, but there was a pinkness rising on his neck that wasn't there a minute ago
“that the longer one goes without something the less one seems to need it, like giving up smoking. I stopped smoking 15yrs ago. After a while I almost forgot I ever needed it in the first place”.
‘That's sad’ I thought.
“That’s interesting” I said. But he went on…
“That being said, sometimes there is nothing to be done and the craving - for a cigarette - fills one’s head and gets in the way of cognitive function, on those occasions...a crafty fag clears the mind and enables one to resume proper intellectual focus”.
A crafty fag? I couldn't help but smile a little, but I bit the inside of my lip to stop it showing.
“Thank you, Mycroft, that was delicately put”.
“So” I swiftly changed the subject in the hope that the image still burning behind my eyes would fade soon.
“So, the science of chatting someone up…”.
An hour later...
“So, let's give it one more try. You have…” (I sighed and tried not to roll my eyes) “…your algorithms and your probability charts, your scripts for backup, but remember every person you speak to may react differently to the same stimulus, so try not to rely so much on what you predict they are going to say and just let them say it”.
He nodded. His face a picture of concentration.
“We are at a drinks thing for some embassy or other. Cliched but never mind...We both reach for the same glass from the passing waiter and go...”.
“Apologies, after you”.
“No no that's fine”.
“Are you here as part of the delegation?”
“Yes I am the Assistant Director of...blah”.
(I couldn’t think of anything real to be the Ass. Director of, so blah would do)
“Ah, blah, interesting. Many of this nation’s most successful politicians have made a career based almost entirely on blah I believe”.
(I genuinely laughed, he does have a sense of humour)
“Are you staying in London long?”
“That's a long time to be away from home. I hope you are able to see some of the city while you are here?”
“I doubt it. I have no friends here and I wouldn't know how to navigate the subway system”.
“(Don't correct me)”.
“(even if I make a mistake)”.
“(Fine). Yes it can be trying. Um”.
“Do you take the subway often?”
“No I have a driver, it makes things easier”.
“Ah....I wish I had something like that here...I have always wanted to see Greenwich”.
“Yes, it is a very beautiful part of London. You would fit in very well there I am sure”.
(Ugh cheesy but at least he tried, I have heard worse).
“Oh well. Maybe on my next visit”.
“Yes maybe…Oh. Ahem. It seems a shame for you to miss the sights. I could...I would be honoured if you would allow me to use my car to escort you to Greenwich one evening? If you wouldn't mind company?”
“I would like that.... Mr?”
“Bugger! I always forget the introductions”.
We fell out of character.
“Used to people just knowing who you are in any room you enter I suppose?”
“Something like that”.
“You did really well. That was almost smooth”.
“It was good, honestly. Better than many first conversations I have had”.
“Absolutely. In a real-life scenario, that would have worked”.
“You'd have accepted my invitation?”
“In a heartbeat”.
“You are very kind”.
“No Mycroft, you did well. Accept it. It took a lot of practice but see what you did. You were relaxed, you asked me questions and actually listened to the answers. You were even witty and paid me a compliment. I am impressed”.
“Thank you. It did get easier, you are easy to talk to”.
“So are you, when you choose to be. Do you think you would be able to have a conversation like this sometime soon, if the right person and the right opportunity arose?”
“I don't know. It's a possibility, maybe. Under the right conditions”.
“What would those conditions be?”
“I would have to be on familiar ground, but not at work, not too many people, and not be overheard. And I would have to find someone worth taking that sort of risk for”.
“It’s not a big risk Mycroft, what's the worst that could happen?”
“My brother could find out”.
“He'd tease you?”
“That's what brothers do, don't let him stop you. I'm sure he doesn't let you stop him doing what he wants”.
“No, he always does exactly as he pleases”.
“And so should you”.
He looked thoughtful for a moment.
“I'm accustomed to doing what I should do, not what I want to do”.
Eldest child syndrome, confirmed in one sentence.
“What do you want to do?”
“I haven't thought about it for so long I don't...know”.
“Time to think about it maybe. It's getting late, we should have finished a long time ago. I hope I haven't kept you from anything important?”
“Just a trade conference. Nothing I cannot miss just this once”.
“I am liking this new ‘devil may care’ attitude Mr Holmes...try and keep it up even when the tie goes back on”.
Without thinking I winked. He didn’t seem to notice, thank goodness.
“I will try”.
He put his jacket and tie back on with the swift, slick movements of many years practice and picked up his umbrella.
“Session four next week. Same time I presume?”
“No no, next week we have a field trip”.
“You are going on a date”.
“Absolutely not...with whom?”
“Me. For practice”.
“I see. You don't let up for a moment do you”.
“We only have three sessions left, time to crank things up a notch. See you next week”.
“Where are we going?”
“I have no idea. You choose, you can pick me up at 7pm. Goodnight Mr Holmes”.
Speechless, he left the room.
Okay. Not exactly orthodox therapeutic method, but it may help so we will give it a try. No ulterior motives at all. Nope. Not a sausage. Squeeeee!
Chapter 5: Session Four of Six. I'd Volunteer For Detention.
Professional guilt plus nervousness met in the pit of my stomach, squirming around like eels in a bucket. If anyone found out about this, I would probably lose my job. I can't realistically justify this to any ethics board...a date... (even a fake date - as far he was concerned) with Mycroft Holmes. This was pushing the boundaries of appropriate behaviour, both professionally and personally. In spite of these thoughts in my head and the eels in my stomach, as I stood in the office foyer watching the road, I couldn't help but grin like the Cheshire cat when I saw his car pull up. It could only be his car, a sleek, black saloon, not ostentatious but stylish, understated and incredibly expensive. Here we go.
He got out of the back of the car and walked over to me. I couldn't believe my eyes...No suit! He was wearing thick, grey, brushed cotton trousers and a woolly, rust coloured, roll neck jumper and glasses. I didn't know what to say and just stood there, openly gawping at his transformation. He still looked incredibly handsome, but in a completely different, softer way. Stupidly, the first thing out of my mouth was not 'hello’ or 'nice to see you' but...
“You went shopping?”
“Not exactly, ordered online. Is it ok? I didn't know what..”.
“It's perfect...for a date” I added quickly and as 'professionally supportive' as I could. Even though this was supposed to be a date it was also supposed to be a session, so I had to maintain some distance.
“How do you feel in this?”
“I remembered what you said about suits and its after work and.”..
“You look great” I reassured him.
He made a relieved sigh, smiled and opened the car door. We both got in the back, and as I slid back on the deep, soft leather seats Mycroft pressed a button on the door console and we were off.
“I didn't know you wear glasses” I said as we pulled away.
“Oh. I wear contacts for the office, I don't usually leave the house in these, don't want to seem...”. He trailed off.
“Bad eyesight isn't a sign of weakness Mycroft” I chided him gently.
“I realise that, it's just...”.
“Part of the persona I know”.
“But they seemed...fitting...for tonight” he said.
Letting his guard down, just a smidge, by letting someone see him in specs I noted inwardly.
“They suit you very well” I said, making the understatement of the year. They were the one thing needed to make him absolute perfection. Taking him as a whole, I decided he looked like the sexy history teacher everyone fancied at school, combined with the posh country squire whom you'd ogle in church on Sundays.
“So” I said trying not to stare too obviously at the ‘New Look’ Mycroft. Dressed like this he seemed so much more approachable, so much more open, as if taking off the suit had taken away some of the pressure. That jumper looked so cosy I wanted to snuggle up against it, against him, the brushed fabric of his trousers, the thick wool of the top.
He seemed for all the world like a big, tactile activity mat (like those things for entertaining babies, all covered in textiles to feel and pretty things to look at, and... things to...put in your mouth). I shook that thought off as quickly as I could bear to.
“So, how are you feeling about tonight?”
“Nervous. I have never planned a social activity for someone else, never taken responsibility for someone else having a nice time. It's rather stressful”.
“THIS you find stressful? After what you deal with on a daily basis?”
“Well don't worry, I fully intend to have a good time no matter where we go...where are we going by the way?”
“Well, I tried to think, you know a lot about me and I know little about you”.
I gave him a look of incredulity - he had already admitted that he had looked at my file, he would have been able to find out more about me than my closest friends knew, if he'd wanted.
“Nothing you had told me yourself” he added quickly, “so I didn't know what you might like to do. Then I remembered”.
“Our first session”.
“You’ve lost me”.
“In the roleplay, we were in a library, so I thought...”.
Oh no, was I going on a date to a library? Somewhere it was forbidden to talk or interact at all? Something on my face must have given me away because he frowned slightly, nervously, and said
I had (of course) fully intended on being supportive and show willing no matter where we ended up but as the car slowed and he said,
“We are here” I was apprehensive.
As I exited the car I glanced up and saw...the British Library. I gasped. I couldn’t believe it. My mouth open I turned to Mycroft, who (though he was trying to hide it) looked thoroughly chuffed with himself, he knew he had come up with The. Perfect. Date.
The British Library. The largest national library in the world, with over 2 million books as well as countless pieces of writing of immense significance. Here was the Magna Carta, Jane Austen’s notebook, Lennon and McCartney’s handwritten lyric sheets. It was a treasure trove of history and culture as well as literature. I was so surprised at this idea, so thrilled to be here with him, so excited to go inside that, while my instinct was to dash over and give him a big hug, I didn't think he was ready for that sort of contact and it would have overstepped the boundaries of our 'fake date' so instead I put my hands to my mouth and did a little spin on the spot like an excited child. He laughed at my response.
“Good?” He asked needlessly.
“So good My” I said without thinking.
Arragh! Where did that come from? Mycroft was a ridiculously formal name, and I have never liked the name Mike/Myc, but a nickname?
Firstly, how unprofessional, secondly, he didn’t strike me as the nickname type, and thirdly, I had no right to use any name other than those he had given me, it was intrusive of me, personal. It was rude. But once I had said it, it seemed perfect for him. Softer, you almost had to sigh as you said it. My. I gave him a furtive glance, checked his face. He didn't seem to have heard my slip, thank goodness. I regained my composure.
Then an unpleasant thought struck me...
“Isn't it closed by now?”
“Not to us”
Mycroft said this with a little twinkle in his eye. ‘He is enjoying this in spite of himself’ I thought as we walked towards the doors.
Two hours later we had explored room after room, exhibitions, collections, around every corner was something new that left me awestruck. As we were the only people there, we could make as much noise as we liked, and so we talked as we walked. Mycroft had so much information at his fingertips, he had such interesting stories to tell about almost everything we came across. With that melodious voice of his I could listen to him read the dictionary, but this was infinitely better.
As we found this or that I would say 'tell me something' and he would pluck from his mind some little known and fascinating titbit of knowledge and I would swim around in the sound of him until my metaphorical fingers went all metaphorically pruney.
We were in a huge reading room now, green carpets, wooden tables and chairs, a few tiny desk lamps illuminating nothing more than pinpricks in the cavernous space. We were leaning back against a desk, looking up at the glass ceiling and at the night sky beyond. We were silent, but it was a peaceful, comfortable silence.
I subtlety gave him a sideways glance. He looked calm, his face had lost some of that tense pointedness, his lips were fuller (an unconscious indication that his mind was thinking positive things), his brow was unfurrowed and he looked...younger. Looking down at his torso I could tell he was breathing from his stomach rather than his chest, which was something I had not seen him do before tonight. This was a sure sign that he felt less tense than usual, Mycroft Holmes was relaxed. I smiled indulgently, I was proud of him, he was having a successful evening that he had arranged in the company of a relative stranger, talking and laughing like a normal person, not the rigid, cold person he portrayed. I wondered if he realised it himself?
It was getting late, I was beginning to feel bad at taking up so much of Mycroft’s time, he probably had lots he should be doing rather than staring at stars with me.
“We should get you back Mr Holmes” I said reluctantly, “I imagine you have an early start tomorrow”.
He looked at his watch,
“Yes, I hadn't realised the time”.
“I'm glad the evening didn't drag at least” I smiled.
“No, no it didn't. It was…enjoyable, I... enjoyed myself. Did you? Enjoy yourself?”
He looked apprehensive, the tension beginning to return to his features. I answered quickly before the changing expression stuck, I liked relaxed Mycroft even more than 'I need a hug but don't touch me' Mycroft, I didn't want him to disappear just yet.
“I had a lovely time, really lovely. You seem to have a knack for this dating lark”.
“Ffffpptt” he dismissed this with an oh so graceful wave of his hand and a shy smile..
As we drove back, I sat closer to him than I had on our drive out, not touching but close enough that I feel the heat from his body radiate off him. It was a test; would he move away? Relatively speaking us Brits need much more personal space than our European neighbours, especially with strangers, was the fact that Mycroft didn't shift away a sign that he was becoming more comfortable around people...or just around me? I didn't know which answer I wanted to be true more.
The car pulled up outside my flat far too soon. I turned towards him, his face was half in darkness, half lit by the streetlight, illuminating that elegant profile.
“Thank you, Mycroft, for a truly fun evening. I think we can safely say you have nailed the first date scenario. See you next week”.
As my hand went to the door handle to let myself out, Mycroft made a move to get out of the car also, but I said
“No need, it's raining, we don't want your gorgeous new jumper to shrink” and I touched his sleeve for the briefest moment. My fingers sunk into the material, so soft and warm, it was hard to pull my hand away.
“I have to see you to your door, it's part of the rules. The date isn't over until I have seen you to your door”.
As always, he had his umbrella, which he put up and he came around to my door, holding the brolly over me as I stepped out. It wasn't raining hard, just that sort of depressing, half-arsed drizzle that only seems to happen in Britain. We walked to the door of my building, where I turned. We had to stand close as we were sharing an umbrella, and I looked up at him. He looked tense again. I could guess why. We've all seen enough movies to know what happens at the end of a date, outside the dates home, under an umbrella in the rain.
“Don't worry” I said softly, “the date is over already, I'm just your infuriating therapist again. But I did have a lovely evening, thank you”.
And I took his free hand for just a second, gave it a tiny squeeze, then let it go before he could jerk it away. He didn’t flinch, which I was half expecting, but he went very still suddenly. Trying to reassure him, I stepped backwards into the rain, giving him some extra distance, and I gave him a smile and a wave as I walked away towards the door of my building, throwing over my shoulder the words
“Four down, two to go, see you next week Mr Holmes”.
Chapter 6: Session Five of Six. Bedtime Stories.
Exactly on time the door opened. Mycroft strode into the room, paced the distance to the chair twice as fast as usual, pulling off his tie and jacket as he walked and sat down heavily. His eyes were darting here and there, his hands so tight on the handle of his umbrella that his knuckles paled, and when he finally met my eye, his mouth was thin and tense.
I admit I was disappointed. I was hoping that, after our time at the library he might be more relaxed with me in general, but apparently not. He looked very anxious indeed.
“Something wrong Mycroft?”
“Yes. My apologies. I can't stay. Something has come up. I have to...put some things in motion”.
“If u need to reschedule...?”
“Thank you, yes, but I wanted to come, to tell you I couldn't stay“.
“That wasn't necessary, I realise the pulls on your time, a phone call would have been fine, but thank you”.
“I didn't want you to think I was avoiding our session, avoiding you, after our...trip...last week. I didn't want our next meeting to be...this, but work is...”.
“I understand, it's okay, we can reschedule. Your work is uniquely challenging, you are...needed. Just call me when you are able”.
“Thank you for understanding. I must go now”.
He stood and headed for the door. Whatever it was, stealing him away, it was serious, that much was obvious.
“Mycroft? Look after yourself”.
He looked taken aback for a moment, then gave his head a tiny nod and left, retying his tie as he went.
I didn't hear from him for four long days, and after everything I had read about his work from his file (which I am sure was less than half the story) my imagination was in overdrive. Every news story made me anxious, every police siren made me jump, anything that might somehow be related to Mycroft’s 'unavailability' was a source of worry. I found myself repeatedly switching on the telly and searching the news stations for glimpses of a face in the crowd (exiting Downing St, at a political meeting in Geneva, a protest in some far away city, at the site of an explosion in some war-torn state, all had the potential to give me a clue) if I saw him then I knew he was safe. But I did not see him anywhere. Of course I didn't. People in Mycroft’s position (whatever that was) didn't allow themselves to be caught on camera.
It was 11.30pm on the fourth day when my mobile rang, I considered not answering, as I was already in bed, lightly dozing, but my curiosity was roused by the unidentified number icon on my phone. Usually PPI callers and 'I hear you had a car accident that wasn’t your fault' calls are blocked automatically so I was slightly interested to see who had got through the net.
“Oh, Mycroft, it's you. I wasn't expecting…”.
“Yes it's late, I apologise”.
“No its fine, I wasn't sleeping. How are things going, with work?”
“That's why I am calling. I am not going to be able to meet you at all this week, things here are no less complex. I have to catch a flight at 4am and won't be back for a few days”.
My heart sank to my knees.
“I understand, thank you for letting me know. I am sure we can meet up again soon, when things are less hectic. “
“I wondered if we might have our session now, on the phone”.
“Don't you need to get some sleep? If you are leaving at four?”
“I don’t sleep. I never do when things are...busy. I try but it won’t happen. I can't turn off like that. But of course you must be tired, I didn't think...”.
“No no, I'm not sleepy, I was planning on being up for hours yet. We can definitely talk if you'd like.... why don't you sleep?”
“I can't miss anything. Time zones etc, the world doesn’t stop these days”.
“But aren't there others, who can ‘man the fort’ as it were, you can't be the only watchman?”
“There are, of course, but I cannot just leave my work at the office like most people. It is always with me, I cannot let it go even if I wanted to. I would just lay in bed, waiting for dawn so I can get back to it. I wish I could rest, but my mind won't allow it, not while there is work to be done. Once it's over, then I will sleep”.
‘Poor My’ I said, only to myself this time.
“Then I hope it's over soon, it's not good for you, for your mind, to be without sleep like this”.
A plan came to me, if I can help him visualise rest, give him a glimmer of it, just to take the edge off the stress and exhaustion that I could hear in his voice, that would help a little, surely.
“Let's talk about something other than work, just to give your brain a break for a minute...but before that, have you an alarm set?”
“Ugh. So…when this latest crisis is over, when things have been resolved exactly the way you want them (he made a ‘pfft’ noise), what will you do afterwards, to unwind?”
“I will...go for a run”.
“Okay, so first you will run…where? Draw me a mental picture”.
“I'll run to the heath, it's quiet there. Green. Better to breathe”.
“When will you go?”
“I'll go at dawn, when the air is still cold and there is mist on the grass. No people about. There are animals then though, of the crepuscular variety, but they are company”.
“How long will you run?”
“An hour maybe, until the light changes. Until it's no longer still”.
“Then I'll go home, shower and bed”.
“Tell me...” (I was swimming again, if this was anyone's therapy it was mine).
“It'll be quiet at home, I won’t put on the news just yet, no music either. Just quiet. I'll run the shower, very hot, and just stand under it.".
Don't picture that Emma, don't picture that...damn, too late. He continued
"The sound of the water is like white noise, it drowns everything out, a little anyway. I'll stay there till the water runs cold”.
“Pyjamas and bed”.
‘Pyjamas? Shame’ I thought. I wanted to ask, what colour pyjamas? What sort of bed? But I couldn't make this sound like anything other than voyeuristic, so I said
“Will you sleep well?”
“Yes. I won't set a clock. My phone will be on of course, but they know not to call me unless it's very urgent for 24hrs after a situation like this. I'll sleep well”.
“Will you dream?”
“I hope not”.
(There is a conversation for another day).
“And when you wake?”
“Tea. Lapsang. In my chair. And music”. He was calming, I could hear it in his voice.
“Something quiet, instrumental. It's too soon for words, piano maybe”.
“Einaudi’s Le Onde”.
“And after tea?”
“I’ll eat, doesn't matter what”.
“But if you open the fridge and it contained whatever you wanted?”
“That does sound good”.
It was working. He was relaxing, his voice slower and his words less considered.
“You still have some time...want do you do now?”
“Meet you...for our missed session”.
“This is supposed to be you-time, don't fill it with appointments and obligations. What would you like to do?”
“Go back to the library, to the reading room with the glass ceiling”.
“And what will you read?”
“Hmmm. I'd read you my favourite passage”.
(I'm there? I was imagining myself there, but I didn't presume he might put me there too. Mycroft Holmes volunteering for company? This is quite a step forward. I tried not to let my imagination run away with me, that he was anything other than just growing accustomed to my presence, and as this was a nonwork scenario he didn't have many other options for people to share his time with. But I couldn't bear to shake the thought entirely that he might just want me there for no other reason than wanting me there).
“Wait” I said. I grabbed my copy of Great Expectations from the bedside table, where I had been rereading it after he mentioned it was his favourite book the other day. I could tell myself it was for any other reason than wanting to feel closer to him, but that would be a lie.
“Is this the passage?” I started reading out loud. I put on my most soothing therapist voice and read as quietly as I could without whispering. I adjusted the cadence of my voice to make it more rhythmic and undulating, to say ‘hypnotic’ would imply manipulation (which I suppose it was) but with the best intentions. I wanted him to sleep.
I read for ten minutes, he didn't once interrupt me to politely give me the option to stop, he just listened. And as I read, I listened to the sound of his breathing, it became slower, shallower, quieter until...he slept. I put down the book and just listened to him sleep. After a while I set an alarm on my phone and went to sleep myself, but I didn't end the call. In case his alarm didn't go off, in case he slept through it, I kept the call open, I could wake him when my alarm went off if necessary. I turned the phone onto loudspeaker and turned out the light, his breathing the only sound in the dark. Goodnight.
At 3.28am I heard a noise, my alarm. I turned it off quickly and listened...he was still asleep. I smiled. Three and a bit hours was better than nothing. I watched as the clock on my phone turned to 3.30 and then I heard another noise. A sigh, the shuffle of a duvet, then a small laugh.
“Minx” he whispered to his empty room.
I grinned. As I heard the unmistakable click of a bedside light flick on, I ended the call, before he noticed that I had been on the line for hours. Listening to him. Watching over him.
Chapter 7: Session Six of Six. Last Chance Mr Holmes.
I had received an email from Mycroft to say he was home, that things were 'settled' and that he would be free to meet me that coming Saturday. Our appointments were usually weekdays, but it made no matter. This would be our last session, and I was dreading it and anticipating it in equal measure.
I had no reason to keep him any longer, he had issues yes but not enough for work to insist he attend involuntarily after today. As far as official guidelines were concerned, he was fit for service, and I would have to report that at the end of today whether I wanted to or not.
I was also feeling guilty. Guilty for not being pleased for Mycroft that he was fit for service, for wishing I could keep him for myself a while longer. Guilty for what I was about to do. Telling myself it was a valid technique was rubbish, it was an adolescent party trick, a manipulation. This was pure selfish indulgence on my part. And yet no matter how many times I said this to myself, no matter how bad I felt at what I was about to do, I knew I wouldn't be able to stop myself. I paced the floor, wanting him to arrive but not wanting him to, because the sooner he arrived the sooner he would be leaving.
There was his knock, I took a deep breath. He entered the room. Even though it was Saturday he was wearing a suit of course, but...not a work suit. This was blue, not navy but a rich royal blue, warm and bright. Matching waistcoat (naturally) and a silvery tie with tiny flecks of teal, it was the perfect combination of smart and relaxed that a suit could be I decided, and he looked devastatingly handsome in it.
“That's my most favourite suit yet” I smiled as he took his chair, removing the tie and the jacket as he knew I would ask him to.
He looked shyly down at his outfit and straightened the bottom of his waistcoat with a tug.
“Is it new?” (I knew it was, this wasn’t a suit he would have owned six weeks ago, I gave myself a little pat on the back).
“Yes. I thought it seemed less...austere, just for weekends you understand”.
“It's lovely. You look well”.
“I feel it. Things have calmed down recently, and I am taking the opportunity to think”.
“You told me it was time to think about what I wanted for a change, so I am. Not sure what it is I want yet, but I am enjoying considering the possibilities. It is pleasant to have...ideas of what I might want”.
“That's good Mycroft, that's great. I'm so glad to hear it. You know of course that I will be signing you back for full service today - not that you haven't been on full service all this time, but now it will be official again”.
“It's been a pleasure to talk with you, I hope it hasn't been too inconvenient or torturous for you”.
“Torturous? Not at all”.
“Even the roleplay?”
“That was excruciating I admit, but I can see it's merit in hindsight”.
“Can you see any change in yourself Mycroft, in the short time since our first meeting?”
“In a way”.
I was saying his name too much, enjoying saying it while I had the chance, after today there would be no cause to use the word ever again...unless I got a cat and named him Mycroft, which might be a good idea actually...
“Well, for instance, I have been making an effort with my social interactions. Doing things in person rather than remotely”.
“I...I bought this suit myself, in person. Usually I have them sent but this time I collected it”.
“Really? Tell me about it”.
“Well, my suits are (he looked sheepish for a second) bespoke. I get them from a chap who has a place in west London. I usually just email what I want, cloth, cut, lining etc and they send it to me when complete. Ideally you are supposed to visit for fittings, but I have been a client for years, he knows my measurements, and if they need altering when I try them on at home, I send them back for adjustment. “
“But not this time?”
“No. I went to collect it myself. I had given them the order a week ago and it was ready”.
“That was quick for a bespoke suit!”
“They make exceptions for me”. He looked sheepish again.
“So, what happened?”
“Well. I walked in and... you know how the staff in decent shops dive upon you the moment you cross the threshold and smother you in offers of assistance?”
“Well I don't like that”.
“Nobody does Mycroft, that’s not just you”.
“That's one of the reasons I don't go into shops as a rule. But anyway, usually I just brush them off and try and ignore them as they follow me around the store. But I didn't this time. I let them help”.
I smiled encouragingly.
“The boy that hurled himself at me as I entered seemed very pleased to assist me, said his name was Tom, offered me a seat, a cup of coffee even, then he scuttled off and returned a moment later with my suit. I thanked him and went to leave but he said, 'wouldn't you like to try it on, Sir, just to make sure it is exactly what you require?’ I was already shaking my head and making 'no no that's fine' noises when I was whisked off to a changing room. He looked so happy to be assisting someone that I thought 'why not?' “
“Good for you. And then?”
“I went in to the cubicle and he passed me my suit. He even offered to come in with me”.
“Yes. I declined, it was enough just to be there, I couldn't cope with that level of assistance...that wasn't usual behaviour was it?” He asked suddenly, seeing the smile twitch at the corner of my mouth unbidden.
“What were the words he used exactly?” I fought for control of my mouth, trying to keep it straight.
“He said 'I can undress you if you want me to, the cubicle is big enough for two, if we stand close'“.
“No” I said as evenly as I could “That wasn't usual. I think you may have made an impression there”.
“Oh? Oh”. He thought for a moment, then said
“That would explain a couple of other things”.
I tried to hide the glee in my voice. Mycroft Holmes had been very directly flirted with and he hadn't even noticed. It was endearing. This poor Tom had been quite obvious and was probably confused by the lack of recognition.
“Um. When I had the new suit on, I came out of the cubicle to use the large mirrors and he was waiting for me and he said, he said..”
“In that suit that’s an entirely understandable response” I grinned, resting my chin on my hands, I was enjoying this.
“What was the other thing?”
“I put my old suit back on and thanked the boy for his help and went to leave but then he gave me a card with a handwritten eleven digit number on it. He said if I had any trouble with the suit, or if I wanted to go somewhere nice to wear it, to give him a call”.
“Well well Mr Holmes, you did do well. A suit and a date in the same afternoon”.
“I didn't really think at the time, just anxious to get out by then, but looking back...”
“A very successful trip I would say. Well done”.
He glowed a little.
“So,” I tried to sound as nonchalant as possible, but under my desk I crossed my fingers...
“Now that you know this Tom was asking you out...might you call him?”
“What? No. We have discussed this already, I am heterosexual, just without the history to back it up”.
He frowned and muttered a little sulkily
“You know that”.
(Just double checking).
“Yes, I remember...I will quite miss our conversations after today, Mycroft, it has been nice getting to know you”.
“You too. I didn't know much about you until our trip to the library, but now I think I know you quite well”.
“I know you like books, and history, that you know nothing whatever of the natural sciences and you could get lost in a lift…”
“Bit harsh, it was a jolly big library”.
“With maps and signs and arrows and posters on every available surface pointing out our location, but that didn’t help you at all did it?”
He shook his head like you might at a puppy who has managed to find the only muddy puddle in a field. He continued
“I know that your favourite colour is teal”.
“Erm...how do you know that?”
“You always have something teal with you, every time I have ever seen you...gloves or socks or a hairband or eyeliner”.
“You are very observant”.
“I know you hum when you are happy”.
“You do. You hummed all around the library, and I know you bite the inside of your lip when you are trying not to laugh at me”.
“I don't laugh at you Mycroft”.
“And also, you smell like vanilla”.
That stopped me.
“Is that a good thing?” I ask tentatively.
He shrugged, looking away.
“I never thanked you” he changed the subject, “for making me sleep the other night. I did need it, but I didn't think it would come. How did you know that reading to me would send me right off? I have rarely fallen asleep so quickly or slept so soundly. You are very skilled... “
I broke in, embarrassed by the coming compliment...
“At putting people to sleep? Great”.
“At making me relax, at clearing my mind, of being an alternative focus”.
“You are very welcome. I enjoyed reading to you”.
“You should record audio books; your voice is very comforting”.
“Gosh. Thank you. Coming from you that is quite a compliment”.
“Coming from me?”
“Mycroft you must know what an incredible voice you have, it is...without peer”.
He just stared at me, blinking, oblivious.
“If my voice should come with a warning 'may cause drowsiness - do not operate heavy machinery', yours should be classified illegal on the grounds that it is highly addictive, agonisingly beautiful and impedes rational thinking”.
Arragh! Why did I say that? Can't even bluff my way out of that one, I am totally in a hole now.
“Oh. You think that?”
“That's not the point”. I flushed red.
“What was the point?” He smiled.
“I forget. It doesn't matter”.
Smooth Emma, well done. Idiot.
“As you wish”. His eyes were laughing at me.
I shook my head to try and remove that last exchange from my brain and tried to focus on what I was supposed to be doing next. Oh yes…
“Now, despite the undoubted progress you have made in the last six weeks, there is one last exercise I would like us to try before we end our last session together. “
“I am all ears”.
“It's a short practical exercise that aims to increase the connections between people. I thought it might be useful to see if we could give you a feeling of closeness with someone other than your brother, as a first step on the path to letting other people in?”
“I see. And how do we achieve this?”
“Nothing easier. We just have to look at each other...for four minutes, without breaking eye contact. You don't have to speak or move or make physical contact in any way, you just have to maintain eye contact. With me. “
“Not as easy as it sounds, I imagine”.
“Let's just see what happens”.
Now I was aware that this exercise had done the rounds in recent years in certain types of destructive female ‘literature’ as a short term, quick fix method for attraction, but to use it in that way is nonsense. It is a psychological instrument that is sometimes successful in temporarily increasing feelings of closeness and intimacy, but it is not a chat-up technique. It should also not be used between therapist and client, just between clients, usually warring couples. But I conveniently didn't think about that.
I told Mycroft that I was using it to help him feel closeness with one person, as a gateway to feeling it with others, but even though I tried to convince myself, I didn't believe that was my reason, not for a moment. I wanted to feel that closeness with him, for purely selfish motives. I wouldn't see him after today and I wanted to know what it felt like to be close to him, emotionally if not physically, I would take what I could get. If the British Psychological Society knew my real motives I would've been struck off on the spot, but, pushing down the professional guilt and personal shame at myself for this horrendous manipulation, I carried on regardless.
“If I bring my chair around and sit in front of you, we just have to maintain eye contact with no talking or movement for four minutes. Think you can do that?”
“I don't know”.
“Me neither. Want to try?”
“Okay then, I will set a timer and...go”.
It is difficult to maintain eye contact even with people we know well, our instinct is to look away, it seems far too intrusive, too personal. That old saying about the eyes being ‘the windows to the soul’ feels so true in this exercise, it seems wrong somehow to look so deeply at someone that you feel like you can see into them. But if you can keep looking for four minutes you can't help but feel a real connection to the person afterwards, like you've shared something.
The first ten seconds were heavenly, I felt it was going to be the easiest thing in the world to look into those grey-blue eyes for two hundred and forty seconds. But very quickly social anxiety kicked in. Thoughts began swirling around in my head…this was weird…uncomfortable…people aren't supposed to stare like this…in the animal kingdom this would be threatening behaviour…it feels like a really competitive staring contest. I began to worry that if I was feeling like this, what was Mycroft feeling? His face gave nothing away, he just looked at me. How was this going to last four minutes? The next 30 seconds seemed like 30 minutes, it felt so intrusive, internally I was writhing with embarrassment.
Then, after the first minute the anxiety left me, and what came in its stead was stillness, calm. A level of relaxation in someone else's company that I had never felt before. My muscles in my back began to soften, lowering my shoulders and releasing so much tension that I hadn’t even realised was there. And still he just looked at me. The last three minutes felt like I had been let in on a secret, that we knew something about each other that no one else knew...even if we didn't quite know what that was ourselves. It felt like reading someone’s diary, like watching them dance when they didn't know you were there, like forbidden knowledge. I could have stayed like that for hours, I knew the time would soon be up and was dreading this ending, trying to commit to memory every tiny aspect of his face and the way looking into his eyes made me feel.
The alarm sounded, he blinked, and the spell was broken. Without knowing anything about it, my mind had made a decision and a plan of action, apparently without consulting my conscious self. It seemed as if it had always been my intention, but it had never occurred to me before this moment. Before he could move or speak, I slid off the seat of my chair and knelt on the floor in front of him.
“Now close your eyes”.
One tiny muscle in his eyebrow twitched, just for a second, then he did as I asked without a word. Without touching him I came as close as I could. I put my lips to his forehead and kissed him gently, just for a second, less than maybe. I moved my mouth away just enough to break contact with his skin, but I didn't move my face away from his, I just stayed there for a moment. Waiting.
“That wasn't part of the exercise” he said at last in hushed tones.
“No” I whispered as I slowly moved my lips to his temple and kissed him again, ever so lightly, breathing in his shampoo and the smell of his skin.
“I can stop if you want” I offered as I moved my face lower, to his cheek, he said nothing. and I kissed him again.
“You can tell me to stop”.
He still didn't say anything, nor did he move an inch. Then I noticed he was holding his breath. I was not sure if this was a good or a bad sign, but it was too late. My mouth was now hovering over his, so close as to be almost touching...
“Last chance Mr Holmes…”.
And then at last he moved, his tongue ever so subtlety licked his bottom lip, then disappeared again. Not in his ‘trying not to say something’ way, in a wholly more inviting manner. That was all the encouragement I needed.
“Let me do that” I purred, and I kissed him, very chastely and softly. When he didn't pull away, I let my tongue trace the line of his lips, wetting them and kissed him again, this time letting my tongue to move a little freer over his mouth, pushing ever so slightly, asking, begging for him to open his mouth.
After what seemed the longest time, he finally let me deepen the kiss. I had to hold back the sounds that were bubbling up from my throat, if this truly was as novel an activity for Mycroft as he claimed, I didn't want to do anything he might think of as too much and make him pull away.
However, it wasn't long before I couldn't keep quiet any longer. Before I knew it had happened the words “God...My” fell from my mouth. I froze, had he noticed my ridiculous shortening of his name this time?
If the next words from his lips were 'I prefer Mycroft' I may just curl up in a ball and die right there. He didn't say a word however and I decided I had gotten away with it again.
Realising I was getting carried away I pulled back and sat back on my knees, head down, catching my breath. A few seconds later I heard the rub of fabric on leather as Mycroft slid out of his chair and sat on the floor also. We still weren't touching but we were mere centimetres apart. He had one leg to my left, bent, with his elbow on his knee and the other leg stretched out beside me on my right, so I felt surrounded by him. I looked up, I couldn't read his expression at all. He didn't speak, but he was running his tongue along the inside of his closed mouth again, not voicing some thought.
The guilt came flooding back, colouring everything that had just happened like a drop of ink in water, staining the last five minutes with doubt and reprehension.
I should say something before he does.
“I'm sorry” I said “I think, no, I know I manipulated the situation earlier, that exercise, it may have...clouded your judgement, my judgement, a bit. I shouldn't have…”. He interrupted me.
“If you think I didn't know exactly what you were doing then you are wrong. I've seen that technique used covertly a hundred times by my brother...usually on John. Not the four-minute version though, even John would notice that”.
I looked at him, bewildered that he was aware of what I had been doing the entire time, not sure if I felt more relief or embarrassment. He laughed slightly.
“Honestly sometimes it takes them forever to have a simple conversation, the amount of eyeballing involved”.
The knot that had begun to twist my stomach started to subside. Maybe it was alright.
“Never thought I would be on the receiving end of such a ploy however” he said with reproach in his voice.
Ploy? Oh God. Panic hit me, as did the full weight of the seriousness of what I had just done. If I had heard of a colleague acting like this with a client, I would have reported them to the ethics committee and supported their dismissal. I had no morals, no ethics, no principles. It wasn't done premeditatedly (not the last bit anyway) it had snuck up on me and I wasn't strong enough to fight it. But now I felt terrible.
“I am so sorry, it was wrong of me on so many levels, please believe me I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable or pressured at all. I really don't know what I was thinking. I've never done anything like this before, I..”.
“Shhhhh” he said putting his hand on my back. It was the first time he had ever touched me (I wasn't counting the handshake) and it stopped me in my tracks. The heat of his palm as it travelled through my shirt and onto my skin was all my brain could take in, it was all consuming. I was unable to speak or think, I was focused body and soul on that warmth spreading from his skin to mine.
“I didn't mean to sound scolding, that tone is just...habit. As I say I knew exactly what was happening, I was...surprised when you suggested the exercise, but you weren't manipulating me. I am not an easy person to influence”.
I said nothing, my brain still not working, I was not sure what he was saying. He wasn’t angry, that was good, but…
“I was worried I had manipulated you, I am rather good at making people do what I want, I was concerned I had subconsciously influenced your actions”.
Did that mean what I thought it meant, or was it wishful thinking? I am going to need a clearer response than that…
“So…?” He put his head to one side.
“So you wanted me to kiss you?” I had to have a direct answer to a direct question, before I could relax. “Are you sure about that? Very sure?”
“I'm always sure about everything” he intoned as his hand put pressure on my back and moved me closer.
This time he kissed me.
The next time we came up for air it was getting dark outside. We sat there in the gloom of the office, still on the floor. I didn’t want to move yet, but I was aware as always of Mycroft’s schedule and couldn't help wondering what I was keeping him from.
I made to move my hand from where our fingers lay tangled together, and as I did so I felt that circle of metal on Mycroft’s fourth finger. The ring he always wore, never referred to, had never explained. What interested me most about it was that he never made internal reference to it either, he never looked at it, never touched it or fidgeted with it. It was as if it wasn't there at all. I twisted it slowly between my finger and thumb, not looking up, trying to make the movement appear absentminded.
He didn’t move his hand, I could feel him watching me though, his mind working. Finally he said,
“I will tell you if you want to know”.
I contemplated feigning innocence and saying, 'Tell me what?' but what was the point in playing games, he knew exactly what I was thinking, probably always knew I realised (pushing down the embarrassment of what that meant), and his characteristic directness gave me the courage to meet it.
“Is it an interesting story?”
“Possibly, but I guarantee you it is not what you are thinking”.
“No reading my mind Mr Holmes, I am the psychologist here, remember? But I would like to hear...whatever you wish to tell me”.
“It's a rather involved narrative, perhaps we should save it for tomorrow evening?”
Tomorrow evening? We had no more sessions, this was our last official meeting, we both knew that. I tried not to grin too broadly.
“That sounds perfect, I look forward to it. Now” I said glancing at my watch, “you should go, you must have a thousand things to do...and I have a report to write”.
I got to my knees and tried to stand up as elegantly as possible with pins and needles in my legs and the cold of the floor stiffening my muscles.
“Oh yes, your report”. He stood in one smooth motion with the grace of a cat and as he slid on his jacket, he said with barely disguised mocking
“By what name will you refer to me?”
I froze, then he said in an offhand manner
“I don't think I've ever had a nickname before. Not one anyone uses to my face anyway”.
Mortified is an exaggeration, but it was close enough. But I adopted a similar offhand tone to reply...
“Oh, you did hear that. Sorry, it just slipped out”.
“Don't apologise” he said as he picked his umbrella up by the handle and rested the body of it over his shoulder...
“It's not entirely awful”.
I gave him a joke withering look...
“I take that to be the Mycroft version of 'I like it'“.
“Possibly” he said, putting on his most aloof face, chin in the air, eyebrows raised, but his mouth quivered as he fought to hold back a smile.