FLIGHT RUNNING LATE. SHOULD ARRIVE BY THE INTERVAL. SO VERY SORRY. WAIT FOR ME?
Greg sighed and sent a quick affirmative response to the text. It was fine—he of all men understood the disruptions work could create in someone's social plans. Maybe the added anticipation would make meeting this Andy Cole bloke all the more exciting. Not that it was Andy's fault Greg was feeling a little less than enthusiastic about this fix-up, but...it was still a fix-up, and he'd never had much luck finding any connection on that sort of date. John had insisted they had a lot in common, but he would have to wait to see if there was any spark there.
And so he found himself wandering the grounds of a beautiful park on a beautiful summer's evening and watching a beautiful sunset, feeling out of place and alone and not particularly...beautiful. The tickets for the private performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, on Midsummer's Eve no less, had been Andy's idea. Apparently "private" equalled "posh" in this case, because the patios and pathways of the gardens were decorated with nothing but the most expensively and elegantly-dressed people in London. Casually-worn diamonds, rubies, and emeralds winked and twinkled beneath the rows of fairy lights draped along the white-stoned paths that radiated out from the central courtyard with its wide, multi-tiered fountain. The hosts—or their decorators, he supposed—had done an amazing job of creating an ethereal setting.
For once, the London evening was cooperating with their design. The air felt warm and ripe with promise, a constant whisper of flirtation breathing through the leaves of the trees in the woods outlying the gardens. Below the courtyard, the amphitheatre was ringed with torches whose flames danced and flickered in the soft breeze. Greg smelled the age of the garden in the mossy, stone-stacked garden walls, and the fresh green smell of new grass and blooming lavender. It felt like a night for magic. If you believed in that sort of thing.
"Good evening, Detective Inspector."
Greg, surprised as he was to hear it, recognised the rich, cultured voice immediately—a voice that never failed to give the sensation of velvet brushing the back of his neck. The evening breeze stirred as he turned.
"Mycroft, hello. And...?" Mycroft's cool and lovely assistant stood to his left and slightly behind him, and Greg waited politely for her to offer her alias for the day. He knew from his long history of meetings with her employer that she chose a new one whenever either security or her mood motivated her to do so.
"Robin," she supplied with a distinctly puckish grin.
Greg chuckled at the reference. "Robin. Hello." She was dressed to rival any fairy queen, in a gauzy pale blue dress, her hair circling her head with some sort of flower-shaped jewellery woven in amongst the dark strands, but it was Mycroft that Greg's eyes drifted back to immediately. If Greg was a man out of place, Mycroft was—as Greg always thought him—a man out of time. His elegant manners, his detail-perfect suits, his ever-present umbrella, and his watchful blue eyes gave him the air of a man who would be just as much at home in any era he stepped into. Which, judging by the general air of discomfort and distaste he so often conveyed, was not at home at all. Perhaps it was hard to feel at home when you spent most of your time living twelve steps ahead of everyone else around you. It must make for an isolated existence.
"Are you a fan of the theatre, Inspector Lestrade?" Robin asked.
"Um, yeah. Well. Sort of. I was meant to be meeting a friend who is, but...they're running late."
"I confess I was rather surprised to see you here," said Mycroft.
Greg shrugged, "Likewise. So is this," he lowered his voice slightly, "business or pleasure for you?"
Mycroft smiled faintly. "Yes."
"Speaking of, sir..." Robin gave Mycroft a significant look.
"Yes, go," Mycroft nodded, gesturing her away with a flick of one long-fingered hand. He returned his gaze to Greg, and the polite smile returned to his face.
Greg folded his arms and waited for a similar dismissive hand wave now that the social niceties had been observed; the gesture had ended every meeting he ever had with Mycroft in person, though those were few and far between, and had been delivered with what Mycroft deemed sufficient direction on handling Sherlock's latest antics. Even when the direction was given by phone, Greg could almost hear himself being flicked away in Mycroft's voice just before the call ended.
Mycroft waved his hand again, but in the direction of the outdoor bar. Invitingly. "Would you care for a drink, Detective Inspector?"
Greg blinked. "Seriously?"
Mycroft's lips quirked. "This is a social occasion, is it not? Having a drink is what people do."
"You socialise?" Greg grinned mischievously as they turned toward the drinks area and easily fell in step beside him. "With people?"
Mycroft sniffed. "I have people with whom I find it useful to maintain an acquaintance."
"You'll have to call me Greg. You know, now we're being social."
"Oh? Must I?"
"It's what people do."
"Greg," Mycroft said experimentally, with a slight curl of his upper lip, sounding a bit as though he'd just been told it was the name of the mold in his refrigerator.
Greg hid another grin behind his hand, pretending to scratch at his nose. "And what shall I call you? Mate? Myc?"
Greg glanced up at the impassive bird of prey profile, down at Mycroft's long fingers, curved gently around the wooden handle of his umbrella, and back up again. "Was that a joke?"
"Was it?" Mycroft turned his head and hooked an eyebrow at him insolently.
"You made a joke," Greg accused, and thought he saw the glimmer of a smile as Mycroft turned away again.
"It's a social occasion, Detective Inspector," Mycroft said over his shoulder, giving his umbrella a twirl.
He returned after few minutes with a drink in each hand and the umbrella hooked over his forearm, and for a moment Greg felt oddly unchivalrous for not having offered to hold the thing. Doubtless Mycroft was used to managing the accessory automatically, as though it were simply part of his body now. After he pressed one of the cold drinks into Greg's hand, he lowered his arm and the handle slid back into its familiar place in his hand.
"Cheers." Greg rubbed his thumb against the inside of his palm. "So...since this is your crowd, maybe you can give me a briefing. Who are we looking at here?"
By unspoken agreement they began to stroll along the back edge of the garden's paths, and Mycroft nodded toward a couple sitting on a nearby bench. He lowered his voice. "The lady seated there with her third husband apparently enjoys a clothing-optional experience on the grounds of their home. Their staff have apparently taken to wearing corrective lenses to render them more nearsighted."
Greg spluttered on a swallow of his gin and tonic. He had been expecting a précis of the assorted business people and dignitaries that might be in attendance. While Mycroft was delivering his gossip in the same dry, bored tone he might have used to deliver such a list, Greg spotted the glint of humour in his eyes. He grinned and took another sip of his drink.
"And at the corner of the fountain you will find, in the rather lurid blue suit, a gentleman known to have decorated his bedroom, including the ceiling, with over sixty paintings of apples."
"So the man...likes apples."
"Evidently," Mycroft nodded, completely straight-faced. "Oh, and on the path to your left, we have another gentleman whose conversation you should consider avoiding unless you are extremely interested in the restorative powers of a nightly tapioca bath."
Greg snickered aloud, delighted. "Mycroft, how do you know I'm not about to go off and blackmail this lot?"
"Because I trust you implicitly, Detective Inspector. You are man of keen integrity."
Mycroft's tone did not change from his light observations on the crowd; with this rather blindsiding compliment, Greg looked quickly at his face to check for signs of mockery. But Mycroft was looking toward the stage, his face carefully neutral again.
Greg frowned down at the slowly melting ice in his drink. He hadn't mentioned that he wanted a gin and tonic, had he? Mycroft had just...known. "Well," Greg said, trying to sound light, "after all that, I'm feeling pretty dull. You'd probably rather be standing with someone more interesting."
"I don't see how that could be possible."
Greg choked solidly on his drink this time. "Jesus, Mycroft."
Mycroft finally looked at him, with an expression of mild curiosity. "Yes?"
"You're a...a charming bastard when you want to be!"
"Well," Mycroft shrugged nonchalantly, "as long as I'm still a bastard, I suppose my reputation will survive."
Greg giggled. At all of it. Mycroft Holmes was funny. And charming. And trying to charm him? The night smelled of green and flowers and everything was ridiculous and good.
"Sir?" Robin appeared at Mycroft's side. "It's taken care of. And the play is seating—we should go in."
"Of course," Mycroft said, and nodded to Greg formally. "Enjoy the play, Detective Inspector. And your friend, when he arrives." He cast an oddly regretful look over his shoulder as he moved away.
The cushioned wooden seats in the amphitheatre hugged the round stage in a snug semicircle, and Greg's assigned seat gave him a clear view of Mycroft and Robin's seats on the opposite side. Greg paid little attention to the play, but he did notice how the last rays of the setting sun tinted Mycroft's dark hair with auburn. He noticed every time Mycroft crossed and uncrossed his long legs. He noticed when he moved his hand from his umbrella handle to his thigh. And he most definitely noticed when Mycroft glanced in his direction. The first time, Greg hastily looked away, pretending he hadn't been looking, hadn't been thinking of that auburn-tinted hair and those elegant hands. The third time, he held Mycroft's gaze. The fourth time, he smiled. And the sixth time, Mycroft smiled, too.
He felt giddy, flirting across a public space with the sexiest man he knew, the man with whom he'd never thought he stood a chance. Greg had, in a way, been flirting with Mycroft Holmes for years now. When he'd first met Mycroft, two things had become almost immediately clear to Greg. The first was that the man was pompous, uptight, and far too accustomed to getting his own way, which naturally meant Greg needed to take the piss out of him at every available opportunity. The second was that the man would move heaven and earth for the sake of his wayward little brother, and it was that realisation that had gentled Greg's humour. Now that he had John, Sherlock needed Mycroft's intervention less and less, but the frequency of Mycroft's contact with Greg as a key member of what Greg had mentally dubbed Operation Sherlock had not decreased. Greg hadn't questioned it too hard. He liked the ridiculous Holmes brothers, and he liked being part of their world. He liked Mycroft's dramatic, put-upon sighs of exasperation when Greg sassed him. He had grown increasingly certain that Mycroft liked it, too. It felt like play. Or...foreplay.
And here was Mycroft, being charming on a balmy summer's evening. Was he simply mellowed by the setting? Or was he finally...maybe...flirting back?
Greg had never applauded as enthusiastically as when the third act ended and the interval began. He somewhat guiltily pushed aside the knowledge that his date was meant to arrive at any moment and rose up on his toes searching for Mycroft's dark hair in the crowd exiting into the gardens, but he couldn't spot him. It was possible Mycroft had some business to conduct during the interval. Perhaps he had slipped away with Robin on one of their mysterious minor-position-in-the-British-government errands. He threaded his way through the crowd, enjoying the murmur of conversation and laughter as he continued his search, until he heard Mycroft's name spoken nearby. He stopped short and and angled himself to better see and hear the speaker.
"Holmes? I saw him earlier with what might be a new friend," sniffed a mellifluous-voiced man, without a doubt one of the most handsome men Greg had ever seen in person. A mane of blond hair, perfectly sculpted features, long-lashed brown eyes, tall and slim in a perfectly-fitted suit.
His companion, a woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties with delicately-painted pink fingernails and a delicately-painted pink mouth, replied, "He's a police officer, Thomas. Don't you watch the news? Or read the papers? Detective Inspector...something or other."
Greg quickly turned his face away, cocking his head so he could still hear over his shoulder.
"Mm-hmm, DCI soon enough if he's made the right sort of arrangement with Mycroft. Unless he has the stamina to hold out for Superintendent." Thomas' voice held a smirk.
"Power is quite the aphrodisiac," the woman commented slyly.
"And frankly the only one in my dear Mycroft's case," said Thomas, knocking back the final swallow of his drink.
"I think you're forgetting the money, darling."
"True enough," Thomas chuckled. "That and those lovely single malts always went a long way toward washing the taste out of my mouth."
The woman's laughter was like the sound of bells.
Greg feared for a moment he might be ill. He felt like he'd had a blow to the stomach. His hands were curled into fists and his lip was curled into a snarl when he turned, took a step forward, and looked directly into Mycroft's eyes...and knew at once he had heard it all. Mycroft stood still as a statue, pale and stone-faced, with tall glasses of fizzing champagne in each hand.
"Greg? Is that you? So sorry to have kept you waiting."
Feeling as though he might have stopped moving while the earth was still spinning, Greg turned to his other side to see a man leaning in toward him, a tentative smile on his face and his hand outstretched.
Yep. John Watson had a good eye. Andy Cole was just his type. Laugh lines at the corners of his eyes, a hint of evening stubble along his jaw, strong, square-fingered hands, and a body just on the softer side of athletic. In another life, another time, he might have been perfect.
Greg didn't want perfect. He wanted... "Mycroft," he mumbled, almost unintelligibly. His brain felt frozen.
Andy, looking confused but not put out, followed Greg's stunned stare and looked to Mycroft as well. "Oh, hello. Is this a friend?"
Even Mycroft's blandest expressions still allowed his eyes to flash with wit or anger or his special brand of smug humour. Right now they were utterly empty. "If you will excuse me," Mycroft said quietly and walked away.
Greg stared after him, then turned slowly and took Andy's still outstretched hand and said, "Fuck."
Andy's eyebrows rose. "All right, then."
Greg shook his head. "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry, but I have to go."
Andy looked in the direction Mycroft had walked off, nodded slowly, and brought up his other hand to clasp Greg's. "And I'm sorry I missed you," he said with a lovely, wry smile. "See to your friend."
By the time Greg caught up with Mycroft, he had walked as far as the far wall of the garden and he had rid himself of the champagne glasses. He jabbed the tip of his umbrella into the ground with every step he took. The attendees lingering on the pathways, chatting as they sipped their interval drinks, stared after him, parting to let him pass as though a wave pushed them apart.
"Mycroft, stop," Greg growled, grasping his arm.
Mycroft stopped in his tracks and spun, fixing him with a icy stare. "What precisely is it you want, Detective Inspector?"
A hush seemed to have settled over all the people standing nearby as they stilled and pretended not to be watching the beginnings of an unfolding scene with a vicious interest. Greg moved his hand to Mycroft's elbow and urged him toward the nearest exit from the garden toward the woods and privacy. "Come with me."
Mycroft stared at him, unmoving, his mouth set in a grim line.
"Please," Greg said tightly.
Mycroft's lip curled into a sneer. "I hope your witticisms, such as they are, won't take long. I don't want to be late for the next act," he said coldly, but he moved, and that was all that mattered to Greg at the moment.
They made their way to the far side of the tall, stone garden wall, to a spot where the lights from the garden were blocked and the light from the rising moon was filtered by the sheltering branches of a tall oak. The sounds of the crowd receded into the night, and it was just the two of them, alone under the canopy of the trees.
Mycroft turned his back toward the wall and faced Greg, folding his arms across his chest, umbrella hooked again over his arm. He lifted his chin defensively. "Proceed. You have a lively sense of humour, Inspector. It would be most selfish of me to deprive you of such an opportunity, and as you must now be aware, I am known to be a generous man."
"You think I'm amused?"
"I have made practical choices in the past in matters of...companionship." Mycroft narrowed his eyes and grimaced unpleasantly. "It seems that surprises you."
"Yes. Yes, I'm surprised." Greg leaned forward and rasped, "But, Mycroft, I'm not amused. I'm angry."
"I admit it was...careless of me to suppose that...there might be other options. Now." Mycroft twisted his head to the side, avoiding Greg's eyes. "If that is the offence that angers you, you may consider any...insult of familiarity I may have offered you withdrawn as of this moment. Completely."
Greg slapped his palm against the wall beside Mycroft's head. "You deserve better."
Mycroft didn't blink, but kept his gaze fixed on the darkness of the woods. "I assure you I am as aware of my shortcomings as I am of my strengths."
"Listen to me." Greg clenched his teeth, stepped in, and put his mouth next to Mycroft's ear. "You. Deserve better. Than that."
He heard Mycroft's swift intake of breath. The leaves above them whispered, but the air around them was still and expectant.
Greg's voice dropped. "You deserve." He lowered his head so that his lips brushed the soft skin of Mycroft's neck. "To be touched." Wrapped his hand around the fabric of Mycroft's umbrella and used it to pull down the shield of his crossed arms. "By someone who sees you." He slid his hand inside Mycroft's jacket, down the side seam of his waistcoat. "For the brilliant..." His other hand against the nape of Mycroft's neck, feeling soft hair against his palm. "Incredible..." Pressed his body forward, pressed Mycroft's hips against the wall. "Fucking sexy bastard that you are." Kissed his neck. Softly. And breathed.
Mycroft's body had gone rigid against his.
"Will you let me do that?" Greg whispered.
A warm breeze rippled across the moonlit grass.
"Gregory," Mycroft groaned. He wrapped his arms around Greg, pulled him hard against his body, and kissed him, rolling his tongue in Greg's mouth as though he was tasting melting chocolate, savouring the finest whisky.
Every thought Greg had of anger or protectiveness was overwhelmed by a wave of pure, helpless desire. Mycroft smelled like an oncoming storm, like summer rain. His mouth was so warm. Greg moaned into it, sucking, licking, biting. His cock thickened with need, and he ground it against Mycroft's thigh, rolling his hips, sliding and stroking his hands over clothing, seeking the heat of the body underneath. He had wanted this for so long. So very long. How had he not known? He had wanted this forever. "Oh, god," he moaned. "Mycroft."
And just as abruptly as he had become immersed, he was pushed away. Mycroft stared at him, his eyes wide and wild, his mouth swollen. He looked shell-shocked, bewildered, utterly unlike himself. "I..."
Greg swallowed. "Mycroft?"
Mycroft blinked at him. "I think the interval must be over. We should take our seats." He spun away from Greg and disappeared around the corner of the garden wall.
Greg sagged against the cool stonework, breathing heavily, his mind spinning, until he trusted his legs to walk again. As he stepped away from the wall, his foot caught on something on the ground, and he reached down to find Mycroft's umbrella lying in the thick grass. He curled his fingers around the bamboo handle.
Robin was waiting by the entrance to the amphitheatre, Andy Cole by her side, looking across the gardens. Far ahead of Greg, a grimly-determined Mycroft strode past her without stopping. Her smile slid away she caught a closer look at Mycroft's face.
When Greg reached her, Robin stepped in front of Greg, blocking his way. Her expression was dark and dangerous. "What have you done?" she demanded.
Greg took a deep breath. He had either made one of the best decisions or one of the biggest mistakes of his life and it was time to find out which. "I don't know yet. It's not...finished."
She narrowed her eyes, assessing him. Beside her, Andy shifted his weight from one leg to the other and shifted his attention between the two of them curiously.
"I would never hurt him," Greg said quietly. "Never."
"I see," Robin finally said. The tension eased from her body and she shook her head and sighed. "Lord, what fools."
"These mortals be?" offered Andy.
"Primarily these two," Robin waved a hand at Greg.
Andy gave her a grin. "Ah, well. The course of true love never did run smooth."
"Love?" Greg echoed softly. Love?
"Indeed, reason and love keep little company together nowadays," she smirked back with an approving look.
"Andy," Greg said, "again, this wasn't...I'm really..."
"I know," Andy clapped him on the shoulder without rancour and smiled. "You're one sorry sod."
Greg snorted a laugh. "Well, as long as I'm still a sod, my reputation will survive."
"We're swapping seats," Robin announced, her bright smile returning. "And Mr Cole will see me home."
"I will?" Andy asked.
"Yes. You will." Robin hooked her arm in his and gave Greg a shove. "Go on, then. And don't disappoint me." Her smile brightened. "Or you will regret it."
Of that, Greg had no doubt.
He quietly sat himself next to Mycroft in the amphitheatre. Mycroft looked steadfastly forward at the stage, hands clasped white-knuckled in his lap.
"Where's your umbrella?"
"I don't—" Mycroft's right hand twitched, and he glanced down at his empty palm, looking momentarily baffled. "This is apparently a night for uncharacteristic behaviour. I seem to have...misplaced it," he said expressionlessly, switching his eyes back to the stage, still refusing to look toward Greg. "And where is your date, Inspector?"
"Beside me." Greg leaned Mycroft's umbrella against the seat between their legs, then held his hand out between them as well, turning his palm up in invitation. "If he'll have me."
The performers took the stage for the start of the fourth act, and the crowd applauded. Mycroft flicked a glance toward the umbrella, toward Greg's open hand, and said nothing.
Greg let his eyes wander along the line of flickering torches circling the stage and waited.
The crowd laughed at a well-delivered line. Greg and Mycroft did not.
Mycroft spoke at last, so quietly Greg almost did not hear. "What you heard. It was a long time ago."
"Did you hear me?" Greg snapped. A grey-haired lady sitting behind them gave the volume of his voice a disapproving hiss, and Greg leaned in to growl into Mycroft's ear. "Because I meant every word I said, and you still haven't answered my question. You're...amazing and...Mycroft, what you do to me...what I want you to do to me...I would be lucky. Anyone would be lucky, but it should be me. Let it be me."
Mycroft's hand shot forward and closed over Greg's. The umbrella slid to the ground between their legs with a muffled clatter.
Greg squeezed his eyes shut and huffed out a breath of joy and relief.
"It will involve...work," Mycroft said.
"Yeah. Probably." Greg looked at Mycroft's worried frown and smiled. He ran his thumb over the back of Mycroft's hand. "But right now...this is a social occasion."
"Yes," Mycroft conceded, lifting his eyebrows. His mouth curved into a faint smile, but his hand squeezed Greg's as if he would never let go. "I suppose it is. I even believe the term date has been brought into play."
Onstage, the queen of the fairies and the ass-headed man prepared a bed of flowers. The flames around the stage danced in the breeze and the moon shone, surrounded by a halo in the hazy summer clouds, and Greg leaned toward Mycroft and smelled the hint of an approaching storm. "And will my date kiss me goodnight?" he murmured.
Mycroft turned and regarded him solemnly, his eyes darkening. "Until dawn," he promised.