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Greg woke early, alone, just as the last number on the bedside alarm clock flipped over: 6:41 . He rolled over and stretched with his arms flung out over the mattress, wondering vaguely where Mycroft had gone so early. Then, the clinging drowsiness zapped away by a sudden rush of fear, Greg sat straight up in bed so fast that he had a brief moment of head rush. He stumbled up, reached for and stepped into yesterday’s jeans, and grabbed a t-shirt out of the open overnight bag by the door on his way out. 

He was yanking the t-shirt - too snug; Mycroft’s, then - down as he exited the hallway into the front room, where Mycroft stood in his night clothes, staring intently at the mantlepiece. 

“Um.” 

Mycroft looked up, startled, but relaxed almost instantly when he realized it was just Greg. “Good morning,” he said. “I’m looking at a photo of a scandalously attired young you.”

Greg sighed with relief. “I worried you were out here getting the Paul treatment or something.”

“I am quite alright,” Mycroft said with an arch of his eyebrow. “Now, about this picture.” 

Greg crossed to the fireplace and leaned in to see which of the frames Mycroft could be talking about. He nearly choked. “Oh, god,” he said. “I had no idea they’d put this one out.”

“Gold lamé underwear,” Mycroft said, smirking. “It’s a choice.”

“I was Rocky,” Greg groaned. “We went to a midnight show. Paul was Frankenfurter, you see, and in a little reversal from the usual, Morris went as Eddie.” 

“I have no idea what any of that means. But Paul does have the legs for fishnets.” 

Greg snorted. “I need to educate you, if you don’t know anything about Rocky Horror. Remind me when we’re back in London?”

“Will you wear those?”

Greg shoved him lightly. “No.” 

Mycroft chuckled, then seemed to take in Greg’s appearance. “What are you wearing right now?”

“Came out in a bit of a hurry,” Greg said sheepishly. “I’ll shower and put on my own clean clothes, but I think tea first.” 

“Are there any other photos of you here?” Mycroft’s eyes skipped over the room, which really was covered in the things. 

Greg nodded. “Yeah, definitely.” He backed up a step, looking for the familiar gaudy frame. “Here,” he plucked it up from the sideboard. “Mind the glitter, it’ll flake off on you. This was celebrating my A-levels.” 

Mycroft took the frame. “Oh,” he said. “Your hair was long.”

Greg laughed, leaning on his shoulder to see the photo more clearly. “I was going through a phase. Luckily I had it cut for my University interviews before I could get it feathered as planned.”

“Feathered,” Mycroft said, stifling a chuckle. “Goodness.”

“I wanted to look like a rock n roller.” Greg tapped the photo. In it, his arm was slung around Paul’s waist. They were standing outside a club, a little sweaty, and Paul was mid-laugh. Greg was much skinnier back then, and he could still remember how easy it was to get drunk. He’d gotten very sick that night. “Morris took it,” he said. “They had just met. Weren’t serious yet. Took a while.” 

The Greg in the picture looked straight at the camera. He could remember the way he hadn’t liked Morris much. He’d been jealous of how he seemed to have caught all of Paul’s attention. A little wary, too. Morris had been older and kind of a bad boy, a heavy partier at the time, and Greg hadn’t liked it. Of course, Paul had been just as bad, but Greg at that age had a hard time seeing the flaws of anyone who gave him even a little attention. And Paul had given it to him in spades for years by then. It had been a confusing time.

Greg cleared his throat. “Anyway.” 

Mycroft handed the photo back. “You were adorable, of course,” he said. “Even with that awful hair.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Greg placed the frame back on the sideboard. “Want some tea? I committed to a walk with Paul this morning, but other than that we have the entire day to do whatever we want. Any ideas?”

Mycroft followed him into the kitchen. “Oh,” he said. “I hadn’t even… to be honest I can’t remember the last time I went anywhere outside of London that wasn’t for work.”

“Well—” Greg hunted around for the box of tea for a moment, finding it with a triumphant a-ha! “Think on it. I’ve been here before and would be satisfied to wander with you, if you like. Morris is probably going to be on his usual run til later in the morning, so you’ll have some peace and quiet here if you want to sleep a little more or read more naughty books.”

Mycroft laughed weakly. “Oh god, I’d forgotten about Caves of Iron.” 

Greg shook his head, smirking, and filled the kettle. “Don’t know how you could have,” he said. “Looks like a real masterpiece of literature.”

“I think I got a bit distracted from it, don’t you?”

Greg, struck with a lightning bolt of sense-memory, the feel of Mycroft’s skin under his tongue, felt himself flush. He turned away to stare at the heating kettle as if something very interesting was about to happen inside of it.

Mycroft, naturally, caught that. “Did you just get embarrassed about sex?”

“No,” Greg scoffed.

“I believe you did.”

“I didn’t!” Greg bit his lower lip, trying not to laugh, then jumped, startled, as a gentle arm slipped sneakily around his middle to pull him back against Mycroft’s body. 

“You can’t get embarrassed,” Mycroft said, mouth just behind Greg’s ear. “That’s my area. You can’t steal my lines.”

Greg laughed, and let himself relax into Mycroft’s grip, tipping his head back against Mycroft’s shoulder. “You’re right,” he said. “Sorry to step on your toes. And I’m not embarrassed, just… that was…”

“Fantastic?” Mycroft guessed, and pressed his mouth slowly, hotly to Greg’s neck, open and wet. “Earth-shaking?” He kissed just behind Greg’s ear, and Greg shuddered, rocking back against Mycroft’s groin in response. “Our personal best so far?”

“Yes, all that,” Greg said, a little breathless, and twisted his neck for a kiss, one hand against the counter, the other reaching up, arm curled around Mycroft’s neck so Greg could get his fingers in his hair. Mycroft’s arm tightened around him, and with a shift in stance his half-hard cock settled perfectly between Greg’s cheeks. Greg grinned into the kiss and rocked back. 

Mycroft let out a harsh breath right next to Greg’s ear, sending shivers and the gooseflesh cascading down just the way Greg liked it. “Come back to bed,” Mycroft said. “We can make tea later.”

“No one’s awake,” Greg said, not really trying to convince Mycroft to keep rubbing off on him in the kitchen, but not against teasing him a bit before agreeing to jump straight back into bed. 

“I’m awake.”

Mycroft froze against Greg’s back, free hand reaching out to grip the worktop, the one at Greg’s hip squeezing almost painfully. 

Greg swallowed a laugh and did not turn around. “Morning, Morris,” he said evenly, casually. “Tea?”

“Oh, my god,” Mycroft breathed, only loud enough for Greg to hear. 

Greg had to bite his tongue. 

“I’m fine thanks,” Morris said, voice full of amusement. “Don’t mind me, boys.” There was the scrape of a kitchen chair. “Just getting on my trainers and I’m off out for a run. You should know that Paul’s up, and on his way out. He might want some tea.” The sound of Morris drumming both hands jauntily against his own thighs. “Well! See you later!” 

The kitchen door opened and then shut, and Greg dissolved. “Oh god,” he laughed. “I’m sorry, are you mortified?” He turned in Mycroft’s arms and Mycroft groaned, hiding his red face in Greg’s neck. “He doesn't mind, I promise.”

“Still,” Mycroft moaned. 

It only made Greg laugh harder, and filled him with fondness. He brought his hand up to scritch over Mycroft’s scalp, right where he’d been tugging at his hair a moment ago, soothing him gently with his fingertips. “It’s alright, I promise.”

Mycroft made a weak, mortified little sound and kept clinging on. Greg kissed his temple, and was opening his mouth to tease him a bit more when Paul breezed in. 

“Am I interrupting?” 

Mycroft’s body stiffened against Greg’s. Greg patted him reassuringly (he hoped) on the hip and gently pressed him back, putting a few inches of distance there. 

“Nope,” Greg said. “Morris already took care of that.” He glanced to Paul over Mycroft’s shoulder and said, “Mycroft’s shy.”

Mycroft made a sound of wounded disbelief. Greg gave his hip another squeeze: kidding, kidding. 

“Well, then why are you torturing him,” said Paul snippily, lowering himself into a kitchen chair. “Let the boy go, Greg, stop pawing at him like some rabid beast.” 

The kettle clicked off. Greg rolled his eyes at Paul before pressing an apologetic kiss to Mycroft’s cheek. “Go sit, I’ll bring you a cup. Paul? Tea?”

“Yes, please.”

The three of them settled around the table, Mycroft still a little flushed but relaxing by degrees as Paul teased Greg for being such a horny bastard. 

“As if you have room to talk,” Greg volleyed back. “I know the sort of things you’ve gotten up to in here.”

“It’s my kitchen,” Paul said primly, then gave Mycroft a little wink. “Don’t fret, love, I’m pleased for you, really. He’s a good kisser.”

Greg kicked him hard under the table. “Don’t be a dick.”

But Mycroft had begun to smile, eyes taking on a sly little sparkle. Greg’s heart skipped an actual beat. It was the look Mycroft got when he was about to make one of his dry little jokes, or suggest a sugary cocktail in the middle of the day. 

“It’s fine,” Mycroft said. “He’s right. You are.” 

Greg watched him take a calm little sip of his tea, blush gone, an air of smugness seeming to visibly settle around him. Good for you, Greg thought, grinning. 

“Well as much as I love being a third wheel,” Paul said, “I’m going to change. Greg? Walk soon?” 

Greg nodded, and Paul left, taking his tea with him. “You don’t mind, do you?” he checked. “I don’t want to abandon you.” 

“I’ll be fine,” Mycroft said. “You should catch up with him without me around to invite more teasing. I get the sense that you could use an actual conversation with him.” 

“That’s true,” Greg sighed. “If you’re sure.”

“I’ll be quite content with the massive collection of homoerotic pulp novels in the guestroom, I assure you.”

“Okay,” Greg said. “But let’s just… sit. Just for a minute.” He stretched out a leg, resting his foot in Mycroft’s lap, and held his tea between his hands, the heat seeping through the thick earthenware mug. “Alright?”

“Perfectly,” Mycroft said, and laid a hand against Greg’s ankle, fingers tracing absently over the knob of bone. 

If they sat there for too long, staring at each other like idiots, sipping their tea much slower than they normally would, no one needed to know. 



***



Paul kept things fair on their way down to the shore, asking after Greg’s job, the placement for summer, his plans for his final term in winter. Greg pretended he wasn’t aware of the fact that he would soon be methodically picked apart in the way only Paul could manage, and asked him about his voice students, his upcoming return to bartending just a night or two a week now that his health was improved, and Morris’ new job as sous chef at the second-nicest restaurant in town. 

But after a while, Greg felt the need to just get it over with already. He knew Paul had things to be angry with him over. He knew that his choices lately had been… questionable. That bringing Mycroft here was a completely insane thing to do, and that Paul would have no trouble telling him so in colorful terms. 

“Look,” Greg said, as they began to take the first crunching steps over the pebbled beach, sea stretched out to the left and a seemingly endless curve of golden beach in front. “I know what you’re going to say.”

“Oh, I promise that you don’t,” said Paul wryly, tugging his jacket around himself against the wind. 

“Fine.” Greg resigned himself to the fact that he would simply have to shut up and take it. He gestured with a hand. “Have at me, then.”

“Alright,” Paul said, “here it is. That man, the one you were disgracing in my kitchen this morning? Is in love with you.”

It landed like a physical blow. Greg nearly flinched, but managed to contain it and keep walking forward, shoulders back, gaze straight ahead. 

“No, he isn’t,” he said firmly. “I don’t know why you would say that.”

“Yes, you do,” Paul said, not even harshly, just perfectly matter-of-fact and casual as he grabbed Greg’s heart and twisted. 

“I told you, it’s not like that.” Greg focused on his footsteps, the crunch, crunch, crunch as he trudged on beside Paul. His mind raced to catch up to the point of this conversation; it wasn’t what he’d expected. He thought he would get chewed out for making stupid decisions, having poor boundaries, the usual. Not… whatever this was.

Paul groaned, hands coming up in front of him like claws, miming throttling someone - Greg - in frustration. 

“Greg, you brought him here . You swept him away and brought him home to your family. Which, by the way, is what we are to you whether you remember it most days or not.”

Greg cringed, familiar guilt welling up, thickening his throat. He glanced at Paul, but kept moving. “I’m sorry, Paul,” he said, meaning it. “I know I’ve been shit. I didn’t even know you had pneumonia. I’m… I really am so sorry.” 

Paul laughed humorlessly and shook his head. “You think that’s what this is about?” 

“It’s about that for me,” Greg insisted. “It’s what you should be giving me hell for. I care if you’re sick. I could’ve come down, been helpful to Morris. Visited you in hospital. But I didn’t know, because I’m a terrible friend who never calls, and I feel awful.” 

Paul shook his head again, more insistent this time. “Listen, if I’d wanted you to know, I’d have made sure you knew. If I called you every time I felt like shit or had a bad reaction to the drugs, or my T-cells took a dive, or I caught a cold that turned into pneumonia, I’d call you all the bloody time and freak you out. I’m going to get sick again, and whether you’re here missing out on your own life or not has no bearing on whether I live or die.” 

Paul grabbed Greg’s arm, guiding him sideways to avoid ending up with wet socks from the lapping waves as their steps weaved too far sideways. He kept his hand around Greg’s elbow, squeezing a little as he spoke.

“I’m not saying this because I need you to come watch me cough my lungs out for two weeks, you idiot. It doesn't matter that you’re bad at picking up a phone. What matters to me is that you don’t seem to know that we want you to, not so you can rush in and take care of us but because we want to take care of you. We want to hear from you because we love you. I need to know for a fact that you understand that you have always been wanted here, and always will be.”

Greg swallowed hard and turned his face sideways into the wind, letting it sting his watering eyes. “I know that,” he said roughly. 

“Then why didn’t you come here for Easter?” 

“I was at—” 

“Mycroft’s, yes. Plans you made days before.” Paul rolled his eyes. “If he hadn’t asked you, what would you have done?” 

“I don’t know,” Greg said, jerking out of Paul’s grip to cross his arms. “What does it matter?”

“Why do you insist on being alone when you don’t have to be? Hm?” Paul talked with his hands, slashing one through the air to cut Greg off before he could say anything to that. “Oh, don’t answer, I’ll tell you why: You think you deserve it.” 

“I don’t—” 

Paul stopped, crossed his arms, and stepped in front of him, forcing Greg to stop too and face him head on. “Yes, you do. Your mum died, then your dad nearly broke your neck, then your sister left you. And then you got passed through the system like a pinball. You were never good enough for anyone after all that, and as far as you’re concerned you never will be. Sound about right?”

Greg’s stomach lurched. He shook his head. “No.”

“Yes.” Paul leaned in, a dog with a bone. 

Greg’s pulse juddered, and his chest heaved with a wash of panic that ramped up in the same way each wave came rolling further and further inland. 

Paul didn’t let up. “You didn’t think you were good enough for your uni friends. That entire year, you gave me hell for going to the clubs too much, meanwhile you were fucking everything that moved because you decided that was the only way to get people to like you. To get them to think you were worth something.”

Greg looked away, stung. Overhead, seagulls circled and screamed, and Greg hated the sound, hated this conversation. He wanted to draw his shoulders up to his ears, block out the sounds. 

“The escorting, the ‘clients,’ then deciding on a whim to join the police when anyone who knows you - me, for example - could have told you it wasn’t what you’re built for.” Paul ticked items off with his fingers one-by-one. “Hell, Greg, we can go back to when we were kids. You even convinced yourself you weren’t good enough for me! For me, a fucking street kid who got thrown out and never made it past year ten. You put a wall between us as soon as it got too real and you didn’t let it drop til Morris came into the picture and made me safe for you again - nevermind that you hated him for it for the longest. Admit that you’re terrified. You’re afraid of being with anyone because then they can leave you. Not only that, you think you’re not good enough to be loved anyway. And at this point, Greg, it’s fucking delusional.” 

“You know, fuck you, Paul,” Greg said, angry and panting, suddenly very much in the mood for a fight, his voice rising to match Paul’s volume, which had been climbing with every word. “What, so you’re a psychiatrist now? Please. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, really?” Paul laughed in his face. “You think I don’t know what I’m talking about when the second I got diagnosed was the second you started hiding? Avoiding me? It was like you were relieved when we moved out here. Got a girlfriend out of the clear blue sky and started in on how you were going to be a cop and get married and have a nice, normal life?”

“That is not—”

“Yes, it is,” Paul interrupted, relentless. “Yes it is. You stopped going to our friends’ funerals. It all scared the shit out of you, Greg, and the thing is, I get it. I know you’ve been scared, I know . I’m scared. Fucking hell, I moved to Weymouth because I just. I just didn’t want to know so many people anymore. I’m sorry that I can’t comfort you on this one, but I could die. And then what? Then who do you have? Fiona?”

Greg sobbed - choked it back - and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. “Stop.” 

His body wanted to bolt, was already gearing up to do it without his conscious thought. Cold sweat prickled on the back of his neck, made even colder by the gusts of seaside wind. Greg had never literally run away from a problem before, but he felt very much like that was exactly what he was about to do as panic churned his guts and tears stung his eyes.

“No. I don’t think I will.” Paul reached out to keep him from turning away, hand firm on his arm, anchoring him in place. “Greg, you can’t keep doing this.” 

Greg dropped his hands. The wind dried up the wetness around his eyes and covered the sound of his panicked breathing. He wanted to sink to the ground, cover his head and wait for all of this to stop

“I’m not doing anything,” he said, numb. 

“Exactly.” Paul yanked him closer, nose to nose, and just like that Greg could feel again, the heat of Paul’s hand through his jacket, his breath centimeters from Greg’s face, burning him. “Why can’t you imagine that I’m right? That someone wants you?”

“Someone like that doesn't actually want me,” Greg said, rocking back on his heels, trying to get some distance, and wiped at his nose with his sleeve. “You don’t get it, Paul, he’s somebody.”

“You’re somebody.” Paul’s hand tightened around Greg’s arm. “And he already loves you.” 

“He doesn't!” Greg yanked away. “Stop! This whole thing started because he needed a hooker, Paul! You think, what, a man like that, with everything going for him, just falls in love with the prostitute he hires to fuck the nerves out of him so he can do it right with someone who’s actually appropriate?” 

Paul spread his arms wide, the wind catching his jacket and flapping it around him. “Yes! Yes, I think that. Why don’t you? He didn’t hire you, by the way, and you’re not a prostitute, so what the fuck is he still coming back to you for?”

“It’s convenient,” Greg said, gritting his teeth before shouldering past and stomping down the beach. 

“Bullshit!” Paul shouted, jogging backwards to get in front of him again, shoving him back with a hand - hard, right in the middle of the chest. 

Fury flared up Greg’s spine again. He clenched his fists against the strength of it. “Paul, I swear to god.”

“Oh, please try it with me today, Gregory,” Paul scoffed. “Put on the bad boy act, go on. Get your motorbike running yet? What’s the plan? Walk away from Mycroft and zip away to some shitty Camden pub to pick up another awful, brainless bird who’ll treat you like shit and fuck around behind your back? That’ll work - you never have to be happy, that way. You never have to worry that it’ll all be taken away, because you’ll have nothing to take away. You’ll throw yourself into your job, you’ll help every fucking broken stray cat or human being that comes your way, and never once consider doing it for yourself. That’s the life you want?” 

Greg’s chest heaved. He didn’t want to think about any of this. It was over and done with, and—  “I don’t deserve this from you.” 

“Someone has to tell you the truth,” Paul said, stepping in close. “And here’s another one, Greg: you’re in love with him, too.” 

It felt like the world dropped out from under him. Greg couldn’t breathe at all. He raked his hands hard through his hair, pulling, and tried to turn away again. The sea was a distant, yawning roar, the wind nothing more than white noise over the scream of fear and helplessness filling his head. He felt himself hunching over, his body moving and him observing it from afar for the time being. 

“No,” Paul said, catching Greg before he could collapse into himself and tugging him in, his voice breaking through like it used to when they were young. “Nope, come on. Come here.”

“Paul.” Greg tried to breathe through it, but couldn’t get enough air. He tried to swallow it, but it was as if the sob ripped out of his chest, scraping his throat raw on its way out as he tried to keep it in. 

“I know,” Paul said, one arm around Greg’s waist, the other hand at the back of his head, pulling him close like a child needing comfort. “It’s okay.”

“No,” Greg wept, and he was horrified, terrified of the sudden hysteria welling up in him. He held tight to Paul’s shoulders. “It’s not.”

Paul held him tighter. “I swear to god that it is.”

And the sobs just kept pouring out of him, the tears soaking Paul’s jacket. “I’m sorry,” he cried. “Paul, I’m so fucking sorry.” 

“I’m not angry with you, stupid,” Paul said into his ear, and pressed a hard kiss to the side of Greg’s head. “Don’t be sorry.”

“I didn’t mean to hide.”

“I know, I know, darling. I know that.” Paul squeezed his arms around Greg so tightly that he could hear joints popping. “What do you think this is? I’m explaining it to you.” 

“As always,” Greg muttered wetly.

“As always,” Paul repeated, scrubbing his hand roughly through Greg’s hair. 

They swayed. Greg wondered if anyone could see them, and if they could, what the hell they thought was going on with the two screaming idiots who had gone over all weepy in the middle of the beach at seven in the morning. He decided he didn’t care what they thought.

“I can’t have him, you know,” he said, hiccuping and clinging. “I just can’t. I can’t explain why, but you have to understand… it isn’t possible, Paul.”

Paul sighed heavily, like he’d shouldered the weight of the world, like he was exhausted by all that came with knowing better than literally everyone else. Greg remembered getting so angry at him when they were kids, how he would rail against Paul’s sweeping declarations of How Things Are, would scoff and refuse to go along with his plans and suggestions that were more like commands, just out of sheer bloodymindedness. Some things, he figured, never did change. 

“If I can’t convince you that you’re wrong about that,” Paul said at length, “fine. But please, Greg. Don’t stay away. Don’t be alone. I miss you. I love you.” 

Greg hugged him tightly and nodded into his neck. “Yeah,” he said. “Alright. I won’t stay away. I love you, too, you know.”

“Of course I know,” Paul said, gently pushing him away and using both hands to wipe away the tears streaking Greg’s cheeks and cup his face. “I know everything.”

Greg laughed. He laughed until he cried again, and then Paul cried, and the entire thing was a horrible mess. They had to walk for a long time in silence to recover from it.

Still, as they left the beach they were arm in arm. Greg, knowing Paul would love nothing more than to kick him up and down the beach all over again for it, decided to firmly compartmentalize the Mycroft situation for the time being. They had a day and a half left in Weymouth, and a long car ride together after that. He wasn’t going to make it awful by dwelling on what could never happen. 

As if reading his mind, Paul cut him a sideways glance as they headed for the road access point and said, “You’re going to have to do something about him. Sooner, rather than later. Or you’re going to be hurt so much worse.”

“I know that,” Greg muttered. “Just… I want to enjoy it while I can, alright? Is that… just let me do that.”

“Sure,” Paul said, shrugging like they were discussing the weather. “Fine.”

“Also—” Greg drew to a stop. “Just one thing. I’m asking you for one thing. I think I deserve it, after the chewing out I got back there.”

“Do you deserve it?” Paul put on an exaggerated thoughtful expression, tapping his chin with his index finger contemplatively. “Who’s to say? But go for it, ask me.”

Greg rolled his eyes, but he also needed to look away and take a deep breath before he could face Paul again and get the words out. “Don’t. Die.” 

Paul blinked, surprised, rocking back on his heels. He shook his head. “You can’t be fucking serious.”

“I’m completely serious.”

He laughed. “Of course you are. Okay!” He swept out his arm grandly “Yes, Greg. Of course, Greg. I will not die. Just because you asked me not to.”

Greg nodded, like it was decided. “Good.” 

Paul shoved him sideways. “God, you’re such a little shit,” he groaned. “But just so you know? I’m fine. I could still kick your arse.”

“Like hell you could,” Greg scoffed, knocking him sideways in return. “String bean.” 

“Yeah?” Paul shrugged. “I could beat you to the road.”

“What?” Greg laughed, something coming loose in his chest. “What are you—” 

“Race you!” Paul took off. 

“You fucker!” Greg shouted, but took off after him. He could barely run for laughing, but he caught up with Paul just at the side of the road, flinging an arm around his waist and swinging them around half a turn before turning it into just one more tight hug before they went home.