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Mycroft found the first book in a pile of discarded magazines in the small, bleak “lounge” purporting itself to be intended for ‘VIP’s’. He was stuck in a small, classified, backwater airport, so tired that he could barely remember what country they had landed in due to engine trouble. Normally, he might try and catch a brief, upright cat nap. But Anthea looked twice as run down as Mycroft felt, so he nodded toward the neck pillow peeking out of her large carry-on tote to let her know that she should use it and rest. He could keep watch. 

Neither of them liked to sleep unguarded. She had done him the favor before. He made the silent offer, and within minutes Anthea was asleep. Shortly after she dropped off, Mycroft realized that the mobile signal here in the middle of nowhere was practically nonexistent. 

His eyes reluctantly strayed to the subpar reading material spread out on a chipped, lopsided side table. Only one magazine appeared to be in English, and sadly Mycroft wasn’t confidant he could manage anything outside the realm of germanic or romance languages at the moment. Cyrrilic and Japanese and Chinese characters swam before his eyes as he nudged listlessly at the magazines and well-out-of-date newspapers.  

He picked up the small paperback because the alphabet on the cover, picked out in lurid pink swashes over an illustrated image of a shirtless man, was latin, and after a slow blink at the gaudily-painted fingernails raking their way across the pictured chest, Mycroft’s brain interpreted the title as, in fact, English. 

Claws of Desire.

Mycroft snorted and nearly set the book back onto the pile, resigned to an hour or so of entertaining himself internally.

But.

Something made him open the book. Something made him smirk at the obvious nom de plume: G.L. Mystere. Mycroft rolled his eyes and began to read. 

When Anthea woke hours later, it was already hidden in the inside pocket of his coat. 

He nearly forgot his half-formed intention to look up the author’s name, and in fact would have, had the book not tumbled from his coat when he threw it into the backseat of a waiting town car in London, days later. 

Mycroft wasn’t thinking of much before the book landed with a thud on the carpet: a hot shower, a stealthy check-in with Sherlock’s security detail, and a glass of scotch, in that order. But he turned the book over in his hands and thought: why not? 

He took out his mobile and did a simple Google search for the first time in… ever, and found that G.L. Mystere had written over ten romance novels—  all available in ebook form; much easier to read discreetly. Mycroft bought several to start with before the car had left the street. 

 

***

 

What stood out to Mycroft, at first, were the first kisses. Based on stereotypes, one would expect a romance novel with a cover like that to focus on ravaging by the male protagonist. Taking. Overpowering clutches. Plundering tongues. 

But in Mystere’s books, as Mycroft had found to be the case in Claws of Desire, the initial kiss between the main characters was almost always tentative. 

The male protagonists were often the shy ones, which Mycroft found interesting. 

The women were always smarter, more competent, than their male counterparts, which Mycroft found realistic.

In G.L. Mystere’s most recent title, set in some unspecified but distant historical time period, the female lead Lucinda was in fact passing as a man at the time of the first kiss with the slightly scattered, socially isolated male main character. It was an incredibly layered moment. The story managed to imply bisexuality on the part of the male character, Gil, without stating it explicitly. It was sly; Mystere had deftly slipped a bit of subversion into what was on its face a traditional, heterosexual tale, marketed toward a very specific demographic. 

In this book, the first kiss was utterly wretched with uncertainty and fear, and Mystere had written it as a tremulous thing, picked out in words that evoked reluctance and shivering anticipation. It was delicate while still managing to be explosively cathartic. Mystere followed it with a literal powderkeg explosion which interrupted the fledgling lovers, moved the plot along, and incidentally revealed the heroine’s true identity.

It was interesting, emotional, and… affecting, actually. 

Mycroft was beyond embarrassment (to himself, at least) about this new, secret little hobby involving the books. But he did find himself flushing when, alone in his own sitting room, he felt the need to press his clenched fist over his heart as Lucinda and Gil confessed to one another. 

“I wanted you as a man. I want you as a woman. I will want you until I die and then again--and again--in every life I live until the world’s end.” 

Mycroft had to close the book and take a walk. 

 

***

 

The thing about G.L. Mystere was that Mycroft couldn’t deduce their gender or personal sexual preferences from the words they had written. It shouldn’t have been difficult to figure out, but it was, for reasons Mycroft couldn’t quite pin down. 

His working theory at first was that the books were written by a gay man with some experience with heterosexual intercourse and close familiarity with women other than the few with whom he may or may not have engaged in sex. 

Mycroft had uncovered, with some deeper searching and a bit of light deductive work, that G.L. Mystere published male/male romance and erotica under a separate pen name: L.G. Derien. This supported his theory, as did some speculative chatter on various romance-focused blogs and online community spaces. 

Mystere/Derien did not maintain a blog, but did possess accounts on multiple social media platforms. None of the accounts contained personal details pertaining to the author’s identity or day-to-day life. 

In Mycroft’s opinion, the seven books featuring two men as main characters were far better than the thirteen featuring heterosexual couples. 

Though, Mycroft had to admit, none of the Mystere books were terrible. If they had been, he never would have gone looking for more. Never would have chosen to order a few of his favorite titles in paperback, just to have them. 

On their surface, all of the titles between the two pen names were fairly basic romance novels with somewhat unusually explicit love scenes (according to Mycroft’s recent, albeit tentative research into the genre). But they were heartfelt works, and the dialogue was very good. 

The stories felt real to Mycroft, and to reviewers leaving five-star ratings on the books’ product pages.

Mycroft had read his fair share of frivolous nonsense, his definition of which encompassed such works as the mainstream news, John Watson’s blog, press releases, popular acclaimed novels, so-called classics, reports which crossed his desk, texts from his mother, and beyond. 

Mycroft had been forced to consume plenty of nonsense with his own two eyes, but this nonsense he chose to read, at least. 

And in his more honest moments, Mycroft could admit that these books weren’t nonsense at all.

In all seven of the gay romances, and nearly half the heterosexual ones, Mycroft had the uncomfortable sense that at least one main character was oddly familiar.

It was an interesting thought exercise: who wrote these? Upon whom in that person’s life were these characters based? How did they compare to people Mycroft knew? 

Mycroft amused himself with scenarios, profiling the author in his mind when he needed to backburner difficult problems; sometimes turning his mind away resulted in unexpected moments of clarity while he thought of other things. He mulled over the identity of Mystere/Derien when he couldn’t sleep, or while he stared blankly at computer screens at the ends of long, tedious days. 

L.G. Derien lives in London, the author biography at the end of the book always read, and that was it. It was followed by the title of the book, the number it held in a series or in publishing order, and the URL for Derien’s website, which was similarly devoid of information.

Mycroft set an alert so he would be notified of new releases. He joined a newsletter. He steadfastly refused to join any of the online discussions, even if IantoLuvr76 was completely wrong in their assertion that the fourth Derien title, Crossing A Line, was far superior to the fifth, Crown and Country.

 

***

 

The erotic material within the books was, at times, particularly inspired. 

It was frequently, thrillingly, closely-suited to Mycroft’s personal and long-ignored sexual appetites. L.G. Derien’s third title, given the eye-roll-inducing title of Bit of Rough , were it a paperback and not a file on Mycroft’s highly secure e-reader, would have several dogeared pages and a well-worn spine by the time Mycroft had spent close to a year reading the author’s work.

Mycroft very occasionally allowed technicolor, vaguely-cast films of his own imagining to play out behind his eyelids as he cried out into the dark of his bedroom, or muffled himself with his own hand in hotel rooms or in his office, bringing himself to the edge and back while literary masturbatory fantasies scrolled across his imagination. 

He forced himself not to dwell on the fact that when he called up particular passages from Derien’s work as a basis for these fantasies, he couldn’t quite bring himself to imagine them played out with the characters from the books. He did not examine why, when he imagined himself in these scenes of passion and lust, his partner was quite faceless. He refused to admit to himself that in the final throes, those shivery moments just before orgasm, Mycroft’s mouth felt desperate to form a name he didn’t know. 

 

***

 

It wasn’t just the nature of the physical actions in the books. It wasn’t just the… well, the pornography. 

It was the intimacy woven into those actions. The way they were used to develop the story, and not just serving to titillate. 

Intimacy dripped off the pages, soft and warm and sweet. Closeness. Adoration. Respect. Love. It was profoundly comforting. 

That was embarrassing, truly, no matter how badly Mycroft wanted to believe he was above such a feeling. He would cringe at himself if he wasn’t so busy breathing through the exquisite ache in his chest as he finished the last pages of Hearts In Winter.  

“I love you!” He shouted, not caring who heard him. People paused in their travels to cast interested glances his way. “Do you hear me? I’m trying to tell you I—”

The window clattered in its track when Martin threw it open. “The entire street can hear you,” he laughed as he leaned out. “God, you ridiculous man, get up here.”

 

***

 

It was two weeks before Christmas, and Mycroft was delayed, waiting for his brother at New Scotland Yard. He’d left his briefcase in the car, which meant he was without something useful to do in the interim. Sherlock’s text in response to Mycroft’s request to meet (to force Sherlock to sign his own name on their parents’ Christmas card) had indicated that he was already present at NSY, not halfway across London in a cab in the middle of poor-weather traffic. 

“You can wait in my office,” Detective Inspector Lestrade told him with his usual friendly grin. “I’ve got to dash to another floor for a minute, but I’ll be back to keep you company if his highness doesn't show up soon.”

Mycroft thanked him, awkwardly, and found himself hovering there in Lestrade’s office, unsure if he should move a box or stack of papers from one of the three visitor’s chairs and have a seat. 

He’d known people this messy before; Lestrade likely called this a “system.” For all Mycroft knew, it was a functioning one. He didn't allow himself to analyze the teetering piles of work and empty teacups for information about the man’s life. 

He did allow himself to do what Anthea would call some light snooping about , the thought of which made him roll his eyes to himself, the same way he would were she there to deliver the words in her dry, amused tone. 

Mycroft cast his eyes around, moving from corner to corner, hands folded behind his back. Here was a photo of a younger Lestrade, receiving a commendation from some superior in front of a seal and a flag, shaking hands in a formal uniform. Here were knick-knacks painted by childish hands (two nieces, Mycroft recalled). A shelf held manuals and books, stacks of paper held down with a Best Uncle In The World weight. Mycroft’s eyes skipped from spine to spine in a stack of books teetering on the topmost surface before he meandered to the desk. 

A framed photo of two children posed with a woman whose warm brown eyes matched those of her brother. File folders. The center drawer gaped open to reveal paperclips, a pack of chewing gum, stray cigarette cellophane torn away and dropped in haste, a stray dry teabag with no string. The bottom-most drawer on the left was entirely open. Lestrade had rested something across it for lack of desk space. Papers had fallen inside, partially obscuring the contents. 

But-- 

Mycroft would recognize that color scheme anywhere, the edge of a publisher’s logo just barely visible. 

Mycroft’s eyebrows reached his hairline as he nudged the papers aside. There in that deep drawer, spines up in two layers, was a selection of titles by Mystere and Derien, all in pristine condition. 

Mycroft blinked. He heard Lestrade’s laugh from somewhere close by, just beyond the office door, followed by Sherlock’s stroppiest intonation, the words unintelligible. 

He stepped hastily away from the desk and posed awkwardly to its side, mind whirring. 

Before he could make much of his discovery, Sherlock blew in, an annoyed John Watson and a clearly amused Greg Lestrade following in his wake. 

Sherlock opened his mouth, and for the moment, Mycroft set aside all thoughts of the books. 

 

***

 

Lestrade sent Mycroft a text message on the first Sunday of the New Year

GL (13:54): Hi, wondered if you might be interested in drinks and a catch-up. Been a while. 

Mycroft blinked down at his mobile. 

What.  

He had never had “drinks and a catch-up” in his life, and would certainly remember if he had done so with Greg Lestrade. Another text arrived before he could formulate a response. 

GL (13:56): Shit, sorry! Wrong number! Embarrassing. 

Mycroft huffed, half-relieved, half- ...something. Disappointed? He scoffed at himself. 

MH (13:59): Quite alright. I hope all is well. Your holidays were enjoyable?

Mycroft winced. What the hell was that?

He turned to the book he had been reading - Not a Mystere or a Derien, but a romance. It had been recommended to him based on past purchases. It wasn’t good. 

His phone chimed again after a short time. 

GL (14:06): Yeah, they were great thanks. Yours?

Mycroft set down his tablet, clicking it to sleep and turning his full attention to his phone. 

MH (14:09): Fine. Quiet. Involving only a long distance phone call with my parents and no crises from Sherlock, just as I prefer it. You spent it with your sister and her children?

The reply came a while later. 

GL (14:38): Yeah, always. It’s fun with the kiddos. Last couple years I’ve been able to help her out a bit more with expenses, get to see their faces when they open fancier gifts. Things we never had as kids. The oldest finally got a computer all her own this year and she just about wept. It was lovely. 

GL (14:40): Sorry, you probably weren’t asking for that much detail. Proud of them, is all. 

MH (14:40): That does sound lovely.

MH (14:42): Don’t apologize. The doting uncle role suits you. I am glad to hear things are going well for you. You deserve it. 

Mycroft winced at himself again. He set his phone aside for a moment, and ignored the chime of a new text a minute later. Rubbing a hand over his eyes, Mycroft sighed and took a moment to get a grip on himself. 

Boundaries were important, and he had already crossed several with this conversation. Mycroft was not... friendly with Lestrade. But he had thought, more than once over the years, that it might be…

Nice wasn’t really the word. 

Mycroft cleared his throat and reached for his phone again. 

GL (14:44): Listen, my old schoolmate- the one I meant to text earlier? Has apparently emigrated to Spain. I had no clue. Serves me right for losing touch the way I did. Anyway, I’m dying to get out of the flat. Are you free later? Drinks? Catch-up? Haven’t seen you since that scene with Sherlock before the hols. 

Mycroft blinked, and something in his mind finally shifted, having gotten stuck some weeks ago without his conscious notice. 

Before Christmas. Getting Sherlock to sign the card. Lestrade’s office. The perfect spines of unread paperbacks. L.G Mystere. G.L. Derien. GL. Extra money for his sister. The strange echoes of familiar mannerisms and speech patterns of characters who had made Mycroft ache for something he was fairly certain could only exist in books. 

He recalled the arrangement of the drawer with photographic accuracy- the most recent title present in that drawer had been Mystere’s Abandon, published in 2011. Lestrade had finalized his divorce that year. 

Lestrade hid the copies in his bottom desk drawer. A side venture he kept from his estranged wife. Most likely he would keep the ones published and sent to him after the divorce at home. 

Mycroft knew the release date of Mystere’s first title. 2007. During Lestrade’s first separation, after the first instance of infidelity. Mycroft could remember a brief meeting about Sherlock; Lestrade’s unshaven face and ragged, bitten-down nails. 

Derien’s first appearance. 2010, during the second and final separation. Two books a year on average since the divorce. 

None in 2012, an outlier year (the year Sherlock fell). 

Four in 2013 (Mycroft remembered that Lestrade had been experiencing a certain level of career recovery at the time. Remembers a photo of him in the paper, looking clearer and healthier than Mycroft had seen him in years). 

Christ. Mycroft was appalled at himself; he had known this, on some level, since the moment he spotted that open desk drawer. Why hadn’t he allowed himself to finish the thought? Now what?

His fingers shook. He didn’t have a clue what to type. 

Your light snooping will get you into trouble, Mister Holmes. 

I haven’t the faintest clue what you mean, Anthea. 

The women are always smarter. More competent. 

Fuck. 

Mycroft absolutely could not have dinner with him. 

 

***

 

“Thanks for humoring me,” Lestrade said, hours later. “I hope this place is okay. Didn’t think you’d go in for my local.”

Mycroft bit back a number of inappropriate responses and smiled. “This is more than fine.”

“Good wine list,” Lestrade remarked, settling into the seat across from Mycroft at a little two-top by the window. “Lots of little plates of nibbles.”

“Tapas,” Mycroft supplied, subverting his nerves into fiddling with the menu. 

“Right.” Lestrade grinned. “My friend in Spain recommended it. Apparently she went mad for tapas when she studied there at University. That, and her husband- he’s from there. They moved to be closer to his aging mum.” 

“I hope she wasn’t too put out that you hadn’t been in touch.”

“Nah.” He shrugged. “That’s how it goes, sometimes. I dated her a bit, once, and dumped her through my best mate. If she can forgive me that, I suppose she can forgive me anything. Then again, we were twelve at the time.”

Mycroft chuckled. “A heartbreaker? You?”

“Not really,” Lestrade said. “I’m actually a hopeless romantic. It’s pathetic. But all twelve year old boys are idiots. Weren’t you?”

Mycroft settled for shooting him a withering glance over the menu. 

A hopeless romantic, murmured the Anthea in Mycroft’s mind. You don’t say… Mycroft shoved her viciously aside.

Lestrade was laughing when the server arrived to take their drinks order. 

 

***

 

“You can’t seriously tell me you never did something stupid like that,” Lestrade insisted later, once they were both settled with glasses of rich Temperanillo, chosen for both of them by Mycroft at Lestrade’s insistence. “Even you had to have gone through an awkward stage.”

Mycroft, who had felt stuck in his awkward stage his entire life, huffed. “Be that as it may,” he said, “I can’t say I made a habit of devastating nice young ladies left, center, and right. At that age, or any other.”

“Well—” Lestrade leaned forward. “Right, but...well. Look, stop me if I’m out of line, but did you never...break the heart of a nice young man back then?”

Mycroft tried to cover his surprise, but judging by the amused, soft-eyed smirk with which Lestrade leveled him, he had failed. 

“No,” Mycroft said after a moment, his eyes searching Lestrade’s for some hint of judgment; disgust or pity or anything of the sort. There was none. “No, at that age I was rather more awkward than I’m sure you were.”

“Hmm.” Lestrade shrugged. “Dunno. You’d be surprised. I was spotty.”

This startled Mycroft into laughter, and again the server approached for their order. 

 

***

 

There was a lull in conversation during the first set of small plates. Mycroft found himself distracted by Lestrade’s hands as they took hold of a small knife and spread spicy crushed tomato over a slice of bread. His traitorous mind supplied him with a vague mental image, a reflection of the words Mycroft had read from his tablet recently - a reread of a Derien title. The passage had spoken of long, nimble fingers. Curious that Mycroft was reminded of it in particular, when Lestrade actually possessed shorter, broader ones. Strong. A little callused. But careful, where they wielded the knife. 

Mycroft realized he was being spoken to and dragged his attention to the here and now, picking up his wine and drinking for want of something to do, but too unsettled to eat. “Sorry?”

“I asked if you usually spend the holidays on your own.”

“Mm,” Mycroft hummed in the affirmative. “Yes, every other year, sometimes more. Sherlock and I obviously avoid each other unless our parents are in the country and feeling the need to reinforce familial ties through the pantomime of Christmas obligation. I don’t mind it; the quiet is rare, and welcome.”

Lestrade had paused, the tiny slice of bread poised in front of his mouth. “ The pantomime of Christmas—  You posh bastard, really?”

Mycroft wanted to laugh again, but he feigned outrage. “ Inspector Lestrade, ” he intoned, and Lestrade all but guffawed, setting his food down with wide eyes. 

“First of all,” he said, pointing at Mycroft from across the table, “no titles at a drinks-and-catch-up. It’s Greg, thanks, even if you are pretending to be appalled at me.” 

Mycroft smirked and found himself reaching for the grilled oyster plated between them, suddenly at ease again and starving. “Very well,” he said. “Greg, then. You enjoy family Christmases, I take it?”

“Well yeah, like I said.” Greg nodded and resumed his meal as well. “It was a little hard just after the divorce. We’d always go to my sister’s--that’d be Laura--and of course I still did after, but it felt different. A bit lonelier. I don’t care for the lead-up to Christmas much, but the day...yeah, it’s nice. My sister’s house is a bit chaotic with the kids, but we keep it pretty low-key, actually. It calms down once they open their gifts and head off in their directions. Laura and I play cards or watch telly; sometimes we just...sit. It’s lovely to be with people who know you. You know?”

Mycroft returned to his wine, swallowing it down and hoping to wash away the ache in his chest with it. “Mm,” he murmured, noncommittal. 

Minutes passed, the two of them picking over the plates before another set arrived. The server was very good; she delivered and cleared and was out of their way, no attempt at engaging them in chatter. The mood was pensive for a short while, before Greg broke the quiet. 

“I do get it,” he said. “Needing...space. Alone time. Especially with Sherlock for a brother, Christ.” 

“Yes,” Mycroft agreed. “Sherlock, and… our parents are good people, but.” He shrugged. “We’re very different.”

Greg nodded. “Yeah, I get it. You know, Laura was a problem child.”

“Oh?”

“Oh, yeah. She was always in trouble. Drinking, parties, even caught riding in a stolen car once.” Greg shook his head, concentrating for a moment on building a piece of bread from the plate of tomatoes again. “She didn’t calm down until I was in training and she fell pregnant with Lucy--that’s my oldest niece. Our mum was sick by then, and dad had already gone. Laura came to live with me. She and Luce were with me til, oh...until Lucy was about three, I’d say.”

Mycroft blinked across the table. In this story was the echo of the plot of a Derien novel. Until that moment, he had been mostly successful in pushing aside thoughts of the books. It took him a moment to set that aside and find his voice.

“Really? I had no idea.”

Greg chewed thoughtfully for a moment, then swallowed and said, “Yeah, I pretty much raised Laura in those years. Got her through the last lap, so to speak. She was only seventeen, and needed to grow up fast for the baby. And then I guess I was there to make sure Lucy survived the baby years in one piece. Laura met her ex, moved out, had the two others… and yeah, she’s turned out alright.” Greg grinned. “She runs a little creche, now. Finished her schooling while the middle kid was still small. I’m proud of her. Really proud. But Christ do I remember the rougher days…”

Mycroft had to swallow hard against the pressure in his chest again. You’re so good, he thought. He was fairly certain he didn’t know any other people as genuinely decent as the man sitting across from him. Mycroft cleared his throat and said, “It’s admirable. Your support of your sister.”

“Same to you,” Greg replied gently. “With Sherlock.”

Mycroft averted his eyes and permitted himself a small, grateful smile. “Thank you.”

Under the table, Greg nudged Mycroft’s foot with his own. “You’re welcome.”

Mycroft spent the rest of the meal wishing Greg had kept his foot there, pressed to Mycroft’s, instep to instep, and trying not to make a complete fool of himself. 

 

***

 

On the way home, Mycroft stared blankly out the window of the car as London scrolled by, and tried not to think too deeply about the fact that he was entirely certain that Greg Lestrade was the man behind G.L. Mystere and L.G. Derien. 

He failed. 

He couldn’t stop himself from thinking of a specific scene in one of the Derien titles. A particularly... robust love scene that had been more like a half-marathon of sex, featuring two characters who had waited quite a while to be together. Mycroft had been impressed by the way Derien managed to write actions that would be considered by most to be simply pornographic, and imbue them with tenderness and caring. Mycroft couldn’t stop his brain from presenting him with the words exactly as they had appeared on his tablet. 

“Open your mouth.”

Mycroft shuddered and closed his eyes against the strobing lights of the city as they passed him by. Don’t think about this now.

Laurence obeyed, slackening his jaw with a sigh. He stared up at Kendall, his eyes soft, his cheeks red with a flush of expectation. 

“Good,” Kendall groaned, cupping the side of Laurence’s face in his hand, his thumb sweeping over one hot cheekbone. “I’m gonna—”

Mycroft’s fingers dug into his own thigh and he squeezed his eyes shut more tightly. It did nothing to stop the sudden mental image of Greg Lestrade kneeling above him, stroking himself until he began to come, pressing the head of his cock against Mycroft’s obedient lower lip to deliver the first spurt across Mycroft’s waiting tongue. It didn’t stop Mycroft from getting achingly hard in his trousers while still a ten minute drive away from home. 

The Greg Lestrade in his mind was better than the fictional Kendall, who had been a tad unrealistically ribald with the dirty talk mid-orgasm. In Mycroft’s traitorous imagination, Greg wouldn’t be able to manage all of that. He would go silent at first, tensing with the initial wave of pleasure, and then a groan would stutter from his chest as— 

Mycroft wiped his brow with a shaking hand and fumbled for the climate controls to turn on the air conditioning. The driver would hear it switch on and wonder about it, but Mycroft would simply have to feign a disagreeable stomach, make up something about needing a bit of air, if asked. He shook his head at himself. The driver wasn’t going to ask; he was specifically trained not to ask. 

Mycroft opened his coat and sat back in his seat with a frustrated sigh. He decided there was nothing for it; he would have to cease all contact with Greg Lestrade, starting immediately.

 

***

 

Instead, the dinners became an informal standing appointment when schedules allowed. Greg spent most Sunday mornings with his sister and her children, but usually was available in the evening. Mycroft traveled, at times, on the weekend, but often was back on British soil and awake enough to be on British time around supper. 

They had dinner more Sundays than not. Despite his admonishments to himself not to allow it, they became a highlight of Mycroft’s week. Any weekend that he found himself unable to attend, or recieved a regretful text from Greg saying that he was needed at work, was spent in aimless annoyance and vague discomfort. When it happened twice in a row in March, Mycroft found himself downright agitated for the entire week before they were able to meet for dinner again. 

“You haven’t been reading,” Anthea remarked to him one night in early Spring.

“I read constantly,” Mycroft protested, absently highlighting a passage in the report before him before using his red pen to note that it was repetitive and unnecessary for the final package to be sent to the Prime Minister. “I am reading at this moment.”

“I meant your books,” Anthea clarified after a few moments’ pause. “The - sweet ones.”

Mycroft huffed and set down his pen. “Anthea—”

“A new title was released last Friday.”

“Yes,” Mycroft hedged, slapping shut the packet of papers and tossing it into his outbox for her to deal with later. “Is there a point to this? Perhaps I have tired of that particular...diversion.”

Anthea hummed speculatively. “Perhaps you have.” She reached for the report and scooped a dozen other smaller sheaves of paper along with it. She tapped them against the desk to straighten them. “I hope you aren’t embarrassed, sir. You should know by now that I’m no snob. I read a couple of them, myself. Quite nice, I thought.”

Mycroft rolled his eyes. 

“You don’t agree, sir?”

“I think you are rather intrusive,” Mycroft replied mildly, endeavoring to keep his tone neutral. “I wasn’t aware that the contents of my personal devices fell within your purview.”

“They do not,” Anthea breezily agreed. “However, I noticed a collection of paperbacks the last time I visited your flat to retrieve your overnight bag. I found them interesting to look at and so made an order on my own personal device. If you like, you can think of it as a recommendation I am happy to have received from you.”

“From my bedside table, I think you mean.”

Anthea smiled blandly across the desk. “I believe I have come to a conclusion about both the identity of the author and the reason for your loss of interest in their works.”

“It is not lack of interest. I have been busy.”

“Yes,” Anthea agreed. “Dinner with GL, 8pm this Sunday night. And last Sunday night. And four Sunday nights ago. No need to look so annoyed with me sir, your diary is certainly within my purview. I simply observed its contents.”

“You are treading a dangerous line,” Mycroft snapped, giving up on neutrality. “My personal life is not your concern.”

Anthea sighed and stood delicately, smoothing down her skirt. “I only wished to express my congratulations to you sir. Any man who writes like that..”

Mycroft pinched the bridge of his nose. “You are dismissed for the night, Anthea.”

“Of course, sir,” she said with a smirk in her voice. 

“Please go before I fire you.” 

She snorted indelicately “Of course, sir,” she said again, sarcastic. 

Mycroft did not remove his hand from his eyes to watch her go, certain that if he did she would make full eye contact and cause his traitorous face to blush

 

***

 

The truth was, Mycroft had been unable to keep reading the books once he realized that Greg Lestrade was their author. First and foremost, the inappropriate and wholly involuntary fantasies were an impediment to being able to participate in any sort of intelligent discussion with the man.

It also, somehow, felt as though Mycroft would be intruding on the man’s inner world if he read the books now that they had established a rapport. It was a ludicrous thought; presumably, hundreds - if not thousands - of individuals had read these words and the balance of probability was that many - if not most - of them had experienced similar...reactions to them. 

But now Mycroft looked into Greg Lestrade’s affable, handsome face over upscale small-plate feasts, over hasty cups of coffee when a reservation could not be held because work got in the way, and even, once, over dripping greasy cheeseburgers in Greg’s office when all the other Yarders had gone home, and found himself not just willing, but desperate, to truly get to know him. To nurture a friendship. Mycroft simply could not do that and then go home to re-read his favorite of the Derien titles, hard and frustrated under the covers of his lonely bed. 

He couldn’t touch himself thinking of the (he assumed) sweet hands and soft mouth of a person who wrote about such things. Not now that he knew the face attached to that person, and found it still, after all the years he had known it, devastatingly attractive and, unfortunately, exactly Mycroft’s type. 

It wasn’t just that he felt a bit… lecherous having fantasized about the author. It was the small clues he had gathered so far that showed how Greg’s life influenced some of his plots. 

The Mystere books featured women that were, as far as Mycroft could tell, the precise opposite of the former Mrs. Lestrade. There were never mentions of infidelity. In all but two of the titles, the main character whose journey was the focus of the narrative was indeed a woman, usually a sensible professional type (Mycroft spotted Sally Donovan, and now based on conversations with the author himself, Greg’s own mother in these characters), but also sometimes a plucky, nervous sort (echoes of Sherlock’s friend Molly Hooper, loving hints of Laura Lestrade). 

The male love interests in the Mystere novels varied greatly. In one title, the male protagonist in question was dangerously similar to Sherlock. Mycroft couldn’t bring himself to reread it, of course, but after his third dinner meeting with Greg during which they discussed Sherlock’s many quirks and flaws, the connection between the character and his younger brother clicked into place. It was there in the affection with which Greg described something Sherlock had said that would have been, for literally anyone else, unforgivably rude. It was there in the way Greg managed a more than passable impression of Sherlock’s voice. 

Mycroft spent the car ride home having a mild and completely internalized emotional breakdown over the deft, humorous way Greg had redeemed that character, and then the utterly scorching, life-affirming sex with which he had bestowed the Sherlock avatar. 

Mycroft made peace with his horror and embarrassment and managed to compartmentalize his desperate adoration for anyone who could gift that to Sherlock, even if just a facsimile of him, before the car pulled up to his flat. 

The Derien novels were far, far more personal. These were the books that contained some breaths of Greg Lestrade in their protagonists. The man did not insert himself into his stories, but in the Derien works, he did allow his characters more of himself. In hindsight, Mycroft understood why he liked those fictional men so much. After Greg mentioned his caretaking of his young, single-mother sister and her daughter, Mycroft connected the experience to one described in what Mycroft could only assume were much more favorable, less exhausting details, in his least favorite Darien title. 

It had always been his least favorite title, but he never had been able to put his finger on why. 

Now he wondered if the personal ties to the narrative had stayed Greg’s hand with the proverbial pen ( How does he go about the writing of these things? Surreptitiously on his work computer? At night in bed on the battered laptop he sometimes keeps in a messenger bag? That seems most likely… Mycroft shuts down this line of thought before it can conjure the image of a softly mussed Greg Lestrade wearing a pair of reading glasses and hunching over a screen upon which word after word appears—)? 

Mycroft’s theory was that the reason he didn’t much enjoy the more biographical title was the lack of real resolution for the protagonist. The story concerned itself with his sexual identity crisis, and rather than a happily-ever-after involving a committed relationship, the ending was more open-ended and uncertain. Mycroft had closed that particular book, one of the few he owned in paperback, and slipped it behind another book on his shelf. The story had felt oddly familiar, and upsettingly realistic. Mycroft had found himself worried for the main character. Found himself unable to suspend disbelief long enough to conjure a blissfully happy future devoid of loneliness. 

He’d felt bereft for days after, and then all over again when he realized how much of Greg must have been on those pages. 

So...no. Mycroft could not continue to read the books while growing a friendship with Greg Lestrade. He simply could not move through life with that constant hollow feeling in his chest; it might slow him down, after all.

 

***

 

Besides, if Mycroft had continued… working himself up with the books, questions like the one Greg posed to him over a late dinner one night in the summer would likely have been impossible to answer without his flaming red face giving him away as the lonely, pathetic bastard he knew himself to be. 

“So we established you’re no heartbreaker,” Greg said, ending a lull in their conversation. 

They were seated outdoors, on an upper-level terrace. Mycroft’s attention had drifted to the street below, where a youth had been casing the cars parked along either side for the last twenty minutes. Mycroft guessed he would make his move on the hybrid on the corner, but not for another half hour or so, after the shop just there closed for the night. He pulled his attention away. 

“What? When, pray tell, did we establish that?”

“Tapas,” Greg reminded him. 

Mycroft was surprised; he remembered, of course, but it was only a throw-away comment in a much longer conversation. He wouldn’t have expected Greg to retain that detail. 

“Indeed,” Mycroft said. “And?”

“Well, what’s your deal then?”

“My deal?”

Greg laughed, not quite throwing back his head to do so, but tilting attractively, exposing the line of his throat and shooting Mycroft a glittering, amused look from under his lashes. “Yeah, your deal. You could be married for all I know. You don’t talk about yourself.”

“I talk about myself,”’ Mycroft said carefully. “Perhaps there is not much to tell.”

“So not married, then.”

Mycroft felt his lips twist, and he carefully didn’t think of a single novel in which an exchange such as this one would be the start of something. Would be the spark which lit the fire of flirtation. He had left the books behind him, and had at this time disconnected their narratives from his perception of their author. Mycroft thought this very, very sternly at himself.  

“No,” he said, maintaining his calm on the surface. “Well- I have been accused of treating work like…”

“Ah, I’ve heard that one too,” Greg said. “But I’m not actually married to the job; I’m not a true workaholic. I’d kill for room the breathe, some weeks. Is it the same for you?”

Mycroft sighed. “It is and it is not. My work is quite specific to me. There is no one to pick up the slack, for lack of a better phrase, when I am indisposed or attempt a break. It isn’t that I am repelled by the idea of a personal life, I simply wouldn’t be able to conduct one in a way that works for another person.”

“Have you tried?”

Mycroft paused to think about it, and had to admit to himself that trying wasn’t what he’d done. “Not exactly,” he murmured, still turning it over in his mind. “I… allowed myself to consider trying, in the past, and dismissed the idea when it became clear that it would be incompatible with my lifestyle.”

Across the table, Greg regarded Mycroft thoughtfully. “That sounds like bullshit to me, Holmes.”

Mycroft barked a laugh, then caught himself, cutting it off with a clearing of his throat. His eyes drifted out and down to the street again. “Inspector,” he said. 

“Greg.”

“No, I fear at the moment it will have to be Inspector. I believe that I am witnessing a crime in progress.”

Greg dropped his fork. “You what?”

Mycroft nodded, and Greg followed his line of sight. 

“Oh for—” Greg’s napkin hit the table beside his plate with a thump. “Christ. Want to wait here a moment? Do me a favor and call it in while I go down there?”

“Of course.”

Greg shot Mycroft another amused look on his way up out of his seat. “Speaking of work always getting in the way of a personal life.”

 

***

 

Mycroft didn’t fully consider what those parting words could have meant until later, after Greg had detained the would-be hotwirer and then delivered him into the hands of the constables who arrived soon after. He found himself waiting outside the restaurant while Greg spoke with one of the young officers, smoking and turning their conversation over in his mind. 

Did he count as part of Greg’s personal life? Had Mycroft counted as part of anyone’s personal life in the last ten years? In the last twenty? 

He couldn’t have brought himself to admit to Greg that the last time he had ‘tried’, however feebly, to forge a relationship with another person, had been some time in the mid-90s. And that had only managed to exist as a casual sexual arrangement in the end, and only for a short period of months before it fizzled out. The man, whose name Mycroft was alarmed to realize he had forgotten ( Jonathan? No— ), let Mycroft down gently before ending up engaged a handful of months later. 

Rhys, that was his name. Married a man called Peter and became a stay at home parent. Mycroft blew out a stream of smoke and marveled at such a thing. 

He never could have been with someone who wished to marry and have children. When would he ever have seen them? Any child would think of Mycroft as the unfamiliar visitor who sometimes arrived to upset routines and make stilted, awkward attempts at familial caring. 

Mycroft remembered the years before Sherlock was born quite clearly. He could still recall the smell of his mother’s perfume as she embraced him, stiffly, upon her return from a fellowship at a university in Norway. 

He hadn’t seen her in nearly a year. 

Mycroft was more than a little discomfited to be thinking of such things now, in public, yards away from Greg Lestrade - who, in fact, was headed Mycroft’s way. 

“Thought you quit smoking,” Greg said. 

“I did,” Mycroft replied. “I like to prove I can have just one, every so often.”

“Same,” Greg said with a grin. “Can I trouble you?”

“Of course.” Mycroft presented Greg with his cigarette case and lighter. He rolled his eyes at Greg’s pointed, cheeky look at the silver squares. “Try not to make the obvious dig. I know I am an unbearable fop, and you know it as well, let us move forward.”

“Not unbearable,” Greg teased as he lit his cigarette. “Rather charming, actually.”

Mycroft shook his head and lit another, hiding behind his hand to hide the heat in his cheeks.

 

***

 

Things came to a head nearly a year after they started spending time together. 

Anthea, of course, had been right to prod Mycroft about ceasing his habit of following Mystere/Derien’s new releases. It turned out that without them, Mycroft developed a...craving. An itch. One he couldn’t scratch, and which worsened the longer he went on insisting to himself that managing a halfway decent friendship with a handsome, decent man ought to be good enough for him. 

He found himself alone one Sunday night, delayed by heavy rains in New York City and unable to fly home the day before as planned. He’d had to cancel a dinner date - dinner meeting - with Greg, and he was annoyed. 

The hotel bar had proved too loud for Mycroft’s frayed nerves and so, after two double scotches, he took himself up to his room and opened a bottle there in the peaceful quiet. He sorely regretted sending Anthea ahead on Friday. She would have stopped him from the ill-advised third glass. 

He found himself toying with his mobile, rolling it between his palms. He wanted very badly to type out a text message to Greg: I miss you. I know about your books. 

Mycroft was desperate to be free of the secret knowledge of the books. He felt increasingly guilty over it, and strangely anxious over what having this sort of secret would do to a friendship. His limited experience hadn’t prepared him for such a situation. All he knew for certain was that knowing but not saying felt like a terrible deception. 

He could send a text and release himself from the guilt or good. And then… 

Here in his musings, tonight and every other time the idea of coming clean presented itself, Mycroft drew up short. What would happen next? His usual approach was useless. There was no metric by which to predict it. 

Because I miss you felt entirely necessary as a way to begin. And Mycroft never missed anyone.

If he confessed, could he go back to reading the books? Would doing so scratch that unreachable itch? 

Mycroft knew he was a little drunk, and starting to feel panicked. He ought to take himself to bed and forget the entire thing. Again. 

Instead, he unlocked his mobile and, for the first time, placed an actual call to Greg’s number. 

His voice was rough with sleep when he answered. “H’llo?”

Mycroft glanced wildly at the clock beside the hotel bed and nearly hung up in his panic. It would be nearly two in the morning in London. He couldn’t believe he was forgetful enough not to take the time difference into account. 

“Mycroft?” Greg prompted, sounding more alert, the rustle of bedclothes over the line telegraphing his movements: sitting up in bed, pushing the blankets aside. “Everything okay?”

“I’m so terribly sorry,” Mycroft forced himself to say. “It’s late, and I am in a completely different timezone—”

“I know—”

“Still, that isn’t an excuse, just. I didn’t think—”

“Must be a first for you.”

“I can’t believe I—  What?”

Greg’s smile was audible in his voice. “Not thinking. Can’t imagine you accomplish that, much.”

Mycroft breathed out, slowly. “Well.”

“Is everything okay? Or is this a social call?” 

Mycroft rested his forehead against the cool glass of the window. “It was a social call, before I realized the hour. I shall let you get back to sleep.”

“Nah,” Greg said, then made a strained sound of discomfort--rearranging himself in bed.

Mycroft swallowed, hard. “No?”

“I wouldn’t mind a chat.”

“It’s the middle of the night.”

“You called me,” Greg pointed out. “Makes me think you must have had something very interesting to say.” 

Mycroft drew a slow, steadying breath. Perhaps it was the distance that allowed him to finally say it, or perhaps it was the scotch. Either way, he opened his mouth and said, “I have read all of the books you wrote and published before we started...having dinner. Some of them multiple times. I’ve kept it from you, and I feel extremely guilty about it.”

There was a taut, frightening silence. Mycroft swallowed another mouthful of scotch and waited, his eyes unfocused on the sweeping, glittering views of the Manhattan skyline. 

Then, Greg let out a loud, gusty breath and a choked laugh. “Jesus Christ,” he groaned. 

Mycroft couldn’t bring himself to say anything more. 

“How in the fuck did you find out about those,” Greg wondered. Mycroft was relieved to find that Greg’s tone was simply curious, perhaps embarrassed, but there was no anger or upset to be detected. At least, not yet. “I don’t even handle the contracts for them in my own name, and the publisher is basically microscopic.”

Mycroft took a hurried sip of his drink, and forced words past his lips. “It was rather accidental. You may be surprised to learn that one of your paperbacks made it to a sad little lounge in an airport which officially does not exist, in a country the name of which you have perhaps never heard, or at least, have never had cause to think about.”

“You’re nervous.”

Mycroft huffed. “And what makes you say that?”

“You get very wordy when you’re nervous,” Greg murmured. “Which book was it?” 

Mycroft told him, stuttering over the words, and Greg laughed heartily. 

“That title is such shite,” he snorted. “Oh god. I’m so embarrassed.”

“You shouldn’t be,” Mycroft hurried to say. “You…are very good at what you do. How you write about the things you…ah…write about.” He rolled his eyes at himself. That was appalling.

After a pause Greg said, quietly, “Thank you,” and then cleared his throat. “So, yeah, L.G. Mystere, at your service.”

Mycroft had to peculiar urge to shock him then. He smirked at his own reflection in the window before turning away, striding across the room to set his glass down on the desk with a clink. “Pleased to make the acquaintance of the talented and inspired Mr. Mystere,” he murmured. He sat on the edge of the bed. “Now, do I also have the honor of meeting the even more talented G.L. Derien tonight, or shall I wait another year to admit I know of him as well?”

“Fucking hell,” Greg cried. “Of course you know about those, too. Mycroft...no,” he groaned.

“I told you not to be embarrassed.”

“They’re just so…” Greg sighed. “You know, risqué.”

“Some might think so, yes.”

“You don’t?”

Mycroft thought carefully about his response while he shifted to sit up against the headboard. The scotch was still warm in his veins, but he felt less unsteady now that the truth was out. He felt he could allow himself the lassitude and slightly freer speech that came with this level of intoxication. For once. With Greg, he could. 

“I don’t think risqué is a fair descriptor for work that is so… emotionally significant,” he said finally. “Which your books are. It’s why I...well. It occurs to me that you may be shocked to know that after I found Claws of Desire—  and yes, that title is rather… well—  I went searching or more. Are you terribly shocked to learn I am one of your most faithful readers?”

“Shocked right down to the ground, if I’m honest,” Greg replied with a chuckle. “But. It’s a relief. I wanted to tell you about it. We see each other so often these days, it was starting to feel like a big lie, keeping it from a friend like that.”

The mirror of Mycroft’s own guilt in those words only made him feel more willing to speak honestly. 

“I didn’t want to admit I knew,” he confessed. “I worried it would make things awkward.”

“Why?”

Mycroft froze. How to answer without admitting that the books had served to fill in the spaces where real intimacy should have been. How to answer without admitting that he had… lusted after an author he hadn’t known at all? That he had been trying not to allow those feelings to transfer on to Greg once he knew? How to answer without exposing far, far too much?

“You don’t have to answer,” Greg said after the pause had gone on for too long. “Really, I get it. It’s weird to talk to someone knowing they’ve written some fairly raunchy stuff, yeah?”

“More awkward, I would think, for you to talk with me, knowing I had sought out the ‘raunchy stuff’.” 

“But that’s every smut author’s dream!” Greg laughed. “I’m...tickled. And I can’t judge, seeing as I wrote it, you see?”

“And nor can I judge, since I happily read it,” Mycroft added. “Interesting.”

“You should’ve said something before,” Greg chided. “We had a case of mutually assured destruction, here.”

“I suppose,” Mycroft admitted, unable to stop the twitching of his lips into a smile. “Will you tell me how you came to be a romance author?”

“Yeah,” Greg replied, his voice soft. “But not tonight, I’m knackered.”

“I should let you go.”

“I should get to sleep, yeah, but hey— big reveal notwithstanding, I was glad to see you were calling me. You could do it more often if you like.”

Mycroft flushed, hiding his face in his hand despite the fact that there was no one to see. “I shall keep that in mind.” 

“Do I have to wait until next Sunday to tell you the sordid tale?”

“No,” Mycroft said. “Not at all.”

“Call me when you’re back in this timezone, then,” Greg said, sleepiness creeping into his voice. “Come to mine, and I’ll cook. ‘M not talking about writing erotica where a server’s going to interrupt every five seconds.”

“Yes,” Mycroft managed to say, despite his howling thoughts, thrown into even further disarray at the prospect of being completely alone, in an entirely private place, discussing erotica with Greg Lestrade. “Yes, that’s fine. I’ll...call you.”

“Good,” Greg murmured. “Goodnight, Mycroft.”

“Goodnight, Greg,” Mycroft said, and ended the call with numb fingers.

He stared into the empty room for a moment, sure he had just imagined that entire exchange. Then, once he had managed to convince himself that it had been real, Mycroft opened his mobile again, this time to check his flight status. He needed to get the hell back to England.