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Winter is a blessed season, if only because of the gloves.

It’s not that Greg begrudges people who like to keep the backs of their hands free so they can see all the pretty colors displayed there, the signs and marks that they’ve found their person, that connecting skin to skin with someone meant for them has been enough to start the process of coloring their flesh. That’s nice for them, sure. There’s people who found their soulmate early, childhood friends whose whorls and vines started a few years after puberty that spiral up their arms and onto their shoulders and chests, and new loves who show their bond in a soft first smear of color. 

Greg’s taken to wearing gloves as much as he can, blaming it mostly on the job. Crime is dirty, after all, it’s not entirely out of the realm that he’d wear a pair of leather gloves or quickly trade them for a set of opaque blue latex ones at a crime scene. Otherwise they stay in his pockets, or under his desk, anywhere where he won’t be subjected to pitying gazes from people who see the fading smokey patterns on them and know that he and a soul mate he’d truly loved had parted ways.

Some people probably think it’s some kind of affectation. The royals favor gloves, after all, and most of the upper classes and anyone even thinking of aspiring to celebrity, if only because forming a visible bond with a commoner would be a nightmare for the tabloids. Courting in those circles is done without touch, and permission to touch hands to check for a mark is only granted after one’s family and station has been sufficiently vetted. It’s an old system, but it works, with only a few exceptions. There was a prince a couple years back who’d found his by accident in the middle of his military service, and watching the whole family pretend they weren’t horrified that he’d actually grown attached to some Belfast Catholic man in a way they couldn’t easily shrug off was as miserable as it was hilarious.

But for Greg, either assumption is better than pity.

The marks he’d had for Vera had been plain vines and ordinary leaves, bright green, roping their way up his forearms, with one of her yellow bursts dropped halfway up his arm like a flower. He’d been pleased with the way they grew in, sturdy and even and consistent. Vera’s had been more wild, bursts of pastel yellows in no particular pattern with small green vines between them. Her wrists were covered before his, but they’d never gone much further than that. It should have been a warning sign, really, but why should it? She was his soul mate.

Only as much as people hate to admit it, soul mates aren’t always a one-and-only. Plenty of people have more than one. He even knows a few people who’ve simply taken in all their soulmates, made a happy quad or trio of it until they were all bound up in each other in happy rainbows and merging patterns on everyone’s arms. Those types are a far cheerier picture than the number of times a second (or third, or fourth) soul mark ends in cheating. Vera did, as he’d eventually worked out from the blue swirls that began to cover over her fading yellow, though he ignored it as long as he could and she resolutely tried to hide it with makeup. 

Then Sherlock had to say something, because he always has to say something, and he couldn’t pretend anymore. The vines on his arms died before the divorce went through, leaving their grey, fading remnants behind as a visible brand of his failure, and here he is, staunchly refusing to sign up for any “Second Chances” dating websites no matter how much Sally needles him about it. A “safe place to try again” and “no anti-grey stigma here!” is not what he’s looking for.

He has cases, and trying to make sure Sherlock doesn’t get himself killed on a weekly basis, and that’s going to have to be enough for now.

Sometimes it’s even too much, as is the case when John Watson starts peering around the edge of his office door holding two cups of the Met’s finest excuse for coffee.

“Coffee?” 

He lifts a brow to Doctor Watson, who rather suspiciously looks preemptively apologetic. Greg takes a calming breath. “I’m about to wish you’d brought a donut with that, aren’t I. What’s he done?”

Greg doesn’t look at John’s marks as the man explains. They’re purple, soft and oval with gentle whorls like fingerprints, a single blue feather on the back of each wrist. Sherlock’s are blue and curved like a filigree, feather-shaped and pale, with four of John’s whorls coiled around his forearms like a banded tattoo. He’d been the most honestly confused Greg had ever seen him when the first hint of blue started appearing, faint, pale things that he’d resolutely ignored as they creeped up his hands until the incident with John and the pool. “Do you love him?” Greg had asked as the man shook on his sofa. “I don’t know,” Sherlock whispered back, and Greg had sighed as he coaxed the younger detective into having some tea. “Well, your body does. Might need to have a chat with that big mind of yours about catching up.”

For all that Sherlock somehow had sorted himself out enough to settle down with John, he still doesn’t seem to know how to handle anyone else foolish enough to call themselves his friend. Like Greg, for instance . Sherlock always sees whatever he himself is up to as the most important matter at hand, so when Mycroft requisitioned Sherlock onto one of his nebulous government missions Sherlock insisted the Greg be seconded to MI-5 as his temporary handler, which Mycroft of course did because he’s just as bad as his brother.

Which means he’s been unassigned from his cases at the Met while he’s on special service with the brothers Holmes.

Greg grips the cup John has offered, feeling the leather of his gloves creak in a vague warning so he doesn’t crush the damn cup. 

“I am sorry Greg- if I knew he was doing it I would’ve-”

“You would’ve let him do it, you just would’ve warned me earlier.” Greg sighs. “I get it, John. I do.”

John just shrugs amiably, half-smiling in that crooked way of his. “Be nice to have you on one of these. Government gits are no fun and it’s honestly worse if Mycroft’s there. They just snipe at each other the entire time. I honestly don’t know how they solve a thing around the bickering.”

“Let’s hope Mycroft is anywhere else, then.” Greg knows Mycroft, as much as you can know someone who keeps more personal walls up than the Kremlin. The chilly elder Holmes is another man who favors gloves, though Greg can’t be certain what his reasons are. It could be a deference to more conservative standards, but Greg’s privately thought that Sherlock’s shock at finding a soulmate at all speaks more toward a lack of interest in the matter from the whole family. Probably thinks it’s all a bunch of frivolous bullshit. Greg has to admit he’d probably agree at this point. “Where are we going?”

“Kensington.”

 

***

 

Mycroft and Sherlock are, for once, not sniping at each other, and Greg has to think it’s because they are both actually invested in this case and focused more on solving it than figuring out which of them is currently the smartest boy in the room. A consultant to the security services is missing, one with a particular expertise in cryptology and ciphers, and Mycroft is quite insistent that they must get the man back as quietly as possible. 

Sherlock, of course, loves having something interesting to dig into, and it doesn’t take long for him to take over disassembling the agent’s flat to look for clues with John following him about as usual. Greg sidles up beside Mycroft, watching the pair of them at work. “Still not sure why he needed me.”

“It’s always good to have an additional pair of hands, Inspector.” Mycroft’s sipping a tea from a thermos, which seems almost dangerously human of him. Greg’s eyes skim up, noting the lines near his eyes, the gentle darkening of his lids. Christ. If Mycroft Holmes hasn’t slept….

“How serious is it?”

Mycroft sips. He hasn’t removed his own dark leather gloves, and Greg wouldn’t expect him to, not here at a possible crime scene. “Serious. Melas is one of our top consultants. We’ve worked quite hard to ensure he has no direct ties to MI-5, so the idea that he’s been compromised….”

“Yeah. Got it.” Greg scruffs his hair, his own gloves creaking softly. “Don’t suppose it could be, like. Corporate espionage? Unrelated to your stuff?”

“It’s possible, but… we must account for all options.” Mycroft nods toward his brother. “Which is why I’ve brought him on.” 

Sherlock does, unsurprisingly, come up with a lead. “Your man was in communication with someone interesting. Look at these.” He spreads a few letters out on the coffee table. “Proper  letters, not emails.”

“Easier to hide from prying eyes. Or monitored email accounts,” Mycroft muses.

“Quite. And there is a cypher here- one that would have caught his interest immediately, I imagine. It’s a well-known but complex algorithm,” he adds for the benefit of John and Greg, “something a cryptologist would be able to recognize for what it is.”

“So the letter writer was, what, just showing he could do it?” John asks, squinting at the letter. 

“Precisely. Now- what it actually says is-”

“Finish the task or there will be consequences,” Mycroft supplies, having glanced at the letter for approximately half a second.

Greg tries not to smile. He shouldn’t be so charmed that Mycroft can deduce just as well as Sherlock that it annoys the usual thorn in his side. “That sounds ominous. What sort of task?”

“Given his skill set, we can assume another code. A less obvious one.” Sherlock starts shifting through the other letters. “This one is more recent. ‘ We have her and we will kill her. Finish it.’ So they have someone else as well.”

It’s obvious no one else lives here, which John must notice as well. While it’s tidy, there’s a decidedly ‘bachelor’ air to the place, everything laid out to accommodate only one occupant that rarely varies in his seating patterns. “Girlfriend? Some new flame to lead him in?”

“Extremely doubtful. Mr. Melas would be exceptionally challenging to honeypot, considering he is asexual and aromantic.”

Greg clears his throat, hoping he isn’t about to sound like an arsehole. “Like, he’s abstaining from dating because he hasn’t found a soulmate, or…?”

“On the contrary, he met his at university. She is a language specialist with GCHQ. But they are both disinclined to romantic or sexual pursuits and content to meet for weekly dinners and occasional trips to the cinema. More frequently they email each other with discussions about books. It’s quite sweet, really.” Mycroft’s gloved hands slide into his pockets, vanishing them completely. Giving himself more armor? Greg can’t tell if that means he’s more likely to not have a mark, or to have a dead one, like Greg does. He shouldn’t be so curious about it, but, well. Maybe it’s just that he finds Mycroft a bit handsome and enigmatic with all his intelligence business. 

“She was the one that reported him missing after he missed their standing date,” Mycroft continues. “My people have already verified her movements for the past several months and she is currently in protective custody. If they have someone to hold over him, it is not her.”

“Hrm. Family?”

Mycroft’s already checking it in his phone, because the man somehow has files on everyone . “They’re all accounted for. No one else missing. We have them under watch as well, of course.”

Sherlock waves an imperious hand. “It’s irrelevant, anyway. They presented him with a code to gain his attention, obviously engaged- or forcibly made use of- his services, but he did not finish the project.”

“So they threatened him,” John finishes as Sherlock nods.

“Yes, and the average person would elect one of three outcomes at that point. Finish the work, flee, or-”

Greg knows this bit. “Call the police.”

“Well, MI-5 in his case, but more or less.”

“But he did not.” Mycroft leans on his ever-present umbrella, looking dangerously thoughtful. “We would have caught such an effort, even if he encoded it. And CCTV has shown no sign of flight- an untrained operative always leaves traces, and he’s been nowhere.”

“Where was he last seen?”

“Here.” Mycroft points out a window. There’s a camera opposite, tucked into the awning of a small shop. “He returned at his usual time when engaged with his less governmental tasks. That camera catches the front door to the building. He must have left- or been taken- from the rear door.”

Sherlock’s leaning into the glass, squinting. “It picks up part of this room as well, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, and there was nothing-”

“Of course there wasn’t. Man’s a genius- by other people’s standards- he knows there’s a camera there, which means he knows whoever’s after him could also get that film if they wanted to.” He turns gauging the angle with swinging arm movements that seem deliberately aimed at his brother. “We need to search what’s out of view.”

Sherlock and John take to the floor, checking beneath the rug and the coffee table and all the books on lowest shelves. Mycroft rolls his eyes and stalks into the bedroom. 

Which leaves Greg with the glorious duty of evaluating the bathroom.

After taking a moment to stare at the ceiling in recognition that if he were doing his actual job he’d have other people to force to do this on his behalf, he starts rifling the cabinets, checks under the toilet lid, glances into the trash… and goes back to the cabinet. Because Greg might have the slowest mind currently present in this house, but that bar is high . He’s never been an idiot. “Oh, that’s good.” He reaches for the pill bottle, then stops. Eh, yeah. Just in case it’s trapped or summat. “Oi, you lot. I think I’ve got something.”

“What?” Sherlocks call is sharp, and Greg can still hear pillows being thrown, so he’s going to take a wild guess that no one actually thinks Greg might find something first. 

Surely not, just an actual copper here, not a brain cell to be found between my ears.

“If I told you, Sherlock, that there is a pill bottle here labeled Dermatoglyphics-

There’s a slamming noise as Sherlock appears in a way that would be magical if he didn’t crash directly into the doorframe. “That is the study of fingerprints and other bodily ridges and not a medication at all.” He strides forward, shouldering Greg out of the way- though Greg knows he doesn’t mean it as a slight, that’s just how he is, and Greg is to clear out now so Sherlock can bounce his words off John. 

“That was well done.” Mycroft stands in the living room, aloof from the frantic discovery happening in the bathroom (Sherlock has deduced the pills contain cypher keys and John is, as usual, telling him how brilliant he is). 

“Oh, yeah, well. I do know a few things.” 

“He does appreciate you as well, Inspector. I know he is not skilled at saying so, but he does.”

Greg smiles. “That’s nice of you to say.”

“It’s true. You wouldn’t be here at all if he didn’t have a high opinion of your skills.” Mycroft’s lips thin into a sort of smile of his own. “He’s simply only capable of verbal praise when it comes to John.”

“S’pose I can’t fault him that.” Mycroft makes a soft noise in assent. Soulmates , after all. No one would find that shocking. Except…. “Did you all find it odd? Your family, I mean. Sherlock seemed, you know. Surprised. When he found John.”

Mycroft’s gaze goes a little distant as he turns to study the bookshelf. “It was not something… valued… by our parents. They are of the opinion that actively looking for one’s universe-determined partner is a distraction from achieving great things.”

“Are they, ah- you don’t have to answer this- are they not bonded?”

A little shrug lifts Mycroft’s shoulders. “Mummy had a soulmark. A research partner of hers at university. He was hit by a car outside their lab. Our father expects his was meant to be a neighbor girl he’d been friendly with, but she passed when they were ten. Leukemia. They’re both… rather soured on the subject. I think they were relieved when they realized they weren’t bonded. Less… weight on the matter.”

The part of Greg that’s still a bit raw from his divorce can understand that. Surely he would have had an easier time of it if he hadn’t ended up with his soulmate, just for her to find another soulmate of her own she liked better? But there’s still a part of him that’s seen too many other people happy to cast the whole lot aside. Just because it didn’t work out for them, or with him and Vera, doesn’t mean it’s bad. “They met John? ‘Cause, and I know I’m an outside view, but Sherlock’s been loads better since they found each other. Haven’t even had to drugs bust him in months, and he’s been aces with Sherlock’s work as well.”

“Yes, I suppose there is that.” Mycroft’s face is even more inscrutable than usual. “They haven’t met him. I doubt they will unless Sherlock elects to visit them himself, and that is unlikely in the extreme.”

“But they… they do know Sherlock’s found a soulmate, yeah?” 

Mycroft shrugs. “Possibly not.”

Greg can’t imagine. When he’d met Vera, he’d told everyone he knew within a day of the marks showing up. Hell, he showed off to people at the fucking grocery . Every comedy show on the telly has some bit about insufferable friends or neighbors who spend every waking second telling anyone in earshot that they’ve met their soulmate , haven’t you heard , look at the color. But there was the other side of the gossip too, the kind where busybodies said things like did you hear her marks are too small/too big/too dark or my goodness that’s a hideous shade of green. And there’s always a couple tawdry dramas on telly about friends who play a game of “blind touch” and then end up with four or six or seven people turning up with marks and no idea who their partner is as all their parents judge them for being too liberal with their hands while they dramatically wait for the signs of their partner’s pattern to come in and tell them which friend it is they’re meant to be with.

He supposes he can understand why Sherlock of all people might keep it under wraps.

“We’re looking for books,” the man himself announces, striding back into the living room. “Something he could have hidden a diary inside. Hard copies, I imagine, he would know the risk of digital storage. It might be written in the margins of an existing text- something to do with Greek mythology or history, judging by the content of the ciphers.”

Sherlock and John go directly to the bookshelves, scanning the titles, but Greg just looks to Mycroft. “You’re the expert in this sort of stuff. Anywhere else we should be looking?”

Mycroft lifts a brow and turns opposite Sherlock to look over Melas’s desk. “Something accessible, but innocuous. He wouldn’t want it to be the sort of thing taken by anyone looking to steal information- not an address book, then, or anything that would invite curiosity on its own. This is his insurance policy, not something he’d expect to be found even by my people.”

“Reckon he didn’t count on you, then.” 

Mycroft’s eyes flick back over, and a quick smile flits through his expression. “Flattery, inspector.”

“Truth, Mycroft.” Greg grins, wandering toward the kitchen. If anything obvious or in view of the camera outside is out, that’d be most of the desk. He can sense Mycroft behind him, and he has the oddest sense that Mycroft is following him , watching Greg work instead of looking for himself. It’s… intriguing, in that gut roiling kind of way he used to get when there was someone about he fancied, which… yeah, alright, maybe he does think Mycroft is kind of handsome and brilliant and worth impressing. “You know I bet you’d find the answer first.”

“I think I have, inspector. But I am curious about your own skills, so I would like to see if you reach the same conclusion.”

He’s already solved it? Greg glances over his shoulder at Mycroft's inscrutable expression, giving nothing away. Right, but- not the desk. Somewhere he can see, though. So- yes, in here was right. Kitchen. Where do you hide a diary in a kitchen? 

His eyes drift up to the dusty cookbooks. They look rarely used, a think layer of grey coating them, and he thinks that rules them out: Melas’s correspondence was recent, if he wrote about it there’d at least be fingerprints in the dust, or more likely no dust at all, if he kept it up carefully. Much like….

Much like the recipe box tucked beside the knife stand. He opens, flipping through the partitions. American, French… Greek. He glances over his shoulder and feels a pleased thrill rush through him when Mycroft nods. “Well done, inspector. Sherlock? I believe you’ll find your answer here, brother mine.”

Sherlock swoops in, pointedly ignores both his brother and Greg as though he found the clue himself, and with John’s help he decodes the “handwritten recipes” in the Greek section, carefully stuck between magazine cutouts that constitute the entirety of the actual cooking material in the box. Each seems to be a record of business transactions- the cryptography work Melas has done for hire, outside of his contracted work with universities and Mycroft’s people. 

After a flurry of deductions that Greg starts to have trouble following, especially when Mycroft and Sherlock begin to bounce those enormous brains off each other at a speed too fast for mere mortals to follow, they somehow end up piled into Greg’s car and heading to a house in Beckenham as Sherlock continues to rattle off details as he gleans them from the recipe box, comparing each little notecard with the ciphers hidden in the pills. “There’s references here to a Sophie Kratides- a woman he believed was being held against her will. I believe they were attempting to force Mr. Melas to decrypt a code built by her brother Paul, but Melas refused. He had some idea of what the code was- it sounds like something from another intelligence agency. Possibly Greek intelligence. The main flaw they’d encountered was their own stupidity- it hadn’t yet occurred to them that the code might not be in English.”

The cards shift as Sherlock shoves some of them into John’s hands so he can keep reading the rest. “It sounds as though they attempted to force the brother to give up the code first, with harm to Sophie serving as a threat for his cooperation, but he fought back. When Melas saw them, Paul was already badly injured. Melas believed both their lives to be in immediate danger, moreso than his own.”

“He would have tried to reach out to us, if he thought someone was at risk,” Mycroft notes, taking each card as Sherlock casts it aside. “Or sabotaged the effort to buy them more time.”

“Do you think that’s why they took him?” Greg asks, subtly pressing his foot a little harder against the accelerator. His gloves feel too hot with all the adrenaline in his system, but he’s used to it by now. He wouldn’t take them off for driving, anyway.

“He still might have run,” John points out, but Sherlock waves his fingers from the backseat, dismissing it.

“Even if he did, they’ve found him on the way. Besides, Melas was contracted to the security services with some regularity. Running and vanishing would not be a feasible option, it is far more likely that he was attempting to reach out to my brother’s nefarious, nameless thralls when he was taken.”

“How much danger do we think he’s in, here? And the others?” Greg asks, the leather in his gloves creaking as he tightens his grip on the wheel.

Sherlock’s gaze in the rear view is dark. “Quite a lot.”

The Holmes brothers sort out a far chunk of the rest of it before Greg pulls up to the house, but he doesn’t follow all of it. It’s all spies and codes and Ancient Greek and he’s certain it makes sense to them, but it doesn’t matter for him. All that matters is finding Melas and the Kratides siblings before their captors decide they have no more use for any of them.

The Belstaff whirls out of the rear door before Greg has even fully parked, John just behind him, running for the property. Sherlock says he can smell gas and Greg is inclined to believe him even if he can’t detect a thing- he’s seen Sherlock’s tobacco smoke log, the man’s got a nose like a bloodhound. He’s about to follow when he hears a shout from a woman, screaming from just around the corner of the house. Her hand is held out, scrabbling at the air as she’s carted away like a sack over a large man’s shoulder. “Paul! Help him, they’re killing him!”

Greg jogs toward them as Sherlock and John dive into the house in the direction she’d pointed, looking for Melas and Paul. “Oi! Police, drop the girl!”

Somewhat predictably, he’s rewarded for his efforts by getting a knife brandished in his face. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.” He shifts into a defensive stance. The Met gives training on this, and it’s not like it’s the first time, but it’s never exactly a good thing. 

Fortunately, it seems Sophie is not partial to being dragged off, as she offers her input by soundly whacking the man upside the head several times with a closed fist until he finally drops her and Greg sees his opening to dart closer and get the knife off of him. He can just see Mycroft out of the corner of his eye swooping in to help Sophie get away, and he has just enough time to think that Mycroft’s braver than Sherlock gives him credit for before his whole mind has to focus on the fight. It’s not pretty, but without the knife in hand it’s only fisticuffs and it’s quite possible that Sophie concussed the idiot herself, seeing as he’s got a wobble in his step. It doesn’t take Greg long to finish the job, knocking the man down to the damn grass.

He turns, panting. Mycroft is getting Sophie to the car, but there’s a small man coming behind him- another man with a knife-

“Mycroft!”

The elder Holmes turns just in time, catching the blade in his gloved hand before the man can jam it past him and get to Sophie. Greg watches Mycroft wince as he reaches back, grip still hard over the knife, and murmurs something to Sophie. She hands him the hilt of his umbrella and he pulls, and suddenly he has a sword.

Greg was never going to run over in time, but he doesn’t need to. Mycroft runs the sword through his assailant and watches him fall, and if Greg weren’t looking at his widened eyes he’d never suspect he was anything but cool and calm about the entire affair. It’s- sort of shockingly attractive, in an alarming sort of way.

Back at the house, Sherlock and John are dragging one man out as another walks in a daze behind them. Sophie runs out of the car and to the man they’re holding- he must be the brother, judging by the resemblance between them. They have it under control, clearly, and Sherlock’s obviously launching into his favorite sport: explaining to everyone how he knows everything and is most assuredly smarter than them while John handles the actual work of calling an ambulance.

So Greg walks to the car instead, his heart a little in his throat, pulling off his gloves. S’probably a bad idea, but. Can’t hurt to try, I s’pose. “That was daring, Mycroft.”

“Well.” Mycroft huffs, though Greg is dead certain the aloofness is a cover for being genuinely surprised by the entire affair. “Needs must.”

“You’re bleeding, you realize.” He can see the gash carved into Mycroft’s glove, the red leaking through it. “Can I help? I can get the medical kit out of the back, there’s gloves in that too, if….” It’s polite to offer, etiquette would say, to give Mycroft the option of saying no because letting the contact happen, in the circles of people who wear gloves, is as good as saying I wouldn’t mind if it’s you. 

And Greg finds he wouldn’t mind. Not at all. So he’s offering.

“You… don’t need to bother with that.” 

A smile lifts the edges of Greg’s lips. You wouldn’t mind either. “Alright,” he breathes.

He peels the glove back slowly, careful of the cut. This is medicine, first. Anything else would be a pleasant bonus. Not that he’s hoping- well, maybe he is hoping. Mycroft had been kind today, and funny, and brave. 

So yeah, maybe he’s hoping after all.

It’s not a bad cut, fortunately. “You might need stitches, you know.”

“Quite possibly.” 

He can see the edge of a gold curl just reaching around from the back of Mycroft’s hand. It’s enough to make him still, wondering if he’s misread things so poorly, that maybe it’s not that Mycroft is alright with him but that he’s already got a soulmate and he’s not worried about any competition-

“It’s a tattoo.”

Greg’s eyes drift up. The squeezing in his heart is a complicated thing, unsure where to land. He reaches closer, lets his thumb drift across the mark. There’s a slight ridge to it, the color pale. It’s a good facsimile, but not quite as dynamic as a real mark. “A tattoo?”

“For missions. When I used to occasionally visit the field for the benefit of Her Majesty’s intelligence.” Mycroft’s voice is soft, far gentler than Greg’s ever heard him speak before. “A small, faint soul mark can mean quite a lot. A new relationship, or one that’s strained. It’s useful for situational cover identities. And intelligence personnel are always encouraged to date within the ranks, so….”

So they won’t mind if it’s not real.

“Do you? Mind it?”

“I am… used to it.”

Greg nods. He can imagine the issues inherent there. People who would think if he tried to date he was cheating on someone else. He knows he doesn’t like looking at his own lingering grey streaks, maybe Mycroft is the same. But Greg caresses the little coil of gold all the same. I don’t mind, alright? I don’t. “You never said, earlier. What you thought about soulmates. Said what your parents think, but not what you do.”

Mycroft blinks at him, cheeks a little pink. “I suppose it’s always seemed a bit much to hope for.”

“But not impossible?”

“Very few things are impossible, Gregory. Merely… implausible.”

“I see. S’alright, you know. If you want to be a bit romantic about it. I won’t tell.” Greg grins, and Mycroft’s smiles quietly back. He knows neither of them will say anything too forward- it’s foolish to hope at their age, foolish to think the odds might work in their favor. Then again, Greg’s been a fool for years, he’s not going to stop now. “Okay. I’m going to get the med kit.” He smiles. “Ready?”

Mycroft nods. That’s the thing with marks, it’s not the first contact that brings them up- it’s breaking it. Half the greatest love stories in the world are dedicated to people making that first brushing touch by accident and not noticing their marks until later. 

It’s no wonder the upper classes have always been stringent about it. 

“Okay.” Greg exhales, and lifts up his hand.

For the span of a heartbeat there’s nothing. He can feel a ‘well that’s alright then’ rising to his lips and knows he’s going to have to work not to sound disappointed that nothing’s happened.

Then the burn starts. It’s a sort of tingly ache, but Greg knows it. 

He’s felt it before. 

Scientists say it’s just the cells starting to rewrite themselves, making the necessary accommodations for pigmentation to leak through. The touching hand always gets it first, and the other usually develops a symmetrical pattern to it within a week. It’s some kind of reaction to a soulmate’s physical presence, and there’s been hypotheses that it’s tied to the potential of separation, some kind of biological note urging you not to forget who you love.

And Greg loves. He can feel it writing itself into his bones. You are mine. I’m yours.

Mycroft makes a quiet, surprised gasping sound, holding his hands out like he’s not sure they’re attached to the right person. Greg reaches for him at once, clasping his uninjured hand. “Oh my god, Mycroft. Holy shit.”

“I- goodness, I don’t know what to say.”

Greg does. “Can I take you to dinner?”

A startled noise escapes Mycroft that might be something close to laugh, like he’s shocked he’s even in a position to be asked. “Yes?”

“Alright.” Greg grins like a loon, unable to hold it in at all. “I know it’s sudden- I can, you know, court you-”

Mycroft cuts him off with an amused lift of the brow. “If you are trying to get around to asking if you can kiss me, inspector, the answer is yes.” 

For all that Greg usually curses the Holmesian ability to read him like an open book, this one time he’ll admit it works in his favor. “It’s Greg, if I get to be kissing you, Mycroft.”

“Greg,” Mycroft murmurs back. “I am going to have to insist on the kissing now, please.”

Greg grins wider and pulls his newfound love in. He tries to be gentle, but Greg’s honestly too excited to be truly soft. He wants to wrap Mycroft up and take him home just to hold, talk with him for hours and learn everything Mycroft’s willing to tell him. 

Mycroft kisses back like a man who’s been dying of thirst in a desert has just been offered water. It’s as though the contact has unlocked a font of desire to touch within him, and his hands explore everything they can within the bounds of propriety. He pulls at Greg’s lapels, caresses the slight curve of his hip, and Greg finds himself sighing contentedly into Mycroft’s mouth.

There’s a sense of completeness to it that Greg had never had with Vera. Maybe she’d been the right person for him when he was young, but Mycroft is right for the man he’s become. His body feels like it’s suddenly found a missing limb, a part of him that was meant to be connected to him that he’d never realised he was missing.

Neither of them pay much attention when Sherlock makes an outraged noise somewhere behind them and announces he’s calling a cab because he refuses to ride in a car oozing that many teenage hormones, or John clearing his throat and saying he’ll just text Anthea to come get Melas, or the ambulance arriving to take the Kratides siblings to the A&E, or Anthea arriving to pick up their wayward cryptographer for a debrief. None of that seems as important as keeping Mycroft in his arms.

“Should we look?” he murmurs into Mycroft’s mouth when they both come up for air. Mycroft nods, and they pull away from each other just enough to look down at their hands. 

Greg’s fading grey vines have been consumed by coppery flames spread from his knuckles to his wrist, where there’s a hint of another, paler color already coming in. He glances to Mycroft’s and finds a sequence of silver rings that have coated his tattoo entirely, leaving only the raised ridges of the ink behind. At his wrist there’s a lick of flame, drifting down toward his hand. He smiles, stroking over the silver loops that mark Mycroft as his. “Still need to make sure that cut is treated.”

“Yes, I suppose I ought to.”

“Bet you have a private hospital for that sort of thing, don’t you.”

Mycroft’s lip lifts. He has a mischievous smile when he lets himself be free with it. Greg is greatly looking forward to seeing more of it in the future. “I may.”

“Well, you can give me directions while I drive you over there.”

“Is this part of your courting, Gregory?”

“That’s right, and if you’re very good for the doctors I might even get you dessert after dinner.” Greg holds open the car door, beckoning Mycroft in. 

When they pull out of the lane, Greg catches Mycroft looking at him with a bit of awed apprehension, a nervousness that’s leaked through his otherwise calm exterior. “You aren’t deducing that I’ve had something you hate for lunch, are you?”

“Are you- are you only taking care of me because you are… obligated?”

Greg’s eyes flick off the road and back again. “Because we’re soulmates?”

“Yes.”

“No.” He reaches a hand over blindly but finds Mycroft’s anyway, carefully touching his wrist to keep away from the cut in his palm. “Mycroft, I’ve liked you for a long while. Even when I hardly knew you, I knew you to be an intelligent, caring man, no matter what your brother says. Being soulmates just means I get to snog you as well as liking those things about you.”

“I… felt the same, you know. I can’t imagine there are too many who’d have the patience to tolerate just one of us, and you took so well to both….” Greg can feel the smile lift his voice, and he glances off the road again just to see it. “I should have deduced it. Of course my soulmate would be able to deal with Sherlock as well as you.”

“Can’t really blame yourself, there. Soulmates aren’t really the sort of thing that plays nicely with strategic analysis.”

“True.” Mycroft leans across the car, resting his head on Greg’s shoulder. “Where shall you be taking me to dinner?”

“A&E first. Then we’ll talk about dinner.” He turns his lips in, kissing the top of Mycroft’s head and catching the faintly pine scent of his hair. “Don’t you worry, love. I’ll take care of you.”