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There was nothing to be nervous about. 

It wasn’t like Greg hadn’t had dinner with Mycroft Holmes before. He’d been doing it almost weekly for close to a year. Just because this dinner would happen in his tiny flat and not out in some public place, and just because Mycroft knew now, didn’t mean anything had changed. 

Mycroft had known the entire time.

Greg couldn’t think about that. He needed to keep his head on straight and remember that everything was perfectly normal.

Still, the second he got off the phone with Mycroft on Monday evening - two real phone calls in as many days, be still his heart - Greg started cleaning his flat like Kim and Aggie were watching. By the time he was mostly satisfied that the place would pass muster, it was late. He would only have a short window of time the next evening to leave work, pick up ingredients, and start cooking a meal that would, he hoped, impress. 

This feels like a date. 

Greg sighed, tossing and turning in bed. He told himself to knock it off. 

It’s not a date, he thought sternly. A hopeful piece of himself replied: Yeah, but it still feels like one. 

Greg didn't need to admit that he wished it could be; he’d admitted that to himself a long time ago, some time last spring when the dinners had become a regular thing. 

God, he liked Mycroft Holmes so much it was stupid, truly. It was probably a really bad idea to like him as much as Greg did. The man was scary smart - smarter even than Sherlock, Greg had heard - and from every clue Greg had gathered over the years, extremely powerful. Mycroft had known for two years that Sherlock was alive. Had even spoken to Greg face to face once or twice in that time and hadn’t so much as twitched a single guilty muscle. Not even as he stood at his own brother’s fake funeral. 

Greg had been pretty furious about that for awhile, but with nearly two years like so much water under the bridge since Sherlock had come back, and then so many long talks getting to know Mycroft over meals and drinks, he’d forgiven it. 

He just liked the man. Liked his suits and his overly formal manner. Liked the way his voice changed when he was comfortable, the way he made sly observations and dry little jokes. Greg liked his faultless grooming and measured movements. He liked their dinners and their talks. 

He thought Mycroft was, whether or not he wanted to admit it or show it, a good man. He thought Mycroft had been showing it, just a little, to Greg over the last several months, and it felt like a privilege.

Still, Mycroft could be a cool customer. He seemed lonely. Greg had found himself wanting to change that for him. But Mycroft, even once he opened up enough to let Greg know him a bit, was still incredibly guarded. The man was a fortress. Sunday dinners were companionable. Once a week, they were friends. And that was it. Greg hadn’t yet figured out how to change that.

Then, a phone call the other night. It had been a complete surprise in and of itself; Mycroft’s obvious tipsiness a second surprise; the thing about the books, a complete shock. 

Greg felt queasy, lying there in the dark, thinking about Mycroft Holmes reading the things Greg had written. Christ, I write the word cock so fucking much, he thought, not for the first time. And Mycroft Holmes read all of the cocks I wrote, fuck, fuck—  He flailed around and grabbed a pillow, shoved it over his own face, and muffled a mad giggle. 

“Oh, god,” Greg said to the empty room, still half-crazed and shaking with suppressed laughter. He needed to breathe though, so he threw the pillow aside. “What next?”

He wondered how Mycroft looked when he read Greg’s books. All the plot twists and declarations of love; the sex and kisses; the emotional confrontations. Did he sit there with one eyebrow up, and analyze it all like a scientist observing a strange, less evolved alien species? Did he roll his eyes at it? Scoff? Or did he really like it? Did Mycroft ever feel, when he read those things, the way Greg did when he wrote them? Thrilled and excited, jealous and hopeful? 

Stop thinking and get some sleep.

Greg couldn’t stop trying to figure out which dinner had been his tipping point. He’d always found Sherlock’s mysterious, aloof older brother attractive in a distant, unattainable way. When exactly had Greg started feeling that attraction more immediately and insistently? Was it the fourth dinner, the first time he saw Mycroft really laugh? Was it during the first one that took place on a third consecutive Sunday, and seemed to cement the regularity of the dinners? Had it been the first one, full stop? 

Once or twice Greg had started to wonder if the dinners were dates, and he just didn’t know it. They were so.... Something. Not quite intimate. Not quite flirtatious. But close to it. Close enough that Greg had felt guilty scrolling through profiles on the dating app Laura’d made him install on his phone. 

That had been so pathetic, feeling like he was betraying a man he wasn’t even dating. Greg had gone and swiped right on a guy called Phillip just to try and actually date someone. 

Phillip had responded to Greg’s Hi, how are you with a picture of his cock. 

Greg had nearly thrown his phone across his office in frustration. 

He didn’t want that. Faceless torsos and arses exposed in bathroom mirrors? Disembodied erections? None of it was anything. Conversations that opened with strings of shorthand Greg didn’t understand? It made him feel old and tired. 

And he couldn’t say things were any easier with the women who showed an interest. Yeah, they were at least… whatever, generally more respectful, but the app seemed like a hook-up platform more than anything else. 

Even if Greg did find someone on his phone, what would that look like? Coffee to drinks to dinner to sex to sleepovers to moving in? Marriage again? How? The thought of trusting a complete stranger not to rip his heart out sooner or later made him feel a bit physically ill. 

He’d been with Dana for years and she’d done it. Often.

Was Mycroft Holmes capable of breaking Greg’s heart? 

Oh, definitely. 

So why would Greg even wish—  

Greg really needed to stop running over all this in his head and just go to sleep already. 

It was a long time before he could.

 

***

 

The knock at the door came just as Greg slid the lasagne into the oven, exactly on time at half six. 

Greg’s stomach swooped with a sudden rush of nerves; and he’d been doing so well. 

“Just a minute!” he called, yanking the dish towel off his shoulder and hurriedly brushing his clothing down. He’d had just enough time for a quick shower and change into jeans and a half-decent, non-work shirt. Hadn’t gotten around to shoes though, and now it would be weird to take the time to put them on, leaving Mycroft waiting out on his welcome mat. 

He’ll just have to know you walk around your own flat barefoot, Greg told himself. Answer the door, you fucking pinecone. 

He opened the door with a ready, friendly smile - no embarrassment, no weirdness here! - and was greeted by the sight of Mycroft Holmes more casually dressed than Greg had ever seen him. His coat already draped over his arm, he stood in the shabby hall outside Greg’s door wearing the softest-looking jumper that had ever existed over his usual dress shirt. He’d either forgone the tie or taken it off in the car. The trousers were the usually impeccably cut wool, but the shoes were casual, buttery brown leather. He looked incredibly vulnerable without his suit.

Attraction hit Greg like a torpedo to the chest. It wasn’t an unfamiliar sensation. He could power through.

Christ, you look so soft, Greg thought, even as he said, “Hi! You made it! Come in, come in.”

I sound like my mum, he thought, dying a bit inside, as Mycroft quirked one of his hesitant little half-smiles and crossed the threshold, holding up a bottle of wine. 

“I come bearing alcohol,” he said, then lifted his other hand and the bag he carried. It clinked. “Quite a lot of it, actually.”

Greg’s eyes widened and for a split second he was taken aback—  and then Mycroft’s wry expression registered and he felt the tension leave him at once, like having all his strings cut. He laughed. “You really are a genius,” he said. “Why should anything be awkward when you’re two bottles in, right?”

“Precisely,” Mycroft agreed, quirking an eyebrow. “I think we might both require the liquid courage.” 

Greg took his coat and hung it in the cramped little closet near the door, using his foot to shove the detritus trying to spill out back into its depths, all the while wishing he’d thought to tidy the thing. 

“Sorry,” he said, feeling himself flush. “This place is… small.”

“It’s quite alright,” Mycroft replied. 

Greg was having a hard time meeting Mycroft’s eyes now that the elephant in the room had, in a way, been acknowledged. He led the way into the small dinette and kitchen area. 

“Lasagne should be ready in an hour,” he said. “I… uhm.” 

Well, shit. He hadn’t really considered how awkward it would be to just...wait. Now what?

“Corkscrew?” Mycroft asked, and Greg felt able to face him again with a relieved grin. 

“Coming right up,” he said. “And glasses, too.”

Mycroft went about the business of opening two of the bottles, leaving one to breathe and pouring each of them a generous helping from the other. He handed Greg a glass and then held his own forward to clink them together. 

“Alright,” Greg sighed once he’d taken a sip big enough to be considered poor manners. “Ask.”

Mycroft raised an eyebrow and leaned one hip against Greg’s kitchen bench. One of his arms folded elegantly across his torso, propping up the other elbow. He held his wine glass at the ready. “Ask?”

“Yeah,” Greg prompted. “Ask me all the things you want to know about the books. There has to be something. Lots of somethings. So, ask.”

“Do you not wish to ask me questions?”

Greg snorted. “I’m not going first.”

Mycroft huffed and shook his head ruefully. “Fine. But show me somewhere we can sit, because this could be a long chat.”

Greg showed Mycroft to his overcrowded lounge, pointing toward the little hallway off to the side. “Bedroom and loo through there; I’ll give you the tour later if you’re dying of curiosity. For now, please - sit.” 

They sat. Mycroft’d had the forethought to snag the bottle of wine off the counter and bring it with them. He topped off their glasses, despite the fact that they had barely taken more than two sips, and set the bottle on Greg’s coffee table. He situated himself at one end of the loveseat, turned sideways with his long legs elegantly crossed and his gaze laser-focused on Greg’s nervous face. 

Greg waited, forcing himself not to fidget. He leaned against the opposite arm of the sofa with one leg bent against the cushions and the other tucked up under him, and resisted the urge to bend both knees and hide behind them like a child. He told himself to be cool, goddamnit.  

Mycroft cleared his throat and, at length, said, “How?”

“How?”

“How did you start writing?” 

Greg relaxed. This, he could handle. “Oh, well, I always liked doing it,” he said. “I wrote a lot as a kid. Was always at ease with those classes in school, and I amused myself with telling stories all the time. Sometimes I wrote them down, sometimes I just… you know, told them. Out loud. I got a reputation with my teachers for being quite good at it, and for a while I thought I might study it at University or something.”

“But you didn’t.”

Greg shrugged. He knew Mycroft was probably well on his way to deducing the why’s, but he described them anyway. 

“I didn’t. My father died when I was sixteen, and my mum wasn’t well. She got really sick a couple years later, and someone needed to watch after Laura. I ended up with the Met, and didn’t have time for Uni. Got my degree through part-time classes over a lot of years, and by then criminology was the sensible thing to study.”

Mycroft’s expression hadn’t changed, but his voice took on a sympathetic quality: “Did you write in your spare time then?”

“You can tell that I didn’t,” Greg said ruefully. “I know you can. When would I have, at that point? First with a sister and her baby underfoot, then in school at night and on the weekend, plus the wife and the job I’ve always been too willing to ignore everything else for. I suppose eventually I could’ve made time for it, but it was years before I picked it up again.” 

“Why is that, do you think?”

Greg shrugged. “I dunno,” he said. “I really don’t know, it was just something I let go of, I suppose. It didn’t make me sad at the time, nor does it now. I’m glad I found enjoyment in it again, but I do love what I do, my career, and I’m proud of my accomplishments.”

Mycroft smiled. “As you should be.” 

“Thanks. Anyway, I picked it back up when things were going south with my ex, and that somehow led to this. The books.”

Mycroft hummed and sipped his wine, which reminded Greg about his own. He drank and took a moment to breathe. This wasn’t such an awkward conversation; in all his worry about how this would go, Greg had nearly forgotten that Mycroft was in fact, his friend. That he could be trusted. 

“Why romance novels?” Mycroft wondered next. “Why not crime?”

Greg grinned. “Why not romance novels?”

“That doesn't answer my question.”

“Well…” Greg stalled for a moment by taking a contemplative gulp of his wine. Mycroft took mercy and broke eye contact to reach for the bottle and top it off again. “The most honest answer I can give you,” Greg said after a while, “is that writing romance was something I did because romance was a thing I had begun to miss. Quite badly.”

Mycroft paused mid-action, poised to return the bottle to the table. He seemed to consider this for a moment before setting the bottle down and repositioning himself on the sofa. “Oh?” he said, neutral as could be. 

Greg huffed and rubbed at his forehead, looking away for a moment. “It sounds a bit pathetic, I know.”

“Not at all,” Mycroft murmured. “It isn’t pathetic at all.”

Greg gathered his courage and looked at him again. Mycroft looked back, his expression gentle and encouraging. There was no judgment there.

“My sister loves to read,” Greg said, grasping for something to say that wasn’t so intensely personal. “She reads books like breathing, one right after the other. And when she doesn't have a book to interest her, she reads fiction people post online. Always has, since back when the internet was a shiny new thing. So when I started fiddling with writing again, I told her about it. She showed me where I might… get some feedback. Or - I dunno - attention for it. She thought it’d be good for me during the first… thing. With my ex. Said it would be therapeutic.” 

Mycroft stayed quiet, waiting for Greg to continue. He didn’t look weirded out by anything so far, so Greg kept talking. 

“I guess it was,” he said, trying hard not to look as uncomfortable as he felt to admit it. “So I got into that a bit, and after a while Laura asked me if I ever considered making money off it. At the time, I was pretty sure the divorce was going to happen. I hadn’t thought about writing for money, but at the time it was a good idea to try. Divorce is… it can be brutal. Mine was pretty rough. Financially. I’m sure you know all about it already.”

Mycroft tilted his head. “I know a little,” he admitted, not nearly as sheepishly as he ought have. “I try not to pry into the personal matters of others when it is irrelevant to my position or Sherlock’s safety.” 

Greg rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah,” he said, and he hadn’t ever been nearly as bothered by Mycroft’s omniscience as he ought to have been, so why start now? “Anyway, the publisher I signed with is really tiny, like I told you before. I’m not… the books don’t rake in the cash, or anything. Couldn’t quit my day job, not that I want to. But now that there are so many of them, it’s a nice bit of extra.” 

“Amazing,” Mycroft murmured. 

“Amazing?” Greg laughed. “It’s not, really. Plenty of people do exactly what I do. There are people who do it much better. Trust me.” 

“Hm,” Mycroft hummed, noncommittal, then visibly switched tracks. “And how do you keep all of this so well hidden?” 

Greg grinned. “Laura’s the one who signs the contracts. Gets the money. I make her keep most of it these days, you know, for the kids. If my divorce was brutal, Laura’s was a bloodbath. Her ex is a real piece of work, and she had a rough time of it for a while. I started writing to make myself feel better. I kept doing it because it turns out I just really like it, even when I don’t necessarily need it to work through my own… issues. I don’t really need the money, so.” He shrugged. “So yeah, that’s how. Nothing exciting; no espionage, I’m afraid.”

Mycroft smiled behind his wineglass and hummed again, amused. “I see.”

“Aren’t you going to ask about all the gay sex?” Greg demands, just for the pleasure of the flush it gets him; just to ruffle Mycroft’s feathers a bit. 

“I wasn’t going to,” Mycroft says. “Why would I?”

“Aren’t you wondering if it means I’m gay?”

“No,” Mycroft replied primly. 

Oh, Greg thought, disappointed. 

“You’re obviously bisexual,” Mycroft continued. 

Bingo! Greg perked up. “Obviously, eh?”

“Before I knew it was you behind the pen names, I knew that Mystere and Derien were the same person,” Mycroft said, eyes glittering with self-satisfaction. “Anyone looking, in possession of a few facts and with a decent recall of details such as word choice and sentence structure could figure that out.”

“Anyone, sure,” Greg drawled. “Of course they could.”

“Well, I could,” Mycroft amended. “I found it an interesting thought exercise, given the two obvious noms de plume, to attempt to… profile the author, so to speak.”

Greg laughed, tilting his head back against the sofa cushions. “Mycroft,” he said to his ceiling. “Did you start a file on my dirty books?”

“Of course not.”

“Not even in your mind palace?” Greg teased. He rolled his head to the side. Mycroft’s faint flush was wonderful. Greg bit his lip to contain his grin. “You do have one, don’t you? Sherlock says you showed him how to build one.”

Mycroft rolled his eyes. “I have one, but the answer is still no. I did not start a file. I simply… ruminated.”

“Ruminated.”

“Yes.” Mycroft shifted, his shoulders had stiffened defensively. “And I came to the conclusion that the person writing the books was most likely a man, most likely bisexual, or if not bisexual, gay with some level of experimentation of women in his past.”

“So, again, how d’you know I’m not gay?” Greg wonders, the wine and the ease of the conversation making him a little braver. “How are you so sure my marriage didn’t fail because I was secretly gay the entire time?”

Mycroft paused. 

“Are you gay?”

Greg grinned. “No.”

Mycroft cleared his throat and refilled their glasses again, tipping out the last of the bottle into Greg’s. He raised his glass and seemed to contemplate it before shrugging and draining it in one go. He leaned forward ever-so slightly. 

“Your marriage failed,” Mycroft said slowly, carefully, “because your ex-wife was a complete idiot who had no idea what she had.”

Greg didn’t dare breathe; he didn’t dare look away from Mycroft’s steady gaze. Mycroft didn’t say anything more or move any closer, but oh, how Greg wished he would. 

After a moment, Greg found his voice. “That… is that so?”

“Yes,” Mycroft said seriously, then he seemed to remember himself in a blink. “I—  I’m sorry. The wine seems to have gone straight to my—” 

The oven timer went off.

Greg, swallowing against the racing of his heart, breathed through a strange rush of relief. They both probably needed a moment to regroup. “Saved by the bell,” he said gently, then reached out to touch Mycroft’s hand where it had come to rest on a sofa cushion. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go soak up some of this wine with carbs. It’s my turn to ask questions.”

He hauled himself up off the sofa and headed for the kitchen, not looking back to see if Mycroft followed. 

I think… this just became a date, he thought to himself. Fuck, yes, this is a date

At least he really, really hoped it could be considered one, when all was said and done. 

 

***

 

Once lasagne and salad were plated, water glasses set out and wine glasses refilled, they sat across from each other at Greg’s tiny dining table and seemed to mutually pause. Greg wished he had candles to light. 

“I’d like to know what you like about my books, if you wouldn’t mind telling me. And maybe how you figured out that it was me who wrote them.” 

Mycroft smiled almost shyly down at his plate and speared a cherry tomato with his fork. “I’m sure you would,” he said. “I don’t mind telling you, I suppose. I… think you might understand why I like them.”

I’d like to understand, Greg thinks. Tell me and I’ll try very hard. 

Mycroft took a bite of salad and chewed, thinking over his words. Greg ate too, and waited, barely tasting a thing. 

After a while, Mycroft spoke. “My life is… rather solitary,” he said. “It’s a circumstance with which I have been… more or less satisfied. My work is important to me; has been the most important thing to me other than my brother, and at times has regrettably come even before him. A life that includes companionship or intimacy, it isn’t one that prioritizes work the way mine does.”

Greg stayed quiet, cutting into his lasagne and eating slowly, mechanically, as he processed that. The conversation they’d had over the summer, about how little Mycroft dated, echoed in his memory. His chest ached in understanding. 

“I don’t often think on it,” Mycroft continued. “It’s not that I never do, or that I have never experienced a desire for those things, but.” He shrugged elegantly. “When I was young, and well aware that I was gay, a romantic commitment felt like something I couldn’t pursue; not while building the career I wanted. By the time legality ceased to be a concern, I was too old and too deeply devoted to the work to sustain anything long term. I decided I wouldn’t pursue it. It is what it is.”

Greg wanted to tell him that all of that sounded like garbage to him. He pinched himself under the table to keep quiet. Who was he to tell Mycroft that his decisions had been wrong? Still, he couldn’t help but notice the way Mycroft described a relationship as something distant and abstract. He couldn’t help but wonder if Mycroft just hadn’t met the right person; someone who would understand. Someone who—  

He pinched himself harder. Stop thinking. Just listen. Idiot.

Mycroft continued. “I told you that I found one of your books in an airport lounge. You’re right, the title leaves much to be desired—”

“The cover, too,” Greg interjected, smiling in a way he hoped was encouraging. 

Please tell me everything about this. About you. 

“Perhaps,” Mycroft agreed with a rueful little smile. “I was unbelievably tired but unable to sleep when I picked up the book. I started reading because I had, quite literally, nothing better to do. I kept reading because… I simply couldn’t stop. I’ve always had a tendency to get, ah, sucked in - so to speak - by stories that catch my interest. Your book caught my interest.” He toyed with his fork, eyes distant with the memory. “I couldn’t have explained it at the time. When I found the book again, having brought it home with me for reasons I didn’t examine closely until later, I had the strangest need to go looking for more. And so, I did.”

Greg practically held his breath, dying to ask questions but terrified that Mycroft would reveal less if Greg asked for more. 

Mycroft took a bite of lasagne and sighed. Swallowing, he gestured with his fork. “This is delicious.”

“Thank you,” Greg said, hushed. 

Please keep talking.

After another bite, Mycroft did. “I read all of the Mystere novels, and then quickly found Derien. I…” Mycroft looked down at his plate again. Greg’s heart squeezed in sympathy; this was hard for Mycroft to say. “I was affected more by those titles. And I admitted to myself that the reason I stole the first book from that awful little lounge was that it had given me something I didn’t, or couldn’t, have in my life. That book with the silly cover, and all of the books you have written.... They are so—  full. Full of intimacy and... desire. They’re so honest about what they are, what they contain. I… needed that. I suppose I needed these items which may as well have been labeled: take one in order to feel something, in order to give myself permission to do just that.”

“To…” Greg cleared his throat. “Permission to feel something?”

Mycroft made eye contact at last, all guarded eyes and soft red flush spread across his long nose. “Yes.”

Greg’s breath stuttered. “Mycroft.”

“I don’t wish to make you feel - awkward.” 

“You’re not making me feel awkward,” Greg said quickly, setting down his fork and dropping all pretense that he gave a shit about eating. “It’s why I write them. It’s. I enjoy writing, I’d enjoy writing anything. Crime, maybe, like you said. But this, these, I write because I needed permission, too. Don’t you see? You must have deduced that, yeah? Must have seen it in my commas or the way I use too many semicolons, right?

Mycroft’s lips twitched and the shutters over his eyes receded by degrees.

“I told you why I write . I haven’t had—” Greg waved a hand. “Any of those things I write about in so long. Intimacy, fuck, where’d that go? It was a distant memory before the divorce was even an idea in the back of my head. Romance? It’s… practically a myth to me, some days. The sort of endings I like to write, hardly anyone ever gets them. The things I see every day, they’re not happy things. People with murdered loved ones, people who are badly hurt and damaged. They don’t get happy endings. I didn’t get one. But Christ, I wanted - want - one, you know? Doesn't everyone?”

“I don’t know that I do,” Mycroft murmured, setting down his own fork as well and swapping it for his wine glass. “Or rather, it isn’t that I don’t, it’s that I didn’t know—  that I don’t know that it’s a possibility.”

Greg’s heart lurched sideways. “Of course it is,” he said, unable to stop himself even as his brain screamed at him not to push. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Why wouldn’t it be for you?” Mycroft countered, gazing over his wineglass in challenge. 

Greg stared back, hands gripping the edge of the table. When had he gone and started clinging to the table like it was a life raft on a raging, dangerous sea? Greg sighed and reached for his water glass, knowing just from that particularly flowery thought that he needed to take another pause from the wine. 

“I don’t know,” he said eventually. “Work? Age? Lack of realistic prospects?”

“Hm.” Mycroft turned the stem of his glass between his fingers. “My answer would be much the same.”

Greg wanted nothing more than to fling himself across the table and into Mycroft’s lap shouting: Let’s say bollocks to all of that, then, shall we? But he breathed through that mental image. 

This wasn’t a date, this was a revelation. A mutual confessional. If Greg didn’t tread carefully, the entire thing was going to collapse on itself. The two of them would never recover from the mutual horror of having been so desperately overexposed to each other. He would never be able to make Mycroft understand that it was fine. Safe. They’d never get to the good part.

I’m going to show you all the good parts.

Greg took a breath and picked up his fork once more. “I’m putting a pause on both serious conversation and alcohol consumption. Eat, before we both get drunk and even more morose.”

Mycroft did another of his little huff-laughs and obeyed. 

 

***

 

Once Greg had cleared their plates to the side of the kitchen sink and brought the second bottle of wine back with him, they resettled on the sofa in an arrangement similar to before, though now Greg was pleased to note that Mycroft looked slightly more relaxed. 

The lay of the land was a little clearer, Greg supposed. He, at least, felt less anxiety over what Mycroft must think of him and his silly little side projects. Mycroft clearly didn’t find them silly at all, which Greg really should have gathered from the fact that the man had read nearly all of the books on purpose. He’d wanted to believe it; now he knew for sure. Now he knew that Mycroft really got it.  

“Why’d you stop reading my books once we started, erm… hanging out?”

Mycroft laughed, this time more than just an amused puff of air, and Greg nearly preened to have caused it, even if it was just his awkward wording that did it. 

“Hanging out,” Mycroft mused. “My answer to that is...layered. May I pose a question to you before I explain?”

“Sure.”

“How biographical is Thicker Than Water?”

Greg winced. Fuuuuck, he thought. That was bloody pointed.  

“Right, he said, pained. “Fairly biographical. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, based on what I’ve told you about my younger years.”

Mycroft tilted his head in acknowledgment. “I thought as much. The truth is, I connected the dots and realized that you were the author of the books the night you accidentally texted me. I knew before we ever met for dinner.”

Greg sighed and rolled his eyes. “Well, not that it’s news, but you can certainly keep a secret.”

“That is demonstrably untrue. I cracked like an egg within a period of months.”

Greg couldn’t help his soft smile. The phone call had been a bit hysterical. Cracked like an egg, indeed. 

“And what sparked the epiphany?”

Mycroft twitched a sheepish smile. “I saw some of the books in your desk while alone in your office. The pieces fell into place later, during our text conversation.”

Greg laughed. “So you’re terribly nosey and it backfired on you. Bet that doesn't happen often.”

“The desk drawer was open,” Mycroft sniffed. 

“Uh huh.” Greg should have been more concerned about the way Mycroft’s quintessentially Holmesian lack of boundaries didn’t bother him a bit. It shouldn’t have been endearing. But… “So when did you stop reading?” 

“Almost immediately after I realized,” Mycroft said with a sigh. “It simply felt… When you told me about moving Laura in with you and I realized there was a biographical element… I felt like an intruder, even just remembering the novel’s plot.”

“I’m the one who put pieces of my real life into something.”

“Yes, but you didn’t offer it up to me for scrutiny, nor did you know I had accessed it, or that I had knowledge of your identity as the author.” Mycroft lifted one shoulder. “It didn’t seem fair.”

Greg didn't believe for a second that Mycroft read almost twenty romance novels and then stopped doing it just because Greg might use personal experience to inform them. “None of my other books are that close to my real life. You must realize that.”

“I do,” Mycroft hedged, eyes averted. “It wasn’t the only reason.”

Greg bit back a smile. “You don’t say.”

Mycroft leveled him with a baleful glare. “If you must know, it was a bit of a shock to suddenly personally know the individual who had written words which—  which I had found— well.

“Affecting?” Greg teased, laughing when Mycroft winced and covered his eyes with one hand. “It’s alright, I do understand.”

“Oh,” said Mycroft behind his fingers. “You barely grasp the depths of my embarrassment, I assure you.”

Greg wanted to reach out and pull Mycroft’s hand away, and then sit there holding onto his slim wrist, feeling his pulse and stroking his palm, soothing away the mortification. 

I’m so fucked. 

“It’s alright if my smutty books got you off, Mycroft,” Greg found himself saying, even as his body tingled in anticipation. It was like every hopeful feeling he’d ever had, over dozens of meals spent talking with unbelievable ease, and with all that flirting (It had been flirting, Greg knew it had) , was buzzing under his skin, intensifying the longer they talked this through. “That’s what they’re for.”

Mycroft’s face flamed under his own hand. “Oh, god.”

“Sorry,” Greg managed to say past the thundering of his own heart. “That was probably over the line.”

He couldn’t believe his own nerve, saying that. He felt vaguely nauseous, almost shivering with it. Greg recognized it now for what it was. Not just nerves. It was anticipation. Uncertainty ticking over into something surer. It was a feeling he hadn’t felt in years, this excited spark of something, when you just knew this was it, this person was the person you needed right then, right there. That they might want you back. That they must. All signs point to yes. All systems go. 

Greg shoved it all aside. He might be rusty, but he could do this. He could keep his cool just a little longer. 

“More like horrendously accurate,” Mycroft muttered, dropping his hand and uncovering his face. 

Greg tried to tone down his grin. “Accurate, you say.” 

“Don’t make me say it,” Mycroft replied. “And yes… that was significant in informing my decision to stop reading once I knew.” 

“Why?”

Mycroft blinked. “Why?”

“Yeah.” Greg shrugged. “Why? Who cares if I’m the one who wrote it? If it works for you, if you like it, who cares? I wrote it for people to read and enjoy however they want. So. You’re not upsetting me; I’d never know any better. So why?”

The silence that followed was thick. It stretched between them like molasses, the two of them staring at each other from across the length of the sofa, each frozen, waiting to find out what Mycroft would say to that. 

Greg knew the truth. He knew. He’d known for months now. The matter of the books was secondary. Greg knew Mycroft felt something. Felt what Greg had been feeling. And he wanted to hear Mycroft say it. His heart raced. 

“I…” Mycroft pressed his lips together.

He’s afraid.  

“Tell me,” Greg said numbly, practically shivering. “Go on.”

“I thought that whoever wrote all of that… who made kissing and touch and sex, sound like that… that I would be lucky to know that person. That man. To be with him.” Mycroft’s chest heaved as he spoke. “That was the fantasy, you see, before I knew. And then it turned out to be... you. You were the man who had made it all sound so desperately good. And I couldn’t possibly have allowed myself to keep fantasizing. To keep wishing. Not while attempting to be your friend.”

Greg swallowed hard, wanting to shout and cry and throw himself at Mycroft’s feet. “Is it that once you knew the author was me, he was less appealing?”

“The opposite,” Mycroft replied instantly. “Of course it’s the opposite. You must know that you are - incredibly attractive.”

Greg tried to halt the giddy laugh that escaped him, he really did. “Am I?”

Mycroft clicked his tongue. “Come, now. Don’t be coy.”

“I’m not,” Greg gasped. “Come on, Mycroft, you don’t be coy. Do you have a bit of a thing for me?”

“I’ve had a ‘bit of a thing’ for you since I met you.”

Yes!

“Oh.”

“The books were… a complicating factor. Our dinners… even more of one.”

“And now? Do you plan to just… what, have a crush on me and just… what? Nothing?” 

Mycroft only stared back at him, stymied, as if the question was ridiculous. 

Oh, you ridiculous man. Greg laughed again, feeling as though he could just bubble over with affection and relief. “Mycroft.”

“Yes?” 

Greg shifted forward. Mycroft’s eyes widened.

That’s it, come on, you’re starting to get it. 

“What would you do if I kissed you now?”

Mycroft’s mouth dropped open. He blinked. 

Greg waited.