The shimmer was almost hesitant as he closed in on it, weakening, merging more into the room’s weak sunlight. Greg reached out, just the one hand, his ringed hand. Whispered, “Wait.”
They didn’t feel like much, in his experience. They were doorways. But this one was nevertheless resistant, pushing back against him. Refusing him.
“I don’t think so,” he whispered to it, and stepped into it bodily. For a long moment, he felt suspended. Caught, held between. But he had rights. With gentle persistence, coaxing the world into what he wanted it to be, Greg stepped through, the shimmer in his eyes giving way to a slowly thinning fog.
The tall, nondescript buildings rose above him. He stood still, in the center of the empty street, waiting for the lights to catch. The sky was heavy and low, and mist clung to his eyelashes.
Flickering above and to the right--the first streetlamp caught, then another; yellow light streaming into the clearing night. Greg blinked water away, licked it from his lips when it streamed down his face.
He walked. Footsteps echoing, breath loud in his ears. So very quiet. The windows he peered into, even those that were lit, were empty. Scenes out of a movie: the glittering nonsense of a jewelry store, unnatural stillness of a silent diner. He drew his hand over one cold, wet window; felt the world shiver around him.
Touched it again with his palm, smiled. Breathed onto it. “Here, Mycroft. I’m here. Where are you?”
He had his attention. Greg wandered toward a lit doorway, marking an empty pub. The soft sound of footsteps in the alley nearby, and he veered to have a look.
The electric shock of Mycroft’s hands on his arms, pushing him back against the high alley wall, stole his breath as surely the knock against brick. Greg tried to push back once; his wrists grabbed and held hard against the wall for his trouble.
“Now I have you to deal with, too?” Mycroft whispered. Their rings scraped together with a sound like crystal, like chimes. “Go home, Gregory.”
His mind, his world. His words shook Greg, resonated in his bones. But he shook his head. “No.”
“No,” Mycroft repeated, leaning close, breath warm and sweet on his face. He pushed Greg’s wrists harder into the wall. “Then I suppose I’ll have to keep you safe my way.”
Into the wall. Greg’s eyes opened wide; he turned to see what he could feel. His hands sinking into brick, held in it, cold and hard and formed perfectly around them. He twisted, a whine of panic rising in his throat as they didn’t move, as he yanked and wriggled and couldn’t at all break free.
“Hush,” Mycroft said, and petted his arms, his gaze following their descent. “You’ll be fine.”
“Yeah?” Greg managed to whisper, still twisting helplessly. “Will I? What about right now? I’m not fine.”
“You’ll be safe,” Mycroft said, starting to frown.
Greg laughed then, harshly, without mirth. “Safe? I’m stuck in a fucking wall in your mind! What about that sounds safe?”
“No,” he said loudly, with all the force he could muster. “You can’t do this. You--you can’t be this, Mycroft, please--”
Cut himself off as Mycroft started to back away from him, and hooked his leg around the back of Mycroft’s knee. “Don’t you dare. Don’t you leave me like this--”
“If you would go home--”
“I love you!” Greg cried out, the words bursting out of him, drawing tears of anger and fear with them. “You can’t do this! You can’t lie to me; you can’t leave me! I love you!”
The shock in Mycroft’s face made him falter, took his breath away. He spoke again in a whisper. “I’m not a toy, am I? Not a pretty little ornament to leave in a drawer. Don’t leave me here. Don’t let me be without you.”
The distance held for one long, terrible moment. Then Mycroft was leaning on him, mouth desperate and warm, arms curling around him. And Greg could return the favour, could wrap his own arms around Mycroft, hold him so close that all he could feel was warmth. Not alone. Not left behind.
“Come with me, then,” Mycroft whispered, and Greg hooked his fingers into Mycroft’s belt.
Open to it, the line drew him in, the strange beach asserting itself as the city faded. Mycroft held the lantern aloft, nodded to the ground. Footsteps in the gritty sand.
“Yours,” Greg murmured. They stood close, a foul breeze drifting in from the brackish water. Mycroft nodded once, then tucked his face into Greg’s shoulder to breathe deeply. Greg followed suit.
“We have to go that way.” He made it a statement, though it was a question. Better to take all caution here.
“Try turning around,” Mycroft whispered, and turned with him. The world spun crazily, or perhaps his mind did, but having turned 180 degrees, he was facing the same way. Footsteps leading forward. Sea again to his left; a vast, desert beach to his right.
He risked a glance at the sky. High, thin grey clouds, boiling over each other in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. A vague sort of yellow-grey light. He interlaced his fingers with Mycroft’s and held tight.
“It was an effort, what it did,” Mycroft said, voice very low. Greg leaned close to hear it. “Erasing you. Meant to confuse you.”
“Mm.” The smell of salt undercut the rancid, rotten odour, and Greg looked more closely at the sea. It was a sea; a ring of purification around the core. To keep out any visitors, he knew suddenly. Marriage had truly been Mycroft’s only way.
“Would have taken you after it left you to wander alone a day or two. Didn’t expect it would need to preserve energy.” A delicate snort. Mycroft was not impressed. “When its work was shattered, it nevertheless needed rest. So here we come, while the monster is sleeping...”
In the beach, dipping low under the featureless sand, was the opening of a cave. Greg’s hand tightened on Mycroft’s, surely to the point of pain.
“You could go home,” Mycroft said pointedly.
“I really don’t think I could,” Greg said simply. They stepped into its maw together.
The smell was worse. Greg kept his free hand to his face, breathing shallowly through his mouth. Though the air tasted foul as well. Something had been rotting here for centuries.
Water came up over their shoes, danced sluggishly about their ankles. The chill cut through to the bone. The faint blue light of the lantern revealed an obscene, organically shaped cavern: the arch, the roof of a mouth, leading back to a distended throat. Either the shadows were moving, or the walls themselves were contracting and expanding in an irregular rhythm.
He choked a bit; gagged as something thick slid down the wall to his right. Pressed in closer to Mycroft.
“It’s trying to upset you,” Mycroft whispered. “To keep you distracted, stressed.”
“Working,” Greg choked out, and felt a scream lodge in his throat as the sliding mass hit the floor with a flat, slithery splat. It looked pink, and raw, and it quivered.
“We are closer.” It was meant to be reassuring. He heard the slither continue; heard it roll wetly on the damp cave floor. Following. Terror prickled under skin. It had been so very, very awful to see it, but not to see it--
The puddle he stepped in was deep. Greg cried out as his leg sank to the knee; his foot still didn’t reach the bottom. Mycroft let go of his hand--let go; some part of Greg shrieked like it was dying--and wrapped his arm around Greg’s waist, hauling him up. Shoved the lantern into his hand and pulled the knife, gleaming redly, from its hidden sheath under his jacket.
For a moment, his warmth was all around Greg, his clean, cold scent filling Greg’s world--
The cave was gone. Greg stood alone, water still dripping down his leg, in a room--in an attic, tall sloping ceiling, all greyish wood and a window looking out over the sea. Glass yellowed, dirty with sand and salt. Shadowed and empty.
The voice behind him, wet and whispery. “Welcome home.”