Adrenaline runs, hot and demanding, down Mycroft’s spine. “Sherlock – Anthea – this is my flat – who the –”
“Henny, please, breathe,” says a tall, sweet-faced man with long shining hair. He’s wearing a grey jersey dress, a denim shirt, and ankle boots with a chunky heel. He steps forward and puts his hand on Mycroft’s arm. “We do not need to start this with a heart attack. Come and sit –”
Mycroft shakes him off. “Explain this intrusion, now. Please bear in mind that I can have several teams of fully-armed and highly-trained agents here in under two minutes. I advise you to speak quickly.”
“Oh, baby,” purrs the man, tucking his arm under Mycroft’s. His accent has shifted to a Southern American drawl. “They told me you were a James Bond, and I will be your Bond girl, if you want me. I look damn good in a bikini.”
Several of the men roll their eyes and smile. A tall, muscled – muscled, oh good Lord – black man steps forward, his manner cool and confident. He holds out a hand. “I’m Karamo. And we’re the Fab Five.”
Mycroft blinks. He does not take the proffered hand. “I have so far heard nothing which will prevent me from having you escorted from the premises.”
“The Fab Five?” says an impeccably-groomed young man with soft, sweet brown eyes and a delicate, clean-cut jaw. Mycroft tries very hard not to be reminded of Detective Inspector Lestrade. “From Queer Eye?”
Mycroft simply raises one eyebrow. The effect is utterly spoiled by the man holding his arm, who moans theatrically and leans in close. “Do that again, honey. Do it all night, for me.”
A small man with bright silver-grey hair steps forward, and again Mycroft’s thoughts flick to Lestrade. He, too, holds out his hand, and this time Mycroft dazedly takes it. “Queer Eye, the TV programme,” says the man, and his voice is different: British, Pakistani heritage, if Mycroft is not mistaken. “On Netflix. Your brother signed you up for it.”
Mycroft shakes his head. “I cannot – I work for –”
“Mmmm,” purrs the man holding his arm, leaning his head against Mycroft’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, we know you’re a spy. We have been told.” He mimics an appalling British accent on the last few words.
The British man smiles. “I’m Tan. Your – Anthea replied to us when the show tried to contact you to get consent. I don’t think your brother had anticipated that process. She told us that we couldn’t – for obvious reasons – film you.”
“But,” says Karamo, with a calm smile, “she did say you need some help. She made a very generous donation to the show, in return for which, Netflix were happy to fly us over here a week before our British Edition dates were due to start.”
“So we’re yours for the next week,” says the beautiful young American man with melting brown eyes.
“All. Yours,” purrs the man holding his arm. “As my future husband, I feel you should know my name. It’s Jonathan. I cannot wait to just get my fingers all tangled up in your hair.”
Tan purses his lips against a smile, watching Mycroft’s face carefully. “Down, girl,” he murmurs gently, giving Jonathan a soft look. “Mycroft and I are going to go and have a chat in his beautiful, beautiful wardrobe. Believe me,” he assures the rest of them, “I think I’m going to be sat with my feet up this week, watching you lot.”
“Yeah, whereas I,” says the brown-eyed boy, “have my work cut out.” He opens the fridge, its unforgiving light bright in the dimly-lit room. “There’s literally not even ketchup in here. Not even a rotting onion or something. Is this fridge entirely new?”
“Leave my husband alone –”
“Bobby. With me,” murmurs Tan, directing Mycroft with a gentle touch to the elbow.
In the walk-in wardrobe, Mycroft takes a slightly weak-kneed seat. “Explain,” he says, again. “Anthea –”
Bobby and Tan sit next to one another on the bench that Mycroft sits on to put on his shoes in the morning.
“Anthea told us you spend every moment working,” says the man named Bobby, head on one side.
“I have a responsible –”
Tan nods, kindly. “She said you don’t accept help. That you work, instead of living a fully-rounded life. That you have a whole team ready to support you at work, but that you prefer to take on more yourself.”
Mycroft opens his mouth, and shuts it again. “Setting aside this unpardonable insubordination by a junior colleague – which will be dealt with – what can that possibly have to do with you?” he asks, at last.
Bobby and Tan look at one another, then smile at him.
“We’re just here to help,” says Bobby.
“On the show, I look at people’s clothes,” says Tan. “How they present themselves to the world.”
“I look at their home space,” says Bobby. “How they’re living. If it’s serving who they really want to be.”
“Jonathan does hair and styling,” says Tan, with a smile. “Seems like he’s already got some plans for you.”
Mycroft has to make a conscious effort to bring his eyebrow back down from its permanently-raised position. It’s starting to hurt.
“Gorgeous Karamo is all about culture and confidence,” adds Tan, calmly.
“And Antoni’s going to fill your fridge,” says Bobby sweetly. “I think I can still hear him having a panic attack over your complete lack of food.”
“Honestly I genuinely don’t know if I’m needed,” says Tan, gently. “You clearly have a love for clothes. Especially fine tailoring. I could live in here for the rest of my life, and be happy.”
“The shoes,” says Bobby, twisting in his seat to look at the far wall.
“Oh, God, don’t,” groans Tan. He puts a hand on Bobby’s knee. “Could you go see how the others are doing? I just want to have a quick chat with our man.”
Bobby pats Tan affectionately on the cheek and leaves, closing the bedroom door gently behind himself. In the distance, Mycroft can hear shrieks and raucous laughter.
Tan leans forward, dark brown eyes soft and warm. “You okay, Mycroft?”
Mycroft just blinks at him.
“I know we can be a bit – overwhelming, to start with,” says Tan, with a smile. “And – I wanted a chat with you because I know they others are very American, very loud, but I promise you, every single one of them has their heart in the right place. They just – we just, all of us – want to make sure you’re living the happiest you can be.”
“I am – entirely unused to such –” Mycroft gestures feebly with one hand. “An intrusion of this kind –”
Tan nods, sympathetically. “’Course, yeah. But your brother, your colleague – they clearly think that –”
Mycroft shakes his head. “My brother will have done this out of spite alone,” he says, voice clipped. “Anthea’s motives are – less clear, though perhaps she merely favours extremely novel methods of resignation.”
Tan smiles, but his calm, poised demeanour remains unruffled.
Mycroft wonders if perhaps he’d like to work for MI6.
“So I see you favour the pin-stripe,” says Tan, looking over at the rack of suits. “And quite a loose shape. A very classic style. Have you tried any closer-fitting patterns?”
“So Tan tells me you think Sherlock did this out of spite,” says Karamo, sitting down on the sofa. They’re in the bar of Mycroft’s hotel, where Anthea had apparently made him a booking while his home is ‘transformed’. “Why would that be your brother’s motivation?”
“Are you a trained psychotherapist?” asks Mycroft, tone clipped.
“Do you already talk to a therapist?” asks Karamo, without hesitation.
“No,” says Mycroft, at last.
“Sounds like you have a difficult job and a complicated family situation, though,” says Karamo, watching him with piercing eyes. “Is there anyone you do unload to?”
Mycroft purses his lips. ‘Unload to’. Urgh. “No,” he says again. “I have no need of doing so.”
“Friends? Other family?” presses Karamo.
Mycroft looks away, shoulders drawn back, spine ramrod straight. “My brother is the only person with whom I could –” he does not finish the sentence. “Our – ‘relationship’ is not such that we could indulge in such idle chatter. There is no need to do so, in any case.”
“Everyone should have things they don’t strictly need, Mycroft,” says Karamo, eyes forthright, manner just a little challenging.
Part of Mycroft’s brain says: oh, wonderful, the bland greetings-card pronouncement of an amateur psychologist.
Another part has to clamp down, hard, on the sting of tears threatening to prickle behind his eyes.
“Anthea mentioned that you meet up with a friend every few weeks,” says Karamo, voice carefully neutral. “A policeman, she said? Greg Lestrade?”
Mycroft looks determinedly at the wooden floor. “A contact, merely. A friend of my brother’s – his mentor. He helped to –” he stops, biting his lip. Why am I telling him this? “He gave Sherlock purpose, in the midst of his – drug problem.”
Karamo takes a breath. “Damn, man, I’m sorry,” he says, gently. “That must’ve been hard for you.”
Mycroft doesn’t look up. He blinks. “Harder for those closer to him, I am sure.”
“Your parents?” asks Karamo.
Mycroft hesitates. “They were – unaware.”
There’s a silence.
“My brother’s wish.” Mycroft presses his lips tight. “I could not betray his confidence.”
Karamo says nothing for a moment. “So you dealt with it alone?”
Mycroft shakes his head, slightly. “As I say, there were others much more directly impacted than myself. My duties were mostly restricted to –” he swallows, “– surveillance. Detective Inspector Lestrade actually cared for Sherlock on a number of occasions, when he was –” he gestures.
“Wow,” says Karamo, wonderingly. “He – this Lestrade guy – really stepped up for you, then.”
Mycroft glances up. “For – Sherlock, yes,” he says, frowning. “He was extremely kind. Without the mental stimulation of the cases he involves Sherlock in even today, I am sure my brother’s fight against addiction would be still more tortuous.”
“Surveillance?” asks Karamo, tipping his head, looking at Mycroft askance. “Is that something you still –”
Mycroft looks away again. “My brother’s life is important to me, Mr Brown.”
Karamo leans forward, elbows on his knees. He seeks out Mycroft’s gaze. “Of course it is. But you’re not giving yourself a life, Mycroft. It doesn’t sound like your brother’s life is in danger any more. But yours is. And this is not the way to fight for it.”
Mycroft looks away, pursing his lips. There is no reason why I should engage with your uninformed statements.
He ignores the chip of ice that seems to sink slowly from his heart to the pit of his stomach.
“Now Bobby’s here because he needs to get to know you better,” says Tan, a hand on his friend’s back.
They touch one another so casually, so lovingly, all the time. Mycroft has never been in the company of so many openly gay men before. Their loud appreciation for – adoration of – one another confuses him, but he has caught himself having to suppress a smile on a number of occasions. They all seem to see so much beauty in one another, and yet none of them are romantically involved; they have spoken several times about long-term partners, husbands and children.
Tan looks around the wardrobe they’re standing in. “Are you gay?” he asks.
Mycroft swallows. No-one has asked him in – it must be fifteen years. “Yes,” he says, simply.
Tan nods. “So your wardrobe is obviously beautiful. I did wonder though – where’s your going out stuff?”
Going out stuff? Mycroft attempts not to allow surprise to show on his face. He clears his throat slightly. “What you see here serves me for all types of engagements.”
Tan and Bobby don’t look at one another. “Right, but – what if you’re just going to the pub with a friend or something?” asks Tan.
Mycroft looks quickly at the floor. There’s a moment of quiet.
“Where do you meet up with DI Lestrade?” asks Bobby.
Mycroft shoots him a curious look. “At my club.”
“Your club?” asks Bobby. “Oh my god. You actually are James Bond. Wait till I tell Jonathan about this. He’s probably going to drag you to chapel with handcuffs on.”
Mycroft tries very hard not to allow the corners of his mouth to twitch, but judging by the warm grins of the other two men, he fails.
Tan returns to the offensive. “You know you have a great body,” he says, and it’s not a question. “How old are you? Forties?”
“Forty-five,” says Mycroft, not allowing his feet to shift uncomfortably in the way they want to.
“You work out, right? I found –”
“I run, yes.”
“It shows, alright? You look great. All this leg.”
Bobby nods in the background.
“Some of these suits –” Tan sighs. “They’re so beautifully made. The attention to detail is just – mmm. But they must swamp you. Put this jacket on.”
He holds out a dark pinstriped jacket. Slowly Mycroft puts it on, not quite believing that he is allowing himself to comply with this process.
Tan moves in, buttoning up the jacket. “See, when it’s open, because you have all this long, gorgeous slim leg, I think it makes you look rather top-heavy and actually a little older than you are – I’d like you to try some more fitted styles. But also, even if it’s not about going out or whatever – what do you change into at the end of the day? You know to – put a stop to work? When you get home?”
Mycroft looks at the floor; presses his lips together. “I do not usually return home until the day’s duties are complete,” he says blankly. “At which point it is best to repair to bed.”
A few moments of quiet. “Okay, I hope you realise I am going to dob you in to Karamo for this,” says Tan. “And we’re also going to set you up with a few more chilled-out outfits for when you’re not at work.” He puts his hand, gently and briefly, on Mycroft’s arm. “We understood from Anthea that money isn’t really a problem, so I thought we’d do Liberty, and we can go to Selfridges after if we want.”
“So, I’m not coming with you,” says Bobby. “But – what do you do to relax, Mycroft? If you’re not at work, how do you choose to spend your time?”
Mycroft frowns, slightly. “I read. Listen to music. Occasionally – the opera.”
“I noticed there’s a piano in the living space. Do you play that?”
“Not for some years. It is out of tune, I am sure.”
“Are you good at it?”
Mycroft’s gaze drops to the floor. “I attained a level of proficiency at school, but since –” he shakes his head.
“Did you go to boarding school?” asks Tan. They’re in the back of Mycroft’s car. Jonathan is snuggled up to him, arm warm beneath Mycroft’s own. There are two pairs of beautiful brown eyes fixed on him, and the effect is rather disconcerting.
It has been two weeks since I last saw Lestrade for a catch-up.
Mycroft hesitates. From Tan’s accent, he’s relatively certain his own schooling will have been more expensive. He detests these conversations, well aware of his own privileged start in life. “Yes,” he says, at last.
Tan gives him a knowing look. “That can’t have been easy, being gay,” he says.
Mycroft blinks. “It hardly figured,” he says, slowly.
“Really, honey?” asks Jonathan. “Because it almost never doesn’t matter, at school.”
Mycroft looks down at his own hands, folded in his lap. “Bullying was rife,” he says, blankly. “Any number of reasons sufficed.”
Jonathan’s hand sneaks into his own and for some reason, Mycroft allows his hand to be squeezed, and then held, fingers interlaced.
“Like what?” asks Tan, quietly.
Mycroft swallows. “Above-average intelligence. Red hair. Excess – excess weight. My sexuality. Which was in fact entirely unexercised at that time,” he adds, wryly. “The only inducement being the boys at school, I did not find the prospect particularly appealing.”
Jonathan giggles. “Good for you. I fell for a quarterback. It was awful.”
“So when you went to uni and started work…” asks Tan. “How were you dressing, then?”
Mycroft glances up at him sharply. “Much as I do now.”
Tan gives him that unfazed look which once again makes Mycroft wonder how he’d fare as an agent. “So you started working for the government right after uni?”
“And you wanted to look – responsible? Trustworthy?”
Mycroft hesitates. “Yes.”
Tan nods, seemingly drawing conclusions. “Straight?”
There’s a silence. It extends, rather uncomfortably.
“My sexuality would not have been an advantage to me in the service, in those days,” says Mycroft.
“But you’ve got where you wanted to go, right?”
Slowly, Mycroft tips his head in a slight nod. “Yes.”
Jonathan squeezes his hand. “So are you really more like M than Bond? Because honestly, the Ralph Fiennes M could get it, I’m just saying. Also, can you really not just stop Brexit?”
Jonathan, it turns out, has an astute interest in world politics that provides ample food for conversation until they arrive at Liberty.
“So you tend to avoid large blocks of bright colour,” says Tan, as they stand in the designer men’s section of the luxurious department store. “And honestly, I have no idea why. I know you have an eye for it – the choices you make for your ties and pocket squares are great, you even play with pattern there, and it’s beautiful – but with your colouring, you could really go for some great variety. I know most suits for work are going to default to grey, black or navy, but since that’s your comfort zone – which is great, most men I meet wouldn’t dream of their comfort zone being a suit – I think we should explore a couple of other options. Like I said, some slimmer-cut, more modern-looking styles, but also less formal: some tweeds, maybe mix in some check, some browns and light grey-blues to really set off your russet colouring –” he claps. “Right. I’m going to enjoy this. I think I’m going to learn as much from you as you do from me.” He takes hold of Mycroft’s arm. “First thing – I think we should rip the plaster off – let’s put together an outfit for just relaxing. For when you’re at home, or going for a walk, or just chilling out, okay?”
Unwillingly, Mycroft allows himself to be drawn towards a bright section of the store.
“So, judging from your suits and shirts and things, I think that texture and fabric are really important for you. So I’d love to see you with a beautiful capsule wardrobe of the basics that you need for, say, a relaxing weekend, but in really lovely fabrics that make you feel luxurious, even though you’re not as formal. Okay?”
Somewhat dazed, Mycroft nods. Much as he hates to admit it, the man can read him well, sartorially.
“So with your delicate colouring –”
“– Which, by the way, mmmmm, I am going to let that glorious red beauty glow out, baby –” interjects Jonathan, trying on a hat.
“– yeah,” resumes Tan, with a smile. “So lilacs and dove greys and soft blues will always be your friend, but actually jewel tones will look great too. Turquoises and even the right kind of burgundy will absolutely work.” He plucks up a lightweight merino wool jumper in a dark turquoise colour. “We definitely have to try this. It’s beautiful and light, it’ll sit nice and slim to you so it won’t add bulk or make you look top-heavy, and it’s got this really interesting neck shape, just a little higher than usual which means you could wear it on its own if you wanted, or it would work really nicely with an open or a slightly non-traditional collar.”
They work around the shop, until Tan’s arms are full of jumpers, shirts and tops for Mycroft to try on. And, at last –
“So,” says Tan coming to a halt. “Do you own any jeans? I couldn’t find any.”
“No,” says Mycroft decidedly.
“Okay…” says Tan. “I’m sensing a bit of resistance, here.”
Mycroft purses his lips, looking into those deep brown eyes. He winces, slightly. “Unflattering garments,” he says, stubbornly.
“Oh, my god,” murmurs Jonathan, slipping his arms around Mycroft’s waist. “Baby, every girl should have herself a pair of jeans she loves. We’re going to find you yours.”
“You know what,” says Tan decidedly. “Normally I’d work with you but – you already have this prejudice. I’m just going to take some pairs in with us, in the right size, and you’re just going to let us show you, alright? If you hate them all, then we won’t buy them. But with your legs, jeans are the obvious choice. Nothing else will shows off those legs and that arse like they should be.”
“God, I’m so glad you mentioned his ass, at last,” chimes in Jonathan, willingly taking the pile of clothes from Tan so he can hunt for jeans. “Isn’t it just stunning? Did Tan say you run? Do you do squats too? I’m having trouble keeping my hands to myself, here.”
As Mycroft feels himself blush, Jonathan makes an unholy ohhhhawwoohhh noise which makes Mycroft want the floor to open beneath him.
“Tanny! Tanny! He blushes when you compliment him! Oh my god, I thought you were the cutest British person I know and now I just – oh my god!”
In the changing room, Tan pushes him into a spacious cubicle alone, with four pairs of jeans and a soft, long-sleeved dove-grey t-shirt.
“We’re starting gentle on the t-shirt, okay?” he says, through the plush curtain. “Let’s just keep that the same for now. But I want you to put on every pair of those jeans, and show us each one. You’re not going to trust how good they look but we’re here to help you pick, alright?”
Mycroft blinks, staring at his own reflection with utter disbelief. How is this happening to me? he wonders, for the thousandth time this week. But they’re unstoppable, a kind of force of nature. And – oh god – it feels good, just to let himself be…looked after. Their attention may be prying, it may have crossed every boundary he has by miles, but – but –
He sighs, and starts to strip off his suit jacket, shirt and tie.
He feels strange in the t-shirt. He doesn’t look like himself. He pulls on the first pair of jeans, which he fears are ‘skinny’. They certainly take a bit of coaxing over his knees. They are dark grey, and hug his outline quite alarmingly. With extreme reluctance, he opens the curtain.
Tan watches him with big, cautious brown eyes. “How do you feel?” he asks, gently.
Mycroft struggles to find the words. His skin is almost crawling with this act of showing himself off to others. There’s a thick, treacherous lump in his throat that he finds it hard to speak around.
“I do not – feel like myself,” he says, quietly, at last. It’s a struggle to say the words.
Tan puts his head on one side. Jonathan makes a soft noise of sympathy, and comes to take Mycroft’s arm. Together, they turn him towards a long, full-length mirror. Jonathan’s arm is around Mycroft’s waist, his head heavy against his shoulder. Tan’s hand lies in the centre of Mycroft’s back.
“This is just you, without your armour,” says Tan, gently. “You’ve worn it for years.”
“But you’re beautiful without it, too, honey,” murmurs Jonathan. “And you’re still you.”
Mycroft swallows, hard. Am I? Who am I, without it?
“And,” says Jonathan, arm tightening on Mycroft’s waist as he turns him, “look over your shoulder at that ass. Look. At. It. That baby just won’t quit, she is beautiful – if I didn’t think you could have me deported to a black site, I would slap that gorgeous peach.”
Tan giggles. “Seriously though – your legs – do you see how amazing they look, in this? Let’s get the outfit finished, because there’s entirely too much grey going on here right now – I know you love a beautiful shoe, so I thought these brogues, I love this bit of tweed texture against the patent – and let’s try this jumper –”
Once it’s finished, Mycroft looks at himself again, and this time, Jonathan’s exaggerated praise seems just a little less wildly wrong.
Tan gives him a proud, happy smile. “And what’s great is, you can repeat this exact look with the dark blue jeans – let’s try that now, but swap out these boots for the brogues. And with those jeans, we’re also going to try this.”
Mycroft boggles at the soft pink shirt.
“Seriously, you will be amazed,” says Tan, happily. “Now get back in there.”
When they leave, three hours and several thousand pounds later, they take all four pairs of jeans with them.
And the pink shirt.
“When was the last time you cooked dinner for yourself?” asks Antoni. He’s standing next to the fridge, which is now full to bursting with food.
Mycroft actually cannot remember. “I usually eat at my club,” he says, stiffly.
“Do you like to cook, though?” asks Antoni. “I just – you have a lot of stuff for cooking. And it looks used. Just not recently. I found a load of cookbooks in the bookshelves.”
Mycroft looks at the tiled kitchen floor. “I used to do more,” he admits. “Before work became –” he gestures, slightly, in lieu of finishing the sentence.
“So you do enjoy it?”
“Yes,” says Mycroft, quietly, and it’s true: he enjoys the precision, the calm of doing something so practical, so far removed from the demands of his day job.
“Why don’t you make time for it, then?” The question is quiet, gentle.
There are many things I do not make time for. Mycroft does not have a proper answer to give.
“You’re such a clever guy,” sighs Antoni. “But I feel like you deny yourself a lot.” He closes the door of the fridge and leans against it. “Jonathan said you used to have a weight problem at school.”
Mycroft’s eyes snap up. It feels like an attack.
Antoni holds out a placating hand. “We all talk about you,” he says, calmly. “We just want to help.”
Mycroft looks away, still bristling. He does not say anything.
“Do you always make time to eat?”
Mycroft’s voice is icy as he replies, “naturally.”
“What about breakfast?”
I could lie.
The minuscule hesitation is enough for Antoni, though. “I thought maybe not,” he says, gently. He puts a hand on Mycroft’s arm, waiting for him to look up, to make eye contact. “You know you’re very tall and slim, now, right?”
“With exercise and a controlled calorie intake –” says Mycroft, coldly.
“I don’t think you need to be as controlled as you are,” says Antoni. “And I definitely think you should be eating breakfast. I thought maybe we could go through some breakfast options for during the week, really nice healthy oatmeals and smoothies, maybe some breakfast bars – and then some more time-consuming options for the weekend. Like maybe you could invite someone over for brunch, or something.”
Jonathan leans into the kitchen. “Or invite them to stay for it,” he says, in a sultry voice. “I’m just saying. I’m available Friday night and Saturday morning.”
“Hey, man,” says Karamo, enveloping him in a hug as Mycroft steps from the back of his discreet black car.
Mycroft is surprised to find himself hugging the other man back. He has been overwhelmed with touch this week, and suddenly it feels more normal to give and accept affection. His heart catches with the realisation that, in a few days, his usual solitary normality will resume.
Karamo starts to walk him towards the entrance of the large, stately townhouse in front of them. “So this is actually a gym,” he says, with a smile. “I know it doesn’t look like one, but I wanted to find you a good one near your work, so you can come back here if you want to. I know you use the gym in your building for your running, but this place has – other stuff. Let’s go and take a look now.”
It is, it turns out, largely a boxing centre. As they approach the doors to a private ring and sparring centre, Mycroft hears Jonathan’s voice.
“Oh, here he is!” calls Jonathan, bounding towards him. He holds out a bag. “Tan sent you these. Don’t mind me, I’m just here because I saw his picture in Anthea’s file.”
Mentally adding the words ‘Anthea’s file’ to the list titled ‘Reasons for dismissal’, Mycroft glances over to where – oh, fuck. “Lestrade –” he hisses.
“Mmmm,” purrs Jonathan. “You didn’t tell us this cop you’ve been hiding was a smoking hot silver fox, honey.” His voice is terribly loud in the empty room, and Mycroft can see Greg’s huge grin.
“Jonathan –” he murmurs, weakly.
But Jonathan just drags him over to where Lestrade is shaking hands with Karamo.
“I love the show,” says Greg, with a huge smile. “You lot’ve made me cry more than once, I’m not ashamed to admit.”
“Awww,” says Jonathan, planting his hand on Greg’s shoulder, and squeezing it firmly. “And he’s in touch with his sensitive side, as well as having this really quite delightful physique.” He says the last few words in an appalling British accent, and Mycroft shoots him an agonised look.
“Alright, Mycroft?” asks Greg, with a smile. His eyes are soft, deep brown. Mycroft tries not to notice the way his charcoal-grey t-shirt clings invitingly to his toned biceps and chest.
“Lestrade,” he says in return, entirely failing to find his usual haughty tone.
“Right, you go and get changed, Mycroft,” says Karamo. “Then we’ll get started.”
“I’ll just be over here on the bench,” says Jonathan. “Watching.”
When Mycroft returns, Jonathan wolf-whistles him.
The workout kit that Tan had sent was not his own. Instead there are extremely form-fitting trousers and a thin, long-sleeved, dark-turquoise running top.
“That ass!” yells Jonathan, from the bench. Mycroft stares resolutely at the floor, trying not to blush – or make eye contact with Lestrade.
“So,” says Karamo, once Mycroft has joined them. “It was great to see that Greg knows how to box. When I saw that he’d boxed in the police for years –”
News to me, thinks Mycroft, feeling his own eyebrow twitch. He doesn’t look up.
“– I thought we should arrange something like this. See, Mycroft – you’re very self-reliant. Everyone says so, your brother, Anthea, Greg here. Seems like you need to learn to trust, to figure out that other people are there for you. And boxing – learning, and sparring – it’s all about trusting that the other person is going to be there for you. Challenging you, yes, but also picking up what you lay down. And it seems like Greg’s been doing that for years, with your brother. So you trust him, right?”
The question makes Mycroft breathless, for just a moment. He swallows. “Yes,” he says, at last, without looking up.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Lestrade shift, slightly.
“What about you, Greg?” asks Karamo. “You trust Mycroft?”
There’s a pause. “I’ve seen him supporting Sherlock for years, Karamo,” says Greg, gently. “In whatever way his brother’ll let him. An’ when –” he seems to be taking a breath. “When Sherlock was – gone for a while, he made sure I never – never saw any repercussions from it.” He sounds more determined, now. “He does everything he can for other people. When John an’ Sherlock dump Rosie on him at the last minute, he even –”
“Rosie?” asks Karamo. Mycroft can feel eyes seeking out his own. He refuses to meet them.
“His niece,” says Greg. “Sherlock and John’s little girl. He’s great with her.”
“You never told us about her,” says Karamo, to Mycroft.
“I am surprised Anthea’s file did not mention her,” says Mycroft, spikily.
“He likes everyone to think he’s made of ice,” says Greg, and it sounds like he’s smiling slightly. “But he’s not.” His voice is a little sadder as he adds, “just blood and bone like the rest of us. So I should show you how to get your hands wrapped up, Mycroft.”
Lestrade’s strong fingers dart over his, showing him how to tie the hand-wraps correctly. Mycroft struggles to remember how to breathe, attempting not to allow the extent of his discomposure to show.
Mycroft can’t say he’s looking forward to learning how to box. He’d been beaten up – casually, without any particular malice – a few times at school by the boys who enjoyed boxing. He has always associated it with a particularly brutish, mindless kind of activity.
He quickly discovers, however, that every movement must carry with it not only force, but astonishing precision. His eyes narrow as Lestrade urges him again to hit exactly the right spot on the boxing glove, arm muscles screaming with effort.
They take a break, and Karamo passes him a bottle of water. The footwork, it transpires, is also extremely precise.
Greg grins at him, and starts to hit back. They start teaching Mycroft how to duck and weave, although after a while Greg accidentally catches him on the cheek, causing Mycroft to gasp with surprise.
“God, you okay?” asks Greg, putting his gloved hand gently on Mycroft’s neck. His eyes are wide and brown and concerned. “Mycroft?”
“I am fine,” gasps Mycroft. He’s sweating, exhausted. “It was – a surprise. Nothing more.”
The clumsy glove pats him on the shoulder, then the cheek. “Good.” Greg smiles at him, warmly. “You’re doing great.”
“Not that I don’t love watching all you beautiful sweaty men,” calls Jonathan. “But MyMy and I have our date soon. I need him all shower-fresh.”
MyMy. Mycroft closes his eyes as Greg snorts a laugh.
“Can I call you that too?”
Mycroft opens his eyes, narrowing them at Greg. “Jonathan is a law unto himself. You, however –”
Greg grins, holding up his gloved hands. “Let’s do some stretches.”
Mycroft tries, desperately, not to stare at Greg’s arse, arms, chest, or back as they stretch out.
In the shower, he also tries not to think about them – and turns the temperature of the water as low as he can bear.
When he emerges from the shower, he can hear another running in a nearby cubicle. Thank god, this place is of high enough class that the shower cubicles are enclosed and fully private. Mycroft pulls on his clothes as quickly as possible, before finding a mirror at which to arrange his hair and complete the small details: collar, tie, pocket square, watch. It’s as he’s tipping his wrists for the cufflinks that Greg emerges from the shower, wrapped only in a white towel slung low on his hips. A trail of dark hair peeks above the level of the towel. Hipbones – shoulders – arms – nipples –
Mycroft swallows, mouth suddenly very dry.
Greg grins at him, and nods. “That was fun. Happy to do it again sometime, if you liked it.”
Mycroft tries to sort out any kind of coherent answer. “Yes,” is all he can manage, in the end.
“Great. You havin’ a good week?” calls Greg, from the changing room.
Has he dropped the towel? Is he getting dressed? Oh dear Lord. I cannot go back in there. “Certainly interesting,” says Mycroft, drily.
Greg laughs. “I bet. They seem like lovely guys.” He emerges into Mycroft’s line of sight, wearing only a pair of jeans. His hands are busy, turning a t-shirt the right way out. “D’you watch the show?”
Mutely, Mycroft shakes his head.
“You have to after this week. They’re amazing.” He finally turns the t-shirt the correct way out, and starts to pull it on over his head. “You c’n come over to mine if you want, we can watch it. You’ll just have to ignore me cryin’ though.”
Mycroft looks hurriedly down at the floor, not wanting to be caught staring. He clears his throat. “Thank you. I should –” he gestures to the door, then hurries to collect the gym kit he had left on the bench in the changing room. “And. Thank you for today,” he adds quickly, on his way out of the door.
“Henny!” screeches Jonathan, as soon as they have gained the sanctuary of Mycroft’s car. “That man! He is positively divine. You didn’t tell us he looked like a silver-fox dance-cage angel. He has the smile of an absolutely roguish daddy. My god.”
“Oh Christ,” mumbles Mycroft, putting both hands over his eyes. He’s too tired to pretend. “Jonathan, please tell me, honestly, exactly how sweaty and appalling I looked completing those exercises.”
Jonathan gasps. “Are you kidding me? Mycroft Holmes, I swear to god, you are a natural gay disaster. What in the world are you talking about? You looked so focused, so – rugged. It was turning me on, and from the look on Foxy Greg’s face, he can’t think of anyone he’d rather go ten rounds with between the sheets.”
“Please, Jonathan –”
Jonathan reaches over and pulls Mycroft’s hands away from his eyes. “Don’t you dare. He wants you. It was written in every single look he gave you. Oh, and, good news. He actually likes you, too. When he was talking about your brother, your niece – you should’ve seen the sexface he was giving you. He looks about ready to put a ring on it, honey.”
Mycroft’s heart pounds in his chest.
“I hardly know him,” he says, stuffily. “Additionally, he was married to a woman for twenty years.”
“Oh, I know,” says Jonathan, calmly. “You’ve only had about a decade of working together to keep your brother clean. And with the eyes he was giving you – if that man’s not bisexual, I don’t look like gay Jesus.”
Mycroft shoots him a look.
Jonathan entirely undermines it by grabbing his hand and gasping, “oh, his biceps, though, and when I felt his shoulder – he’s gonna be able to hold you up, honey, if you know what I mean –”
Jonathan cuddles in next to him at the salon, placing both hands on Mycroft’s face. “Right, you gorgeous British pumpkin,” he says, happily. “Today we’re starting Operation Ginger. Time to let go of all that horrible boarding school baggage. Here you are, this beautiful, slim, terrifyingly powerful stone-cold babe in a power suit – and yet you’re still dyeing the stunning red hair that could be your crowning glory.” He strokes a hand through Mycroft’s hair, fondly. “We are going to cut and style this, baby, strip out all this horrible dark dye, and you are going to feel a million dollars when I’m done, okay?”
Rather numbly, Mycroft nods.
Jonathan claps. “Wonderful. But first, after all that rugged, delicious activity you’ve just been doing – when was the last time you had a proper massage?”
Mutely, Mycroft shakes his head.
“Oh, honey. No wonder you look so tight. Let me introduce you to beautiful Lisa, who’s going to pummel you to pieces while I get the bits ready for your hair.”
She does. Mycroft doesn’t have a chance to feel self-conscious before he starts to feel muscles being stretched and pounded that he’d forgotten – or perhaps had never known – he had. At some point during the massage, Jonathan gently spreads what feels like conditioner through his hair. By the end of it, Mycroft might as well be a puddle on the table.
“Lisa, my darling, you are a wonder,” he hears Jonathan murmur; Mycroft allows himself to drift.
“Now, my gorgeous British husband-to-be,” says Jonathan, patting him gently on the back. “Time to get up and let me transform your hair.”
Slowly, Mycroft peels himself off the table, gets dressed, and lets himself be guided to a salon chair. His hair is washed, and Jonathan cuts it, chatting gently the while.
“So when exactly did you meet the stunning Lestrade?” he asks, at last.
Mycroft swallows, trying to order his thoughts. “Sherlock – had taken too much,” he says, quietly. “He was bored. He had taken to trying to solve cases the Met had failed to close – it just so happened that his way led him to an open crime scene for a different case. The Inspector did not see him, but his DS – Lestrade – did, and he actually listened to what Sherlock was saying. Their forensics team confirmed what Sherlock deduced. When Lestrade was promoted to DI shortly afterwards, he began to consult Sherlock. I – met him. Asked him to ensure that Sherlock would only be allowed to consult if he remained clean. Our interests coincided, since the Met would not be keen to be seen consulting a drug addict.”
“And after that?” asked Jonathan, brown eyes meeting Mycroft’s in the mirror. “You kept meeting him?”
“I – yes,” says Mycroft. “In order to hear news of my brother, primarily. He does not –” he gestures, slightly, and looks away.
“I read about Sherlock on the internet,” says Jonathan, teasing out a lock of Mycroft’s hair and snipping carefully at its end. “People thought he was dead for two years.”
Mycroft looks down at his own hands, folded in his lap. “Yes.”
“And Lestrade did too?”
“So you didn’t see him?”
“And afterwards, he knew you’d lied to him.”
“To – to protect Sherlock, yes. And to protect him. There was an extremely dangerous criminal concerned in the matter.”
“Oh, honey. He didn’t mind?”
Mycroft looks up, seeking Jonathan’s eyes in the mirror. “I fear that you are under a grave misapprehension about our – ‘relationship’, for want of a more appropriate word. Lestrade and I do not discuss such matters. Our conversations pertain merely to my brother and his wellbeing.”
“Does he ever try to talk to you about other things?”
Mycroft blinks; clears his throat. “Occasionally,” he says, at last.
“But you don’t respond?”
“I am perpetually busy at work, about which I cannot speak to someone without the necessary clearances.”
“This is why you gotta start laying down boundaries, MyMy,” murmurs Jonathan, squeezing his shoulders. “It’s time to let work take its place as part of who you are, this whole, intelligent, gorgeous, beautiful gay man. That’s you, honey, and it’s your time to shine.”
It’s Friday, and Mycroft finds himself standing outside his own front door with a pounding heart and a cold sense of dread. They’re going to leave me. He still can’t quite believe how sad it’s making him.
He’s wearing dark navy jeans, a soft navy long-sleeved t-shirt, his turquoise jumper, and the stunning boots he and Tan had finally succumbed to spending an obscene amount of money on.
When he opens the door, the cacophony is immediate.
“MyMy!” yells Jonathan, grabbing his hands and drawing him inside. Tan slips an arm round his waist, and pulls him into the kitchen, where Karamo and Antoni smile and greet him. Bobby stands nervously in the corner.
Mycroft looks around, unable to believe his eyes. The kitchen is unrecognisable: powerful daylight-bright downlights dot the ceiling. The counter cupboards are a soft sage colour, with oiled wood counter surfaces. A kitchen island contains a beautiful farmhouse-style sink, and the underside of it is open, packed with bright copper pans and cooking implements. His fridge has been smoothly integrated into a wall of cabinets, as well as an oven and microwave. It feels calm, and wonderfully inviting to cook in. There’s a small table for two in one corner, with a vase of lavender in the centre.
On the fridge are several drawings by Rosie.
He blinks. Opens his mouth. Closes it again.
“Aww,” hums Jonathan, squeezing his hand. Tan rubs his back.
Bobby smiles, clearly less nervous now. “Shall we go and look at the living room?” he asks.
Mycroft simply follows him.
“So, the problem with you was very different to most of our other people,” says Bobby, in the living room. “Normally there’s just stuff, everywhere, and we have to fight to get it all sorted out, put away into tidy places. With you, everything was so tidy we couldn’t see anything about you. It felt like a hotel, or a conference room.” He looks around. “I hope you like it. I went digging, and – you never mentioned you love movies, but I found such a great collection –”
There are black and white paintings on the walls, including a scene from All About Eve.
“How –” murmurs Mycroft, before he can stop himself.
“I asked Sherlock,” says Bobby, looking at him.
Mycroft turns around. His sofa and chairs have been arranged more intimately around the fireplace, with the addition of a luxurious rug, and several comfortable-looking knitted blankets. There is now a large television up on the wall. In the centre of the seating area, a new coffee-table, glass-topped with space for two short rows of books. Mycroft steps closer.
My favourites. He looks up at Bobby.
Bookshelves extend around every wall, now; more spacious, for not being entirely packed. Lamps and ornaments are distributed at intervals along the shelves. Closest to the TV, the bookshelves are filled with DVDs instead.
On the bottom row of each bookshelf are brightly-coloured baskets full of toys, crayons, blank paper, paints, children’s books –
Mycroft swallows past the lump in his throat.
Best of all, taking pride of place outside the warm circle of the seating area, a beautiful baby grand piano; and on its lid, music books.
“From –” murmurs Mycroft.
“Sherlock said your parents had no use for it,” says Bobby. “He was right. They were happy you wanted it. I got it tuned.” He takes Mycroft’s hand. “Now, your bedroom, the bathrooms and your closet were great. I put up that beautiful painting you had just sitting in the hall in your bedroom, but really the only other thing I need to show you –” He draws Mycroft towards the tiny second bedroom which he has occasionally used as an office.
It’s a child’s room now, white and bright with colourful touches, more children’s books, a small bed, and a tiny art table. More of Rosie’s drawings adorn the walls.
“I asked Rosie, and she said she loves staying here with you. But it’s always like camping because her dads drop her off without telling you. So I thought – even when they do that, you’ll be ready.”
Mycroft can’t speak a word. He squeezes Bobby’s hand instead, and he hears a sniffle from the doorway, where Jonathan and Tan are holding one another, Karamo and Antoni looking on.
Mycroft just looks at them, all of them, and then they surround him: arms and hands and bodies in a tight, warm, kind, desperately human embrace.
The doorbell rings, and Jonathan squeals through his tears. “Oh my god ohmigod! He’s here!”
And then they’re all laughing, and he’s being pushed and jostled into the kitchen, and there’s kissing and hugging and they’ve left their phone numbers on the fridge next to Rosie’s drawings and then they’re going, going, gone –
“Bloody hell, this kitchen looks amazing,” says Greg, smiling, and is his silver hair even brighter than usual? “They said you wanted to make me dinner, for the boxing lesson the other day. Not that you have to pay me back, or anything.”
“I –” Mycroft swallows, “– have no doubt that Antoni will have left enough food in the fridge to feed a party of ten.”
Greg grins. “Prob’ly.” He hesitates a moment, then adds, “y’know, he did also mention you’re very good at making breakfast, now.”
Mycroft opens his mouth, then closes it again. He can feel his cheeks turning pink. “I have only his word for it,” he says, at last. “Perhaps you could give me a second opinion.”
Greg takes a half-step closer. “Sounds good,” he smiles. “Shall we have a drink, while we make dinner?”