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Mycroft let himself into the office without bothering to turn on any lights. He could find his way without them, having memorized the layout of the hall and the room full of desk clusters which led to his door. His hands shook, but he found the lock, inserted his key, and turned - to find that the door was unlocked already. He knew with absolute certainty that when he had taken his leave of the office around seven that evening, he had locked it behind himself. 

This could only mean one thing. Mycroft sighed and closed his eyes. He swallowed, hard, against the lump in his throat. He wasn’t going to get the solitude he craved after this disaster of a night. It wouldn’t do to be seen in his current state of mind. He took a deep, shuddering breath in, and opened the door. 

He sighed at the arched blonde eyebrow which met him as he stepped inside. “What,” he intoned, “could you possibly be doing here after midnight on a Friday?”

Alicia snorted indelicately and turned back to the maps spread out atop her desk. “Pot, kettle, et cetera,” she muttered. “What’s happened now? The brother again?”

Mycroft shot a sour look at her back while he shrugged out of his overcoat and hung it on the rack by the door. “No,” he sneered. “He is away at university, and our parents are currently in residence in Sussex. I am not currently required to manage him. Not that it is any business of yours.”

Alicia snorted again and marked something on one of the maps. Mycroft tried to lean in and see what she was doing, but she flipped a new map over the marked one with a sideways glare in his direction. “Don’t breathe down my neck, Holmes. If it isn’t the little one, what is it?”

“Sherlock is hardly little. He is seventeen this year.”

“Sit down,” Alicia commanded, and swiveled her chair around so that her back faced her desk. “I don’t want to talk about Sherlock, I want to know why you left here for dinner with that dishy piece of meat from Downing Street only to return at this late hour looking like you’ve spent the evening sicking up in the powder room. Did you fall ill at dinner? I told you to avoid the oysters at that place, no matter how aphrodisiac your date would no doubt insist they are. He seemed the type.”

“I didn’t eat any shellfish,” Mycroft sniffed, appalled at the implication that he had ever desired her input on his dating life to begin with. He lowered himself into his own chair. “I did not sick up.”

“So?” Alicia crossed first her legs and then her arms, clearly settling in to wait him out. “What was the problem?”

Mycroft turned his chair and his back on her. “Nothing.”

“It’s late,” she mused. “Dinner would have ended some time ago. You aren’t drunk; no drinks to follow, then. Or, at least, not many drinks. Not recently.”

Mycroft heaved a sigh and stared at his empty in-tray. He shouldn’t have been so meticulous before leaving today. He could have picked up a report to read and at least had a prop. “Leave it, Alicia.”

“Did you bring him back to the Temple?” 

Mycroft spun back around, already rising from his seat. “No,” he snapped. He hated that nickname for his flat. It was only a flat. Overly decorated? Yes. Absurdly comfortably appointed? Yes, to the point of hedonism. Had Mycroft made it such? No. His uncle had. Mycrfot hated being ribbed for it. 

“Oh, Mycroft, don’t go,” Alicia simpered. 

He rolled his eyes and dug in his coat pocket for his cigarettes. “I’m not going, you harridan. I’m smoking out the window. Do you mind?”

“Not if you share.”

They perched on the top of the low bookshelf running along the windows, smoking and flicking ash into a dirty mug their other officemate, Lawrence, had left on top of a stack of German legal texts. 

“It has to do with sex,” Alicia theorized, bringing one leg up in an artful A-shape, resting her elbow against her knee and holding her cigarette in a pose that affected nonchalance and insoucience, transforming her petite frame into something longer and lazier. 

If Mycroft were a different sort of man, he would have some reaction to the fact that the angle, with her legs arranged just so, exposed a triangle of thigh and would, probably, afford him a view of her underthings if he put in a little subtle effort. 

“It has to do with sex,” Mycroft echoed in agreement, resigned to the fact that he would discuss this with her. “Your slip has a loose thread in it.” 

“Mm,” Alicia sighed and found it, yanking the thread and flicking it in Mycroft’s direction. “Thanks. Knew you were looking.”

“One can scarcely avoid looking at what is being wantonly displayed half in one’s own lap.”

“Oh, Holmes,” Alicia said, fluttery and breathless. “If I were in your lap, you would know it.”

“One would assume,” he snipped. “Perhaps you could try this act for Larry. He would welcome it.” 

“Not you, though,” she sang, and dragged on her cigarette. “So, back to your problem. The one about sex.”

“It’s nothing,” Mycroft said, staring out the window and the city lights beyond. “Quite literally. There’s nothing to talk about.”

“Hmmm…” Alicia lowered her bent leg and crossed her ankles beside Mycroft’s thigh. It was an effort not to shift away an inch. The change in pose ended her sex-kitten charade. She studied him in silence for long moments, and Mycroft knew that she could read it all over him. He let her. “Mycroft, you need to get it over with.”

He smoked and did not answer. 

“The longer this goes on, the more difficult you will find it. Did you not like whatshisface?”

“He’s… passable,” Mycroft allowed. “He would have served a purpose, at any rate. He was willing.”

“And?”

“I…” Mycroft shrugged one shoulder. He hated that she always managed to do this; get him talking. “It’s too… strange.” 

Alicia sighed. “Is this a matter of latent self hatred because you are a homosexual?”

Mycroft barked a laugh. “Not in any way you’re thinking. I am more than comfortable with my preferences.”

“Is it because you were a bit chubby as a child?”

He rolled his eyes. “No. How hideous of you, frankly, to bring that up. We agreed.”

“Your lovely mother thought I was your girlfriend! It would have been rude not to look at the photographs!”

“That she carries them in her purse.” Mycroft shuddered. “The woman is evil at heart.”

“Well, I like her,” Alicia murmurs. “Did your parents raise you repressed? Or too liberally? What’s the story, morning glory? Come on and tell Auntie.”

“You are the most irritating woman I have ever met.”

“I might be able to help you!”

“Really?” Mycroft hissed, full of acid and embarrassment. “How, pray tell?”

“Well for obvious reasons, not directly. I haven’t the equipment, and you are incapable of being honest with anyone who might actually know you in any real way. But perhaps… What if I could refer you to someone trustworthy with an excellent track record?”

“Track record?” Mycroft finally deigned to glance Alicia’s way, down to the butt of his cigarette now. He already craved another. “What, some sort of doctor?”

“No, but a professional of sorts, yes.”

Mycroft blinked, horrified. There was no possible way she could mean… Who was he kidding, there was every possibility that she was proposing that he… That he see… “A sex counsellor?

Alician laughed again, head tipping back joyfully. “Not precisely. Think of him as a consultant,” she cajoled. “It isn’t as though he’s a prostitute, Mycroft, be serious. He’s an old friend of Michael’s, actually. I don’t know much about his background, to be honest, but I know he’s good, one of those unusually kind sort of people. A bit rougher around the edges. Apparently he’s made something of a side business out of offering this sort of help.”

Mycroft pinched the bridge of his nose. “I can’t imagine how a complete stranger could possibly help with this.”

“You would be amazed,” Alicia said flatly, with a dismissive flick of her fingers.

“And what makes you think he could help me?” Mycroft scoffed. 

“It’ll take the pressure off!” Alicia cried. “Use your brain, Mycroft! There is within you some booby trap, some absurd, aristocratic obstacle course, and no one has been able to make it past the moat of burning lava or what have you. This man could, I don’t know, clear the dungeon!”

“I don’t know that any of that is necessary,” Mycroft demurred. “And I take issue with your framing of my… personal life… in such terms.”

“So your answer is celibacy? Forever?”

Mycroft shifted, practically squirming with discomfort. “Perhaps.”

“Is that what you want?”

Mycroft shrugged, mute with a rush of anxiety. This, truly, might be the root of his problem. Was that what he wanted? 

“I’ve got to go home,” he said after a moment. “I had hoped to get some reading done, but I won’t intrude on your quiet any longer.”

“Holmes.” Alicia swung her legs down off the bookshelf. “Let me write down his number. I have it in my rolodex. You can call, or not. If you do, he’ll explain how it all works.”

“Just the act of placing a phone call to this man could lose me my position.”

“Oh, Mycroft,” Alicia sighed. “As if you’re going to go to him and spill state secrets. No one’s going to know. As far as I’m concerned, I’m setting you up on a date.”

“God help me,” Mycroft muttered, taking the slip of paper she held out to him and folding it between his fingers. “I’m not calling him.”

“Fine,” Alicia said. “You won’t offend me by dying alone and miserable.”

Mycroft swallowed his retort and shrugged into his overcoat, shoving the slip of paper into the inside pocket. 

“Goodnight,” he managed, and let himself out of the office without bothering to hear her reply.



***



At home, he was greeted at the door, as had become routine in recent months, by his cat. 

“Hello, darling,” he murmured as she twisted her way between his ankles. He didn’t feel particularly sweet and kind at the moment, or ever, but he would die before he let a bad mood affect the way he spoke to her. He bent to scratch her upturned chin once he had removed and hung his coat in the antique, mirrored cabinet just inside the door.

He rarely called her by name but he had, to spite himself for thinking he shouldn’t, bestowed the name Judy upon her when they first met. It suited her, as did his other names for her: darling, sweetness, your highness, my lady. Her luminous blue eyes were like lanterns in the dim hallway, and she squinted them shut at the scrabble of his fingertips. 

“Did you have a productive day?” He asked, and scooped her into his arms. She made a disgruntled squeak which he took to mean yes. He carried her through to the kitchen. “I didn’t,” he told her, and set her down on the high table beside the worktop. “Dreadful time from start to finish.”

He fed her in a cut crystal bowl, as the flat was stocked with what seemed to be hundreds of them. What Uncle Rudy could have needed with so many pieces of crystal, Mycroft did not know. Uncle Rudy would have approved of treating a cat as an equal, though. He had been the proud caretaker of at least seventeen of them, over the years. All the way up to his death, Rudy always had at least one cat hanging around the place.

Where is Toulouse? Mycroft had asked, when he arrived at Rudy’s bedside, toward the end. I didn’t see him on the settee by the window.

Toulouse is now in the capable hands of the daughter of an old colleague, Uncle Rudy had managed to creak out between body-wracking coughs. 

It had hurt, which had shown on Mycroft’s face despite his best efforts.

You don’t have time for him, my boy, Rudy had insisted. They wouldn’t have allowed you to keep him at school.

Mummy could— 

Allergic.

Mycroft watched Judy eat and thought about Toulouse, the giant Norwegian pile of fluff. He was surely quite old by now if he hadn’t already crossed over to the other side. He had been at least ten, if not closer to fifteen, when Uncle Rudy died in the mid-’80s. Not Mycroft’s favorite of Uncle Rudy’s cats, but a good cat nonetheless. They had all, with the exception of a heinously vicious Himalayan named Boudicca, been good cats. 

Mycroft had always wanted one, and been denied the privilege. He spent many a holiday and long weekend in London, being toted around from place to place by his uncle, but mostly being allowed to simply sit in the quiet with a cat for hours and hours on end. 

Mycroft’s fondest memories were of a one-eared tortoiseshell named, simply, Moll. She had been part of what he thought of as a ‘class’ of 4, all found in a cardboard box on the street not long after Rudy’s beloved Russian Blue, Hermes, had died. Something had attacked Moll before she and her cohorts were discovered by Jeffrey, Uncle Rudy’s longtime companion. Mycroft had been perhaps ten when Moll was just a little kitten with healing stitches. He had vague memories of Jeffrey patting him on the shoulder, thanking him for looking after the ‘kitties’ for him. 

Kitties is undignified, Mycroft told the motley collection of tumbling animals. You are cats. Never forget that.

My, my, you are a miniature Rudy, hmm? Jeffrey had teased, but Mycroft hadn’t understood, really, what that meant. Lately, he has not only understood it, but has been utterly terrified by it.

Of course, cat-wise, no one could compare to Judy. Mycroft pressed a kiss to her head, between her ears, which she ignored in favor of continuing her inhalation of her food. 

Mycroft left her to it and thought about making a cup of tea, or perhaps once again seeing if he could find the secret cabinet Uncle Rudy mentioned in the will. It supposedly held untold amounts of extremely old, extremely priceless single malt scotch. In the two years since he moved into the flat, Mycroft had been unable to find it. He’d begun to think it was a prank Uncle Rudy had set up so that he could play it from the grave. 

That would be typical. 

Mycroft sighed and decided against a beverage of any kind. He flicked off the overhead lights, leaving just the small ones over the sink so that Judy wouldn’t have to eat in the dark. He bypassed the sitting room; he hardly spent any time there, and it was the room he had changed the least since the flat became his own. Uncle Rudy’s use of the vast amounts of space in the flat had been quixotic, to say the least; Mycroft had left the ‘cinema room’ as it was, being that it had always been Mycroft’s favorite room. The upstairs ‘library’ had been heavily re-done, the first order of business when Mycroft took possession. After it and Mycroft’s room had been deemed by him good enough to be going on with, Mycroft had rather lost interest in further changes. 

He detoured to his bedroom and en suite to wash up and change clothes. His bedroom was probably the most changed corner of the flat. It wasn’t the upstairs room Uncle Rudy had used as his own for much of his life, but it was the one in which he had spent his final days. Mycroft had had it completely cleared out, most of the furniture donated to various historical societies, and then paid for a total redecoration. The chest of drawers was from Uncle Rudy’s actual master bedroom; Mycroft had always liked it quite a lot. It was made up of simple lines, something Uncle Rudy didn’t much go in for. Mycroft wondered if perhaps Jeffrey had been the one to choose that piece of furniture, then. 

Mycroft winced and shook himself, hurrying to fish out pyjamas and change into them, sorting his dirty laundry carefully. By the time he’d finished changing, Judy was loitering in the doorway, waiting to see where they were headed. 

Mycroft briefly considered a film, but it was late and he was too disquieted to focus. He made for the stairs. Judy chirruped in excitement; she knew where they were going. 

From the cupboard outside the library, Mycroft snagged what Uncle Rudy used to call a ‘smoking jacket’ but was actually an absurdly fluffy fleece cardigan printed with a vague geometric pattern, and wrapped himself in it. It had been laundered dozens of times since his uncle died, but Mycroft imagined he could still smell the traces of lavender mints and cigarillos in the nap of the fleece. 

He let himself and Judy out of a set of french doors, and onto the small upper level terrace, leaning down to plug in the fairy lights. He’d strung them up in a fit of whimsy back when the flat had still been coated in years worth of dust. 

Mycroft sank into a lounge chair and patted his own stomach in an invitation that Judy took gladly, leaping gracefully to knead at his chest and butt her head against his face. 

“Yes, beauty, yes, I know,” Mycroft murmured nonsensically, stroking a hand over her back. “We’ll just have some fresh air. Thinking time. Then bed.”

Thinking time. Mycroft didn’t precisely need it. His mother always bemoaned his tendency to think too much. 

You are intelligent enough to be able to, every so often, simply do , Myc, without thinking yourself into an utter tizzy.

He dug for his packet of cigarettes, the horrible cheap ones he preferred but didn’t take with him to work. With the pack of matches he kept out here for just this sort of ritual, Mycroft lit up and stared at the fathomless dark of the sky over Belgravia. 

Perhaps his mother was right. 

All Mycroft seemed capable of doing lately was overthinking, overworking, and isolating himself. What was he doing right that moment? Sitting alone in the dark wearing a dead man’s clothes, in a dead man’s flat still more than half-filled with the dead man’s things. Thinking about dying here, like the dead man died here, with only a cat for company. 

At twenty-five, Mycroft felt dangerously close to the edge of a cliff, teetering on one foot over a chasm of loneliness. Self-imposed, of course. 

I want to know you won’t be alone when Daddy and I are gone, is that so awful?

Mycroft stubbornly flushed his mother’s voice from his mind with a harsh inhalation of smoke. He was only twenty-five. The woman was prone to hysteria. 

He thought, instead, of Uncle Rudy, who had once told him that if all else seemed to have failed, there was always the Work. 

Mycroft hadn’t understood at the time, but that must have been just around the time Jeffrey was killed in a car accident. 

He closed his eyes and tried to imagine Uncle Rudy being in love with Jeffrey, or with anyone. It seemed impossible. Mycroft had never gone looking for evidence of it. Rudy didn’t display photographs. Jeffrey had never lived here in this flat. From what Mycroft could figure, he and Uncle Rudy had been close friends since the early ‘60s. It had been an open secret.

Had Rudy been lonely after Jeffrey? He must have been. Mycroft was eleven when it happened, which would have put Rudy in his early seventies. He remembered the funeral service; Sherlock had been all of three years old, toddling around under a tree out in the churchyard sporting short pants and muddy knees. 

Mycroft had stayed in this flat for part of the summer that year, while Mummy and Daddy had been in something of an uproar over Sherlock’s nursery school requesting that he not return the following year. That was the year they started the testing. 

Utter nonsense, was all Uncle Rudy had said to Mycroft on the matter. You didn’t need all this fuss, did you? So why ought Sherlock be subjected to it? Hm? Nonsense.

Mycroft had worried himself into an upset stomach almost every night that summer. Uncle Rudy’s housekeeper, normally only in for a couple of days a week but there daily for Mycroft’s ‘care’ while he stayed, had joked that if he wasn’t careful he’d become a skinny bugger like his uncle. 

Fat chance, Mycroft remembered muttering. She had touched his shoulder then, gently, and tsked at him before setting a plate of biscuits in front of him. 

God made you just perfect, now, she had said, and then kissed his cheek.

Mycroft blinked up at the sky. He couldn’t even remember her name. 

“Good lord,” he said out loud, unheeded by Judy. “I’m pathetic.”

He shifted in the chair, jostling the cat and earning himself a pinprick of claws against his abdomen. 

“Sorry, your majesty,” he grumbled at her. She gave a displeased, growling meow in response. “You know,” he said, petting her gently to settle her back down into his lap, “I don’t think I liked him very much. My… date, that is. I had a date tonight, which I realize is a concept for which you have no context. Likely you have no use for such things. But then, male cats are… well, perhaps not dissimilar to male human beings. Pushy. Tiresome. Noisy. Then, most people, regardless of gender, are too noisy.” Mycroft sighed. “He just… got… touchy. ” He held his hand an inch above Judy’s small, gray-striped head and waited for her to lean into his touch before scritching between her ears. “It’s not… enjoyable. I’ve been told it’s supposed to be. However… it simply never is. Or, it hardly ever is. It was, once or twice, before. I don’t know.”

Mycroft reached for and lit another cigarette. Judy waited patiently for petting to resume while he did. 

“I seem to have burdened myself with a complex, somehow,” he told her. “A hang-up. I suppose there are worse problems. I could be a compulsive gambler. Or a drug addict. Instead, I am frigid.”

He traced one of Judy’s perfect little ears. 

“I suppose it wouldn’t matter if… No offense meant, madame, but… I really don’t want to die alone. It could be days before anyone realized. You would eat my corpse. Not that I would blame you, darling, but…”

Mycroft was suddenly sick of himself. “Enough,” he said. “Bed. No more thinking.”

Judy trilled her approval. 



***



The next day was Saturday, and around noon, Mycroft dug the slip of paper out of the pocket of his coat. He had waited all day for the phone to ring, calling him back to the office. The world, it seemed, was stubbornly calm today. No services needed from the likes of him. A year ago, he would have almost certainly been out on assignment on a day like this. He had been out on assignment on every type of day before. He had hardly ever been home. 

Those days were firmly over, however, and so Mycroft sometimes found himself with nothing to do on a Saturday afternoon. With Sherlock at school and not currently Mycroft’s problem, the odds of distraction were slim. 

He stood by his telephone and stared down at the paper bearing Alicia’s cramped scrawl. 

“I can’t,” he said to Judy, who had perched herself on the settee by the window, just as Toulouse had once done. He crumpled the paper in his hand. “It would be unbearable. Distasteful.” 

He got up and went to sort out his dry cleaning. He could walk down to the cleaners and then the bakery. Perhaps save whatever he bought there for later, change, go for a run, and enjoy his pastries without guilt afterward. 

He found himself by the phone again, his suits draped in their bags over the arm of the wingback chair. Judy watched impassively from the settee as his hand hovered over the receiver. 

“It’s… a means to an end,”  Mycroft explained, picking up the phone. “Just one meeting, and I will have gotten this over with. I can move on, and what would be the harm in that?”

Judy licked one delicately-poised paw. 

Mycroft dialed the phone.



Chapter Text

The following afternoon, Mycroft found himself loitering at the intersection of two London streets he had never before had reason to visit. 

It was a busy Sunday. Even in the cold of March, children played outside, kicking a football around a scrabbly, litter-strewn lot. Leaning against the posts of a half-fallen chain link fence, two women smoked and argued while a pair of toddlers grappled in the dusty gravel at their feet. Mycroft could spot the older siblings of both children in the melee taking place in the disused lot. His eyes were drawn to and then away from the solitary figure of an older child, sat cross-legged in the dirt, with a book in his or her lap. A couple of cars down from where Mycroft stood, a young-ish man worked on a motorcycle and shouted back and forth with another who leaned out of a first floor window to give his input on the repair. 

“Fuck off, mate,” shouted the man with the motorcycle. 

Mycroft shifted his weight from foot to foot. The building which housed the man in the window happened to match the address Mycroft had been given over the phone the day before. It didn't look like the sort of place he had been expecting. When he had spoken to the man on the phone, he had said “Is my flat alright?” and Mycroft had said yes, assuming that the man must run a practice out of his home. But this… it was awfully shabby. It didn't feel like the sort of place out of which a person would conduct a counselling service; even if it was on the topic of sex. 

He glanced at his watch. He was early, so there was time yet to make a decision about whether he actually intended to go through with this; in the meantime, maybe the shouting man would disappear into the building. Mycroft had no desire to walk into the middle of whatever argument was taking place. 

He shifted his stance, turning away from the row of buildings, the football game, the women and their cigarettes, the men, and stared blankly across the street. He was acutely aware that it was awkward of him to just stand here. He had better training than this. It should have been easy to blend in, to approach subtly. But Mycroft was determined to set aside the part of himself that had that sort of training. This idiotic idea could lose him his job. If he allowed himself to contemplate that, he would never follow through. He was also well trained in the art of compartmentalization. He would utilize that for this purpose. 

Mycroft carefully did not examine why he wanted to follow through. It could only lead to an exhausting argument with himself. I don’t, I do, I don’t, I do. 

Whenever the I don’t voice got too loud, the I do conjured up the exasperated face of Basil Chapman, his date from two nights before. 

Basil was attractive; a former rower, his broad shoulders always filled out his lovely suits perfectly. He was nearly as tall as Mycroft but not at all as gangly. He had dark hair and eyes, and always smelled divine. He worked in the Prime Minister’s office, not in any important capacity, of course, but in a role which would lead to the correct social standing Mycroft would need in a prospective long-term partner. Basil’s family were wealthy, old, and without scandal. No siblings. He would inherit, without a title.

In other words, perfect on paper. 

Yes, he was boring. Of course, he thought more highly of himself than he ought to. Indeed, he casually dismissed Mycroft’s work - buying the Department of Transport story with hardly a breath of a question - but what did it matter, in the end? No one was ever going to find Mycroft’s job titles very interesting. That was the point.  

Mycroft needed to work this out now, or he was sure he never would. One more promotion, maybe two, and he would find it very difficult indeed to introduce a romantic partner to the equation. Certainly, starting up with one now could delay those promotions. But Mycroft, no matter how hard he tried, couldn’t help the small voice in his head which whispered: good.

He would never admit it to anyone but his cat, but he wouldn’t mind slowing down. Just for a moment. Having a little bit of a life, at least for a little while. 

On Friday night, Basil had practically shoved Mycroft into a waiting cab before climbing in after him. He hadn’t done anything so risky as try to kiss him in front of the cabbie. Rather, he had leaned forward with confidence and given only his own address, before turning and winking at Mycroft. Then, his hand had found its way to Mycroft’s inner thigh. 

Mycroft did not shudder as he recalled it, but he felt no pleasure at the memory, either. In the moment, all he had thought, wildly, was: You don’t even know what I was doing this time last year, get your hand off me.

What he had said, after a torturous stretch of minutes, as Basil’s hand kneaded further and further up toward Mycroft’s lap, was, “I’m so sorry, I’ve only just remembered—” 

Basil hadn’t cottoned on from Mycroft’s stiff posture, his lack of response, or from his words. He had leaned in closely, his nose puffing out air in a way that made Mycroft’s skin crawl, and Mycroft had the displeasure of hearing the way his breathing changed when he realized that Mycroft wasn’t remotely hard in his trousers. 

He had taken his hand away. Mycroft resisted the urge to clench his thighs together and press himself against the opposite side of the cab. 

“What’s the matter?” Basil had demanded. “I thought—” 

“I’m afraid I have to go back to the office,” Mycroft had managed to say in an even voice as he reached into his coat pocket for his wallet. “I’ll pay for the cab.” Then, to the cabbie: “You may drop me out here.” 

“You can’t be serious!”

“My apologies, Basil, thank you for a lovely dinner,” Mycroft had said, already throwing himself out the door. 

Standing on the shabby corner at five minutes to one in the afternoon only two days later, Mycroft despaired of himself. Basil Chapman should have been no trouble. Physically appealing, easily manipulated, if full of himself, probably easy to guide once certain activities were underway. There was no reason Mycroft shouldn’t have been able to… respond.  

Had it been the only time such a situation had occurred, Mycroft wouldn’t be here now. 

Giving himself a shake, Mycroft did not allow a replay of other unsuccessful encounters to begin, cinematic and with full sensory recall, in his mind. Instead, he resigned himself to the fact that in order to do what he set out to do, he would need to walk between the two jeering men, and ring a buzzer on the small panel beside the building’s entrance. 

It was 12:58. Close enough to the agreed-upon time. Mycroft didn’t have it in him to stand around long enough to be considered fashionably late. He at least managed not to hunch his shoulders as he traversed the patch of sidewalk between the man with the motorcycle and the one in the window. The former was young-ish, dark hair, not bothering to look up in order to deliver his retorts to the other, who was elderly but could have been sixty or a hundred for all Mycroft could tell; heavy smoker, retired or forced to cease work on account of his emphysema, hard life, war veteran—  

Mycroft shook off the details like rain off an umbrella, and steadfastly did not eavesdrop on the argument, which appeared to be about whether the repairs were being done properly by the younger man. Now that he was closer to it, Mycroft could read the tone of the old man’s voice: this was good-natured ribbing, rather than a true disagreement. It made standing there on the stoop slightly less awkward, though Mycroft could only pray that the two of them would keep arguing and take no notice of him. The thought of the number of people who were witnessing his approach to this door…

He had the flat number memorized, of course, and he only hesitated for a handful of seconds before pressing the buzzer beside it - 2B. Then, he waited. 

And waited to the count of fifteen. 

He pressed the buzzer again. 

After another count of fifteen, with the distinct feel of cold sweat breaking across his brow, Mycroft swallowed and counted to ten before pressing the button once more. 

If the man—  Mycroft had been furious with himself for nearly twenty-four hours now, for having not asked for his name , damn his nerves—  was merely occupied with something, or...or perhaps this building’s facade was deceptive and the flat was large? And the man Mycroft was scheduled to meet was taking his time getting to the door? Would it seem overeager to press the button again? 

Had he managed to misremember the time? Impossible. Mycroft bit the inside of his cheek. At least improbable. 

He was up to a count of thirty-four when he registered the voice behind him. 

“Your name wouldn’t be Mike?”

Mycroft clamped down on the instinct to flinch, instead turning slowly on the spot to face the owner of the voice. The man with the motorcycle, now wiping his hand on a dirty rag and walking towards Mycroft from the kerb. 

“I beg your pardon?” Mycroft stammered. “No, that is not my name.”

What on Earth?

He gave the man an awkward nod and turned back to the panel of buttons. Once more, and then he would give up. 2B. He pressed it again. 

“Sorry,” said the man behind him, closer now. “It’s just—  that’s my flat you’re ringing, and I’m expecting a bloke called Mike? But not ‘til one.”

Mycroft’s body went hot and then cold in a flash. He let his hand, frozen above the columns of numbered buttons, slowly fall to his side. He turned around. “It is one,” he said slowly, careful to keep his voice neutral. 

The man’s eyebrows raised. “Is it? Christ! I—” He moved to extend a hand, then noticed the grease still smeared over it, and yanked it back. “Sorry! I think—  er. I think it’s me you’re looking for? But your name isn’t Mike?”

“No,” Mycroft said with numb lips. “It’s Mycroft.”

“Shit!” The man laughed. “I thought you said Mike. Croft. Two names, first and last. Like that.” 

Mycroft couldn’t speak. This was the supposed professional in whom Alicia had such faith? He couldn’t be older than Mycroft, and he was offensively casual. Covered in motorcycle grease and cursing like a sailor in front of the client he was late to meet? 

“I must have lost track of the time,” the man said, his face lit by a friendly grin. “I’m Greg, it’s great to meet you! I can let us in, let me just grab my things!”

Mycroft bit down hard on his tongue as the man - Greg - walked away, bending down at the kerb to gather a small tool box and a plastic grocery bag. Mycroft watched him pause, eyes scanning the street for a moment, lingering on the empty lot full of children and the two women still talking animatedly at its edge. 

“Oi, Patsy!” He called, catching the attention of one of the women. “I think Andy just put a rock in ‘is mouth, might want to—”

“Christ!” the woman, Patsy, yelped, and bent to sweep her fingers into the toddler’s mouth, her other hand holding her cigarette aloft. “Thanks, Greg!”

“Yup!” He shouted, and then turned to Mycroft, who had been doing his level best to blend into the brickwork. “Shall we?”

“...of course, yes, fine,” Mycroft managed once he remembered how words functioned, and stepped aside so that Greg could let them into the building. 

“Just one floor up,” Greg said over his shoulder with a grin. 

Mycroft couldn’t bring himself to say anything in response that wasn’t utterly banal. He simply followed, and wondered how the hell he could politely extract himself from this ludicrous situation. With every step, he felt more certain that there was no polite or correct way to do it; he should just turn and run. 

But for whatever utterly insane, frustrated, desperate reason, Mycroft did not run. He simply followed Greg’s denim-clad backside up the two flights of stairs to a nondescript door. 

“I know I look a mess,” he told Mycroft as he fumbled his keys from his pocket. “I’ll get washed up before we get started—” 

Mycroft’s stomach roiled. 

“--But I promise the flat’s in better shape than I am.” Greg unlocked the two deadbolts and executed a complicated maneuver with the knob before shoving the door open with his hip. “Sorry, door sticks sometimes.”

Mycroft followed him into the flat, abruptly terrified. This person could be a murderer, he could be walking into a torture chamber—  

Oh. 

“Make yourself at home,” Greg was saying while he dropped his things on a small table just inside the door. “I’ll put on tea when I’m cleaner, but there’s lager in the fridge if you like. Sit wherever. Tapes and stereo are over there if you want music. Be right back!”

Mycroft hardly registered this cheerfully-delivered set of instructions. He was busy taking in the cozy space into which he had just stepped. 

“Oh!” Greg paused at the door to what could only be the bathroom. “Mind the cat! He’s friendly but gets under foot. Just a warning. You’re not allergic, are you?”

Mycroft blinked. “Oh!” He glanced around for the cat in question but didn’t see one. “No, not allergic.”

“Great!” Greg tapped the doorway of the bathroom with his fingers twice before disappearing inside. 

Mycroft was frozen, and so he took in what he could of the tiny flat from just inside the door. That position placed him in a kitchenette consisting of a small refrigerator, two worktops, and a sink. A hotplate and an ancient wall oven were the only other appliances. A miniscule table and two rickety dining chairs demarcated the end of the kitchen space and the beginning of the living area, which consisted of an actually quite nice - if worn - brown leather sofa, a ring-smudged coffee table, a small ancient television sharing a stand with a stereo and a spill of cassette tapes, and then, surprisingly—  

Mycroft crossed the flat in two long strides. The bookshelves were practically floor-to-ceiling, but not quite. He realized as he moved toward them that the shelving units were both storage for books - a great many books - and a makeshift room divider. Mycroft didn’t need to look around the other side to know that this little studio likely only had room enough remaining in it for a bed. Maybe a side table. There was certainly no space dedicated to meeting clients. Nothing about this made sense. Mycroft swallowed hard and focused instead on the books. 

There was no immediate order apparent in their arrangement, and the rows of spines were at times interrupted by detritus, or knick-knacks, some of which appeared to have been made by hand. By children, obviously, but Greg certainly did not have children, or even family - Mycroft didn’t bother winding back his mental tape to figure out where he’d deduced that. It didn’t matter.  

The books ranged from fiction (a heavy presence of science fiction, a decent number of spy novels, and even some westerns) to what were clearly school texts. Most, if not all, had been purchased used. What was most curious was the variety in the represented subjects: the older textbooks were in the vein of law and criminology, likely for introductory courses. These were shoved haphazardly onto the bottom shelves. Higher up, and more recently used - some actively in use, judging by the stack of notebooks and clutter of pens and highlighters,  little shreds of paper sticking out of the pages of some books like feathers - were texts in psychology, behavioral science, humanities, and education.

Mycroft turned away from the shelf and closed his eyes. 

What am I doing here?

What is this? Who is this?

This was not the workplace of a therapist. Or a counsellor. This was a student flat. 

Time to get serious. Mycroft scanned the room and set about deducing: 

Male, early-to-mid-twenties, student, in graduate study. He had changed the course of his study a handful of times. A certificate in crimin...ology, yes, but then... 

Mycroft cast his eyes over the older items in the flat - a period of steady, though not particularly lucrative, employment followed by a period of unemployment. A series of menial jobs. The work boots by the door were a few years old, well used, but not actively in daily use. Construction, for a while. Some evidence of feline occupation; Mycroft skipped over that. Until a cat appeared to be stroked and adored while also serving as a welcome distraction, he had other things to worry about. 

The man who lived in this flat had an undergraduate degree, recently completed. In psychology, perhaps. No full time day job. He couldn’t have one, not while still taking full time classes, and Mycroft would know where the man studied if he moved closer to that pile of mail on the table. He might be able to deduce the location of the part-time work Greg clearly did somewhere, in addition to...oh, God,whatever this was. Mycroft’s eyes flicked from a note - unreadable from this distance, but in an immature hand - stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet, to a bright-colored paint smear - acrylic - on the sleeve of the jacket hung by the door. He had slipped the jacket on at some point during his work day, not realizing that he had missed a spot of paint on the side of his hand when washing them. He had swiped at the mark with a tissue and then forgotten it entirely.

The smell of the apartment indicated a smoker, but a fastidious one. He smoked out of the window, most likely, and kept his clothes clean. The flat was very tidy, though lived-in. Its occupant had experienced upheaval at some point, based on the mismatch of the furnishings, the temporary stop-gaps Mycroft could see in the milk crates and unfinished wood board being used to display the television, in the way the two chairs at the small dining table did not originate from the same place, and the table outdated them by at least a decade. 

Greg was a person who had only recently found himself on even footing, both financially and professionally, and, Mycroft could deduce based on statistics, likely personally as well. Perhaps it did make sense that he would… do other things to make money. 

Like have sex with pathetic, desperate men. 

Other things, dear God. Mycroft breathed slowly in through his nose, fighting the panic that wanted to rise within him. I’m going to kill Alicia.

Mycroft wondered if he should sit. Or at least move away from the bookshelves. It wouldn’t do to start off looking as though he had been prying into Greg’s personal business. It wasn’t his fault Mycroft had been so thoroughly duped by the most interfering woman alive. 

Mycroft took a careful step back and turned. One step had taken him from the living area’s edge to practically the middle of it. Mycroft needed to sit down. This was unbearably awkward. 

He sat, on the very edge of the (likely secondhand) wingback chair situated to the side of the leather sofa. The moment he sat, the bathroom door opened, and Greg exited. 

He’d had a change of clothes in there, and was now both cleaner and more disheveled. 

Mycroft stood like a shot. “I should go,” he began.

Greg held up his hands. “You can go if you like,” he said gently. “Or you could… take a breath. Sit. I’ll make tea.”

Mycroft hesitated. 

“Look,” Greg said, stepping further into the little square that was the rest of the flat. “Alicia called me, wanted to see if you got in touch.”

Mycroft’s eyes widened. “You didn’t—” 

“No, of course not,” Greg said, his voice gentle and soft again. “I told her off, actually. I don’t really… do this, anymore.”

“Do… what, exactly?” Mycroft hedged, slowly lowering himself back down to sit in the chair. 

Greg’s mouth ( attractive , Mycroft’s brain informed him) twisted in a shrewd little smile. “I don’t have strange men up to my flat for an exchange of currency and services,” he said, just a hint of mocking to his voice. “That’s not really my thing; it never was.”

“What… is? Or was? Your… thing?” Mycroft winced. He could be better than this, really. He knew how. He had spent all of the first half of his twenties being able to process information while simultaneously pretending to know it already. He had even, in the past, successfully feigned suaveness. It never stopped galling him, how badly he failed when asked to do it as himself in his real life. If only he could be the sort of person for whom there was no difference. No line. He’d been trying. 

Greg moved into the tiny kitchenette and produced a kettle from a lower cabinet. He filled it with water before answering, flicking on the hot plate as he spoke. “Oh, a bit of this or that,” he sighed. “Mostly I’ve been arm candy, y’know? Go to a party with a divorcee so all her friends think she’s landed some young thing since Graham or Phillip left. Or, a few times, take a nice girl to a dance at her university. Uhm…” He dug through a cabinet for a box of tea. “PG Tips is all I have, hope you’re not picky.”

“Not at all,” Mycroft said, numb. “Do you not… with men?”

Greg laughed. “Ah, well, that’s where my thing is a bit different. S’interesting, most men I work with want one of two things. Alicia says you’re whip smart. I bet you could figure out what those two things are.”

“Sex,” said Mycroft immediately. 

Greg leaned back against his kitchen sink and raised both eyebrows. “Yeah, good. And?”

Mycroft’s eyes skimmed the line of Greg’s relaxed ( attractive , said his brain, a bit louder this time) body and then the flat. His eyes lingered on the stereo; it was somewhat higher-end Not a recent purchase, but brand new when it was bought. The sofa to Mycroft’s right was probably the same.

Greg’s clothes, the ones he changed into, are of fair quality. Off-the-rack jeans, but designer label nonetheless. Shirt bought new, maybe two years ago, by someone who understood fit.

“Oh,” Mycroft said. 

“Someone to treat well,” Greg confirmed. “Someone who will just… be around. To talk to. To go places with. Maybe something physical, maybe not. It’s usually the older ones.” 

Mycroft stayed quiet, watching him go about making tea. 

“Which are you?” Greg asked as he carried two mugs into the living room. 

“I beg your pardon?” Mycroft couldn’t focus; he took the tea being handed to him and let the heat of the mug between his palms ground him. 

“Well,” Greg said gently, settling onto the side of the sofa closest to Mycroft in the chair. “You look young; my age, probably. I’m twenty seven, by the way.” 

“Twenty-five,” Mycroft supplied. 

“Thought so.” Greg sipped his tea once before setting it on the coffee table. “So younger guys, they usually just want to fuck.” 

Mycroft kept his facial expression neutral. “Do they.”

“Mm.” Greg tilted his head. “Did your friend Alicia not explain anything about me?”  

“She led me to believe you were a therapist,” Mycroft said, deciding that honesty would have to be the best policy in this wildly inappropriate scenario. 

Greg snorted and hid the rest of a laugh behind his hand. “She never did.”

“She at least let me assume.”

“Oh, Christ.” Greg huffed and chuckled and rubbed a hand over his face. “She’s something else, isn’t she?”

“Quite,” Mycroft managed to grit out between his clenched teeth. He drank his tea for want of something to calm his irritation. 

“I’m actually studying to be a social worker,” Greg said. “Though I’m not sure she even knows that. Just a funny coincidence, I suppose.” He sighed. “Look, here’s, ah… the thing. I know her boyfriend, or is he her ex again? I never know with the two of them.” 

“I believe they are off again, as the saying goes,” Mycroft muttered. 

“Ah, well, give it time and they’ll be on soon enough. Anyway, Michael was a classmate of mine.” 

Mycroft’s eyebrows rose against his will. “At University College?”

Greg gave a wry smile. “Yeah. I managed to attend for a year, know it’s hard to imagine.”

Mycroft wanted to throttle himself. “No, it’s—” 

“It didn’t last, obviously,” Greg interrupted, hiding his face in his tea. “Michael’s not bad, for a posh arsehole. We stayed sort-of friends after I left.”

“And he knows about your… thing.”

Greg leaned back in his seat, lowering his mug and smiling, a mix of amusement and gratitude there in his expression. “He does. I… helped out a friend of his. Alicia should have explained some of this to you, I’m really sorry. The thing is, I got sort of a reputation for being… ah… well, I don’t know. Patient? Understanding? Ummm, a bit of a slag, if I’m honest.” 

Mycroft felt himself blush. He couldn’t think of what to say. 

“The short version of the story is, I had the honor of deflowering a not-insignificant number of Michael’s posh arsehole friends. The queer ones, of course.” 

“Oh.”

“Mmhm. Not for money, mind. But after I left the program at UCL, it was hard to find steady work, and I wound up working for an agency for a bit. Nothing sordid, truly just… accompaniment. Like I said: divorced housewives, shy college girls, the occassional closeted lesbian.” 

Mycroft cleared his throat. “And then?”

“And then a friend of a friend mentioned they knew a bloke, a bit older, recently divorced from his wife, gay as the day is long but terrified to try it on with another man. You’ve got to figure, repression strong enough to get one through fifteen or so years of marriage to a person of the wrong gender is strong enough to make dating seem like climbing a mountain. I joked that I charge for that sort of thing now. Friend said the bloke would be willing to pay. I said yes.” Greg sighed. “Stupid, I know. But I mean…” He shrugged. “When opportunity knocks.”

“I suppose,” Mycroft hedged, mind spinning. 

“I haven’t had that many, erm... clients,” Greg hurried to say after a moment of hesitation. “A few. It’s not… hundreds, if that’s what you’re thinking. And to be completely clear, you do not have to be one of them.”

Mycroft swallowed and tried to decide where to look, what to say. Tried to unravel the tangle of nausea and excitement, fear and recklessness, to uncover what his thoughts even were. His brain ran numbers, analyzed data and calculated risk. He ignored that. He had to ignore that.

“Huh,” Greg said, interested. “You don’t want to take the out. I really thought you would.”

“I… should.” Mycroft set his own tea down and clenched his fingers over his own knees. “I absolutely should leave right this moment.”

“But you aren’t leaving. Why?” 

Mycroft cleared his throat. “It is complicated.”

“It always is,” Greg said, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. “Or, people say it is. But it isn't usually, once it’s all talked out. What’s the problem? If you can explain it, I’ll be able to figure out how to help a lot easier.” 

“Isn’t the help fairly straightforward in this case?” Mycroft shifted in his seat, uncomfortable in mind, if not exactly in body. “Not to be indelicate—” 

“Oh,” Greg laughed. “By all means, be indelicate. You won’t offend my sensibilities or anything.”

Mycroft couldn’t resist, he smiled back at the man, helplessly charmed. He caught and stifled the smile, ducking his head. “I assume you simply… do the deed. Complete the transaction. And that, as they say, is that.”

“It’s not always that simple,” Greg said quietly, still rocked forward in his seat. If he wanted, he could reach out and touch Mycroft. Mycroft had no idea what he would do if that were to happen. “Like I said, it’s not like I’ve had a lot of clients for this specific, ah, problem. But it’s… not usually, or really ever, about just doing the deed. The men I’ve met have needed… you know, practice at all the sh- the stuff that goes before and after.”

“I won’t be offended by cursing,” Mycroft said, finally feeling able to look up from his hands in his lap. “I know I must seem terribly priggish and uptight.”

“You seem… sweet,” Greg said. 

Mycroft, completely wrongfooted, blinked. “I… do?”

“You’re friends with Alicia, though, so you’re probably a killer-for-hire or something. But yeah, you seem sweet.” 

“Oh.”

“Are you?”

Mycroft licked his lips, nervous. “Am I…?”

“A killer-for-hire.” 

This, Mycroft could handle. “Not anymore,” he said drily, and then regretted it terribly; Greg had a devastatingly gorgeous laugh. 

Good god, I can’t touch that, I’ll ruin it.

“So,” Greg said, after a moment. “What do you think? Want to tell me the problem?”

Mycroft took a breath. And then another. “Yes. I think I do.”



Chapter Text

Greg was pretty sure. He was maybe fifty-percent sure. He was somewhat optimistic that he could handle this. That this would be fine. 

One last client, he had thought to himself when the posh voice called on Saturday afternoon. It’ll be fun, and this one sounds decent; shy on the phone. Usually a good sign. 

And it had been a good sign. Greg was no mind reader, but he was good with people. He could tell, usually, when someone was at the very least basically decent, unlikely to get aggressive or creepy. Mycroft was nervous. He was possibly endearingly naive, since he’d let Alicia slip one by him with the whole sex counsellor bit. 

He was attractive: tall and lanky, a bit ginger-tinted with a softly freckled complexion, and lovely long-fingered hands. Greg was fascinated by the way he couldn’t see much else of Mycroft; the man was covered by multiple layers, all of them impeccable. Greg couldn’t remember the last time he saw anyone dressed that formally on a Sunday and he had never seen anyone who looked like Mycroft around here. He very well could be a killer-for-hire, and Greg had an odd feeling that the little joke Mycroft had cracked had been at least kin with the truth. 

He was pretty sure that Mycroft, were he not currently stumbling his way through a stilted description of his sexual hang-ups, would give off an air of competent coolness. Alicia had implied as much when she called Greg only a few hours after Mycroft. 

“I’ve referred a friend,” she’d drawled. “He’s… intense. Might come off a bit aloof, but he’s a good one at heart, I assure you. You could set him right, from what I hear?”  

Greg hadn’t said a word about his awkward phone conversation with Mycroft to Alicia. He’d not even tried to tease out much information from her. It didn't seem fair. Besides, he had been busy telling her off for not calling him before giving out his number in the first place. 

“I didn’t know you’d retired,” Alicia had said. Greg couldn’t stand that tone. The one upper class people who had read too many books and been told how smart they were one time too many got when they were talking to people well below their station. 

“It wasn’t a career,” Greg had sighed. 

“Forgive me,” Alicia had said, as if suddenly realizing she was being a bit of a twat. “No, truly, I’m sorry if I—  I’ll call my friend and tell him I was mistaken.” 

“Don’t worry about it,” Greg had said, feeling badly for making her feel badly. Ridiculous. 

Now, he remembered that despite her drawling and purring ways, Alicia had still sounded fond of Mycroft. Had called him good at heart. Greg could see why. 

“I simply… must get over this,” Mycroft said once he finished recounting what sounded to Greg like a pretty terrible date, not even counting the unwelcome grope in the back of the taxi. 

“So, you’ve never?” Greg checked. 

Mycroft appeared to swallow very deliberately before opening his mouth to speak and cutting himself off. He cleared his throat, a tiny little reflex of a sound. “Not… really.”

“What does that mean?”

“A little… contact. With someone at school. Ah - quite a few years ago.” 

“You would have been young,” Greg prompted when no more words seemed forthcoming.

“Yes,” Mycroft agreed, turning his face away. His embarrassed blush spread down his jaw to his neck, disappearing beneath his shirt and tie. “It wasn’t… I don’t know how to describe it.” 

“Who was he?”

Mycroft sighed and faced Greg again, lips twitching into a wry, sad little smile. “My friend. Or so I thought.”

Greg winced. “Sounds like maybe that didn’t end so well.”

“No,” Mycroft murmured, then did his little throat clearing thing again. “No, it did not.”

“Did you enjoy the… contact?” 

“Yes.” Mycroft’s hands, folded neatly in his lap, spasmed and clutched together for a moment before abruptly relaxing. “That is, of course I did. I was a fifteen year old boy. Frankly, I would have enjoyed contact with a strong breeze at that age.”

Ah, he’s funny, Greg thought as he laughed. “Same,” he said. “So what’s the problem now, do you think?”

“I really don’t know,” Mycroft said, and it sounded like it pained him to admit it. “Alicia theorizes that - Oh, fuck it all, did she tell you her theory already?”

“Nah,” Greg assured him. “Just told me to expect your call. Tell me the theory, I bet it’s wrong.”

“Alicia is rarely wrong,” Mycroft stalled. 

“Mmm, if you say so.”

“Well... at any rate, she thinks I have an internal obstacle to intimacy, or something of that… sort.” 

Greg felt inexplicably fond of the way the man seemed to deflate with each word that left his mouth. He wanted to comfort him in some way. A hand on the knee. A pat to the arm. And he would have done that with anyone else, probably. But something told him to proceed with caution here. “Well, maybe she’s right. Maybe not. What do you want to do to try and deal with it?”

Mycroft flushed even more deeply. “Well. I can tell you what Alicia thought would happen when she sent me here.” 

“She probably thinks it’s a no-pressure situation, eh?” Greg rolled his eyes. “What does it matter, with me, a stranger you would never look twice at in other circumstances, and a hooker to boot?”

Mycroft reared back. “That’s—  I don’t think that, I—” 

“I’m not saying you do,” Greg interrupted gently. “I’m saying she does. I’m not… not a prostitute, not in the way people think about that type of work. ‘Course, even if I was, I’m still… you know. A person.” He waved away the complicated philosophy of it with one hand, not in the mood to get into it. “My point is, it’s not necessarily that simple. So I have to ask again, what do you want? You thought you were coming to some type of therapist. Now you know that’s not the case. So? It’s up to you.”

Mycroft visibly swallowed, one absent hand hovering over his tie as if to loosen it. Greg had the strange urge to reach out and do it for him. 

Christ I’m going soft, he thought. It’s been too long since I’ve seen anyone for real, and I’m too finished with this sort of thing. I should send him packing right now before it gets messy as all hell. 

“I’d like to try anything that might help,” Mycroft said, once his hand had dropped back to his lap. “I just… want to get it over with.”

Oh, no. 

“That doesn't sound very appealing,” Greg murmured. “For you, I mean.” Or for me, but that’s really not what matters here, is it? 

“Nevertheless,” Mycroft said with a helpless shrug. “That is the truth. I want— I feel I need to get it over with. Before it is too late.”

“Do you want to think this over some more?”

Mycroft shook his head vehemently. “No. No, if I leave here to think, I’ll never come back. It must be now.”

Greg sighed. “I’m not going to do something you don’t want—” 

“I don’t know what I want!” The words exploded from him, his rigid calm shattering. “I don’t know what I don’t want! This is why I’m here. This is, apparently, what you do. I’ll pay… whatever you want. Just. Just—” 

“Come sit over here,” Greg said, pitching his voice soft and low, nonthreatening. “It’s alright,” he promised, and slid down the length of the sofa. All Mycroft would have to do was shift from the chair. He wouldn’t have to touch or be touched, yet. “Can’t do anything if you’re over there and I’m over here, handsome.”

Mycroft’s eyes closed, pained. “Please, don’t… call me that.”

“No?” Greg bit his lip. “Bad associations?”

“I dislike flattery.”

That’s not what that was, Greg thought, but knew it would be the wrong thing to say. “Okay, I won’t… do that.” He patted the sofa cushion, and Mycroft’s eyes opened. “Come on. Sit.”

After another painful pause, Mycroft did. 

“Good,” Greg said. “Look, it’s not… it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You might be right; maybe just… no pressure, a little experimentation, it could help.” 

“Just.” Mycroft sucked air in through his teeth. “You have to—  I don’t know how to start.”

“It’s alright,” Greg murmured. “Here, turn towards me a bit - good - and now I’m just going to touch your knee. The left one.”

Mycroft tensed a little under Greg’s right palm when he laid it against his knee, spreading up toward his thigh, but he relaxed quickly, closing his eyes in concentration. 

“Put your hand over my hand,” Greg whispered. “You can keep your eyes shut if you like.”

Mycroft followed instructions, and his hand was soft and cool on top of Greg’s. Greg turned his hand palm-up, letting his fingertips brush gently against Mycroft’s wrist. 

“Good,” Greg said. “Now I’m going to touch your right shoulder with my other hand.” 

He used his hand to grip Mycroft’s shoulder gently, angling him a little closer as Greg shifted along the sofa cushions. 

“Can I kiss your neck?” Greg asked, quiet as he could without whispering. He let his hand smooth up from Mycroft’s shoulder to indicate the tiny patch of skin just above Mycroft’s collar. “Right here?”

Mycroft swallowed, kept his eyes closed, and nodded. 

“Thanks,” Greg said, and then leaned in to press his lips, dry and gentle, to that little spot. 

Mycroft drew in a sharp breath. 

“Alright?” Greg asked against his skin. He smelled really good. Posh blokes always did. But Greg particularly liked Mycroft’s cologne. It was nice. Spicier than he would expect from someone dressed like him. A little more earthy. Greg filed it away: Mycroft seemed pretty tightly wound, but he had adventurous taste in cologne. 

“Yes,” Mycroft said, but Greg could hear a note of something tense and uncomfortable there. 

“Sure?"

“Yes.” This time between gritted teeth. 

Greg didn’t like the sound of that, but decided to hold off on calling it out, and moved his lips in a gentle line toward Mycroft’s jaw, all the while stroking his fingers over Mycroft’s. As his mouth hovered near Mycroft’s, Greg took his hand, placing it on his own knee. He leaned in the last centimeter, fitting his lips softly over Mycroft’s, and let his own hand slide up just a bit, feeling the muscle of Mycroft’s thigh— 

“No—” Mycroft shoved Greg’s hand away and turned his face to the side, breaking the tenuous contact of their lips. 

“Okay!” Greg lifted both hands in the air, palms out. “It’s okay!” 

“It isn’t,” Mycroft growled, standing from the sofa and shaking both his own hands out at his sides. “It isn’t! This is the problem! This is exactly the problem! This is not going to work. It can’t possibly.”

“Mycroft—”

“I don’t know you from Adam,” Mycroft continued, pacing away and then turning back, beseeching. “I can’t just let you do things to me. Can I? How can anyone stand such a thing?” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Christ. I don’t mean to be insulting.”

“You’re not being insulting,” Greg soothed. “You’re absolutely freaking out, but… it’s really alright. Here, sit. In the chair. I’ll be right back.”

Mycroft rubbed both hands over his face and shook his head. “I should just go.”

“Sit,” Greg commanded softly. “C’mon, now.” He stood and reached out a hand. “Here, I’m not going to do anything untoward, just, come.” He took Mycroft’s hand and led him back to the armchair. “Stay right here,” he said, and nudged the other man down into it. “Be right back, promise.”

Greg hurried around the corner of his little make-shift shelf-wall and found exactly what he was looking for, lounging in the center of the bed. “D’you like cats?” he called. 

“I…” Mycroft’s voice was weak. He cleared his throat and spoke again, steadier and louder. “I do, actually. Very much.”

“Great,” Greg breathed, and scooped the sleeping tuxedo cat from the bed before heading back around the shelves. “This,” he announced, “is Seven. Here. He likes chin scratches.”

Greg dumped the cat into Mycroft’s lap with little ceremony before taking his seat on the closest end of the sofa again. 

Mycroft’s face did a complicated, soft little thing as Seven stared up at him with his wide, guileless yellow eyes. “Hello,” he murmured, and held his fingers out to be sniffed. This was a pointless formality with a cat as friendly as Seven, who was a complete slut for any and all attention. Greg held his tongue, though, and watched as his cat bumped his little head into Mycroft’s palm. 

Good boy, Greg thought. You might be my only hope to relax him, the poor man. 

“There,” Greg said out loud, nodding decisively. “Nothing is ever so bad that it can’t be fixed by a little time spent petting a cat.”

“That is a very good philosophy by which to live,” Mycroft murmured, not bothering to look up at Greg. He instead smiled sweetly down at Seven as he provided the aforementioned chin scratches with an expert hand. “Seven?”

“Yeah.” Greg grinned. “The double-oh is silent. It’s the markings.”

Mycroft chuckled. “Of course, naturally.” He finally did look up and meet Greg’s eyes. “He’s lovely.”

“You have one?”

He nodded. “Judy. A stray I found behind a movie theater a year ago. Sometimes it feels I share the flat with her, and not the other way around.”

Greg laughed. “Exactly! I found this one years ago, literally half dead in a gutter outside a bar where my band played sometimes. I ditched the show to get him home. Best decision I ever made, to be honest.”

Mycroft, for the first time since he arrived on Greg’s street, looked truly relaxed as he let his hand move absently with the grain of Seven’s sleek black fur. “You are a musician?”

Greg barked a laugh. “Not at all. It was just a thing you did when you wanted to be a real rebel punk, you know? Don’t have to be good at it. Just find a group of likeminded idiots who’ve got their hands on some guitars. Shout into the mic. Get drunk. Repeat.”

“Ah,” Mycroft shook his head. “I’m afraid I never had a real rebellious phase.”

“No?”

“I…” Mycroft contemplated the space between Seven’s ears, absently stroking it with two gentle fingers. “I suppose I thought my existence was rebellion enough. My parents have always been very accepting of me, in nearly every aspect. I never felt that they disapproved or disliked those things about me which my peers found so objectionable. It was never an authority figure or set of them of whom I felt I needed to live in defiance.”

“What did people not like about you?” Greg pressed, and not just because he thought the answer might help him make sense of Mycroft’s ‘problem.’ He wanted to know.  

“Not to sound like a braggart,” Mycroft hedged, “but I was always rather far ahead of my classmates in terms of intellectual ability. My interests were very different from a young age. And then, of course, as I got older certain facts of my preferences became obvious.”

“Mm,” Greg nodded. “That sounds rough.”

“I suppose it was,” Mycroft allowed. “I simply spent time with people who appreciated what others did not. In other words, my teachers. My younger brother. And my only uncle who, it bears saying, was rather cut from the same cloth as I.”

“That’s lonely,” Greg murmured. We’re getting somewhere though, keep petting the cat there, I’ll ease it out of you yet. 

“That’s my normal,” Mycroft said softly. 

Christ, that’s heartbreaking. 

Greg leaned forward and reached a hand toward Seven, who stretched luxuriously and flipped onto his back in Mycroft’s lap. Greg clucked gently at him as he ran his fingers through the white patch of fur on his chest. Mycroft’s own hand worked expert scratches into the upturned chin, drawing back every so often to give flailing paws something to bat at. 

“I’m guessing,” Greg said, matching the quiet of Mycroft’s tone, “that you’re here because you don’t want that to be your normal anymore.”

“No,” Mycroft admitted, quickly, like ripping off a bandaid. “No, I don’t. I am likely in the last stage of my career that will allow for a relationship to grow naturally. After this, a couple of steps up the ladder… it becomes significantly harder. Especially for someone like me.”

That sounded terribly clinical for someone as upset about this as Mycroft clearly was. But also… what the hell sort of job did Mycroft do? Greg bit the inside of his cheek to keep from asking: Holy shit, who are you? “Okay,” he said instead. “Well. I’d be happy to help.” 

“But…” Mycroft sighed. “I thought we just established that you likely can’t.”

Greg took a chance and let his fingers brush Mycroft’s, then tangle with them a little where they continued to pet Seven. “We established you don’t go from zero to sixty. Which we already knew based on that terrible date you told me about. By the way, Boris Whateverhisnamewas sounds like a real bellend.” 

Mycroft laughed, ducking his head. “Basil. And yes, he is.”

“How many people have you gone out with that you actually like?”

“I don’t like very many people,” Mycroft admitted. “I know that sounds…” 

“S’okay. Are you sure you want to be in a relationship? Does sex… interest you?”

Mycroft sighed. “I don’t want to end up alone. Sex? It interested me before. Things went a little… wrong. Somewhere. God, I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”

“I have one of those faces,” Greg said, infusing his words with overexaggerated sage-like wisdom. 

“Perhaps you do,” Mycroft murmured, not reacting to the joke. “I’ve had a trying few years. I deprioritized relationships of all sorts: family, friends, potential lovers. I’m working to rebuild, I suppose. I’m more settled now than I have been since I left University.”

“That couldn’t have been that long ago,” Greg ventured. “You’re only twenty-five.”

“I finished my studies when I was twenty,” Mycroft said. “I started young.”

“Christ! Probably too young!” Greg resisted the urge to come at this like a trainee counselor. Pieces were beginning to click together in his mind, though. You’ve been done a disservice, mate, he thought. You need therapy. Not a rentboy. Greg fought a wince at that. It wasn’t good for him to think of himself in those terms. He drew a deep breath. “Alright, here’s my proposal. Ready?”

“As I will ever be.”

“Great.” Greg sat back, flicking little bits of cat fur off his fingertips before crossing his arms in thought. “Okay, step one: you need to feel comfortable before we can even try to get anywhere. I think we should start slow. Absolute basics. Meet me for a coffee one day after work. I’m free after four, usually - you?”

“I… technically end my day around six.”

“Technically?”

“I work late. Often.”

Greg shrugged. “That’s fine. Do you have to? Tomorrow, maybe?”

“No,” Mycroft said, letting his shoulders drop. “Not tomorrow, in any case. I can be free after six.”

“Great. Neighborhood?”

“Ah… Perhaps you can choose where we should meet,” Mycroft replied, clearly hedging. “I don’t mind travelling.”

Greg leaned back in his seat and considered Mycroft’s pale, nervous face. It was pretty fucking obvious, considering who had referred Mycroft here, that he was some sort of SIS… guy. Not a drone, not this one. Not some Home Office sycophant. Young to be too big of a deal, but probably well on his way. Born into it, maybe. Definitely highly and expensively educated. The sort of guy who used to make Greg feel uncomfortable and grubby. Now the sort of guy Greg could read pretty well, thanks to time spent in their midst. And, not to put to fine a point on it, most of his clients were that sort of bloke. Greg had navigated plenty of these uptight psyches in the interest of getting their rocks off. Mycroft was harder to crack than others had been but…

“Somewhere in the middle, then,” Greg offered with a little smirk. “There’s an exhibit at the Whitechapel gallery I’ve been wanting to check out. They close late on Wednesdays. I’ll wander around there until you’re free. You can come wander with me, if you like, or we can go straight to coffee. Whatever suits. Thoughts?”

Mycroft seemed momentarily taken aback. “Wander?” 

“Yeah. Like… sort of like a date. I’m giving you the full package, here. A ground-up plan of action, you could say.”

Mycroft’s eyes darted nervously away. “And how much…?” 

“You on a budget?”

This was enough to startle Mycroft into both a laugh and the return of eye contact. “No,” he said after a moment, lips twisting in amusement. “Not as such.”

“Then worry about it later,” Greg said gently. “When - if - you feel you’ve gotten something out of it. Promise I won’t drain your coffers.”

Mycroft took a deep breath, seeming to steady himself with it. “Alright.” 

“Great,” Greg said, inexplicably relieved. It shouldn’t matter to him if this man took him up on the offer or not. He shouldn’t be excited to have just given up his best chance at a quiet night of studying all week. He tried to shake it away as he stood and Mycroft followed suit. 

“I feel as though I should be shaking on a deal,” Mycroft said wryly. 

“No need,” Greg replied, and on a whim he darted forward to press a brush of a kiss to the very corner of Mycroft’s mouth. “There. That seals it.”

Mycroft blinked, his face gone strangely soft. “Oh,” he said. “Yes. Quite.”



Chapter Text

Greg got to the Whitechapel Gallery later than he’d planned. Normally he finished with his last Monday class at half three, but today he’d taken a long detour to his advisor’s office hours to ask a quick question, which had turned into a discussion of his practical placement, which would begin at the end of term and last through summer. It was as-yet undecided where Greg would be placed, and he was as-yet undecided on how to use his placement to complete his dissertation.

He felt utterly exhausted by the end of the forty-five minutes in Doctor Bakshi’s office, and he still had two trains to catch to get to the gallery. He arrived at nearly five, not too bad, and expected he would spend a happy hour or so meandering the place on his own. But even from half a block away from the gallery’s front entrance, Greg could see the tall figure waiting off to the side. 

Interesting, Greg thought, taking in the briefcase and coat. Both combined probably cost more than two months of Greg’s rent, but the man holding and wearing them looked strangely dwarfed by them. Like a kid playing dress-up with his father’s things. It wasn’t the impression Greg got the first time they met, but he felt it now and wondered if his ideas about Mycroft were now colored by what he knew of him; the insecurity implied by the problem he’d been having. 

Greg was beginning to think that Mister “Isn’t It Fairly Straightforward, Do The Deed” was in fact in desperate need of what some liked to call the Boyfriend Experience. Greg could do that for him. He’d done it before, and right now the prospect of focusing on that, on this man and his problems, rather than Greg’s own stresses and worries, was extremely appealing. 

As he drew closer, Mycroft noticed him and stiffened, looking about ready to dart. 

How does someone that rich and probably-almost-powerful get to be so frightened of a nobody like me? 

“I wasn’t expecting to see you this early,” Greg said by way of greeting, and then regretted it the moment he said it. Mycroft’s face froze almost instantly with obvious panic. “No, it’s good! I’m glad,” Greg hurried to add. “Glad you’re here. It’s more fun to walk through with a… companion.” 

“I—” Mycroft made a visible effort to calm himself, hand flexing around the briefcase handle, his shoulders rising and falling in a deliberate, slow wave. “Well. Alright, then. That’s. Good.”

“Come on,” Greg prompted with a little nudge of his elbow. “Paintings, then coffee?”

“Yes,” Mycroft replied, clipped, already moving away. 

Greg hurried to keep up with him, their shoulders bumping as they crowded each other at the door. There was a brief flare of panic in Mycroft’s eyes, so Greg opened it and motioned him in, following close-but-not-too-close and drawing up beside him as the door whuffed shut behind them. 

“This way?” Mycroft asked, tilting his head to the left and the visiting exhibit. 

Greg nodded. “Perfect, yeah.” 

They moved, side by side, and Greg wanted to let their shoulders bump again, but first he took a chance and reached out, swiping his pinky down the side of Mycroft’s hand, hooking their fingers together for a fleeting second; just long enough to stop Mycroft in his tracks. Greg grinned at him over one shoulder and winked. “Something wrong?"

Mycroft seemed to shake himself out of his stillness, shrugging off his surprise and stepping forward. “No, not at all. Lead the way.”

Greg bit the inside of his cheek to keep his grin in check; he’d have to try that a few more times, see if Mycroft could be made comfortable with little touches by way of exposure. Maybe it wouldn’t work. Greg would still get to see that sweet, delightful little look of surprise each time. 

There was no reason Greg couldn’t have fun with this, after all. 



***



Mycroft, Greg learned as they meandered through the gallery, had a very dry sense of humor and the ability to communicate all manner of thoughts and emotions through carefully measured blinks and eyebrow twitches. 

“I know,” Greg murmured a few minutes in, after the fourth little eyebrow twitch. “That woman’s perfume is awful.” 

Mycroft met Greg’s eyes, surprised. “How did you—” 

“Just your face,” Greg laughed quietly. “Your eyebrow.” He pointed first to his own face, then reached halfway for Mycroft, nearly touching the other man’s brow. “It moves.”

Mycroft hid his smile with a turn of his head, glancing to the corner of the room where the woman with the bad perfume had bent to examine a bit of sculpture. “It surprises me that you noticed such a small detail.”

Greg shrugged and rocked back on his heels, considering the dark, smudgy painting on the wall in front of them. “I’m an observant person.”

“Hmm,” Mycroft murmured. “Interesting.”

Greg cut him a look out of the corners of his eyes. “Of course,” he said, “I get the impression you’re very observant, too.”

“Yes,” Mycroft said, clearing his throat nervously. “Well. Sorry, yes.”

“Don’t worry,” Greg said, knocking their arms together. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“Ah—” Mycroft shuffled his feet, turning with one hand in his pocket, the other gripping the briefcase in the other hand tight. “Tell anyone?”

“That you’re like, John Steed, or 007, or whatever.” 

“I’m not,” Mycroft said, suddenly amused. “I promise, I am neither of those things. They aren’t actual… well, jobs.”

Greg laughed. “You sure?”

“Fairly sure, yes.”

They moved to the next painting, relaxed enough by the exchange that Greg was able to sidle a little closer to Mycroft when they paused again, without Mycroft freezing up or, it seemed, noticing. 

Or maybe he did notice. James Bond and John Steed might not be real, but Greg would eat his own shoes if Mycroft wasn’t some sort of mega-trained fancy security specialist like Alicia. That woman had been born into power and could pick you apart with a glance. Greg had seen her do it, years ago during his first stint at University. It had been terrifying. The handful of times he’d seen her since, at parties he had stopped going to after a while, Greg’s balls had practically retreated inside his body at so much as a glance from her. 

Mycroft seemed the type, too. It was all in the eyes. Always looking. Always calculating some complicated equation in the background. He didn’t have the meanness, though. He seemed sharp, yeah. But not vicious. 

“D’you like art?” Greg wondered when they had paused again another couple of paintings later.

“I do,” Mycroft replied, his voice hushed to match Greg’s. “I like this one.” He nodded. “I’ve taken my fair share of arts courses. It never… it has never been an area in which I wished to become overly opinionated. I am quite technically knowledgeable, but I prefer not to rely on that when simply… looking.”

“Yeah,” Greg agreed, like he completely understood, though he couldn’t imagine being technically knowledgeable in something and then not having an opinion about it. Greg was pretty sure he only knew anything about things he cared about. “Why do you like this one?”

“I don’t know,” Mycroft said, almost cheerfully. “I just do. Isn’t that lovely?”

Greg couldn’t help but chuckle. “It is,” he agreed. “A simple joy. So? You rich enough to buy it?”

Mycroft barked a startled, delighted laugh and turned, gripping his briefcase handle with both hands in front of him. He considered Greg with a smirk. “What do you think?”

“I think yes,” Greg replied, grinning back. “Gonna tell me I’m wrong?”

“No,” Mycroft said, cheeks going a bit red. He shrugged. “I could buy one of his paintings, yes.”

“Could you buy more than one?”

“It would be a bit indulgent, don’t you think?”

Greg couldn’t explain why he found that so funny, but he did, and he had to stifle his laugh behind a cough as they moved into the next room of the gallery. He had just managed to quiet it when Mycroft tilted in close to murmur: “But yes, I could buy more than one.”



***



They did maybe half the gallery. Greg had been there tons of times in the past, and Mycroft said he had ‘a good recall’ of what the rest of the place looked like. 

“How long ago did you visit? You mentioned you were out of the country a lot recently.”

“Oh, probably seven or eight years ago,” Mycroft guessed with a shrug. 

“You can remember it clearly from that long ago?”

Mycroft simply twitched a vague smile, like a male, ginger Mona Lisa. “Are you certain you don’t want to walk through some more?”

“I really only came to see the special exhibit,” Greg insisted. “Come on, I promised you coffee.”

“I must say,” Mycroft said as they exited onto the sidewalk and into  the purple light of dusk. “I don’t understand what any of this has been in aid of.”

Greg reached down and very carefully circled his fingers around Mycroft’s wrist, giving him a little tug to show him which direction to walk before releasing him again. Mycroft didn’t tense; he merely followed. 

“That.” Greg flicked his fingers toward Mycroft’s wrist before shoving his hands in his jacket pockets for the walk. He didn’t think Mycroft would appreciate being touched in public. “You’re a little more comfortable now, though you don’t realize it. I’ve been touching you this entire time.”

Mycroft kept stride next to Greg and hummed. “But it was just… innocent.”

“Well, yeah,” Greg said, “didn’t think they’d take too kindly to me feeling you up in front of the permanent collection. Didn’t think you would, either.” 

Mycroft huffed. “Point taken.”

“You were really jumpy last time,” Greg continued. “And that date you told me about? It sounded like… well, in addition to the guy sounding like a bit of a berk, it sounded like you just weren’t comfortable. Weren’t expecting it.”

“Oh, I expected it,” Mycroft grumbled darkly. “I always expect it, it’s what normal people do, isn’t it?”

“What, sleep together on the first date?”

“It hasn’t always been the first date,”  Mycroft said. “But people who go on dates do sleep together eventually. Perhaps not always on the first one, but eventually.”

“I guess.” Greg shrugged. “But actually, no. Lots of people don’t sleep with the people they go on dates with. I’ve gone on more than one date with a person without going to bed with them.”

“Because?”

“Well because there wasn’t a spark, you know?”

Mycroft sighed. “I find language like that to be… confusing. Inadequate. Inaccurate.”

“What, spark?”

“There is no spark,” Mycroft said. “Not in actuality.”

“It’s a figure of speech,” Greg replied, fairly incredulous. “Surely you realize—”

“Of course I realize it,” Mycroft snapped, then almost immediately drew to a stop. “Sorry, I—  Apologies. I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“S’alright,” Greg said, keeping his body relaxed and his hands to himself, though his instincts told him to reach out. “I didn’t mean it to come off like that. I just meant—  Explain why it bothers you.”

Mycroft’s jaw worked for a moment, and he cast his gaze this way and that, clearly choosing his words carefully. “I don’t know what this so-called spark should feel like, but I have never experienced it. Not in a very long time, if what I felt before was in fact that. And while yes, Basil is, as you said, a berk… not every man I have attempted to… see… has been quite so insufferable. At least, not immediately so.”

“Well what makes you go out with them in the first place?”

Mycroft appeared stymied by the question. He shrugged and waved a hand. “Why does anyone spend time with anyone else in that context? They are objectively attractive men with work roles which would not interfere with mine, and from backgrounds which presumably will mesh with my own.”

Greg blinked. Wow, he thought. “Wow,” he said out loud. “That’s… one way to describe dating, I guess. A bit clinical.”

“I—” Mycroft cleared his throat, obviously distressed. “It’s what I have to work with.”

Greg would have hugged him if he thought it would help, or that Mycroft would let him. He would tell him that maybe it was time to give him something better to ‘work with.’ Instead, he said, “Let’s go left up here. We need a real drink.”



***

 


Two pints later, Mycroft finally admitted it: “Of course I don’t know them well before we go out.” 

“Is it always a set-up?”

“Not always. Sometimes. Basil asked me if I would go with him to dinner, and I said yes. I knew him vaguely through my activities at work.”

“So you don’t have anything to base the decision to go out or not off of, except the criteria you mentioned before and sometimes the good intentions of a friend who wants to set you up. There’s no attraction there beforehand?”

“I… appreciate the objectively attractive characteristics of these men, including Basil. But if by attraction you mean... “ Mycroft sighed. “If you mean desire? No.”

Greg took a moment to collect his thoughts and chose his words carefully. “Do you definitely find men attractive in the way that I mean?”

“Of course I do,” Mycroft said, offended. “If I could prefer women, believe me, I—” 

“No, that’s not what I mean,” Greg interrupted, holding up his hands. “I mean - do you find the men you’re going out with attractive, to you, not just, you know - objectively?”

Mycroft blinked. “Well.” 

“Do you find me attractive?” Greg demanded, then wished he could gather the words up in his hands and shove them back in his mouth. “Not that I’m fishing or—” 

“You are objectively extremely attractive,” Mycroft stated. “Yes.”

“But do you want to shag me?” 

Well, Greg thought after he’d said it. In for a penny, in for a pound.

“How does a person know such a thing?” Mycroft groaned, staring down into the depths of his pint. 

“Oh, mate,” Greg said, the porter slogging its way toward his brain making him a little more honest. “We’ve got our work cut out, haven’t we?”

Mycroft whimpered. Greg gave him a clap on the shoulder; the touch didn’t seem to phase him. That was good, at least. 



***



One more beer each, and they exited the pub and stepped out into the cold air of the street. 

“I’m headed to the Tube, you?” 

Greg said it as a way of offering an easy out for Mycroft, unable to resist giving him another opportunity to shut this down. Greg himself was starting to wonder. He felt, distinctly, that he was treading into a grey ethical territory, getting all personal and  cozy with a man who was meant to be a client. He wanted to punch himself. What sort of prosti—  escort—  worried about things like that? 

Ones who are nearly qualified as mental health professionals. 

Ones who aren’t desperate and can stop and think through the logistics.

Greg really did suspect that Mycroft would be better off with a sex therapist. Or christ, a fuckbuddy , even. Not someone he paid for sex. The idea seemed to distress the poor man to a prohibitive degree.

As he watched Mycroft glance this way and that, probably trying to decide whether he ought to walk Greg to the Tube or if it would be better to say goodbye here, Greg had an idea.

“I don’t want to take you on as a client,” Greg blurted before he had really thought through the idea. But there had gone the words, and there went Mycroft’s face with them. 

He looked utterly crestfallen as he nodded. “No, of course,” he said, stiff and formal. “I understand.”

“I don’t think you do,” Greg hurried to say, one hand reaching out to hook round Mycroft’s elbow to keep him from turning away. “Wait. Listen.”

Mycroft avoided eye contact. “Yes?”

“Like I told you yesterday, I don’t really do this anymore.” Greg wondered if he should let go of Mycroft’s arm, then ignored that worried little voice in favor of trying to get a handle on the one spilling out his half-formed thoughts. “And I just don’t think you’re going to benefit from it anyway. I think maybe you just need… a friend.”

Mycroft’s expression twisted. “I don’t need a friend .” 

“What, got too many already? Your social calendar’s run out of room?”

Mycroft huffed and rolled his eyes but didn’t say anything. 

“Listen,” Greg said again, shuffling closer, keeping his hand on Mycroft’s arm, but gentler now. “I like you. A lot. I think if I’d met you here today, by chance, and cracked jokes with a good looking stranger about some old biddie’s perfume, then gone for pints on a whim, I’d want to see you again. As a friend. Maybe I’d even see if you were interested in men. In me. You know, just for some fun. Sometimes that’s just how things happen. So we could just go forward like that is what happened. We met at the gallery, we had a few pints, and told each other a lot of personal shit. S’what happens when you meet a stranger at just the right time, isn’t it? Just enough liquid courage, and you’ll say all sorts.” 

Mycroft seemed to deflate a bit. “I don’t understand.”

“I’m saying that regardless of what Alicia tried to do here, I… would be interested in you. Casually. Sexually. And also as a friend.” Greg smiled, trying to look as encouraging and non-threatening as possible, despite how utterly mad this exchange was shaping up to be. “I’m saying, why don’t we just see if you feel the same about me? And if you do, I will be more than happy to help you… practice. Figure this thing out. As a friend with benefits. I honestly have no time for a relationship these days, and was hoping that whoever Alicia was sending my way would be my type, at least. I’m a bit gagging for it, if I’m honest.”

“My god,” Mycroft said on a wave of near-hysterical laughter, his face horrified and fascinated at once. “This is a disaster.”

“Oh yeah, it absol utely is,” Greg agreed, laughing. “This wasn’t the plan, I know. But that’s alright. No wrong way to go about it, I suppose. So what do you think?”

“What would this involve?” 

“Let’s walk,” Greg suggested, and tugged Mycroft in the opposite direction from the Tube. “We can circle around. I don’t want to do this in front of the door to the pub.”

They walked. 

“The thing is,” Greg ventured as they meandered, “one of the problems with getting paid to be someone’s date, or fake boyfriend, or sex puppet, or whatever, is that you have to bend over backwards a bit. Make it worth what they’re giving as compensation, which is pretty bloody subjective, let me tell you. It depends, client to client. And I’m not really in a place that makes that easy. I work, and I’m in an intensive course to complete training as a counselor. When I agreed to meet you, I worried you might be the type to expect constant availability. A lot of men do expect that.”

“I wouldn’t,” Mycroft murmured. “Obviously I had no idea what I was agreeing to, but even so.”

“I believe that,” Greg said, and he did. Mycroft didn’t seem the arsehole type. “But I would probably feel weird taking money from you now, sorry to say.”’

“You’re taking it off the table as an option.”

Greg snorted. “Yeah. You make this sound like a negotiation.”

“Everything is a negotiation.”

Greg snuck a glance at Mycroft out of the corner of his eye. He realized he still had a hand tucked around the man’s arm; they were walking right up against each other, side by side. He wondered if Mycroft realized it. He slid his hand down, down, down Mycroft’s arm, and slipped their hands together in a loose clasp. 

“This isn’t a negotiation,” he said gently, and squeezed Mycroft’s hand. “This is… a really weird start to probably a really odd friendship.”

“Explain what would happen.”

“We would talk,” Greg said, sketching with his free hand a list in the air. “We could… do something like this again. Go for a drink. Meet somewhere interesting. Talk. Talk about sex. See if any of it helps. And if you want to try it on with me at some point? I’m game.”

Mycroft paused, glancing down at their joined hands. “Oh.” 

“We’re not far from the tube station,” Greg said. “And there’s no one around. So I have a question.”

“A question?”

“Yep. Call it step one of many, in this little arrangement. Ready?”

“That was, technically, a question.” 

Greg laughed and shook his head. “You’re funny,” he said. “Do you want to kiss me, Mycroft?”



Chapter Text

“It’s alright if you don’t,” Greg said. “But it seems like a good place to start. See if it works for you.”

The realization hit Mycroft like a freight train. He felt the shock of it move the world under his feet. The answer was simple and clear: Yes. 

He was so unbalanced by his own certainty that Mycroft found himself simply gaping at Greg, completely unable to respond. Without his permission, his eyes dropped to Greg’s mouth. “I…” he couldn’t catch his breath. 

“When was the last time you kissed someone?” Greg murmured softly, his eyes gone dark—  or perhaps it was just the dark of the street. It could be Mycroft’s imagination. But his voice… that had definitely shifted, and Mycroft felt a curious urge to sway toward it. “Initiated it, I mean.” 

“University,” Mycroft replied automatically, then felt his cheeks go hot. He didn’t want to say more, but he did. “I’m afraid I may have forgotten how to…”

“It’s easy,” Greg said, then glanced around the street. It was empty, as far as Mycroft could tell. Still, Greg tugged him by the hand, down the pavement a bit, to a small, ancient arch between buildings, its opening had been bricked over, but a small alcove had been left behind. “Here’s a little more private. So? D’you want to kiss me, Mycroft?”

The close quarters, the chill, the smell in the air, and the closeness of another person, all kept Mycroft just off-balance enough to be honest with himself. 

“Yes,” he blurted, feeling strangely electric in the dark little space of the arch. “I do.” 

“So here’s what you do,” Greg said softly. “Put down your briefcase.” Mycroft obeyed, setting it at their feet. “Put your hands on me. You could touch my face, or my shoulders. My waist. Hold onto my hips. Choose whatever you like. Go on.”

Mycroft’s breath left him in a rush . It seemed so strange, being given permission - instruction - to touch. “I can’t—” 

“Go on, “ said Greg firmly. 

Mycroft’s hands went to Greg’s hips, acting without his conscious thought. 

“Good,” Greg murmured. 

Mycroft swallowed, hard. 

“Now, you lean down close,” Greg said, his voice a low, heady rumble. “Sort of ease your way in. Slow.” He tipped his chin up, and his eyes went lidded and heavy. “We can start nice and slow. Soft. But you decide, alright? You do it. Just put your lips on mi—” 

Their noses brushed together briefly, a fleeting moment in which the flow of speech from Greg’s mouth stuttered to a stop, and then Mycroft followed instructions. He pressed their lips together. 

Greg’s chest jumped between them as he drew in a sharp, surprised breath, but then he made a pleased sound, a hum in his throat that Mycroft could almost feel. When their lips met, Mycroft experienced a dizzy rush of long-forgotten sense-memory, and all at once he knew what to do; what he wanted to do. 

Mycroft gently pressed Greg by the hips and he went willingly, leaning back against the brick wall behind him, then let go with one hand so he could cup Greg’s jaw and direct his head back a little further. The old saying ‘just like riding a bike’ had never been so relevant. Instinct took over. Mycroft pulled away enough to let his lips part before pressing back in, capturing Greg’s lower lip between his own two and, with another heady rush of boldness, sucking. 

Greg groaned, and the sound shot straight through Mycroft, so viscerally that he could picture it leaving Greg’s vocal chords, traveling through their joined lips and transmuting into Mycroft’s nerve endings. The sound trembled over his neurons and shook their coverings; it echoed in his chest, nearly strangling him. It sent blood rushing down. It made him want to rock his hips forward. 

With that thought, Mycroft broke the kiss and let go of Greg with a gasp. “Oh.”

“That was great,” Greg breathed. “You okay?”

“I should go,” Mycroft said, unable to formulate intelligent speech. “Thank you. I—  Thank you.”

Greg just smiled up at him and bit his lip. “Alright.”

“Do you—” Mycroft backed away a step. “I can walk you.”

“No need,” Greg replied easily. “Going to find a cab?”

“Yes. Do you need…”

“I’m fine on the tube.”

“Right.” Mycroft shook himself. “Right, then. I’ll be off. Have—  Have a lovely evening, Greg.”

Greg’s smile was impossible to interpret, between the dim light and the pounding of blood in Mycroft’s ears distracting him from attempting to do so. 

“Same to you,” Greg said after a moment. “Goodnight.”

Mycroft wanted to kiss him again, which was baffling. He gathered his wits and his briefcase, and took another step back, and then another. Before he could walk himself backward off the kerb, Mycroft nodded to Greg once more, and left. 



***



That night, Mycroft found himself on the roof again, pacing. Judy followed his footsteps back and forth for a while, until she gave up on him and returned to the warmth of the inside of the flat. 

Mycroft watched her tail disappear through the crack in the door and sighed, leaning his palms on the top of the wall around the roof garden’s edge. He looked out and London, and then up at the sky, lost. 

That kiss had been… something. Special? Was it special? Or was it simply rare? What had made Mycroft say yes to it? What had made Greg’s instruction so… 

It had been instinct, to obey and follow. Mycroft had felt… 

He had felt…

“Christ,” he sighed, pushing away from the wall and pacing back to his cigarettes. He lit one and dropped down into the lounge chair with a frustrated groan. “It was just a kiss.” 

A press of skin against skin. Nothing that exciting. 

But he’d liked it. He had liked making Greg moan like that, with just the smallest bit of contact. Mycroft had felt shaken, but powerful. Capable, in just that moment. 

Mycroft rarely felt powerful and capable outside of work, and even in that area he had recently been lacking. 

He stretched out on the chair and smoked, letting his eyes fall closed. He felt phantom pain sometimes, and now he strained every nerve to reach for it. The echo of burning in his lungs; the ghost of impact cracking bone; the ache of healing breaks. 

It wasn’t there. It didn’t come. Mycroft didn’t know if he wanted it to, or not. If he hoped that something so mundane as a kiss could banish it all at once. 

He stayed outside until Judy trilled from the door. 

If Mycroft could speak cat, he was sure he would have heard that as: Get up you stupid wanker, and come to bed.

So he did as she bade. 



***



Work was unbearable. In truth, it was always unbearable, but that week was more so while Mycroft endured Alicia’s endless scrutiny. Clueless Lawrence, their officemate, was thankfully as oblivious as ever, and did not pick up on the growing tension in the room day by day. Mycroft despaired of his superiors. How Larry had ever gotten this job was beyond Mycroft’s understanding. 

By midweek, Mycroft felt ready to crawl out of his own skin. Between remembering all the things he had admitted to a near-stranger in a two-day span, that he had kissed said stranger and agreed to some sort of casual arrangement with him, and knowing that his most vicious ‘friend’ knew that he had made the acquaintance of a sex worker, he could barely see straight. The endless meetings where he spent most of his days now felt even more endless. Chasms of time were gouged out of his days, with nothing to be gained because his mind wandered so badly that he could barely absorb the drone of words around him. 

Not that it mattered. Much of what was said in those meetings was utter tripe. The one silver lining, Mycroft supposed, was that being so distracted meant he need not worry about controlling his facial expressions as his immediate supervisor botched it all up. 

After one such meeting, Mycroft power-walked swiftly down the corridor toward the men’s facilities, hoping that he could escape there for a few minutes and shake Alicia from his tail. She had a briefing soon after this one; Mycroft could avoid her, and then be out of the office for lunch by the time she meandered back to their shared space. 

The shush of the restroom door closing behind him sounded like freedom, and Mycroft let out a breath for the first time all morning. This was ridiculous. Since he met Greg, he had been distracted; off balance. He was hiding in a restroom. He needed to put an end to it. He needed—  

The door opened behind him. “There you are!”

Mycroft spun on one heel, horrified. “You cannot come in here!”

Alicia smirked and kicked the door shut behind her. “Why not?” she drawled, and strolled further inside. She bent elegantly at the waist, hands on her hips, to check for feet under stall doors. “Ah, good. Alone at last. Now, tell me everything. How was he?”

“This is the men’s room,” Mycroft hissed, and turned away from her again, though he had no idea where he intended to go. 

“Don’t be a prude,” Alicia crooned. Her heels clicked on the tiles as she moved around behind him. “Didn’t Greggy boy cure you of that yet?”

“You are hateful,” Mycroft spat over his shoulder, then waffled as to what he could do to escape this conversation. He hung back, fists clenched, and grit his teeth.

Alicia examined herself in the mirrors over the sinks. She tucked a blonde tendril back into its chignon, and gently fluffed her fringe. “That’s not a very nice thing to say,” she said, tracing one delicate finger along the edge of her lips, fixing an imaginary smudge of lipstick. “Come on, spill it.”

“There is nothing to tell,” Mycroft said stiffly. 

“You called him,” Alicia stated. “I can tell.” She turned her back to the mirror and leaned against the bank of sinks, arms crossed. “Tell me you took advantage of the opportunity I literally dropped in your lap.”

“That is an incorrect use of the word literally,” Mycroft snipped. “And no, I did not. Your friend is retired, for one thing. And for another, I would never engage in an illegal activity, and especially not for such prurient reasons.”

“But you called him.”

“I thought he was a counselor.” 

“Right, so you called him.”

Mycroft’s instinct was to clear his throat; to swallow and look away. To deflect. But something stopped him. Something… some twinge. Some suggestion of a memory of pain and gritted teeth and silence made him hold his ground. He had certainly faced worse than Alicia. It made him lift his chin. “I find your actions to be insulting, both to me and to your friend Gregory.”

“Oh?” Alicia’s lips spread into a cheshire grin. “Please, do elaborate.”

“You clearly don’t know him well,” Mycroft replied, drawing on wells of haughtiness he had thought were run dry. “He is practically a psychiatrist these days. He studied at UCL, which you know because that’s how you know of him at all. He’s a very intelligent man, and it appears he has a bright future ahead of him. That you have categorized him in such a low position in your mind that you did not bother to inquire of him his willingness to accept a client speaks more of your classism and arrogance than anything about him. I did speak with him, and I found him to be quite an interesting individual. I believe we might become friends. Thank you, at least, for that. But I will remain angry with you for attempting this ruse, and my opinion of you will remain considerably lowered now that I know what an upperclass twat you really are. If you’ll excuse me.” 

Alicia allowed him to pass, but her eyes sparkled at him as he did. Mycroft did not look back to check if she was watching him go. He had reached the door when she spoke again. 

“Well, look at you,” she said.

Mycroft paused, holding himself still. Her tone was strangely proud.

“Knew you still had some fight left in you, Holmes. I’m glad.”

Mycroft clenched his jaw and swallowed, hard. “Don’t tangle with me, Alicia. It won’t end well for you.”

With that, he yanked open the door and left. 



***



Greg rang Mycroft at home late on Friday. 

“You gave me your number when you called me,” he said when Mycroft’s surprise became apparent. 

“Yes, of course,” Mycroft managed to say. He glanced around the kitchen desperately, wishing for a reason to hang up immediately. From her perch beside the sink, Judy blinked slowly at him as if to say: Don’t lose your nerve, dummy. “Yes. How are you?”

“I’m actually having a completely shit week,” Greg sighed. “You?”

“Oh.” Mycroft debated briefly over what to say, how honest he should be. “Actually,” he hedged. “I… Same. Dreadful row of days.”

“Our mutual friend giving you grief?”

Mycroft laughed and sank down into the stool positioned beneath the phone. He twisted his fingers absently in the cord. “Naturally,” he said. “Though I would be a lucky man if she were  my only problem. Unfortunately, there are myriad other things to be annoyed by, workwise, at the moment.”

“Yeah,” Greg said. Over the line, Mycroft could hear a strange sound beneath his voice. An engine-like hum. “Same. Well, actually, work is fine. It always is. I work at a center for people dealing with mental illness. Primarily it’s young people recovering from drug addiction. I have a nice little group that I see there, and for once all seems to be going well enough for each of them at once. But I’m having a time with a classmate I’m stuck in a group with. Complete tosser.”

“I detested group work at University,” Mycroft commiserated. “It’s sadistic of any teacher to assign it.” 

“Exactly!” Greg cried, half groaned, and then said, somewhat muffled, “Sorry, sorry, come back!”

“Pardon?”

“Sorry,” he said again, his voice coming back clear again. “Seven was sitting with me getting his daily face time in, meaning he sits himself on my chest and puts his face in mine for a few hours til he’s satisfied with the amount of petting that’s taken place. Couldn’t you hear him purring? He’s like a well oiled motorbike when he’s pleased. ‘Course now he’s annoyed because I got too loud, and he’s fucked off to the other end of the sofa. I said I was sorry!”

Helplessly charmed, Mycroft hid his smile in his hand, unsure of why. It wasn’t as if Judy cared if he looked like an idiot in his own kitchen. Mycroft realized he’d tangled his fingers in the telephone cord, and shook them free. “My own feline flatmate is staring at me, likely wondering if she can con me into feeding her a second supper.”

“Can she?”

“No, I’m very cold-hearted. Ask anyone.”

Greg chuckled. “I don’t believe it,” he murmured. “Listen—  I called for a couple reasons. I wanted to thank you for coming to meet me the other day. I had a really great time with you.”

Mycroft, though he was getting used to the feeling, had rarely been so stymied by a person. What, precisely, did one say to something like that? Was it even the truth? Greg seemed the type to be honest to a fault; Mycroft couldn’t read deceit in him at all, which was disconcerting in and of itself. But it seemed beyond all reason that someone like Greg could really have had a ‘really great time’ with someone like Mycroft.

“I… also enjoyed myself,” Mycroft forced himself to say. “I…” He tried to draw on the same reserves which had seen him through the confrontation with Alicia two days prior. He could do better than this. He would. “I admit I’ve thought about the end of our meeting. Frequently.”

“Have you?” Greg’s smile was there in his voice, how did he do that? “So have I. You liked that, then?”

“Who wouldn’t have?”

Greg laughed softly again. “You’re a good kisser, Mycroft. Short, sweet, a bit sexy, and to the point. Excellent first kiss form. Very well done.”

Mycroft buried his face in one hand and gripped the phone so hard with the other that he feared the bakelite would crack in his grip. He couldn’t bring himself to speak. 

“The other thing I wanted to say was, it would be really great if you could find some time to hang out with me this weekend,” Greg was saying. “I’d like to see you again. We could… I dunno. Go for a walk?”

“Go for a walk?” Mycroft stood from his seat, needing to move, to stop sitting there tense from the top of his head to the tips of his toes; to stop abusing the bloody telephone cord. 

“Or whatever,” Greg said. “Honestly? I’m angling for another kiss. Just so you know, we could just do that. I’m not fussed.”

Mycroft’s shock presented itself in the form of a laugh: the barky, sea lion one that made him flush and wince. God, he thought. Don’t start thinking about that, you’ll never get through this. 

This was what came of a field agent who fucked up in the spectacular ways Mycroft had. They reverted to adolescent awkwardness and impossibility. If only he knew any other fools who had cocked up their career in the exact same way; they could have compared notes. 

“Is that an expectation of a… friend with benefits?”

“Sort of,” Greg said. “But there aren’t any expectations, really. Tell me to fuck off and lose your number, and I will.”

“No!” Mycroft bit down hard on his bottom lip and tried to sound less pathetic on a second pass. “No,” he said again, softer this time. “When?”

“Tomorrow afternoon? I’ve a shift at the center until two.”

“So…” Mycroft reached a hand out to Judy, patting her absently as a means of grounding himself. “Three o’clock? Four?”

“Three works. Meet at mine? There’s a park nearby.”

“Yes,” Mycroft managed despite his pounding heart. “That’s fine.”

“Alright, then,” Greg said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

What was it that filled a voice with such promise, even when it said something so mundane and benign? 

Mycroft ignored the sick roll of his stomach at the implication, and nodded, then remembered to speak. “Tomorrow. Goodnight.”

“Night, Mycroft.”

Mycroft crossed the kitchen to return the phone to its cradle and sighed, leaning there for a moment before turning to his cat. “Fuck,” he said firmly, on some level relishing his own horror at himself. “What on Earth am I doing?”

Judy licked one paw and ignored him.



Chapter Text

Mycroft made an effort to dress down for his second trip to Greg’s neighborhood in as many weeks, not wanting to feel as conspicuous as he had the first time. It took considerable time to land on a combination of clothing in which to leave the house, and Mycroft worried, as he clung to a handle on the tube, that he still hadn’t quite hit the mark. 

He had agonized, though he was loathe to admit it, over his wardrobe for so long that he had considered raiding the boxes in the storage unit for something of Uncle Rudy’s or Jeffrey’s. Mycroft had been so wild with desperation, for a brief moment, that he had been fully prepared to justify to himself not only the time it would take to do so, but the fact that any item pulled from those boxes would be, at minimum, ten years old; more, in the case of what few belongings remained of Jeffrey’s. 

In the end, he had settled on the only denim item he owned: a pair of mid-range jeans, purchased for work two or three years prior. He must have discarded the t-shirts, knock-off fashionable trainers and sweatshirts from that particular era, and so he wore them with a crisp white button down and his most casual brown brogues with a matching belt. The effect, he hoped, was relaxed and casual, but still… attractive? Flattering?

He set out for Greg’s neighborhood, disgusted with his own dithering. He took the tube, since he had left the flat far earlier than was necessary even for the longer journey by train, and taking a cab would place him at Greg’s doorstep embarrassingly ahead of time. 

On the train, he removed his cuff links and dropped them into the inside pocket of his wallet, then rolled and shoved his shirt sleeves up to his elbows. There. That was casual enough. Probably. 

I am pathetic, Mycroft thought, and spent the rest of the journey forcing himself to keep his arms crossed and his hands still. 




***




He was halfway down the block from Greg’s building when he saw the man himself hurrying out the front door. It brought Mycroft up short, checking his wristwatch. He was slightly early, but less so since he had loitered at the tube station to kill time. Had Greg forgotten their meeting? He looked up from his watch to see Greg had paused on the pavement and was looking away from Mycroft, down the other side of the street. 

Is he looking for me? I wouldn’t come from that way, not having taken the tube— 

Greg turned and there was a short delay before he apparently spotted Mycroft and grinned, raising his hand in greeting. Mycroft raised one uncertain hand in reply, and was otherwise still, unsure of what to do next. 

Greg began to jog toward him, hands in his jacket pockets. Mycroft shook himself and moved, walking to meet him halfway. 

“Hey!” Greg practically skidded to a stop in front of him and reached out one hand to briefly cup one of Mycroft’s elbows. “Alright? I’m glad I didn’t miss you. It’s just, Mrs. Chaudhry downstairs from me had surgery recently and her fridge went on the fritz so now her milk’s gone off. I just need to pick some up for her and thought I’d try to do it before our plans. But then Tony next door got to talking at me about my bloody bike again, and—  Christ, sorry, you don’t need to know all that. I thought we’d go for a walk anyway. Mind if we make a stop at the corner shop for milk?”

Mycroft blinked in the silence that followed, working to get his brain back on track, trying desperately to ignore the data flooding him as he took in Greg’s leather jacket, the earring in his ear (he must have noticed the empty piercing last time, he must have, but he couldn’t recall now), his messy dark hair. 

Attractive. Attractive. Attractive.

Mycroft shoved this aside. What does it matter if he’s attractive? Plenty of men are attractive.  Lawrence is at the very least objectively attractive and it has never once crossed your mind. SPEAK, you idiot!

“Of course,” Mycroft blurted, just in time to stop Greg’s face on its journey toward concern; he’d nearly paused for too long. “Yes, of course that would be fine.”

“We can stop on the way back,” Greg assured him. “For now I thought... I dunno. Walk toward the park, see what we can see? There are shops on the way. Coffee, if you’d like one.”

“Fine,” Mycroft managed through his nerves, which should have faded by then but were decidedly persistent in the face of all of Greg’s… everything. “More than. Shall we?”

“Yeah.” Greg smiled slyly and gestured with one arm. “After you. You look great, by the way.”

Mycroft tried to abort the jerk of his head, and failed, catching Greg’s smile as it went cheeky. “I—” 

“Do you never get complimented during all these shite dates you go on?” 

Mycroft snorted. “I have been complimented, but perhaps for other things.”

“Well you look really good.” Greg bumped their shoulders. “Seriously, I’ve never seen your arms before. It’s nice.”

“Stop.” Mycroft rolled his eyes. “They’re arms.”

“Nice ones.”

Mycroft huffed again and kept his eyes trained forward. “You… also look very nice.”

Greg laughed, and out of the corner of his eye Mycroft could see him throw his head back. “Thanks,” he said. “I fussed with my hair for ages, you know.”

Though he was sure it was a joke, Mycroft let it comfort him and his stow-away cufflinks. “Where are we going?”

“Park,” Greg said, a note of teasing to his voice. “I told you. I thought since walking and talking worked for us before we could try again, yeah?” Mycroft nodded and Greg jostled their shoulders together once more. “So for starters, why don’t you tell me about the bloke you got off with at uni?”

Mycroft’s stomach lurched and he just barely kept himself from tripping over his own feet. “I didn’t—  We didn’t—”

Greg steadied him with a hand at his elbow, which decidedly did not help. Mycroft swallowed hard against the sudden sense-memory of being tugged into a dark archway. 

“Hey,” Greg said. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“I’m not upset.” Mycroft stepped back, separating himself from Greg’s hand. “I may have mischaracterized that relationship during our first meeting. I didn’t… get off. We… there was kissing. Some touching. It was all very furtive, and… it never went anywhere.

“So you haven’t?” Greg resumed walking, leaving Mycroft no choice but to do the same. There was no judgment in his voice, nor concern. He talked about this the way anyone else would talk about favorite sports teams or whether one had ever been to Brighton in June. “With anyone?”

“No.”

“What about on your own?”

Mycroft felt himself flush. He found it impossible to answer such a question; literally, physically he could not speak. 

“Okay,” Greg said after a moment. “Listen. It’s all fine. I’m not going to judge if you’ve never—”

“For god’s sake,” Mycroft sighed, exhausted by all of it, but mostly tired of himself and his own hesitance. “Of course I have. I do.”

“Great.” Greg bumped his shoulder against Mycroft’s again. “Good. Unrelated: have you ever just, you know, talked about this stuff? With other blokes? Like at school? With the guy you did the kissing and touching with, maybe? You know, joking around, whatever?”

Mycroft snorted. “No. I’m afraid my school experience was likely very different from your own.” 

“Did you have tutors or something?”

“I did, but only until I was sent to boarding school when I was ten. I was… rather ahead of my peers, and found myself in classes with much older boys. I was rather a joke to them, and then later a threat; no one likes the younger child who outstripes them at every turn. Not that I tried to do it, and not, I swear, that I… lorded it.” He sighed. “Forming friendships at all, let alone close ones… I never did that.” 

“Was it better at uni?”

“Somewhat?” Mycroft rolled his eyes at the obviously forced cheer in his own voice. “Not really. By then, my social circle was rather more specialized, for lack of a better word. Many of those people are now my colleagues. And they knew they would be, one day. They knew who I was, who my family was. They knew I had connections. I spent time with them because it was advantageous on all sides.” 

“Sounds lonely,” Greg said. 

“That is what you said the first time we discussed this. But it didn’t feel lonely at the time.” 

“Is that why you want to do all this now? Because it’s started to be?”

Mycroft shrugged and said nothing, unable to voice it there on the pavement in broad daylight, and Greg let it go. 

After a bit more walking, Mycroft felt Greg’s hand at his arm again, and a gentle tug. “C’mon,” Greg said. “Record and tape shop here. Let’s look around.”




***




After the shop, where Greg bought nothing and Mycroft very carefully resisted the strange urge to buy him everything he glanced at, they found the small park at the end of the road. They watched a casual football match while talking about anything but Mycroft’s lack of experience in human interaction. He learned that Greg had a sister, and that he was rather cagey about her. He mentioned her, in passing, and then quickly changed the subject to sport. 

“I was a passable cricket player,” Mycroft said in response to a question about whether he played football at school. “Only because it was more or less compulsory. I’m not particularly… sporty.”

“You’re in great shape, though.”

Stop bloody blushing, Mycroft told himself. “I wasn’t always. A rather soft child, actually. But work… for a time, my career required that I keep up with myself. I’ve continued some habits.”

“You look like a runner.” 

“As a matter of fact, that is my preferred form of exercise.” Mycroft risked a little eye contact, and found Greg watching him with a faint smile curving one side of his mouth. 

Attractive.

“You are a very… distracting person,” Mycroft managed to say, though it was difficult to do without looking away. 

“I think you’re not used to attention and I’m giving some to you.” Greg scooted over, shifting across the little patch of ground they’d chosen to sit and watch the match. He sat close enough for their shoulders to touch, but not close enough to draw attention. Greg leaned in just a bit more and spoke quietly, close to Mycroft’s ear. “We’ll get you used to it, okay? It’s fine.”

“I don’t… I don’t know.”

“I do.” Greg jerked a chin toward the football game. “I’m thinking shirts are gonna win this one. Wanna bet on it?”

“Certainly. Skins are clearly thrashing them.”

“Hm. Loser buys the beer on the way home.”

“You have a deal.”




***




They arrived back at Greg’s flat only an hour and some minutes after they’d left, though it felt as though they had spent hours and hours walking and talking. The feeling of what Mycroft was beginning to think of as sharing fatigue from discussing more personal details than he cared to think about having, was fading, and he could feel the comfort which had seeped in after their time at the gallery returning. 

As Greg had his cheek pinched by a diminutive elderly woman, Mycroft experienced an unfamiliar set of thoughts and sensations: I like you. You may be a good person. I don’t know that I know any truly good people. Fondness. Warmth. And, again, as Greg turned from the slowly closing door with a sheepish grin and pinked cheeks, Mycroft thought: That’s attractive. You’re attractive.

Something must have translated from his mind to his face. Greg paused there, blinking at Mycroft, seeming to read him in a way to which Mycroft was entirely unaccustomed. 

“Okay,” Greg said after a moment, adding a decisive nod to his words. “Good. Let’s go downstairs.”

The door to Greg’s flat shut behind them, and Greg took the bag containing a six-pack of beer from Mycroft’s hands. He did not comment on having won their bet. He did not put them in the refrigerator. He set them on the kitchen counter, turned, and crossed back to where Mycroft stood waiting, completely unsure of what he should be doing, at the door. 

“Kiss me,” Greg commanded, and Mycroft felt himself stop thinking - a curious sensation. 

It was easier, this time. He didn’t need to be instructed any further. He took Greg’s face between his hands and leaned in, and then they were kissing. This time, Greg’s mouth opened beneath Mycroft’s immediately. After a series of fast, breathless liplocks, his tongue swept over Mycroft’s lower lip and Mycroft opened to him in return without needing to consider it first, groaning at the contact, the stroke, the heady loss of air. He surprised himself by turning them, pressing Greg’s back into the wall. Greg’s hands bunched in the fabric of Mycroft’s shirt, then hooked through his belt loops. He hauled Mycroft in, tilted his own hips up off the wall, and groaned into Mycroft’s mouth when— 

“Oh—” Mycroft tore away, gasping. “Fuck.” He stepped away and panted to catch his breath. 

“Oh my god,” Greg laughed, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand. “Say fuck again, that sounded good.”

“No,” Mycroft protested, swallowing against a hysterical giggle. “What a strange thing to say.”

“No, it’s not.” Greg pushed off the wall and stepped forward, shrugging out of his jacket and throwing it toward the hooks by the door. He ignored it when it landed in a pool on the floor. “You’re adorable. When was the last time you said that word?

“I’m not a child,” Mycroft protested, taking a step back for every one of Greg’s steps forward, stopping when his backside collided with a kitchen chair. He gripped it with his hands and leaned there, unable to keep up with what was happening. “I do, on occasion, swear.”

“Yeah, but.” Greg stepped up close and ran gentle, calloused hands down Mycroft’s arms, gently tugging his hands away from where they clenched over the chairback. “Not quite like that, I’ll bet.”

“No, not quite like that.”

“Does it make you nervous to know we’re both turned on? Is that it? It’s okay if it does.”

“Not nervous.” Mycroft took a deep breath, then sighed when Greg moved one hand to his chest to feel it. “Overwhelmed. Maybe.”

“Alright.” Greg leaned up and pressed his mouth to Mycroft’s cheekbone in a glancing smear of a kiss. His breath was hot on Mycroft’s face, and then against his ear, then just below it. He kissed there, and Mycroft shuddered at the sensation of Greg’s tongue tasting the space on his neck just above his shirt collar. “You smell so bloody good, what is that.”

“Cologne,” Mycroft said, ignoring how stupid an answer it was. He ducked his head and shivered at the way Greg nuzzled their noses together before gentling into another kiss, soft and sweet. “Oh,” Mycroft murmured, feeling oddly fragile as it tapered off. “That’s…”

“Do you like kissing?”

Mycroft resisted the urge to press his hand against his chest in an attempt to physically calm the lurch of his heart. “I used to.”

“You’re good at it.”

“I… worried.”

Greg smiled and tugged him back in, his hand having stolen up into Mycroft’s hair without his notice. His blunt fingernails scritched over Mycroft’s scalp as they kissed again, deeper now, messier. Mycroft wanted to shake apart and melt into the ground and beg to be pressed up against something - all at once. 

“Come over here,” Greg murmured when they broke for air moments later, then led Mycroft to the leather sofa. “Sit.” He pushed Mycroft down by the shoulders. 

Mycroft’s stomach rolled with anticipation, nerves creeping back in with a vengeance as Greg stared down at him, dark eyed. 

“We’re not going to do anything you don’t want,” Greg said at last. “Is it alright if I sit in your lap?”

Mycroft practically shivered at the thought of Greg’s weight on him. “Please. Yes.”

Greg grinned and lowered himself down, a knee on either side of Mycroft’s hips. He carded his fingers through his hair again, tilting his head back a little and kissing at his jaw. “Still overwhelmed?” 

Mycroft laughed, sighed, and shivered as Greg’s mouth worried at the hinge of his jaw. “Very.”

“In a good way?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.” 

Greg kissed him again, and again, and again. “We can stop any time,” he said gently. “It’s alright. I like kissing, too. We can just do this.”

“I haven’t done this in years,” Mycroft confessed.

“A bloody shame, that,” Greg said, and sucked Mycroft’s bottom lip between his own. 

It spun out, continued on; Mycroft wouldn’t have known if hours passed while Greg kissed him, or minutes. Greg pressed and took, then teased and pulled away; made Mycroft take control of proceedings. He lost track of his own hands, which acquainted themselves with the slight softness just below Greg’s ribs, the firm muscle of his chest and arms. Greg reached gently and took one hand in his, guiding it to his own backside. 

“I don’t mind,” he said cheekily, and went back to kissing through his amused smile. When Mycroft gave an experimental squeeze, they both groaned. 

I want this, Mycroft thought. This is what I was missing all this time. I want you , why is that? Why are you different from the rest?

They kissed until their lips were swollen, until Mycroft’s tingled and hurt a little. And then, like all good things, it came to an end. And, in a familiar turn of events, it was Mycoft’s inadequacies which brought that about.

It was the natural progression of things; Mycroft’s hand on Greg squeezed again, and Greg made a low sound of approval, then rolled his hips forward and down. For the first time in all those long, hot minutes, their clothed erections made contact. 

Mycroft froze with a sharp, in-drawn breath. “No,” he said without conscious thought. 

“Sorry!” Greg stilled. “Sorry, sorry.”

“I…” Mycroft blinked, staring somewhere in the vicinity of Greg’s left shoulder, unable to meet his eyes. 

“Hey.” Greg slid back, nearly unseating himself from atop Mycroft’s thighs. He tilted Mycroft’s face with a gentle hand. “Hey, open your eyes.”

Mycroft hadn’t realized that he had closed them. He opened them and braced himself to see disappointment; perhaps pity. Maybe disgust. It was strange to see none of the above in Greg’s concerned face. 

“I said it was fine, we could stop any time.” Greg dropped a kiss to the tip of Mycroft’s nose. 

This was a first; no one had ever kissed Mycroft there before. He found himself wanting to grab and clutch at Greg, keep him from sliding sideways out of Mycroft’s lap, but he didn’t. He allowed Greg to swing a leg over and land on the sofa cushion beside Mycroft with a soft sigh. 

“Did you have fun?” Greg asked, one hand resting reassuringly on Mycroft’s knee. “Because I did.”

Mycroft paused. “Yes,” he said after a moment’s thought. “I believe I did.”

“Great.” Greg smiled and gave Mycroft’s knee a squeeze. “That’s the point of a friendly snog.”

Mycroft huffed.”I don’t quite see what you’re getting out of this.”

“Told you.” Greg leaned one elbow against the back of the sofa, resting his cheek against his fist. “I’ve been in a bit of a dry spell. And to be honest, I don’t have much of a social life. It’s nice to be around someone for reasons other than work or courses.”

“But.” Mycroft winced and attempted to marshall his thoughts into coherency. “But I stopped you.”

Greg shrugged one shoulder, looking for all the world like it didn’t matter to him a  bit. “That was still the most action I’ve had in ages. And it felt great. It’s fine.”

“How is it fine?”

Greg sighed. “I’m beginning to develop a theory about the blokes you’ve been trying to hook up with.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, they’re all dickheads. You say something like that, it makes me think you had some arsehole actually get upset with you for stopping something you didn’t want to do.” 

Mycroft said nothing, and very carefully did not squirm or fidget, forcing his face to go blank. 

“That’s what I thought,” Greg said. “Dickheads.”

“Not all,” Mycroft said, needing to insist in order to save himself the humiliation of having to admit that he had apparently terrible taste in men. 

“Well then even if they’re half-decent, you clearly don’t like them much.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Well if you liked them, wouldn’t you want them even a little bit? You said yourself, they’re conventionally attractive. You said that you do like the idea of kissing and having sex. We’ve established the first half is definitely true just now. So, if they’re good looking and not entirely bad people and you aren’t asexual, the only thing left to explain why you would freeze up is that you just don’t like them enough to fuck them.”

This, Mycroft felt, was the most ludicrous thing Greg had said to him in all their short acquaintance. “That doesn't make sense at all.”

“Why not?”

“Because people have sex with people they don’t know at all! I know people have sex with people they don’t like. Frequently! Every day, even! I am sure that somewhere, right now, someone is having sex with a person they can barely stand outside of that particular activity.” 

Greg snorted and shook his head. You might be right, but that’s not the rule. Some people do that. Not everyone, Myc.”

“No.”

“What d’you mean, no, it’s the truth, I promise you.”

Mycroft rolled his eyes. “Not that. Myc. Absolutely no to the name Myc.”

“Ah.” Greg gave him a sheepish grin. “Sorry, sorry. Didn’t mean to offend you.”

“It’s fine.”

“It isn’t. I should’ve asked first.” Greg sighed and leaned in closer. “Mycroft, you don’t have to have sex with anyone. That includes me. It doesn't matter what some people do.”

“What if I want to?”

“Have sex?”

“With you, specifically.”

Greg leaned back, surprised. “What, like right now?”

“No!” Mycroft hurried to say. “No, not right now! But… perhaps some time.”

“Obviously that would be fine. I’m up for it.” 

Greg winked at him. Mycroft had no idea what to do with that, so he simply stared at him and tried not to look as gormless as he felt. 

Greg eventually sighed, shifting a bit in his seat, presumably in order to get more comfortable. “Hey, can you do me a favor and try something?”

“Now?”

“No, later. At home.”

Mycroft shifted uneasily. “Alright…” 

“First, a question I was driving at earlier. D’you wank much?”

Mycroft felt his face heat and he sighed, curling his fingers where they rested on his own knees to resist the urge to cover his cheeks with them. “Not much,” he admitted, again unable to maintain eye contact. 

“Could you do it, and then tell me about it?”

“Oh my god,” Mycroft breathed. 

“I mean, what do you think about when you do it? Is it the same every time? Porn? No porn? A celebrity? Someone you know?”

“I don’t think about anything,” Mycroft murmured, staring down at his hands. “Why? Does it matter?”

“Think of me,” Greg murmured, his voice very close now, his breath warm against Mycroft’s cheek, and then he pressed his mouth there. “Would you?”

“Y-yes,” Mycroft stuttered. God. “And then… tell you about it?”

“Could be sexy,” Greg said with a cheeky smirk. “Don’t you think?"

“I wouldn’t know.” 

Greg leaned in and brushed a kiss against Mycroft’s cheek. “I know. S’why I think it could be interesting. Humor me, I’m working on a theory.” He launched himself up from the sofa. “I think I want a cup of tea, you?”

Mycroft blinked, derailed by the shift in tone for a moment. “Yes. Please.”

Greg nodded and turned for the kitchen area. Mycroft watched him go, helplessly agreeing with his own mind as it sought out small points of interest on the man’s body and labeled them: attractive; attractive; very attractive.

He could have made excuses to leave then and there. He didn’t. Mycroft stayed. 




***




That night, Mycroft stood in the foyer of his flat and was momentarily frozen inside the sudden silence. He had spent what was to him, now that he thought about it, an unbelievable amount of time in Greg’s flat doing not much more than drinking tea and watching repeat episodes of television shows the titles of which, try as he might, he couldn’t dredge from his short term memory. Greg had insisted that ‘hanging out’ was part and parcel of the ‘friend with benefits’ arrangement. 

Mycroft still felt vaguely as if he were being… treated. Cured through exposure. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to attempt to untangle the twisted threads of his psyche just to… to do what? Have what was sure to be poor to mediocre sexual congress with a twenty-five year old virgin whose only real friend was his cat?

That thought sent Mycroft wandering through to the kitchen, where the sound of the can opener brough Judy running and trilling from wherever she had been dozing.

Cat fed, Mycroft wondered for a moment if he ought to make some attempt at normalcy. He could gather his dry cleaning and set it by the door, as was his habit on Saturday evenings so that he could walk it to the cleaners a block away before beginning his morning run the next day. But that would take mere minutes, and then he would be right back where he started. He could take himself to the screening room and watch an old film and forget the laugh tracks and American accents from whatever terrible sitcom he had seen earlier that night with Greg. But the thought of the cinema room made him think of Greg’s voice asking if he watched pornography. 

There was, in fact, a rather sizable collection of pornographic reel-to-reel films in the flat’s storage unit. It wasn’t Mycroft’s collection, but rather his Uncle’s, a mortifying surprise find when Mycroft had first been able to make it into the unit. The films had been collected in secret, mostly through shadowy back channels after X-rated theater raids in the previous decades. Mycroft knew this, because he had guiltily read some of his uncle’s personal journals, which now resided in a box tucked next to the crate of film reels. 

He knew absolutely nothing else about the films, because he simply could not bear the thought of watching such things knowing that Rudy and, perish the thought, Jeffrey, had watched them in the same chairs at some point in the past, no matter how distant that past may be. 

Mycroft shoved the thought of it away with a shudder, though part of him hoped his horror would dampen the sense of urgency that seemed to compel him to just do it already. Masturbate. Wank. Do as Greg asked; as Greg had told him to do. To think about Greg while he did it. 

But not even the familiar mortification did the trick. 

Mycroft’s thoughts returned to Greg’s dark, warm gaze; his firm hands and welcoming body; the soft yet confident tone of his voice close to Mycroft’s ear. Awkward and disturbing thoughts were chased away, forgotten in an instant. 

Mycroft groaned to himself and he left Judy to her supper, already unbuttoning his shirt on his way upstairs to his bedroom. By the time he kicked the door shut behind him, Mycroft had shucked it off his shoulders. He tossed it in the direction of the hamper and yanked his belt free of its loops. As he dropped the strip of leather to the floor, Mycroft felt himself slowing; freezing. 

Was this a ridiculous thing to do? 

Does it matter? He wondered, fingers paused over the closure of his trousers. Do you need it to be a sensible thing to do? No one else does. 

Mycroft never used to have a problem with self pleasure. He didn’t engage in it much—  not daily, or even close to it. But he had occasionally indulged, just like anyone else, from his early adolescence until… well. 

He should tell a psychologist about it, the deadening of his desire for physical pleasure coinciding with severe bodily injury and the halted trajectory of his career the year before. He should have done something about it before now. 

The discomfort with other people - with men in whom he ought to have been interested - had been a part of him for longer; it hadn’t seemed like something a professional could excise from his being. Until now. 

Mycroft sighed, left the trousers on and half-unfastened, and let himself fall backward onto his bed with a groan. He wondered if he could set aside the odd compulsion to do as Greg had said in order to attempt an analysis of his inexplicable attraction to the man himself.

Because Mycroft was attracted to him, which seemed completely absurd considering the fact that though he had been able to identify man after man after man as ‘attractive,’ few of them (nearly none of them) had inspired Mycroft to the verb. Attracted. Specifically. And actively. 

But this man…

Mycroft’s eyes drifted closed. He had let Greg touch him, and had wanted it; he had wanted to touch him in return, to kiss him, to do these things purposefully and attentively. He wanted it now, lying alone in this bed. He could imagine kissing Greg here. It was difficult - impossible, even - to imagine much else. But he could… 

He could imagine the way he would feel just from kissing. 

Mycroft stroked a hand down his belly with a sigh, and brushed his fingers under the edge of the waistband of his underwear. 

He hadn’t remained half-hard for the entire journey between Greg’s flat and this moment, but he was completely hard now, just from fleeting thoughts of Greg in his lap; their mouths open against each other; hands hot on the sides of Mycroft’s neck; warmth under Mycroft’s palms. 

Myroft’s fingers brushed against the head of his own cock and he gasped. 

He hadn’t done this in over a year. 

But you’re doing it now, look at you.

Mycroft groaned as his mind conjured Greg’s voice for him. He couldn’t possibly bring himself to imagine a scenario, a set of circumstances that would appeal to him. Mycroft, contrary to popular belief among his colleagues, had an imagination. It was, in fact, an active and vivid one. One needed to be adept at utilizing one’s imagination to cultivate a truly functional mind palace, and besides, Mycroft would have failed in every aspect of his work from the beginning without the ability to imagine. 

He just hadn’t ever been particularly inclined to use it for something like this. Lack of experience had turned his library of images and potential sensations into a bare, dusty shelf of nothing. 

Now he had something to work with, at least. 

Come on, said the voice in Mycroft’s head, cheeky. Be serious about it, now. Get your jeans off. 

Mycroft did, shucking the denim down his legs and kicking them toward the end of the bed. He palmed himself through his briefs with a sigh. It felt good; a little urgent, but he had time. A little overwhelming, but not so much so that he wanted to stop. He wanted more. 

Course you do. You should do whatever you like. How do you like to do it?

Mycroft, despite the fact that he knew the voice was all in his head and there was no one there to see him, felt his cheeks heat. “I don’t know,” he muttered. 

You do know. 

It’s been too long. 

How long?

Long. 

What do you want?

I want you to tell me what to do; tell me how to do it. 

I’m not really here, you know. 

Please, please. 

Mycroft’s hand rubbed hard at the stiff line of his cock, gripped the shaft through his pants and squeezed. His other hand rested against his collarbone, the hammering of his heart pulsing below his palm. 

Alright, it’s alright. Don’t get upset. Push your underwear down. Just a bit. You don’t have to take them all the way off unless you want to. 

Mycroft obeyed the voice in his head, leaving the waistband just under his balls. The pressure and the trapped feeling worked for him, made him feel a little less loose-limbed and untethered. It let him imagine hands gripping his hips and thighs. 

Both hands now. Play with your balls and stroke at the same time. 

Mycroft did it, squeezing hard and stroking fast— 

Not like that.

Mycroft whimpered, and stilled. He didn’t bother to wonder what sort of a person he must be to manage this: ordering himself around in the voice of another person. He didn’t care; it felt good. He had felt good so rarely, for so long. He could have this. 

Of course you can, Greg’s voice soothed. It’s all fine. Now, be gentle. Go slow. We’re not sprinting to the finish line or anything. 

Mycroft softened his grip and slowed his strokes, letting his back arch a bit, his hips tilting into the movements of his own hand. He moaned, soft and low and long. 

That’s right. Now your thumb, over the head. 

“Mmph,” Mycroft grunted, adding a swipe of his thumb. He liked this. He remembered liking this. The little tease he could give himself. 

Good, Greg told him. I want you to do exactly what you like. If you don’t remember, just do what I say. Like… maybe you should press right there. You know where. 

Mycroft gasped as the fingers of his other hand released his testicles and reached behind them, pressing gently at his perineum and stroking there softly. 

Perfect.

“Yes!”

Harder.

Mycroft stroked that strip of skin more firmly, and let his fingertips graze the edge of his hole once or twice, all the while teasing the head of his cock with his thumb on every upstroke. 

Have you ever put your fingers inside?

“Not really.” He could never quite reach.

You should.

“N-not—”

Well, maybe not right now, no. Sometime, maybe. You used to think about that, right?

Yes. Mycroft had thought about it. Had wanted it. Still did. 

Fuck your hand.

Mycroft did; he let his hips move and thrust, pushing his cock faster through the circle of his own fingers. 

Gonna need to get that other hand slippery if you don’t want to chafe. 

Mycroft licked his own fingers, laved them and coated them in his own saliva, and then returned them to where they were needed: stroking hard and teasingly between his entrance and his balls, the movement of his hips doing most of the work. 

Your nipples are hard, Greg’s voice observed. Do you want to touch them?

“No,” Mycroft gasped out loud. “Close. Like this.”

Then finish it.

Mycroft cried out and sped his strokes, losing the thread of the rhythm of his hips. One finger teased at his hole, an indulgence, as his wrist twisted his grip around the head of his cock on every stroke. His breath stuttered in his chest and he felt heat suffuse his face before his orgasm overtook him. He couldn’t be certain, as he’d never done this in front of a mirror, but he was fairly certain based on the ungodly rush of heat that the entire top half of his body blushed when he came. 

And he did come then, a mere second after the heat spread through him, and it was blinding. 

In his mind, Greg’s voice murmured: Good, and then went silent. 

Mycroft was left panting on the bed, his belly and chest covered in his own release. 

Just to complete the evening’s indulgence, Mycroft swept his hand up through the mess, loving the slickness and the dirtiness of it, and let his thumb and forefinger rest in an “L” at the base of his throat, holding himself still; holding himself down. 

He shuddered with an aftershock, hips jerking, and giggled. 

“Oh, god,” he said to the room at large. “Oh, no.”



Chapter Text

Greg didn’t hear from Mycroft right away, but barely had time to notice with his schedule. Still, he somehow found time between interminable study groups, long hours in the classroom, time in the university library, and his job, to think about the other man. Just a little. 

“You’re distracted,” Doctor Bakshi informed him during an impromptu advisory meeting . “Are you alright? Sleeping enough? Money is okay?”

Greg melted a bit in his chair across from her desk and smiled. “You’re kind.”

“I have invested a lot of time in you, Lestrade,” she said drily. “If you’re starving or something, I need you to tell me. I would be absolutely furious if you kicked it before you finished your degree.”

Greg laughed. “I’m fine, I promise. Plenty of savings, plenty of hours at the center. They’ve agreed to be flexible when I receive my placement, if it’s not with them, so I can do both.”

Bakshi gave him a look, the one that said she thought he couldn’t possibly be telling the truth. Greg suspected that, though she seemed to like him, Doctor Bakshi thought of him as a bit of a hopeless case. She always seemed skeptical, or maybe just a bit disapproving, when he said he was managing. 

Served him right for admitting as much as he had to her, early on, about his past. She had a way about her, though. Pulled the truth right out of people. She was a bit scary. Rather brilliant, though. He suspected she had chosen research and teaching rather than taking up practice somewhere because of that. He couldn’t imagine having her as a psychiatrist, or as a counselor. 

Terrifying thought. 

“I’m fine,” Greg insisted, after her eyebrow remained raised a beat longer. “I’ve been trying to have a social life, if you must know.”

“With what hours on which day?” Bakshi leaned back in her chair and wrinkled her nose at him. “You’re barely ever home, as far as I can tell. Aoife has seen you in the library every night this week.”

“S’only Wednesday,” Greg hedged, even as he wracked his brain for a memory of Aoife being anywhere near him since Monday. Bakshi’s demonstrator was as weird and intense as Bakshi. Sneaky, too, apparently.

“If you get that look again,” Bakshi warned. 

Greg cut her off. “I won’t.”

“So you say,” she said pleasantly. “Still, if I think you’re overextending yourself to the point of poor health, we will have words.”

“Ma’am,” Greg acknowledged with an incline of his chin. 

Doctor Bakshi glanced at her watch. “Go away, Lestrade. Go home and eat a real meal. Sleep. If I find out you were in the library at all this evening, I will kill you. Go.”

After a bit of false negotiating for a couple of hours, or just one, in the library, Greg gathered his things and was gone. In truth, he was glad to give himself the evening off. He would be expected at the center in the morning, and then he had another meeting with his group for the dread methodology seminar. But he had finagled a Friday off, at least after his 8am lecture. He was looking forward to it. He needed to haul his dirty clothes to the laundrette, but it was a chore he didn’t mind; he got a lot of reading done, usually, and the people-watching was fantastic. After that, he hadn’t made a single plan. He figured he might even allow himself a nap. 

He thought of the idea with relish as he let himself into his flat. The phone was ringing. He was in a particularly lax sort of headspace when he answered it, his mind already two days away inside of his lazy-Friday-to-be. 

“‘Lo!” He wedged the handset between his ear and shoulder, then crossed back to his door to shut and lock it. 

“Ah… Greg?”

Greg steadied himself with a palm against the door. He had been so high on the indulgence of an early Wednesday and the prospect of a nearly free Friday that he had managed not to fill the time he spent on the tube with thoughts of Mycroft. That was a first for the week. “Speaking,” he said, a little breathily, then cleared his throat. “Sorry, yeah, of course it’s me. Hey, Mycroft.”

“Hello,” said the posh, nervous voice on the other side of the telephone. “Am I disturbing you?”

“Nope!” Greg pushed off the door of the flat and spun for the kitchen, where Seven was lazing about in the empty sink. “Caught me walking through the door.”

“Ah,” Mycroft said again. “I can let you go, if you need to—”

“No!” Greg startled Seven with the force of his voice. He reached a hand towards the cat and lowered his voice. “I don’t need to do anything. How are you? To what do I owe the pleasure?”

There was a long silence. “I…” 

Greg was a patient person; it was what had led him, after so many false starts and failures, to what he was doing now. He had heard it from everyone: other kids when he was young, university classmates, superior officers and supervisors at menial jobs, even the men he had been paid to flatter and fuck. You’re so patient and understanding; you’re so calm; you’re so easy; it’s so relaxing.

Greg had been learning how to be less easy when he needed to be, but he thought Mycroft could use it. He had a sense that the poor man might even deserve it. Something about him gave Greg the feeling that Mycroft never got easy or calm from anyone. 

“Are you free?” Mycroft asked at last, the words coming out in a rush.

“Tonight?” Greg glanced at the clock. It was only half six, but he was starving and tired. He could rally, maybe, but…

“Oh!” Mycroft stuttered. “No! N-no, apologies, I’m at the office now and will be for some time yet. No, actually, I wondered. Could we… that is. Are you free some time soon?”

Greg was relieved and disappointed all at once. Part of him had perked up at the prospect of someone touchable close by. Yeah, he knew that any meeting with Mycroft at this point was likely to end in some level of sexual frustration. But Greg had taken care of himself just fine after the last time. He’d been wound up after Mycroft left, and had enjoyed himself thoroughly in the shower, emerging from the steam of the bathroom loose and buzzing with satisfaction. He’d gotten tons of work done in that state. 

It wasn’t the idea of relaxation that excited him, though. 

He kind of...liked Mycroft. No. He did like him, full stop. He liked his dry humor and soft hands. That was plenty to be going on with, but he could also imagine getting to know him more. He had no idea what it was they would find in common, but there was something… 

Doctor Bakshi thought Greg’s tendency to rely on his gut feelings and hunches was one of his greatest flaws, and Maybe Greg ought to have agreed with her, considering the many ways they had failed him so far. But he couldn’t ignore them all the time. He had a gut feeling about Mycroft. 

“I could be free,” Greg said. “What did you have in mind?”

Another long silence. Greg pet the cat while he waited, and ignored his growling stomach. 

“I—” Mycroft cut himself off with a slight stutter. “Since our last meeting, I…” 

Greg waited for a count of six before he felt he should take pity. “Mycroft,” he said, hoping he was coming across as gently teasing, as intended. “Is this, by chance, a booty call?”

There came a choking sound and then a flurry of words. “A what? No! I’ve never—  I wouldn’t wish to—  It’s only—”

“It would be alright if it was,” Greg interrupted before the man had a chance to pop a blood vessel. “I’m… amenable.”

“Amenable.”

Greg found himself grinning fondly at nothing. “Yeah,” he said. “Amenable.”

“Oh.”

“I’m free on Friday, incidentally,” Greg continued. “Did you do that thing I mentioned?”

Mycroft’s breath hiccupped forcefully enough that Greg could hear it over the phone. “...yes. Ah… several times, actually.”

Greg wiped at his grin with one hand. “Because it took that many times to achieve results? Or because the results were satisfactory enough as to be repeated?”

Mycroft cleared his throat. “Wouldn’t you like to know,” he said primly. “I shall see you Friday. What time?”

“Come over whenever. I’ll be back from doing my laundry by noon.”

“Very well,” Mycroft replied. “Good evening, Greg.”

Before Greg could say anything else, the call disconnected.



***



On Thursday, Greg finally heard back about his clinical placement for the summer. It wasn’t at the center. He sighed, reading the letter on the tube to his shift there. The center - it’s real name the unwieldy: Bertram and Bernadette Hendershot Center for Community Wellbeing - wasn’t far from home, only a ten minute ride plus about the same spent walking. It was convenient, but he’d also gotten to know the people there, and some were especially dear to him by now. He could still work there, but Christ. Only once a week, maybe, with full time hours at his new placement all the way in bloody Westminster. Greg didn’t even want to think about how he was going to make his stipend stretch through summer without anything to supplement it. It was generous, but not that generous.

He arrived at work in a foul mood, but was smart enough to give his boss, Silvana, the look before ducking into the break room (more a glorified storage closet) to just… get over it. Pack it up, set it aside, and forget it until he had the time to deal with it. 

By the time he emerged with a styrofoam cup of tea from the battered kettle, Greg was ready. His job wasn’t a hard one; he was a glorified head-counter most of the time, providing support to the social worker and therapists who worked at the center. Greg, in his entry-level role, served as a data collector and group leader, spending time regularly with a specific group of clients to keep record of their attendance at the center and their engagement with its various programs, as well as to offer them support where he could. Once a week, he hosted a small group session about maintaining sobriety. He barely had to do anything; one of the clients at the center lead the group as a peer mentor. Greg manned the sign in sheet and talked to anyone who wanted extra support after.  

He loved his job. It paid next to nothing, but it was fulfilling, which was more than he could say about any other job he’d ever had- including the ones that had been meant to lead to some big career. Greg was close with his mentors at the center. Silvana was a social worker, and Silvana’s supervisor, Doctor Adeyemi, was a psychiatrist who had worked as a licensed counselor for years before returning to school for his doctorate.They knew their stuff. 

Greg had taken this job out of desperation two years ago. An old friend from his former life (the one he thought of as his third one, out of many) called him up and said she knew Silvana from Uni, that she was having a terrible time looking for decent people to fill the position. Greg, barely scraping by on a construction job he hated, experiencing a lull between clients, and contemplating taking up actually turning tricks, had jumped at it. He was researching graduate schemes in a matter of months, motivated and focused for the first time in years.  

Today, he found the center rather quiet.  He found one of his favorite clients, a young, zippy fella named Lewis, hovering around the art room. Lewis reminded Greg of children he’d grown up with, ones who were in care just like him. It was common for kids from dodgy backgrounds to be a little (or a lot) more impulsive and unfocused, untethered, maybe, and hard to keep still. Lewis was the child of an alcoholic mother, probably with some level of foetal alcohol syndrome contributing to the issues which brought him to the center, the particulars of which Greg didn’t concern himself with very much. His job didn’t involve medical treatment or anything, so he avoided the concept of diagnoses. Greg tended to treat each person as a person, and he would figure out their peculiarities and needs from scratch as much as possible. 

Lew was a jittery, naturally noisy sort of guy, and a bit childlike, though he was nearly twenty-five. Greg liked him because he was honest and sweet. He could be impulsive and aggressive too, tending to handle abrupt change or shifts in routine with outbursts. But Greg had seen him tearfully clean the mess he’d made while venting his anger, holding the hand of the occupational therapist he’d startled and apologizing all the while. Lewis had later bummed a cigarette off Greg and told him he wasn’t all that sorry about it, other than upsetting her. 

“Fuck this place,” Lewis had said. “Not you, Greg, not you, of course. Or poor Lottie. I wouldn’t have hurt her, Greg, you see. Just the furniture. You know how it is. Chairs are ugly anyway.”

Greg had been unable to keep from laughing, shaking his head. “Lewis, Lewis.”

“I know,” Lewis had agreed. “Hopeless! That’s me.”

“Nah,” Greg had replied, and bumped their shoulders. 

It was the first time he’d done such a thing to Lewis, who had been so sweetly surprised by the little show of camaraderie that he’d brought Greg a muffin the next morning.

Greg had developed a bit of a reputation among the center’s attendees for being the chummy one. 

Now, he made an exaggerated hissing sound to catch Lewis’ attention. “Psst. Lew.” 

“Mm?” Lewis leaned back out of the doorway to the art room and grinned. “‘Eyo, Greggles. New glitter. Linda’s already at it, look!” 

Together, they peered around the doorframe. 

“Ah,” Greg whispered, watching Linda- a silent, smiling old lady who often sat to the side of Greg’s sobriety group, never speaking, often embroidering or working on some little crafty project in her lap - upending half a canister of silver glitter onto a pile of glue. “She loves her sparkle, does Linda.”

“I like watching her do that,” Lewis said baldly. “She’s a happy person, Greg.” 

“Mm,” Greg agreed. “How about you?”

“Me!” Lewis snorted and wriggled out of the doorway, leaning restlessly against the wall beside it. “No, no. You know that.” He sighed. “M’never getting a job, Greg. Hopeless. Hopeless.” 

“That’s just bollocks,” Greg said with a roll of his eyes, then turned and started away from Lew to find his cubicle. He counted in his head, and was exactly right. Lewis drew up alongside him before he reached a count of five. 

“Where are you going?”

“You’re talking shit, mate,” Greg said casually. “I’ve better things to do than hear all that.”

Lew squawked. “Well!” 

Greg bit down on his grin. “You’re meant to be with Penny in an hour for interview practice. I say you go to that, and then come find me for a little look at the papers. Might be able to find you something.” He sipped his tea and waited. 

“I—” Lew sighed. “Greggie, bein’ nice isn’t fair.”

“I’m not nice,” Greg insisted. “Just doing my job. Silv says I have to do something with you. Get you out of here once in a while, or I’m fired.” 

“You’re talking shit, mate,” Lew parroted. 

Greg raised an eyebrow: I dunno, am I? And Lewis straightened up at once. 

“Don’t want you to get fired, Greg.”

“Thanks, Lew.”

“I’ll see you later.” 

“Sounds great.”

“More Linda first, though.”

“Great!” 

Lew swiped an awkward hand out and clapped Greg a bit off-the-mark on the arm. “Thanks!” 

“See you later.”

Lew grinned at him and scurried backwards down the hall and back to the art room to resume his hovering.

Greg took a breath. It would be a good day today. He’d make sure of it. Worries were for later. All he had to do for the moment was help one person at a time to whatever extent he could. 



***



He hadn’t been wrong; it had been a lovely day at the center. Greg left feeling good, fulfilled, like he’d done a decent job of it. The tube ride to his study group would have been fairly relaxing most other days. Today, the moment his ears filled with the rush and thud of the train, Greg’s thoughts abandoned positivity and picked up the impending stress of his practical placement. He dwelled and fretted, told himself not to dwell and fret, and immediately latched on to his loathing of his group project. He let his head thunk against the window behind him, and he sighed. 

It was going to be a long night.

And yet…

Later, as he listened to another of Draggy Daniel’s long winded and inaccurate interpretations of their materials, Greg’s mind wandered not to vision’s of Daniel’s death, as they normally would, but to Mycroft. 

They would see each other in a day; Greg was dying to know if his little comment had turned out to be… inspirational? The thought of it was killing him; he couldn’t stop imagining what Mycroft must look like, in some room Greg didn’t know the shape of. Taking himself in hand. Stroking himself… Greg obviously didn’t know (yet) what Mycroft looked like when he came, but he could extrapolate from the drawn-together eyebrows and the bitten lip. He could make some assumptions. 

He kept wondering if Mycroft went silent or breathless or noisy. He kept trying to imagine if he would stiffen or tremble through it. 

It was bloody distracting. But also very much welcome; Greg had rarely had a more stimulating study group. 

Of course, his indulgently lech-y thoughts only got him so far, and on the tube ride home, Greg’s thoughts returned to his placement and the new stresses it would undoubtedly bring. He allowed himself to really feel the disappointment; he wondered who would get his open hours at the center. And though he knew it wasn’t the most professional, Greg let himself feel snide and jealous. He let himself wallow in thoughts like They won’t be as good as me. 

He breathed through that and tried to relax his body between the second-to-last stop and home. It didn’t really work, but Greg was used to pushing through that leaden feeling in his chest. And so, he did.



Chapter Text

Mycroft arrived on Friday just as Greg folded his last clean t-shirt. The sound of the buzzer surprised him; he had expected Mycroft some time after the end of the work day, which for Mycroft seemed to be fairly late. It was barely one in the afternoon.

But it was indeed Mycroft on the other end of the intercom, and Greg buzzed him up while pushing against the sudden butterflies in his stomach. He tried not to wait by the door, but couldn’t seem to peel himself away from it, either. Even if he had been able to, he probably would’ve just stood awkwardly in the middle of the flat trying to figure out how casually he ought to answer the door. 

As it was, he heard Mycroft’s tread on the stair and then in the hall, and before he could stop himself, he was opening the door without so much as a knock. A completely uncharacteristic moment of blatant eagerness. Greg wanted to sink into the floor at first. But then he took in Mycroft, coat and briefcase and wind-pinked cheeks, eyes wide and startled. Christ, he’s adorable.

“Hi,” Greg said. 

Mycroft blinked. “Hello.” His eyes flicked unsubtly to Greg’s mouth.

Greg grinned and reached out, tugging him inside. 

They kissed against the door. Greg shoved Mycroft’s coat off his shoulders and the briefcase hit the ground with a thud. The wool followed with a soft sound. Greg slipped his hands beneath Mycroft’s suit jacket and sighed as his fingers made contact with the satin at the back of his waistcoat. 

“So many layers,” he murmured, placing an aimless line of kisses along Mycroft’s jaw.

“Sorry—” 

“I like it.”

Mycroft huffed and kissed him some more. He really was very good at it. Greg wondered how much kissing Mycroft had done, and if he’d wanted to do it with many people. Greg was developing a theory about Mycroft and other people. If he was right, there hadn’t been many. Maybe just one, a good one who had taught him well. The thought was hot, and also made Greg feel vaguely jealous. He pushed it away. 

“You’re a fantastic kisser,” Greg said, gently disengaging to catch his breath. “Seriously.”

“Thank you,” Mycroft said softly.

Greg pulled back to look at him. He had a bit of a shocky look about him, like he wasn’t sure how he’d ended up plastered against Greg so quickly. 

“You should come inside,” Greg said after a moment, matching the quietness of Mycroft’s voice, keeping his tone smooth and gentle, feeling oddly as though he were dealing with a spooked horse. “The sofa is much more comfy.”

Mycroft’s face went over all guilty, and his hands hovered over where they had been gripping Greg’s shoulders. “Oh, god, I’m sorry for just—” 

“See—” Greg cut him off, gentling the interruption with a squeeze of his hands at Mycroft’s hips. “You see, that’s what’s nice about a booty call. You don’t have to bring a hostess gift or anything.” 

It worked - Mycroft smiled. “Oh.”

“Come on,” Greg murmured, and guided him over to the living room. “Sit.”

Mycroft sat, and Greg took a chance and slipped into his lap, the way he had done the last time.

“Okay?”

Mycroft nodded, his hands going to Greg’s hips. “Yes.” 

“Tell me what you thought about while you wanked.”

Mycroft’s eyes went wide, and Greg could hear his breath catch in his throat. “W-what?”

“Yeah,” Greg replied, warming to his own idea. “I really wanna know. I’ve been thinking about it. About you.” 

“Me.”

“Mmhm.” Greg brushed his mouth lightly over Mycroft’s. “Yeah, of course. You basically told me you’d been rubbing yourself raw.”

Mycroft, to Greg’s surprise, didn’t react to this tease with complete indignation. Though his cheeks did redden even more, he rolled his eyes and snorted. “I am happy to report I managed to control myself just short of an injury,” he said drily. 

Greg’s grin could’ve broken his cheeks. “You’re funny. Tell me about it.”

“I… can’t.”

“Why not?”

Mycroft squirmed under Greg’s thighs, almost knocking him off his lap. Greg held on with two hands on Mycroft’s suited shoulders, and bit down on the soft sigh he wanted to let loose. It felt good, sitting on him like this. The squirming was… inspiring. 

“It’s embarrassing,” Mycroft said after a moment. 

Greg squeezed with his hands, massaging at the tension in Mycroft’s shoulders. “It can’t be. People think about all sorts of things to get the juices flowing. Er, so to speak.”

“You’re terrible,” Mycroft said, horrified, with a wrinkle of his nose. “That was awful.”

“Come on,” Greg sing-songed. He leaned forward to bump noses, brush lips again, tease him a bit while also doing him the favor of breaking eye contact. “Tell me, tell me… I promise not to think it’s weird. Unless it was… dunno. Barnyard animals.”

Mycroft stifled a laugh. “It wasn’t,” he said. Greg could feel him giving in, relaxing into the idea of saying it out loud. “It… you have to understand I have a vivid imagination and near-perfect recall. But I have trouble imagining scenarios that… that I’ve never participated in or, well, even witnessed, in this case . So, when it comes to… certain activities—” 

“Wanking. Jerking off. Rubbing one—” 

Mycroft slapped a hand over Greg’s mouth and fixed him with a glare. “Yes, thank you. My point is that I don’t imagine… acts. There are too many variables, and not enough data.”

Greg felt like he might scream, that was so… sweetly nerdy? Weirdly scientific? Somehow a sexy thing to say? What?

“So what did you think about?” Greg prompted, when Mycroft let his hand slip away. 

“Your voice,” Mycroft confessed in a rush. “Your… instructions.”

Greg felt that information hit him somewhere deep in his gut, and let his eyes fall shut, enjoying the creep of satisfaction through his veins, the slow ratcheting up of desire. He couldn’t remember the last time someone said something like that to him. He wasn’t sure anyone ever had. And Mycroft - analytical, literal, endearing Mycroft - had said it. Matter of fact. 

“That’s incredibly hot,” Greg said. “I mean… really. Tell me more.” He opened his eyes, but found that Mycroft had closed his.

“I imagined you were… encouraging me. Telling me what to do. Offering suggestions.”

“And you liked that?”

“Mm.” Mycroft swallowed, his throat moving with it. “Yes.”

“Did you come?”

“Of course.” 

“How many times did you do it?”

Mycroft gasped, opening his eyes.”I don’t know.”

Greg wanted to just… dry hump the daylights out of him right then and there. Christ. “Yes you do,” he said instead.

“Seven.”

Seven. “Well, well,” Greg teased. “That’s more than once a day.”

Mycroft shifted beneath him, sheepish. “Well.”

“You don’t usually do it that much,” Greg stated. “You know what I think?”

“No,” Mycroft replied, his tone suggesting that he was a bit surprised by that. 

“Think you like me a bit,” Greg guessed, then grinned when Mycroft absently licked his lips, shifted his gaze away a bit, caught out. “Well?”

“Y-yes,” Mycrot stuttered. ”Yes, I like you. Of course I do.”

Greg leaned in and kissed him, slow and sweet, then a little bit messy, cupping Mycroft’s jaw and urging him to open up for Greg’s sweeping tongue with a tiny press of his thumbs on either side. He held him that way and took kisses from him, until Mycroft wrapped his arms around Greg’s waist and tipped them sideways onto the sofa. 

Yes, Greg thought. Good, good, good. Because now their legs tangled and they pressed together, and Greg could feel Mycroft’s hard cock through all that suit fabric, through Greg’s jeans. And he knew Mycroft could feel him, too. And Mycroft hadn’t jumped and pulled away. He groaned into Greg’s mouth, sighed and petted at him.

They made out like teenagers for what felt like ages. Hands stayed above the belt, but roamed. Greg managed to get Mycroft out of his suit jacket, and the waistcoat as well. Getting that off had been borderline erotic for Greg, who never had been able to resist men who wore things like that. He’d never met a younger man who was as buttoned-up as Mycroft. Slightly rumpled and a bit deconstructed, the man was endearing to look at: sweet and soft, and a bit out of place, but appealing; interesting. Greg was dying to know if the freckles on his face went down his neck and chest. 

After a while, Greg tried his luck with a hand on Mycroft’s backside, which he didn’t seem to mind. And then, pulling out of a kiss to press his mouth to Mycroft’s cheek instead, Greg slid his hand first to Mycroft’s hip, and then between them. 

“Do you want me to touch you?” He asked, the back of his hand flat against Mycroft’s belly, above his waistband. “I’d love to make you come.”

Mycroft shuddered. “God,” he said, and his posh voice was roughened from kissing and desire. It was delicious that way. “I…”

“It’s okay if you don’t want that yet,” Greg said. “Mycroft? I promise.”

“I… want to be ready.”

Because you do like me, Greg thought. And surprise, my theory was right.  “It’s alright,” he said. “So, I have a question.”

“Alright…” 

“Do you want to touch me? Would that be… better? Worse? Something to try?”

Mycroft was quiet long enough that Greg pulled back a bit to see his face. 

“Mycroft?”

He blinked. “I... “

“Again, it’s fine if you don’t.” Greg smiled. “I’m not angling for it, I just…” Greg’s mind filled in all the things he really could not say: I just have become weirdly invested in this. I just want to figure you out, so badly. I just need to know what your fingers feel like around my cock. “ I promise you, what we’re doing so far is fantastic for me, and I’ll use it as fuel for masturbatory fantasies for another week, no problem at all.”

Mycroft shook his head. “No, I… I do want that. You’re sure it’s… it’s alright?”

“What?” Greg cut off his own incredulous laugh by pressing his mouth to Mycroft’s. “Of course it is, are you being serious? Just, not on the leather sofa. Bed?”

Mycroft nodded, and Greg extracted himself from the tangle of their limbs before extending a hand, which Mycroft took with only the barest hint of hesitation. 

“Seven,” Greg called as they rounded the corner, then clucked his tongue and snapped his fingers until the cat got the idea and removed himself from the bed. “Okay,” he said, turning to Mycroft. “I’m… gonna take off my shirt, if you don’t mind. “

Mycroft nodded again. At this time of day, the bedroom area wasn’t particularly well lit, the sun having moved to the building’s other side. But it was still plenty light enough that they could see each other perfectly well. Good, Greg thought. He wasn’t a self conscious person these days, and he wanted Mycroft to see that and understand it. Maybe some of it would rub off. Greg stripped his t-shirt over his head and let it fall to the floor. His hands hovered over his flies for a moment, and Mycroft nodded again, so he undid them, but left the jeans open, but up at his hips. 

He climbed onto the bed and knelt at its center. “Shoes, at least,” he said, nodding to Mycroft’s feet in their shiny oxfords. 

“Oh.” Mycroft seemed to shake himself. “Of course. Certainly.”

Greg couldn’t help the smile that tugged at one corner of his mouth at that. So formal and nervous. “You can take anything off you want,” he added. “It’s up to you.”

Mycroft straightened from untying his laces and stepped out of his shoes. “Ah… Not yet.”

“Okay,” said Greg easily, then reached out with one hand, as he had out in the lounge. “C’mere, then.” 

He had to tug Mycroft to get him to join him on the bed, first one knee, then the other. But Mycroft automatically bent his head into the kiss Greg silently requested with a tilt of his head. Greg deepened it and hooked a hand around the back of Mycroft’s neck to guide him in close. 

When they parted, Mycroft gave a little sigh. “I’m afraid I don’t quite know how to begin,” he said. 

Greg shrugged. “You could just…” he took one of Mycroft’s hands in his and guided it to his own chest, just to the left of center. “I dunno. Start here, maybe. I, um… like my nipples touched.”

Mycroft nodded seriously, and as Greg tipped up into another soft, wet kiss, those lovely long fingers traced gently over his left pectoral, thumb brushing over Greg’s nipple tentatively. Greg hummed his approval into the kiss and shuffled a little closer on his knees. Mycroft’s other hand immediately stroked up the other side of Greg’s torso, fingers stroking gently over his ribcage. Greg sighed and arched into it a little, just a little, and felt his jeans slipping down his hips with the movement. Mycroft circled his nipple, spiralling in and then out again, sending sweet little shivers and goosebumps across Greg’s skin. And then, that gorgeous genius, he gave it a gentle pinch just as he sunk his teeth carefully, experimentally, into Greg’s lower lip. 

Greg moaned, the sound coming from him without his permission, and he tried to gasp even as Mycroft kissed him again, tongue sweeping in as his thumb brushed firmly back and forth over Greg’s hard, sensitized nipple. 

“Mmm,” Greg turned his face out of the kiss. “Would you—” He hesitated, not wanting to push. 

“Would I?”

“I… your mouth.” Greg reached up and pressed at Mycroft’s kissed-red lower lip. “Would you put your mouth there?”

Mycroft nodded, almost eagerly, and Greg would have pumped his fist in victory if he didn’t know good and well that it was bad form. 

“Lie down with me,” he said, and crawled backward up the bed a bit. Mycroft followed without hesitation, and the moment Greg had settled back against the pillows, bent his head and swiped his tongue over the same nipple he had just touched. “Mmm, yeah,” Greg groaned. “Bite if you like. Or- oh, sucking is good too, god, you’re a quick study.”

Mycroft sucked a little red mark just to the side of Greg’s nipple, and looked up at him with raised eyebrows. “So show me something else.”

“Such as?”

“Touch yourself,” Mycroft said. “Show me how.”

Greg let his head fall back into the pillows with a thump. “Oh god, yeah, okay.”

Mycroft helped him out of his jeans, and then stared, shameless and blatantly curious, rocked back on his heels at Greg’s side, as Greg rubbed at the line of his own erection through his pants. “You are…” Mycroft cleared his throat. “It’s… big.”

Greg laughed and shook his head. “Average. Maybe on the thicker side.”

“Hmmm. Show me.”

Greg felt like he should pinch himself, see if he was dreaming. He really hadn’t thought they’d get this far today. He really would have been happy just to do the old secondary-school-style grope on the sofa. Like he had told Mycroft days and days ago now, that was more action than Greg had seen in months. He liked it. He loved kissing and rolling around. He thought that Mycroft’s delicateness around anything more than that was really doing it for him, actually. 

But this, this was very good too. Mycroft’s obvious natural curiosity was overriding his shyness enough that he was getting a bit demanding - not out of entitlement, but out of eagerness. It was good; it gave Greg a feeling of satisfaction, having gotten him there. And it was, frankly, kind of hot to be lightly bossed about by someone who was normally so reticent. 

Greg lifted his hips and pushed his underwear down his thighs. “Help,” he said, and Mycroft pulled them the rest of the way down, his palms smoothing down the sides of Greg’s legs far more than was really necessary, like he was starting the grasp that he was allowed to just touch for touching’s sake. 

And then Greg was lying naked in front of a fully clothed Mycroft, and that was working for him, too. And, judging by the visible erection beneath Mycroft’s trousers, it worked for him as well. 

“Go on,” Myroft breathed, knelt at Greg’s side. 

Greg let out a shaky breath and took himself in hand, starting as he always did just under the head, worrying his foreskin back and forth, gentle and teasing, until he couldn’t help but hitch his hips a tiny bit, chasing his own touch. 

He watched Mycroft watching him with hooded eyes, and gave a little half smile when Mycroft visibly noticed. 

“What do you think about?” Mycroft asked, and as he did he reached out and splayed his hand over the center of Greg’s chest, appearing to simply like looking at it there. “When you do this alone?”

“Mmm.” Greg thought for a moment. “Lots of things. Sometimes I think about women - I’ve been with a few. One or two were rather memorable.” He relaxed his hand into a loose grip around the shaft of his cock and stroked slowly, lazily. “More often though, men. Maybe because there have been more men than women, and more recently, too. I think about—” He tightened his grip. “Mm, I think about sucking cock.”

Myroft made a small, strangled sound in the back of his throat. “Do you?”

“Yeah.” Greg twisted his wrist on the upstroke and whimpered a bit at the extra stimulation at the head. “I love giving head, it’s just… I dunno. My favorite, I guess. I think about how good it feels to make someone feel good; I think about running out of air because I’ve gotten too into it. Think about how it tastes.”

Mycroft swept his hand to the right and brushed careful fingers over Greg’s thus-far un-abused nipple. “What else?”

“The other night after you called,” Greg said, “I did this. Got all my clothes off and laid down here and got myself off thinking of how you must look when you come.”

Mycroft said nothing, and he didn’t make eye contact. The tops of his cheeks had been red from the start; no change there. But he did lean down, then, for a kiss, which Greg groaned into as he sped his hand. He opened his mouth for Myroft’s tongue and whimpered as his mouth was invaded, filled, imagining what it would be like to fill it with Mycroft’s cock, wondering what it might look like. God, he hoped he would get the chance sometime. Mycroft would be so responsive. So squirmy. Greg moaned again into the kiss and Mycroft broke it, panting.

“Can I?”

Greg couldn’t think what Mycroft could be asking, but he really didn’t care. It was a yes. “Yeah, yeah, come on.”

Mycroft pressed his mouth experimentally to Greg’s neck, and at the same moment, his hand joined Greg’s between their bodies. Greg shuddered with it, the combination of surprise and delight and the added pressure of Mycroft’s tentative grasp. 

“Oh!” Greg arched, pushing his hips up, pushing his cock through their hands, which he adjusted quickly so that his fingers slotted through Mycroft’s. “Mmm, yeah, that’s—  you can—  tighter.” 

“Like this?”

Greg nodded frantically and, with his free hand, guided Mycroft’s face up, gently forcing him to look him in the eye. He wanted to make sure Mycroft heard him, saw how much he meant what he was going to say. “That’s perfect, that feels so good.”

“Do you want… what should I…”

Greg eased him down gently into a kiss, his grip probably slightly too tight at the side of Mycroft’s neck as their hands moved faster. Mycroft was observant and had begun to mirror the twisting motion of Greg’s wrist, but in the opposite direction. It was sublime. Greg had been leaking precome before he’d even shucked his underwear. Now he could feel the slick of it easing the way through the tight channel of their hands, and the tightening in his balls that meant he was close to the end. 

He forced himself to break their kiss, even though the near-claustrophobic relentlessness of it was the most perfect turn-on, to say, “Is this good? You’re good? Because I’m gonna come. Soon.”

“Christ,” Mycroft swore. “Yes, yes, good, please—” 

Greg took his own hand away. “Make me come, then,” he said, and pulled Mycroft back down, this kiss bruising and full of teeth, big and bold and distracting enough that Mycroft didn’t skip a beat now that it was his hand alone doing all the work. 

“Yeah,” Greg urged against his mouth, thrusting up into each slick, twisting stroke of Mycroft’s fist. “God, yeah, so close.” 

Mycroft’s other hand supported his weight over Greg’s body, so Greg used his own free hand to pinch at his own slightly-reddened left nipple. Mycroft drew back and watched, wide-eyed, his hand speeding up just enough— 

“Mycroft!” Greg’s body jerked, and then stilled, and his orgasm rushed through and out of him in a wave. “Keep going,” he gasped as Mycroft’s hand made to slow. “Little more, please, I—  yeah, perfect— Oh, fu—”

Come striped Greg’s belly and dripped down Mycroft’s long, elegant fingers. Greg circled Mycroft’s wrist with his hand to guide him through the last, lingering strokes. When the aftershocks receded, Greg held Mycroft’s messy hand up and out of the way. He sat up on one elbow and was relieved to be met with a much gentler kiss than the ones that had just come before. He shivered and sighed into it, always a bit fragile in the aftermath of orgasm. When he couldn’t keep himself up anymore, he let it end and fell backwards onto the pillows with a groan. 

“Holy fuck,” he said. “That was fantastic.”

“Yes?” 

Greg opened his eyes and smiled, taking in disheveled Mycroft in his untucked shirt and suit trousers, a hand covered in come held awkwardly in front of him, and his face flushed and satisfied under a head of mussed auburn hair. 

“Wow,” Greg said. “Look at you. Gorgeous.”

“Me?” Mycroft was incredulous. “That… I’ve never seen anything like that. You are…” He shook his head. “Frankly, you are an idiot to waste your time with me.”

“Oh no, no,” Greg protested, even as he rolled to the side so that he could reach over the side of the bed and fish his t-shirt off the floor. “None of that.” He struggled to sit up, but managed, and then gently wiped at the mess on Mycroft’s hand with the shirt. “It’s an old shirt,” he said when Mycroft protested. “I’m not wasting my time. Don’t say that.”

“You really… enjoyed that?”

“You’re not paying me to lie about it,” Greg pointed out. “So.” 

“Perhaps you are particularly generous of heart.”

“Well, I am,” Greg agreed cheekily. “But also, I did enjoy it, as evidenced by the mess on my shirt.” He tossed the shirt back to the floor. “And, just so you know, I do like you."

“I… you. Like me.”

“Yeah, of course I do. You’re cute and funny and some sort of whiz kid, I think. I mean, look, you figured out masterful handjobs in something like five minutes flat. You’re maybe a genius.” Greg leaned back against the pillows once more, but not without a solid grip on Mycroft’s tie, which he used to tug him down with him. “And believe it or not, Mycroft, the shy virgin thing isn’t a turn-off. I’m not some weird fetishist, but… I dunno. I like it. I like you. Sorry.”

“An odd thing to apologize for,” Mycroft remarked, but it was accompanied by a small, pleased smile. 

“I’ll make you a deal, then,” Greg said. “I’ll stop apologizing for nothing, if you do the same.”

Mycroft’s smile grew. “Alright, then. Deal.”



***



Greg was surprised that Mycroft stayed for a while that night, agreeing to take away curry and watching Fry and Laurie on telly. They talked aimlessly about all sorts of things. Mycroft had a younger brother, improbably (or maybe not, considering his name) called Sherlock, who was off to Uni a full year early. He didn’t expound on it much, but Greg got the idea that Mycroft disapproved, and their parents had overridden his protests. Greg thought it a bit odd that Mycroft would have any say at all, if both of their parents were living, but kept it to himself. 

Greg offered a small bit of information on his own sister in return, carefully couching the fact that she lived in Lambeth and he didn’t see her much in vague words that deflected the truth: that they had been separated at a young age after their mother died (their father turned even more drunk and absent, and abusive, Greg did not add), and that they didn’t really get along these days. Greg didn’t feel like getting into all of it, not after such a nice day. 

Mycroft remained a bit tight-lipped about his job, but was willing to say a few things about annoying coworkers, his inscrutable boss who he admired and feared. He made a comment, during one of the sketches, about having been to Russia, and Greg filed it away for further questioning later. Mycroft seemed much more interested in Greg’s work, and let him prattle on for ages about it. Greg found himself confessing his disappointment at his placement, which Mycroft listened to with a little line between worried brows, before being incredibly soothing in his calm reassurance that Greg would do a wonderful job wherever he ended up. 

“That’s sweet,” Greg said. “But I dunno.”

“Well,” Mycroft said, “my office isn’t far from there. If it’s terrible, I’ll take you to lunch.”

Greg felt himself melting into a smile that was far too sappy for what they were to each other, and got it under control before he did something out of line, like lean in and kiss him and call him sweetheart. “That’d be really nice,” he settled on saying.

They didn’t kiss goodbye when Mycroft left, both of them a bit awkward with it. Greg felt strange when he shut the door, like he should’ve just done it. But, as much as he was attempting to meld a friendly shag arrangement with some sort of convoluted Boyfriend Experience, he still felt there ought to be some… boundaries? Limitations? Customs observed? Greg didn’t know. 

Still, he went to bed satisfied and full of ideas about what Mycroft might look like if he ever let Greg see him fall apart the way he had caused Greg to do hours before. He looked forward to it; hoped for it. And imagined he could smell Mycroft’s cologne on his sheets, still. 



***



Talking about his sister summoned her somehow. The next night, Greg was in the middle of his third revision of his final paper for his methodology seminar when she called. 

“Hey!” Her voice had the same false brightness to it that it always had. “Just calling to check in, see how things are going!”

Greg scrunched up his face and rubbed at his temple. “Uh… yeah, hey Fiona. I’m actually in the middle of—” 

“You don’t have a few minutes? Just a few minutes, Greg?” Fiona didn’t bother to wait for an answer. “It’s just you don’t call so I never know how you are.”

That’s nothing new, Greg thought furiously. “Mm, yeah.” He tossed his red pencil down with force, hoping it would vent his annoyance and keep it out of his voice. “Things are busy with work and school, sorry.”

“Oh, right.” There came the sound of tinkling ice and glass. “Still a builder, then?”

“Not since the eighties,” Greg sighed, biting the side of his tongue to keep from adding something about how she might remember that if she wasn’t on her third g&t. “I’m at school to become a counselor, remember?”

“Mm,” Fiona hummed. “Right, yeah. Well, Phillip’s in year eight, now. Reminds me of you at that age.”

You saw me once at that age. “That’s great.”

“Thought you might want to come see him? Say hello? Graham says hello, by the way.”

Graham, Fiona’s haughty, stuck up husband, had almost certainly never said hello. Greg was fairly sure that Graham was part of the reason Fiona had barely bothered with Greg when he was in sixth form. The brother still in foster care wasn’t a great look for a girl trying to look fancy for her new boyfriend. 

“Maybe,” Greg hedged. “I dunno, Fi. Listen, I’ve got to go.”

“Well, make an effort maybe, Greg. Call me next time.”

“Right.” Greg shook his head and stood to walk the phone back to its cradle. “Sure, I’ll do that. Bye.”

He didn’t wait to hear her response before hanging the phone up. He stood there, silently furious, and counted back from twenty. He could almost hear the voice of the social worker he’d known all those years ago, the one who realized without his telling her that he’d been waiting for Fiona to age out and come get him. Count backward, she’d said as panic and rage consumed him, as it became suddenly crystal clear that she wasn’t, was never coming for him. Slow, slow, slow. Breathe with each number. 

It only took ‘til fourteen this time. He needed to get a machine. Screen Fiona’s calls. It’s what he’d suggest to any of his friends. Any of his clients. Any nameless case study he’d read these past couple of years. Eliminate the shock of her voice. Make it his decision, not hers, when they would speak. 

Greg wasn’t sure he could bring himself not to answer her, though, answering machine or no. 

Once he didn’t feel like punching a wall and crying, Greg picked up the phone again, and dialed. It rang three times before an answer came. 

Greg took one more deep breath. “Hey, Mycroft. What’s new with you?”



***



That set a precedent, and after that they spoke on the phone frequently. Over the next week, they spoke three times. Mycroft seemed to understand, that first time, that something had shaken Greg up a bit, and hadn’t pried. Instead, he had droned on in an impression of his terrible coworker Larry until Greg laughed. Mycroft initiated the next call a day later. 

“I just wanted to see if you were feeling better,” he said. 

“I never felt bad, ” Greg insisted. 

“Mmm.” Mycroft clucked his tongue. “What was it you called me? A genius? In other words, not an idiot?”

Greg winced. “Right. Well, I do feel better, so.”

“Excellent.”

“What are you doing?”

Mycroft sighed. “Working.”

“Mycroft, it’s nearly ten!”

“Yes.” There came the sound of shuffling paper. “Do you hear that? It’s one-hundred pages I need to read before I can complete my report for tomorrow.”

“Jesus. And I thought I was neck deep in reading.”

“Tell me what you’re reading.”

“I should let you get back to your work, though.”

Mycroft huffed. “I called you. And… I can read and listen at the same time.”

Greg laughed and stretched the phone cord so he could sink into one of his kitchen chairs. In front of him lay the three textbooks and a notebook over which he’d been poring when Mycroft rang. “You can’t.”

“I can, actually,” siad Mycroft smugly. “I’ll prove it to you the next time I see you. You can quiz me.”

“Show off!” Greg wiped at the grin on his face and failed at getting rid of it. “Alright,” he said. “Here’s a little bit about clinical treatment methods for mood disorders…”

Twenty minutes later, he was somehow telling Mycroft about his sister, and therefore about his childhood. Greg realized how far out of control the conversation had gone too late to stop it. He had just allowed information to spill out of his mouth; information he hadn’t shared with anyone in years. And now Mycroft knew not only that Greg’s mother was dead - had been dead since Greg was seven. He knew that Greg and Fiona’s father, already a bastard, had reached new levels of cretinous decrepitude without his sick wife there to take the brunt of it and had taken to beating them black and blue for infractions real and imaginary. He knew that because of this, Greg had bounced around various families and group care homes for years before finally remaining settled in one for the duration of the remainder of his adolescence, ages fifteen to eighteen. 

He even knew, now that Greg had lost his mind and his grip on himself, that Greg had thought for a time that Fiona was coming to get him. She, being six years older, aged out of the system long before Greg, and Greg had always thought…

“Well I thought a lot of stupid things,” he said, head pillowed on one arm, the phone pressed to his ear with the other hand. “You know how kids are.”

There was a long silence. “Children are hopeful creatures,” Mycroft said after a moment. “They wish for and, for the most part, see only the best in others.”

“I guess.”

“I would never call an optimistic child stupid,” Mycroft said softly. “I am so sorry you were let down in this way. As an older sibling, truly, I am. We are often disappointing. Some of us don’t mean to be. Having never met your sister, I can’t say whether she does or not.”

Greg rubbed at his eyes, which were strangely hot. “I don’t know if she means to be, honestly.” 

“Your younger, more optimistic and trusting self would believe that she does not.”

“Yeah. But my younger, optimistic self got let down a lot.”

“I understand.”

“I bet you do.” Greg would wince at his own tone: too soft, too fond, too… 

There was another long pause before Mycroft cleared his throat. “I ought to let you return to your studies.”

“Did you finish your reading?”

“Well…” Mycroft cleared his throat again. “No. You are rather more engrossing than dry intelligence briefings. How very strange.” 

“Sorry I distracted you.”

“Don’t apologize. Thank you… thank you for talking to me tonight.”

“Thanks for listening, Mycroft. Again, I mean.”



***



Greg spent the next few days in a strange headspace that he couldn’t shake. He was used to this feeling, or at least some part of this feeling: the dopamine rush of connecting with someone didn’t just go away when money was on the table. Obviously this thing with Mycroft was different in that there was no money, but there may as well have been. The fact that it had started out that way meant that Greg really needed to set at least some boundaries in his own mind as if Mycroft was a client. 

But even when he felt vaguely attached to clients in the past, Greg hadn’t felt exactly like this. 

He had wondered, sometimes, whether the men who fucked him and paid him ever thought of him when he wasn’t around. He had hoped, a bit, that they did. Some of them, at least. But he hadn’t ever thought of them that much. Greg had always thought of the sex as the extent of what he wanted or needed to give them. For whatever reason, the rush of chemicals that came with regular intimacy only seemed to go one-way with Greg. He took the money, the furniture, the clothing, and he never felt guilty or dirty. But he didn’t feel invested, either. Just… a little unfulfilled. 

Maybe he’d been looking for that missing piece when he suggested this arrangement to Mycroft. What he’d ended up doing was complicating it even more, and in a way he couldn’t predict. 

When he ended up feeling itchy and vaguely stressed on Friday night, he found himself with the phone in his hand again, reaching for the dial with Mycroft’s number on his mind. 

For a moment, he considered stopping himself. He considered just calling someone else. He could probably sift through the address book in his mind, pick someone who was still single, get off, and just go to sleep. He could do that, he had every right. 

But he didn’t; he called Mycroft. Just to talk. He hung up with plans to see him again on Sunday.



Chapter Text

Ten in the morning on a Sunday might seem a strange time for such things, but Mycroft was frankly enamored of the entire concept of kissing slowly with the entire day stretched before them. It had been Greg’s idea to meet for breakfast, and now Mycroft wondered if it had been on purpose, so that they could have this after. He hoped so. In addition to the timing, the taste of cinnamon sugar on Greg’s lips from the pastry he’d eaten across from Mycroft at a little cafe was a point in the plan’s favor. 

By the time they made it to Greg’s bed, Greg had managed to unbutton Mycroft’s shirt. 

“Will you take it off?”

Mycroft paused, standing at the end of the bed while Greg slithered backward up the mattress, his own shirt discarded somewhere in the lounge. “My shirt?”

“Yeah. S’fine if you don’t want to.”

“I…” Mycroft’s fingers hovered around the open edges of the shirt. He wanted to, and he didn’t, all at once. It felt...odd. It didn’t seem strange for Greg to take his own shirt off, but for some reason that Mycroft wished he could pin down, it seemed unseemly for him to do the same. “I do want to,” he hedged. 

“Are you self conscious?”

Mycroft ducked his head to hide the heat in his cheeks. He didn’t understand how Greg could know such things and state them out loud with such ease. He always felt torn about it, unsure of whether to be embarrassed to be read so easily, or grateful. “A bit.” 

“Okay. That’s no problem. I’m closing my eyes.” Greg did, smiling as he did it. He shifted around to sit up more against the pillows, and then stilled. 

“Wh—” Mycroft laughed. “What on earth are you doing?”

“Get your shirt off,” Greg said. “Then come up here. I’ll look eventually, but not while you’re undressing. Makes it less weird.”

“Hmm.”

Greg kept his eyes closed and waited, silent. Mycroft stared at the relaxed lines of his face and felt his heartbeat hammer more insistently. He was going to take his shirt off. He wanted to, so badly. He hadn’t had any part of his bare chest exposed outside of a medical context since he was a nervous teenager trying to blend in at university, trying to understand what it meant to want someone - and then being roundly rejected. He’d never since been able to bring himself to cross that bridge into intimacy. He’d been floundering, for years, trying to find a way to do it. And Greg was making it work, somehow. 

Mycroft shrugged out of the shirt and let it fall to the floor. The air prickled at the bared skin of his shoulders and chest. He shivered, and felt the need to buy himself a bit more time. “Please,” he murmured. “Just keep them closed a little while longer.”

“No problem,” Greg replied easily, without a hint of annoyance or hesitation, his eyes closed and his face relaxed. 

Mycroft took a breath, and lifted one knee onto the mattress. Then the other, plus a hand, reaching for Greg’s shin. Mycroft’s fingers were nervous against the rough fabric of his jeans. He shifted and crawled, landing next to Greg, one hand still resting on Greg’s clothed leg, the contact like a lifeline.

“Put my hands where you’d like them,” Greg suggested, holding them up. “Okay?”

Mycroft shivered and carefully did not look down at himself, focusing instead on the calloused, tanned skin of Greg’s fingers as he took them in his own. Greg’s right hand, he pressed carefully to his own bare side, just against the bottom of his ribcage. The left, he brought to his own lips to kiss, unbelievably grateful, before splaying that hand against his chest, between his collarbones. 

Greg’s eyes remained closed, and his mouth dropped open as his fingers moved, only very slightly, against Mycroft’s skin, through his dusting of chest hair. “Listen,” he said after a moment, his voice deeper and more gruff now, “when you want me to open my eyes, just say. Um. But this is really… doing it for me.”

“Hardly anything has happened.”

Greg licked his lips. “I reckon this must’ve been what it was like for Victorian blokes when they got a flash of ankle, if you get my meaning.”

Mycroft laughed, caught off guard, and relaxed with it, letting his head tip back. In the back of his mind, he thought: how surprising, that I can laugh in the middle of all this. He covered Greg’s left hand with his own to keep it in place. The contact of their skin, palm to hand to chest, took Mycroft’s breath away. When he got himself back under control and looked down again, Greg was biting down on a grin. “I wasn’t joking,” he said. “This is, um… really nice. Can I— ?” 

Mycroft understood the accompanying tickle of Greg’s fingers against his side as a request for permission to move. He leaned down to press his mouth, closed and soft, to Greg’s, and said, “Yes, please.”

Greg kept his left hand where it was, splayed over Mycroft’s chest, petting him with tiny twitches of his fingers. Mycroft was a bit nervous, wondering if chest hair was a good thing or a bad thing, if he felt as skinny as he looked, if he could tell Greg to just keep his eyes closed forever, so as to never actually see all of Mycroft’s paleness and freckles and moles. He wondered if the thundering of his pulse was obvious under Greg’s hand. It felt like that ought to be the case, as if he were being shaken by every heartbeat. 

The other hand swept across Mycroft’s bare lower back, and then up, blunt fingernails scratching gently. Greg drew him in with soft pressure there in the center of his back, tilting his own chin up. Mycroft understood the wordless request and tipped into another kiss, this one slow and wet and sweet, accompanied by the trailing of Greg’s fingertips across the tops of his shoulders, then back down his side, where they gripped and tugged again. 

“Sit in my lap?” Greg asked, the words pressed into Mycroft’s mouth. 

Mycroft nodded, unthinking. Then, realizing that Greg couldn’t see him, said, “Alright,” and swung one leg over. The hand at his collarbones shifted, sweeping down so that Greg’s palms cupped his sides like parentheses. They were close, now. Almost close enough for their chests to brush. Greg’s hands twitched against his skin. His face wasn’t relaxed at all anymore, creased with anticipation and, Mycroft really could not believe it, desire.

It was completely shocking, but suddenly Mycroft had never felt so unselfconscious when he said, “You may open your eyes, if you like.”

Greg took a slow, deep breath, deep enough that the motion of his filling lungs caused their bare torsos to just barely brush together. He opened his eyes with a flutter, and a slow grin spread over his kiss-plumped mouth. “Hey.”

“H-hello,” Mycroft managed. 

Greg huffed. “Have to kiss you again,” he murmured, and swept his hands up, pulling Mycroft in yet again. 

He whimpered at the warm sensation of skin on skin as they pressed together, as Greg’s palms spanned his bare back. It felt so good. Mycroft felt tension bleeding slowly out of him, and he opened his mouth to Greg, feeling grateful and held and wanted. It was intoxicating. He wanted more. 

It was Greg who groaned, but Mycroft felt the rumble as if it happened in his own chest. Greg’s hands were everywhere, and he seemed intent on testing the firmness of every piece of Mycroft by squeezing gently: at the back of his neck, at his hips, his upper arms. Next, they slipped and slid, caressing and touching gently, sending more gooseflesh rising up over Mycroft’s skin. 

Greg’s fingers teased sweetly at his nipples, featherlight, which was—  Mycroft acted on reflex, shoving his hips forward and down against Greg’s, which happened to buck up just right, at the perfect angle to grind their clothed erections together. 

For once, it didn’t make Mycroft feel embarrassed or confused. He didn’t feel unsafe or overwhelmed, or too close to out of control. He felt… a little desperate. But it was good. It was very good, this feeling. Like he just wanted to rock there against Greg and see what might happen. Like he wanted Greg to just keep touching him, to want to touch him—  because he wanted to touch, too, so much. Mycroft fell into another meeting of lips and tongues, letting instinct take over and guide his body in a slow roll against Greg’s.

“Yeah,” Greg gasped, breaking the kiss. “That. S’good. You feel amazing.” He mouthed along Mycroft’s clavicle, and up the side of his neck, using one hand at Mycroft’s nape and the other against his chest, to move him so that he could access all the most sensitive places with his lips. “It’s okay?”

“Yes,” Mycroft breathed. 

“You’re so lovely,” Greg murmured, his tongue hot and wet against the patch of skin just below Mycroft’s ear. Mycroft whimpered and ground his cock harder against Greg’s. “Fuck, that’s—  Mmph.”

Mycroft clutched at Greg's shoulders and let his body roll on instinct. “I want… I don’t know what I want.”

“That’s okay.” Greg nuzzled along his jaw. “Anything is fine.”

“I want to… I need…”

“Y’wanna come for me?” Greg drew back and gazed up at Mycroft with eyes so dark and hot that Mycroft was sure for a split second that he would , just from that look alone. 

My god, what is happening to me?  

“Yes,” Mycroft blurted. “Yes, yes, I do.”

“Just like this?” Greg’s hips hitched up. “In your trousers? Really complete the dry humping experience?”

Mycroft huffed. He was sure he could come this way. Easily, in fact. But the thought of taking the tube home with a mess in his pants… decidedly no. And, for once, he knew what he wanted and felt he could simply… ask for it. He could even, he realized, simply lead with honesty. Greg wouldn’t judge. He wouldn’t scoff. The truth of it had been there from their first meeting, but in that moment, Mycroft knew it. 

“I don’t think so,” he said. “But I don’t know if… I’m afraid I’ll get… nervous. Again.” Mycroft bit the inside of his cheek. He hated how poorly he seemed to express himself when it came to this. It was such a basic human function. There was no reason for it to make him so incompetent. What he wanted to say was And I want you, I want this, don’t let me miss out again. But the words just… wouldn't come.

“What if…” Greg leaned back further. “Hang on, oh, god, don’t move for a moment, you’re driving me crazy.”

Mycroft stilled, and realized he was panting, that he had continued circling his hips slowly but relentlessly without conscious thought. “Sorry.”

“Christ, don’t be,” Greg laughed. He stared up at Mycroft for a moment, wheels clearly turning, and then his expression cleared. He blinked. He looked at him. “You have so many freckles,” he said. “I knew it.”

“Oh—” Mycroft reached ineffectually with one hand to cover himself. 

“No, no.” Greg caught his hand. “They’re so cute. Your skin’s gorgeous. You’re so sexy.”

Mycroft resisted his first instinct, which was to recoil and demand that he take back the lie at once. He hated false flattery. Hated it. And with anyone else, he would have been halfway out the door by now. 

But Greg’s face… it wasn’t a face made for lying. And even if that weren’t the case, he’d said to Mycroft before: you’re not paying me to lie about it. 

“I don’t know what to say,” Mycroft muttered, unable to meet Greg’s eyes. 

“You don’t have to say anything,” said Greg gently. “You can just take the compliment. And if you want, you can touch yourself for me. Make yourself come. If you get nervous, or want to stop, we can stop. Any time. If you want more, we’ll do more. Whatever you want.” 

Mycroft had to close his eyes and catch his breath, keep his hips still and try to suppress his shiver. It was a genius move on Greg’s part; and Mycroft had always thought of himself as so intelligent—  how had it not occurred to him that such a thing could be possible? Enjoyable? He knew he wasn’t ready in this moment to let Greg touch him that way. Almost, perhaps. But not… not quite. It still stirred anxiety in Mycroft’s gut to imagine giving over so much power. But he badly wanted to come, wanted to see Greg do the same. He would be thrilled to be allowed to touch Greg again. That had been… amazing. An incredible, powerful feeling. Just watching Greg’s face contract with pleasure had been mind-blowingly satisfying. Mycroft had brought himself off, explosively, more than once since he’d last been here, imagining what Greg had looked like mid-orgasm. 

“I do want that,” he said, opening his eyes once more. “Will you? As well, I mean?”

“Yeah.” Greg grinned. “If you think it would be… you know, good. Sorry, higher brain functions are a little… well.”

Mycroft couldn’t help but laugh and relax, leaning down to kiss Greg’s smiling mouth. “Same here,” he said, then slipped sideways off of Greg’s lap, lying along his side and tugging at him to ask him to do the same. “Open your trousers.”

Greg did, wriggling down to bring them shoulder-to-shoulder as he struggled to open the button fly, and then lifted his hips to shove both jeans and underwear halfway down his thighs, setting free his cock, which was hard and already leaking, the head exposed, pink and shining. 

Mycroft’s mouth watered. He swallowed hard and thought: soon. He would ask about it next time, perhaps. For now… he told himself to keep his hands steady as he went for his own flies. 

“Is it okay if I look?”

Mycroft paused and looked back to Greg’s face, which as usual contained not an iota of judgment or even expectation. Mycroft could say no, and Greg would respect it. 

“Of course you can look,” Mycroft said, meaning it. He’d come this far, and it hadn’t even been difficult. It had been damned near perfect, for once in his life. He wanted Greg to see. It didn’t feel strange. It felt, again, powerful: Here’s what you do to me; the same thing I’ve done to you. He managed to open his trousers and push them, along with his shorts, down almost to his knees. 

He heard Greg’s exhale, and felt it against his neck. “Perfect,” Greg muttered. “As expected.”

Mycroft laughed. “If you say so.” He didn’t wish to pause and contemplate the potential perfections or imperfections of his own cock, however, so he did not look. “I… feel slightly awkward. What do I…” 

“C’mere,” Greg murmured fondly, and cupped Mycroft’s cheek, directing him into a kiss. While their lips locked together, Greg shifted slightly onto his side. Mycroft, getting the hint from Greg’s guiding hand on his shoulder, copied the motion so that they faced each other. Greg slipped his hand down Mycroft’s arm and took his hand, guiding it lower. He broke the kiss to say, “Go on,” and then resumed it again, but harder, more desperate; a distraction. 

It was perfect; Mycroft gave over to the kiss, opening his mouth and letting Greg inside, groaning as their tongues touched. And, while his concentration was mostly on the closeness and pressure of their lips, he took himself in hand with a groan. 

Greg echoed it, his fingers squeezing briefly, encouragingly, around Mycroft’s wrist before disappearing, presumably to wrap around his own cock. 

Mycroft gasped at the thought of it, tilting his face for a clear view down the lengths of their bodies. There was his hand, long and pale, stroking slowly and nervously over his own erection - nothing he’d not seen before. But there too was Greg, his thicker cock and broader hands, mere inches away. “Oh,” Mycroft said. 

Greg hummed and nuzzled at him, bumping their foreheads and noses. “Yeah.”

“Say something,” Mycroft begged, both terrified and desperate to speed his hand. 

“Like what?”

“Anything.”

Greg kissed him and shifted even closer, their knuckles almost brushing. “I would love,” he said after a moment, “to suck your cock one day. Good Christ.”

Mycroft groaned and laughed at once, nearly delirious. “Oh?”

“Just look at it,” Greg murmured, burrowing his face in close so he could whisper filthily into Mycroft’s ear, the hot wash of his breath sending sparks down Mycroft’s neck and shoulders, through his chest and straight to his balls. “I could spend hours worshipping it. Licking and tasting, swallowing it over and over. Might take a bit of warm up to get it all down my throat, but—” 

“Oh, god,” Mycroft moaned, heat suffusing his body from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. “I—” 

“I’ve been waiting for this,” Greg said, while Mycroft watched his hand twist on the upstroke. “I knew you would look fantastic like this. I knew the blush would go all over.” 

Mycroft wanted to protest that the blush was more flush than anything else, red and splotchy, embarrassing and not at all attractive - not like Greg’s eyes that darkened and smouldered when he was aroused, or the graceful motion of his body as he rolled his hips to thrust into his own grip. He tipped his face in for a kiss instead of trying to speak, thrilled when Greg insinuated his free hand under Mycroft’s head to wrap around and hold him closer. 

Their hands brushed, Greg’s on its way down, and Mycroft’s the opposite. Mycroft gasped at the contact and drew his hand away entirely. He spoke a nanosecond after the thought entered his mind, knowing that he wanted it, and knowing better than to allow himself to hesitate and lose his nerve. “Will you touch me? Please?”

Greg seemed to freeze. “Really? You’re sure?”

Mycroft nodded, almost frantic. 

“Can I—” Greg tilted his body forward, and Mycroft watched, fascinated and practically burning with anticipation, as the slick heads of their cocks just barely touched. “At the same time?”

Mycroft swallowed another moan and caught his breath. “Yes, please, that—  yes.” 

“Wait—” Greg rolled away and up to shuck his jeans and pants the rest of the way off. “You too?”

Mycroft startled, “Oh! Yes—” 

“Here,” Greg said, and knee-walked over to help, completely naked and so distracting that Mycroft barely paid attention to the fact that he, too, completely bared. Greg threw the last of the clothing off the side of the bed and paused. “Wow.”

Mycroft blinked and realized that he was being looked at - truly looked at - and that he had free reign to look his fill as well. Greg’s body was the kind Mycroft had always envied, but now all he could feel was a strange sense of pride. I get to touch him. “You are…” he shook his head. “Beautiful.”

Greg crawled over Mycroft’s body, his thighs insinuating themselves between Mycroft’s, inducing his legs to open and accommodate him. He leaned in on his forearms, and kissed a line up the side of Mycroft’s throat, slow and soft. “I want to make you feel good,” he said. “You’ve waited a long time. I want it to be good for you.”

Mycroft stared up at Greg’s cracked ceiling and felt, in a way, a bit cracked himself. He had been so caught up that he hadn’t realized that what they were doing could probably be considered sex.  He wouldn’t have thought that the last time, just him touching Greg, would count for much, but this? It would.

He closed his eyes and sought Greg’s mouth, which gently met his. Mycroft couldn’t bring himself to speak; to ask. He pushed up against Greg’s body, and then felt for Greg’s shoulders to pull him down.

Greg made a small, helpless little sound as his cock finally slotted snugly up against Mycroft’s, and he rolled his hips slowly with a long, shaky moan. “Ohhh, okay—” 

Mycroft was breathless and happy; crowded and pinned down, and curiously glad to be. He knew with bone-deep certainty, just from that first taste of friction, that he could come like this, and soon.  

Greg rolled them to the side, hooking his thigh over Mycroft’s for leverage, and rutted against him slowly, his hands framing Mycroft’s face while they kissed and gasped. “Fuck,” he growled, breaking away to pant against Mycroft’s cheek. “Good?”

Mycroft nodded, unable to find words. He knotted the fingers of one hand in Greg’s sweaty hair, and then, on some sort of instinct, dug the fingers of the other into the firm muscle of Greg’s backside to urge on his movements. 

It was all so inelegant: nearly getting trapped by their trousers, being unable to commit to any sustained action, rolling around the bed and seeking out friction in any which way they could, and kissing wetly and sloppily just because it felt so good. 

It all felt so good. Mycroft wanted to stretch it out, and chase it to its end. He wanted Greg to do something else and never stop doing exactly what he was doing - forever. 

Then, Greg pushed up on his elbow and looked down at Mycroft, soft-eyed and breathing heavily, as he took them both in hand, keeping up the steady thrusts of his pelvis as he twisted his fist, slick with sweat and precome, over their lengths, and then up and over both leaking heads. “I’m close,” he said. “Don’t wanna come before you. This is all about you, do you hear me? I’ll do anything you ask me to, Mycroft. Anything at all.” 

“Just keep touching me,” Mycroft managed. “And kiss me, please.”

Greg surged forward, his arm cocked at an awkward angle, they were so close, but still thrusting, still stroking, as he licked and bit at Mycroft’s mouth. “Come on, sweetheart,” his voice rumbled between them. “Give it to me, I want to feel you.” 

Mycroft felt drunk; electrocuted. He panted and begged for more kisses with the angle of his mouth, with the grasping of his hands, and he was given them freely as the slide and friction of their bodies began to crescendo in his nerve endings. 

“That’s it,” Greg gasped, full of wonder. “Mycroft, look at you. So beautiful, there you go.”

Mycroft’s orgasm was a screaming thing, an earthquake and a wildfire - the sort of descriptors at which Mycroft would have rolled his eyes, once. It poured out of him and seized his muscles all at once. He was vaguely aware of the sounds he made, which only got louder with every pulse. Greg leaned his upper body away so he could watch semen splatter their bellies, still rutting his cock against Mycroft’s and then—  

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Greg whimpered, and Mycroft couldn’t see straight, couldn’t move his drunken muscles to look between them, but he knew Greg was coming too, his arm trembling as he tried to remain propped up on his elbow, his wet hand stilling on them both. Mycroft shook, and watched Greg’s face crumple with pleasure. His eyes screwed shut, and his teeth sunk into his lower lip, and sweat shone across his forehead. It was transcendent. 

Greg’s eyes opened slowly, as if he had to force them to blink, and he stared first at his own hand and then at Mycroft’s face, stunned. Mycroft thought his own expression must be the same. 

“Well,” Greg huffed. “That. Worked out quite well.”

Mycroft experienced a split-second wave of confusion, but it was immediately subsumed by amusement and fondness. He laughed, and realized his fingers were still dug hard into the muscles of Greg’s shoulder and arse. He forced himself to unclench them, to trail them up, one raking through Greg’s damp hair to pull him down. 

They kissed; it was easy. 



***



Mycroft was surprised at the things which came after. 

First, there was… cuddling. 

“Do you mind?” Greg murmured, purred really, having hastily cleaned them both - once again with his discarded t-shirt. He was now chivvying up against Mycroft’s side, all warm skin and wandering hands. 

“Mind?”

“Just a little cuddle, I mean,” Greg said. “It’s… I can be a little clingy. It’s just that I like it, after.”

Mycroft realized that he could - perhaps - move a bit, himself. Participate in this activity. He lifted an arm in invitation. “I don’t think I mind at all.”

Greg grinned and slid in close, pressing his nose to the center of Mycroft’s chest and then nuzzling at the hair there in a way that Mycroft found so terribly endearing that he found himself wrapping his arms around Greg’s shoulders on pure instinct, shimmying his body down to hold him fully without considering it first at all. In the back of his mind, the list of chemicals released by what they had just done flew by as if on a news ticker. Mycroft ignored it. Chemistry was wonderful, but he wanted to think of other things, just now. 

“Think you might be secretly clingy, too,” Greg mused, and pecked a sweet kiss to Mycroft’s nose. “How are you? First orgasm in the presence of another person. Good? Bad? Indifferent?”

“You are well aware that it was good,” Mycroft scoffed. 

Greg laughed. “Yeah, it looked like it was good. It was gorgeous. You’re…” He shook his head. “It was amazing, for me at least, I hope it was as amazing for you.” 

Mycroft had never felt anything like he had that morning. He didn’t know how to describe it, just yet. But now he felt incredibly, deeply relaxed. Wrung out and stretched like caramel. He felt comfortable. So he merely held Greg closer, and hummed against the crown of his head, and said, “It was.” 



***



Later, Greg hustled them both into the tiny shower in his tiny bathroom, and Mycroft discovered the strange intimacy of bathing with another person. 

He liked it. 



***



They sat on the sofa with Seven between them, paws batting at their hands as he basked in the glow of double the attention, and stared at each other over mugs of tea.

Mycroft, clad in his trousers and one of Greg’s t-shirts, felt suddenly uncomfortable. He didn’t know if he should offer to leave, or offer to order them both some supper. It was nearing that time. But Greg didn’t seem bothered about such things. He did seem to be rolling something back and forth in his mouth, his eyes a bit narrowed in an expression Mycroft was surprised to realize he could read; Greg had something a bit awkward that he wanted to say without upsetting Mycroft’s sensibilities. 

“Is something the matter?” Mycroft asked, aiming his voice somewhere in the vicinity of casual concern, but likely sounding a bit snippish. Impatience was a flaw of his, he knew, and the strange discomfort was beginning to ratchet up into a distracting white noise at the back of his mind. He struggled to focus on what he wanted to say, on keeping his tone level. “Only you seem slightly anxious. Quiet.”

Greg huffed and shook his head, resting one arm on a bent knee, all twisted up on his sofa cushion in a position Mycroft couldn’t imagine was comfortable. “It’s not anything the matter, it’s just… I wanted to say that I should’ve offered to use a condom, before. I mean. It’s all fine - I know you’re clean for obvious reasons, and I’m tested regularly and haven’t been active in months so I knew I wasn’t putting you at any risk. But I feel like I should tell you that anyone else… I mean… when you do this with anyone else, you should expect them to offer. You should insist, you know?” 

Mycroft had to bite down on the corner of his lip to keep from laughing outright; he knew it would come out as a derisive bark. He knew he would sound angry, and in a way, he was. Or, perhaps not angry. Annoyed. Miffed. “Yes, well.” He rolled his eyes and set down his tea. “Thank you, but I have in fact received the ‘wear a raincoat, Agent’ talk a time or two before. My superiors being unaware of my inadequacies, of course.” 

Greg sucked in a breath, held it for a moment, and then audibly swallowed a laugh. “Ah.” 

“Quite.” 

“Agent, eh? I sort of had a feeling.” Greg nudged at Mycroft with one foot. “Are you, in fact, even more James Bond than my cat?”

Mycroft rolled his eyes again, this time with fondness in the action, and shook his head. “Hardly. And I get further and further from it with every passing day.”

“Why?”

A question Mycroft used to ask himself with great frequency, but had since stopped trying to suss out. Why, indeed? He shrugged, eyes on the cat sprawled between them, more 007 than Mycroft had ever wanted or hoped to be, and at the same time, exactly as much as Mycroft ever was. Tuxedo markings. The right trappings. But in the end, just a skittish creature.

How disgustingly maudlin. 

Mycroft shook his head in an attempt to clear it and met Greg’s soft, waiting gaze. “I’m not particularly cut out for field work.” 

“Really? Why not?”

“Why are fish unsuited to a life on land?” Mycroft rubbed absently at his thigh. “I sustained some damage, last time I attempted it.” 

Suddenly, Greg’s hand joined his, touching lightly between Mycroft’s fingers before trailing down to his shin. 

“Ah,” Mycroft said. “You noticed.”

“Just a few scars. They look new, but neat.”

“Surgery to repair broken bones,” Mycroft said, reaching for Greg’s hand and bringing it back up his leg. “This one, a stab wound. Luckily missed the femoral artery. Done with a wickedly sharp blade, and cleanly. There is another at my side.”

“Christ,” Greg breathed, and he pressed his fingers gently to Mycroft’s muscle. “Does it still hurt?”

“Only a little, and just because the scar tissue is still rather tight. Sometimes the pain is psychosomatic. Stress will sometimes bring that on.” 

“I’m sorry.” Greg laid his palm flat over Mycroft’s leg. “That’s… it must have been frightening.”

It was, Mycroft thought. And I don’t ever want to do it again. I am a coward, and my career as I knew it is over. “It was not particularly enjoyable,” he said. 

Greg set aside his own mug of tea so he could slide closer along the sofa cushions. His movement upset Seven, who vacated the premises with a trill. Greg reached out, arm resting along the back of the couch, and caressed the side of Mycroft’s neck with the backs of his fingers. “You’re allowed to tell me things. You don’t have to say anything you aren’t allowed to say, obviously. But we’re friends, aren’t we? I told you all about my awful childhood, after all.”

“You told me a bit,” Mycroft said, smiling despite himself. 

“I’ll tell you more about me if you tell me more about you,” Greg replied. “How’s that? Seems like I barely know you at all.” 

Mycroft finally recognized, then, how overwhelming all of it was. While part of him wanted badly to simply pour all of his life out for Greg to sift through, the rational side of his brain, somehow still functioning, threw up a thousand arguments against doing so. Words like classified and too much were sufficient to stop him from unburdening himself. 

He needed more time to think. He needed to get up now, and get out of this flat - the quiet bubble of it, the sense memory of what they had done, and Greg’s sincere eyes. He had to go, before he allowed the flood of chemicals still coursing through him to loosen his lips. Or, barring that, before all the disorganized data in his head gave him a migraine. 

He shook his head. “Not tonight.”

Greg’s brow furrowed fleetingly, but he nodded. “Yeah, alright. Fair enough.”

“Thank you for this,” Mycroft continued, covering Greg’s hand with his own and trapping it against his cheek. He turned his face and kissed the palm before drawing it away and setting Greg’s hand against the back of the sofa. “I really… I truly can’t explain to you how much I… it was very good.”

Greg chuckled, low and sweet. “For me, too,” he said. “Seems like you’re about to bolt on me.” 

“Sorry,” Mycroft managed. “I am. I need to.” 

Greg nodded. “Okay. Help you find your things?”

“No.” Mycroft forced himself to stand. “I can manage. Stay here, finish your tea.”



***



At the door, Greg’s hands rubbed gentle circles over Mycroft’s chest under his jacket. “Thank you for today,” he said. “You’re sure I can’t tempt you to stay for dinner? Go for dinner? Whatever?”

Mycroft wanted to say yes. To tip into Greg’s hands and take all of their clothes off again and just pretend nothing new had happened. Pretend he could stay in this bubble forever. But he knew himself. If he stayed, he would overwhelm himself with all the data he couldn’t parse - at least not without putting Greg off entirely. He would lose track of himself, and suffer for it. He needed space to process all of this, and to analyze it. He did the reasonable thing and kissed Greg goodbye, realizing he hadn’t done so before, and almost changing his mind as those broad palms trailed up from his chest to his face, holding him there for a longer kiss. 

How did Greg know that Mycroft would like being held in place so much? How did he do such things? 

“Thank you,” Mycroft said, stepping back to force himself not to just keep going and going. “This was…” He didn’t know yet, what it was. “Thank you.”

“Call me,” Greg said gently, smiling. “Okay?”

“Yes. Of course. I will.” Mycroft nodded and opened the door. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

“You, too,” Greg murmured.

Mycroft told himself not to turn back to look at him as he left. 

It was difficult. 



***



At home, he stood in the formal sitting room and did not see its walls. He picked over the fluttering photographs and pages of transcript tossed all over his mind palace, unmoving. He’d fully intended to feed the cat and then do this on the roof, but he had been sinking into memories before the door fully closed behind him, and his feet had brought him here. 

You’re so lovely, flashed past with the image of Greg’s eyes closed beneath his furrowed brow. This is all about you, do you hear me? I’ll do anything you ask me to, Mycroft. Anything at all.

Mycroft vaguely registered that he was hard in his trousers, but it was far from relevant now. He swayed on his feet and had to steady himself with a hand on the back of the settee. 

He thought of the heat of Greg’s skin on his, the rough pads of his fingers working over Mycroft’s nipples, gripping his cock. I would love to suck your cock one day. The words packed as much punch in memory as they had the first time. Mycroft couldn’t believe how easily filth poured from Greg, and how it never sounded ridiculous. How it went straight to Mycroft’s hindbrain like lightning. He had to steady himself with both hands, now, head hanging down as he struggled to focus and slow his breathing, even as he experienced the sense memory of Greg thrusting against him, closer than any person had ever been before, his fingers threaded in Mycroft’s hair as his breath gusted hot over Mycroft’s ear. Give it to me, I want to feel you. 

Mycroft remembered, with a brief flash of embarrassment, how quickly he had nearly begged to be touched. He grasped for the moment, searching for it among the jumble of images and sensations, and tried to examine it. What had made him do it? What had made it feel so possible, so essential, for him to have Greg’s hands on him in that way? Why had it been so good? Why did he want to do it again, right this instant, so badly?

He was at a loss to explain it. 

It took him what felt like hours to organize things enough that he would be able to function. Doing so was the mental equivalent to gathering a scattered stack of papers into a neat sheaf and tapping their edges on the surface of a desk. Mycroft felt that this visualization was as good as any, and let it materialize in his mind palace. He left the papers on top of a gleaming, empty desk, where he could come back to them at a better time, and allowed himself to once again become aware of his surroundings. 

The stuffy, outdated decor of the sitting room was almost a shock after having submerged himself in the clean, comfortable surroundings of Greg’s flat again. Mycroft looked around and thought: I need to do better. I can do better.

He moved to the kitchen, where he fed Judy and absently ate a piece of toast, still turning over his thoughts. 

He’s so damnably good-looking. And kind. He’s so… easy. Easy to talk to, to be with. Easy to want.

Mycroft supposed such things were important even in a strictly sexual, friends-with-benefits arrangement. Mycroft wouldn’t know, obviously, what was normal. But he was fairly certain that maintaining some distance would be a necessary part of the deal. Mycroft felt dangerously close to failing at that. But how could one tell? What were the differences between friendship (with sex) and an actual relationship?

Ironic. Mycroft had waited twenty five years to manage sex, thinking that when he finally did, he would understand some essential truth about the business, only to buy himself even more uncertainty. 

“I still don’t understand people,” he told Judy, bewildered.

She cleaned a speck of food from her whiskers, and looked at him, as she often did, like he was the world’s most perfect idiot. 

And then, his mother called.



Chapter Text

The work week was curiously easy. Mycroft entered the office early Monday morning, long before Larry, or even Alicia, and managed to clear his inbox before lunch. As a reward, he took himself around the corner for an illicit almond pastry, knowing that when he suffered through lunch with his mother that week he would stick to his diet just to spite her. 

You’re genetically lanky, darling, I don’t know where you get the idea that one decent meal will do any harm. 

Mycroft bought two pastries and ate them outside, idly people-watching, seeing how quickly he could deduce them before they left his eyeline, just because he could. It was half reflex, half game, a little loosening of his grip to stretch his mind like a muscle. Coincidentally, the exercise handily backburnered or silenced all other intrusive thought processes for the remainder of his lunch break. 

After lunch, a bit high on sugar and still buzzing with the strange sense of purpose and surety with which he had woken that morning, Mycroft decided to take some initiative and make some calls in regard to several missing pieces of key information he needed in order to finish compiling his strategy brief. 

By six, he had managed to irritate half of the Home Office, and genuinely piss off Basil fucking Chapman. Mycroft didn’t feel one iota of remorse. Basil should have thought twice before being so boorish, if he didn’t want his worm-tongued, hamfisted lack of prowess to be used against him. Cooperate, or have his awkward fumbling become water cooler gossip. A simple deal. 

Mycroft left work having successfully avoided Alicia’s sharp eyes and smirks all day. It was likely that she could read it all over him, what he’d done with Greg. Oddly enough, Mycroft didn’t care. In fact, he was glad. Someone should know. He couldn’t very well go around bragging that he had accomplished the amazing feat of achieving the fulfillment of a basic human instinct, but…

Some part of him wanted to. Some part of him felt very smug. But he didn’t have time to dwell on that. He set it aside, and refocused. By the end of the day Alicia’s smirks had shifted to wide-eyed incredulity. 

“Are you having some sort of episode?” She demanded, gathering her things to leave for the day while Mycroft crossed several more things off the list he’d composed after lunch.

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about,” Mycroft sniffed. “Leaving so early? You arrived late today.”

“Don’t be a prig, Mycroft.” Alicia kicked his chair on her ways past. “Try not to provoke anyone in the foreign office while you’re here on your own.”

Mycroft muttered something about what the simpletons at the foreign office could do with their memorandums, but Alicia was already gone.

Mycroft walked home in the dark, and allowed himself to think about it for the first time all day. The morning had been strange; Mycroft had woken with the intense urge to call Greg. To stay home ‘sick’ from work and invite Greg to come meet him in bed. Vaguely disturbed by his own out-of-character thoughts, Mycroft had shoved that aside perhaps more viciously than was warranted.

When his morning tea brought to mind a memory of Greg’s hand on his thigh, Mycroft sternly told himself that he was not to allow his thoughts to stray to Greg or the day before until he had managed to be at least marginally productive. Now that he had blown ‘marginally productive’ out of the water, Mycroft indulged himself.

It turned out that the urges from the morning were still there - t he feeling of wanting to act despite his better judgment prickled down his spine - h e had merely managed to temporarily mute them that morning. He wanted nothing more than to stop now, find a payphone, and call Greg begging to meet. To be touched like that again. But, while he may have been completely inexperienced, he knew what would make him look desperate, and that was calling the very next day pathetically asking for more, as if Greg had nothing better to do. He had a feeling, also, that giving in to the impulse would only serve to worsen the confusion he felt about the boundaries of their arrangement. He wouldn’t call Greg. Not today. 

Mycroft passed several phone booths and ignored them all, fist clenching when the urge to stop and reach for the change in his wallet became almost unbearable.

But it was alright. Mycroft, for the first time in a long time, did not see his return home after a hectic work day as walking into a void where a life ought to be. He felt at peace as he walked through London in the early dark, and still quite smug. His steps felt surer, his back straighter, knowing that, thought it would not be tonight, he could have that again. He could, within reason, ask for, and receive more. 

It was new, and a bit wonderful. 



***



Tuesday was even more productive than Monday. 

“Aren’t you on a roll,” Alicia remarked as Mycroft dropped his phone back in its cradle and crossed Sir Butler’s name off his list with two thick, satisfied red lines. 

“Am I?” replied Mycroft breezily, already drafting a memorandum to Sir Gillmore’s office. 

“You appear to be, yes,” Alicia drawled back. “Feeling particularly refreshed this week, Holmes?”

“Perhaps,” Mycroft said coolly. He refused to look up and give Alicia the satisfaction of drawing his attention away from today’s victory. He knew exactly what she was doing. Her sly glances and pointed snottiness the day before hadn’t worked, so now she was going for the direct approach. Mycroft would not be distracted. He would not. “What business is it of yours?”

“None,” she said. “But I’m pleased to see it.”

At the sincerity of her tone, Mycroft did pause his pen’s motion and look up. 

“I do mean it.” She stood, purse already over her shoulder. “Do you want to go to lunch?”

Mycroft, caught off guard, allowed a small, genuine smile for her. “I would like to, but unfortunately will be going off-premises for lunch with my mother tomorrow, so I’ll have to decline for today.” 

“Understood.” Alicia made for the door, then pivoted on her heels and approached his desk. “Mycroft.” She tapped a finger against the wall as she leaned there. “I’m sorry if I’ve been harsh or overbearing towards you.”

Now this was quite a surprise. “Oh?”

“I know that I have been, as a matter of fact,” she continued. “It was well-meant. You are the best of us, Holmes. Always have been. I couldn’t stand to see you wasted.” 

Mycroft set down his pen. “This is high praise.” 

“It is. I wanted to say it, because I will be submitting my notice, soon.”

Mycroft, having been on fire all day, his every instinct correct, felt a sense of whiplash as the smoothness which had carried him through came to a screeching halt. “What?” 

“Yes,” she said, as if he shouldn’t have been surprised at all. “I’ve decided to pursue a graduate degree. I’ll begin at Trinity in the fall.”

“Why on Earth?” Mycroft pushed back from his desk and stood. “Whatever would possess you to do such a thing? This work is your calling, if such a thing exists.”

Alicia smiled wanly, and held up her hands. The underside of her left ring finger revealed a gold band. Mycroft rounded the desk. How had he missed it? He took her hand and turned it. The diamond was just shy of gaudily gigantic.

“When?” he demanded.

“Michael proposed last night.” She curled her fingers around Mycroft’s and squeezed before taking her hand away. “I can’t stay on if I’m going to marry the next Lord Smallwood. Michael’s father is unwell, as you know. It’s time I think about my future, where I want to go. I was never going to be able to do this forever. I’ll be no good in the field after, and I don’t want to do desk work for the rest of my life. No offense.”

“None taken,” Mycroft murmured, mentally swatting away thoughts of how desperately he did not want to be stuck as an analyst forever, either. Thoughts of how he was never meant to be. He supposed, now that he was thinking about it, that he had always known that Alica wasn’t meant to be, either. “This is what you want? To be Lady Smallwood?”

She shrugged one shoulder. “It’s what I have to want, if I want Michael. And I do. I’ll read law. A respectable occupation. Impressive. His lot will think it very bold of a woman, because they all still live in the 1940s. Maybe I’ll really kill them and go into politics, eventually.”

“You would make a very good barrister,” Mycroft said. “And a terrifying politician.”

“I know.” Alicia smiled. “Thank you.”

“You are the most irritating woman.” Mycroft swallowed, unaccountably emotional. “I will miss you in this office.”

“Well, steady on,” she said, voice a bit high with false cheer. “I’ll be here another month at least. And there’s always Larry.” 

“Oh, of course.” Mycroft smiled weakly. “My new bosom friend.” 

“Is that what I am?”

“The closest thing I have, unfortunately.”

Alicia huffed. “Sad for you,” she teased. “Alright. I’m off out, I’ve got dinner with both sets of parents to break the news. Lady Smallwood’s going to have kittens. She’s always hated me.”

“Good luck,” Mycroft said, knowing that any other two friends would have hugged at this stage of the conversation. But Alicia simply took a step back, and then another, turning for the door. 

“Mycroft?”

“Yes?”

“Get out of this office. Keep up this tear you have been on. Please. Don’t waste yourself. What happened to you was terrible and that you survived it is extraordinary; no one judges you for it. We’re all just waiting for you to do the next extraordinary thing.”

Wonders would never cease. Mycroft nodded, numb with shock. “Yes. Alright. Thank you, Alicia.”

“Goodnight, old friend,” she said, and left him with his thoughts.



***



Lunch with Mummy on Wednesday turned out to be lunch with Mummy and Sherlock. Mycroft spotted his brother’s curly head the moment he entered the tearoom. 

“Shouldn’t you be at school?” Mycroft demanded, dropping into his chair and mentally shoving down a rising sense of panic. He had been braced for his mother, but not for his brother’s sharp-eyed stare, which was already scanning his person. “It’s the middle of the week.”

“Sherly came home a bit early for Easter,” Mummy informed him cheerily. “Isn’t it lovely?”

“There is no possible way you aren’t missing lectures for the rest of the week,” Mycroft said to Sherlock without looking at him. To his mother, he said, “Did it not occur that he is, in fact, playing truant?

“Oh, it’s fine,” his mother said, waving both hands as if to shoo away a cloud of gnats. “I’m sure Sherlock has it all in hand, don’t you darling?”

Sherlock hummed, eyes narrowed at Mycroft, still assessing. Mycoft rolled his own, well aware that Sherlock could deduce whatever he wanted without this little show. Mycroft had half a mind to pour ice water on his theatrics and inform their mother in no uncertain terms that Sherlock certainly had nothing in hand, and that she was a fool for buying into the sham.  

Then again, Mycroft really had no desire to put up with Sherlock’s strop, sure to be mostly breaking-and-entering-based, for the remainder of the holiday break if he did. And more than that, he hated to upset their mother. 

“Interesting,” Sherlock intoned, lifting his teacup to his lips, but only for the look of it. “Mummy—”

They were mercifully interrupted by the waiter, and after their orders were taken, Mummy launched into a detailed outline of their plans for the coming Easter holiday ( Won’t you come, Myc, please? Auntie Roberta would be so pleased to see you!) 

One glance at Sherlock’s nearly-flat expression and Mycroft knew his brother would conveniently disappear from the premises of their childhood home long before Roberta showed her face that Sunday. The woman insisted on kissing everyone. On the lips. Sherlock and Mycroft had both suffered quite enough of her lipstick smears as children, and had dedicated themselves to avoiding them the moment they were old enough. Mycroft knew Sherlock resented that Mycroft had achieved that level of independence much earlier by dint of being older. Mentally, he wished Sherlock  luck in his endeavours. Some things required brotherly solidarity. 

“Mycroft’s got a boyfriend,” Sherlock said when the conversation lulled. “Didn’t you notice, Mummy?” 

Mycroft sagged a bit in his seat and sighed. This was all he needed. “Sherlock,” he sighed.

“Oh!” Mummy clapped one hand over her heart and the other over Mycroft’s wrist where it rested on the table. The vigor of her grip upset his tea and it splashed, soaking into his shirt cuff. “Oh, Myc! Tell me everything! Is he a coworker? He must be, you never mention going anywhere else.” 

Mycroft sighed again. That tea stain was going to irk him all day. “There is no he. Sherlock is mistaken.” 

“There is no way you gave your self that mostly-faded suck mark behind your ear,” Sherlock snipped. “Thought it was gone, did you?”

Mycroft grit his teeth. He hadn’t realized there was a mark there at all. He couldn’t see behind his own bloody ear. “You’re mistaken.” 

Sherlock’s lip curled. “Tell me that you didn’t do something as gauche as lose your virginity by engaging in a one-night stand.” He shuddered. “Or worse. Did you visit a public restroom?”

“Sherlock!” Mummy shot him a quelling look. “Don’t be vulgar.”

Mycroft sucked a breath through his teeth and then spoke with them tightly clenched. “Sherlock.”

“Besides,” Mummy was already nattering on. “Don’t be ridiculous. Myc is a twenty-five year old man. Of course this isn’t his first gentleman, but perhaps you’ll want to introduce me to this one?”

Mycroft kept such an iron grip on his reaction, intensely careful not to let Sherlock see so much as a twitch of an eyelid when their mother said ‘of course this isn’t his first gentleman,’ that for a moment he worried he might dislocate something. 

“No,” he said, clipped, and removed his napkin from his lap, placing it beside his plate. He could just leave. Get lunch from the cart at the office.

“Oh, don’t,” Mummy begged. 

“Please, Myc,” Sherlock simpered. “I promise to behave.”

Mycroft wanted nothing more than to wrestle his idiot brother to the ground like he had never actually done in their entire lives, because Sherlock was always so small and then because really, Mycroft was too mature for it. Still, he knew the desire very well. He restrained himself, and instead cast his gaze over the entirety of Sherlock’s person, looking for some thread to pull as payback. 

Sherlock, still all limbs and little grace, but out of the spotty phase at last, with his hair worn too long as always, and his clothes impeccable but his person probably slightly grubby underneath. He looked the same as always, and at once shockingly different. Mycroft hadn’t seen him since Christmas. 

Still - other than the obvious differences which would come with nearly four months in the life of an adolescent almost-man (Mycroft really did need to attempt, during this lunch, to assess how Sherlock was getting on without a watchful eye on him at all times) - there was… nothing. 

Nothing. 

The realization sent Mycroft’s blood running cold, and he knew the moment that he realized it, it showed on his face. He knew, as well, that Sherlock saw that it did. His brother’s shoulders stiffened and he turned his attention to the tabletop, refusing to look Mycroft in the eye. 

What are you up to, brother mine? What are you trying to hide?

Between one breath, one useless deduction, and the next, the server arrived with their plates. 



***



Sherlock climbed into a waiting taxi without so much as a glance at Mycroft, having said nothing during lunch besides ‘pass the salt’ after his little attempt at a coup. 

Mummy pinched Mycroft’s cheeks and then yanked him down so she could kiss them for good measure. “Oh, Mycroft.” She cupped his cheeks in her hands, and he allowed it. She was his mother, after all. “Please come home to visit soon, won’t you? I have boxes for you.”

She’d had boxes for him for years. Mycroft sometimes feared that if he took them, she and his father would simply disappear from England all together, leaving him truly and completely alone in the wilderness, to attempt to care for Sherlock. For years, Mycroft had indulged himself in this fear with the idea that he simply didn’t have time to be saddled with his brother so completely. Now, he could admit that while it was perhaps a slightly dramatic fear to have, the reason it was so awful to think of had nothing to do with his schedule and everything to do with the crush of responsibility. 

He could read her intent all over her. He could see that she was chafing against the empty nest. If the increasingly frequent trips to increasingly strange locales weren’t evidence enough, the lack of calluses from gardening. She hated being in Sussex. Mycroft carefully skipped any detail that spoke to the state of his parents’ marriage. God, but sometimes Mycroft wanted to take all of this off like a heavy winter coat. He kept his face as bland as ever in the face of her wheedling. 

“I’ll visit, Mummy,” he placated, and kissed her cheek. She was getting lines there. Smile lines, though. That was good to see. “Safe journey home.”

She squeezed him around the middle instead of backing away like any respectable mother would. “Bring me a nice boy, Myc. Soon.” 

“Absolutely not,” he said, but it came out softer than he’d meant, and he let her squeeze him again. 

“Bye now, darling,” she said, and then she was in the cab with Sherlock and they were off. 

Mycroft took a breath of cool, nearly-spring air and settled himself before moving to hail his own cab. He wondered what Greg was doing now. Still - he hadn’t called him yet, and didn’t plan to do so today. Certainly not after all of that.  

Though, he did think: If Easter is Sunday, he’s likely going to be on holiday from his courses all next week. I wonder…



***



On Friday, Mycroft arrived early and was already at his desk when the morning interoffice mail delivery dropped into his inbox. The usual packets and pointless agendas which would surely be abandoned mid-conference were there, as was a summons signed with a simple, green-inked “C.”

“Fuck,” Mycroft said succinctly, just as Alicia breezed through the door, a chattering Larry on her heels. 

“Alright, Holmes?” Alicia wondered, already craning her neck to see the letter in his hand. 

“Yes,” Mycroft snapped, folding it away from view. “Fine.”

“Lovely! Lunch plans today?”

Mycroft forced himself to stay calm. “I have a last-minute meeting at eleven,” he said. “After that, I’m not certain.”

“Let’s all go to lunch!” Lawrence clapped his hands together. “Maybe cut out altogether a bit early, eh?”

“No,” said Mycroft. 

“Oooh!” Alicia nodded. “Marvelous idea!”

“I’m not,” Mycroft insisted. “And I bloody well mean it, Alicia. No.”

“Pub Friday!” She insisted.

“Pub Friday!” Larry echoed. 

“We are not at University any longer,” Mycroft attempted. 

“Pub Friday!”

“Pub Friday, Mycroft!”

“Come on, old boy!”

“Please!” 

“Pretty please!” 

“Live a little! We won’t invite old whatshisname who you hate so much.”

“Of course we won’t, we never do!”

“Pub Friday!”

“Pub! Friday!”

Mycroft pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to turn away from them both, but one of them reached out with a foot to stop the turn of his chair. Mycroft opened his eyes. Alicia’s long, stockinged leg nearly rested in his lap. Of course. “Fine,” he growled. “Now leave me in peace, children.”

“Yes!” Lawrence whispered behind him and Alicia obliged him and turned the chair for him, facing him toward his desk. 

“Excellent,” he heard her say. “See you at the Arms whenever you get free.” 



***



Mycroft was in front of the pub by three o’clock, far earlier than he had expected. In truth, he had been half-convinced that he would never make it there. 

Part of him had wondered if he would be dismissed in that meeting. If he would be more than dismissed. He didn’t have a clue what would be done with him if he were found to be unsuited even for the desk work he’d been doing. Would he be thrown into a van, bag over his head, and dumped in some black site for the foreseeable future? Did he know too much? Mycroft never knew where the line was. He knew… probably quite a lot more than anyone thought he did. There had been times, over the years, when he had dearly wished he could turn his eyes and ears off. To take several steps backward and out of the upward trajectory Uncle Rudy had ensured for him. To slow his brain. To not know. 

He considered himself lucky to be standing on the pavement outside the pub local to his office, head spinning with the mostly positive implications of what had been a truly bizarre meeting with the chief of the SIS. A man who had been close with his uncle. A man who knew Mycroft, or of Mycroft, well enough to have the shape of the volume of things Mycroft knew. 

He’d needed to take a break after. A walk to clear his head and untilt the world. 

It hadn’t worked. 

He could see the flash of Alicia’s blond bun through the smoke-fogged window of the pub. He could go in, and drink the entire thing into oblivion. He could allow himself to be poured into a taxi hours from now, and wake up with a pounding headache. It might force him to lie very still and make sense of himself. 

As he considered it, Mycroft could hear the echo of the baffling words he had heard that afternoon. 

Whatever you’ve been doing, keep it up. 

Mycroft had struggled to understand what was being said to him, and it had taken him half a beat too long to say, Yes, sir. Of course.

He let his eyes refocus on his own reflection in the glass. 

You seem to have turned a corner, Holmes. It’s heartening to see, according to everyone who works with you from a supervisory position. You seem to be finding your feet again. It’s no surprise that it took some time. From what I understand you had a rather rough go of it. 

A rough go of it. Mycroft shifted his weight from foot to foot, felt the slight stiffness, felt and ignored the urge to press a palm to his own ribs, his thigh. It had been putting it lightly, but at the same time had been curiously sympathetic. Mycroft had not, at any point in the last year, felt that anyone did or should feel sympathy for him. To find out that he’d been wrong was both irritating and a relief.

No one knows what to do with you, you know.

Mycroft had known. He had thought it meant that they would do nothing. That he would wither behind a desk, wasting Uncle Rudy’s legacy and all of his education and training as a form of punishment for his failure. 

He should do something. Go into the pub. Go home. 

The door of the pub swung open and Alicia hung out of the doorway, one shrewd eyebrow up. “Have you been sacked?”

Mycroft blinked. “Not as such, no. Apparently I have ‘rediscovered my confidence’ and ‘turned a corner.’ I’ve been told to… ‘keep it up,’ whatever that means.” 

Alicia stepped fully out and onto the pavement, bringing the smell of cigarettes and beer with her. The door to the pub shut behind her, muffling the noise of music and early drinkers shouting over it, already several pints in. “They’re right, you know.”

“Are they?”

“Rumor has it you’ve begun making recommendations in your reports of late, and not simply providing probabilities. You’re decisive. Authoritative.” Alicia stepped forward, bringing them toe to toe. “I thought you must be doing it on purpose.” 

“I…” Mycroft sighed. “Self-reflection is not my strong suit, these days.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.” Alicia kicked out with one well-shod foot and nudged Mycroft about his ankle, playful the way she could sometimes be. The way she was when they were younger. “You’re welcome, by the way.”

“How is it that you get to take credit for my success?”

Alicia smirked. “You know.” 

“I assure you, I don’t.”

“You’ve been seeing him, haven’t you?”

Mycroft gaped at her. “I won’t dignify that with an answer.”

“Oh, come on, Mycroft.” Alicia rolled her eyes. “I’ll be gone soon, and then you’ll have no one to tell all your secrets to!” 

“I don’t, and have never, wished to tell any secrets to you, you harpy!” 

They stared at one another for a beat, for two, and broke at the same time, dissolving into snorts and giggles. 

“I’ll miss you when I go, you uptight bastard,” Alicia said, covering her grin with one hand. “Go call our mutual friend. You don’t need to waste the Friday before a holiday weekend on this lot.” 

“I don’t know,” Mycroft hedged. “He may be a bit… upset with me. I seem to have managed to forget to call for nearly a week. I should have, but… it’s been a long several days.”

“He’s a very forgiving sort,” Alicia said. “That is, I don’t know him particularly well personally, but he’s still friendly with Michael, so he must be.” 

“And you plan to marry this man who requires such a yielding personality? You?”

She gave him an impish smile and backed away toward the pub. “He has his merits. Some of which are known only to me.” 

“I shall take your word.” 

“Call him, stupid.” she said. “Bye.”

“Have a good evening, Alicia.” 

“You, too, Holmes.”



***



The call was answered after the first ring. “‘Lo?” 

Mycroft squared his shoulders in the phone booth and said, “Hello, Greg?” and then winced, because who else would it be?

There was a pause. “Mycroft?”

“Yes,” he replied, shoulders losing a bit of their steel. He hadn’t thought this through enough. He should have planned out his opening statements. What was it about Greg that made Mycroft forget how to communicate? “Sorry, yes,” he said again into the silence. “I… I’m sorry I haven’t called.” 

“Hmmm. Why didn’t you?”

“For various reasons, some of which are not presently clear even to me. I… know it is unforgivably rude.” 

Greg chuckled, and Mycroft felt himself relax, a split-second wince at his own stilted phrasing melting away. 

“I don’t know about unforgivable,” Greg said. “Everything okay?”

“I… yes, actually. Things are better today than they have been in a long time.” Mycroft sighed. “I’ve thought—  That is, you have been on my mind quite a lot.”

“So you didn’t call?” 

“I wasn’t certain when would be the appropriate time. And then I couldn’t decide what I would say.”

Greg huffed. “We’ve spoken on the phone several times before. You could have said anything.”

“I feel… awkward.”

“Oh.” A pause. “Did you not… was there something I did? Something you didn’t want?”

“Not that way,” Mycroft hurried to assure him. “I apologize, I’m not handling this well. Are you busy? I could… I could come to you?”

Greg sighed. “I’m on my way out, actually. Library. I need to get some study time in before things close down for the holiday. Just found out my tutor isn’t showing up to our meeting this evening, so I’m going to try and muddle through on my own. It’s hard to concentrate in the flat. Noisy neighbors.” 

Mycroft deposited more coins in the phone, not wanting to be cut short. “You’re seeing a tutor?” 

“Yeah,” Greg replied, a hint of embarrassment creeping in. “I left it too late to take a course in statistics. I need it to complete my degree, but. I’m just not built for numbers.”

Mycroft bit his lip and had a silent debate with himself, his own brain, quite suited to numbers actually, running odds that he couldn’t compute. “I… I could help with that. If you’re not too upset with me after our week of radio silence.”

“Oh?” 

“I like statistics.”

Greg’s voice was warm. “Of course you do. You’re sweet to offer, but I don’t want to steal your Friday evening from you.” 

Mycroft snorted, and then winced at the indelicate sound. “Sorry—  I don’t have plans. Consider a free tutoring session the least I owe you for behaving in such a rude manner. Please.”

Greg considered the offer in silence and Mycroft wondered, after a while, if he should dig in his pocket for more coins. “Alright,” he said at last. “I’ll give you the address. You have a pen?”

Mycroft smiled. “I can remember it.”



Chapter Text

Greg had been convinced, once Friday rolled around and he still hadn’t heard from Mycroft, that he never would. He could think of a hundred reasons it made sense. For one thing, he had accomplished - in a basic sense - what Mycroft had asked him to do in the first place. After, Mycroft had darted out of Greg’s flat like his feet were on fire, and Greg had worried that he’d come to the realization that he didn’t want to do this after all. Or, at least, not with Greg anymore. Greg spent the week alternating between telling himself to let it go, feeling rather rejected, and missing Mycroft - which he firmly told himself was absolutely inappropriate. They were casual friends who were doing a sex thing. They had nearly been an employee and employer. A hooker and a john, for Christ’s sake. 

So when Mycroft called, sounding stiff and apologetic, and then really, truly sorry and a bit lost, Greg practically melted, oozing in about twenty seven different directions to include relief, confusion, irritation, and unbearable, unwise fondness. 

“You don’t want to come all the way out to Elephant and Castle,” Greg had protested, a second after providing the location of the library. 

“Nonsense,” Mycroft had said. “Of course I do. I’m just across the Thames, anyway.” 

Greg should have protested, but he didn’t.

“I’ll probably beat you there, in fact,” Mycroft continued. “You could hail a cab. I’ll pay.” 

“No,” Greg said. “No, that’s alright. But I should go. I’ll… see you soon.” 

“Good,” Mycroft said, and rang off. 



***



What Greg couldn’t figure out was how he ended up crammed into a toilet cubicle in his University library’s loo, twenty minutes before closing, with Mycroft’s hand down his pants. 

Actually, he thought hysterically, I know exactly how he got here, and pretending I don’t is just denial. 

Because it had happened like this: 

Mycroft did, in fact, beat Greg to the front doors of the library. Greg had seen him from afar on his approach, and was reminded of that day at the Whitechapel Gallery. He thought of how that had been weeks ago, now. When he reached Mycroft, there was an awkward beat and then Mycroft spoke. 

“I… Again, I feel terrible for not calling.” 

“It would be poor form,” Greg said, “had it been a date. Just so you know.”

“I think it was probably poor form full stop.”

“Well, apology accepted. Shall we?”

Greg was a bit brisk, ushering Mycroft into the near-deserted library and finding one of his favorite study tables in a quiet corner well away from major pathways of foot traffic. 

He went about laying out his things while Mycroft set down his briefcase and started removing the top layer of his work clothes: jacket over the back of the chair, cufflinks in his pocket, sleeves rolled up to show his lovely forearms , and they sat. 

“I have a sheet of problems to work on. It’s extra credit, to make up for a test I fouled up pretty badly.” Greg slid it across the table so Mycroft could have a look. “I’ve been putting it off,” he said guiltily. “This stuff really makes my head spin. I managed to work through some of the first one.” 

Mycroft blinked down at it and nodded as his eyes darted quickly back and forth over the page. “Well, you’ve made a good start,” he said after a moment. “I would place good money, looking at this, on a bet that says you actually do know how to do it, but that the tediousness makes you tense, and then you make mistakes.”

Greg gaped at him. “Well fuck me, that’s astute.”

Mycroft’s lips twitched in one of his ironic little smiles. “I have been called worse,” he joked, and slid the worksheet back to Greg. “I have an experiment to propose.” 

“I’m listening.” 

“Keep working through the first set of data,” Mycroft said. “Whenever you feel your shoulders rising up around your ears, put them back down, and make small talk with me. If you hit on something you don’t actually understand, tell me, and I will help.”

Greg nodded slowly. “Tutored much, have you?”

“Taught my younger brother algebra and calculus, as a matter of fact.”

“He’s not extremely smart like you? Not some super genius?”

Mycroft huffed. “I have never claimed to be a super genius,” he said. Then, sheepishly, “I confess that when I taught him calculus, Sherlock was in fact ten years old.”

Greg knew he probably looked stupid, all wide-eyed and incredulous. “You’re kidding.”

“I never kid.” 

“Lies,” Greg said, then tore his eyes away from Mycroft’s gently crinkled, smiling ones to get his textbook open to the right page. “I assume you won’t take points off if I do this open-book?”

“Perhaps only half a point,” Mycroft said, and settled back in his chair. “Pretend I’m not here, until you need me.”

“Won’t you be bored?” 

Mycroft shook his head. “I have various work matters to think over, and I think intermittent distraction in the form of rendering my tutoring duties will help me, as I think it’s going to help you.”

Greg shrugged, figuring someone like Mycroft probably did just sit and think from time to time, and got to work. 

After fifteen minutes, Mycroft reached across the table, and gently pressed a hand to Greg’s tightly hunched shoulder with a little click of his tongue. “Time for a break?”

“Yes,” Greg said in a woosh of relieved breath. “Didn’t even notice I was doing it. Thanks.”

“No trouble,” Mycroft said, and relaxed in his seat again. 

Greg liked to see him like this, a bit looser than he had been when they sat down, and miles better than he used to be when they met. Practically a different man from the one who showed up all nerves and flushed cheeks earlier in the month. “How goes your thinking?”

“It goes,” Mycroft sighed. “Let’s not go into the boring minutiae of my work drama. How have you been this week, while I struggled to behave like a decent human being?”

And like that, they were off. The conversation was much like the ones they’d had over the phone before. A bit meandering, a bit revealing. For whatever reason, Greg couldn’t seem to bring himself to try small talk with Mycroft, who always seemed interested, and always asked the right questions. Mycroft could even be prodded into sharing bits and pieces about his life, too. In that first break, Greg learned he had seen his mother and brother that week. Mycroft didn’t say outright, but it sounded like it had been fairly excruciating. 

“My brother specializes in embarrassing me, but this seemed… diversionary. Tactical. I’m worried about him,” he said, almost offhandedly. “There was something… off.”

Greg wanted to know more, but before he could ask, Mycroft nudged him back to his work. 

He finished the first data set with only a few small errors in his calculations. Mycroft went over them without judgment, smooth and matter-of-fact, and then set Greg onto the next one.

“Ugh. I’m not doing all of them tonight,” Greg grumbled as he began. “And you can’t make me.”

“Can’t I?” Mycroft purred, and Greg’s head snapped up at the tone. Mycroft’s eyes had gone…

“Well, look at you,” Greg blurted. “Are you flirting with me?”

“No,” Mycroft said softly. “Or maybe. How do you know I don’t mean that physically I could force you to stay in this chair? You did say you were convinced I’m James Bond or some such ridiculousness. Perhaps I mean that you’ll do the problems or else? ” 

“Uh huh.” Greg bit his bottom lip and turned his eyes back to his paper. “Well I don’t want to be tied up. Not in this context, anyway.” He had to force himself, with every ounce of self control he possessed, not to glance up to see how Mycroft reacted to that. “So I guess I’ll be good and do my homework. But I think I should get a reward after, say, the third problem.” This time, he let himself look up. 

Mycroft chewed at the corner of his own lips, and considered Greg for a moment. “Did you have something in mind?”

“A kiss, maybe?”

“A fair deal.”

Greg bent his head to his work. 

He earned a kiss fairly quickly, delivered in a brief, almost chaste, press of lips after a furtive glance around to be sure there was no one to see. Greg renegotiated his terms, and then earned another two problems later. In between work and progressively naughtier kisses, he needed less prompting to stop and relax, but the couple of times he did were passed with interesting tidbits about Mycroft’s life outside of their little arrangement. 

“Do you have plans for the holiday?”

Mycroft grimaced. “Thankfully, no. My mother is hosting the usual luncheon for the extended family, and Sherlock is going to be there by dint of living there when he is not at University. He would avoid it if he could. I am avoiding it because I can.” 

“Bet he loves that.” 

“He will likely sneak away between the church service and the serving of the food, and reappear sometime Monday morning, as he has many times in the past.”

Greg raised an eyebrow. “And you?”

“As I say, I won’t be going.” 

“No, I mean—  did you ever sneak away? Disappear?”

Mycroft cleared his throat, his nervous little tic, and shook his head. “No, of course not. My parents would be incredibly upset with me if I did such a thing.” 

“So what, Sherlock just takes his lumps after?”

Greg watched Mycroft hide a wince, keeping his face smooth and unbothered when he said, “No, he doesn't. My parents couldn’t bear to chastise him.” 

Greg wished he could say something incensed and protective, the sort of thing he wanted to say, but it didn’t feel like it was his place. Still… He settled for rolling his eyes. “How’s that working out for them? Sounds like he’s not a spoiled terror at all.” 

Mycroft barked a laugh. “He really is,” he said. “But they don’t know that. They don’t see him as he is, but rather an idealized version of him. It’s easier for them that way. They have their reasons.”

“You’re a forgiving son,” Greg said, and was treated to one of Mycroft’s shy, soft smiles. 

“I try to be,” he said, and nudged Greg’s foot with his own under the table. 

Greg took it as a thanks and turned his attention back to the math. 

“I can’t look at these numbers anymore,” he said after they parted from another well-done kiss, this one a bit dirtier than the others because Greg wanted to see what Mycroft would do if he bit him a little. The answer was: swallow a groan and pull away immediately, all fake glower and prudish tsking. It was satisfying and sexy as hell. “It’s going to turn into a headache.” 

“Should we gather up and go?”

“Yeah, think so.” Greg stretched, popping his neck and back then bending and rotating his wrists to do the same to them before throwing his books back into his bag and then watching Mycroft re-button himself into his cufflinks and suit. “You look really good, by the way. I should have said earlier.”

Mycroft paused, flustered, with little spots of pink high on his cheekbones. “Thank you,” he said. “You… always do, I think.”

They were quiet as they made their way out of their little bubble of quiet. And then…

Well, one thing led to another. Greg doesn't know what possessed him to take a sharp left into the men’s room and drag Mycroft with him. But there hadn’t been any discussion needed; Mycroft dropped his briefcase the moment the stall door slammed shut with the force of his back hitting it, and he took Greg’s kiss with what was undeniably a happy sigh. 

How the hell had he turned the tables on Greg and steered the whole thing even dirtier than Greg had planned, though? That one Greg couldn’t figure out. But he was fucking thrilled about it. 

“You don’t have to,” he protested weakly as Mycroft yanked open his jeans. “Really.”

“I want to,” Mycroft breathed, and watched intently as he wrapped his hand around Greg’s cock. 

“Free tutoring and a handjob,” Greg gasped, hitching his hips into Mycroft’s grip. “I think that more than makes up for your not calling me during your freak out.”

“I did not—” Mycroft slowed his hand. “I didn’t freak out, I don’t freak out. I think things over.”

“Okay fine,” Greg whined. “You think. A lot. You’re very smart. Oh!” Mycroft resumed the relentless rhythm and pace of his strokes, adding a merciless twist over the head. “How— mmph—  exactly how smart are you?”

“Very,” Mycroft replied, and kissed him quiet. “I’ll tell you about it some other time. I’m busy just now.”

“So good,” Greg groaned into Mycroft’s neck, hanging onto him for dear life as those long fingers worked him over relentlessly. “Been thinking about your hands all week. I wanted them back the second you left.”

Mycroft didn’t respond with words, but increased the speed and pressure of his grip and kissed a hot line over Greg’s jawline, panting. 

“You should—” Greg tried to move, but found himself more or less pinned in place, his feet knocked apart by and bracketing one of Mycroft’s, his shoulder pressed back into the stall wall by Mycroft’s free hand. “I could get you off, too.”

“No,” Mycroft said, breathless. “No, no, I just want this. I want to see it.”

“Oh,” Greg shuddered. “You can be so bossy, you know that?”

“Good,” Mycroft laughed, and then they were kissing and Greg was coming, Mycroft’s hand managing to catch most of it as he froze and twitched, caught between and held up by the wall and Mycroft’s body. 

It took Greg ages to catch his breath, while Mycroft wiped his hand clean with toilet roll and refastened Greg’s jeans for him. Once he could form words again, Greg said: “This is a proud moment for me.”

Mycroft laughed. “Is it?”

“Yeah.” Greg grinned at him. “That was very good technique. Excellent form. And you just… did that.”

“I did,” Mycroft said, a hint of wonder there, and then seemed to swallow a laugh. “Oh.”

Greg couldn’t help it, he laughed too. “C’mere,” he said, and reeled Mycroft in for another kiss. “I probably shouldn’t say it,” he murmured. “Probably shouldn’t say it at all and definitely not in a bloody bathroom stall, but. I missed you this week.” 

“Why shouldn’t you say it?”

“It’s… a bit of a soppy thing to say?”

Mycroft, still close enough to kiss, shrugged. “I… feel the same. It’s… is that not a done thing between friends who do this?” He gestured between them. “Aren’t we meant to want to be around one another?” 

“Did you want to be around me this week?”

Greg felt he had to ask. Mycroft said that he hadn’t called for a lot of reasons, and Greg felt he deserved to know at least some of them. He’d meant it when he said Mycroft was forgiven, but still… He hadn’t known if he had done something wrong, or just reached the end of his usefulness. He still didn’t know if Mycroft was just nervous after, or simply needed to process the experience. 

Greg had wanted to call, badly, and had been annoyed with himself for letting his own feelings even hypothetically get in the way. He might have said they could be friends, and he’d meant it, really; he liked Mycroft. He felt… protective toward him. He enjoyed his company, found him sexy, liked kissing him and touching him. Greg wanted to help, yeah, but he also just… liked him. Wanted him. Greg was getting something out of this, something he’d needed, maybe, without realizing it. But they hadn’t known each other for long, and the entire thing had started out with the possibility of money changing hands. 

So, no. he couldn’t have called. It had to be Mycroft who did it. And though Greg knew he should just let it go, keep it casual, he really needed to know. 

Mycroft hadn’t said anything yet, appearing to roll his words around his mouth, his face a little pained. 

He feels awkward, then, Greg thought. He said, “Come on, Mycroft. Why didn’t you call me?” 

“I just…” Mycroft sighed, sagged against the cubicle wall. “I wanted to. But I was… unsettled. I couldn’t think, you know, about anything but seeing you again. For the rest of that day I just wanted to repeat the entire experience. Over and over. I couldn’t stop imagining it, couldn’t get control over my mind or body. It… that’s never happened to me.”

“But that’s normal,” Greg said softly. “It’s like… you know, it’s hormones, and pleasure centers. It was a new thing and you liked it. You… not to sound conceited, but you like me. Otherwise I don’t think this would work.” 

“I know,” Mycroft said “I know. It’s not conceited, it’s the truth. And that is something I’ve never experienced, as is the sensation of being out of control of where my mind goes. It… I really am sorry. I wish I had called you the very next day. But by the time I managed to… well, to manage myself, it was Monday. And I’m sorry to say that I allowed myself to be absorbed by work. It’s something I do. A coping mechanism, perhaps, though I never thought of it that way before now.” 

Greg smoothed his hands inside Mycroft’s jacket, finding his waist, the edge of his waistcoat where wool met the satin at the back. “You more or less just told me that you were so obsessed with sleeping with me again that you had to stop thinking of me at all, or you wouldn’t be able to function. D’you realize that?”

Mycroft laughed, and his hands bracketed Greg’s hips, shy and tentative. “A liberal interpretation. Besides, we didn’t sleep. I don’t understand these figures of speech.” 

“Well, you ran off,” Greg reminded him. “We couldn’t have slept even if we wanted to.” He sighed. “Look: it’s really alright. I’m not upset with you, I just wanted to know what was going on in your head, a bit. This week I wasn’t sure I’d ever hear from you again. I thought maybe you were finished with me.” 

“Why?”

“Well, we accomplished what we set out to do, didn’t we?” 

Mycroft was quiet for a moment, his thumbs tracing random patterns on Greg’s hip bones through his jeans. He shook his head. “No, not yet,” he said. “We haven’t accomplished everything.” 

“Everything?” Greg raised an eyebrow. “I wasn’t aware we were doing the Kama Sutra cover-to-cover.” 

“Would you be opposed?” 

Greg’s chest was warm; his face was warm; he couldn’t help smiling. “Not really,” he said.

“Good,” Myroft replied, and leaned in for a kiss, keeping it brief but sweet. “We need to get out of this men’s room. What a strange place to have a conversation.” 

Greg agreed, though he found it pretty amusing actually, and they managed to clean up and exit the restroom without looking too guilty. 



***



“You could come back to mine,” Greg said once they were standing outside the library. “I’d like to return the favor.” 

“Perhaps not tonight,” Mycroft said, but it was gently said, and with genuine regret. “It has been… a long day. I actually had a bit of a professional curveball thrown my way today. I… I need to think it over. Besides, you don’t owe me anything. That,” he tilted his head toward the library. “All of it was my pleasure, I assure you.” 

Greg wanted to kiss him again, but they were in public and standing under blazing fluorescent light from the library lobby. “Alright. I’d like to see you sometime. I’m off work til Monday, and won’t have class all week. I picked up a couple shifts at the center, but I’ll be around if you’re interested.” 

“I am very interested,” Mycroft said. “I’m reminded that I didn’t ask you if you had plans for the holiday. Do you go to church? See your sister?”

Greg forced himself past the urge to make something up to sound less pathetic, to skip over the truth of it. He felt the need to be honest with Mycroft, and maybe if he gave a little, he could coax more out of Mycroft in return. The two of them had been bouncing off each other’s walls, it seemed, which was fine for a client, but probably not for a friend. “No plans,” he said. “Certainly not going to see Fiona. I think I annoyed her last time we spoke.” 

Mycroft’s lips twitched into a knowing, commiserating smile. “Understood. Well, if you find yourself without anything better to do on Sunday…” He cleared his throat and ducked his head, nervous. “Perhaps you could come to mine. A change of scenery.” 

Greg felt his heart skip two whole beats, and clenched his fingers around the strap of his bag to keep himself from jumping at the offer, at the chance to see where Mycroft actually existed outside of their meetings. “I absolutely won’t have anything better to do,” Greg said. “Here—”

He swung his bag to the front of his body and dug for a scrap of paper and a pencil. He hurried to find somewhere to lean; the library wall worked fine. “Address?”

Mycroft’s smile went soft and pleased. He gave Greg a Belgravia address, about which Greg very carefully did not make a big deal, and they parted without touching. 

Greg’s skin felt electrified, but also curiously lonely. Bereft. He pushed it aside, knowing that he shouldn’t. 

He could handle this. Whatever it was. 



***



Greg wasn’t an idiot, so he called an old friend to check his sanity. 

“What could you possibly want?” Paul demanded, teasing. “Didn’t I just hear from you, oh, when was it? My birthday? Two phone calls in four months! What more could we have to talk about?”

“Sorry,” Greg said. He pressed his thumb to the palm of the opposite hand, hard, to keep from bursting into horrified tears. Paul didn’t sound right. The bluster and sass were there, but his voice had changed since the last time they spoke. “Are you alright?”

“I would’ve had Morris call you if I wasn’t,” Paul replied briskly. “Don’t worry about it. I just got over a little bout of pneumonia, but the weather’s nicer now, and since I left the city I really can breathe better. You never call me. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Greg said, letting up on the pressure of thumb-to-hand slowly, breathing in deeply with it. “Just… needed your wisdom.”

“When don’t you? You should call more.”

“I know.” 

Paul huffed. “It’s fine, love. I have other friends, you know. I have Morris.”

“Good,” Greg sighed, meaning it. “He’s good?”

“Healthy as an ox,” Paul said, singing it. “Lucky boy.” 

“Good. That’s… yeah, god, thank god. It’s so good to hear your voice. I’m sorry I haven’t called.” 

“And I said it’s fine. Now get to the point, what’s going on with you?” 

Greg began to pace with the phone, stretching the cord to its limit. “I’ve done something… unwise.”

“What a fucking shock. You do realize that’s your specialty? I’d be more worried if you called and said Oh, Paul, I’m a sensible person now. Tell me it’s not another career change.”

Greg snorted. “No. No, this one will stick.” 

“Good.” Paul’s eye roll was audible over the line. “At least this one makes sense. So what’s the problem?” 

“I… well. I decided to stop doing the other thing.” 

“The other thing.”

“Yeah.” 

Paul’s tongue clicked against his teeth. “The other thing, the other thing, hmm… oh, you mean turning tricks, which I bloody fucking well told you never to start.”

“It wasn’t—” Greg sighed. “That’s not what I was doing and you know it.”

“Oh! Sorry! Am I insulting the integrity of little gay sugar babies who fuck for textbook money the world over? How awful of me.”

Greg laughed weakly and shuffled his feet across his kitchen floor. “Very funny,” he said. “Well you should be happy, I stopped doing it. Decided to stop doing it.”

“I’m ecstatic,” Paul said, dry as a bone. 

“But then someone referred a client.”

“Christ.”

“Let me finish,” Greg said, impatient. “I didn’t take him on. I… it felt wrong, or strange. I dunno, Paul, I can’t explain it. I decided… well I decided to be friends with him, and maybe be a bit casual, you know, have some fun together…”

“Wait,” Paul snapped. “No, wait, rewind the tape, Gregory. How does that work? He decided he didn’t feel like paying you? You decided you’re a charity now?”

“He came to me with a problem.” Greg rubbed a hand over his forehead, knowing how ridiculous it all must sound. “A… Jesus, Paul, a sex problem. That’s what he was going to pay for. Working it out.”

There was a pause. “What the fuck was the problem?” Paul demanded. 

“He was a virgin.” 

Another pause, and then Paul cackled, loudly, into Greg’s ear. “You deflowered a fucking virgin? Again?”

“Shut up,” Greg growled from between his teeth. “Not right away, no.”

“Oh, Greg.”

“We’re friends. Friends who do things. He’s…” Greg sighed. 

“Greg.”

“Paul.”

“Are you in love?”

“No,” Greg said quickly. “No, it’s not… not like that. I like him, though. A lot. More than I should.”

Paul sighed. “We’ll ignore that you’re completely full of shit, because I am beyond confused. What’s the problem?”

“I don’t know if it’s alright! I don’t know if he… I mean, I know he likes me, or I don’t think he could’ve done anything with me. I think that’s just how he’s wired. But I don’t know if he thinks of me as… as… well, I just don’t know how he thinks of me! And I’m fucking sitting at home thinking about him like an idiot, and he’s… maybe just forgetting I exist. I don’t know. But he invited me to his place, and it’s in bloody Belgravia, and—” 

“So you have feelings for a rich boy.” Paul’s voice is pointedly flat and unsurprised. “Oh my, what an unexpected turn of events.” 

“I don’t know why you act like I’m some sort of—” 

“You are a professional rich boy fucker, you stupid arsehole!”

“Was a professional rich boy fucker. Now I’m a charity, like you said.” 

They sat in silence for a minute, and Greg wished his phone could reach the window so he could smoke out of it. He’d been quitting, hadn’t had one in months, but he had a pack hidden. 

“What did you want me to say, when you called?” Paul asked. “What are you looking for? My blessing to actually see someone? I’ve been telling you for years to try having an actual human relationship.”

“I don’t think… I don’t think he wants to date me.” 

“If you’re fuckbuddies who are actually friends, at this point he practically is already. Come on, I taught you better than this. Those lines are blurry as all hell, Greg. You’ve probably crossed so many by now.”

“Maybe,” Greg said with a sigh. 

“You really are the messiest bitch I’ve ever known,” Paul snipped. “First the posh school, then the gigolo bollocks, the bloody police idiocy, the Pretty Womaning. Now this? I thought that out of the two of us, you were supposed to be the one with his life together. Everyone always thought so.”

“Well no one really knew me like you did,” Greg said, meaning it sincerely. “Did they?”

“No they did not,” Paul replied crisply. “Look, it’s all going to be fine. Just tell Mister Posh that you want him to wine and dine you before he sixty-nines you, and if he says yes, great!”

“Charming,” Greg teased. “Always so charming.”

“That’s me,” Paul said, his voice juddering a bit. He cleared his throat, hard, and stifled a cough. Greg winced listening to it, and waited patiently for Paul to come back on the line. “Sorry, I don’t think I’ve talked this much in weeks. Sets it off.”

“Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Absolutely positive,” Paul said, then barked a laugh. “Ha! Get it? Positive?”

“Don’t,” Greg said softly. “You prick.”

“I’m allowed,” Paul replied, unrepentant. “Listen, I should go. Morris is headed this way with a handful of horse pills. Come see me, won’t you? While I’m still here?”

“Yes.” Greg nodded at nothing in the kitchen. “Yes, I will. I promise.” 

“Love you, darling,” Paul said, and hung up before Greg could say it back. 



***



Greg called Mycroft on Saturday night to make a plan for the next day. He couldn't just show up at the man’s house. What if he caught him at a bad moment? What if Mycroft changed his mind? 

“Of course the offer still stands,” Mycroft said. “Come whenever it’s convenient. I’ve bought groceries for the first time in easily a year. I can feed you.”

“You have bought me takeaway before.”

“Not the same at all,” Mycroft replied. “I’m quite good at it, you won’t be disappointed.” 

“Oh, I’m sure of that,” Greg said, attempting to sound flirty, and probably coming off far too fond. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” 

“Tomorrow,” Mycroft echoed.



Chapter Text

The ‘flat’ in Belgravia was more like half an entire mansion, from what Greg could tell. There was a doorman who seemed to be expecting him, and called up to Mycroft on a gold-trimmed telephone before allowing Greg, who had felt underdressed the moment he crossed the threshold into the lobby, access to the lift. 

“Good afternoon to you, sir,” the attendant said, his voice clean and crisp, as Greg disembarked one floor up. 

“Er. Cheers, you too,” Greg said, wincing even as he said it. He was capable of manners, but in that moment he was too wrong-footed to dredge them up. He had been with posh men before, but he was unused to being invited to their actual homes. Often, there would have been a wife in residence. If not a wife, then probably too many eyes to see him there. He’d conducted business in a lot of hotel rooms. Occasionally in his flat. This was uncharted territory. Then again, so was everything else about what he was doing with Mycroft. 

He exited the lift into a vestibule, dark-paneled and dimly lit, and found a single door there with a brass ‘1’ fixed to it. Greg took a deep breath and told himself not to be awkward. He knew Mycroft was posh. Mycroft knew that Greg wasn’t. This shouldn’t be uncomfortable. He knocked on the door. 

Mycroft answered quickly, which was a little startling. They hadn’t set an exact time, he couldn’t have been just waiting by the door all day. Greg jumped a little. 

“Sorry,” Mycroft said, his smile a little nervous on his lips. “I never know whether to hover by the door after Thomas calls, or wait for a knock. Hovering makes me feel as though I’m implying I’ve simply been waiting here all morning.”

Greg relaxed at the awkward humor and grinned. “You can admit that you have,” he said, relieved to settle into the familiar rhythm of teasing. “I know you were anxiously awaiting my arrival and all.”

“I was,” Mycroft said, and Greg was glad to see his shoulders relax, too. “Still, I did have things to do other than stand here, such as cooking our lunch. I’ve made too much. You should come inside, however, if you want to eat it.” 

Greg stepped through the door at Mycroft’s sweeping arm, and blinked at the large entryway. There was a staircase leading up to an open landing and a long, portrait-lined hallway. A sitting room worthy of an old money estate - which he supposed this was - dominated the open space just off the foyer, and everything - everything - in there appeared to be a priceless antique. 

He had paused for too long. 

“I know,” Mycroft sighed, looking around the place too. “It’s hideous.”

“No!” Greg hadn’t been thinking it (thought it was kind of true), and was horrified that Mycroft would think— 

“Oh, no, it is.” Mycroft shook his head. “I promise the kitchen is less obnoxious, and I’ve actually removed some of the stuffiness from the upper levels. Are you hungry?”

“I could eat,” Greg said, rocking back on his heels. “But maybe give me the tour first? I’d like to meet the mythical Judy.”

Mycroft smiled, wide and genuine. “Of course,” he said. “Price of admission is 5p, I hope you’ve got change in your pockets”

“Ah, sorry mate,” Greg drawled. “Not a single coin on me.” He gave an exaggerated sigh, leaned forward, and fluttered his lashes. “I’m sure I can find some other way to pay?”

Mycroft chuckled and stepped in close. “A kiss in lieu of payment is sufficient for now.” 

“Great,” Greg said, and closed the distance between them. 

Mycroft’s mouth was soft, and lingered on Greg’s longer than he’d expected. He had sort of assumed Mycroft would peck him and move on from the joke. Instead, he stepped in, held Greg close, and kissed him thoroughly, exploratorily, before pulling back only far enough to speak. “I wasn’t… I never know if I’m permitted to do that when I first see you, or when we say goodbye.”

Greg’s heart thumped in his chest; his breath caught. “You’re permitted,” he said. 

Mycroft nodded seriously, and kissed him again. 

Greg’s body thrilled at the softness of it. It wasn’t tentative, not the way Mycroft’s kisses were at first, when he wasn’t sure of himself yet. It wasn’t horny and desperate, either, as most of their kisses had been once they’d warmed up - which only made sense, considering those happened in the context of what was supposed to be casual sex. This was something a little different. 

Greg let himself cup Mycroft’s cheeks to hold him in place, brushing their lips together again instead of ending the kiss. It spun out a little, went all liquid. Jesus, Greg thought, floored by the intensity in something so gentle.

When Greg finally let Mycroft go, they swayed a bit, Mycroft’s hands at Greg’s waist, Greg’s dropped to Mycroft’s shoulders. 

“That was really smooth, by the way,” Greg rasped. He cleared his throat. “Kiss in lieu of payment. Nicely done.”

“Thank you,” Mycroft said softly. 

Greg leaned into the slight pull of Mycroft’s hands and kissed him one more time. “Show me your place,” Greg murmured, gently breaking the moment. 

Mycroft nodded and stepped slowly away. “Yes. Alright.’



***



Mycroft’s house was… well, parts of it defied explanation. 

“The portraits…” 

Mycroft snorted and gave a funny little gesture toward them. “I resemble Uncle Rudy. He had the portraits done in his own likeness as a little joke, and now... I should get rid of them. It’s such an odd thing to have.”

“It’s actually quite funny,” Greg mused. “Weird, but funny. Keep them. They’ll make a great conversation piece at parties.” 

Mycroft hummed, noncommittal. “Parties aren’t really my area,” he said, and tapped a door to the left. “One of my favorite rooms.” He opened it and flicked on a light so Greg could see the inside. 

“This is a theater!” Greg stepped inside, and realized that while they had entered the room on the second floor, it must extend into a downstairs room. There were a couple of rows of seats and a huge screen. It wasn’t the size of a regular theater, but looked to be done to scale. There were red curtains, even. “This is brilliant!”

“I think so, too,” Mycroft said. “My uncle had it put in when I was quite young. I thought it was the most luxurious thing a person could put in their house.” 

Greg gestured to the projector set up. “Well, you weren’t wrong. Show me something in here later?”

“I would be glad to,” Mycroft said, looking pleased and indulgent. “The library of films is rather extensive.”

“Great,” Greg backed out of the room and tugged gently at Mycroft’s wrist. “Show me more.”

“Well, most of the flat is going unused, I’m sorry to say.” Mycroft turned off the light in the little theater and shut the door. “There is a guest room up here that I use to store ugly furniture. Then another one downstairs that I keep ready for my brother. The office isn’t much to see.” He crossed to another door and opened it, revealing a well-lit but imposing room with more wood paneling and a hulking desk inside. “I don’t use it. Everything inside was Uncle Rudy’s.” 

“Hmm.” Greg nodded. “Okay. Have you redecorated anywhere? How long have you lived here?”

“Almost two years,” Mycroft said, sheepish. “I know. I should have changed more by now. I work quite a lot, and when I first moved in I was somewhat limited in mobility. And I suppose I have felt strange, changing the rooms I practically grew up in. Erasing my uncle’s influence on them.”

Greg thought of the surgery scar on Mycroft’s shin, the broken bones and stab wounds he’d been told about only last week. “How did you manage these stairs when you were injured?”

“I stayed in the downstairs guest room,” Mycroft said. “It wasn’t ideal, trying to navigate the crowded sitting room on crutches just to get to a restroom. But it was far, far preferable to staying with my parents and brother while I recovered, believe me.” 

Greg chuckled, believing that based on the what little he’d heard of Mycroft’s quirky family, and moved to the doors at the end of the hall. “Which one next?”

“This one,” Mycroft said, and opened a door to a narrow staircase. “After you.” 

Greg pretended to be nervous, stepping forward and then quickly back again, shoulders bumping with Mycroft’s chest. “Oh god, are you going to lure me up there so you can brick me into your secret attic room?”

“That was a wine cellar,” Mycroft said with a low chuckle right beside Greg’s ear. “And I am not a Poe villain. Nor is there a raving wife up there. This is just a library, I promise.” 

“If you say so,” Greg said, and made his way up the stairs, at the top of which was another door, and no landing. 

“It’s cramped, I know,” Mycroft murmured from close behind. “It used to be an attic, you were right about that.”

“Still not convinced I’m not walking into my doom,” Greg joked, and pushed open the door. “Oh!”

He stepped into a room that was not overly large, but very well-lit thanks to a picture window and set of glass french doors; the bright, clean light and unfussy decor made it look bigger than it was. This room looked nothing like the stuffy scenery on the first floor - not one bit. There was no paneling here, just lovely pale grey textured wallpaper and simple, light-stained wainscoting. One wall was nothing but bookshelves, which Greg approved of. There was a TV in the corner with a VCR and stack of tapes, an old console record player, and a new stereo. The furniture was modern and inviting. Greens and creams, clean lines and little touches of comfort. There was an abundance of throw blankets. There were plants by the french doors, and more beyond them, on the rooftop. 

“Wow, Mycroft,” Greg breathed. “This is gorgeous. This looks like someone actually lives here.” 

Mycroft hung back by the door, hands clasped behind his back. “Well, I live here,” he said, shy. “I believe if you peek over the back of the armchair, you will find the lady of the house.”

Greg swallowed hard and looked away from Mycroft’s sweet expression to avoid saying something truly awful and soppy, moving to the green velvet wingback. Sure enough, when he craned his neck over it, he saw in its seat a curled-up ball of grey fluff. 

“Ohhh, it’s a baby,” he murmured, like the tit he was whenever he was in the presence of a cat. “She’s completely passed out, I don’t want to disturb her.” 

“She’ll find you when it’s time for her to inspect you,” Mycroft said. “The roof garden is through here.” 

“The roof garden,” Greg repeated teasingly. “Is that where you keep the money tree?”

Mycroft snorted. “Yes, of course,” he said, and opened the doors.”Where else would I put it?”

Greg followed him out with a low whistle. The garden itself was simple: tastefully arranged potted plants and tiny trees, a lounge chair and side table (Greg noted an ashtray and realized he had never seen Mycroft smoke), and a scattering of cat toys. But the view… the view. All of the lovely rooftops of Belgravia crowded together, a collection of slate and brick, bursts of greenery on balconies and verandas. And also, still there but muted, hints of London beyond. 

“Forget about the library,” Greg said. “You should live out here.” 

“I come out here often,” Mycroft said, hands in his pockets. 

Greg blinked and, now that he had gotten over the shock at such obvious old money and his nerves at being there, noticed how fucking good Mycroft looked. He wore casual grey trousers and a relaxed white button-down shirt that wasn’t meant to be worn with a suit, the sleeves rolled to the elbow. His hair wasn’t combed into the slicker style he wore when he saw Greg straight after work. He looked relaxed and soft, and he currently stood on a beautiful garden atop the sort of house that Greg, when he was younger, had never even dreamed of. 

Greg, for a moment, thought about how Mycroft was more or less a fairytale, and how if he would just realize it, he wouldn’t need Greg at all. 

He shook that last bit away like a pesky gnat, and crossed the roof so he could slip his arms around Mycroft’s waist. “Your house is very strange, and very lovely.” 

“Thank you,” Mycroft murmured. 

Greg kissed him and put a little promise behind it. “You mentioned lunch?” he asked, once they parted, panting a little. 

“Right,” Mycroft took a pointed step back, his hands falling away from where they had gripped Greg’s hips. “Yes. Um. Back downstairs.” 

“Gonna show me your bedroom on the way?”

“Maybe later,” Mycroft replied. “If you behave.” 

Greg nearly tripped down the stairs. Mycroft was getting so cheeky. 

God, Greg liked it. 



***



The kitchen was absurd compared to Greg’s two countertops and a hot plate, but it wasn’t overly lavish - just nice. Very nice, but also lived-in, with cracking vinyl covers on the chairs around a mid-century modern table and a pile of dishes in the sink. Mycroft had roasted a chicken.

“That smells insanely good,” Greg said 

Mycroft served up plates laden with chicken and roast veg, little rolls on the side that Greg was pretty sure were home baked. They sat at the small retro table, catty corner, with their legs slotted together underneath, and ate. 

“What are your plans for this rare week off?” 

Greg shrugged one shoulder. “Dunno. I mean, I’m not really off- off. I have a few days at the center, as usual, plus some extra I volunteered for. My boss thought I should take some time off, but it won’t be long before I’m at the clinic in Westminster for the summer. I want to spend time with my people before I have to leave.”

“You care about them very much.” 

“‘Course I do.”

Mycroft hummed and chewed thoughtfully, studying Greg’s face for a moment. He dropped his gaze to his plate before he spoke. “Not everyone is as compassionate and dedicated as you are. I’m sure you must know that.”

“I suppose,” Greg said. “I think I just understand the people who come there. Lots of them had similar starts in life to mine. There’s a lot of… well, trauma to that, and then more of it over the course of a life without built-in protection and support. There are a lot of people who are there after problems with addiction. I’m lucky I had a handful of decent teachers and at least one friend who kept me out of trouble and made me think I could achieve something. People who kept me safe.”

“What did you study at UCL?” 

Greg had wondered when this sort of digging into the past would come up. At first, he hadn’t expected it to come up at all. He didn’t usually share with clients, and even after Mycroft firmly put himself out of consideration for that classification, Greg had thought it would still be very businesslike. It hadn’t been, though. They talked. Mycroft knew him a lot better than anyone else Greg had ever slept with. For whatever reason, he wanted to let Mycroft know him more, so he didn’t mind answering the question. Not really. It just made him a little nervous, worried about what might come up. If any of it would horrify Mycroft or put him off.

“I hadn’t declared a course of study yet, but my plan was to become a barrister, believe it or not.” 

Mycroft arched an eyebrow. “I do believe it. What made you leave?”

Greg sighed. Here it was already - a potential landmine. “I just… I wasn’t ready for it. I was only eighteen, and I’d never been out on my own before, not really. I grew up in care, and spent some of my life in group housing, or with families who didn’t have time to keep an eye on me. But those last few years before I aged out, I lived with a really lovely older couple who had a couple of us kicking round the place. So, I dunno, I guess I’d had a mix of experiences that just… didn’t mesh with life at Uni, especially in a difficult program. I don’t want to say I couldn’t hack it, though that’s what I used to say.” He shrugged. “It was just overwhelming. I didn’t feel like I fit in, because honestly I didn’t. Made a couple friends, but… Dunno. I just didn’t see how I could do it for years, and I started to think that I wanted to do something with my life that would be more helpful to people like me.”

“You studied Criminology, after,” Mycroft said. 

“I’ve never told you that.”

Mycroft’s cheeks reddened and he set down his fork. “I apologize. That was rude. I know you haven’t told me, I just… I knew from your bookshelves.”

“From my bookshelves.”

Mycroft hurried to explain, stuttering a bit in his embarrassment. “That’s… part of my… It’s how my mind functions. I have highly advanced deductive reasoning skills. But I try not to do it with you. With anyone I don’t need to. I really am sorry if—”

Greg stopped the flow of words with his hand on Mycroft’s forearm. “Sweetheart,” he said, “breathe.”

Mycroft blinked at him, and his mouth clicked shut. 

“I’m completely unbothered,” Greg said, saying it as he realized it. He badly wanted to press Mycroft on this tidbit of information, try and suss him out a bit - but Mycroft had asked him a question, and for once Greg didn’t want to be a complete hypocrite by deflecting the conversation away from himself. “I was just surprised. Yes, I got a certificate in criminology. But I got it a while later, because I joined the Met first.”

Mycroft blinked more. “You were a police officer? How did I miss that?”

Greg laughed. “I know, it’s a major misstep on your part. How could you not know about a job I never told you I held?”

He watched Mycroft’s shoulders drop, relaxing as he shook his head. “I really should have been able to tell.” 

“Well, it wasn’t for long,” Greg said briskly. “A few years. Less said about it the better, to be honest. After the certificate I decided to just go for it and finished an undergraduate degree in psychology with the Open University. It took a long time, but I’m glad I did it. When I realized policework wasn’t for me, I was able to get hired on at the center as a junior counselor of sorts, and I was accepted into my current program last January.”

“It’s very impressive,” Mycroft said after a moment. 

“What is?” 

“All that you have accomplished,” Mycroft replied, as if it was obvious. “You clearly work very hard. Many people would struggle to succeed with a workload like yours. It’s… admirable. I sound like I’m interviewing you for a job. I apologize. Again.”

Greg snorted. “You’re fine, I promise. Thank you. I don’t think of it that way, but thank you.”

Mycroft let that go, though he opened his mouth as if to press the issue. He picked up his fork and seemed to make the decision not to say whatever it was. 

Greg realized he still had Mycroft’s forearm in his hand, gave him a little squeeze before letting go, and went back to his own lunch. 

After a couple of long, quiet moments Mycroft asked, “Could I ask something that might be a bit indelicate?”

Greg waggled his eyebrows. “Yes, please.”

Mycroft shook his head, but smiled. “Not in that way. I just… wonder how your career as an officer of the law meshed with… well, the career which introduced me to you.” 

“It wouldn’t have,” Greg said. “I didn’t do both at the same time. S’not like there was a paper trail.” He shrugged. “No one knew what I’d done before I became a copper, and one of the nice things about starting back up after I quit, was knowing exactly how not to get nicked for it. There were a lot of reasons I wasn’t a fit for the Met. Not believing in the way they treat, y’know, people like me? Not just the… the sex for money. But all the categories I’ve fit into in my life? That was just one of them. Well, several of them, I suppose.”

Mycroft studied him, one hand propping up his chin, elbow on the table - atrocious table manners for someone so posh. Greg liked that he seemed relaxed, no coaxing needed. Maybe Greg should’ve been spending time on Mycroft’s turf the whole time. 

“We don’t have to talk about this,” Greg said after an awkward lull. “It’s not a happy story.”

“If you don’t wish to talk about it, we won’t.” Mycroft sat back in his chair. “But please, don’t feel as if I’m… sitting in judgment. I am certainly not. Believe me, I understand trying to find one’s way. Feeling as if something isn’t for you, after all.”

Greg blinked. “I… Mycroft, I’ve been a prostitute, and you’re reassuring me about trying lots of different jobs?”

Mycroft’s eyebrows quirked. “Do you need me to reassure you about having sex for money?”

“No,” Greg scoffed. “It just seems like it doesn't bother you.”

“It doesn't.”

How. “How?”

Mycroft shrugged. “It simply doesn't. Doing so didn’t make you a bad person. It’s not dishonest work, in my estimation.” 

Greg didn’t know what to think. “It’s not dishonest work?”

“Do you disagree?” Mycroft watched him, at ease in his seat, all cool and calm. 

“No,” Greg said. “I don’t disagree. I’m just… surprised.”

“Do you think I would…” Mycroft paused, swallowing the end of that sentence. “I don’t know why you would be surprised. I realize I’m… the way that I am. But I don’t judge you. I hope I never gave the impression—”

“You didn’t,” Greg rushed to say. “I’m sorry. This is all—” He gestured at himself. “Sorry. I’m projecting.”

“I only meant to say that your changing paths is nothing to feel ashamed of.”

Greg took a breath, made himself let go of the tension building in his shoulders. “I’ve done it a lot, though,” he said, wishing he could turn off how self conscious all of this made him. “More than most.”

“You had a tumultuous childhood, a confusing entry into adulthood, and now you are finishing an advanced course of study in order to help others.” Mycroft didn’t tick the items off on his fingers, but his eyebrows seemed to lift a little higher as the list continued. “You have a decent place to live, a pet, and, I would assume based on your personality, friends aplenty. Does it matter that it took some time to decide on your career path?” 

Greg felt himself smiling helplessly, some of the tension starting to wane, loosening its grip on his chest. “I don’t have friends aplenty,” he corrected. “Just so you know. I’m a bit… bad at that. I get along well with people, but keeping in touch? I moved so many times as a kid, changed schools and families and all that… I never learned how. I’m trying to get better, though. I like my coworkers. Some of my classmates. I have one or two tolerant friends left over from my younger days. I’m a bit of a workaholic hermit, to be honest. Spend more time with my cat than people, most of the time.”

“You are in good company at this moment, then,” Mycroft said. “We’ve already covered my lack of connection with my peers. A toast to social misfits, I suppose.”

Greg laughed and clinked water glasses with Mycroft. “Cheers. Anyway, what about you? How did you have to find your way?”

Mycroft sighed. “Don’t put me off my lunch,” he grumbled, though it was with a little edge of humor. “That’s a conversation to be had over a drink. It so happens I have an obscenely well stocked liquor cabinet. Cocktails on the roof?”

“Christ, it’s like being on vacation, this flat.” Greg grinned and took an enthusiastic bite of his chicken. “Yes, please.”



***



“Show me your room,” Greg wheedled on their way upstairs again, whiskey sours in hand. 

My uncle is rolling in his grave, Mycroft had said, gleefully pouring sugar syrup into a shaker of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. But I hate whiskey on its own. 

Then he’d told Greg a story about a hidden cabinet he couldn’t find. Greg, not wanting to seem like a complete bumpkin, had taken much of the extravagance and oddity of the flat in stride. That, though. That was just… cool.

“Later,” Mycroft demurred. “It’s getting to be late afternoon now, and it’ll be warm up top, and the view is fantastic this time of day. I often miss it, working late.” 

“You’re a secret hedonist,” Greg teased. He wanted to reach out and smack Mycroft on the backside as he led the way up the stairs, but stifled the urge, not sure it would be welcome.

Mycroft shrugged and opened the door for the stairs up to the library. “Maybe so.” 

They emerged in the library to find Judy lying now in a pool of sunlight in front of the french doors, body stretched out in a picture of feline lassitude, but her eyes were alert and bright as Mycroft entered with a stranger in tow. 

“I don’t know if she’ll run off,” Mycroft said. “She adores my brother, but has turned tail and fled every single time the cleaner comes. She’s a bit finicky.”

Greg approached her cautiously, squatting down a few feet away. “Hello, gorgeous,” he murmured. “How’s your sun spot, then?”

Judy leaned forward ever so slightly, sniffing the air in his direction. 

“Why Judy?” Greg wondered, stretching his hand out towards her so she could smell it a bit better. 

“Ah…” Mycroft cleared his throat behind him, and Greg turned to look over his shoulder. The man was blushing. 

“What? Name of an old flame?”

Mycroft rolled his eyes. “I feel I’ve made it fairly clear that I have never been even remotely attracted to a female person.” 

Greg turned back to the cat, who had begun to stalk toward him slowly. “Then it can’t be that embarrassing.” 

“Judy Garland,” Mycroft sighed. “I named her for Judy bloody Garland. Happy?”

Greg bit his lips to keep from laughing and scaring Judy herself. She sniffed his fingertips curiously, and then bypassed his hand entirely in order to investigate his shoes. He sat on the floor entirely, careful with the glass in his other hand. “That’s…”

“It’s unbearably camp, is what it is,” Mycroft snipped, but with little heat. “I’m well aware.”

Greg finally got Judy interested in his readied hand, bumping her head against it gently. “You a big fan of Judy Garland?”

There was a beat of silence. “Not… precisely.”

Greg smiled to himself and ran the tips of his fingers down Judy’s arching spine before scritching under her chin. “Just felt particularly gay that day, I guess.”

Mycroft choked, and then laughed. 

Greg looked over his shoulder again, grinning. “Am I right?”

“Entirely,” Mycroft said, and stepped forward, crouching down beside Greg. 

“Tell me about it.” 

Mycroft settled onto his backside on the wide, gleaming planks of hardwood, and sipped his drink while he did just that. 

He had been freshly off crutches following his injury, and had taken himself to a film in a real theater by himself. He’d been told that he could return to work the following week in a desk-bound capacity on a lower-clearance floor. It had been implied that he’d cocked everything up. That he had made one mistake and would stay behind a small desk in a shared office for eternity. It had been heavily implied that he was lucky he still had a job at all, considering his proclivities. That he should have done better out of pure gratitude for having been given the chance. 

“Within months, the ban on homosexuals in my chosen profession would be lifted, though of course they could still fire me. All it would take is an excuse. But that night, I simply… felt angry. Furious. There I was, still limping, having nearly bled out in an abandoned slum for them, and…” Mycroft flicked his fingers. “None of it mattered. All because they knew, could read it on me I suppose, that I wasn’t… Do you know, when I was a child I wrapped my wrists in bandages, practiced moving them, trying to teach my muscles not to… not to let my hands go—” 

He let his free hand fall, wrist limp. “All I could think as I left this flat that night was… fuck this. Fuck them. I briefly and hysterically considered defecting to America. But what I needed was to simply… not think. The best way I know how to do that is by losing myself in a film, and I couldn’t bear to be here, where another gay man - who gave them and me everything - had lived and died. So, off I went.” 

Greg listened to this without letting himself react. He wanted badly to hold Mycroft’s slim, lovely wrist in his own hands. To kiss it. “What film did you see?”

Mycroft laughed, shoulders dropping. “God. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.”

Greg nodded. “Gary Oldman,” he said, meaningfully. 

“Tim Roth for that matter,” Mycroft sighed, and nudged Greg’s elbow with his own. “She was in a box in an alley next to the theater. I heard her cries as I was leaving. It was a bit of a struggle, managing her into a taxi while managing myself on crutches. But she was mine before I so much as knew what color she was.”

“And you gave her the sort of name the gayest man who ever lived would give his cat.”

“You’re bloody right I did.”

Greg trailed his fingers gently over Judy’s belly, now exposed to both his and Mycroft’s loving attention, then took his hand away, needing it to steady himself as he leaned in to press his lips gently to Mycroft’s cheek. “Good,” he said firmly. 

Mycroft turned his face and returned the kiss, lips sweet with lemon and sugar, tongue sweeping its way slowly into Greg’s willing mouth while a happy cat purred beside them.

 

***



“Do you still work under the arsehole who said all that to you?” 

They sat facing each other, each straddling a piece of the one lounge chair on the rooftop. 

I need more patio furniture, Mycroft had said, nervous. Greg was the one to plop down that way and gesture for Mycroft to do the same. He’d had a couple lascivious thoughts about what they could get up to in the chair while the sunset was all soft pinks and purples above them. While London was moving on beyond the rooftops, unaware of the open-air mischief taking place on a rooftop in Belgravia. But he’d wanted to know more, and so hadn’t so much as flirted about it. 

Mycroft took a long sip of his drink and sighed indulgently. “Nope,” he replied with a pop. “Retired six months ago, and I got moved up three levels to where I now exist, waiting to see what will happen next.” 

Greg nodded, glad to know it wasn’t still all bad. “Someone knows you’re meant for better things, sounds like.”

Mycroft shrugged. “I hope that’s what it all means,” he said. “They don’t tell me, that’s for certain. I… have hope.” 

Greg slid closer on the lounger, their knees bumping together. “After this, let’s have another drink and watch half a movie in your fancy theatre.”

“Half a movie?”

“I’m being realistic; we’re not going to make it through the whole thing without getting up to mischief.”

Mycroft smiled, watching Greg’s fingers walk themselves up the outside of his thigh. “Is that so?”

“Yes.” 

“What if I take my film-watching very seriously, and refuse your advances?” 

Greg hooked his finger in one of Mycroft’s belt loops. “Do you? Are you going to?”

“Yes, I do. But no, I’m not going to.” 

Greg grinned and leaned in just as Mycroft did the same. They’d been kissing a lot, he mused, while their mouths slid together again, and very casually. Sweetly. It felt so good. Greg couldn’t remember the last time he’d done that with someone. Probably his last long-term client, Kenneth. But that hadn’t been like this. It had been a transaction, always an exchange of services for compensation. It had felt good, but not… satisfying. 

Greg found it extremely satisfying just to know Mycroft wanted to kiss him like this. 

The light was starting to shift, the brilliance of the sun muted as it sank behind the rooftops. It was utterly golden out on the garden, and Mycroft looked amazing in that light. 

“You’re so lovely,” Greg sighed. “It’s not fair.” 

“You are insane.” Mycroft rolled his eyes, but he let Greg take another gentle kiss from him, and his hands were confident at the tops of Greg’s thighs, rubbing absently up and down. 

“When you finally realize what a storybook prince you are, on top of being ungodly intelligent and posh as hell, you’re going to be devastating. Force to be reckoned with.”

Mycroft shook his head. “Just. Shut up and kiss me again.”

Greg was more than happy to comply.



Chapter Text

Thirty minutes into His Girl Friday, Mycroft felt Greg’s hand move from its position on his left thigh and slowly slide further up and to the right. 

“Is this the mischief to which you referred?” Mycroft murmured, not stopping the progress of Greg’s fingers to his inseam. “Is Rosalind Russell boring you?”

“Of course not,” Greg whispered. “She’s obviously amazing. After all, you said she was probably the only woman you could ever imagine giving it up to.”

“That is not what I said,” Mycroft replied, outraged but amused. 

“Right, you just went on and on about her talent and elegance for an hour,” said Greg, his hand warm on Mycroft’s thigh. 

Mycroft rolled his eyes - he had not gone on for an hour - and let his thighs fall open. “You’re terrible,” he said with a hum, and rolled his head against his seatback to find Greg’s eyes glittering at him in the dark, lit with amusement and flirtation.

“But to answer the question, yes,” Greg said after a moment. “This is the mischief. Can I feel you up in this movie theater or what?”

“Am I allowed to return the favor?” 

Greg nodded and leaned in, pressing his lips to the hinge of Mycroft’s jaw with a sigh that whispered over his neck and sent shivers running down his spine. Mycroft shifted, half-turning in his seat. It upset the line Greg’s lips had already begun to work down his throat, so Greg tipped his face up and met Mycroft’s mouth in a hot, exploratory kiss. 

Mycroft opened for Greg’s tongue with a gasp and found the courage within himself to reach out with a hand and find Greg’s hip. From there, it was just a matter of sliding around to find the hard line at the front of Greg’s jeans. Greg hummed and tilted his hips up appreciatively. 

Neither of them could manage much friction this way, and soon their mouths were sloppy and lazy, catching on whatever skin could be accessed. Mycroft found himself bringing Greg's wrist up to his own mouth and gently biting, just to see what would happen. As he swirled his tongue over the delicate veins there, and then sucked a gentle line over the soft inside of Greg’s forearm, Greg let out a shuddering sigh that did unexplainable things to Mycroft’s nerve endings. 

“You saw that move in an old film,” Greg accused, breathless. 

“Probably,” Mycroft agreed into the crook of Greg’s elbow, and then moved to press his mouth to Greg’s neck. “You smell wonderful.” 

“Oh, thanks, I showered,” Greg joked. 

Mycroft huffed a laugh against his throat. Greg leaned away, tilted his face down, and brushed their noses together. Mycroft felt as if he could do this forever. Just touch and nuzzle and sigh at each other. But, while he had been telling himself to focus and not think about it for a week, his mind had been working in the background on an extensive list of, for lack of a better word, goals. Perhaps desires would actually be a better word. But Mycroft hesitated to label anything in his mind as such, for fear they would go unmet. Unfulfilled. Even now, with his arms the most attractive, and hands-down the kindest and most gentle man he’d ever met, his certainty wasn’t complete or unshakable. He still worried, uselessly, that he would be unwelcome, sooner or later. 

Still, he thought this one thing had a fairly good chance of being actionable tonight.

“There’s something I want to do,” Mycroft brought himself to say, leaning away to put a little space between them.

Greg’s eyes flared with excitement, which was promising. “Yeah?” He shifted on the cushions of the loveseat to get a leg tucked under him. “Tell me, I’m dying to know.” 

“I…” Mycroft paused, took a deep breath. “When… there was a time. No. I mean to say—  you told me that one of your favorite things to do - ah, sexually, that is…” The stupidity of that clarification brought Mycroft up short. He could feel his confidence waning already, the rush of heat to his cheeks quick and intense. He hoped Greg couldn’t see the blush in the flickering light of the projector screen. “Sorry, I don’t know why I find this so difficult to talk about.” 

“I do,” Greg murmured. “Don’t fret about it. I know exactly what you’re talking about. I remember saying it to you.” He seemed to consider his next move for a moment, hesitating before shaking off whatever doubts he’d had in the moment and sliding in close, then settling in Mycroft’s lap. “This is okay, right?” 

Mycroft nodded, grateful for the way their closeness blocked the light of the film, letting Mycroft retreat into darkness while Greg’s weight anchored him and reminded him that they were like this with each other now. Mycroft was like this, now. The sort of man who let other men straddle his thighs. The sort of man who wasn’t afraid of that.

“I told you,” Greg said softly, his mouth a hair’s breadth from Mycroft’s. They practically shared breath. “That I love sucking cock. Isn’t that right?”

Mycroft’s shudder was intense enough that he knew Greg could feel it. He dropped his forehead to Greg’s shoulder and gasped with the force of it. The things Greg said weren’t even all that dirty most of the time, but the words always went through Mycroft like the most forbidden filth, setting off an autonomic response that raised the hair on the back of his neck and made his skin feel deliciously tight all over. 

“Isn’t that right?” Greg repeated, nudging Mycroft’s nose with his own, ghosting a kiss over his mouth. 

“Yes,” Mycroft breathed. 

“Is that what you want? Want me to get on my knees for you?”

Mycroft swallowed hard and his hands squeezed reflexively at Greg’s hips. “No.”

“No?”

Greg moved to lean back in Mycroft’s lap, and Mycroft, in a panic, wrapped his arms around him to hold him still. He couldn’t look him in the eye and say this, he couldn’t. 

“No,” Mycroft said again. “I… want you to teach me, actually. How to do that.” 

“Oh.” 

“To you,” Mycroft clarified uselessly, and buried his burning face in Greg’s shoulder. 

“Oh my god,” Greg sighed. “Yeah, okay. Yes, I can… I can do that.” He tugged at Mycroft until he turned his face back up. “Here?” 

Mycroft swallowed hard. He wanted that, actually. He wanted to do that in the flicker of black and white. In this room where he had been alone so many nights. “Yes,” he said before he could talk himself out of it. It was his house. He could do whatever he wanted in his own cinema room. “Please,” he added. 

Greg made a sound in the back of his throat, a cut-off groan, and kissed him quickly. “It kills me when you do that,” he said. 

“What, say please?"

“Yeah.” He shook his head, his nose bumping against Mycroft’s “You don’t have to, you know.”

“I… think I like it,” Mycroft ventured, only just then realizing it. “Is that… is it strange of me to like saying it?” 

“No,” Greg said softly. “God, not at all.” His hands were gentle on Mycroft’s shoulders, and then against his neck as they slid up to cup his face. “You like it when I give you a little instruction, too. I’ve noticed that. And it’s not strange. Nothing is strange if it works for you. Christ, Mycroft, it works for me. You have nothing to worry about.”

Mycroft nodded silently, once again struck mute by the way Greg spoke to him about himself. 

“Okay,” Greg murmured, slipping sideways off of Mycroft’s lap. “First… god. Get on your knees.”

It hit him like a lightning strike. Mycroft had to keep an iron grip on his own reflexes in that moment, or else he would have thrown himself to the ground at Greg’s feet. He steadied himself with a breath and slid slowly, instead, landing on the thick carpeting with his hands resting, waiting on Greg’s knees. The dark of the room shadowed Greg’s face as he looked down, the light from the screen shifting constantly and changing the shape of his features. Greg’s mouth hung slightly open; his breathing moved his chest faster than it had a moment ago. He closed his mouth, swallowing visibly even in the dark. 

“Touch me,” Greg whispered. “Over my clothes.” 

Mycroft, relieved to be given a first step that was at least somewhat familiar, found the hard bulge of Greg’s erection through his jeans and palmed it gently. Greg shifted, tilting up into the touch, and sighed. Mycroft squeezed lightly, and got a low hum as payment. Impulsively, he leaned forward and felt the shape, the firmness, with his mouth. 

“Holy god,” Greg muttered above him. “You don’t do anything by halves, do you, sweetheart?”

Mycroft’s eyes fell closed at the endearment, a chalkboard tucked away somewhere in his mind palace adding a tick mark: that’s the second time he’s said that to me. 

Greg’s hands made quick work of the button of his jeans, and then the zipper. 

“I want you to do whatever feels comfortable,” he told Mycroft. “Just… tell me when you’re ready to… oh, okay—”

Mycroft huffed, already yanking the trousers and pants out of his way. “Help me,” he said, surprised at the rasp in his own voice. 

Greg lifted his hips, and Mycroft pulled. He left the trousers around Greg’s ankles and leaned in, letting his palms feel out the tickle of leg hair, the silk at the inside of Greg’s thighs. In the flicker of the projector light, Greg’s cock was perfectly visible to him. He wrapped his hand around it and stroked, seeing this from an entirely new angle and unable to stop himself from cataloging all the little twitches of Greg’s legs, the way his balls drew ever so slightly tighter against his body, the way his cock jerked in Mycroft’s grip. 

“Mmmperfect,” Greg sighed. “You look like sin itself, you know.” 

Mycroft didn’t dignify that nonsense with a response. “Tell me what to do,” he said instead. 

Greg half-thrust into Mycroft’s loose grip and sucked in a breath. “Just… start slow. Lick. However you like. You really can’t do it wrong.” 

Mycroft decided not to argue that all things could be done incorrectly, needing to focus now on more important concerns. He applied his tongue to the base of Greg’s cock, licking slowly up the underside, and listened to the stutter of Greg’s breath. The reaction was immediate. He’d hardly done anything at all, but every subtle shift of Greg’s body, his breath, his small noises, indicated satisfaction. Mycroft admitted to himself that perhaps it really couldn’t be done incorrectly.  

The taste was not terribly different from the taste of any other skin. Mycroft licked again, following the same path from root to nearly the tip, stopping this time at the pulled-back foreskin, which he took the time to feel, pressing his tongue against the place where it still covered the flared head. 

“Mmph, that’s good.” One of Greg’s hands carded gently through Mycroft’s hair, then rested on his shoulder. “Just, um… you can do anything, so long as you watch your teeth.”

Mycroft stroked him gently and, now that the head was fully exposed, tasted that as well. There was a faint bitterness to the bead of precome, a muskiness, a different, slicker texture. He closed his lips over it experimentally, and Greg made a soft ha sound, his hand tightening slightly over Mycroft’s shoulder. Mycroft opened his mouth wider and slid his tongue all over the shining head. He looked up, up, up into Greg’s dark eyes, a vague sense of unease beginning to take hold. He didn’t have the faintest clue what to do next. 

Naturally, Greg understood this without having to be told. 

“Don’t move,” he commanded softly, and Mycroft did not move. He waited, one hand still on Greg’s knee, the other loosely gripping the base of his cock, with his mouth open and the head against his tongue. Greg took his hand from Mycroft’s shoulder and closed it around Mycroft’s hand instead, guiding him to stroke in a short, but slow rhythm. “Do you know what you look like?” Greg’s voice was low and dark. “Do you have any idea?”

Mycroft would have said no, obviously, had he not been busy keeping his mouth open. 

“Take me in your mouth,” Greg directed him. “Cover your teeth—  oh, perfect, darling.”

Darling. 

Mycroft found himself sighing around the mouthful of Greg’s cock and swirling his tongue over it. 

“Do that again,” Greg said. “Yeah, that’s perfect.” 

Mycroft shuddered. Every word fueled his desperation to get more of them. He wanted praise, wanted to take more of Greg in order to earn it, and so he did, sliding his mouth further, trying to open his jaw and relax his throat as the head slid toward the back of his tongue. 

“Be careful,” Greg whispered. “No need to gag yourself, it’s okay. Go slow. Your mouth is amazing just like that.”

Mycroft, already feeling the resistance of his gag reflex, drew back and sucked. 

“You’re a natural,” Greg said, and let go of Mycroft’s hand to rake through his hair again. “Beautiful. Just keep doing that. Up and down. Don’t forget to breathe through your nose.”

Mycroft realized then that he had nearly forgotten to breathe. He did, and let his head bob down and then back up, and then again, this time adding his tongue to it, drawing aimless patterns over the shaft and head as he sucked. 

“Jesus fucking…” Greg’s fingers were a little tight in Mycroft’s hair, not enough to hurt, but enough that Mycroft could feel him, could feel how much Greg wanted to direct him that way. 

He pulled off and hauled air into his lungs, overwhelmed by how much he wanted Greg to just… “Will you show me exactly what you like? Like this?” He circled Greg’s wrist with his fingers and encouraged him to press a bit against the top of his head. 

“I don’t want to overwhelm you,” Greg murmured. “I don’t want to choke you.” 

“No one ever died from gagging,” Mycroft said. “I want it, I like feeling your hand here. Please?”

Greg’s head tipped back against the back of his seat and he groaned. “You’re killing me.” 

“Also I think you should finish in my mouth,” Mycroft said, matter-of-fact and casual about it on purpose, just to watch Greg cover his eyes with his free hand.

Just for the satisfaction of hearing him mutter: “Christ,” and say, “Yes, okay. Whatever you want.” 

“Tell me what to do for you,” Mycroft reminded him. “Show me.”

“I’ve never met anyone who could be bossy about being bossed around,” Greg mused, even as he removed his hand from Mycroft’s hair so he could put it back, get a better grip, even as he once more covered Mycroft’s hand with his own and tilted his cock against Mycroft’s lips. “Open for me.” 

Mycroft groaned and did, and then spent the next several minutes in utter bliss, Greg’s hand firm in his hair, his body reacting to everything Mycroft did in a thousand ways that Mycroft filed away as fast as he could observe them, and effusive praise falling from his lips. 

“Oh, Jesus,” Greg groaned eventually. “Hang on, hang on, stop for a second and breathe.” 

Mycroft did, feeling a little drunk, a little wrung out. “Why?” 

Greg’s hand untangled from his hair and stroked down along his cheek, cupping it. “I’m close,” he said. “Really close.” 

“Good,” Mycroft replied. “Isn’t that good?”

Greg chuckled, low and a little gravelly, and swiped his thumb gently over Mycroft’s slick bottom lip. “Yeah. I just wanted to make sure you still wanted…”

“Oh. God, yes.” 

“Oh.” 

Mycroft turned his face and pressed his mouth to Greg’s palm, grateful for his caution, for the way he made things so… safe. “Let me,” he murmured. 

Greg nodded and petted at him, then shuddered and moaned brokenly as Mycroft took him back into his mouth with a happy sigh. 

It turned out, Mycroft liked this quite a lot. In fact, he could hardly imagine anything better. He was almost uncomfortably hard, and had yet to touch himself or be touched. The temptation was there, to simply reach down and open his own trousers, to take himself in hand. But he didn’t feel in any rush to do it. He wanted to focus entirely on the sensation of being guided and tugged into place, of having his mouth filled and his hair twisted by fingers just the right amount of roughness. He wanted to hear Greg’s voice calling him good and perfect. He liked the discomfort, the waiting, just as much as any other part of it.

“Mycroft, I’m—” Greg’s hips jumped. 

Mycroft, worried about gagging at the exact wrong moment, laid an arm over Greg’s pelvis to hold him still, and used his hand at the base of Greg’s cock to control the depth of the tiny thrusts he still managed. 

“Yeah, use your hand,” Greg grunted. “Just—  just a little tighter, I’m almost—  Oh, god… God! Mycroft!”

Mycroft pressed his tongue firmly to the head and held still to catch the first spurt of semen, wanting to taste it, to feel it. Greg’s hand convulsed in his hair, and his cock pulsed in his mouth. He’d gone silent with it, like he had the last time, breath held and body seizing with the first wave of orgasm. Then, as Mycroft swallowed, barely noticing the bitter taste, and then sucked again, Greg cried out. His hips bucked up, and then again. He pulled at Mycroft’s hair a little more sharply, his hands acting on reflex.

“Fuck!” Greg hunched forward. “Fuck, fuck.” 

Mycroft moaned, incredibly, shockingly satisfied in the knowledge of what he’d done, and stroked Greg through the trembling final moments. 

“Gentle,” Greg hissed. “Just, oh, gently, please—” 

Mycroft softened his hand and his mouth, letting Greg’s cock, already softening, slip out of his mouth, and took a gasping breath. He let his forehead fall to Greg’s bare thigh, and breathed deeply through his nose. The smell of him… Mycroft marveled. He never could have predicted how this would be. How it would all feel. 

He loved it. 

Greg panted above him and petted at his hair. After several long moments, he shifted, jostling Mycroft a bit. “Come up here.” 

Mycroft did, crawling up off the floor and into Greg’s lap without a moment of hesitation, and was pulled close by Greg’s shaky arms. 

“That,” Greg said, “was unbelievable. Thank you.” 

“Mmm.” Mycroft pressed his face to the space where Greg’s neck and shoulder met, and breathed in his scent there. He didn’t want to speak. He just wanted… he didn’t know what he wanted. Some instinct made him want to be held, made him want nothing so much as he wanted Greg’s skin all over him. He wished they had undressed. 

“Are you alright?”

Mycroft nodded against Greg’s shoulder. “Yes.” 

“Mycroft.” 

“Hmm?” 

“Take me to your bedroom.” Greg pressed him gently back so their eyes could meet. “Please? I… I’m gonna lay you out and just… Will you let me? Let me touch you all over, I’ll make it so good for you, I promise.” 

Mycroft could scarcely breathe through the rush of want. “Yes. Alright.” 

He didn’t see, as he moved shakily to his feet and Greg followed, tugging his jeans up along the way, that the projector had reached the end of the reel without their notice. He was too busy being kissed to see the way their shadows were cast on the screen by the projector’s light. 



***



In the bedroom, Mycroft felt oddly calm, devoid of nerves or worries, his mind wiped clean by what he had just accomplished, how much he had enjoyed it. Greg undressed himself quickly and efficiently, and then began to gently, slowly, do the same for Mycroft. His lips followed his hands, tasting parts of Mycroft as they were revealed. 

“All of that was okay for you?” Greg asked, kneeling at Mycroft’s feet next to the bed to remove his shoes and socks, his fingers tracing delicately over Mycroft’s ankle bones. 

“Yes,” Mycroft breathed, lifting his hips so Greg could tug down his trousers and discard them. “I… I loved doing it.” 

“Good,” Greg said. He stroked gently down Mycroft’s legs, and then back up, gently parting his knees as he went, then insinuating himself between them. He knelt up and tugged Mycroft down, kissing him deep and wet. 

Mycroft wondered if he could taste himself. 

“You were gorgeous,” Greg murmured, kissing across Mycroft’s pectorals while gently tracing over any bit of skin he could reach with his fingertips. “I’m so glad you liked it. You did so beautifully, I think I came so hard I lost a year of my life.”

Mycroft laughed, a little breathless as he watched Greg touching him. “I hope not,” he said. The moment of humor helped him to feel grounded in the moment at last. He remembered that he was allowed to touch Greg in return, and decided to stroke his fingers through his hair in a mimickry of what Greg had done to him just minutes before. “Is it always like this?”

“Like what?” Greg rocked back, hands soft on Mycroft’s thighs. 

“I don’t know,” Mycroft sighed. “Good. Intense.” 

“No,” Greg said plainly. “It’s not always.” His thumbs stroked in sweeping half-circles, brushing the edges of Mycroft’s underwear. “This is… chemistry. Very, very good chemistry. We’re well suited, I think. A lucky coincidence, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Mycroft murmured. 

“Budge up,” Greg said. “Lie back against your pillows. This bed is incredible, by the way. You hedonist.”

Mycroft laughed and did as he was told. “I’ve been called a lot of things,” he said. “But that one is new.”

“Hmm.” Greg followed him up onto the bed, naked and unselfconscious as he crawled over Mycroft’s body, hovering over him on his elbows. “Has no one seen this flat?”

“Not many people.” 

Greg leaned down and nipped at Mycroft’s lower lip. “Well, I suppose I don’t mind being the only one to know how much you like soft blankets and being kissed for hours on end.”

“Well,” Mycroft said, and then didn’t know how to finish the sentence. “Well.”

“You’re gorgeous,” Greg said, and covered Mycroft’s body with his own, tangling their legs.

Mycroft was still achingly hard, though some of the urgency had faded on the trip to the bedroom. He couldn’t help but push up against the pressure of Greg’s hip, seeking out whatever friction he could. “You’re wasting time on flattery,” he grumbled when Greg refused to let him move more than that. 

“It’s not flattery,” Greg chuckled. “You’ve got to know that by now. Anyway, I think you’re just a little desperate, is all. Gonna come for me? Will you let me taste that gorgeous cock, finally? I’ve thought about it so many times.”

“The things you say,” Mycroft gasped, feeling himself go hot with embarrassed desire. 

“You like it,” Greg murmured, and kissed a hot line down Mycroft’s throat. “Don’t you?”

“Yes,” Mycroft hissed. Greg’s tongue flicked over his right nipple and Mycroft gasped. “Oh.”

“You’re so sensitive,” Greg said, and did it to the other. “Your skin is so pretty, all flushed like this. I bet you mark up easy.”

“I do,” Mycroft said, trying to sound at least somewhat composed and coming up short. “In fact you left a love bite on my neck that was observed at lunch with my family last week.” 

Greg chuckled, his mouth now somewhere in the vicinity of Mycroft’s ribs. He nuzzled and licked and kissed, moving slowly toward Mycroft’s bellybutton. Mycroft held still, vaguely uncomfortable having so much attention paid to his midsection. But then Greg’s tongue dipped teasingly into the well of his navel, and Mycroft forgot to be self conscious. 

“Why—” Mycroft gasped. “Why does that feel good?”

Greg huffed and did it again, his hand stroking over the hard line of Mycroft’s erection this time. Mycroft squirmed, his body unsure of which way to move to get more of all that sensation.

“Dunno why,” Greg said once he’d finished winding Mycroft up into a shivering mess. “It’s ticklish and not, seems to go straight to your cock, right?” 

“Y-yes.” 

“Mmm, yeah, no clue.” Greg mouthed over the soft skin just above the waistband of Mycroft’s pants. He nosed at the thin trail of hair at the center. “You’re okay with this?”

“With what?” Mycroft panted, wanting desperately to hitch his hips up and rub against whatever part of Greg was closest. 

“Anything you don’t want me to do? You can say no to anything. You can tell me to stop at any time.”

“I know that.” Mycroft leaned up on his elbows. “I’m fine. Please don’t stop.” 

Greg nodded, then closed his mouth over the cloth-covered head of Mycroft’s cock. 

Mycroft choked on a moan and fell back against the pillows. At first there was only heat, the burn of Greg’s breath through the fabric, and pressure. Then wetness as Greg soaked the fabric of Mycroft’s underwear with his tongue, plastering it to the hard flesh beneath. Greg’s tongue worked over the hard line of the shaft, down and down, and then he nosed gently at the shape of Mycroft’s balls. Mycroft found himself spreading his legs further, all but begging for more with his body. He couldn’t manage words, thank god, or he might have babbled out the pleas running through his mind. 

Greg sucked kisses into the skin high on the insides of Mycroft’s thighs. He breathed hot and heavy over him. He slipped his fingers under the elastic at Mycroft’s waist. 

“Gonna take this off, okay?”

“Yes.”

Greg tossed the underwear over his shoulder, eyes fixed to Mycroft’s body. Mycroft met his gaze in the dim light and shivered. “Beautiful,” Greg said, and then pushed his shoulders under Mycroft’s legs, holding his thighs open, and licked a hot strip from his balls to the leaking tip of his cock. 

Mycroft shuddered, and realized in that moment that this would be over fast. “Oh, my god.” 

“Mmm,” Greg lapped at the shining precome, tongued at the frenulum, closed his lips over the head as his eyes drifted shut in clear pleasure.

Mycroft couldn’t catch his breath. Pleasure seemed to have punched a hole in his chest. He knew he was moaning, wanton, and could not stop. 

“Taste so good,” Greg muttered, licking back down Mycroft’s cock to lave at his balls. “Christ, smell so good. So gorgeous.” 

The praise seemed absent-minded, as if Greg spoke without even meaning to, the steady flow of gruff, worshipful words only interrupted when his mouth was otherwise full. Mycroft shook and shivered, overwhelmed with sensation. Greg stroked him firmly with one hand while his mouth paid attention to his thighs once more, his tongue teasing at the crease where leg met buttock.

“God, what if I ate you out?” 

Mycroft jerked as if by electric shock, taken by surprise. “Wha—” 

“I would love that,” he continued, but moved on, not following through on the idea. He teased his tongue just behind Mycroft’s sac. “You’ll have to tell me when I can do that for you.” 

“Mmhmm,” Mycroft agreed, strangled, then gasped at the press of Greg’s thumb alongside his tongue. 

Greg stroked that sensitive place behind Mycroft’s balls as he licked back up his cock, and then as he swallowed Mycroft down, the heat of his mouth engulfing him entirely, his thumb slipped down to tease at Mycroft’s hole, not pressing in but swirling around. 

Mycroft shouted and his eyes slammed shut. He wanted to sit up and look, to see what Greg looked like with his lips stretched around Mycroft’s cock. But it would be too much. Mycroft’s senses felt overloaded, his brain unable to process it all fast enough. Even the sight of his bedroom ceiling was too much to take in. He tried to warn Greg, but wasn’t sure if he succeeded. Mycroft pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes as the rush of blood in his ears drowned out all else, and he came so hard that he couldn’t be sure if the stars he saw were from that or from the pressure of his hands. 

It felt and looked like an explosion, and Mycroft was more than happy to be obliterated by it.

Chapter Text

Mycroft returned to normal functioning by degrees, thought processes seeming to whirr back to life one at a time. He registered his breath, still coming a little short, but starting to calm in the aftermath. He took stock of his limbs, of his body, which felt limp and relaxed in a way it had never been, not once in his life. He was able to register the words being spoken to him and felt the gentle stroke of fingers over his forehead and scalp. 

“There we go,” Greg murmured. “There you are. That was a lot for you, huh, sweetheart?”

Mycroft’s voice rasped out of him. “A bit.” 

“A bit,” Greg laughed. “Yeah.” 

Mycroft realized he was leaning into Greg’s hand long after he started doing it, and decided it felt too good to stop. “You are a sex...wizard.” He winced. “I meant to say something else.” 

Greg just laughed again and slid in close, curling into Mycroft’s side and keeping up the soft petting of his hand through Mycroft’s hair. “You’ll get that big amazing brain back in a few minutes,” he assured him. “Promise. I feel pretty good about myself right now. Can’t believe I managed to knock you out for a minute.” 

“Shhh.” Mycroft moved his exhausted body, shifting as close as he could get to Greg. Lucky for him, Greg seemed to understand what he wanted without having it explained, and he arranged them in a closer cuddle. “Mmm, thank you.” 

“I love a good cuddle,” Greg said. 

Mycroft made a few small adjustments for comfort, and became vaguely aware that Greg was hard again, his erection pressed against Mycroft’s thigh. “Are you…”

“I couldn’t come again this soon if I wanted to,” Greg murmured. “Don’t worry about me right now, I’m more than fine.” 

They lay together in the quiet for a while, and Mycroft found himself drifting along as if on a wave of comfort and satisfaction. It was not unlike swimming past the breakers, fighting and exhilarating in the crash of waves, only to find the gentle swells one could float on as if the tumultuous line of sea had never existed. Mycroft would have rolled his eyes at himself for that bit of poetry, had his eyes been able to stay open. 

“Mycroft?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m not finished with you just yet.” 

“You have emptied me,” Mycroft protested with a groan. “What more could you wish to do to me?”

Greg laughed, his chest shaking against him. He pressed a kiss to Mycroft’s cheek. “Relax, I’ll let you recover. What I mean to say is, I’d like to stay, if you’ll have me. It’s still early right now, but… maybe we could catch some rest and then… I dunno. See what other mischief we can get up to.” 

Mycroft blinked his eyes open and considered that he was being offered an entire night of paradigm-shifting sex and this warm closeness, by one of the most attractive men he’d ever seen, and he wondered how he had managed it all. He supposed it was all down to Alicia. He mentally increased his budget for her wedding gift. 

“What about Seven?” 

Greg smiled and nuzzled at Mycroft’s nose with his own. “You are the most precious cat person,” he said. “Seven is fine. I can call my next door neighbor to feed him, no problem.” 

“Okay,” Mycroft said. “Yes. Please stay. I would love that.” 

“Great.” Greg kissed him softly, then moved away carefully. “I’ll call about the cat now, so I can come back and nap with you. Alright?”

“Alright,” Mycroft yawned, though even as he said it, he was reaching out and holding onto Greg’s wrist, curiously hesitant to let him go. 

“Back in two seconds,” Greg whispered, and kissed him one more time before gently extracting himself from the bed. 

Mycroft wanted to wait for him to return, to feel him sliding close, but he was asleep between one breath and the next. 



***



Mycroft woke in the dark, the sky outside the bedroom having long deepened into night. If he had to guess, he would put the time around 9 o’clock. It took him another second of wakefulness to realize he was being held, had been sleeping in someone’s arms. Mycroft breathed in and held it, then let it out very slowly. 

Greg was spooned up behind him, naked, his bare skin plastered to Mycroft’s. It was… a bit too warm, if Mycroft was honest, but also utterly wonderful. But despite how wonderful it was, Mycroft’s bladder was screaming and the taste in his mouth was distinctly unpleasant. Greg slept through his slow, painstaking effort to extricate himself without disturbing the man sharing his bed, and Mycroft made it to the en suite in three quick, silent strides. 

He used the toilet and brushed his teeth, then dug around the cabinet for an extra toothbrush. He left it, still wrapped, on the side of the sink, and paused to stare at himself in the mirror. His hair was a wreck, of course, fluffed and curling a little. There was a redness to his skin, a mild stubble burn from Greg’s kisses, and his mouth was still a little puffy from all it had done. Mycroft blinked at himself. He looked debauched. Well-fucked. He looked younger, and felt it, too. It was all just a little bizarre. 

Mycroft left the bathroom door open and the light on to see by. He was surprised to find Greg awake, eyes a little bleary.

“Hello,” he murmured, hesitating at the edge of the mattress. 

“Look at you,” Greg’s sleep-rough voice murmured. “You look thoroughly ruined. Beautiful.” 

Mycroft huffed. “Yes, well. That would be your handiwork.” 

“Mmm.” Greg reached across the bed for him. “Damn, I’m good then,” he said. “Come back to bed.” 

“That was the plan,” Mycroft said, climbing under the covers. Greg reeled him in immediately, sighing in obvious satisfaction. 

“You’re so warm,” he groaned, burrowing his face into Mycroft’s neck. “I’d kiss you but my breath is probably awful.”

“There’s an extra toothbrush.”

Greg hummed again. “I’ll go do that soon. Are you alright?”

“Yes, of course.” Mycroft wrapped his arms tentatively around Greg’s shoulders. “You?”

“I’m the best I’ve been in ages,” Greg said. “I can’t remember the last nap I took.” 

“Same.” Mycroft trailed his fingers down Greg’s arm, just because he could. “It’s late. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”

“Yeah,” Greg replied. “Let’s order a pizza straight to the bed, I don’t want to get up.”

Mycroft laughed and shook his head. “I don’t think Thomas will let a delivery person up to the flat to blindly search for the bedroom, I’m afraid.” 

“Well what’s the point of being this posh,” Greg demanded, “if you can’t just snap your fingers for pizza-on-demand?”

“A very good point,” Mycroft said. “I’ll lodge a complaint with the Queen, whom I obviously know personally.”

“Do that.” 

There was a long, comfortable quiet. Greg snuffled at Mycroft’s neck some more, and Mycroft let his hands become emboldened, stroking over the smooth skin of Greg’s back. He didn’t know if this was a normal occurrence for casual sex friends. It felt… distinctly un-casual. But he liked it. He loved it, in fact, which was a surprise. He had never really imagined this - closeness, intimacy - when he had attempted to picture finally managing the rest. He didn’t want to bring it all to a halt by asking whether it was normal. 

Eventually, Greg pressed a kiss to Mycroft’s cheek and rolled away and out of bed. “Be back, all minty fresh,” he whispered, and disappeared into the bathroom, the closed door plunging the room back into darkness. 

The sheets smelled like sex and Greg’s deodorant, in addition to the usual fabric softener and verbena shower gel that Mycroft liked. He worried about being caught, so he didn’t roll over and bury his face in the pillow for a long inhale, but it was a close thing. 

It was strange to feel so at peace. Mycroft closed his eyes and thought of the way he’d become overwhelmed and fled Greg’s flat. He thought of the way he had cataloged it all last time in an effort to compartmentalize, organizing a tornado of snatched images and sensations into a neat sheaf of paper. He pictured it, still stacked atop the desk in the room of his mind palace where he’d thought he could keep it all. 

It had backfired. Mycroft had proceeded to treat all of that sensory input, all of that feeling, like he’d treat anything else in his life. He’d back-burnered it, as he had done his relationship with his family, his multi-faceted, multi-origin grief, his fear. He had used it only as a means to achieve the most practical ends, just as he did with everything else. He’d let his confidence be bolstered by it, carrying himself a little differently but ignoring why. He had kept his calm even as his skin screamed for more input. More touch. He had told himself he was being absurd. He hadn’t been able to access that stack of paper and understand that the itch at the back of his brain was want. Was longing. That he had been touch-starved and desperately afraid of what would happen if he sought connection, and now that he had, he wasn't afraid anymore but instead terribly addicted. He felt it all now, sharp in his chest. He stretched an arm across the empty half of his bed and thought how absurd it was to feel slightly bereft when Greg was merely a single closed door away.

A sheaf of papers wouldn’t do. Mycroft closed his eyes again, returning to the desk in his mind palace. He picked the memories up and hastily imagined a new room. Wide and windowed and skylit, with an enormous indoor swimming pool, the details didn’t matter for now. Mycroft stood at the edge and looked down into the clear, seemingly bottomless water. This might work, he thought, and poured it all in, dissolving the paper in the deep end. He transmuted the rest of it, the last day of it, to water that he could pour from himself and into the pool. He could sink into this later, if he wished. He could dip into it whenever he wanted; float and not drown. He could have this by the cupful. By the bucket.  

What unimaginable luxury. 



***



They ordered from Mycroft’s favorite Afghan restaurant, instead of a pizza, and ate it in bed. 

“I’ve never done this,” Mycroft confessed as they arranged the containers on top of the hastily straightened coverlet. 

“What, eaten in bed?” Greg stood across the mattress from Mycroft in nothing but his briefs, making origami with the paper napkins. He placed a lotus flower on top of Mycroft’s waiting paper plate, and arranged the plastic flatware carefully beside it. “We’re just having all the firsts today.” 

Mycroft felt himself blush, and rolled his eyes. “Very funny.”

Greg brought a knee up onto the bed and stretched across, carefully avoiding upsetting the falafel, and reached for Mycroft, pulling him by the waistband until he acquiesced to a kiss. “Wasn’t being funny,” he said, and sat on one side of their little picnic. He began to fold another napkin for his own plate. “Come on, let’s eat. You know, I’ve had falafel but I don’t think I’ve ever had anything of the rest of it before. So. A first for me, too.” He winked. 

Mycroft felt a wave of fondness and gratitude, and slid onto the bed as well, tucking his legs to the side. “In that case,” he said, “I am about to rock your world off its axis. This is kaddu, and you’re going to love it.” 

Greg took a bite from Mycroft’s fork and chewed, eyes going wide. “Oh, holy shit. What is that?”

“Pumpkin,” Mycroft said. “It’s my favorite.” 

“I can see why,” Greg said. “Amazing.” 

“Everything can be eaten off of pieces of naan,” Mycroft explained. “Which, now that I think of it, might get a little messy.” He eyed his duvet. “Oh, well.” 

“We’ve defiled these bedclothes plenty so far,” Greg teased. “Don’t think a little hummus will matter, to be honest.”

Mycroft shook his head and went about scooping small bits from each dish onto his plate. “You’re awful to tease me.” 

“I like your blush,” Greg said. “Sue me.”

They lapsed into comfortable silence, eating and staring at each other, trading bites here and there. 

Mycroft had never had such a wonderful Easter Sunday. Once he thought it, he said it out loud. “Thank you,” he added. 

“Christ,” Greg said, then bit his lip sheepishly. “Bit blasphemous, considering. Whoops. But no, seriously - likewise. This has been just… I don’t know that I’ve ever had such a nice Sunday, to be honest.”

“You work too hard,” Mycroft admonished, well aware that he was very much the pot to Greg’s kettle in this equation. 

“Yeah,” Greg agreed easily. “I know. But it’s not just that. I just… never really learned how to relax. I think you can probably relate, maybe for different reasons.”

Mycroft nodded, and tried not to be too obvious about studying Greg’s face. He wanted to ask. He wanted so badly to know more, but he never knew what was off-limits. 

“Ask,” Greg said, his mouth pulling up on one side in a sideways smirk. “Go on.” 

“How could you possibly know what I was going to ask?” 

“I do have a brain and some observational skills.” Greg kept his eyes on his task as he spread yogurt sauce over a piece of naan. “You’re not as subtle as you think.”

“I’ll have you know,” Mycroft said haughtily, “that I am professionally subtle.”

“Not with me,” Greg said simply. “So, ask.”

Mycroft sighed, unable to deny it. “What was the family like? The one you lived with when you were older?” 

Greg paused, his hand halfway between the styrofoam containers between them and his plate, two round falafel held between his fingers. He glanced at Mycroft, surprised. “That’s not what I thought you were going to ask.” 

“No?”

“No.”

Mycroft feigned a casualness he didn’t feel at all, leaning back against the pillows and chewing on a bit of banjaan. “What did you think I would ask?”

“If I was abused,” Greg said baldly. 

“Were you?”

“A bit.”

“Do you want to talk about that?”

“Nope.” 

Mycroft smiled, hoping it appeared the way he intended it, and not as a smirk. He had been accused, in the past, of being dismissive and unwelcoming during more personal or intimate conversation. “Then I won’t ask about that.” 

“The family I lived with.” Greg shrugged. “They were nice.”

“How old were you when you were placed there?”

Greg appeared to think, head tilting side to side as he counted back. “I think I was maybe fifteen. Lived there for three years ‘til I aged out. Their names were Mina and Louis. They were retirees with grown children who had emigrated. One to America. The other… I think Italy? I can’t remember. Anyway, they liked fostering older kids. Said it was the best time they could remember with their own.” 

“They were kind to you?”

Greg nodded. “Yeah, very. I’d been living in a group home just before, and it was… not the best. They ended up taking me and an older boy, a year out from aging beyond the system. He was actually my best friend. Still is, I suppose, though he lives far away now. Dorset.” 

“What is his name?” 

“Paul.” Greg set down the folded piece of naan and swallowed, reaching for the bottle of water he’d set aside. He appeared to think while he drank, turning something over in his mind, deciding whether he wanted to say it out loud. “I. Lost my virginity to Paul, actually.”

Mycroft had known he would say it a second before he did. He smiled again. “Scandalous,” he murmured. 

“Oh, yes,” Greg laughed quietly and nodded. “Forbidden trysts in the care home. More common than one might think, to be honest. With Paul it was… genuine. I loved him, pretty desperately. I love him still, but in a different way of course. When he aged out he went a bit… well, off the rails. Partied a lot. I saw him rarely, that first year or so. Then I eventually turned eighteen and started Uni. He would take me out from time to time, dancing and the like. I would crash at his flat, needing to get away from the dormitories. He despaired of me, really, I was a bit boring and by-the-book in comparison.” 

“Is he still the clubbing sort?”

Greg shook his head. “Nah. He’s been with Morris for years now. And… he’s positive. They think he caught it early on before anyone really knew what it was. Bloody lucky to be alive, but he has to be careful with his health.” 

“Oh…” Mycroft floundered for a moment, knowing his mouth hung open and he looked like a fool. 

“He’s alright,” Greg said gently. “He became bloody militant about safety, you know, once the shape of things started to come out. He hated what I was doing for money. Thought it was too risky.” 

“You’ve mentioned to me before that you were always very serious about protection,” Mycroft said delicately. 

“Yeah, after Paul tested positive, I did take it very seriously.” Greg sighed. “To be honest… I’ve been very lax with you. I… shouldn’t be.” 

Mycroft, rather than rushing to assure Greg that it was fine, took a moment to think that over. He cracked open his own water and drank, letting the facts of it all tumble over themselves in his head. “I am of no threat to your safety,” he said after a moment. “I trust that you are of no threat to mine. It’s unlikely we’ll ever find ourselves so sure again. I have no complaints.”

“Still,” Greg said. He picked up the last of his naan and took a bite. He averted his eyes when he spoke again. “If we do anything… um. More, let’s say. Than what we’ve done so far. We’re using condoms, end of discussion.”

Mycroft nodded. “Of course.” 

There was an awkward pause. 

“Tell me how you got into UCL,” Mycroft tried, and Greg’s relief was instant and obvious. 

He began the tale, which started with a rugby coach who realized Greg was smarter than he looked and ended with an academic scholarship, while Mycroft reached for the container which held their dessert. 



***



They cleaned up and carried the trash to the kitchen, and Mycroft went to let Judy out of the library for her supper. 

“Yes, I know,” he told her as she darted past him, trilling her discontent. “I closed you up and I’m late, I’m sorry.”

By the time he caught up to her in the kitchen, she had commenced a winding dance between and around Greg’s ankles.

“She is really beautiful,” Greg said when Mycroft paused in the doorway. 

“You should have seen her when I found her,” Mycroft said. He took down her food bowl and a can from the cabinets. “Flea ridden and half-starved.”

“Mm, Seven was pretty bad off when I came across him, as well.” Greg squatted down to run fingers down Judy’s back. “Took almost a year for him to look full grown, even though the vet figured he was already supposed to be.” 

“She was too young to be apart from her mother,” Mycroft said. He bent to set down the food. “I bottle fed her for a bit.” 

“That’s precious.” Greg held out a hand and Mycroft took it, pulling him up from the floor while Judy attacked her food. 

“You just fed your cat from a crystal dish,” he said. 

Mycroft refused to look embarrassed about it. “Yes.” 

Greg smiled and stepped forward, backing Mycroft into the worktop. “That’s precious, too,” he said, and kissed him. 

Mycroft had trouble stifling his smile enough to kiss back properly. 



***



Mycroft was dying for a cigarette, so they ended up on the roof, sharing one. 

“You’re corrupting me,” Greg teased. “I’m nearly quit of these things.”

“I am a very bad person,” Mycroft agreed easily. “Utterly unrepentant, too.”

Greg leaned back against him in the lounge chair and handed the cigarette back. Mycroft took a drag and sighed out the smoke. 

“This is… so indulgent,” he said after a moment. “I don’t know how I’ll go back to work on Tuesday.”

Greg laughed. “This is nothing. I’ve got Mr Petrie from next door checking in on Seven tomorrow morning as well. You won’t be able to move by the time I’m finished with you. I promise.”

Mycroft shivered, and handed the cigarette over. “What if I only wish to watch another Cary Grant film and play checkers?”

Greg laughed, the rumble of it shaking him in Mycroft’s lap. He tilted his head back onto Mycroft’s shoulder. “Is that what you want?”

Mycroft bent and kissed him. “No,” he said. “Ruin me, please.”

“Jesus,” Greg drawled, almost pained. “I’ve created a monster.”

“Perhaps.” Mycroft took the final drag from the cigarette and discarded it in the ashtray before wrapping both arms around Greg and leaning back in the chair. “Is this alright?”

Greg’s hands came up to squeeze Mycroft’s forearms where they crossed his chest, and stayed there. “Yeah,” he said after a moment. “Of course.”



***



Back in the bedroom, the door left open for Judy, should she deign to join them later, Greg pulled Mycroft down to the bed and into more kisses. They stretched out against each other and Mycroft soon found himself with his legs tangled in Greg’s, thigh hitched over thigh so they could rub lazily together more effectively. 

Greg hummed and sighed and squeezed at Mycroft’s backside. “You feel so good,” he murmured, praise doled out like it cost nothing. “Could you come again?” 

Mycroft went hot all over, once again shocked into the realization of what he was doing. I’ve had sex. Twice. And now again. It made him feel a bit stupid, this inability to believe he’d actually done it, but Mycroft couldn’t seem to square it in his mind yet. He didn’t know that he wanted to. The breathless surprise only added to the exquisite sensation of mindless pleasure. 

“Maybe,” he said, nearly forgetting to answer the question. “Probably.” 

“Good,” Greg murmured, gruff with promise. 

Before they slept that night, Mycroft came again. Twice.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Greg slipped from the bed while Mycroft slept and made his way to the kitchen. He thought it might be a little presumptuous to make breakfast in someone else’s kitchen, but he could manage tea, at least. 

Judy greeted him at the bottom of the stairs, big blue eyes and twitching tail. 

“Hello, beauty,” he whispered. “I think I remember where your food is, d’you want some? Come on! Let’s go! Let’s go!”

He might have been more reserved anywhere else, just in case he got caught talking to a cat like a loon, but he figured a man who fed his cat from Swarovski wouldn’t judge. 

In the kitchen, Greg washed the bowl from the night before and refilled it with another small can of food from the cabinet while the kettle heated. He left Judy to her (gourmet, very fancy) meal, and made his way carefully back up the stairs with two mugs in hand. Mycroft was awake, but only barely, when he got back to the bedroom. 

“Tea?” Mycroft sat up. “Really? That’s…”

“It’s very sweet of me, I know.” Greg handed over the mug, then leaned in to run a hand over Mycroft’s bedhead. “It’s still really hot though, so be careful. Also, I fed Judy.”

Mycroft rubbed his bleary eyes and blinked owlishly. “You did?"

“Mmmhmm. I’ve fed a cat before, I managed.”

“That’s… it really is sweet.”

“Like I said,” Greg drawled. “I know.” 

Mycroft seemed a little overwhelmed for having just woken up, so Greg just kissed his forehead. 

“Thank you,” Mycroft said. “Really.”

“No trouble,” Greg said. “I’m going to shower. Join me if you like, when you’re actually awake.” 

Mycroft nodded, then seemed stymied by his tea all over again. 

Greg worried briefly that he would need a manual to figure out how to work Mycroft’s fancy shower, but he found the switch to redirect the water and managed not to scald himself. He stood under the hot spray and breathed for a moment. Time to get his head on straight. Time to remember why he was where he was, in this incredibly posh flat, with this incredibly posh man. 

He was going to pay you for this, he told himself. He would’ve probably paid a lot for this. 

Greg felt immediately guilty for thinking it. It wasn’t fair, and he didn’t really care about the money. He hung his head under the spray and sighed. He just… needed to remember what he’d set out to do: get laid occasionally, have a little bit of a social life, while helping Mycroft figure out what he liked. He needed to remember that this had all started because Mycroft was trying to settle down with someone appropriate. 

In other words: he needed to remember not to get too comfortable. 

Greg reached for what he was pretty sure was shower gel, just as the bathroom door opened and closed again. 

“You coming in?” 

“Ah…” 

Greg poked his head out of the shower curtain to find Mycroft paused awkwardly in the middle of the bathroom, shifting from foot to foot. “Oh.” Greg returned to the shower, shutting the curtain with a snap. “Just go, I don’t mind.”

“I… Well.” 

“It’s just piss, Mycroft,” Greg said, unable to keep the laughter out of his voice. “Right?”

“Yes.”

The best part was, Greg could hear the blush. “Then go, I can’t even hear it. I’m in here. The water is on.” 

“Obviously it’s fine,” Mycroft said loudly. 

“Mmmhmm.” Greg squeezed some shower gel into his hand and began to mix lather between his palms. After a moment he heard the toilet lit clatter down, and then nothing. “Am I allowed to look now?”

“...yes.” 

Greg peeked out of the curtain again. Mycroft was still dressed, or as dressed as he had been when they’d finally crashed the night before - which was to say: minimally, in nothing but his underwear. A livid red smudge stood out on his clavicle, where Greg had sucked a mark some time around two in the morning, if he remembered right. He looked nervous, unsure of his welcome, and young. Greg had a sudden, technicolor flashback to Mycroft’s face twisted in agonized pleasure as he came for the second time. Greg had kept him on the edge for the longest time, enjoying winding him up and leaving him hanging, swallowing his protests, outraged at first, then increasingly desperate, and finally, once the begging started, kissing him and touching him as sweetly as Greg knew how, pulling him over the edge that way. 

  He realized he’d been staring.

“You coming in?”

Mycroft shifted. “You’re sure you don’t mind?”

“We showered together before,” Greg reminded him. “And I did tell you to come join me if you liked. Come here.” 

Mycroft took a tentative step forward, close enough that Greg could reach out and reel him in for a kiss. He kept it short and fairly chaste, not wanting to attempt anything too exciting while standing in a slippery bathtub. 

“Come on before the water gets cold,” he said, and ducked back behind the shower curtain. 

“The water never gets cold,” Mycroft said haughtily, but he did step into the shower moments later, sans pants. 

“Hello,” Greg said, cursing himself for the way he couldn’t help but be soft and fond in the face of Mycroft’s reddened cheeks. 

“...hello.” Mycroft blinked, seeming to remember, perhaps, what they’d done for hours the night before. 

Greg just grinned and handed him the shampoo, then turned his back to him. “You wash my hair, I’ll wash yours?”

“Yes, alright.”

Greg nearly melted at the gentle scritch of Mycroft’s long, nimble fingers against his scalp moments later. “That’s nice.” 

“This… and the last time, as well… it’s a curiously enjoyable activity. Just… washing with someone. How strange.”

Greg bit down on his grin and leaned into Mycroft’s touch. “Is it strange? I dunno. Seems like nothing compared to everything else we got up to.” 

Mycroft hummed, then said, “I think this might be more intimate than any of that.”

Greg winced, glad Mycroft couldn’t see him. He was right. Of course he was right. Greg couldn’t back out of it now, though, and he didn’t want to. But he added it to a growing list of things he really shouldn’t be doing: showering together; sleeping in the same bed; cuddling constantly. It was all just going to make it hurt all the more when Mycroft decided he was ready to move on to his real goal. 

“Keep your eyes closed and rinse,” Mycroft murmured, tilting Greg’s head down gently so the stream of water could sluice away the shampoo suds. 

Greg breathed deeply, and told himself to stop worrying so much. 



***



He left before supper time, having spent the day alternating between blissful, aimless touching and world-shaking, intense sex the likes of which he had never had before. He felt he’d rubbed against every part of Mycroft’s body by the time he finally tore himself away. He’d showered twice, and experienced his first dry orgasm in years, shaking and crying out with nothing left to spill between their bellies as Mycroft stroked him through the tremors. 

Mycroft had been stunned by it, mouth agape and eyes wide, and then had come one last time with obvious surprise, laughing, while Greg cursed a blue streak and twitched beneath him. 

Greg couldn’t believe how easy it all was. He’d been careful not to do anything that might make it seem like he wanted to press for anything beyond what Mycroft asked for, afraid of shattering that gorgeous confidence. Part of him was curious though, about whether it would stand up to a little gentle suggestion. It wasn’t easy to resist coming out and asking directly if Mycroft would like to let Greg ride him into the mattress. But, resist Greg did.

And that was fine, because he hadn’t been joking the other day, when he’d told Mycroft that he’d started to feel a bit Victorian about it. Anticipation and waiting were starting to become something like foreplay. He didn’t mind more of it, not at all.

Greg chastely kissed Mycroft goodbye at the door, even as a voice in his head told him that friends with benefits didn’t generally kiss outside the context of sex. He had already told Mycroft it was fine, and then they’d kissed possibly hundreds of times since, and at least half of those had been just because. Because the film they were watching had hit a lull, because the cat was being particularly cute and Mycroft was being absurdly indulgent of her, because a cup of tea had been pressed into his hands, because the light in the library was just right and Mycroft’s hair looked flaming ginger because of it. 

“Call me,” Greg said before stepping out the door. “Or I’ll call you. No freaking out this time.”

“That is not what happened last time,” Mycroft insisted, but he was smiling. “I will call you.” 

Greg wanted to walk back into the flat and never leave. He smiled, waved a little awkwardly, and headed for the lift. He was a little disappointed when the door clicked shut behind him, but told himself to get a grip and not to look back at it. 

And then, a hand caught his just after he pressed the down button. Greg looked up, surprised, and had all of three seconds to register Mycroft’s furrowed brow before he was being kissed, deep and gasping, long-fingered hands gripping him tightly, almost too tightly, and then releasing him abruptly.

“Thank you,” Mycroft said, and took a step back. 

Behind Greg, the lift dinged to signal its arrival. He didn’t know how to move. “Okay,” he said, struck dumb. 

Mycroft’s mouth twitched into a smile that he covered with one hand, taking another step, and then another, backwards toward the door to his flat. “Safe trip home.”

“Call me,” Greg demanded, sliding sideways into the lift and carefully not looking at the attendant, lest his face give everything away. “I mean it.” 

“I will.” 

The doors slid shut. 



***



There were delays, significant ones, on his way home. Greg spent the long minutes paused underground contemplating the satisfaction and soreness in his body: the muscles of his abdomen, of his thighs, even his upper arms, his neck. They hadn’t gone beyond hands and mouths, and yet Greg had worked muscles he hadn’t in a good while. He liked the feeling. The time spent waiting for the train to move again didn’t feel like time wasted when he had a technicolor film of the last two days to review in his mind. 

The walk home was spent trying to clear all that. He told himself, again, that he needed to get a handle on all this. He needed to enter his flat refreshed and prepared to face the week. It was hols, yes, but he could use the time off from classes to get ahead for after break. He needed to be able to focus on work. He didn’t have much time left at the center, after all. 

By the time he let himself into his building, Greg felt he had managed to refocus. To set aside whatever the hell had just gone on in Mycroft’s weird, posh mansion. 

His phone rang as he locked up behind himself. Greg shucked his jacket in a hurry and plucked up the receiver.

“‘Lo?”

“I told you I would call.” 

And just like that, Greg was done for.

“Hey,” he breathed, reeling. “How… your timing is insane. I just walked in.”

“I know,” Mycroft murmured. 

“How?” Greg laughed. “Jesus. There were massive delays on the tube.”

“Yes,” he said, a touch more smug than he’d been a moment before. “I know.”

“How?”

Mycroft chuckled. “Wouldn’t you like to know. Now listen, I called for a reason.”

Greg leaned against the wall beside the phone and closed his eyes. He absolutely did not press a hand to his chest. “You missed me?”

There was a beat of silence. “Well.” Mycroft cleared his throat. “Well, I hoped to plan to see you again. So. I suppose so, yes.” 

Greg wanted to sink to the floor, slide down the wall like a teenage girl in some romantic comedy. “I’m free Wednesday after two. I picked up an extra shift at the center.” 

Mycroft hummed over the line, clearly thinking over potential plans. “Well, I should be out of the office at a reasonable hour. The week after a bank holiday always seems a bit lazy. Dinner? Seven? I… wondered if you might want to go somewhere. My treat, obviously. And then… perhaps a film? Or anything you want to do. It occurs to me that I kept you rather cooped up this weekend.” 

That sounds like a bloody date, Greg thought. The idea had him torn. On the one hand, he had set out to acclimate Mycroft to all the trappings of dating. Hadn’t he? He felt that had been part of this entire… whatever it was. On the other hand, he knew good and well that what he was doing was dating this man without telling him. Did Mycroft mean that they would go to dinner and a movie as friends? Of course he did. That was the deal.  

Greg shook his head at himself. “That sounds great,” he said. “Meet at yours or mine?”

“Mine would probably be best,” Mycroft said. “If you don’t mind, that is. It would take some time for me to get to your flat directly from work. I don’t wish to keep you out too late, I know you work early on Thursday.”

How have you sussed out my schedule? Greg bit his lip. It was Mycroft. He’d apparently predicted tube delays tonight. Of course he’d worked out Greg’s schedule. 

“That’s fine,” Greg said, hardly in control of his own mouth. He pressed his fingers to his forehead, hard, and tried to sound normal. “Thank you for calling me.”

“I said that I would.”

Greg bit down on his grin. “Yeah, well, I thought we meant ‘within the next few days,’ not ‘as I walked into my flat.’” 

“I. Well.” Mycroft cleared his throat again. “I didn’t mean to… I apologize, this was probably a little overbearing.” 

“No!” Greg yanked his own hair, furious with himself. “No, no, Mycroft… it’s nice. I promise. I’m glad you called.” 

“Oh,” Mycroft said, quiet and pleased. “Well. Good.”

“See you on Wednesday?”

“Yes. Yes—  Wednesday.” 

Greg wiped at his face, trying to chase away his smile. “Okay. Goodnight, Mycroft.”

“Goodnight, Greg.”



***



Tuesday, Greg worked his usual half-day and was home by two. Strangely at-sea with no assignments hanging over his head, and feeling a little defiant, he decided it was fine if he didn’t jump into building up some momentum for after the break and fell asleep on the sofa with the television on and Seven perched on his chest. He woke with a headache and a strange fuzziness around the edges of his mind. 

He’d skipped lunch and hadn’t bothered to restock his fridge before the weekend, so he forced down a piece of toast and dragged himself to the shops. Everything felt like a chore. Greg sighed as he picked up a shopping basket. Winced at the loud chatter of people he walked by. Felt unreasonably annoyed by the line at the registers. 

He trudged home and tried to shake himself out of it. 

What are you doing? What’s your problem? There’s nothing wrong with you. Snap out of it. 

He set a tin of soup by the hotplate so he would remember to eat it later, then drew a hot bath, which he lowered himself into with a groan. The lingering soreness in his thighs succumbed immediately to the heat, and Greg suddenly understood his foul mood. 

It was sort of like coming down from uppers, he mused - though he’d only suffered through two or three rough days-after before deciding that drugs weren’t worth the hassle. After years on his own, with one night stands and clients serving as his only intimate contact… The last two days had been something like coming in from the cold only to be pushed back out into it the moment the pins and needles had subsided. 

Greg rolled his eyes at himself for the crap quality of that analogy, and let himself sink further into the hot water. His body felt awful. Come to that, so did his head. He felt tired and over-extended, lonely and mixed-up. And on top of that, he was famished.

“I should’ve eaten,” he moaned, then laughed at himself, his voice bouncing off the tiles. He blinked against the sudden burn behind his eyes and submerged his head in the water, shaking it hard before resurfacing. The flat was small, but the ancient tub was excellent for wallowing and self-pep-talks. Greg took deep breaths and let his head rest against the cool porcelain. He cleared his mind and tried to focus on the feel of the cooling water, the faint drip from the faucet. He filled his mouth with water and emptied it, let his ears slip beneath the surface. When he was very small, he used to pretend he was in a submarine, listening to the echo under the bath water. There were no long baths in a group home, or when you had flatmates. This flat had allowed him the first real baths he’d had since he was practically a toddler. He didn’t know why he was thinking about that now. 

“Alright,” he said to himself after a while. “Alright, come on.” 

He stayed in the tub until the water went cold. 



***



The center the next morning was a mess. The attendees seemed to all be experiencing some level of crisis, or at least upset. Every last employee seemed stretched thin and on the verge of throwing in the towel. 

“Is it a full fucking moon or what,” Greg grumbled, dropping into a chair in the tiny break room around lunch, three minutes out from getting his head bitten off by one of the psychiatrists from upstairs. “Christ.”

Silvana chuckled from her place on the floor, where she sat cross-legged and hunched over the rota. “Tell me about it.” 

“I thought I was having a rough week,” Greg sighed. “But I swear, everyone is on edge. Lew was short with me. Lewis!”

Silvana looked up, clicking her pen absently against her chin, click click click. “Lew’s mother is in hospital. Another overdose.”

“Fuck,” Greg bit out, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Does his doctor know? Because he’s on me about whether we’re bothering to, and I quote, monitor him. Monitor him for what?”

“Fucking pig,” Silvana muttered. She set the half-completed schedule aside and leaned back on her hands. “I doubt he does know, unless Lew told him, which I’m sure he didn’t. Can you try to talk with him before you leave today? Lew, not Dr Frain, I mean.”

“Yeah, of course.” Greg let his chair swivel from side to side. “Silvana…”

“What’s up with you?” She raised an eyebrow. “Don’t think I missed that ‘rough week’ business. And you seem tired.”

Greg let himself sink into his seat a bit, caught out. “Ugh,” he said, waving a hand. “You know.”

“Not really,” she said, a bit snappy. “You don’t tell me anything. You don’t tell anyone anything.”

“Oi!” Greg sat up. “What the hell?”

Silvana closed her eyes and let her head hang down. “Sorry. Sorry,” she said. “Maybe it is the moon, or Mercury in second grade or whatever?”

“Retrograde.”

“That—” she snapped her fingers. “Yeah.” She looked up again. “I just… we’ve known each other almost three years now, and you don’t… it seems like you never got comfortable here. Is that completely off the mark?”

Greg leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Well.”

“I remember hiring you,” Silvana continued, barely acknowledging that he’d spoken. “I know that you took this job because you’d had some experience as someone in need of help and that you were looking for a career change. But I don’t know anything other than that. Do you have a girlfriend? How are your classes? Have you been stressed lately? Mad at your roommate? What? You don’t talk about yourself. It’s… unusual.”

Greg paused, choosing his words carefully. “Are you saying this as my boss? Am I in trouble for being stand-offish or something?”

“God, no!” Silvana sat up, hands flying up. “Of course not, Greg! Everyone loves you! The clients, god, they think you’re the best thing to happen to this place in years. You’re known for being compassionate and funny, and every last person I’ve spoken to has mentioned how personable and easy they find it to talk to you.” She clapped her hands together and held them under her chin. “It’s just…”

Greg winced. “Right.” 

“Your coworkers… I would love to get to know you better. You know? That’s all I’m saying. You aren’t in trouble, Greg. I’m not saying this just as your boss. You are a dream employee. Most students wouldn’t think to take on extra hours here on a holiday week, and you do it all the time. You’re rarely late, your notes are immaculate, and you really care about these people. You seem to care about the rest of us, too. You’re not standoffish. You know about my mother’s cellar flood and my brother’s eczema, you remembered my birthday last month. That’s why it’s weird, Greg, that I don’t even know where you live.”

“You could… look that up in my file.” 

She balled up a piece of paper and pitched it at his face. “Shut up, you dick!”

Greg laughed, but it was short and weak. “Look, Silvana… I just. I’ll try. It’s not something I’ve done on purpose. It’s just… I’m not good at talking about myself.”

“That’s okay,” Silvana said gently. “I’m sorry, I should’ve made you go for a pint with me and said all this. Like I said, blame it on Jupiter.”

“Mercury,” Greg corrected, his tense shoulders dropping as he scrubbed at his face. “Let’s go for that pint sometime soon, yeah?”

“Absolutely.” Silvana reached out and patted him on the shin. “I want to keep knowing you once you’ve moved on to bigger and better things than this place, okay?”

Greg nodded, a little numb with surprise. “Yeah, okay.”



***



He’d been home for a few hours, most of that spent tidying both himself and the flat, when the phone rang. A glance at the clock told him he still had a little time before he needed to leave to catch the tube to Mycroft’s, and picked up. 

“‘Lo.” 

“Greg!”

His luck that week had just been utterly trashed. “Hi, Fiona.”

“How was your Easter, then?”

“Ah…” Greg stretched the phone cord to the table and sank down into a chair. “Fine. It was fine.”

“You might have called.”

Greg rolled his eyes. “Did you try to call me?”

“Well—”

“Listen, Fi, I’ve got to head out soon.” 

Over the line, his sister huffed. Greg wondered how other people thought of their siblings, because sometimes it felt strange for him to categorize Fiona as ‘sister’ or ‘family member.’ If anyone fit that sort of role for him, it had been Paul, at least for a while. And now Greg didn’t talk to him enough. 

“Why don’t you want a relationship with us?” Fiona demanded. “Why do you stay away?”

“Why do you?” Greg replied in dismay. “Fi, I barely know you. I don’t know where you get off blaming me for that. What would calling you on Easter have done? Why did it have to be me who called? Why do you only ever call to imply that I’m the distant one?”

“Well, Greg,” Fiona said slowly. “I have a family to focus on. Things get busy.”

“I was your family once,” Greg said through his teeth. “When did you ever focus on me?” 

There was a cold silence.

“What do you want me to say?” 

I’m sorry would be a great start. 

Greg sighed. “Nothing. You called me, remember? I was minding my own business.”

“Family members should speak, on occasion, Greg.” 

“Why?”

“What do you mean, ‘why,’ they’re family.”

Greg closed his eyes and finally said what he’d been thinking, in the back of his mind for years. “I don’t think that matters, Fiona. I don’t think, beyond our genetics, that we are a family. And you know… that’s fine.”

“It’s fine for you to be alone? That’s what you want?”

“You don’t know if I’m alone,” Greg said softly. “I’m building a life. It’s… sort of working, actually. Thanks for your concern, though.”

“Greg.” 

He sighed. “Fiona? I’ll call you, alright? Until then…we’re taking a break.”

She made a series of sounds, all amounting to irritation and disbelief.

“Okay,” Greg said. “Bye, now.” 

He stood and carried the phone to its cradle, not bothering to listen to whatever else she might have had to say. 

Greg stood there and counted back from ten. He only needed to get to four before he felt, actually, almost fine. 

“Holy shit,” he said to no one. Well, to the cat. Seven had taken notice of the activity in the kitchen and had placed himself on the counter, the nosy little so-and-so. Greg reached for him and wrestled him into a hug. “Just put up with me for a minute,” he told the cat. “Okay?”

Seven twisted in Greg’s grip, which made Greg laugh.

“Alright, alright. I know. I suppose I could feed you, eh? Promise not to leave for two days this time.” Greg crossed to the box of store-brand cat food perched atop the fridge. “But… don’t wait up or anything.




***



Greg felt uncomfortable, too big for his skin, too sensitive for the crowd on the tube on the way to Mycroft’s. He told himself to calm down, to stop thinking so much. 

But part of him just wanted to take a wrecking ball to everything. And while Greg knew, down in his bones, that if he would just think for ten minutes he would be able to identify why, he just… couldn’t force himself to do it. That, apparently, was a bridge too far. 

So, when he was greeted by the impeccable and polite doorman at Mycroft’s building and granted admittance to the elevators, Greg kept himself together, head held high the entire way up to Mycroft’s posh vestibule. But then nearly spooked himself out of knocking on the door the flat. And even as he did knock, Greg thought: Remember what this is all for, and stop living in a fantasy, you idiot.

The door opened and Greg registered that Mycroft’s face went first soft and then hot at the sight of him, before he pressed Mycroft up against the wall just inside the door and kissed the life out of him. 

Mycroft made a small, sweet sound of surprise, and then as his hands found Greg’s waist and held on tightly, a low, pleased hum. 

Greg wanted to cry. He wanted to beg to be fucked. He could teach Mycroft how to do that. He could get out of his own head. 

Instead, he let the kiss go gentle, let Mycroft pull him in closer. He took Greg’s weight without needing to be pushed and pressed into the wall; he simply relaxed back into it.

You’ve come a long way, Greg thought, still able to be pleased with himself on some level. I’ve somehow gone backwards, what am I doing?

“Hello to you, too,” Mycroft murmured, the kiss ending partially because Greg forgot what he was doing. “Are you alright? You’re shaking a bit.”

“I’m fine,” Greg rasped, then cleared his throat. “Long day.”

Mycroft tsked and pressed Greg gently back, his eyes flickering over Greg’s face. “Your sister.”

Greg laughed, sad and low. “Mm.”

“Let me make you a drink,” Mycroft said after a moment. “Then we’ll venture out for dinner. Yes?”

Greg nodded, unable to trust his voice. He couldn’t shake the strange feeling of despair clinging to him, the sense that this would go wrong, as the rest of the day had. He followed Mycroft into the kitchen and took a deep breath on the way, told himself to snap out of it or he’d self-fulfill that prophecy before they ever made it to dinner. 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Mycroft checked, getting down a shaker and glasses. 

Greg shook his head and slid into one of Mycroft’s kitchen chairs. “Not at all.”

“I didn’t think so,” Mycroft said. “But I felt it only polite to ask. Should I be thinking about rich comfort food for dinner? I didn’t make a reservation since I wasn’t sure what you might want, and if we try for a film after, the timing might be off. Frankly, I’m happy with anything. It’s been a dull two days.” He smiled over his shoulder at Greg while he crossed to the freezer for ice. “Much improved now that you’re here.”

Greg smiled back, relief and reluctance warring in him. Mycroft had never been so relaxed in front of him before. It was fantastic to see, and being on the receiving end of such casual sweetness was… in any other circumstance, Greg would simply be glad of it. But he didn’t know what to do with this. This date. He wanted to be there and he needed to have never agreed to it. He watched Mycroft whip up two old fashioneds, and wondered for the hundredth time if what he was doing was completely mad.

Mycroft sat catty-corner from him at the table and slid the tumbler into Greg’s hands. “Drink,” he said. “Relax. Work was difficult too, I take it?”

“Yes,” Greg sighed, and it was like a string had been cut. He sagged in his seat and took a deep sip of his drink. “Oh, this is delicious.” 

“Whiskey and sugar,” Mycroft murmured. “I don’t think one can go wrong. Tell me about work?”

Greg did, in vague, privacy-preserving terms. “Sometimes there are just days like this,” he said, after recounting Lew’s grouchy words with a wince. “There’s a weird energy when everyone’s all crammed together, and too many at once are having a rough go of it. I think that’s true for any group of people, yeah? But there are new and exciting levels of stressful when emotions run as high as they do at the center sometimes.” 

Mycroft hummed. “I have been stuck day in and day out in an office with Alicia and bloody Larry for a year. Believe me, I understand the phenomenon you’re describing.” 

Greg snorted. “Honestly, I’d take ten people telling me off for being in their business than one Alicia being in mine.”

“That is because you are very intelligent,” Mycroft said, and clinked their glasses together lightly. “I’m sorry it was a bad day followed by a bad interaction.”

Greg wanted to tell Mycroft about what Silvana had said. He felt an intense need to just unburden himself there at the kitchen table, sweating glass of sacrilegiously sweetened posh whiskey in hand. He could just confess it, all of it, all of the things that were wrong with him. Maybe Mycroft could figure him out, the same way Greg had been doing the same for him. 

That’s not what you’re here for. That’s not what he wanted you for. 

Mycroft leaned forward and reached out, drew Greg in by the collar and pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek. “You could talk to me,” he murmured, as if he’d read Greg’s mind. 

Greg closed his eyes and turned his face, meeting Mycroft’s lips with his own, chaste and reassuring. Jesus fuck, he thought. I really tangled this up, didn’t I?

He opened his mouth: to say it was fine, or maybe to let it all spill out, to ask Mycroft if he was okay with all this intimacy, to say that he, Greg, was definitely not okay with it, that this would only hurt them both in the end. 

And then the phone rang.

Chapter Text

“Mummy,” Mycroft said into the phone. “I’m sorry to say I am just on my way out the door.” 

Greg sipped his drink and smiled to himself, relieved for the pause brought on by the phone call, and also, despite the churning stress in his gut, very much looking forward to witnessing how Mycroft Holmes spoke to his mother - who he called Mummy. But, as he watched Mycroft’s back stiffen, straightening, as his shoulders rose up, tense, Greg realized this was not going to be an entertaining phone call. 

“What do you mean, am I planning to drive Sherlock back to school on Sunday?” Mycroft said, voice climbing with every word. “Why would I—  What? He what?”

Mycroft turned, eyes wide and startled. Greg abandoned his drink on the table and stood. What is it? He mouthed, but Mycroft was listening to his mother on the other end of the call.

“Sherlock is not here,” Mycroft said through gritted teeth. “When did he leave Sussex? When did he tell you he was coming here?” A pause. Mycroft’s eyes slammed shut, his mouth formed a grim line. “Sunday night,” he said, all growl now, with his eyes open again but unfocused. “And no one thought to verify with me first? To ask if I had, in fact, invited him to stay with me? No, of course I bloody didn’t—” His tone shifted abruptly. “Yes, of, course, I’m sorry. No, I realize that. I am merely concerned.” Mycroft sighed heavily. “Yes, Mother, I will watch my language.”

Greg was frozen on the spot. He could only imagine what was being said. The side of the conversation he could see and hear was utterly mad. He shook himself out of his momentary uncertainty and crossed the kitchen to stand close to Mycroft. 

“I will find him,” Mycroft was saying. “Yes, I’m sure you’re right. He’s likely hanging about with friends.” Greg could hear the undercurrent of disbelieving mocking there. “Of course, Mummy. I will locate my naughty little brother and deliver him home to you as soon as I can. No, I am not being smart. Yes. Yes. Of course. Speak soon.” 

Mycroft set the phone back in its cradle and let out a breath. 

“That didn’t sound good,” Greg ventured. 

“It wasn’t.” Mycroft turned. “My seventeen year old brother has been missing for three days.”

Greg winced. “That usual for him?”

Mycroft shook his head then stopped himself. “Well, yes, but not—  he went AWOL from boarding school several times, and once nearly burned down a university outbuilding, having moved into it without anyone’s notice for over a week. Our parents are often away and so I am his emergency contact when they are. I’ve had to retrieve him before, but.” He paused, helpless and clearly completely freaked out. “I always knew, quickly, that something was amiss. That he has been gone without anyone knowing where he is for four days and with his campus closed for the holiday—” 

“Okay.” Greg stepped forward, hands raised. “Let’s make a plan.”

Mycroft blinked at him. “A plan.”

“Yeah, a plan. Where do we start? Do we need to file a missing person report? Do you really think he just snuck off with some friends?”

“No,” Mycroft closed his eyes, pained. “He doesn't… No. And as for the police… not yet.” 

Greg felt his heart clench in his chest, remembering Mycroft telling him, weeks ago now, that he hadn’t had much of a social life growing up. “Okay,” he said, setting aside the rush of sympathy and affection. “So why would he tell them he was coming to see you?”

“I don’t know,” Mycroft wrung his hands for a moment and began to pace the kitchen. “He’s… Sherlock is highly intelligent but not what one would call adaptable. He… struggles with people. Relationships. Interaction. Boundaries. He’s always loved London, and used to come stay with me, or before that, when we were young, with Uncle Rudy, in this flat. He did have a tendency to… well, to run off.”

Greg nodded, watching Mycroft talk it out, his sharp eyes turned inward.

“He had a handful of boltholes even as a child,” Mycroft said, pausing in his trek back and forth along the length of the kitchen. “Of course, when he was only twelve, they all existed in or around this building. Last summer, my parents sent him to stay with me while they took an anniversary trip to Corfu. He had not, to my knowledge, been here since our Uncle died. However, I barely saw him during those two weeks. I was, of course, still mostly laid up in a cast, and I could hardly expect him to sit around the flat the entire time. We struck a deal. He had to call every four hours, and return by midnight every night. He kept his end of the bargain, but would never admit to where he had been or what he had been doing.” Mycroft pinched the bridge of his nose. “On his last day here, I accompanied him, on crutches, to lunch with our mother. On the way into the restaurant there was a man. A… a homeless man. He nodded at Sherlock as we walked into the—” Mycroft stopped. “And, also, there was a girl. Is a girl. Mid-teens, I tend to see her on my walk to and from work. She… knows Sherlock. She said something to me, once, tell Curly hello from Kendra.” 

“This is a bit of a leap,” Greg murmured. “Are you sure?”

“If you knew what Sherlock’s mop looked like, you would understand that Curly could only be one person. At the time, I simply brushed it off, assuming she saw him leaving the flat each morning during those two weeks. That she had a fixation of some kind. Foolish of me, in retrospect, and now that I’ve said it out loud I realize it makes me sound like the worst sort of ignorant, arrogant prick who dismisses teenaged homeless girls as—  I’m an idiot.”

“Mycroft,” Greg began, then wasn’t sure how to finish the sentence. Helplessness churned his stomach and he waffled on what to do for a moment. He reached out, cupping Mycroft’s elbow and stepping in close. “Tell me what you need. Do you plan to comb through London looking for a homeless bird, hoping she knows where your brother is? Because, alright, I’ll do that, but—” 

“No.” Mycroft shook his head. “No, I have a contingency. Had a contingency. An old friend I enlisted to help me keep an eye on Sherlock while he was out of sight every day.”

“An old friend,” Greg repeated, wheels turning. “You mean someone to spy on him? Did you send an MI5 agent to tail your brother for two weeks?”

“Not exactly like that,” Mycroft hedged, flushing and turning away to head back to the phone. “But… somewhat like that.”

“That’s a bit overbearing,” Greg said, then immediately regretted it. Now was not the time to be critical, and besides - clearly this Sherlock kid was a handful. If Mycroft had been out of commission at the time and very worried, why shouldn’t he have used the resources at hand? “No, wait, sorry—”

“I am overbearing,” Mycroft interrupted. He turned to Greg with his hand still on the handset, expression inscrutable. “Just because I’m… what you and I do is… You don’t know what I’m really like. What I have done. My brother loathes me, and probably with good reason. I can’t help that I’ve often predicted his every move, but I could have helped the way I reacted. I’m an overbearing person, and it’s ruined my relationship with Sherlock, my relationships with a lot of people. It very well might one day ruin my relationship with you.” Mycroft picked up the phone. “He’s been trying to keep me from predicting him for years, now. He’s getting good at it. And now he’s missing.” 

Greg watched Mycroft dial the phone, heart pounding in his chest. He’d never seen Mycroft’s eyes cold like that before. Not since their first meeting, and even then… and he’d never seen Mycroft look so defeated as he looked just then, sagging forward and holding himself up with a hand to the back of a kitchen stool, listening to the call ring out. 

“Yes hello, is Mr Forsyth at home? I understand. Could you please inform him that it’s an urgent matter?” 

Greg turned away, letting out a long, slow breath, while Mycroft thanked whoever had answered and waited on the line. 

“Phillip,” Mycroft said shortly a moment later. “Mycroft Holmes. I apologize for interrupting your dinner.”  A pause. “Yes, yes, I’m sure it’s dreadful, Phillip, I’m sorry, I’ll have to dispense with small talk for the time being—” Another pause. “Of course. I’ll owe you ten whiskeys, for god’s sake, listen to me.” 

Greg shook himself out of his unease and turned, crossing the kitchen to Mycroft’s side. On instinct, he laid a hand to the center of Mycroft’s back, hoping it would soothe him, reminding him Greg was there. Something. Mycroft didn’t appear to notice, but Greg left it there. 

“The notes from your surveillance of my younger brother,” Mycroft was saying. “You still have them? No, no, I don’t want them. I told you I didn’t need to see them—” Mycroft pinched the bridge of his nose. “Phillip, I just need you to give me a list of the places he frequented. It doesn't matter when or for how long or with whom, I simply need addresses. Immediately. Can you provide them?” Mycroft nodded, his fingers squeezing the phone so hard Greg could hear the plastic creak. “Outstanding, thank you, I appreciate it. Yes, I can hold.”

Mycroft looked to Greg finally, and for a moment, the down-to-business mask fell away, helplessness and misery etched clearly on his face. Greg shook his head and rubbed his back, leaned in and pressed a kiss to his temple. “It’ll be alright,” he murmured, although he had no idea if it would. 

Mycroft nodded, and then straightened again. “Yes, I’m here. Yes, I have a pen.” Greg was already sliding the pad and pencil toward him, having found them on the shelves below the phone. “Go ahead,” Mycroft said, and began to scribble. 



***

 

Out on the sidewalk, Mycroft was all business again. “Places closest to the flat first,” he said, already making a hard left. “Several of these are within walking distance. The rest, if I don’t find him, will have to be reached by taxi. Who knows, perhaps we’ll find Kendra in our travels, and maybe she can tell us where he is.”

“Going to be an expensive night,” Greg remarked, speedwalking to keep up with Mycroft’s slightly longer stride. “Too bad neither of us has a car.”

“I have a car,” Mycroft said absently. “I simply don’t know how to drive it. Besides, parking is a nightmare.” He came to a halt, suddenly, and turned to Greg, stricken. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’m dragging you into this, and I’m sure you have no desire to traipse around London looking for my foolish little brother—” 

“Yes, I do,” Greg interrupted, shoving his hands in his pockets to keep them off Mycroft’s distressed face. “I have a desire to do that. I’m not going to leave you to do it on your own.”

“It’s—” Mycroft looked away. “It won’t be pretty. He’s going to be furious when I interrupt whatever mischief he’s up to.”

Greg shook his head and walked, tugging Mycroft by the elbow. “Come on, keep walking. Where are we going?” 

“A house not far from here. Under construction for renovations last year. I know just the one Phillip meant; there were permit disputes, arguments over historical preservation. It spent some time with renovations on hold.” 

“Is it still under construction?”

“No,” Mycroft sighed. “It’s a long shot, but it’s close, and it’s a start. And I do know it’s still unoccupied, as I pass it whenever I walk to or from work.”

Greg let out a nervous laugh. “Are we breaking into a historical home in Belgravia tonight, Mycroft?”

Mycroft didn’t look at him. “Of course not,” he said. “We’re simply… having a look around.”

“Right,” Greg said, drawing out the word. “But we’re not… we’re not going inside, right, because that would be housebreaking.” 

“Only if one has intent to steal, I would imagine,” Mycroft said, all cool and casual and entirely full of shit. 

“That is not how it works,” Greg muttered. “But yes, alright. I’m in.”

Mycroft did not falter or turn to look at him, but his hand did find Greg’s, just for a moment, and squeezed. “Thank you,” he murmured. “We take a right up ahead.”



***



Sherlock wasn’t in the old house, with its gleaming hardwood and polished banisters. Greg could still smell the oil soap two locations later. 

After a quick meander through St. James’ park, a glance into a public toilet in Marylebone with chains over the doors but a broken window big enough for shimmying through if one had narrow shoulders, several tube stations, a tomb in a cemetery of all things, a long cab ride to Kew Gardens for a peek into a greenhouse, and the wild suggestion that they might need to cross town in order to try breaking into Big Ben at half past midnight, Greg decided to gently attempt a voice of reason. Mycroft was getting wild-eyed and snappish, his breathing a little panicky after every empty bolthole. 

“Stop.” Greg squeezed Mycroft’s upper arms. “Breathe. Focus. Look at me.”

Mycroft stopped. He breathed. He looked at Greg. “My parents will never forgive me.”

“You didn’t cause this,” Greg said, because that was the truth, and he wasn’t sure Mycroft understood it. “Okay?”

Mycroft shook his head and looked away, jaw tight. “It doesn't matter if I did or didn’t.” 

Greg wanted badly to hug him, but wasn’t sure it would be welcome. Mycroft’s entire body gave off enough tension that it ought to have left him in visible waves. He settled for squeezing his arms again. “Look, this isn’t working. If we don’t find him soon, it’s going to be time to file a report. We tried everything within a reasonable distance of your flat. Let’s try something else. Your brother probably knows how you would do this. He knows you would work in a spiral. Does he know you would head West first?”

Mycroft’s eyes widened, lighting with a sort of wild glee. “Oh, you—” he hauled Greg to him and pressed their mouths together, hard and fast. He spun away half a moment later, already looking for a taxi. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of it. Of course he knows I would go West. My instinct was to work counter clockwise, and so he must be at the furthest point from the flat, moving clockwise.” 

“What’s the furthest place on the list?” Greg rubbed his tingling lips with one hand and reached into Mycroft’s pocket with the other, pulling out the scrap of paper and ignoring Mycroft’s jump of surprise as he did it. Greg was a bit surprised at himself, really, but when you’d traipsed all over London for five hours on a Wednesday night with someone while looking for their naughty little brother, you got comfortable. “Oh,” he sighed. “Poplar.”

“Yes.” Mycroft had spotted a cab, and with an elegant wave of his hand, it pulled over for them. “Let’s go.”

“Right,” Greg murmured, getting in after Mycroft without really telling himself to do it, still staring down at the hastily, but neatly, written list. “This is Robin Hood Gardens.”

“It is,” Mycroft said crisply. Then, to the cabbie: “You heard him; Robin Hood Gardens, please. As quickly as possible.”

“Take the A4, mate,” Greg said without thinking, and folded up the piece of paper to hand back to Mycroft. “Christ, Poplar.”

“You’re familiar,” Mycroft ventured. 

Greg shifted, getting comfortable. They’d be in the cab for a while, so he might as well settle in and tell this sorry tale. 

“I’m from Poplar,” he said. “Figured you would have deduced it from my accent or something.”

“I can’t pinpoint neighborhoods,” Mycroft said, a bit wistful. “I have tried to get that good, but… I knew you were likely an East Ender as a child.” 

“Til I moved in with Mina and Louis.” Greg turned his head to find Mycroft watching him carefully, like he could read it all over Greg. “They were in Camden. Still are. Well. Mina is; Louis passed.” 

“Sorry,” Mycroft said, hushed. “Really, I’m sorry, I don’t wish to make you talk about things that bother you. I’m interested. Terribly so. Intrusively so.”

“You haven’t been intrusive,” Greg said gently. “I’ve recently been told that I am in fact a bit stand-offish. And it’s fine, I’m not upset.”

“Your knuckles say differently.” 

Greg huffed and unclenched his hands, shaking them out and resting them carefully on his knees. “It’s just that I’ve avoided a lot of the East End for so long,” he said. “I practically live there now, I mean, just not… not at the scene of the crime. Crimes, plural. Whatever.”

“What do you mean?” Mycroft spoke delicately, quietly, like he was trying not to spook him. 

Greg shifted and faced him head-on, holding out one hand and then shaking it a bit at Mycroft until he took it. Greg relaxed slightly at the contact, reassured by it, and distracted himself by learning the feel of the back of Mycroft’s hand under his thumb, sweeping it back and forth over his knuckles: bump, dip, bump, dip. 

“I don’t think I ever spent a single happy day there,” Greg said after a moment, only able to look at Mycroft through about half the sentence, casting his eyes down to their hands for the rest of it. “I don’t remember a time before things were bad, and I can’t be sure there ever was a before.” He sighed. “I lived in Poplar til I was seven, when me and Fi got taken out of the house. I don’t even remember it all that well. The house, I mean. I know the address from my own file, but. I’ve never gone looking. From there, it was a bunch of places, some I can remember and some I can’t. I know I was somewhere really nice at first. St. John’s Wood, I think. A young couple, couldn’t have kids. But I… was difficult. I wasn’t what they—” Greg shrugged. “I was acting out a lot, I guess.”

“You were seven,” Mycroft said, devastated.

Greg glanced up and couldn’t help a little smile at the misplaced anger. “Well, I barely remember it,” he said. “And the next place I do remember clearly was Spitalfields when I was ten or so. And then a care home in Whitechapel. Then back in Poplar with a family for a while, before I got sent back to the group home. Louis and Mina were after that.” 

“How bad was it?” Mycroft asked. 

“How bad was what?” Greg slotted his fingers between Mycroft’s as a distraction. 

“Any of it? The group home? The foster family in Poplar? The one in Spitalfields?”

Greg shrugged. “The one in Poplar was the worst one, and I don’t… I don’t really want to get into all that.”

“Alright,” Mycroft said, hushed again. “That’s alright. I’m sorry, Greg. I don’t—  you absolutely do not have to come with me. I understand completely.”

Greg shook his head and tugged Mycroft in with his free hand, pressing a gentle, quiet kiss to his cheek. “Thanks,” he said. “But it’s fine. I was lucky, you know, to avoid working that area as a copper. I was going to have to go back for something eventually. May as well be with a mission.”

Mycroft smiled weakly. “I appreciate you more than you know,” he said. 

“Hey,” Greg said quietly, and picked up their joined hands to brush his lips over the place where their fingers met. “Back at you, sweetheart.”



***



“How in the bloody fuck are we going to find him in this?” Greg wondered aloud, staring up at the brutalist face of the tower block. “It’s bloody massive and everything looks the same.”

“Phillip noted the building and the entrance he observed Sherlock using, as well as the floor,” Mycroft replied. “I didn’t write it down, but I remember.”

“Christ, your brain is amazing,” Greg sighed. “Alright, lead on. Please god let the door still be unlocked a year later.”

“Most likely it will be,” Mycroft said, leading Greg to the right and off the pavement, onto a path that would lead to the greenspace between the two hulking structures of the estate. “And if it isn’t, you can be on lookout while I pick the lock.”

“You know,” Greg mused, “you like to play the posh and straight laced government man, but I suspect you’re half street urchin, like me.”

Mycroft snorted. “If you are what comes of being a so-called street urchin, may we all be just a little bit that.” 

Greg bit his lip and didn’t smile. “Thanks, Mycroft.”

“Here,” Mycroft said, not acknowledging that he’d just said an impossibly sweet thing. “It’s this building, all the way on the other end. Unfortunately.” 

“S’alright,” Greg murmured. “What two blokes don’t want to go for a lovely little stroll past the ugliest council estate they’ve ever seen at one in the morning? This is the best date I’ve ever been on.”

“You are a comedian,” Mycroft deadpanned, but he twitched out a finger to glance off the side of Greg’s hand. It was late and dark, and there didn’t seem to be anyone around down in the courtyard, but lights were on everywhere in the buildings, and there were plenty of loiterers up in the breezeways. 

Greg grimaced. He’d probably fit in here well enough in his old jeans and secondhand shirt, but a close look at Mycroft and they’d get mugged in the blink of an eye. Greg sped his steps, urging Mycroft on. 

The door was unlocked, and Greg let out a triumphant, “Yes!”

“Someone taped the latch,” Mycroft pointed out. 

“Drug dealers can get in and out easily that way,” Greg muttered. “Or, I dunno, your girlfriend you’re sneaking past your mum.”

“A policeman’s answer and an East End boy’s answer in one,” Mycroft teased. The door opened into a staircase. “We need only go up two floors. Phillip said the flat was, and I quote, somewhere in the middle, on the courtyard side.” 

“Oh, so only one out of a hundred shoeboxes,” Greg said. “Easy as anything.”

“Quite.” Mycroft sighed. “I’m going to wring his neck when I find him.”

“Let’s hope you get to squeeze the daylights out of him soon,” Greg said. “Or I’m going to get very tetchy, and then I’ll have to strangle him, too.”

“It’s nice to have someone on my side,” Mycroft murmured, and it sounded painfully honest to Greg’s ear. 

Greg bit his tongue before he could say something stupid like: Yeah, of course, always.



***



They heard shouting as soon as they exited the door from the stairwell. It was muffled, from inside a flat a ways down the breezeway, and accompanied by repeated banging. Greg motioned for Mycroft to follow behind, instinctively putting himself between a civilian and a potential violent situation. That was probably utterly daft, considering what he knew of Mycroft’s past, but. Greg couldn’t help old habits. 

Then, Greg heard the music. 

“What is that?” The question wasn’t really meant to be answered, but Greg felt Mycroft’s hand, fisted suddenly in the back of his shirt, as the answer came. 

“It’s Mendelssohn,” Mycroft bit out. “Symphony Number Four. It’s Sherlock.” 

Mycroft shouldered past Greg, which was fair enough, and Greg let him get a bit of a head start, his long legs eating up space as he strode down the concrete balcony toward the music. Greg followed, but hung back a bit, figuring he should let Mycroft and his brother have their domestic without him gawking at them. As they drew closer, Greg realized the shouting and banging were coming from the flat neighboring the one blasting heavy classical music. 

“I’M GOING TO COME IN THERE AND FUCKIN’ KNEECAP YOU!” 

Greg winced at the banshee-like scream of a woman who had more or less thrown herself at the window as Mycroft passed by. “YOU TELL THAT LITTLE SHIT TO TURN THAT MUSIC OFF OR SO HELP ME—” 

“Of course, Miss,” Greg said in his best conciliatory Police Constable tone. “I’m right on it, I promise. Our friend’s got himself a bit wound up is all.” 

“It’s been going on and on, for days,” the woman spat. 

Just steps ahead, Mycroft was pounding on the door to the neighboring flat. “Sherlock!” He beat his fist against it again. “Open this door this instant, if you want to survive to see eighteen!”

Greg didn’t know exactly what to do in this situation. “Should… could you pick that lock?”

“Yes,” Mycroft replied through his teeth. “I was giving him a chance to do this the easy way.” He dug in his jacket pocket for his wallet, and produced from inside it a tiny set of lockpicks. 

“You really are a dark horse,” Greg murmured, but Mycroft was already down on one knee and swearing at the doorknob. 

It was quick, but Greg would think later that it all happened in slow motion. Mycroft picked the lock and made a sound of satisfaction as he rose to his feet. He said something, shouted it through the door, about giving Sherlock one more chance to be reasonable. No answer came, only the thunder of strings. Mycroft opened the door and took a half step inside as Greg moved to edge in closer to the doorway, in case Mycroft needed him. Then the gasp, and the terrified, horrified, sick voice that came out of Mycroft. 

“Sherlock!” 

Greg launched himself into the flat after Mycroft, some part of his hindbrain registering that something very bad had happened, was happening. When he got into the flat, it took him a moment to realize what he was seeing.

“Oh,” he whispered. “Oh, Christ, Mycroft—  Mycroft, move!” 

He’d frozen, and seemed to come awake as Greg’s hands closed around him and physically moved him to the side.

“What—”

Greg dropped to his knees on the floor of the mostly-empty flat, and slammed two fingers against the pulse point of the man lying on a dirty mattress on the floor. “Come on,” he muttered, frantic. “Come on, come on.” It was there. Thready, but there. Greg registered that there was vomit on the mattress. He held a finger under the pale nose and grunted. “Okay. Mycroft, go next door, tell the woman there to call 999.” 

“Greg—”

Greg had already dragged Sherlock to the floor, and was starting chest compressions, and couldn’t take time to deal with what was sure to be a fairly nasty bit of shock. “Mycroft, go!”

Mycroft went. 

Greg pumped at Sherlock’s chest - Sherlock, Mycroft’s brother, this was Mycroft’s baby brother, god - and had to look away from his thin, pale face. He glanced away to the left, and grit his teeth at the spill of drugs and paraphernalia. A plastic shopping bag served as a cornucopia of sorts: pills, baggies, spoon, candle, straw, powder, empty capsule, syringe. 

Greg lost time, then, and didn’t hear anything until a medic arrived to pull him, arms screaming, off of Sherlock. 

Mycroft was there, was pale and shaking, listening to something an officer was saying. Greg sagged against a wall, and realized someone had turned the music off. His ears were ringing. 

“I have to get into the ambulance with him,” Mycroft said, and Greg nodded. 

“Yeah, of course. Which hospital?”

“You don’t have to—”

Greg would regret it later, but he snapped. “I just performed CPR on him, Mycroft. I just knelt in his sick. You look ready to implode. I’m fucking going.”

Mycroft’s face nearly crumpled, and Greg’s chest with it.

“Sorry,” Greg said, throat tight. “What hospital?”

“Royal London,” Mycroft said. “I have to go.”

“I know.” Greg reached for his hand but the medics were calling. “Go, go—  I’ll be there soon.”

And then, Mycroft was gone, and the police wanted to talk to Greg, too. 

Well, he thought. At least I don’t know any of the coppers in Poplar.

Chapter Text

“Tea?”

Mycroft looked up from his intensive study of his shoes. “You came.”

One side of Greg’s lips quirked tiredly, more grimace than smile. “Of course I did. Said I would. Take the tea.” 

Mycroft did, hands numb. He’d been leaning his elbows on his knees. Parts of him had fallen asleep. 

“Sorry it took me so long to get here,” Greg murmured. “I came by way of my flat. Fed the cat, grabbed some things.”

Mycroft hadn’t noticed the small duffel over Greg’s shoulder. He was tired. It was nearing three in the morning and his brain felt slow and dull.

“You could have stayed there,” Mycroft said, hoping that he didn’t sound ungrateful. “Slept. Lost my number. Sworn me off.” 

“None of that,” Greg said gently, and bumped his knee against Mycroft’s as he sat heavily in the chair beside him. He let the bag fall to the floor and kicked it under his seat. “You alright?”

Mycroft’s eyes had closed against the painful kindness in Greg’s voice. He shook his head. “Not remotely,” he managed to say. He dragged in a breath and pried open his eyes before taking a sip of terrible tea from the styrofoam cup. It was hot and sweet, and incredibly medicinal even if it was awful. “Oh god, sugar.”

“Yeah, we’re gonna need to get some food into us at some point,” Greg said. “We skipped dinner, and you’ve had a nasty shock. I guess Sherlock’s never done this before?”

Mycroft shook his head. “Not that I am aware. God only knows what he’s been hiding. What I’ve missed.”

“Not your fault.” Greg bumped him gently with his shoulder. “I’m gonna keep saying it til you hear me.” 

“I don’t know if I want to kill him or take him home with me,” Mycroft admitted. “Lock him up and throw away the key til he develops some sense. If he ever does.” He winced. “That’s not fair. He’s… Sherlock is fragile.”

“Physically, he looks it.” Greg rubbed his hands nervously over his knees. “Thin kid. Looks younger than he is.”

Mycroft gulped down the rest of the tea and set the cup aside before reaching sideways, briefly pressing his hand to the top of one of Greg’s. “I think you saved his life,” he said, furious with himself for having to push the words out. He took back his hand, not wanting to draw attention to the two of them, though the waiting room was otherwise empty. “I forgot every last bit of my training and I… I can never thank you enough.” 

Greg shrugged. “If I hadn’t been there, you would’ve handled it. It’s understandable that you froze. Seriously, it is. And I’ve done CPR before. I’ve witnessed overdoses before. You don’t have to thank me.”

Mycroft shook his head again, unable to speak, to explain that he did without it coming out entirely wrong. Instead, he returned to the thread of the conversation which concerned Sherlock. “Our parents don’t understand how much he struggles to process the world around him,” he said. “I understand, because it was hard for me, too. But…” He sighed. “It is my fault he never learned. I had no choice, being an only child for so many years, but to develop social skills and to learn how to modulate myself. But Sherlock… I shielded him. Spoiled him. Spoke for him and adapted to him. We were a little world unto ourselves for years. He was kicked out of nursery school and my parents decided to tutor him at home. He didn’t know how to deal with other children, and by the time he went to boarding school, he still had not developed sufficient coping skills. Fitting in was harder for him than it was for me and that is saying quite a lot, sadly.”

“That,” Greg said slowly, “is not your fault. You aren’t his parent, Mycroft.”

“Aren’t I?” Mycroft sighed and leaned forward, elbows on knees, rubbing his hands over his face. “Sometimes I don’t know.” 

Greg’s hand came to rest at the center of Mycroft’s back. “Have you heard from the doctors yet about how he’s doing?”

“Not yet,” Mycroft said into his hands, before straightening his spine and trying for more deep breaths. “It hasn’t been very long.”

“Well, as soon as we hear something, I’ll go for snacks,” Greg said. “Sound good? You like prawn crisps?” 

“Who doesn't?” Mycroft smiled weakly. “Thank you for being here.”

Greg swept his hand up and down Mycroft’s back once before pulling his hand away. “You’re welcome. Now, about these lock picking skills of yours…”



***



Sherlock was moved to a room not long before sunrise. 

Mycroft tried to convince Greg to go home and sleep. 

“I brought extra clothes and everything,” Greg said. “Don’t worry about it.” 

He told Mycroft he didn’t wish to intrude on whatever ugliness was about to happen with Sherlock, and went in search of breakfast, promising to meet Mycroft back at the room number the doctors had given them. Mycroft went on his own to find it, trying desperately to shake off the blurriness that clung to his mind and eyes. He’d been woken from a doze against Greg’s shoulder by the doctor’s arrival. 

Sherlock’s room was at the end of a long, sickly green hallway. Mycroft felt his heart begin to pound, which didn’t make sense. The danger, according to the doctor, had passed. Sherlock had needed a swift dose of adrenaline and his stomach pumped, but he was awake and lucid. Still, Mycroft took slow steps down the hallway as fear churned through him. What would he find in that room? He had the sense that he would see his brother, and Sherlock would have changed irrevocably somehow. 

Mycroft swallowed down nausea as he approached the open door of the room. Try not to be cold, he told himself. But for god’s sake don’t vomit. 

Inside the room, where the light of early morning cast everything in a discordantly rosy glow, Sherlock lay curled on his side facing away from the door. The knobs of his spine were visible in the gaps of his hospital gown, and a thin blanket twisted around his legs. He was awake. 

“Go away, Mycroft,” he said, low and raspy, his ever-deepening voice no doubt ravaged by the tube they’d had to shove down his throat. 

“In a word: no.” Mycroft dropped into the chair beside Sherlock’s bed, not bothering to walk around it. Sherlock would only thrash his way onto his other side and his sulk would intensify. Mycroft sat there, staring at the too-thin line of his brother’s back, and took several deep, calming breaths; stalling. 

His mind was whirring, trying to calculate the right approach. Attempting to work through probable courses this conversation could take. Mycroft closed his eyes and deliberately ignored all of it. 

Greg had said, at some point during the interminable hours spent waiting on hard plastic chairs: Listen, having seen this more times than I’d have liked, you should keep in mind that people don’t take that many drugs all at once for fun. That was meant to be treating a lot of pain, if you ask me. It had hurt Mycroft to hear it, and Greg had let it drop, clearly seeing that in his demeanor. 

Remembering it now, the way Greg had spoken from a place of practical knowledge, but with such compassion, kept Mycroft from speeding forward directly into reproach, into laying out directives and ultimatums. It made him want to be more like Greg, the sort of person who could set aside logic and act on feeling. 

Mycroft’s feeling for a brief moment, as he struggled to decide what to say, was that he wished to slap his brother briskly across the face and demand answers. But once that had subsided…

“Sherlock, I have never been so terrified as I have been tonight.”

Sherlock barked a laugh, but did not move. “Pull the other one, Mycroft.” 

Mycroft leaned back in the chair, and let his head tip back against the wall behind it. “I don’t lie to you, you know, despite what you may think.” He let his eyes drift shut. “I have never lied to you, Sherlock.”

He heard Sherlock shift, flopping over onto his back, but did not open his eyes. 

“You have secrets,” Sherlock spat. “I know you do.”

“Yes,” Mycroft said evenly. “Of course I do. Everyone has secrets, Sherlock. I’m entitled to some of my own. Would you like me to tell you one? I will, in exchange for one of yours.”

He opened his eyes and rolled his head to the side, finding Sherlock’s wide eyes, sunken and smudged with sickly bruising, staring back at him. 

“I want to know why you are the way that you are,” Sherlock said. “Towards me. You never tried to control me before, Mycroft. Now you have agents tail me all over London—  yes, I know about your little friend. Clearly my success rate in spotting him was lower than I thought, since you found me tonight. You didn’t want them to let me go to university despite that fact that you knew I couldn’t stand to wait, that another useless year at school would make me miserable. Even though you know I’m more than intelligent enough. You went to university early, but as always there are different rules for you. You didn’t bother discussing it with me, just ran right to Mummy and Daddy.” He turned away, staring up at the ceiling. “You used to talk to me. You—  You used to see me.” 

Mycroft swallowed around the tightness in his throat. “I do see you.”

“No, you don’t.” A muscle jumped in Sherlock’s jaw. “You don’t.”

“I don’t want you to be hurt,” Mycroft tried. “Don’t you understand that I was trying to save you from something I had already experienced? Can you never consider that I might actually be working in your best interest? I’ve never wanted to see you harmed, Sherlock, that’s all I’ve ever tried to—”

“Then tell me how you do it,” Sherlock grated out between clenched teeth, cheeks flushed from the effort of stifling whatever emotion clawed at him. A tear leaked from the corner of his eye, tracing a track down to his ear. “How do you stand it, why have you never taught me how?”

Mycroft sucked in a breath. “Sherlock, I’m sorry—”

“I don’t need your apologies.” Sherlock swallowed, making a pained sound with the effort. 

“I can’t teach it to you, Sherlock.” Mycroft leaned forward, wishing Sherlock would hear him for once. “I should have at least explained that, and I’m sorry. You… believe me, you don’t want to be like me.” 

“I don’t want to be like this.” Sherlock hiccuped at the ceiling, still steadfast in his determination not to look at Mycroft or even to move a muscle to wipe at the tears soaking his hair. “At least when I’m at University I can do something about it.”

“Sherlock, did you try to kill yourself tonight?”

“No!” Sherlock whipped his head to the side, eyes wide. “Why would you—  Are you trying to get a reaction? Is that it? Manipulative, as usual?”

“I am genuinely asking you,” Mycroft said, struggling to keep his voice level. “Because the way you are talking—” 

“I didn’t try to commit suicide,” Sherlock snapped, struggling to sit up. “I just wanted it to stop, and my usual formula wasn’t working—”

“Your usual —” Mycroft clenched his fists and caught himself. Sherlock’s mouth had snapped shut. Mycroft breathed deeply. “How long have you been taking drugs?”

Sherlock remained silent. 

“My god, Sherlock,” Mycroft whispered. “How long?”

“None of your business,” he said through his teeth. 

“Please don’t do this,” Mycroft begged. “Don’t throw your life away—” 

Sherlock laughed bitterly. “What life?” He waved a hand. “Anyway, you haven’t told me a secret, and I asked you for one in particular.” 

Mycroft sighed. “I’m protective of you. I have gone about it in the wrong way. There is no secret.”

“Something changed,” Sherlock pressed.

“I…” Mycroft shook his head. “Sherlock, we just got older. My work—” 

“Oh, the all important work—”

“If you would listen to me—” 

“What is your work, exactly? Uncle Rudy named you successor, is that it?”

“No—” 

“Oh, I see, just gave you that time capsule of a flat, expecting you to die a repressed, workaholic virgin just like he did.” 

Mycroft went cold with anger. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” 

“What was it Uncle Rudy did, hmm?” Sherlock’s eyes gleamed, knowing he’d found a nerve on which to press. “No one talks about it. Not Mummy. Not Auntie Roberta. Certainly not you. Do you think that your little story about tripping and falling in the dark was remotely believable? Where did you get the broken leg, Mycroft? The stab wounds? I could read them all over you. What nasty work have you got yourself involved in? Where would your cold bloodedness be most usefu—” 

“That’s enough.” 

Mycroft winced. Greg. 

“Oh,” Sherlock breathed. “Oh, Mycroft, you brought your boy toy.” 

That was it. 

“You will keep your mouth shut, Sherlock Holmes, if you can’t show respect to the man who saved your life tonight.” Mycroft felt a sick sense of satisfaction when Sherlock blanched and leaned away from him. “Quid pro quo, little brother, a secret for a secret—” 

“You didn’t give me one,” Sherlock hissed. 

“Do I look like I care?” Mycroft rose from the chair. “Fine, a new deal: You tell me what you took, everything you took, and how you got it, and I will keep that secret for you.”

Sherlock blinked. “You… you would keep this from Mummy?” 

The gall. The foolishness. He was such a child. Mycroft had been right, he had been right. This should never have happened; it wouldn’t have, if their parents had just observed the truth. 

“Oh, Sherlock, I can’t keep this from her and you know it. But I can certainly minimize it. I can salvage something like sense from the mess you’ve made of yourself and serve it to her in a way that will preserve some of her idealized image of you. Would that be sufficient? Or do you actually expect me to sweep this under the rug for you entirely? Lie to our parents? Take you back to my flat and babysit you until I am forced to return to work, and then hope to god you don’t go right back out and inject yourself with more poison?” He finally glanced to the doorway and Greg, who watched him with shadowed eyes and stiff shoulders. “I won’t do it,” Mycroft said. Greg nodded, almost imperceptibly, and Mycroft turned back to Sherlock. “I am not doing that for you. I am not fixing it for you. You will fix yourself. In fact, you will tell Mummy and Daddy that you wish to enter treatment.” 

“You can’t make me—” 

“No, I can’t.” Mycroft took a step away from the bed. “But if you don’t do it, I’ll tell them everything. I expect a list, and the numbers of your dealers. Additionally, I would be very interested to know how you procured a flat in a tower block in which to nearly die.” 

“A poker game,” Sherlock spat. “If you must know.” 

Mycroft heard Greg’s disbelieving huff behind him. “You contain multitudes, brother,” Mycroft said, shaking his head. “Truly. Anyway, these are the terms. Take them or leave them.” 

“Everything with you is a negotiation,” Sherlock sneered. 

“You refuse to take anything else from me,” Mycroft said, knowing -  possibly for the first time in his life - how it felt to be truly heartbroken. “I’m sorry for causing you to do so. Know that I am aware that I have failed you, and for that I am - Sherlock, I am - deeply sorry.” 

Sherlock said nothing, staring at Mycroft with unconcealed rage and disgust. He flopped to his back and then to his side, facing away once more. “Go away.” 

“When you’ve found a good therapist,” Mycroft murmured. “I would be willing to speak with you. I would… I would be able, perhaps, to explain how I… how I’ve managed. Trust me, you don’t want my methods.” 

“I don’t want anything from you,” Sherlock replied, flat. “Go. Away.”

“I will call Mummy. You should expect her here before noon. Get me that list.” 

Sherlock said nothing. 

Mycroft turned and left, walking past Greg with his eyes cast down, unable to bear what he might find on his face if he looked up. Mycroft made it three steps away from Sherlock’s room before the panic set in, a band around his lungs that squeezed, fast and tight. He gasped, and a hand closed over the back of his neck, gripping without digging in, grounding and solid and warm. 

“You’re alright,” Greg soothed, voice low. “I’ve got you, you’re fine. It’s just a lot, Mycroft, and that’s okay. Breathe. Breathe. Come on, ready? In. Mycroft, in.” 

He breathed in. 

“There we go, in a little more and hold it.” Greg’s hand stayed where it was, tethering Mycroft to the present, keeping him from spinning out into the hundreds of parallel universes in which Sherlock was a corpse on a dirty mattress. “And now out, but slow, slow. Slower than that. Good.” 

Mycroft sagged and turned, and Greg caught him, an arm around his waist and the hand on his neck moving up into his hair. “Thank you,” Mycroft murmured. 

“Keep breathing,” Greg instructed gently. “Do this one with me, ready?”

They breathed. 



***



Once Mycroft pulled himself together, Greg pressed a bag containing pastries and a sausage butty into his hands. 

“You need this,” he said. “Your blood sugar must be in the toilet. Just hang on a tick while I… Just hang on.” 

Mycroft clutched the bag and watched, with no small amount of shock, as Greg turned and walked back into Sherlock’s room. He felt he should follow, but found his feet rooted to the spot, unwilling to carry him back into Sherlock’s crosshairs. He mechanically and mindlessly ate a chocolate croissant while he waited, and was brushing flakes off of his fingers when Greg reappeared, cheeks a bit flushed. 

“Your brother,” Greg said, “knows more about my sex life than I do, I think.” 

Mycroft winced, holding back a groan of despair. “What possessed you to go back in there?”

Greg nudged him, guiding him down the hall and away from the room. “Asked him if he’s been sharing needles.”

Mycroft came to a halt, the breath knocked out of him all over again. “Fuck,” he gritted from between his teeth. “It didn’t occur to me, how did it not—” 

“He says he hasn’t been,” Greg said quickly, his hand already a comforting presence on Mycroft’s back. “And I left him a card for the center. I’m sure there are fancier places, but I can’t vouch for them like I can for Silvana’s programs.”

“Thank you,” Mycroft said, overwhelmed again with gratitude. “God, Greg, thank you.” 

“Don’t mention it,” Greg said, gently pressing Mycroft forward. “Now eat some more. We’re going to go catch some sleep. I assume you’re going to call in sick from work?” 

Mycroft wasn’t going to admit that, were Greg not with him, he would drag himself into the office, exhausted, and lose himself in a project that would keep him busy through the weekend. It wouldn’t be an attractive thing to admit, and besides, he had no intention of going anywhere when Greg so clearly planned to come home with him. The thought of having Greg there in bed with him, the thought of the comfort in that, took away all desire to resort to his usual habits. 

It was amusing, actually. Mycroft imagined turning on his heel, back to Sherlock’s room, and announcing: actually, all you need to do is attempt to hire a sex worker and accidentally fall for them, and you might actually function as a halfway reasonable person once in a while.

“Yes,” Mycroft said, setting that aside for the moment. “Yes, of course. I’m half-tempted to camp in this hallway...”

“No,” Greg said firmly. “You need sleep and so do I. As soon as we get to yours, we’ll both call in with fake stomach flu and then crash for a while.”

“I’m so sorry,” Mycroft said. “I hope I haven’t created trouble for you. I’m sure I have. Is there any way I can ever make it up to you?”

Greg rolled his eyes and led Mycroft out into the early morning world of London. “It’s fine, I promise. Sick days happen. Just spring for the cab home, and we’ll call it even. If you really want to come here so he can be a dick to you some more later, I will bring you back here. I don’t recommend it, though.”

“I would have paid for the cab anyway,” Mycroft protested, but let Greg wave him off for the time being, and watched him step away to look for a taxi.



***



Mycroft called his mother while Greg wandered toward the bedroom and a shower, leaving him with a light squeeze to his hand as the call rang out. 

Mycroft gave his mother an almost entirely factless version of events. A drug overdose, youthful exuberance in London, the wrong crowd, the wrong neighborhood, yes he worried that it had been going on for some time, no Sherlock was not in any danger now. His mother, never one for hysterics, spoke to him briefly, tight-voiced and short. 

“I am sorry, Mummy,” Mycroft said, despite himself. “I wish I could have… I didn’t know.” 

“Leave it to me, Mycroft,” she said briskly. “I will leave for London soon. Should I expect you to meet your father and I at the hospital?”

“Sherlock would prefer I didn’t,” he said. “I… I will let him explain himself to you.” 

“I suppose you have done the minimum,” his mother said frostily. “We’ll call when we’ve seen that your brother is in fact alive.” 

Mycroft cringed. “Very well,” he said. 

His mother ended the call, and Mycroft didn’t bother hanging up the phone. He clicked the hook with one finger, and dialed the personnel line to make his excuses. 

By the time he fed the cat and trudged to the bedroom, Greg was out of the shower and brushing his teeth - the extra toothbrush had never left the sink - with a towel slung low around his hips. Mycroft couldn’t believe how attractive he was, the fact of it registering even through the fog of exhaustion.

Greg spit toothpaste in the sink. “Alright?”

Mycroft nodded, mute with exhaustion, and went about hauling off his jacket. His arms felt heavy. Everything felt heavy. It had been a while since he’d felt that way, ages since the last time he simply hadn’t slept. Still, the dragging, guilty feeling was familiar.  

Greg rinsed and cleaned out the sink, set down his toothbrush and stepped across the bathroom to help Mycroft with his shirt buttons, smacking his hands away gently. “How did it go with your mum?”

“As expected,” Mycroft said, unwilling to elaborate. 

“You okay?”

“No.” Mycroft let Greg undress him and chivvy him toward the shower. “I can do this, you know.” 

“It’s faster if I do it,” Greg replied, turning on the water for him. “Go on, I’ll let you handle your own business. Meet you in bed?”

Mycroft nodded, looking at the flannel in his hand instead of at Greg, afraid he might do something completely insane such as burst into tears if he did. 

“Okay,” Greg said softly, and left Mycroft to it. 

The shower was hot and felt impossibly good, washing away the grime of a night spent running his hands through his hair, the stickiness of stress sweat and anxiety. Mycroft went through the motions of washing up mechanically, and barely bothered to dry off before he left the bathroom. 

Greg smiled at him from where he stood by the telephone table in the corner, holding up one finger as he spoke into the handset. “Thanks, Silvana. Yeah, I know. A pint next week and I promise—  Yeah. Okay. See you tomorrow.”

Mycroft felt oddly frozen to the spot as Greg hung up and crossed the bedroom, still wrapped in his towel and nothing else. 

“Your hair is dripping,” Greg murmured, pushing a wet lock of hair off Mycroft’s forehead with one finger. “Do you want pajamas?” 

“No,” Mycroft said, hoarse. “Unless you would rather—” 

“Nope.” Greg’s fingers went to the towel around Mycroft’s waist, tugging it loose and taking it away. He scrubbed gently at Mycroft’s hair, soaking out some of the water. “C’mere,” he said, and dropped the towel to the floor before tugging Mycroft into a tight embrace. 

Mycroft went gratefully, wrapping his arms around him as tightly as he could, shivering as Greg’s cooled skin pressed against his own, still warm from the shower. 

“Sleep and then food followed by a very calm day,” Greg said into Mycroft’s ear. “Okay?” 

“Yes,” Mycroft said. “Alright.”

He let Greg lead him to the bed, pull back the covers, and guide him down to the mattress. He watched Greg discard his own towel and climb in, naked, before sliding across the mattress to press his nose to Mycroft’s in an affectionate nuzzle. “Do you want to be the little spoon?”

Mycroft chuckled, then had to stop to catch his breath and swallow against the lump that suddenly formed in his throat. He couldn’t bring himself to speak around it, and nodded instead. 

“Okay.” Greg’s hands were gentle, urging him to turn over to his side. 

Mycroft let himself be arranged, let Greg slip a leg between his and drape an arm over his waist. Greg’s lips pressed against his bare shoulder; his chest was snug against Mycroft’s back. He let his hips fit like a puzzle piece against Mycroft’s buttocks, soft cock and all. It was… breathtakingly intimate. Mycroft covered Greg’s hand with his own and tried to breathe. 

“If you need to talk,” Greg said, voice soft behind Mycroft’s ear, “just talk. Or cry. Anything you need.” 

Mycroft needed to clear his throat before he could speak. “I feel a bit needy, considering your night was as difficult as mine.” 

“Oh, I think you have me beat by a mile or two,” Greg murmured. “Besides, it doesn't matter. I’m alright. I like being the big spoon.” 

“Thank you,” Mycroft said. “But sleep is all I can manage, I think.” 

“That’s fine.” Greg squeezed him and pressed impossibly closer. “Sleep, then. I’ll try not to snore.”

Mycroft squeezed back and closed his eyes. It was difficult to force his breathing to even out, to relax, but the steady motion of Greg’s chest at his back, and the gentle, absent stroke of his thumb over Mycroft’s collarbone, helped more than he would have expected. 

“Mycroft?”

“Hm?”

Greg’s voice was vague and sleepy. His mouth brushed against the knob at the top of Mycroft’s spine as he spoke. “D’you like the sea?”

Closer to sleep than he’d thought, Mycroft took a moment to understand the question, too tired to think it odd. “The sea? Hmmmyes. I love the sea.” 

“Okay,” Greg sighed, and then Mycroft slipped under into sleep. 



***



Mycroft woke in the early afternoon. It hadn’t been enough sleep to make up for the entire night spent awake and terrified, but his body came to awareness and wouldn’t allow him to settle once his eyes had opened. Greg had shifted onto his back, but one arm was still tucked under Mycroft’s body. Mycroft rolled away carefully, sitting up slowly so as not to jostle the mattress and wake him. His eyes caught on the skin exposed by the twisted sheets, and he found himself frozen for long moments, eyes raking over the lines of Greg’s body as if he’d never been allowed to look before. Mycroft supposed he hadn’t been; not like this. 

Greg looked very young when he slept. 

Mycroft resisted the urge to kiss him, or some part of him, before leaving the bed, and went in search of the most comfortable clothes in his wardrobe. Then, once he had stepped into a threadbare pair of cotton pajama bottoms and tugged on a soft, nearly felted jumper he’d had since his school days, Mycroft left the bedroom on silent feet. As he left, Greg shifted and rolled, tugging the coverlet up around his shoulders with a sigh. Mycroft, despite the strong urge to do so, did not turn on his heel and climb right back into the bed. 

He needed to call the hospital and check on Sherlock. He needed to, possibly, deal with his mother again. Judy wove between his ankles while he made the call to the Royal London, and then followed him up to the library, where he chose a record at random - Ella Sings Gershwin - to play on low while he marshalled his thoughts. 

By the time Greg wandered up, clad in a pair of athletic shorts and a faded band t-shirt, Mycroft had given up on organizing it all perfectly and abandoned his mind palace for a book. He’d been staring at the same page for long minutes when the creak of the stairs caught his attention. He had enough time to tuck away his reading glasses before Greg appeared. 

“You look extremely soft,” Greg said, standing at the end of the sofa, hands on his hips. “I’ve never seen you in such normal clothes.”

“All my clothes are normal clothes,” Mycroft protested as Greg placed a knee between his shins, crawling a bit clumsily up to lie stretched over his body. “Hello.” 

“Hi,” Greg said. “Did you sleep enough? Are you doing alright?”

“Probably not,” Mycroft replied, setting his book down on the floor. “The sleeping, that is. But I couldn’t drop off again, and didn’t wish to wake you with my tossing and turning. I am alright, though.” 

“Thanks for letting me sleep in.” Greg’s legs slotted together with Mycroft’s. “Do you mind that I’m invading your personal space at the moment?”

“No,” Mycroft said. He actually loved the weight of Greg pressing him down. It settled something in him, brushed away the last shred of discomfort brought on by a disorganized mind. Mycroft wondered how that worked, but decided to simply focus on how good it felt. 

“Good.” Greg kissed him, breath minty and lips soft. “Have you eaten?”

“Not yet.” 

“Okay.” Another kiss, this one even gentler. “Hungry?”

“Mmm.” Mycroft shrugged and initiated the next kiss, one hand stealing up into Greg’s irresistibly fluffy bedhead. He let his mouth fall open, wanting something deeper this time, craving a little breathlessness to go with the security of being covered from shoulders to toes. Greg obliged, and for long minutes they kissed slowly and lazily, tongues sliding together and then apart over and over in a waving rhythm, swells and lulls. 

Greg softened and ended the kiss with a peck to the corner of Mycroft’s mouth. “Listen… Do you want to get out of London?” he asked. “Tomorrow night?”

Mycroft blinked up at him, kiss-induced blurriness slowing his ability to parse what was being asked of him. “Out of London?”

“Yeah,” Greg said. “I just… I have this feeling that if you stay here in this flat all weekend, you’ll end up self flagellating and doing something daft like offering to move your teenage brother in with you. Or worse, go to work and run yourself into the ground.” 

Well. “I would be offended if that weren’t so accurate,” Mycroft sighed. “You are terrifyingly insightful, you know. I’m not used to being so easily read.” 

“Hm.” Greg shrugged, the motion jostling them both. “Well, I’m not happy to be right, and I’m also not trying to tell you what to do. It’s just… this was rough, and I think I’m a little sick of London after our little tour of it. I owe a visit to a friend in Dorset, and I thought… if you’d like to go, you’re welcome to join me.” 

Mycroft, blindsided, could only shake his head. 

“Like I said, you don’t have to go,” Greg hurried to say, moving to shift off of him. 

Mycroft stopped him, catching him around the waist with one arm. “Wait.” He cleared his throat, nervous. “I was simply surprised by the offer. I would think you would rather be rid of me, after all you’ve been through on my behalf. I wouldn’t be offended, were that the case.”

Greg rolled his eyes. “It wasn’t your fault,” he said with the air of a man who knew he would be saying it often. “And… I don’t know. Guess I just thought you could use a break.”

“I could,” Mycroft agreed. “But you are not obligated to see to it that I take one.”

“I know.” 

They had a brief staring contest, one that Mycroft backed out of, afraid of what his face might show. He dropped his gaze, focusing on his own fingers worrying the hem of Greg’s t-shirt. “I’m… I don’t deserve your compassion.” 

“Yes, you do,” Greg whispered, hand stroking Mycroft’s hair off his forehead. “And besides, I’m no saint. Paul’s going to rip into me for never visiting. If you’re there, he might restrain himself. You would be my buffer. But I think you’ll get on well with Morris. He grew up a bit posh. Never had a hall of portraits or a home theater, I don’t think, but nobody’s perfect.”

Mycroft huffed. “Well good,” he drawled. “He’ll know the secret silver spoon handshake, in that case.”

Greg grinned. “So you’ll go?”

“I…” Mycroft, as he had so many times since the day he met Greg, threw caution to the wind. “Yes. I’ll go.” He let the words settle between them, settle in his own mind. It was unbelievable even to him that he was willing to do this. But something about the bone-deep tiredness of the past twenty four hours, the way Greg’s quiet presence kept it from crushing him… Mycroft was fairly sure he would say anything - agree to anything - in that moment to keep it for just a while longer. He cleared his throat. “I’ll have to work tomorrow, though.”

“So will I,” Greg replied. “Leave after? Quick supper on the train?” 

Mycroft nodded. “Or we could take my car, if you have a driving license.”

Greg raised both eyebrows. “Yes, I do.” 

“Then it’s settled.”

“Sure.”

Mycroft huffed and yanked Greg a little too forcefully into another kiss, catching his sound of surprise in his teeth. When they parted, Greg leaned up on an elbow, looking toward the turntable. “What are we listening to?”

For a moment he couldn’t remember, and then he registered the song. Someone To Watch Over Me . Mycroft cleared his throat. “Ella Fitzgerald.”

“Hmm, a classic like you, then.”

Mycroft rolled his eyes and pushed Greg off of him. “You are free to change it while I brew us some tea. Toast?”

Greg chuckled and sat up, rocking back on his heels to give Mycroft room to stand from the sofa. “Sure.”

“Very well, then.” Mycroft tried to salvage some dignity, knowing that he most likely looked like a child in his too-long pajama trousers and fuzzy sweater. “I shall return.” 

Greg only smirked and delivered a gentle smack to his backside as he passed. Mycroft absolutely refused to jump or gasp, though it was a near thing, and left him there laughing. 

As Mycroft started down the staircase, he couldn’t help but wonder how all of this fit into the framework of their arrangement. He had the sense that there was no framework. That they had destroyed it, knocked it down and set it on fire, a very long time ago. 

Chapter Text

Greg had turned Ella to the b-side and was flipping through records in Mycroft’s collection with his eyebrows raised when Mycroft returned with tea and toast on a tray. 

“This,” Greg said, and Mycroft could easily read the incoming tease in his voice, “is a lot of Queen, sir.”

Mycroft sniffed and set the tray down on the floor before folding himself down beside the shelf of albums as well. “Are you going to pretend that you don’t have a stack of Queen tapes beside the stereo in your flat?”

“Course not,” Greg replied, taking his tea from the tray with a grin. “I’m surprised, is all. Eclectic isn’t the word for this collection.” 

“Some of it was inherited,” Mycroft said. “Some of it is mine. The Queen, for example.” 

“Favorite Queen album?”

Mycroft lifted his tea to his lips and smiled. “That is a very personal question.” 

Greg snorted a laugh and shook his head. “Fine. Keep your secrets.” He walked his fingers over the spines of the album covers. “I did have a question about this one, though.” He slipped out a familiar white paper envelope. “This is the only record without a cover. Label says For Adult Listeners Only.” 

Mycroft bit back a laugh at the waggling eyebrows which accompanied the title. “Ah, yes, well. It’s very risqué.” He stood and held out a hand for the envelope. “This is one of my uncle’s,” he said, switching off the turntable and removing the needle to swap records. “Published in the early sixties and passed around certain circles. There weren’t many pressings, but it made it into a few well connected hands. I’m not sure if this was acquired by my uncle or Jeffrey - my uncle’s long time companion - but if I had to guess I would say that my uncle was the less likely of the two to have an interest. ” 

“Ah,” Greg said, watching from the floor as Mycroft settled the record in the spindle and placed the needle gently at the outer edge. “What was Jeffrey like?”

Mycroft paused, finger over the switch, and considered his answer. “Kind,” he said after a moment. “Handsome. Charming. He was a classically trained pianist. He had lovely posture and I always thought of him as very refined. Gentle, though. Personable and unpretentious.” For the first time in years, he was able to conjure a clear memory of Jeffrey’s face with its Cary Grant chin and sleepy Valentino eyes. “I never saw them so much as touch, I don’t think. But I think they must have been in love. Jeffrey lived here, though I believe it was all rather unofficial. They were together from before the war until Jeffrey died in the seventies.”

“Wow,” Greg murmured. “That’s amazing. Longer than we’ve been alive. Imagine that.”

Mycroft glanced at him and smiled. “I knew them, and I still struggle to do just that.” He flicked the switch to start the record and returned to the floor. 

The first mournful notes of “ Lover Man ” drifted through the library, and Mycroft realized with a jolt what an embarrassingly appropriate song it was, too late to skip it without inviting suspicion. He swallowed and reached for his tea, using it as an excuse to keep his eyes averted, staring into the milky depths of his cup as the lyrics kicked in. 

I don't know why but I'm feeling so sad

I long to try something I never had

Never had no kissin'

Oh, what I've been missin'

Lover man, oh, where can you be?

“Oh!” Greg gave a little chuckle, and Mycroft braced himself to be teased. “This… It’s a man singing! About a man!” 

Mycroft looked up, surprised. “Oh, yes! I… just realized I didn’t say. That’s why it was only published in a small run, and packaged so subtly. A bit ahead of its time. Every track is an old love song addressed to a man, from the same male singer. Identity unknown.”

Greg rested his chin on one bent knee and smiled. “How lovely.”

“I’ve always thought so,” Mycroft said, and found himself unable to look away from Greg’s soft smile, his heart thudding heavily in his chest. 

“Thanks for playing it for me,” Greg said. 

“You are very welcome.” Mycroft sipped his tea and, when Greg’s eyes drifted closed, he closed his as well and listened contentedly to the music.



***



“I don’t like to leave you alone,” Greg said at the door that evening. “I feel like you might need back-up if your mum calls.”

Mycroft laughed. “I’ve survived her for twenty-five years so far,” he said. “And frankly, if you think that call this afternoon was bad, you haven’t grasped the full potential of her passive aggression.” 

“Don’t let her talk you out of coming with me to Dorset,” Greg said. “You deserve the break. And they deserve to see what’s really going on with Sherlock without you to foist it off on.”

“I won’t let her,” Mycroft said, though he wasn’t completely certain that he wouldn’t, if she tried. But... “She won’t try. She’ll have her hands full with him. He has told her that he wants rehabilitation. Now he’ll spend the weekend sulking around the house, insisting he never said such a thing and digging his heels in.”

“Do you think he’ll go? Will your parents make him?”

Mycroft raised his hands, fingers spread, as if emptying them of false hope. “Time will tell.” 

“I hope he does,” Greg said, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “If you’re sure you don’t want me to stay…” 

“It isn’t that I don’t want you to stay,” Mycroft murmured. “But Seven deserves some of his face time before you leave him in the care of your neighbors for a couple of days. And I don’t want to impose on your kindness more than I already have.”

Greg sighed. “It isn’t kindness, Mycroft,” he said, a variation on a theme from the last two days. 

“Still,” Mycroft said. “It’s fine. I shall see you tomorrow at six.” 

“You shall,” Greg said, teasing, and leaned in for a kiss. “Alright. Sleep well tonight, yeah?”

Mycroft had a feeling he would struggle to do that, on his own in his bed, but he smiled and nodded. “You do the same. Safe trip home.”


“Yeah.” Greg kissed him one last time, hand to Mycroft’s cheek, and let himself out of the flat. 

Against his own desperate wishes, Mycroft didn’t follow him out to kiss him at the lift as he had the last time, and firmly shut the door to the flat. 



***



The next day dragged, Mycroft’s feet moving as if bogged down in molasses, and he found himself irritable and impatient with everyone he met from the moment he left his flat. 

A lull in the day found Alicia and Mycroft alone in the office. Larry was away on assignment, thank god, or Mycroft might have bitten his head off. Unhinged his jaw and swallowed that empty skull whole. 

“Something happened,” Alicia said, hushed, without looking up from her computer. “Are you alright?”

Mycroft hummed the affirmative, and left it at that. So did Alicia; she knew when he truly needed her to leave him alone. 

He was, for once, glad of the fact that he was not currently involved in an active operation. No one cared that he had missed work the day before; no one expected him to report, or perform. Mycroft busied himself with paperwork, knowing that if he picked up the phone, diplomacy would elude him and he would alienate half of Downing Street before the day ended. 

It was a long nine hours. He skipped lunch, his stomach full of acid and his body still over-exerted from the ordeal of Wednesday night. He’d slept poorly, leaving the flat to head to the office early because he had given up on going back to sleep once he’d woken an hour before dawn, gasping from a nightmare he had no desire to recall. 

“I’m leaving,” he told Alicia, sharply at five; he wanted to get back in time to triple-check with Thomas that Judy would be looked after in his absence, to ask that the car be pulled round, and to pack a bag. “Happy weekend, Alicia.” 

She looked up, bleary-eyed, from her computer screen. “Are you really going already?”

Mycroft nodded, already shrugging into his coat. 

“You’re sure you’re alright?” she checked. 

“Fine, I assure you,” he said. “Just tired. Any word on your leaving party?”

“Probably three Fridays from now. I give you permission ahead of time to have one drink and go.” 

Mycroft smiled, and it was genuine. “Thank you, Alicia.” 

“Don’t say I never gave you anything,” she said briskly, and turned back to her screen. 

Mycroft huffed, thinking of Greg and what she might say if she fully understood what she had done for him, handing him that phone number. He certainly couldn’t tell her; Mycroft took the out, and left. 



***



“This,” Greg said, standing on the pavement outside of Mycroft’s flat that evening, “is Emma Peel’s car .

“Yes,” Mycroft said, a little embarrassed. “It’s not mine, it’s—” 

“Inherited, yeah,” Greg murmured, stepping closer to the car, one hand outstretched. “God, it’s in perfect condition. It’s even the right color.”

“Mmm,” Mycroft hummed. He had never had to perform a feigned interest in cars before. He simply didn’t run in circles where men paid any mind to their vehicle. 

Greg, though, was clearly having a moment of sorts. “She’s so shiny,” he murmured. “Wow.”

Mycroft did not roll his eyes, but it was a near thing. He would never understand the desire some people had to refer to a car as if it were a woman. “If it would interest you, Jeffrey named the car Jenny.” 

Greg smiled, finally laying his palm against the hood. “I’d place good money on Jenny Agutter.”

“Mm,” Mycroft confirmed. “British and sexy, I think he said.”

Greg laughed. “I love that,” he said. “And it’s true that you really don’t know how to drive?”

“I don’t have a license,” Mycroft corrected. “I do know how to drive, I simply never made it official. I could do it in an emergency, but.” He shrugged.

“You should practice, some,” Greg said. “Get your driving license. Just to drive this. Believe me, it’d be worth it.”

Mycroft couldn’t help smiling at Greg’s starry eyes. It was… nice, being able to do something that put that look there, even if all he’d done was ask that the car be taken out of its garage. “I’m afraid I never understood the appeal. But I do look forward to enjoying it vicariously through you for the next several hours.” 

Greg glanced up from the car. “I can’t believe you’re going to let me drive this. I’m—  frankly, it’s a turn on. A major one.”

Mycroft did roll his eyes then, though privately he was thrilled. “Well, let’s get our bags into the boot and get a move on, lest you rupture something.”

Greg chuckled and held out a hand. “Key and bag, please.” 

Mycroft handed both over, unable to resist the urge to trace two fingers over the inside of Greg’s wrist in the process. Greg winked and took them, rounded the car and stowed his duffel and Mycroft’s case, and then returned to the passenger side to open the door with flourish. 

“After you,” he intoned, sweeping into a bow. 

“You are a ridiculous person,” Mycroft said, but he felt wonderfully light for the first time all day, and ducked into the car without argument, tucking his legs in so Greg could gently shut the door. He didn’t miss the way Greg’s hand lingered over the hood on his way to the driver’s side, or the look he gave the car which bordered on lascivious. 

“Ready?” Greg asked once he settled behind the wheel, hands petting over the dash for a moment before he turned to Mycroft, grinning.

He was so handsome. Mycroft leaned in and kissed the swell of his cheek, then the dimple below. “Yes,” he said, before leaning back in his seat. “I’m ready.”

 

***



London traffic was London traffic, so it was quite a while before they hit open road, at which time Greg turned to Mycroft and asked, “Are you high up enough to get me out of a ticket if I just gun it?”

Mycroft laughed. “Let’s not test it,” he said. “Feel free to toe the line, though.”

“No fun,” Greg sighed, but he threw Mycroft a wink as he accelerated. “So, I um… I wanted to sort of—  Paul’s probably going to try to embarrass me. He can be… provocative.” 

Mycroft read between the lines. “I’m not afraid of men who are, to put it in the worst possible way, further out of the closet than I have ever been or have ever hoped to be. Just because I’m this,” he gestured at himself. “Doesn't mean I am judgmental.”

“I wasn’t saying it because I worried you would judge him,” Greg said after a moment. “I didn’t mean it like that. More like, I don’t want you to judge me, or read into anything he says as gospel regarding my… I don’t know. Intentions. Paul doesn't approve of some of the things I’ve done, and he has a tendency to generalize and exaggerate.”

“You do realize,” Mycroft said, “you are basically warning me that your big brother is going to pick on you.” 

Greg laughed. “Well. He does seem to think he’s my mother, sometimes.”

“I won’t judge you,” Mycroft said. “Besides, what will he and his partner think of me, the one you’ve gone and saddled yourself with for the weekend? You’re certain they don’t mind that you’re bringing me?”

“Of course they don’t,” Greg said, glancing away from the road, eyebrows drawn. “They don’t mind at all. And I haven’t saddled myself with you, I’m glad you’re coming.” He smiled, charm and dimples and quirking eyebrow. “And not just because of the car.”

Mycroft shook his head, holding onto his grin with his teeth in his bottom lip, and turned to watch the scenery fly by. “Terrible,” he said.

“You love it,” Greg replied. 

Mycroft bit his lip harder. 



***



He woke somewhere around Winchester in the dark, coming to with a gasp, not disturbed by bad dreams this time, but nonetheless waking as if by nasty shock. 

“Alright?” Greg asked from the driver’s seat.

Mycroft straightened from his slump against the door of the car. “I fell asleep,” he said, still blinking away the cobwebs and squinting at his watch in the dark. “Oh, I apologize, I fell asleep for nearly half the drive. Why didn’t you wake me?”

“Seemed like you needed it,” Greg said, and reached over to squeeze Mycroft’s thigh. “Hungry? I stopped for petrol and got you some crisps. Could hold us over til Weymouth.” 

“You are a prince,” Mycroft said, reaching down into the footwell for the plastic bag Greg had pointed out. 

“All in a day’s work,” Greg joked, and then seemed to sober instantly at the implication. “Um.” 

Mycroft studied his profile and, between one breath and the next, took a gamble on the right reaction. He laughed. “That was an awful joke,” he said, casually popping open the bag of crisps. “Truly.”

Greg glanced over, an uncertain smile on his nervous lips. “Sorry,” he said, sheepish. “It really was.”

Mycroft hummed, crunching two crisps into his mouth at once. 

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Greg said quietly. “I promise.”

“I know that you didn’t,” Mycroft replied. “I never would have thought that you did. Why would I?”

Greg shrugged a shoulder and didn’t answer. Mycroft felt it wise to change the subject.

“What’s your favorite Queen album?” 



***



Greg never did answer the question, sidestepping it the same way Mycroft had, and just like that, they had another inside joke. Mycroft turned that over in the back of his brain even as their conversation moved on from there, skipping from a childhood anecdote about Sherlock to Greg’s first motorbike - which had been stolen a month after he got it running - to which Cadbury bar was best. 

By the time they reached Weymouth, Mycroft had nearly forgotten to be nervous about meeting the person who had known Greg the longest in his life. 

“I feel…” Mycroft cleared his throat. “I feel as if I should have come bearing a host’s gift.”

Greg chuckled. “You are the gift, believe me.” He pulled up in front of a charming bungalow, putting the car in park but letting it idle as he turned to face Mycroft. “They both think I’m too antisocial. Need friends.”

“Well,” Mycroft said, ignoring the fact that the word friends was beginning to chafe in unexpected ways, “Glad to be of service, I suppose.” 

“Also,” Greg said, switching off the ignition and unbuckling his seatbelt. “I just like you, and it’ll be nice to have you here. C’mon.”



***



The house was charming, the front windows glowing golden. Mycroft barely had time to take a deep breath of sea air before the front door banged open and a voice spilled out. 

“Who the fuck is that on my garden path?” 

Greg groaned beside him. “Brace yourself,” he muttered. 

“Oh, it’s a wee, sad, little street urchin,” said the voice, and a man stepped out from the inside of the house, tall and slim and putting on a show by striking a pose in the light of the doorway. “Morris! A ragged orphan has washed up at our door. Can we keep him, please?”

“God, shut up,” Greg laughed, dropping his duffle and spreading his arms wide. “Come on, you know you want it.”

“Prick,” the man in the doorway said, before he walked off of the front porch and into Greg’s waiting arms, grabbing him roughly by the back of his jacket. “I miss you, you daft idiot, you never come to see me.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” Greg said, and kissed his cheek before stepping away, “Paul, Mycroft. Mycroft, Paul.” 

Mycroft stepped forward with his hand outstretched and wasn’t surprised at all to be yanked by it into an embrace. 

“Oh, he has a type,” Paul sighed, quiet enough for Mycroft’s ears only. “We could share clothes.”

“Oh,” Mycroft said, at a loss. “Ah…” 

“Sorry, couldn’t resist,” Paul said, releasing Mycroft with a tiny push toward Greg. “Well, look at the both of you, you’re precious.”

“Paul,” said a new voice, presumably Morris. A much stockier, dark-haired man had appeared to fill the empty doorway. “You nearly let the dog out, and you’re terrifying Greg’s friend. Let them come inside.”

“At least you still have sense,” Greg said, grinning, and took the porch steps two at a time to hug him as well. “Hello, mumsy.”

“Shut up,” Morris groused, and shoved Greg into the house before shaking Mycroft’s hand. “Hello, you must be Mycroft.”

“Yes,” Mycroft said, trying not to show how grateful he was for this much more relaxed greeting. In the light spilling out of the cottage’s front room, he was able to actually see Morris’ features clearly. Round-faced, kind eyes, neat haircut and ruthlessly plucked eyebrows (a female impersonator at some tourist spot or another, confirmed by the traces of glue still stuck on his fingernails, alongside burns and calluses that spoke to a day job in a kitchen). Signs of both tiredness and laughter around his eyes. “It’s nice to meet you.” 

“Well, come in,” Morris said, stepping aside to admit Mycroft through the door. To Paul he said, “You’re so dramatic.”

“You love it,” Paul drawled, slipping past after Mycroft. 

Mycroft smiled to himself at the little turn of phrase Greg had borrowed earlier. The inside of the house was cluttered but clean, and utterly covered in photographs. Mycroft blinked at the sheer number, and turned to train his eyes on Greg in order to avoid having his attention obliterated by the urge to examine and extrapolate from every single one; in order to avoid spending the next several minutes unable to hear a word anyone said, too busy looking for any evidence of a young Greg in any of them. 

“You both must be starving,” Paul said. “Bit late, did you get distracted on your way? All those dark country roads, you know.”

Mycroft felt he might blush, and fought it back through sheer willpower and some handy old breathing techniques he had learned back in the early days of his training. They never used to work in his personal life, but the heat never did make it to his face, so he felt he could safely congratulate himself on having improved his technique. 

“There was traffic,” Greg said placidly, ignoring the implication that they had stopped for an illicit shag on the side of the road. “You shouldn’t have held supper for us, we could’ve made do, really.”

“Nonsense, we eat late. Pretend we’re in Spain.” Morris busied himself in the next room over, the clatter of dishes obscuring his voice. 

“We do,” Paul said firmly. “I wish I could say we’re serving paella, but alas. It’s lasagna.”

“Pretend we’re in Rome, is what I meant to say,” Morris called from the kitchen, and Paul rolled his eyes. 

“Yes, darling, we know,” he said. “Come on and sit, he’ll call us when the table’s clear. Greg, you know how he gets when he cooks at home. Mess everywhere.” 

Mycroft found himself relieved of his jacket and ushered into an armchair. He caught the look Greg shot Paul as he patted the sofa beside him, and bit back a laugh when Greg silently tried to refuse to sit and was instead yanked forcibly down to the cushion. 

“So, Mycroft,” Paul began, leaning forward, chin in hand. “Tell me your life story.”

“Christ,” Greg sighed. “Don’t tell him anything, Mycroft.” 

Mycroft, realizing he had been placed alone in the hot seat, smiled pleasantly and took in the details, now that he could properly see them: Paul was around thirty, and he hadn’t been wrong when he’d alluded to some similarities between himself and Mycroft: he was built similarly, long-nosed and thin-lipped, but with a squarer, more handsome jawline. He was also decidedly more ginger, and explosively freckled. The effect was rather attractive on him, warming his skin and softening the angles of his face. 

Mycroft tried not to feel sallow and beaky, tried to ignore the fact that he knew that Greg had been intimate with this man, though of course it had been long ago when they were boys. 

He could read Paul’s recent illness in the corners of his mouth, the loss of muscle tone in his arms and legs. But he was relieved to see no evidence of pneumonia now. He looked to be recovering, and quite nicely. Greg had mentioned that Paul worked as a sometimes-bartender, sometimes-voice teacher, and he could see that too, in Paul’s fingers and knees and posture, even in the way he breathed and the register of his voice. In the way he sat beside Greg, the angles of his feet, the shift of his shoulders, Mycroft saw affection and a certain level of absolutely terrified worry. 

“I… submit myself for inspection,” Mycroft said, all of his deductions having taken place in the space of a second. “It’s quite alright. I’m afraid I don’t know where to begin, life story-wise.”

“What do you do?” Paul asked. “Let’s start there.”

“I’m an analyst,” Mycroft replied smoothly. “For the government. Quite boring, I’m afraid.”

“Hmmm,” Paul’s eyes narrowed. “Your accent says fancy schools. Shouldn’t you be some financial mucky muck or whatever?”

Greg sighed loudly and rolled his eyes. Sorry, he mouthed. 

Mycroft shook his head slightly, allowing his smile to become half-smirk. “Fancy schools turn out all manner of deskbound drones, I’m sorry to say,” he said. 

“What sort of analyst are you?” 

“A government one.”

“Yes, you said. What do you analyze?”

“...data,” Mycroft tried, knowing he sounded clipped and evasive. He made an effort to soften his tone. “Unfortunately, that’s all I can say about it.”

“Oh, interesting,” Paul leaned forward even further. “You’re very cute, Greg was right about that.”

“Oh, my god.” Greg stood. “I—  Paul, Morris is calling you. He needs help in the kitchen. I’m… I’m taking Mycroft to put our bags away.” 

Paul snorted and settled back against the sofa cushions. “You know where the guest bedroom is.” He flicked his fingers. “Scurry away, coward.”

Greg scoffed and tugged Mycroft up by the arm, scooping their bags from beside the door on the way to the little hall off the lounge and hauling Mycroft through the second door on the left, slamming it behind them. Mycroft heard Morris’ muffled voice accuse Paul of pissing off Greg already, and Paul’s answering laugh. 

“I am so sorry,” Greg said, throwing the bags onto the double bed with rather more force than was necessary. “I’ll kill him.”

Mycroft leaned against the door and smiled, charmed. “Do you think that was a problem for me?”

“I think it was dramatic and rude,” Greg grumbled, turning and dropping down onto the bed, facing Mycroft with his arms crossed over his chest. “He’s such a shit.”

“He’s funny,” Mycroft said with a shrug. “And trying to get a rise out of you. Succeeding, too.”

Greg groaned and fell backward, hands fisted in his own hair. “I know,” he groaned. “But still.” 

Mycroft pushed off of the door and took the two steps across the small room to the bed, standing between Greg’s parted knees and placing a hand against the strip of skin exposed where Greg’s shirt had ridden up. He leaned forward, catching his weight on his other hand, and let his fingers trace gently, teasingly along the edge of Greg’s waistband.

Greg dropped his hands and blinked up at him. “You’re rather suave all of a sudden.”

“I can handle an interrogation,” Mycroft said. “If it comes to it, I’ll make up a serial number and repeat it and my name and nothing more for the rest of the night.”

Greg laughed. “I don’t think it’ll be that close to torture.”

“I think it will be lovely,” Mycroft said. “I don’t mind a little prying.” 

Greg pushed up onto his elbows, bringing them nose to nose. “Kiss for good luck before we go back out there?”

“Excellent idea,” Mycroft said, and obliged him. “Once more unto the breach?”

“I guess,” Greg sighed, and allowed Mycroft to tug him to his feet.



***



Dinner was, indeed, lovely. Morris fixed Paul with a glare as they sat, everyone knocking knees around a small table in the kitchen, and Paul let Mycroft be in favor of asking after Greg’s studies. From there, the two of them wound up embroiled in some old argument or another, and Morris turned to Mycroft with a long suffering roll of the eyes. 

Normally Mycroft would be a bit strict with himself, avoid deducing the tiny details that would smooth the edges of socialization, but he was tired and a little overwrought, still, so he let himself rely on it just a little. He drew Morris into a conversation about dogs they’d known and loved, prompted by the obvious adoration the man felt for the scruffy mutt sitting patiently by his side, waiting for a dropped morsel or two. 

After that, Mycroft was pleased to realize that he didn’t need to deduce much else; Morris was charming as well as handsome, and more than willing to be Mycroft’s partner in easy chat while the other two fussed at one another. 

It passed quickly, with plenty of wine for all but Paul, who took the half glass Morris passed him and poured it directly into Greg’s. “Can’t stand the taste when I’m on the steroids. Maybe next week when I’m rid of them.”

“Happy to pick up your slack, mate,” Greg teased, tipping his glass to his lips. 

“As always,” Paul said fondly, and ruffled Greg’s hair. 

Morris watched it, smiling, and Mycroft could see the relief there; having Greg there was a good thing. He’d been worrying for Paul. It made Mycroft’s heart ache, though it was lovely to witness so much… caring around one table. 

Mycroft had never had a dinner quite like it in his life. 

By the time the second wine bottle had been emptied, Mycroft had begun attempting to hide his yawns in his shoulder rather than stifle them. 

“You must be knackered,” Paul said, catching him out mid-sentence. “You know, I can gab on at Greg all night—  you should go to bed. We won’t be offended.”

And, although Mycroft could see the ploy for what it was - an opportunity to get Greg on his own and grill him properly - he was tired, and soon would be nodding off at the table. “I apologize,” he said. “It has been a long week.”

“Greg mentioned,” Morris said as he passed behind Mycroft from the sink. His hand rested briefly, friendly, on Mycroft’s shoulder as he went. “Sorry to hear your brother isn’t well, by the way. That’s tough.”

“Oh.” Mycroft glanced to Greg, then away, easily reading that the entire story had not been relayed. “Thank you, yes, but he’s on the road to recovery. I think I will take you up on the offer to head to bed. Apologies for being a bit of a wet blanket.” 

“Not at all,” Paul said, his sudden conciliatory manner in stark contrast to the questioning before. “Greg will get you settled. Won’t you Greg?”

Greg nodded, shooting Paul a look as he rose from his chair. 

“Dinner was lovely,” Mycroft said to Morris. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure,” he said with a wink. “Sleep tight.”

“Yes, sweet dreams,” Paul chirped. “Hurry back, Gregory.”

Greg sighed and jerked his head toward the hall, leading the way as if Mycroft couldn’t find the second door on the left without a guide. 

In the bedroom, Greg was the one to lean against the door and sigh. “Alright,” he said. “I’m going to let him rake me over the coals, then I’ll be in. I’m exhausted, too.” 

“Alright,” Mycroft said, fidgeting the zip of his case. “Are you… you seem distressed. Is this… not going well?” 

“It’s not that,” Greg said. “They like you a lot, especially Morris. But Paul, too. He won’t show it til he’s thoroughly inspected me, but you can expect a much better performance out of him in the morning. Sorry again.” 

“There really is no need to apologize,” Mycroft said. “I’m having a wonderful time, I promise you.”

“Really?”

Mycroft drew in a breath and held it, taking a moment to find the words to describe the feeling that had seemed to grow in him from the moment they had entered this tiny little cottage. “This,” he said, “is the happiest home I have ever seen the inside of. That was the most wonderful, unpretentious dinner I have ever eaten. And I have never once been in a room with that many outwardly gay men at the same time before.” 

Greg exhaled, the air punched out of him, and crossed the room, hands going to Mycroft’s face, gentle. “Oh,” he said simply, before pressing his mouth sweetly to Mycroft’s. “Well. Welcome to the gayest, most unpretentious, most awful and wonderful cottage in the South of England.”

They laughed, foreheads together. 

“Thank you for bringing me here,” Mycroft said. “I truly mean it.” 

“Thanks for coming with me.” 

Mycroft kissed him one more time. “Now,” he said, “where do I go to wash up?”

Greg tilted his chin to the far corner of the room. “Loo’s one more door down the hall, on this side. Here—” he reached for the lid of the chest at the end of the bed and produced two towels and a flannel. “If you need more, there’s a ton in there. Morris can’t resist towels and quilts for some reason. The house is lousy with them.” 

Mycroft smiled. “How long have they been together?”

“Seven? Eight years?” Greg said. “Old married couple, those two. And Morris acts like they’re my parents. He’s five years older than me. Daft bugger.” 

“I think it’s nice,” Mycroft said simply, shrugging around the armful of towels.

“Yeah,” Greg said. “Me too, really.” 

“Go on to your interrogation,” Mycroft told him gently. “I’m fine.” 

“Sure.” Greg nodded. “Alright. Sleep well, okay? I’ll try not to wake you when I come in.” 

“Don’t worry,” Mycroft said. Please wake me, he thought. I like listening to you fall asleep. He prayed he didn’t look as ridiculous as that thought had made him feel. 

Greg nodded and backed away, still reluctant, no doubt stalling in anticipation of Paul’s teasing. 

Mycroft let out a breath as the door shut behind Greg’s retreating back, and sank down to sit on the bed, struggling to process the jumble of thoughts and impressions in his mind. 

He was still a bit run down, too tired to exercise much control over what flitted through his head. He just… He couldn’t shake the feeling he had just met the family, like a boyfriend being presented for scrutiny by the future in-laws. 

Mycroft shook his head at himself. Stop that line of thinking right there, he told himself. 

He had a feeling that sleep would not come easily that night.

Chapter Text

Greg found Morris and Paul still in the kitchen when he left the bedroom. Paul’s eyes went wide and gleeful, and Greg held up a hand. “At least let him use the loo and go to bed before you start talking about him at top bloody volume.”

Paul’s mouth snapped shut and he rolled his eyes, then mimed zipping his lips and locking them with a key. 

Greg crossed to the sink, snagging a dish towel from the back of a kitchen chair on the way, and began drying what Morris had washed so far. Morris bumped their hips together and grinned. He appeared to be attempting to communicate something with his eyebrows. What it was supposed to mean, Greg didn’t know; something dirty, he thought, and chuckled, shaking his head. 

“Don’t you start,” he murmured. 

The room seemed to hold its breath at the sound of doors opening and closing in the hall. The water in the kitchen tap slowed when the water in the bathroom sink turned on. Greg sighed. He had minutes of peace left before Mycroft went to bed and these two pounced. 

He made the most of it, refusing to make eye contact with either of them as he slowly and methodically toweled at the dishes. 

The click of the guest bedroom door came too soon, and inconveniently just as the last plate was returned to the cabinets. 

“Well,” Paul said. “He’s adorable.”

“Seriously,” Morris agreed, sinking into a kitchen chair across from Paul. “So cute! So polite!”

“Gregory, you’ve brought us such a nice boy.” 

Greg leaned against the sink with his arms crossed and his eyes to the ceiling, figuring he could just let it happen, wait til they tired of teasing him. 

“I always knew you would marry one of your posh boys,” Paul continued. “Before you know it you’ll be buying the cottage next door.”

“The Haverty’s will never sell,” Morris sighed. “But maybe nearby, at least.”

“Would you keep your voices down?” Greg snapped. “Sound carries in this bloody house. Believe me, I know, I’ve tried to sleep in that room while the two of you defiled that very table.” He lowered his voice, “Besides, it’s not like that Paul, I told you.” 

“The hell you say,” Paul replied, thankfully much more quietly. “It is observably exactly like that.” 

Greg shook his head. “It’s not.” 

Morris, usually the one Greg could rely on to listen to him, betrayed him. “It really looks like it’s like that, Greg. Sorry.” 

“So what I say doesn't matter, I suppose,” Greg muttered, kicking a chair out from the table and turning it to sit backwards, arms folded over the back, chin resting on his arms. 

“No,” Paul snapped. “It doesn't. You’re always bloody clueless about this sort of thing. Willfully clueless.” 

“Am not,” Greg replied, bordering on a whine, knowing he sounded like a child. But fuck it, he was with two people who had known him as a child. He could get away with it. 

“You know,” Morris said. “He seems to be completely besotted with you.”

Greg rolled his eyes. 

“Oh, please,” Paul sneered. “You’ve got to admit it, Greg, come on.” 

Greg remained silent, and Paul looked to Morris across the table, holding out one hand towards Greg as if to say: Can you believe this idiot? 

“Greg…” Morris, ever the diplomat, spoke more gently. “What is it like, if it’s not like that?”

“It’s casual!” Greg insisted. “We’re friends. That’s it!”

Paul rubbed a hand over his forehead, eyes half-shut in a dramatic show of exhaustion. “Oh, god,” he groaned. “Greg, you know, you were engaged and never brought the girl to meet us.” 

Greg bit the side of his tongue, hard. “Well clearly I had my reasons, seeing as how there never was a wedding.” 

“Right,” Paul said, dropping his hand to the table with a smack. “Because you’re clueless, and you tend to let awful people treat you terribly while you put lovely people on pedestals and yourself somewhere around the level of pond silt. Also, it is still completely crackers that you thought you could marry some girl.” 

“I’m allowed to marry a girl if I want to,” Greg grumbled, refusing to look up from the scratched surface of the kitchen table. 

Morris - Morris - giggled. “Oh, Greg.” 

He was supposed to be the nice one. The betrayal rankled.

“Sure, you’re allowed,” Paul said. “Though why you would is beyond me. You were miserable.” 

Greg sighed, unable to deny that. “None of this has anything to do with Mycroft,” he said. 

“Hmmm.” Morris tapped his hands on the kitchen table in a disjointed drumbeat. “Everything has to do with everything, love.” 

“What does that even mean?” 

Paul reached over and clasped a hand over Greg’s arm, squeezing. “You’ll figure it out, I suppose,” he said, then stood. “I’d like some time with you tomorrow. Walk on the beach with me in the morning?”

“Yeah,” Greg said. “Of course.” 

“I’m for bed, then,” Paul said, and leaned down to press his lips to Greg’s forehead. “I’m so glad you’re here. I missed you, you idiot.” 

Greg’s irritation melted away at that, and he kept Paul in place with a hug round the neck. “Missed you too, you absolute monster,” he said, shocked by the sudden burn behind his eyes. “Sleep well.” 

Paul kissed him again and patted him on the head just to be a prick, then leaned across the table to kiss Morris goodnight before disappearing down the hall toward their bedroom. 

Greg waited for the click of the door. “How is he?”

“Actually, really good,” Morris said. “It was scary at the end of winter, with the pneumonia, but he’s recovered and the drugs seem to be keeping his T cells in check for now. They’ve been trying to counteract some of the side effects. The doctor in Bournemouth says he’s doing the best out of all her patients.” 

Greg let out a breath and closed his eyes, willing his relieved tears to stay in. “Thank fuck.”

“He’d like to see you more, you know,” Morris continued. “But we both understand that you’re going to be busy for a while with your studies. Just… I hope you understand that you’re wanted here. Always.” 

Greg pressed his fingertips to his eyelids. “Don’t,” he managed.

“I won’t,” Morris murmured. Greg heard the scrape of his chair pushing away from the table. “Love you, Gregory,” he said. “Not to be cheeky, but while you’re hanging around a bunch of therapists you might consider talking to one.” 

Greg chuckled thickly and wiped away the traces of wetness around his eyes. “Sure,” he said. “Okay.” 

“You’re allowed to take care of yourself,” Morris said simply, then pressed his lips exactly where Paul had. “Light’s still on in the guestroom. Go get laid or something, you’re tense as all hell.” 

With that, he left Greg to groan into his hands and pull himself together on his own. 



***



Greg found Mycroft awake and sitting up in bed, changed into his soft pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, with a pair of reading glasses perched on his nose and a book in his hand. Greg had to pause and contain his reaction to the glasses, leaning up against the closed door and holding himself very still so as not to simply jump him. 

“Hello,” Mycroft said, lowering the book. “How did it go?”

Greg huffed. “Did you hear any of it?”

“Nothing after ‘would you keep your voices down,’ and then a little something about marrying some girl.” Mycroft quirked an eyebrow. “Just when I think you have no more surprises in store. I’m starting to question my own deductive abilities. I rather assumed your interactions with women were not quite so serious.” 

“Ah.” Greg winced. “About that…”

“You don’t have to explain,” Mycroft said. “I’m not… I merely feel badly for assuming.” 

“I sort of let you assume,” Greg said with a shrug. “Because you’re mostly right, anyway. Just for the sake of transparency, her name was Angela, and we were together for about a year a really long time ago. I never should’ve tried to settle down with her, but it was a weird time and then she cheated. Um. The end.” 

“Sorry,” said Mycroft softly. “It must have been difficult.”

“It was.” Greg smiled. “But I was young and stupid, and it’s fine. Dodged a bullet.” 

“I suppose you did.” 

“Sorry about what you heard Paul say. I swear I didn’t make it sound like we were, um… you know.” 

“Planning a June commitment ceremony?”

“Right.”

Greg didn’t want to tell Mycroft that Paul, and therefore Morris, knew how they had met. In fact, he’d made it abundantly clear, when he’d called to propose the trip the day before, that they were not to give any indication that Greg had told them. 

The silence between them had gone on for too long. Greg felt awkward and off-balance, confused and strangely wired. “What are you reading?” he asked out of desperation for something to say. 

“I found it on that shelf over there,” Mycroft said, showing Greg the cover. 

“Oh, my,” Greg laughed, pushing off the door and crossing to the bed. “That looks naughty.” 

“A masterpiece of pulp erotica,” Mycroft intoned. “Rather raunchy.” 

“Total turn on, is it?” Greg reached for the book, and Mycroft handed it over. The cover was illustrated, a shirtless man in briefs lounging with his legs spread, cigarette in hand, a prison setting making up the background. “ Caves of Iron , ” he read. “Wow.” 

“Quite,” said Mycroft primly, but his eyes sparkled with humor.

Greg reached out and traced a finger over the top edge of the reading glasses. “These are nice.”

Mycroft’s nose wrinkled. “Not really.” 

“Yes, really,” Greg laughed, then held up the book. “Are you open to distraction from this erotic masterpiece?” 

“By you?” Mycroft smiled. “Of course.” 

Greg let the book drop to the floor and crawled up onto the mattress. Mycroft’s knees seemed to part automatically, making room for him to kneel between them. Greg placed his hands on the knobby kneecaps beneath worn-soft fabric, tracing his fingertips lightly there. 

“You look like a nerdy schoolboy,” Greg said, touching the glasses again and then letting his finger trace down the long line of Mycroft’s nose to the dip of his upper lip. “I like it.” 

“How naughty of you,” Mycroft said, and nipped at the side of Greg’s finger before slipping the glasses off and tossing them to the nightstand.

Greg leaned forward and replaced the finger with his mouth, kissing lightly over Mycroft’s upper lip before gently sucking the fuller bottom one between his teeth. Mycroft sighed and leaned into it, hands clutching at Greg’s arms as his mouth fell open with a soft groan. 

Greg’s heart pounded in his chest. The kiss was hot, but soft and slow. He could feel Mycroft’s breath shortening, quickening, just from the first wet slide. He was still so responsive. His confidence had bloomed beautifully, coming out in surprising little moments that thrilled Greg, made him feel proud to have shown Mycroft he had it in him. But he still let Greg lead, still went a little sweet when pressed and held. 

He deepened the kiss, cupping one hand against Mycroft’s lightly stubbled cheek to gently hold him still. Mycroft let him, let Greg take what he wanted in the way he wanted, the flex of his fingers against Greg’s biceps his only reaction to the gentle thrust of Greg’s tongue against his own. Greg pulled back to let them both breathe, but just for a moment. He licked his lips, eager, then pressed back in, pressing his tongue slowly, languorously, a little obscenely, into Mycroft’s willing mouth, and tried to breathe through his own dizziness as what felt like all his blood rushed directly to his cock. 

Mycroft moaned softly and lay back, tugging Greg along with him, and it was natural to settle into the cradle of Mycroft’s open thighs. Mycroft was hard too, and Greg rubbed lazily against him the same way he kissed him, slow and aimless, until Mycroft was gasping against Greg’s lips and trying to shove up for more friction. 

It was intimate. Almost more intimate than being naked. They had kissed like this, tilted together like this, a lot. But never quite so easily. Mycroft, some time during the proceedings, had begun to touch Greg, exploratory and with intent, but by no means in a rush. There was no frantic gripping or hurried stripping of clothes, and yet Greg’s pulse raced. Between long, gently sucking kisses, he struggled to catch his breath, taking breaks to pant against Mycroft’s lips and neck and cheek, pressing his mouth there to buy time to suck down air. His entire body felt hot with arousal; his belly was full of butterflies. It was like they’d been fucking for hours, not kissing for minutes. Mycroft knew some of the ways Greg liked to be touched now. It was… a little overwhelming to realize that.

Greg let Mycroft ruck up his shirt and trace his spine, but made no move to take it off. He gripped Mycroft’s thighs, feeling the heat of his skin through the thin fabric of his pajamas as he guided those lovely long legs around him so they could thrust together more tightly. Mycroft gasped and moaned into Greg’s mouth. There were distractions - The taste of Mycroft’s neck made Greg linger and he ended up stuck there for a while, breathing in the scent of his skin and seeing what noises he could get Mycroft to make if he put his teeth here or sucked harder there. The way Mycroft held  Greg’s face in his hands, not letting him get close enough to push their mouths together, tightening his thighs around Gregs hips and shoving up, both of them panting wildly with the glorious friction as their lips hovered a hair’s breadth away from a kiss. 

It was so fucking hot, Greg couldn’t stand it, and hardly anything had happened. It was like all the build up before, all the coaxing and easing in to all of this, had trained Greg to get off on the sweetest of touches, the shyest of kisses. The mere suggestion that anything more was about to happen. He couldn’t get enough. He could swim in this feeling, go right up to the edge and stay there forever.

“God,” he muttered raggedly, breaking away from another kiss that seemed to exist in some liquid form outside of reality. “You feel amazing.”

Mycroft only shuddered in response and squeezed Greg between his thighs again. They kissed over and over, one melting into the next until Greg couldn’t tell where one ended and another began, only bothering to gasp in air when he started to feel lightheaded. 

“I want you,” Mycroft muttered, nonspecific and vaguely desperate. 

“Yeah,” Greg agreed, as if he had any idea what either of them wanted, as if he could manage a coherent thought in the moment. 

Getting out of their clothes seemed a good start, and then there was a blur of petting and groping, more rocking and frotting together. Eventually, Greg kissed down Mycroft’s body, pressing his mouth over sharp angles and soft swells, greedy for the texture of Mycroft’s skin and chest hair, the tightness of his nipples and the subtle rise of gooseflesh down his arms. He followed the aroused flush down Mycroft’s abdomen and teased his belly button, nosed at the line of hair trailing from there. 

Mycroft twitched and gasped, hands in Greg’s hair then fisted in the sheets, then back in his hair again. When Greg finally reached his cock and lipped at the head, he uttered a soft, “Oh,” and his fingers tightened against Greg’s scalp but did not push or pull. 

“Lovely,” Greg murmured into Mycroft’s hipbone. “So lovely.” 

“Greg.” 

Greg’s fingers traced mindlessly over the creamy insides of Mycroft’s thighs. He mouthed and nuzzled at them, and then at his tightening balls, breathing in deeply and pressing his own hips into the bed without conscious thought, mindlessly seeking out the friction. He breathed out hot air, licked him slowly, got him very wet, and then blew, cooling where his tongue had been, before taking Mycroft’s cock into his mouth as far as he could. 

Mycroft covered his own mouth with one hand, trying to stifle the gorgeous, ragged sounds coming from him. 

Greg pulled off, breathing hard. “Paul sleeps with earplugs because Morris snores, and he sleeps like a rock. No one will hear you but me, and I want it.” He reached up and tugged Mycroft’s hand away. Greg realized they were both shaking. “I want you so much,” he breathed. “Fuck.” 

Mycroft tugged at him, pulling Greg up by the arm. “Kiss me again,” he murmured, though their mouths were already fitting together as he said it. 

Greg stroked him gently, fingers soft around the hard heat of him, and kissed him for more long minutes. Mycroft whimpered and moaned beautifully, hips thrusting through the circle of Greg’s fingers, chasing more and then shying away - teasing himself, Greg realized, god. His long fingers swept over Greg’s shoulders and back, then around to rake down his chest and abdomen, and then around again to sink, grasping, into Greg’s backside. 

“Can I touch you here?” Greg asked, rolling Mycroft’s balls in his palm before teasing his fingers further back.

“Yes,” Mycroft gasped immediately, trying to press back into Greg’s hand, though it was impossible in his current position. “But—  I didn’t bring anything for that.” 

Greg chuckled, still breathless from those endless waves of kisses. “We’re in the gayest house in the South of England,” he teased. “And I’ve slept in here before. Can you reach the drawer in the bedside table there?” 

Mycroft could, one long, lovely arm reaching for it and rummaging blindly about. He held up the bottle after a moment, grinning a little wildly. “Success,” he breathed. 

Greg laughed and kissed him, and Mycroft giggled into it, the both of them drunk on whatever this was. Mycroft handed over the bottle of lube. “Do you do this to yourself?” Greg checked, flicking open the lid.

“A little,” Mycroft said. “It’s always a bit awkward. But I… I like it. I want it.”

He might have asked Mycroft if he was sure, before. But that felt wrong now, the two of them still half-clinging to each other and with Mycroft’s voice so steady. 

“Turn over,” Greg said quietly, backing away, sweat cooling quickly on his skin in the places where it had been pressed tightly to Mycroft’s for so long. “Just at first. Is that alright?”

Mycroft nodded, then pushed up to sit, tugging Greg in and kissing him again one more time before rolling to his belly, a soft groan muffled in the pillow as his hips humped down against the coverlet, just once. 

The line of his back was long and pretty, soft pale skin and lovely amber-colored freckles. Greg reached out and walked his fingers down the center to the lovely dip above his buttocks, before gently squeezing both firm cheeks with his hands, then bending forward to suck a mark just below the crease of Mycroft’s left thigh. 

“God,” Mycroft said, strangled, and then whined as Greg kissed and nipped all the way up the pert muscle to the curve of his lower back. 

“Can I... I want to put my mouth on you,” Greg whispered, dry fingers slipping gently, teasingly between his cheeks. “Here. Is that too much?” 

Mycroft shook his head, pillowed on his folded arms, only one side of his flushed face visible. His eyes were closed, his body a little tense with anticipation. 

“Is that a yes, or a no?” 

“Yes,” Mycroft whispered. “You can. No, it’s not too much.” 

Greg swallowed; this had featured pretty heavily in his fantasies lately, for reasons he couldn’t quite pinpoint. It had never been something he felt compelled to do, though he’d done it when asked nicely. But that had been for money. This… this he just wanted. 

He slid back on the mattress to give himself more room, then gently parted Mycroft’s cheeks before licking a hot stripe from the space behind his balls all the way to the twin divots atop the swell of his arse. Mycroft shuddered, hips pressing harder into the bed. 

“Yeah?” Greg checked. 

Mycroft groaned and nodded. “More.”

Greg practically dove in, sucking kisses over Mycroft’s soft skin and licking hotly over his hole, delighting whenever he could surprise him with his next move, loving the rocking rhythm of Mycroft’s mindless thrusting against the mattress and the sweet sounds he made. 

Greg stroked and traced with his fingers, pressing gently against the slowly relaxing muscle, then leaned back in with a moan of pleasure to lick slowly over it again with lush, slow presses of his tongue. He couldn’t help it; he stroked himself lazily with one hand as he worked, just to take some of the edge off. 

Mycroft lifted his head. “Are you—” He twisted against the bed, trying to turn and see, but Greg held him still, hands firm on his hips. 

“Now, now,” he teased. 

Mycroft gasped and humped hard against the bed.

“Did you like that?” Greg asked, grinning and breathless. “Wanna be held down a little, sweetheart?”

“Oh, god,” Mycroft said. “Yes.”

“Come up to your knees,” Greg instructed, knowing he liked that little bit of bossing, too. 

Then, once Mycroft had gotten up onto all fours, Greg gently pressed between his shoulder blades until he lowered his shoulders back down, leaving his head pillowed on his arms once more, and his perfect arse high in the air. 

On a whim and a bit of a hunch, Greg murmured, “Good boy.”

Mycroft’s body shuddered so hard, he nearly knocked Greg sideways. 

“Jesus,” Greg murmured, body tingling with the satisfaction of having got it right, of having done that for him. “You’re so perfect, Mycroft, so good for me. I’m gonna make you feel so good, darling, hold on.” 

“Just—” Mycroft pushed back against Greg’s fingers, slick with lube now and sliding gently over his hole. 

“Don’t want to hurt you,” Greg soothed, pressing with one finger. “Relax, I’ve got you, I’ve got you.”

It was all nonsense, pouring out of his mouth without his full awareness. He kept saying it, kept nattering on as Mycroft finally did relax enough that Greg’s finger could slip in easily. He squeezed drops of lube out over Mycroft’s skin, let it drip down, then pulled his fingertip out to gather more slick before pressing back in. 

Mycroft had gone quiet, breathing quickly into the hollow made by his folded arms. 

“Too much?” Greg asked.

“Not… not enough,” Mycroft replied, a little shy. “Greg, please.”

Greg smiled and pressed a kiss to the base of Mycroft’s spine, before twisting his finger further in and then back out, coming back with two. Mycroft moaned through the stretch, rocking back, almost coming up onto his elbows. Greg pressed him back down gently with his free hand, then held him there, fingers firm but careful on the back of his neck. Mycroft’s muscles seemed to melt with the pressure, and as they did, Greg pressed and felt with his seeking fingers until he found what he was looking for.

Mycroft’s reaction was utterly gorgeous, mouth falling open before he hid his face, back rippling as the pleasure moved through him. Greg curled his fingers, found it again, and placed a gentle little bite to the softest part of Mycroft’s thigh. 

“Oh.” Mycroft shuddered hard. “It’s—  I’m—” 

Greg fucked his fingers in and out a little roughly, and Mycroft dissolved into desperate sounds and barely contained trembling. 

“Close?” 

Mycroft made a breathy sound of affirmation. 

Greg released him and withdrew his fingers, nudged and turned him - flipped him, really - to his back before sliding them right back in again and sucking Mycroft’s cock into his mouth. 

Mycroft back bowed up off of the mattress. He gasped, cried out, and came, clenching and shaking around Greg’s fingers as they massaged, just shy of too-hard, milking it out of him pulse after pulse. 

Greg swallowed, eyes closed with the force of vicarious pleasure, and then pulled off as Mycroft twitched, slowly gentling his fingers, working him down from the height of climax. He knew how it could feel; like you were coming and coming without end, like your whole body was involved, and like you just might die from it. 

“That was beautiful,” Greg murmured, carefully slipping his fingers out as Mycroft’s body finally unclenched enough that he could do it without hurting him. “Mycroft, you’re so fucking gorgeous.” 

“I want to touch you,” Mycroft said. “But I can’t move.”

Greg was so hard it was nearly painful, and so worked up and desperate that he knew it would take next to nothing. 

“I’ve got it,” he said, hand going for his cock. “I can—” 

“No,” Mycroft protested, reaching out. “Come up here, let me—” 

Greg did as he asked, knee-walking up the bed, then gasped at the first touch of Mycroft’s lips. “Mycroft—”

“Do it,” Mycroft murmured, mouth brushing over the swollen head of Greg’s cock. He had managed to lean up on his elbows, and now he opened his mouth, looked up at Greg like a gorgeous, filthy fantasy come to life, and waited. 

“Jesus Christ,” Greg gasped, unable to still his hips, feeding his cock into Mycroft’s mouth in one smooth stroke. Mycroft’s eyes fluttered closed and he sighed, pleased, around it. 

Greg shuddered and thrust, withdrew and then pressed back in. Mycroft leaned his head back, eyes open again but lidded and pleasure-drunk, and Greg caught him with one hand, fingers threaded in Mycroft’s sweaty hair. He guided him now, rather than move his hips, up and down, and Mycroft held his gaze as he curled his tongue, tightened the “o” of his lips, and sucked. Greg was gone. 

He didn’t even know if he shouted through it or went completely silent. He came hard, almost too quickly, feeling it like a snapping bowstring in his gut. Mycroft groaned and Greg felt him nearly gag, felt him recover and swallow. 

He was so beautiful, and his eyes never left Greg’s, never looked away, did not close again. 



***



“I need to get up and brush my teeth,” Greg said weakly, ages later, as the sweat evaporated off of them, laid side by side and wrung out. 

Mycroft shifted, turning to his side - flopping, more like - and pressing his mouth lazily to Greg’s shoulder. “Not yet,” he said. “Please.”

“Okay,” Greg agreed, feeling slow and stupid and heavy. He tilted his face to the top of Mycroft’s head and pressed his nose there. “How are you even awake?” 

“I don’t know,” Mycroft replied, unconcerned. “Who cares? You…” He gestured vaguely. “You.” 

Greg smiled. “No, you.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know.” 

They both laughed, and Mycroft tipped his face up. 

“Don’t kiss me til I’ve cleaned my teeth,” Greg warned. 

Mycroft rolled his eyes and pressed a kiss to his chin. “Then you should go,” he said, imperious. “Because I want to kiss you.”

Greg couldn’t argue with that. He went. 



***



In the dark, having taken turns in the loo and cleaned up the mess they’d made of the bed - lube had leaked everywhere; Greg would have to launder the coverlet tomorrow - they were both still wide awake, and Greg had entered intense limpet mode, draped all over Mycroft the moment they laid down again. 

“Sometimes I think you can read minds,” Greg said, feeling honest. 

Mycroft chuckled against the top of his head. “Thankfully, no,” he said. “What makes you say that?”

“You… it’s the way you move, and the way you speak, sometimes. In bed, or not. Like you can predict the next thing. I’ve watched you side step the splashes from lorries after it’s rained, smooth as anything. Once, when we were walking, you caught a woman’s glove before it could hit the ground. She hadn’t even realized she was going to drop it, but you did. Tonight, you knew all the right things to say, even though you’ve never met Paul or Morris. Is that all deduction?”

Mycroft was quiet, but his breathing was even, his hand still resting softly against Greg’s ribs. He drew a slow breath. “Yes, a lot of it is, I suppose. I didn’t realize it was so noticeable.”

“I dunno if it is,” Greg mused. “I must not have noticed it before, when we first met.”

“Or I’m getting slower, more obvious.”

“Somehow I doubt that.” Greg shifted and covered Mycroft’s hand with his own, slotting their fingers together. “You said you try not to do that with me.”

“I do,” Mycroft said. “Actually, I find it difficult to read you, sometimes.”

Greg sighed, eyes closing, not quite a wince but perhaps in defeat. “I’m starting to get the impression that I’m a bit of a brick wall. On Wednesday before I saw you, Silvana told me that it’s weird no one at work knows me very well.” 

“Your supervisor?”

“Mmhm.”

Mycroft shifted, curling onto his side. “I’m so sorry,” he murmured. “In all the insanity of that night, the fact that your day had been a bad one completely slipped my mind.”

“It’s alright, Mycroft.”

“No, it isn’t,” Mycroft insisted, a lot more firmly than Greg had ever heard him be. “It mattered to me that you needed cheering up that night.”

“I think we can call your brother nearly dying a bit more important than my bad mood,” Greg said. “Speaking of—”

“Don’t change the subject,” Mycroft said quietly. “Tell me what happened with Silvana.”

Greg blinked up at the dark and swallowed. “Do you really want to hear this?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“It’s not… It doesn't matter, it wasn’t a big deal.”

“It upset you.”

Greg sighed, annoyed and frustrated and actually a bit nauseous at the idea of explaining how much of a failure as a human he’d felt after that entire day - the entire week spent feeling suddenly unbearably lonely. Then the thing with Silvana, the conversation with Fiona, god, the way he’d felt so tied up in knots the whole way to Mycroft’s house, unsure about whether they were going on a date and what he should do about if they were.

“I won’t force you to,” Mycroft said. He squeezed Greg’s hand. “But I do care to hear anything you want to tell me. Anything at all.”

Greg nodded, then curled onto his side, too, finding Mycroft in the dark to bump their foreheads together. “Sorry,” he said. “Maybe not that, tonight.”

“Alright.”

He longed for the easiness of just minutes before, the way they had fit together like puzzle pieces for a little while. The way it had all felt so right. He closed his eyes against the burn of disappointment - mostly in himself, for having somehow lost it. 

“Mycroft?” 

“Hmm?” 

“Can I be the little spoon?” 

Mycroft’s breath ghosted over Greg’s neck when he chuckled. “Of course you can,” he said, and with a contented little sigh, slotted up behind Greg just right. 


Greg held tight to the arm wrapped snugly around his chest and closed his eyes. So nothing is ever perfect, he thought. That’s not news. Take this while you can get it.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Mycroft found himself  passing a pleasant morning with Morris, who arrived back from his run not long after Greg and Paul left, complaining of a broken shoelace and claiming it was a sign from god that he should just give up on the run and make an indulgent breakfast instead. 

Mycroft had been back at the photographs until then, unable to resist. 

There were a few more of Greg, but he’d found himself fascinated by all of them - Morris in full drag, Paul grinning in front of a view of the Eiffel Tower, tables full of friends, the backs of taxis and the outsides of bars. There were so many men. A few women, yes, but... Mycroft couldn’t imagine what it must be like to know that many people who would implicitly understand him. He had never regretted missing the bar scene entirely - dancing in public would never appeal to him, and it was more work than it was worth not to get overwhelmed in a crowd. But he did regret never seeking out some sense of community, and had often wondered if it was too late to try. 

Strangely, the photographs made him think of Sherlock. It was a dull ache, a frisson of worry that was always there but didn’t always force itself to the forefront. Sherlock was struggling. Sherlock was missing out. Mycroft was incredibly ill-equipped to help him. He’d been a terrible example. He wondered if Sherlock would have similar regrets, down the road, as a result.

After Morris arrived home, he was happy to tell Mycroft about some of the photos spread about the lounge. He eventually produced a small album from inside the sideboard. 

“There are tons of these,” he said. “I’m a little camera-happy. Can’t fit them all on the walls and tables. But this one has a few from when Paul was younger, before we met. There’s one in here I think you might like.”

The photo was of Greg, of course, but painfully young. Looking at it, Mycroft was overwhelmed by a rush of protective affection. “Oh,” he murmured. 

“He’s probably fourteen in this one,” Morris said, unaware that Mycroft was experiencing a head rush from the strength of his adoration. “I’ve always thought it was the most Greg photograph we have. He got embarrassed when I put it out with the others, though. Made me put it away. He was cute, huh?”

“Adorable,” Mycroft murmured. 

Greg in the photo faced the camera, sitting with his knees bent to his chest on some stretch of concrete up against some brick wall, somewhere in London’s East End, probably. He’d called it the scene of the crime. And Mycroft’s eyes could find a thousand details, large and small, that spoke to that. A little faded bruising around one wrist, a splint taped to his right ring finger; the wear and tear at the knees of his jeans, which didn’t quite fit him; the overlong hair that said lack of care more than style choice. His lips were chapped and bitten. 

But it was the eyes that Mycroft couldn’t look away from. Greg wasn’t smiling, but his eyes were… kind.  Even then, even at the age when most boys resorted to casual cruelty and a studied absence of empathy, Greg’s eyes were the same as the ones Mycroft knew now. And in that much younger face, they spoke to a deep and defiant sense of hope. 

Mycroft, for once, let himself deduce Greg (telling himself it didn’t count with a thirteen year old photograph), and saw a boy who had decided that he would survive. 

“Tell you what,” Morris said quietly, interrupting what Mycroft realized had been a too-long silence. An awkward pause. “If he brings you back again, you can have this one.”

Mycroft shook his head, “No, I couldn’t—” 

“Of course you could,” Morris said, shutting the album and tucking it away again. “If you came back, we’d want you to have it.” 

Mycroft couldn’t think what to say. He couldn’t promise to come back. He knew it was a fluke, a stroke of dumb luck that he was here at all in the first place. What reason would Greg have to invite him back?

“I…” Mycroft shuffled his feet a little awkwardly. “Alright.” 

“Alright,” Morris echoed. “Want to help make breakfast?”

Relieved, Mycroft agreed.



***



Mycroft looked up from his careful slicing of a strawberry into the shape of a fan when the kitchen door banged open. At the worktop, punching down a bowl full of dough, Morris seemed unperturbed by the noise and clatter of Greg and Paul squabbling through the door. They spilled in, looking windblown and over-exerted, both of them out of breath with red-rimmed eyes. 

They seemed to realize they were being watched as one, and sobered immediately. 

“Everything alright?” Morris tossed the question over his shoulder. 

“Of course it is,” Paul said, running a hand through his bright hair in an attempt to tame it down. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Well, we’re making a fancy breakfast,” Morris said. “Ready in half an hour or so.” 

Greg edged around the kitchen table, not making eye contact with anyone, including Mycroft, though he did trace a finger along the line of Mycroft’s collar and say, “Be right back, just need a minute,” before disappearing into the front room and down the hall. 

“I need to lie down,” Paul said, and threw Mycroft a strange little smile on his way by, following Greg’s path out. 

There was a pause, Morris standing at the worktop with his hand buried in the bread dough, Mycroft with his paring knife poised. 

“Bet you a fiver they just had a screaming row on the beach,” Morris said, the dough making a slightly obscene noise as he managed it out of the bowl and onto the floured bench.

Mycroft glanced to the doorway in alarm. “Really?”

“Yup,” Morris said, popping the last consonant. “It’s how they get. Both of them tend to stew in it and then let it all out at once. Comes from having to bottle up all their shit their whole lives. I understand it, but I’ll tell you this - I’ve learned to get out of the way when it happens. This one’s been a long time coming.” 

“Should I…” Mycroft set down the knife. “Do you think he’s alright?”

Morris turned and leaned back against the work top, smiling kindly at Mycroft. “You tell me,” he said.

Mycroft felt uncomfortably visible, the way he had when he’d been caught staring at the photograph for too long. He set down the strawberry. “...yes,” he said. “I’ll… I’ll just be a moment.”

“Mmhmm,” Morris said, singing it, and turned back to his bread dough. 



***



“Hey,” Greg said as Mycroft slid into the bed behind him. 

“Hello,” Mycroft murmured, fitting his legs behind Greg’s and draping an arm over his side, slotting them together like spoons as they had been the night before. “Morris thinks you had a fight.” 

“Oh yeah,” Greg sighed. “We did. But it’s alright. We’re alright.”

“Are you alright?”

“Me? Yeah, of course.”

Mycroft heard the absolute rubbish in that, but let it slide. “Very well. I hope you don’t mind my checking on you.”

Greg’s hand came up to stroke at Mycroft’s forearm where it held him. “I don’t mind. Thank you.” 

“Do you still want to go somewhere after breakfast?” Mycroft asked. “I’d like to see your favorite place here, if you’ll show me.”

Greg squeezed his arm. “You’re so sweet.” 

Mycroft blinked, a little taken aback; Greg often said kind things to him, complimentary things. But for whatever reason, this time he sounded…

“Are you sure that you’re alright?” Mycroft spoke slowly. “If you need to talk to Paul, or rest, or—”

“No!” Greg flipped over, rolling to face Mycroft with little grace but a surprising amount of speed. “I don’t need to do anything but show you around Weymouth. Okay? That’s what I want to do.” 

“Alright,” Mycroft said gently, hoping that staying calm would soothe whatever nerves had clearly been frayed. “Then we’ll go after breakfast.” 

“Good,” Greg said, nodding decisively. “Maybe I’ll take you to see the chalk giant. Cerne Abbas. Biggest cock you've ever seen. Takes up half the hill.”

Mycroft huffed and nodded. “If that’s what you want,” he said. He pulled back to look at Greg properly, unsure if he should let him joke past what had clearly been a difficult morning. “You were crying,” he said, before he could stop himself. He bit the tip of his tongue, hard. 

But Greg just laughed weakly, turning onto his back but taking Mycroft’s arm with him, wrapping it over himself and holding on. “Yeah,” he said. “You should see the other guy.” 

“I hate to see you upset,” Mycroft said, aching to do something about it. “Is there anything I can—” 

“Just this,” Greg murmured. He turned and bumped his nose against Mycroft’s. “A kiss maybe?”

That, Mycroft could do. 



***



Paul napped through breakfast. 

“I keep telling him not to over-exert himself,” Morris said after Greg admitted that Paul had run full tilt uphill off the beach that morning just to prove a point. “He doesn't listen.”

Greg gave him a rather unsympathetic look. “You picked him,” he said, a little snotty.

Morris threw a strawberry slice at his head. “Yeah, dickhead,” he said. “And just so you know, I picked you, too, so maybe try showing the fuck up every once in a while.” 

Mycroft watched the interplay of silent conversation between them, the way they held their cutlery and the movements of their eyebrows speaking volumes beside the words they were saying. 

It made him feel better about Greg’s appearance when he returned from the beach. This was a family fight. A bit of drama that contained multitudes of anger and resentment, but immeasurably larger amounts of love and understanding. 

Mycroft’s own family didn’t do it quite like this, emotionally stunted to a much more significant degree, but he could still recognize it for what it was. 

Greg turned his attention to his plate, but one side of his mouth quirked in a genuine, pleased little smile. “Message received,” he muttered. 

“Fucking good,” Morris said, then turned to Mycroft and started a perfectly civil and completely unrelated conversation about cricket. 



***



Mycroft called his mother before he and Greg set out for the day. She gave him a terse update: Sherlock was home, he would not be returning to university, and she would inform Mycroft of any change. Mycroft had no desire to self flagellate for her benefit or forgiveness, so he let her end the call still speaking to him a bit coldly. 

He relayed it to Greg as they climbed into the car. 

“It’s not fair to blame you,” he said. “You know that, right?”

Mycroft shrugged. “I suppose. She doesn't know what to do with him. She expects me to know. It’s frightening for her to realize that I don’t. Trust me, it’s nothing new. My mother has always had a hard time with the concept of children. She always expected us to manage ourselves, and seemed surprised when we needed her. Some people aren’t nurturers. It’s fine.” 

Greg huffed and shook his head. “If you say so,” he said, then patted Mycroft’s leg. “Still, I’m sorry she’s being that way.”

Mycroft covered Greg’s hand with his own, unable to put into words how unusual it was for him to feel so… supported. He was afraid it would come out all wrong - too clinical or too needy. Too pathetic, to be sure. He settled for squeezing Greg’s fingers in his gratefully. 

“I want to take you to an ancient castle,” Greg said, turning the key in the ignition. “It’s a bit of a drive, do you mind?”

“An ancient castle,” Mycroft mused, stretching his legs out in the limited space of the car. “Sounds intriguing. What is it called? So no giant hillside phallus, then?”

Greg snorted. “Maybe after. Also, I’ll eat my shoes if you don’t already know exactly what historical sites are around here.” He threw the car into first gear, pulling away from the kerb. “I’d bet you know where all the ancient castles in England are located.”

Mycroft chuckled. “And Wales and Scotland.” 

“Show off,” Greg teased. “I’m taking you to Corfe. There are plenty of others closer, but this one’s the coolest. Promise.”

And they were off, dry jokes and flirting, fights on the beach and angry mothers forgotten for the time being. 



***



Greg guided Mycroft on a short walk from the car to a hillside that offered a view of the castle ruins, perched atop its own hill, and the surrounding town. He sighed, satisfied with their position, and plopped down, pulling Mycroft to sit with him. 

“I like to start here,” he said. “It’s just nice to get the big picture.” 

“We live in a beautiful country,” Mycroft sighed. “All this green.”

“Easy to forget about it in London.” 

“Mmm.” 

They sat in companionable quiet, elbows and shoulders bumping together, but otherwise without touching. Mycroft let himself descend a bit into the swirl of thoughts he’d been keeping at bay for half a week now. There was worry and regret with regard to Sherlock, yes. But there was also a deep sense of clarity that Mycroft kept expecting to fall away. He’d thought perhaps it was all adrenaline after the night of Sherlock’s overdose, but he was beginning to wonder if it had simply been building before then, and had merely been catalyzed by that night. 

Mycroft’s foundations had been shaken when he was injured and summarily dismissed from his chosen career path. He knew he’d lost confidence, that he had been fumbling for a while. He didn’t feel, necessarily, that what he’d been doing with Greg had solved his problems or cured his self doubt. But it certainly had helped. 

And he did think that the last week or so, the way he’d been opening up his home, his history, his feelings about all of it, to Greg, had been necessary, and that he wouldn’t have combed through it all had they not met. 

Here, his thoughts hit a snag, catching on something that had been bothering Mycroft since the night before. 

“I keep thinking about Jeffrey and Uncle Rudy,” Mycroft said. 

Greg stirred from his own thoughts, having folded his arms over his knees and rested his chin there. He tilted his head to the side and raised an eyebrow “Yeah?”

“It’s just strange,” Mycroft mused. “There are no photographs.”

“What… none?” Greg’s other eyebrow quirked as well. 

“I’ve never seen one,” Mycroft said, holding his hands up: empty, nothing. “I’ve been through the storage unit; My uncle had photographs of himself with Winston Churchill. Princess Margaret. Richard Nixon. With Frank Sinatra, if you can believe that. But none with the man who shared more than thirty years of life with him.” 

“Well.” Greg sat up and stretched his legs out in front of him, leaned back on his hands. “It was a different time.”

“I don’t think that explains it,” Mycroft said. “I… I know they kept it quiet, but the entire family knew and for the most part, accepted the relationship. I remember Jeffrey standing for photos at holidays with all of us. It’s unfathomable to me, that my mother would not have given Uncle Rudy copies.” 

“That is strange,” Greg agreed. “It bothers you?”

“It does.” Mycroft chewed at the inside of his lip, thinking for a moment. “I just know that he was lonely, in his last years. As far as I know, there was never anyone else. Did he…” Mycroft had to pause, suddenly in danger of being overcome by the secondhand grief in it. “Did he sit in that flat and forget Jeffrey’s face? Is that… God, is that what it was like?”

“That’s awful,” Greg said quietly, his hand gentle at the center of Mycroft’s back. “You have to think there must have been a reason, right? That he - they - made the decision and were alright with it?” 

“I suppose it’s a comfort to think that,” Mycroft replied. He scrubbed a hand over the back of his neck, then found his own fingers replaced by Greg’s, massaging gently. Mycroft turned and smiled at him, a little regretful. “I don’t mean to be melancholy,” he said. “It’s just… Paul and Morris have so many photos. Memories. A life.” 

“That they do,” Greg agreed, smiling back at him softly. “Nice, right?”

“Very,” Mycroft said, turning his gaze back to the swaths of green and the tumble of old stones in the center of an old village. “I like them. It’s good, that you have them.” 

“Yeah,” Greg said, almost whispering. “Think I need to remember that a little more often.” 

Mycroft rested a hand on one of Greg’s outstretched shins, squeezing gently. What was it that made a motion like that seem helpful, necessary, grounding? It was practically automatic. Mycroft couldn’t help but marvel at that. A month ago, it would never have occurred to him to touch someone like that. But then, a month ago he had never been this close with someone before. 

He couldn’t even begin to unravel that. Not on this hillside, not on this day. Though, he did realize - 

“You know,” he said, needing to stifle a laugh before he could get the words out. “That boy I told you about, the one I kissed when I was at school?”

“Yeah?” 

“I… this is terrible, but I can’t for the life of me remember his name.”

Greg barked a laugh. “No!” 

“I swear to god.” Mycroft passed a hand over his face, covering his disbelieving grin. “I never forget anything, but… He—  I think at the time, I thought that because I wanted him to kiss me, that I must have loved him. I know that I liked him very much. He was… funny. Intelligent. Charming. He was kind to me, until he wasn’t. And I think at that age, that was all I understood of the whole business. When he stopped being kind, it felt like a terrible betrayal. I probably would have thought, had I been a remotely poetic child, that I’d had my heart broken.”

“And now you don’t even know the poor sod’s name,” Greg said, clicking his tongue against his teeth and shaking his head. “Shame, that.” 

Mycroft chuckled, eyes gone unfocused on the scenery again. “Indeed,” he murmured. “Such a shame.” 

There was another stretch of quiet between them, then. 

Mycroft spent it thinking: I could never forget your name. Not if I tried like hell to scrub you away, and, How can I make it so that I never have to? He thought, I kissed that boy when I was the same age you were in that photograph. 

Mycroft wanted that photograph, perhaps more than he could remember wanting something in his whole life. 

He closed his eyes and lay back in the grass, which prompted Greg to do the same. Mycroft reached for his hand, only to be met halfway, Greg already reaching out as well. Their fingers fit together like a puzzle, and Mycroft decided then and there that he would do everything he could to earn it. The photograph. And also Greg. Greg, real and grown and alive and surviving, his hand in Mycroft’s. He would earn that, earn him, the same way he had earned back his clarity. 

And that, he decided, was that. 



***



That night, after another wonderfully noisy, delicious dinner, Morris took Greg out to take a look at something in the garden. 

“He’s going to try and get him to smoke a joint,” Paul said, remaining at the table with Mycroft. “Mark my words.”

“Oh,” Mycroft said, taken aback. 

“Greg’ll probably say no,” Paul continued. “But sometimes he doesn't. Unpredictable creature.” 

Mycroft had smoked pot once. It had made him terribly hungry, but some of the other people present at the time had gone quiet and pliant while others had turned philosophical. One girl had taken to petting whoever was within reach, even as she chattered on, smiling beatifically for hours on end. He couldn’t help but wonder what Greg would be like, and for a moment Mycroft’s eyes went unfocused while he imagined him clingy and handsy like he was after sex, but moreso. 

Paul cleared his throat and Mycroft snapped himself out of it.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m being rude. I can clear the plates—” 

“Morris would kill me if I let you do that,” Paul interrupted, stilling Mycroft before he could rise fully out of his chair. “Listen… I don’t want to speak out of turn.” 

This was about Greg. One didn’t need an analytical mind to know that. But he could see, too, that this wasn’t going to be a stay away from him or else sort of conversation. 

“Well,” Mycroft said after a beat. “Is there something you feel I should… If you’re worried about Greg, or that I would do anything to—” 

“I’m actually always worried about Greg,” Paul said, but his body language did not change. He sat, relaxed in his chair, arms crossed loosely over his torso and legs outstretched. “That’s not—  Well, it is sort of what I want to say. I suppose I just wanted to know if you care about him as much as you seem to. If I’m reading you right.”

Mycroft blinked, and without meaning to, shifted directly into a politic approach. “I can’t answer a question that relies on a subjective supposition of which I do not know the details. In other words: how much do I seem to care about him?”

Paul grinned. “Wow,” he drawled. “Okay, I see it now.” 

“See what?”

“He said you were sharp.” Paul shrugged. “But you’ve been playing nice since you got here.”

Mycroft resisted the urge to roll his eyes. This was clumsy manipulation, but then, Paul seemed to be a good sort of person and not the type to excel at underhandedness. 

“I haven’t been playing nice,” Mycroft said honestly. “I promise, I’ve been entirely genuine.”

“Good,” Paul said. “To answer your question, it seems like you care about him very much. Deeply, one might say.”

“I do,” Mycroft said instantly. 

Paul’s eyes widened ever so slightly; he clearly felt he had found the right thread to pull. “As a friend?” 

Ah. 

Mycroft shrugged, let his expression go bland but not flat. “That’s what we are. Friends.” 

“Seems like you’re more than friends.”

“Friends with privileges,” Mycroft amended. 

“Is that what you want?” 

“It’s what we agreed to be to one another.”

Paul hummed and stretched. Sat up in his chair. “Okay,” he said. “Well, that’s fair enough, I suppose.” He leaned forward, resting his cheek in his hand and studying Mycroft from across the table. “I’ll just say this and then Morris says I have to stop interfering.”

Mycroft nodded: go on.

“If you do want more than that with him,” Paul said, voice going soft, all pretense falling away, “you will have to tell him that. Explicitly. You will have to be the one to take the risk. He doesn't see himself the way we do, you understand. I bet you look at him and all you think is: wow. Right?”

Mycroft felt himself flush, a warmth which spread up from his thudding heart to his cheeks. “That summarizes it nicely,” he said.

“Good,” Paul said. “But he has no idea. He will never understand until you explain it to him. Possibly more than once. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“I believe I do.” Mycroft raised his hands, shrugged. “But I can’t say that anything is going to change between us. It isn’t only about what I think. What I… What I’d like to happen.”

“If you say so,” Paul said pointedly. “I’m not here to tell you what to do. Just… please don’t hurt him. Try not to. Please.”

“I would never hurt him,” Mycroft said. “I swear to you.”

“Good,” Paul sighed. He looked genuinely relieved, tension around his eyes dissolving away as he sat back in his chair. “That’s good. Thank you.” 

Mycroft nodded, and opened his mouth - to say what, he didn’t know - just as the kitchen door squealed open and admitted Greg, Morris, and the distinct smell of marijuana. 

“Well,” Paul said. “Like I said. There they are: the miscreants.”

“Just one miscreant,” Greg laughed, slapping a sleepy-eyed Morris on the back. “I abstained.” To Mycroft he said, “Bed? We should head out early tomorrow.” 

“Right,” Morris drawled, far more expansive than he’d been before. He draped himself over Paul’s shoulders and pressed a sloppy kiss to his neck. “That’s why. Suuure. Go ‘sleep’, you two.” 

Mycroft couldn’t quite bring himself to look away from the casual affection on display just across the table, as Paul turned an indulgent smile into Morris’ cheek.

Greg gave Morris a playful shove. “You go to sleep.” He bent to press a kiss to the top of Paul’s head. “Night.”

“Not angry with me anymore, then?”

“Never was,” Greg said softly, touching his shoulder before moving to take Mycroft’s hand and lever him out of his chair. 

“Thank you for another beautiful meal,” Mycroft said to Morris, who had slipped his hand idly beneath the collar of Paul’s shirt, stroking there absently. “And thank you for the chat, Paul.”

“Any time.”

“Oh, no,” Greg muttered, chivvying Mycroft out of the kitchen. “What did he say to you?”

“Nothing you need to worry about,” Mycroft whispered back, and gladly allowed himself to be led into the guest bedroom and shoved unceremoniously down on top of the freshly laundered coverlet. He laughed, watching Greg shut the door and strip off his shirt, practically all in one smooth movement. “Well, well,” he said. “What’s this?”

“I just…” Greg sank down to the floor at Mycroft’s feet. “Can I suck you off, please?” 

Mycroft laughed again, a touch hysterical. “Would anyone say no to that?”

Greg shrugged. “Is that a yes?” 

“That’s a yes,” Mycroft confirmed. “But I want you out of your jeans as well so I can return the favor.”

“I accept these terms,” Greg said, grinning. “Get comfortable. I plan to take my time.”



***



They left in the morning with little fanfare. Morris had already gone to work, and Paul was preparing to see a student for voice lessons not long after they would leave. He hugged Greg tightly at the door, whispered something to him that Mycroft couldn’t hear, and then surprised Mycroft by turning and embracing him as well. 

“Remember what I said,” Paul murmured. 

Mycroft nodded, and followed Greg to the car, already working that over in his mind. 

He let it drop, however, to spend the next several hours with Greg, alternating between comfortable quiet and easy-flowing conversation. They stretched the drive, taking every possible scenic route. It was Mycroft’s pleasure just to watch Greg enjoy the car. 

Arriving in London felt less pleasurable. There was traffic, and the growing sense of unease in the air as they moved closer to Belgravia and Mycroft’s flat. 

“I’ll have to go home to take care of Seven,” Greg said. “Sorry I can’t come up.”

“I understand,” Mycroft replied, and he did. “Of course.” But really, the thought of Greg leaving was… it was difficult. 

Unbidden, Paul’s words crossed his mind: you’ll have to be the one.

Mycroft couldn’t do that now. It wouldn’t be fair. They’d had an entire weekend and, taking the good and the bad together, most of the previous week with one another. To get greedy with Greg’s time now would be the wrong move. Mycroft knew at least that much. 

Greg parked the car and handed Mycroft the keys. They sat for a moment in the silence, looking at each other, unsure of what to do next. 

“We’ll need to get out of the car,” Greg joked, but it fell flat. 

“I don’t want to,” Mycroft said. 

Greg laughed. “Me either. Going back to the real world tomorrow is going to be awful.”

“God,” Mycroft sighed. “Don’t remind me.”

“Sorry,” Greg murmured. “Alright, time to go. Give me a kiss for the road?” 

“I’ll do that and give you cab fare,” Mycroft said. “Don’t argue.”

Greg shook his head. “No cab fare.”

“Please,” Mycroft insisted, reaching for him already, coaxing him close enough to kiss. “Just let me take care of you. Let me make your trip home as pleasant as I can.” 

“Oh,” Greg said, and crossed the last inch of distance between them, kissing Mycroft, soft and chaste. “That’s… I—” 

“If you must, frame it this way: if you don’t let me pay for a cab, I will fret, and predict the timing of the trains, and bother you with a phone call to be sure you made it home safely. Additionally, I will be… sad.”

Greg chuckled and kissed him again. “Alright, alright. You’ve convinced me. Surprised you can’t predict traffic patterns as well and call me right at the very end of the cab ride.” 

“I could,” Mycroft said, and was unsurprised when Greg simply made a noise of irritation and kissed him again, this time with a sweet little bite to Mycroft’s lower lip at the end. “We have to get out of the car.”

Eventually, they did.

Chapter Text

Monday was an uphill climb that ended with Mycroft being called into his immediate superior’s office and told that his name had been put forth as a possible loaner to the CIA on a particularly delicate upcoming operation. 

“Of course, Holmes, you have final say. I would like to see you go, but it’s up to you.”

Mycroft blinked, unable to compute this statement. “Sorry, sir—  you’re saying it’s up to me?”

The man across from him smirked and tilted his head in acknowledgment. “Yes, I am aware that we do not normally present such moves as optional.” He tapped his pen on his desk. “But, when it comes to our more valuable assets, we tend to err on the side of… flexibility.”

“Flexibility.”

“Yes.” He sighed. “In other words, Holmes, we know that to keep you, we should keep you happy. Your role in the American operation, should you choose to take it, would be perfectly safe. It would require no field work. You would not participate in face to face aspects of the op. You would be in a leadership, consultative position, and afforded whatever amenities you require to do your job effectively. However, we are keenly aware that you were rather put through the gamut last year, and might not take well to being forced to go anywhere that you did not feel entirely safe. Which, of course is understandable.”

Mycroft let that sink in, careful to keep a calm countenance in the face of so much new and shocking information. After a moment, he said, “May I be frank, sir?”

“Please, by all means.” 

“It has never been my impression that the events of last year were anything other than the result of my own actions. My fault entirely.” He shifted in his seat, crossing one leg over the other and folding his hands. A good way to fidget without appearing to fidget. “It is only recently that anyone has implied otherwise.”

“I understand. It’s unfortunate, Holmes, that leadership when the entire business played out was so… shortsighted. You should have had more support, and I - many of the senior members of the organization as well - regret that you didn’t. The fact is that you were put in an untenable position on a poorly planned and under-manned operation. It resulted in grave injury to your person, and a delay in extraction that never should have happened.”

Mycroft took that on board. The memory of pain - blinding and all-consuming - as he waited for help in the same room as two dead bodies, had lost some of its color over the year and then some since it happened. Still, it was impossible to forget the certainty he’d felt that no one would come for him. That this was the end. 

And then there had been the year of shunning. Or so he’d thought. 

“Since we’re clarifying matters,” Mycroft said, “I’d like to know what, exactly, I should expect after this loan period, if I take the opportunity. Put simply, where am I going from here?” 

His superior smiled, pleased. “A very good question. Your uncle trained me, you know.”

“Yes, I do know that,” Mycroft replied evenly, though he dearly wished he could roll his eyes. Everyone said that, because everyone had been in some way trained by Rudolph Vernet. The man had practically been the SIS. Mycroft was proud of his uncle and his achievements, proud to be viewed as connected to him, but he was also incredibly bored by the compulsion some people seemed to have to remind Mycroft that they’d met him once. 

“Yes, well, I think there has been an incorrect assumption round here, for perhaps your entire life, Holmes, that you were his carbon copy.” His smile went ironic. “Prejudices, you see, both positively and negatively perceived - the more basic similarities - are, I think, what led us to believe that you would be just as suited to fieldwork as he was. But this is not a dynasty, and you are not an heir.”

Mycroft swallowed and recrossed his legs, refolded his hands. “What am I, in that case?”

“A force unto yourself. As yet unleashed, I think.” He tapped the pen again. “You are not required to take on this operation. But if you do, I think that upon your return would be a good time to begin discussing where you might be best suited. And, just to be sure there is no mystery - in my opinion, the American op would be the perfect opportunity for you to get a taste of what we’re envisioning for you. So? What do you say, Holmes?”

Mycroft’s mouth was dry. “I would like to consider it.” 

“Of course. Take the week. You would leave next Monday. Tuesday latest.”

So soon. Mycroft nodded. “Understood, sir. Thank you for the opportunity. And for your candor.”

“Don’t mention it,” said his superior. “Now get out of here, Holmes. Don’t stay too late. God knows hardly anyone else will. Takes them weeks after a bank holiday to get back into the swing.”

Mycroft kept his amusement to himself; his entire day had felt outside of reality, the jarring return to routine after the weekend away not sitting well. His productivity had been shit. “A shame, to be sure,” he said, and saw himself out.



***



Mycroft went to Alicia with it on Tuesday morning, having sat up practically the entire night before, alternating between worrying about Sherlock, working through his bewilderment over his own frankly appalling lack of understanding with regard to his position at work, and missing Greg.

Alicia was, at first, unhelpful. 

“If you go to New York for nearly a month, you’re going to miss my leaving party,” she complained. “I’ll expect you to make it up to me by way of my wedding gift, you realize.”

Mycroft rolled his eyes. “Of course,” he said. “Your logic is sound.”

They sat at their desks, facing their respective work while they talked. Alicia was typing something rapid-fire and Mycroft was occupying himself with annotating an intelligence report out of Germany that was full of glaringly obvious lies by omission. 

“Do you think I should go?”

Alicia’s typing paused. “Yes,” she said, then the clack of her keyboard returned. 

“No further thoughts?”

Another pause, and a sigh. “...no,” she said, and he could hear her smirk. 

Mycroft set down his red pen and turned his chair. Alicia remained stubbornly focused on her work. The back of her neck was smug. Mycroft wanted to pick up his pen and throw it at her. 

“Did you know…” Mycroft didn’t quite know how best to finish that sentence. “This has taken me by surprise.”

Alicia kept typing. “I know that must be hard for you, know-it-all.” 

“Alicia, please.”

She lifted her hands dramatically away from the keys and spun her chair around. She clapped her hands together, elbows resting on her knees, and pointed at Mycroft with her joined fingertips. “Do you know what people say behind your back?”

Mycroft blinked. “Yes.”

“Not the stupid juvenile jokes, Mycroft. Not the jealous bigotry or the cracks about nepotism. Besides that, do you know?”

“I wasn’t aware there was anything else.”

Alicia smiled. “They say: let Holmes be Holmes.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“You are a massive pain in the arse to work with.” She raised both eyebrows. “You know that. Always a hundred steps ahead and multiple layers of probability already worked out before our eyes have fully seen the problem. Before, you were incredibly impatient. Derisive. Dismissive. Frankly, socially idiotic. I hate to say it, but this year has helped you as much as it hurt. Because before...” 

Mycroft waited, trying very hard not to be offended by what he knew was the absolute truth about himself.

She spoke slowly, almost gently, which was off-putting. “People would say that and it would mean: let him do all the work. And then the bigotry and the childish jealousy would pile on top of it. And eventually, Mycroft, ‘let him do all the work’ turned into ‘and let him take the fall for our shortcomings. Let him twist in the wind.’ And that’s exactly what happened.” She sighed, shaking her head. “And now when I hear someone say that, it’s never one of those awful pricks who dislike you. It’s Larry. It’s Cathy on the Russia desk who loves it when you leave scathing notes about the KGB in the margins of her reports. It’s me. And it means: ‘he’ll get there; he always does’.” She reached out and smacked him on the arm. “So, there it is. You got here. Well done. Go to New York. Be great. Be Holmes. They’re going to let you. Now leave me alone and stop fishing for compliments. I’m busy.”

With that, she turned away, leaving Mycroft to stare at the back of her neck again. For a brief moment, he wished they had a different relationship, or were different people entirely. He would have hugged her, maybe. He cleared his throat.

“When is your engagement party?” 

She tossed the answer over her shoulder. “First Sunday in June. We’re registered at the usual places.”

Mycroft smiled. “Noted.”



***



Mycroft called Greg on Tuesday but there was no answer - he was likely at the library even though it was late; he’d mentioned needing to ‘buckle down’ on several assignments. On Wednesday, Mycroft worked late and came home to a message from Greg on his machine, asking him to give him a call back. 

On Thursday, Mycroft tried Greg’s number, got no answer, and decided to be stern with himself and call his mother. That was a mistake.

“I don’t see why you are so gung-ho about this rehab nonsense,” she said, all of five minutes into the conversation. “Mycroft, one youthful mistake—” 

It had been four types of barbiturates, a heroic dose of cocaine, and heroin. The list had been shoved into Mycroft’s hand that morning on his way into work. The girl - and Mycroft did not want to know why Sherlock was able to get a seemingly random homeless teenager to do his bidding in this instance - had simply slapped it into his palm and kept walking. He hadn’t wanted to deal with it. Ever. But during his lunch break he exchanged one worry for another, pausing his mulling-over of the issue of his career in order to read the words on that piece of paper. It was Sherlock’s handwriting. Chemicals and milligrams and telephone numbers. 

That afternoon, Mycroft had slipped it across the desk of the agency’s serious crimes liaison and suggested he pass it on to Scotland Yard. Had wanted to literally wash his hands of it afterward, as if the list had stained his palms. 

Youthful mistake. Mycroft felt ill. 

“An overdose is serious,” he said, keeping his voice as level as possible, as gentle as he could manage. “I’m only concerned. I have a friend who can recommend—” 

“That won’t be necessary,” his mother said crisply. “You made it quite clear that you were unavailable to help your brother last weekend. You need not worry about him now. He’s perfectly well.”

Mycroft needed to end this. “Is he there?”

“Sherlock?”

No, Mother, Barry Humphries, Mycroft thought furiously. “Yes. Is he nearby? Will he speak with me?”

“Hold on,” his mother sighed. 

Sherlock didn’t want to speak with him. Mycroft endured his mother’s disappointment for another minute before he began to make his excuses. 

“Mycroft—” His mother interrupted him before he could say goodbye. “Mycroft, I… I do want to thank you for finding your brother and getting him to safety. I know that he fibbed about coming to visit you in London.” 

Fibbed!

“Thank you, Mummy,” he said. “Please tell Sherlock I hope he is feeling better. I need to go now.” 

She let him, saying goodbye and letting him hang up without any further awkwardness. 

Mycroft clicked the switch with his fingers a little harder than was necessary, and dialed Greg’s number again. 

“‘Lo?” 

He sagged with relief. “There you are,” he said, half-groaning. 

Greg chuckled. “Well, that’s a greeting.” 

Mycroft had missed his voice. “Can I see you tonight?” He asked, unconcerned at this point about sounding too desperate. He’d decided on Monday, sitting at his desk all morning unable to stop himself from slipping into the vast pool of memories, that there was no point in hiding it any longer. That cat was very much out of the bag. 

“God, I wish I could,” Greg sighed. “I’m horrendously behind, and I think I have to be a responsible student and put my nose to the grindstone again tonight. I swear I don’t mean to blow you off, I—” 

“You don’t have to explain,” Mycroft said, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice. “I understand completely.”

Greg huffed. “I somehow doubt that,” he said. “You could probably do this paper in your sleep.” 

“Would you like me to?” Mycroft teased. 

“Academic dishonesty, Mycroft?” Greg tsked. “I’m disappointed.” 

Mycroft sighed. “Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow, yes,” Greg said immediately. “Come to mine? I have a full day and a late meeting with my advisor, I could meet you here, say… 8? I have an early fill-in shift at the center in the morning, but… Yeah. Come over. I’ll work whatever’s got you stressed right out of you.” 

“Am I that easy to read?”

“Maybe.” 

“But— I’m not… I wasn’t asking just because of that.”

“Yeah, I know,” Greg said quietly. “I wasn’t offering just because of that. But whatever it is - it’s okay? Sherlock’s safe? Work isn’t running you into the ground or anything?”

“It’s fine,” Mycroft said. “Are you sleeping enough? Don’t run yourself down, either. And… and you know you can always call me for help with your statistics.” Mycroft didn’t know why the conversation felt so awkward, and he had no idea how to make it right, make it comfortable. “I should let you get back to it.” 

Greg hesitated, but said, “Yeah, sorry. See you tomorrow?”

“Yes.” Mycroft nodded at no one. “Tomorrow.”

After he hung up the phone he gave himself a shake and went in search of his cat and cigarettes. Time to think and make a decision about this operation. No more uncertainty. 



***



On Friday, Mycroft agreed to go to New York, finally caught up on everything that had fallen behind while he was sleeping all day the previous Thursday, and spent several hours making travel arrangements and being briefed on the preliminaries of the operation. 

“Bloody bastarding Russians,” Larry grumbled while Mycroft paged through a disgraceful report sent over by the Americans. 

“You can say that again,” Mycroft said. “I’ll need to get Cathy to rip this apart, find out if there’s a shred of truth to it.” 

“Thought you were the man to handle all things Russia.” 

Mycroft tilted his hand back and forth. “Perhaps I was, a year or two ago, but I’m not as current as I’ll need to be for this. Cathy is incredibly thorough and is bringing me up to speed anyway. She should have her hands in this.”

From her desk Alicia gave a pleased hum. “That’s a very good idea,” she said.

“Yes,” Mycroft said, “I know.” But he returned her sly smile and gave her a nod of thanks when Larry wasn’t looking. 



***



Greg was grinning widely when he opened the door for Mycroft that night. Mycroft felt a rush of relief in his chest as Greg stood aside to let him in, already reaching for him with one arm. 

The awkwardness he’d felt on the phone hadn’t carried over. Good. 

Greg tried to take his jacket and briefcase while kissing him hello at the same time and there was a brief tangle.

“Sorry,” Greg laughed. “Sorry, wait—” He took a large step back and blew out a breath. “It’s just—  I feel like I haven’t seen you all buttoned up like this in forever. I got carried away.” 

Mycroft hung his jacket and loosened his tie, dropping the briefcase by the door, then stepped back into Greg’s reaching hands. “Do you have a suit fetish?”

“Yes,” Greg laughed, and kissed him, arms wrapping around him tightly. He spoke between the cascade of kisses that followed. “I mean, now I do. Maybe we should dry hump on the sofa for old times’ sake.”

“It was two weeks ago,” Mycroft said, shocked even as he said it. “God, two weeks? Is that… that can’t be right.”

Greg squeezed him. “It is. It’s right. And look at you now, you’re a complete slag. Gagging for it.” 

Mycroft laughed. “That’s me,” he said softly, and let himself be kissed and walked over to tumble down onto the sofa. The leather creaked under him and he couldn’t help laughing again. “I think I missed your sofa, actually.” 

“It’s a good one,” Greg said, teasing small kisses around the edge’s of Mycroft’s smile. “Did you miss me, too?”

“I might have,” Mycroft replied. “But wait—  wait, before we—”

Greg sat up hands raised. “Sorry! Sorry, I know I sort of just—  It’s fine if you’re not comfortable. Just because we—” 

Mycroft caught his hands and drew him back down. “I’m comfortable,” he said, and shifted a little to stretch more fully across the couch cushions. “See? Quite comfortable. I wanted to tell you some good news. I… Actually, you’re the first person I wanted to tell.”

“Oh?” Greg grinned down at him. “What is it?”

“I’ve been offered the chance to take on a lead role in a rather significant project,” he said, choosing his words carefully to avoid revealing too many details. “And it was heavily implied that when I finish out the project, I can expect to finally get out of my terrible, sad office.”

Greg smacked him gently on the shoulder, “What! That’s amazing. Seriously?” 

“I accepted today,” Mycroft said, feeling as if he must be physically glowing. Something about telling Greg made it more real, more gratifying. “But, there is a slight… downside.”

“Yeah?”

“I have to go to New York.”

“Oh.” 

“For three weeks.”

“Oh,” Greg leaned back, rocking back to sit atop Mycroft’s thighs. “But that’s fine, that’s kind of nice, New York must be interesting?” 

“It probably is,” Mycroft agreed. “I doubt I’ll see the outside of an office the entire time that I’m there, but. Yes, I have heard it’s an interesting place.”

Greg huffed, scratching sheepishly at the back of his head. “Okay, yeah, that was weak. Three weeks is long. Who’m I supposed to hang out with while you’re gone?”

“Seven, of course,” Mycroft answered, hands slipping idly up to squeeze gently at Greg’s hips. “And Silvana, with whom you said you are going to make an effort.” 

“You don’t forget anything, do you,” Greg said. His hands were covering Mycroft’s, keeping them in place, fingers slipping together and holding. “I suppose I’ll have to make good on that promise, then.”

“Please do,” Mycroft murmured. “You deserve to relax every once in a while, you know.”

Greg smiled and shrugged, and Mycroft recognized it as casual dismissal of such a concept. “When do you have to leave?”

Mycroft winced. “Monday,” he said. 

“Monday,” Greg repeated. His hands tightened over Mycroft’s. 

Try as he might, Mycroft couldn’t help reading the disappointment on him; the little tells - worrying his lip, shifting his weight. It was… Mycroft felt guilty for thinking it, but it was gratifying to know that Greg didn’t want him to go away. 

“That’s really soon.” 

“Yes,” Mycroft said. “Sorry.” He cleared his throat. “I’ll admit I took the week to decide on going. I waffled for far too long.”

Greg seemed to shake away his hesitance. “Well, either way, I wouldn’t have known til today, what with the phone tag. And in the meantime…” He leaned down and held his lips an inch from Mycroft’s. “We’ll just make tonight count, right? 

Mycroft leaned forward, bringing them even closer. “Right,” he said. 

Greg’s hands had moved away, drifting up Mycroft’s chest as they kissed. It was strange; they were still touching - nearly everywhere - but Mycroft missed the feel of Greg’s fingers between his.



***



Mycroft ended up, what felt like ages later, naked and laid out on his stomach across Greg’s bed, every muscle turned to liquid by Greg’s squeezing, massaging hands. Greg had insisted on a back rub ‘as reward for your hypothetical fancy promotion,’ and it had turned into a systematic taking-apart of every knot of tension Mycroft had ever carried in his body.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this relaxed in my life,” Mycroft said, voice nearly slurring. 

“Yep,” Greg said, amused, from somewhere behind him. There was a click of a lid, and a moment later cool, slick fingers touched lightly at his thigh. “Spread your legs?”

Mycroft moaned and did it. If he hadn’t been turned to jelly so effectively, he might have tensed in anticipation, but instead he simply sighed out as Greg’s finger pressed slowly into him. It was just another good sensation out of many. Mycroft rocked his hips down against the mattress. He’d been hard for what felt like hours, but he felt as if he wouldn’t mind staying that way all night. Greg’s mouth pressed to his lower back, to the right of his spine, and he worked his way up slowly as his finger pressed and twisted. His teeth closed gently over Mycroft’s shoulder at the same moment another finger joined the first, hardly any discomfort in the stretch. 

“Does that feel nice?” Greg murmured, the brush of his voice against Mycroft’s ear sending a shiver down the line he’d just followed with his lips. “Do you want it like last time? Want me to go nice and hard and slow?” 

Mycroft could only gasp for a moment, distracted by the stretch and thrust, the not-enough of it. “No,” he said, “no, I want… I want you to…” He gathered his courage, which was easier to do these days, and especially when he felt this close to desperate. “Will you fuck me? Would you—  is that something—”

Greg’s fingers stilled, buried deep, his thumb pressed firmly behind Mycroft’s balls. Mycroft held still, though all he wanted was to thrash in search of more sensation. 

“Are you serious?”  

Mycroft turned his head, eyes opening for the first time in so long that for a moment he couldn’t focus. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I’m serious.” 

“Mycroft, I—”

Was it too much? Too fast? Was it strange that Mycroft wanted that? Wanted it so badly in that moment that he could nearly taste his own desperation? Mere weeks ago, he’d been unable to feel evidence of Greg’s arousal without panicking. Now he wanted it in him. Immediately.

“Okay,” Greg said, fingers slipping gently away. “Turn over. Come here.” 

Mycroft groaned at the loss of those thick fingers and did, with help, finding it difficult to make his loosened muscles and joints cooperate. Greg settled over him, face to face. His eyes were wide and dark, pupils blown. 

“I do,” Greg said. “I would. I just… I just need a second, I’m—  I’m nervous.”

That… that was unexpected. “Really?”

“Yeah.” Greg pressed his cheek to Mycroft’s. “Like, really nervous all of a sudden, shit, sorry.”

Mycroft reached for him, wrapping his arms around him and shifting, opening his thighs and drawing him in. He’d forgotten for a moment that he was hard, and hissed at the friction of Greg’s cock pressed beside his, hot and… big. 

“Well,” Mycroft breathed, trying not to laugh. “Now I’m nervous, too.”

Greg chuckled, muffling it in Mycroft’s neck. “Uh oh,” he said, then leaned up on his elbows so they could speak face to face. “It’ll be good,” he said softly. “Okay? I’ll take care of you, make it good for you.”

“You always do.”

“Yeah. Well.” Greg kissed him, gently. “‘s what I’m here for.”

Mycroft pulled him back in, opened for his kiss, squeezed him close with his thighs. 

“First, I want to finger you until you fucking cry,” Greg whispered, panting and grinding against him. “Objections?”

“No,” Mycroft said, equally quiet but harsh with the shock, the rush of desire - somehow more desire. 

“Good,” Greg murmured, lips brushing lips as he spoke. “I loved that. I loved the way you loved it.”

“Greg, please,” Mycroft panted. “Please, just—” 

Greg slipped down his body, kissing around his nipples, his ribs, his navel, and then down the length of his cock. He licked and mouthed and sucked, and his fingers slid home again, gliding easily and directly to the exact right spot. 

“Fuck.”

“God, I love when I can make you swear,” Greg muttered, then filled his mouth with Mycroft’s cock as his fingers pressed up firmly and compounded every sensation. 

Mycroft gasped and arched into it. Greg’s free hand pressed low on his abdomen, holding him down more by suggestion than actual pressure, but it felt good, being held like that. 

“Greg,” Mycroft gasped, and got a hum around his prick in answer. “Don’t you dare make me come before—”

Greg laughed, pulling off to glance up the length of Mycroft’s body. “Bossy!”

“Particular,” Mycroft corrected, and suddenly it was all even better somehow. This was… fun. There was nothing to be nervous about. 

“I’ll take care of you,” Greg assured him, fingers still thrusting. It was almost lazy, careless, his fingertips aimless and only glancing off the right place seemingly at random. “I promise.”

“I know you will,” Mycroft murmured, and just like that it went hot again. 

At some point, there was more lube. There was a condom. 

Mycroft clung to Greg and let himself be arranged. He was still shaking from the last relentless volley of thrusts, three of Greg’s fingers shoving in, just the right amount of rough. 

“I want you to control it at first,” Greg said, hands petting sweetly over Mycroft’s hair, his shoulders, his chest, fingers a little shaky where they traced over him. “Okay? On top. Nice and slow. If you don’t like it—”

“I’ll like it,” Mycroft said, as sure about that as a person could be, he thought. He was shaking too, Greg having made good on his promise. Mycroft had practically hyperventilated, Greg’s fingers had been so good inside him. He’d had to practically kick him to get him to stop, begging him to just do it already. 

“We can stop anytime.” Greg rolled to his back, settling with Mycroft’s knees on either side of his hips. “Raise up for me, beautiful.”

And now being called things like that gave Mycroft no pause. No moment of denial. He came up to his knees, shuffling forward to where Greg wanted him. 

Greg guided him, teased the slick, latex-covered head of his cock against Mycroft’s entrance. “I’m right here,” he said. “Just - just come down, nice and easy. It helps to bear down. Like you’re trying to push me out. Sounds weird, but trust me.”

Mycroft trembled, overwhelmed with anticipation. Finally, he would do this. Finally he would know. He wasn’t so naive as to think that this was any more significant than anything else they had done, but. But…

There was something undeniably exciting about finally doing what he’d been accused of doing for half his life. He bit his lip, not wanting to laugh at such a moment, though the words taking it up the arse floated through his mind and all he felt was gleeful. That’s right, you imbeciles. And I’m going to love it.

He moved slowly, hands pressed to Greg’s chest to keep himself steady. There was pressure. And then discomfort. 

“Breathe,” Greg said. His hands were gentle at Mycroft’s waist, waiting there as if to catch him. “That’s it, breathe.” 

It wasn’t exactly good. It was, briefly, actually awful. It was invasive and difficult, and he worried that he looked ridiculous, that he would be terrible at this and have to look down at Greg’s disappointed face and—  Mycroft took a deep breath and held it, stopping himself from panicking, and took Greg’s advice. He bore down, sinking slowly, slowly, mouth open and lungs struggling to hold in air for long enough. 

And then— 

“Oh,” he gasped. “Oh—” 

“Don’t come all the way down,” Greg said. His voice was rough, tight with tension. He held himself completely still, did not clench his fingers against Mycroft’s skin. “Come on, back up a little. Just rock for now, sweetheart. Find where it feels good.”

Mycroft did it, moving incrementally and experimentally. He wished he could do or say something even remotely meaningful, but all he could manage was oh, falling out of him with every tight, invasive press of the head of Greg’s cock against his prostate. 

“Jesus,” Greg breathed, staring up at him, wide-eyed. “Mycroft.”

Mycroft leaned forward, partly because he needed desperately to hide his face, and the change in sensation as his balance shifted punched a groan out of his chest. He took a kiss as he rocked, slowly, gently, the last twinges of discomfort working away with every movement. 

“It’s—” Mycroft gasped as Greg’s hips twitched, just a small motion. “It’s good,” he said, though he still felt awkward and ungainly; though he was distracted, wondering what he looked like to Greg. What he would look like to an outside observer, for some reason. 

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

Greg held him closer, arms strong around him and hands firm and grounding. Their noses brushed, nuzzled, and they kissed as much as they could manage amid the slow wave of motion.

“Tell me if you need me to be still,” Greg murmured, pushing gently up to meet Mycroft’s movements. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You aren’t. You wouldn’t.” Mycroft let himself sink further now, taking Greg’s cock all the way, the invasion breathtaking and glorious. It felt wrong and good and absolutely inevitable - but... Mycroft shuddered in Greg’s arms, trying desperately to understand what was missing, and struggled for the right thing to say. “Greg, I—” He gasped as he sat up, then  struggled to keep still, interrupting himself. His mind raced. “I want—  I think I need you to be on me, on… on top of—”

Greg’s hands reached up for him, cupping his face sweetly and stopping the nervous flow of words. “That’s easily done,” he said. “You sure?”

“I don’t…” Mycroft closed his eyes, strangely embarrassed. “I don’t want to control it. If that’s alright.”

Greg groaned and thrust up, a quick jerk of the hips that seemed to surprise him as much as it did Mycroft. “Y-you realize you’re a little bit submissive?”

“Do we—” Mycroft stopped to catch his breath again, losing the thread for a moment as another thrust rocked him gently. Greg was moving like that on purpose, he must have been, to stop him talking. “Do we have to discuss this now?”

“Well, it’s distracting you,” Greg said, and rolled them. 

Mycroft loved that, loved the surprise and the press, loved the shove further inside. He wanted that, that edge of something a little less than gentle. 

“There might be something to that,” he admitted, arms flung around Greg’s neck, staring at the bedroom ceiling. “Please move. Please—  say something, do something. I can’t—” 

Greg laughed against his neck and then kissed him there. He pushed up and steadied himself with a hand on the headboard. He stared down, soft-eyed and flushed; too gorgeous for Mycroft, really. “You’re doing fine,” he said. He ran sweet hands over Mycroft’s legs, pressed behind his knees to ease his legs higher. “Is this better?”

It was. Mycroft wrapped a leg around to pull him closer. “Yes.” 

“You feel so good,” Greg murmured, pressing his thumb to Mycroft’s lower lip, opening his mouth with gentle pressure before leaning in to delve into his mouth, slow and lush, tongue mimicking the slow roll of his hips as he rocked into him. Their bodies were flush, melding and sticking together in places, sliding in others. “So good,” he said again. 

“Come on,” Mycroft murmured. “Please, please, please.” 

Greg caught Mycroft’s hands in his own and pinned them to the mattress just above his shoulders. He rolled his hips again. “Like this?”

“Oh, my god,” Mycroft sobbed, fingers slotting instantly between Greg’s. “More.” 

Greg pressed harder, the backs of Mycroft’s hands held down tight, and he moved again, a longer drag out and a harder push back in. Mycroft writhed, hitching his legs higher, trying to offer himself up, make it clearer, somehow, that he was Greg’s with which to do whatever he pleased. He wanted to say that, but couldn’t begin to know how. 

“Perfect,” Greg said, his voice low and scraping. He pressed his open mouth to the hinge of Mycroft’s jaw, hot breath ghosting toward his ear as he moved, steady and close, a grinding wave of sensation. 

Mycroft shuddered and let his hands go slack, wanting Greg to really pin them down. He’d gone hot all over. If he had any blood to do it, he’d be flushing like mad, overcome with shock at himself, at his own wantonness. 

Greg kissed him, hot and deep, and snapped his hips a little more sharply. 

Mycroft gasped. “Ah!”

“Am I hurting you?”

“No, no. Please don’t stop.”

Mycroft couldn’t see his face. He couldn’t move his hands to reach for him, to tilt it so he could. He didn’t—  didn’t love that, but—  

“What is it?” Greg whispered. “What is it, tell me what you need.” 

Mycroft shuddered, feeling almost unbearably exposed. “I need to see you.”

“Jesus,” Greg whispered, “you’re so—” He leaned back and released one of Mycroft’s hands to card fingers through his hair instead, holding him there as well as by the hand. 

Mycroft held on to Greg’s shoulder and tilted his head back into his palm, breathing through the sudden onslaught of emotion brought on by the perfection of being held like that. 

Greg’s eyes were sweet on his, dark hair flopping attractively over his forehead, his cheeks flushed. “Better?”

“Yes,” Mycroft gasped. “Thank you.” 

“Want to see if you can come like this?”

Mycroft nodded. “Oh, I think I can,” he said thinly, the slow drag in and out directly connected to the pulses of pleasure in his cock, behind his balls. God, in his chest.

Greg grinned and kissed him again. “Wrap your legs around me,” he murmured softly while their faces were still close, breath intermingling between them. 

Mycroft did, and Greg released his other hand to help him get his hips tilted up at just the right— 

“Oh, god, there,” he breathed. “There, there, there—” 

Greg pulled his hair, just a little, just enough. He pressed the first two fingers of the other hand to Mycroft’s lower lip, as he’d done with his thumb before, just touching. Mycroft opened his mouth, sucking them both between his lips with a low groan of pleasure. He felt filthy and wanton, held and pinned and taken, finally. 

“Jesus—”

Mycroft moaned around Greg’s fingertips and swiped his tongue over the pads of them. 

Greg’s face turned into Mycroft’s neck, hips stuttering. “Mycroft,” he gasped. 

Mycroft let his mouth fall open and Greg’s fingers slipped away, trailing wet over Mycroft’s cheek before sliding under the back of his head, and then he was holding Mycroft entirely, hands gripping him, mouth on his skin, cock hard and unrelenting, body pressed to Mycroft in a way that created just the right amount of friction.

Mycroft’s lungs seized as it all coalesced, bright light blooming behind his eyelids. And then he was coming, hard and endless all over his own belly. 

“Yeah,” Greg ground out, teeth against Mycroft’s lower lip.

Mycroft tilted into the kiss, which more or less dissolved before it had even begun as Greg’s moans went, for a moment, stuttering and higher in pitch. Mycroft squeezed with his thighs as Greg stilled, gasping. 

He wished he could feel it. He wished he could have evidence of it when all was said and done. He would take what he could get, though. He would hold Greg close to him with his arms and legs, and not let go, possibly ever, and he would keep his mouth shut, because at that moment all he wanted in the world was to profess his love over and over, and now was decidedly not the time. 

As Greg’s trembling began to subside, he moved to withdraw, and Mycroft couldn’t let him. 

“No,” he breathed. “Not yet.” 

Greg pressed up to his elbows. “Okay,” he whispered, and nudged his nose against Mycroft’s. “You alright?”

Mycroft nodded, swallowing hard around the words threatening to spill out of him. “Of course,” he said. “Just don’t go.”

“I won’t.” Greg kissed him. “I won’t, sweetheart,” and kissed him again. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Mycroft would never be ready.

Chapter Text

For whatever reason, they were awkward with each other, after. 

Greg didn’t understand it - everything seemed fine until they had to get dressed. Mycroft needed to go make arrangements for Judy, and Greg had work in the morning. He wanted, so much, to just ask Mycroft to stay. To fall asleep with him, in sheets that smelled like sex and the mingled scents of Mycroft’s cologne and Greg’s aftershave. But it wouldn’t be right. They shouldn’t be doing that the way that they have, for one, and it would only result in a hurried morning for them both. 

Mycroft scooped up his clothes and excused himself to the bathroom to clean up. Greg found the discarded condom wrapper to throw away, clicked the lube shut and tossed it back into the bedside table. He dug out clean boxer briefs and a t-shirt, his skin feeling sticky as he pulled them on. He sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed at his face. 

This work trip would be good for them. Greg needed to stop and think, figure out how he could handle this without ripping his own heart out. Maybe it would take care of itself; maybe Mycroft would get some distance and realize he was ready to move on. They’d effectively covered all the bases, so to speak. Greg winced, knowing it wasn’t that simple. But he had to make it simple. Had to be clearer with himself about what this was and what it wasn’t. 

Mycroft wandered back into the bedroom, dressed but not buttoned back up yet. Greg betrayed himself and his thoughts of realistic expectations, and reached for him immediately. Mycroft stood between Greg’s knees and petted his hair while Greg hugged him round the middle, forehead pressed to the center of his chest. 

“I hope that was all alright,” Greg murmured. “You’re not sore?”

He felt Mycroft’s little huff, the rapid rise and fall of his chest. “I’m sore,” he said wryly. “But it’s not bad. I don’t mind. I… like it.”

Greg hid his smile in the crisp fabric of Mycroft’s shirt. “Good.” 

Mycroft kissed him, graceful hands tilting Greg’s face up into it. “Thank you,” he said. 

“It wasn’t exactly a hardship,” Greg tried to joke. He hated how stilted he felt. Didn’t want to stand up and walk Mycroft to the door and try not to be awkward while they said goodbye for three weeks.

Three fucking weeks. What if Mycroft did decide to move on in that time? This… it would be the last time. Greg didn’t mean to tighten his arms, didn’t realize he’d done it until Mycroft made a small sound of concern. 

“Greg?”

“Nothing,” he muttered, and it was a moment before he could bring himself to release him. “Just. Be safe in New York.” 

“I won’t be in any danger at all,” Mycroft said softly. “But I will.” 

“Okay.” 

Mycroft eventually stepped back, hands drawing softly away from Greg’s face. “I should go.”

Greg nodded, and followed him round the shelves to the lounge. Mycroft buttoned his cuffs with practiced fingers and shrugged back into his jacket while Greg hovered, Seven observing the proceedings from his place inside the kitchen sink. 

Mycroft seemed unsure, hesitating there with his jacket on and briefcase left by the door, hands raising as if to reach for Greg again, then dropping. “I…” Mycroft shook his head. “I’m sorry, this is difficult.” 

Greg nodded, though he had no idea what that meant. What was difficult: leaving so soon after they’d had yet more intensely intimate sex? Leaving knowing he wouldn’t see Greg for a while? Leaving knowing he was probably done with this now? Leaving without admitting he hadn’t liked it all that much and blamed Greg for ruining his first— 

Mycroft huffed and stepped away from the door, tugging Greg in close in one last gentle embrace. “I will see you in May,” he said quietly.

Greg nodded against his shoulder and hugged back. “Okay.”

“I might be able to call; I’ll try.”

Greg couldn’t say anything to that. He wouldn’t get his hopes up on that front. He shouldn’t. “Safe travels,” he murmured, then accepted the chaste kiss pressed into his lips. 

“Take care,” Mycroft said. “Try to get some sleep during Reading Week.”

Greg laughed, though something in his chest twisted at the thought that Mycroft knew about that; remembered Greg mentioning it off-handedly at some point. “I will.”

Mycroft kissed him one last time, sweet and quick, and then he was gone. 



***



The first week was the hardest. 

Greg started out with good intentions. He decided to focus on his classes and work, make an effort with his coworkers, and try to remember what life was like a month and a half before, when he was happy to be entirely on his own, happy to not need clients to make ends meet, and ready to throw himself into finally, finally finishing his degree so he could have a real career, maybe move out of his microscopic flat. 

All of that had been fine. It had been great. Greg had been pleased with himself, sure that the rest would work itself out. 

He could simply be that way again. Focused. Independent.

But that Thursday he woke in the early hours, well before sunrise, gasping and desperate to come, already reaching under the blankets to take himself in hand. 

It had been Mycroft, in his dream. 

Of course it had been. 

Greg came into his hand, cleaned up, and lay staring at his ceiling for a long time, wondering if this would happen often. If it would be hard to scrub this from his system once Mycroft was gone for good. 

He needed to get used to it. He needed to figure out how to handle the ending of it. 

He needed to get out of bed and shower off the smell of nightsweats and sex. Greg covered his face with a pillow that smelled like Mycroft, still, and groaned. 



***



“‘Lo?”

“Move in with him yet?”

Greg winced. It was Friday, and late. “Ugh, Paul.”

“Hello, Paul, how are you feeling this evening? I miss you very, very much.”

“Right, and your opening was so much better,” Greg groused.

Paul cackled. “Nothing I haven’t heard before.” 

Greg couldn’t keep a straight face, couldn’t not laugh and groan and sink down into a kitchen chair, happy to have the familiar sound of Paul’s nonsense in his ear. 

Once the laughter had subsided, Paul sighed. “But really, how goes it?” 

“Eh.” Greg shrugged. “It goes, I suppose. I’m busy with work and school and things. Going for a pint with my boss tomorrow night, which is weird.”

“It’s not weird, you curmudgeon.” Paul clicked his tongue against his teeth. “It’s a social life. Good for you. But I was asking after my sweet posh friend. You know, the one you tried to fuck in my kitchen.” 

“I did not,” Greg spluttered, face going flushed with the memory. He tried to fuck me, maybe, he thought, and nearly lost his breath at the thought. “It was just. Messing about.” 

“Mmm.” Paul didn’t remark further, clearly waiting for Greg to say something. 

“There’s nothing to report,” he said after a moment. “He’s away on business for practically a month.”

“Oh?”

“He left Monday.”

There was a long silence. 

Paul cleared his throat. “How miserable are you?”

“I’m not,” Greg replied. Because he really wasn’t. He had no reason to be. “I saw him Saturday night. He’d just accepted the trip. I’d not seen him for a week before that, which is normal. I’m fine.”

“You know you’re protesting too much.” 

Yes, he knew it, but after the emotional devastation on the beach, Greg had no interest in digging into this again. “Am not.” 

Paul made a small sound of disgust. “Fine. Be that way. I actually called to see if I could impose upon your sofa in a few weeks.”

“Yeah?” Greg perked up. “You’re coming to London?”

“Just for a quick trip,” Paul said. “Seeing a specialist. Nothing crazy, just a meeting with a doctor who’s been working on trials. Combinations of drugs, maybe fewer side effects than the AZT.”

Greg blinked, ashamed to realize he wasn’t really up on the lingo, anymore. He’d heard it all from Paul and Morris, both separately and together. The memory of the two of them sitting Greg down to explain it to him would probably never fade away, the remnants of lurching fear and panic easily recalled even now. But a lot of the terminology had fallen through the cracks of his brain like so much sand, and he had let it. Because he was a horrible friend. 

He cleared his throat. “Are you having problems?”

“Not as such,” Paul said lightly, which meant that he was. “It’s just an option I want to look at, no need to worry. Anyway, it would be the first week of June. I thought I’d pop up on Thursday, head home on Sunday? Appointment’s just a couple hours on the Friday.”

“Of course that’s fine,” Greg said. “It’ll be fun, I’ll take you out on the town.”

“Well that would be a change of pace,” Paul said, voice warm and such a comfort that Greg wanted to beg him to come to London now. “Greg?”

“Hmm?” 

“I love you.”

Greg blinked. “I know. I love you, too.” 

“Okay. I’ve got to go. Don’t stay up all night reading.”

Greg smiled to himself, remembering Paul’s long, freckled fingers plucking dozens, if not hundreds, of books out of his hand as he demanded that he ‘ get some sleep already,’ or ‘ come out with us,’ or ‘ kiss me, dummy.’  

“I hardly ever get to read for fun. Maybe this summer.” 

“You know what fun is?” Paul gasped. “I never knew.” 

“Good night, Paul.” 

“Night, love.” 



***



The pub was packed, wall to wall bodies and so much noise and jostling that Greg had a brief moment of panic. 

He had never been the ‘Saturday night’s alright for fighting’ type, preferring tall beers in paper bags hiding behind the wall that ran the perimeter of Louis and Mina’s house, listening to Paul or one of their mates regale with stories of nights in places like this. Even when Greg spent that throwaway summer trying to be a punk rocker, he’d hightail it out of the bar as soon as he could get away with it. That was how he ended up with Seven, and so he felt he’d made excellent choices there. 

But Silvana had said she was starting the night out here, and he’d agreed to come out for just one drink, so here he was. 

He couldn’t spot her for the longest time, and then a hand raised up above the crowd, wrist heavy with bangle bracelets. That was her. Greg braced himself and made his way through the sea of people, turning sideways and weaving this way and that ‘til he could see her face. 

“Greg!” She flung an arm round his neck as he got close. “Finally!” She leaned in close to his ear, practically shouting so he could hear her. “Thank fuck, Greg, some arsehole’s been trying to hit on me for hours. Pretend to be my boyfriend and get me out of here.” 

Greg laughed, amused and relieved that they wouldn’t be staying. From there, he was introduced to a couple of Silvana’s mates plus a snobby looking bloke with a flashy watch - clearly the aforementioned arsehole. That was the one he’d need to shake off. It was easy, pretending to flirt with Silvana. He used to be very good at that sort of thing. Over the next ten minutes Greg leaned into her space, kept a proprietary hand on her hip, turned his smiles into her hair. He lowered his lips to her ear. 

“Make the excuses,” he said after a while, and she gave him a grateful squeeze. 

“Anyway, we’re off!” She chirped. One of her friends hid a knowing smile in her drink, and Greg couldn’t tell if she knew they were putting on a show, or if she thought they were leaving to shag in the alley.

Either way, Greg nodded politely, and shot Flashy Watch a vaguely reproachful eyebrow, and guided Silvana out of the pub. 

“I didn’t know it was going to be like that!” She fanned herself with both hands. “Sorry! And thanks. You’re a lifesaver.”

“Come on too strong, did he?” 

She rolled her eyes. “A bit,” she said. “I told him the moment he waddled up that I wasn’t interested, and he seemed to take it as a challenge. Dick.” 

“I apologize on behalf of men everywhere,” Greg joked. 

“Well, you at least are decent,” Silvana replied. “Come on, I could tell you hated it in there anyway. I know a much calmer place just round the corner.”

Greg went along with it, happy enough to be tugged along by the arm while Silvana detailed the last fifteen minutes of social hell in the crowded pub. 

“Life would be so much easier if I could just say, oi, buddy, I’m a lesbian. Back up! You know? Well, I guess you don’t know.” She rambled on, not noticing that Greg’s eyebrows had joined his hairline. “But yeah, they just take that as a challenge, too. And sometimes they get handsy or even, you know, scary. So. Ah, here we are.”

Greg let her usher him into the small, dark bar with the flickering gas lamp hung outside, and sighed with relief when he saw that the inside was nice, uncrowded, and quiet, with a piano player tinkling away on the keys on a little dais in the corner. 

“This is nice,” he said, voice lowered in deference to the relaxed, jazzy atmosphere. “Am I under dressed?”

Silvana smacked his arm. “Of course not, come on. Let’s grab a booth.”

A few minutes later found them staring awkwardly over their drinks - Silvana’s glass of wine, Greg’s pint of something fancy and German - at something of a conversational impasse now that the waitress had been, gone, and been again. 

“I do understand,” Greg said after a moment. “What you said about, um. Not being able to just say… you know, that you’re not interested because they’re the wrong gender.” 

“Because I’m gay?” Silvana clarified bluntly, then blinked. “Wait, are you gay?”

Greg shrugged. “Sort of? Not… not really.” He sighed and covered his face with his hands. “This is so embarrassing.” 

Silvana just laughed and reached across the table to remove Greg’s hands. “Wait just a minute now, did you not know? You met my girlfriend at the holiday party last year.”

“Your flatmate,” Greg said blankly. “Oh, I am very stupid.”

Silvana threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, Greg.”

“Christ, everyone says my name like that lately,” Greg groaned, but without heat. “Like I’m just beyond help, I’m so clueless.”

“Sorry,” Silvana said gently. “I’m not making fun of you. I didn’t know about you, either. Though…”

“I’m apparently a closed book,” Greg filled in. “Yeah, there’s that.”

Silvana just sipped her wine and watched him. He cleared his throat nervously. She smirked. “Well?”

“Well…”

“Greg, now is where you elaborate. I have a girlfriend, I live with her, you know this now. Do you have someone? You said sort of, so maybe you have a girlfriend too. I don’t know unless you tell me.”

Greg bit the inside of his cheek and took a deep breath, then a deep drink from his beer. “No, there’s no one,” he said once he thought he could do it without cringing. “I’ve had girlfriends, though. Just to… um. Be clear. I… had a fiancé.” 

“Oh?” Silvana leaned forward, chin on one hand. “Tell me more, tell me more. It didn’t work out? I’m sorry, that must have been tough. But clearly she was defective, since you’re lovely and have the patience of a saint.”

Greg laughed, feeling the tension leave him abruptly. “She was,” he agreed, joking but not joking. “She was terrible. I’m well rid of her.” 

“Good,” Silvana said. “What about boyfriends?”

“Oh, no,” Greg shook his head. “No, no. I spend something like sixty hours a week either working or in classes or actively studying. No time.”

Silvana hummed, but changed the subject, asked about his classes, and it was somewhat easy, after that, to offer up little bits of himself in exchange for Silvana’s long rambles. Three beers in, and Greg found himself talking about Mina and Louis, even referring to them as my foster parents without hesitation. Silvana didn’t react, just took it in stride. Asked polite questions and a couple slyly invasive ones. 

“See,” she said, setting down her empty glass. “I feel like I get you a little better already. You make sense to me.” 

Greg leaned back in his seat, stretching a little. For the first time in a long time, he felt relaxed after talking about himself. “Do I?” He shrugged. “Just so you know, I’m still…” He gestured at his own face. “Full of secrets. Total mystery.”

“I know,” she said, grinning. “I’ll get ‘em out of you over time. Because we’re going to do this again. Okay?”

“Yes,” he said, surprised at how much he wanted to. “Okay.”

“And you can come over for dinner with us. Maybe I can dig up a boy to set you up with.” 

Greg rolled his eyes, but let it slide by. “Which one’s the cook: you or the girlfriend?”

“Oh, her, hands down.” Silvana’s smile went all proud and soft. “Training to be a chef, actually.”

Greg whistled, low. “You’re lucky, then. Sorry, I can’t remember her name.”

“Oh! That’s alright, the Christmas party was yonks ago. It’s Harriet. Harry, for short.” 

Greg nodded, fingertips drumming against the tabletop. “Alright. Invite me, and I’ll let your chef girlfriend feed me, that’s no hardship. Wanna get another drink and tell me all about her?”

“Yes,” Silvana cheered, and Greg tried not to feel warmed by the way she looked proud of him for suggesting it. 

He smiled helplessly back at her and signaled for the waitress.



***



The second week was busy, thank god. 

Greg landed heavily on his couch at the end of it all and was shocked to realize it was already Saturday. Mycroft had been gone for fourteen days. Greg hadn’t heard from him at all, which marked the longest stretch of time they’d gone without at least chatting since the day they met. Actually, once Greg thought about it, he realized they hadn’t gone this long without touching or kissing, even.

He confessed his sins to his cat over an entire six pack of cider and the sound of the television droning in the background. He’d had to turn off Fry and Laurie, the secret agent sketch a bit too much for him to take. Now it was some nature program, which Greg also felt was a bit on the nose, as it was about wolverines and the narrator had repeatedly mentioned that they were ‘nature’s ultimate loner.’

“I really bollocksed this up,” Greg told Seven, a little drunk. “I should’ve known better. I should never’ve done it. This isn’t how friends with benefits works. It’s not… not how anything works. I can’t make it work.”

He sighed, and Seven continued grooming himself, unconcerned with Greg’s many failings. 

He didn’t want to go to the worst, most self-hating places in his brain tonight, so he stopped talking and let his eyes go out of focus at the television for a while. Eventually, Seven made his way to Greg’s chest, lying there like a sphynx, purring like an engine. Greg sighed and looked into his innocent yellow eyes. 

“I’m going to miss it,” he confessed. “I’m going to miss him. I’ll have to cut it off completely. Clean break.” Seven nudged his face up under Greg’s chin and Greg let him have his way, knowing that if he moved to wrap his arms around Seven, and Seven did what cats most often do and wriggled away, he would absolutely fall apart. 

“No more drinking alone,” he told the cat, and closed his eyes. 



***



Then, midway through the third week, the phone rang just as Greg turned the deadbolt after returning from his evening class. And the timing was so perfect that he knew before he picked it up. 

“...’lo?” 

“You’re home,” Mycroft’s voice said, familiar and pleased and achingly far away. 

“Hi,” Greg breathed. “I mean, hello—  Are you still in New York?”

“I am,” Mycroft said, “and I’m sorry to say I might be here a little longer than I originally planned. Matters are… complex, at present.”

Greg closed his eyes against the disappointment, swallowed against the tightness in his throat. “That sounds rough,” he said. 

“Nothing unmanageable,” Mycroft said, and in it Greg heard multitudes. Stress and exhaustion, but also surety and confidence, a certainty that he would manage it.

Greg could only imagine how Mycroft must look at work when he was at his most competent. He hadn’t been able to, at first, struck by Mycroft’s shy, awkward manner. But Greg knew now how hard-won the confidence he could hear - clear as day - really was. 

God, he wished he could see it. It was probably incredibly hot. Greg had a brief, completely nonsensical flash-fantasy of Mycroft slamming him up against some filing cabinet or another, letting Greg suck him off without taking off his suit. 

“I bet you’re pissing them all off,” Greg said, hoping he didn’t sound too breathy. “Showing up the Americans.” 

Mycroft laughed quietly. “I’m not trying to,” he said. “But they make it so easy.” 

Fondness was an expanding thing, a helium balloon, in Greg’s chest. “Bet they do,” he murmured. “When do you think you’ll get back?”

Mycroft sighed heavily. “It could mean another week. I was scheduled to fly out this Sunday, but it’s looking as if the following Saturday, at the earliest, is more likely. Possibly a little further out, if certain parties dig their heels in. Some people senior to me have flown out and will stay to keep the pressure on, but I will be released as soon as possible. My superiors don’t like the idea of an open-ended arrangement.”

“Services at a premium, are they?” Greg tried to joke, even as disappointment that was practically anger settled like led in his stomach.

“Something like that,” Mycroft said warmly. “God, I can’t tell you how… it has been a long seventeen days. It’s nice to have someone to call, even if I must be vague.” 

Greg covered his face with one hand and breathed. “I’m glad you called,” he said. “Must be costing you a fortune.”

Mycroft made an indifferent little sound. “I’m not footing the bill, and I’m far less trouble as far as expenses go than many of my colleagues, trust me.”

“What, not one for fancy dinners out and lavish suites?”

Mycroft chuckled. “No, I love those. It’s the high-dollar call-girls that I don’t—” 

The conversation screeched to a halt. 

Greg’s eyes closed against a slight tilting of the room around him. He breathed the way you do when you’ve been punched solidly in the solar plexus. 

“I didn’t…” Mycroft’s voice was quick, panicked. “I didn’t mean it that way.”

“What way?” Greg tried for nonchalance and missed it by a mile.

“Just. Women. I meant, it’s women. That’s all I meant, I wasn’t disparaging—  Well, actually, I do mean to disparage some of my colleagues. Awful, chauvinistic pricks. But not because they hire callgirls. Just because they’re… Extant.” 

Greg couldn’t help laughing at that. Mycroft was never vulgar.

“I am so sorry.” Mycroft sighed. “I should have just said what I meant to say. I’m backpedaling and I know it, and I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Greg said. It wasn’t. He cleared his throat and shook his head, hoping to clear that, too. “I mean, you must have traveled a lot. Places have callgirls, but no rentboys? I’m sure that’s not true of New York, especially.”

Mycroft stuttered. “Well, I… I wouldn’t know. I—  You know that I—” 

“Yeah, I know,” Greg said. “Listen, I have to go.”

“Greg, please wait. I—” 

“It’s fine, Mycroft. I just have to go.” 

He hung up, dizzy. God, he hated being right. Hated it. Hated it. He believed Mycroft - he hadn’t meant to imply anything about prostitutes, or about Greg, even. Of course he hadn’t. He was Mycroft, who said things like it’s not dishonest work in my estimation. 

But Greg had known that he would never be able to shake off the circumstances of how they had met. It didn’t matter what Paul said, or how sweetly Mycroft looked at him sometimes. He would always be a rentboy. Sugar baby. Gigolo. Whatever word fit; Greg had never had much luck landing on one. 

He leaned against the door, breathing to slow the pound of his heart. He’d hung up at the right time. He’d wanted nothing more than to demand: Why don’t you find someone? A sharp, refined sort of man who will belong in a fancy restaurant with you, let you fuck him in your posh hotel room? You could. You should . You might like it. You wouldn’t have to pay, just go to the right sort of bar and—  

Greg grit his teeth, hard, and pushed away from the wall. He had to get out of this stupid shoebox of a flat. He’d promised himself no more drinking alone. Fine. He would find people to drink with. 

He scooped up his wallet and keys from the usual place and slammed out of the flat, determined as he took the stairs two at a time to wipe all of this from his head. 

In the morning, he’d figure out how to deal with this mess.

Chapter Text

Greg woke up hungover and with a throbbing eye, to the sound of his phone ringing beyond the wall of shelves. 

He didn’t so much get out of bed as fall out of it, stumbling in nothing but his underwear to answer it. He tried to cough some life into his voice, knowing without having to test it that he was going to sound like shit. 

“‘Lo.”

“Greg.”

“Mycroft,” Greg let his head thunk against the wall and immediately regretted it. He tilted his head to the side to check the time on the kitchen clock. “It’s half six in the morning.”

“I know,” he said, smooth and bland the way he used to sound when they first met. “Apologies. I’m actually wrapping things up for the night, but I wished to call and tell you that I’m returning on Monday, and I’d like to see you.”

Greg rolled his tongue, which felt like a used dishrag, in his mouth, trying to clear some of the rank taste while he tried to parse that. “You said it was going to be another week.”

“Yes, I did.” Mycroft gave a nervous little ahem. “However, this evening proved quite productive and I have created a scenario in which I am able to leave here on Monday. My flight lands at five that evening. Would you have dinner with me?”

“Would I…” Greg rubbed at his pounding head. “Won’t you be jet lagged?”

“Probably. I don’t care. I want to see you, and tell you in person that I’m an idiot and you should never pay attention to what I say or how I say it.” 

“I said it was fine.”

“And then you hung up on me.”

Greg sighed. “Well.” 

“Please,” Mycroft said, and there was the tone of voice he’d been using for weeks, real and gentle, no more uptight posh posturing.

Greg closed his eyes against the headache and the knowing, with full certainty, that he was going to let Mycroft apologize and maybe fuck him, and stretch this whole thing out even longer. “Yeah, alright,” he said, forehead pressed to the wall beside the phone. “But I have to hang up on you again. It’s early and I’m tired and have a killer headache.”

“Very well,” Mycroft said, voice lowering immediately to a near-whisper. “I’m so sorry for waking you. Please get some sleep. I’ll see you in a few days.” 

Greg made a vague sound of assent and hung up before bending in half, hands over his face, and letting out a muffled half-scream into his palms.

“So fucking weak,” he growled at himself, straightening to scrub his hands through his hair. His eye really hurt, in the way only a recently-punched face could hurt. “God you idiot, what did you do?”

He went hunting for his wallet, letting out the breath he’d been holding once he’d found it. His memory would catch up to him soon, and knowing he hadn’t lost his wallet was enough to keep him from panicking just yet. He vaguely remembered the fist to the face that had led to the throb around his eye socket. Remembered chatting up some bloke at a gay bar. 

Oh, shit.

He stumbled to the bathroom and vomited. 

Come back to mine. He remembered that. He hadn’t gone. His stomach heaved again and he clutched at the toilet desperately.

‘I…’ He’d nearly done it. Had wanted to prove he could do it. ‘ I can’t, sorry.’ 

They’d been outside the bar, and Greg had a cigarette in his hand. He was so drunk. And someone passing by had said something. Something nasty and foul. 

‘What the fuck did you just say?’

Greg had flicked his cigarette at the guy’s face and gotten cold cocked for his trouble. 

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Greg moaned. 

He had a shift in three hours, and classes after that, and a meeting with his advisor. Dr Bakshi would kill him when she saw his face. Silvana would be upset. 

Greg let himself fall to the side, stretching pathetically over the cool tile. At least he’d been cleaning a lot lately, replacing meandering phone calls and too much kissing and shiver-inducing sex with manic attention to everything but missing those things. 

“Okay,” he acknowledged to the scrubbed tiles. “I’m a mess.”



***



By Monday, the bruising under his eye had faded to a very light smudge of brown. He was grateful that the bigoted shit who’d sucker punched him had had poor form and weak follow-through. It had been glancing. Painful, but fast to heal. 

Greg didn’t know what to think or feel or do, really. He figured that would have to be worked out later. He had a folded up square of notepaper in his wallet now, the number of a gay-friendly counselor scrawled there by Silvana after he’d gone crawling to her after his shift last Thursday. 

Having that square of paper to show Bakshi was the only thing that saved him from having his arse kicked all over campus that night. He hadn’t asked for it just for that. It wasn’t only a get out of jail free card, though it was that. 

He would call it. Take what Morris and Paul had said to heart and take a stab at helping himself. At some point. 

The weekend had been spent in quiet contemplation. Greg would have worn a hair shirt, whipped himself with chains, were those things on hand. He eschewed telly and the stereo and the almond pastries Mycroft had insisted he try that day last month, leading to a pastry addiction over which Greg normally had zero control. He lived like a monk as penance for his poor choices, and sat with his thoughts and his cat, who appeared to be quietly judging him. 

And here was more evidence of his need for a bloody therapist: he came out of his weekend of deep thought deciding that he would rather compartmentalize just a little bit longer. He’d decided, in fact, to meet Mycroft at the airport. 

It might not be a great idea, but he was doing it anyway. He needed to do something, cut off whatever groveling Mycroft thought he had to do. He needed to keep this light, to make it work. 

So, that was the plan. Greg changed his shirt four times before he left for Heathrow.



***



One obscenely expensive cab ride later, traffic keeping Greg on the very edge of his seat, teeth and fists clenched, he found himself hovering around the international arrivals waiting area like a complete tit. 

The board listed a British Airways flight from JFK expected to land at five as ‘on time,’ and Greg had flung himself out the taxi at 4:53, so he screeched to a halt in front of the board and didn’t take his eyes off of it until the status flipped to ‘landed.’ Then he realized that Mycroft would need to get off the plane and go through customs and all of that. Greg, never having been on a plane in his life, had no idea how long all of that might take. 

Still, he didn’t want to sit down and let the other people waiting block his view, so he stood and shifted his weight from foot to foot, refusing to take his eyes off the exit, not even to check his watch. 

Mycroft exited behind a trio of gabbing teenaged girls and a harried adult chaperone. Greg’s breath caught and his chest ached. He wanted to shove everyone aside and run for him. 

God, he was so in love with him and it was so stupid. I was the worst thing Greg had ever done. 

Don’t think about it.

It took a minute. Mycroft had been glancing at his own watch, then focusing on navigating around the girls, then catching and handing over a dropped purse for a tiny elderly lady. Greg had a little time to take in all the little details: Mycroft’s tired face, the rumpled edges of his suit, the dishevelment of his hair after seven hours in the air. 

And then Mycroft seemed to take a breath and steel himself to get out of arrivals, shoulders straightening and chin lifting, eyes scanning. They stuttered almost immediately, catching on Greg and drawing Mycroft to a stop, eyes going wide with surprise. 

For a terrifying moment, Greg thought he’d made a huge mistake. 

Then Mycroft grinned, wide and open, in a way Greg had never seen before. And suddenly they were making a beeline for each other, sidestepping the crowds. Greg almost fell over a suitcase. Mycroft had to screech to a halt in order to avoid taking out a small child. But then they were within reaching distance, and Mycroft’s hand caught Greg’s, reeled him in, and with one more step into his space Greg was breathing in the scent of stale recycled air, airplane peanuts, Mycroft’s cologne, and Mycroft, full stop. 

“What are you doing here?” Mycroft murmured, right up against Greg’s ear. 

“Just wanted to surprise you,” Greg said, feeling in the moment that that was the truth. Pretending in the moment that there had been no reason to come here other than to put that smile on the face of the man he—  

“You surprised me,” Mycroft chuckled, then pulled away. “Can I kiss you hello?”

“People will see,” Greg said, heart dropping to the bottom of his stomach. 

“Let them,” Mycroft said. 

And Greg nodded, already leaning up and in. 

Oh, Greg thought as Mycroft’s soft palms framed his face and their lips met. Fuck. 



***



The taxi ride was torture - the best kind. Mycroft kept touching him, but not in a grabby way. Not in an even vaguely sexual way. Just… hands on Greg’s hands, fingers tangling, tracing the veins on the underside of Greg’s wrist, then a hand in Greg’s hair, then a finger tracing his ear. Greg had to keep his own hands folded tightly in his lap or he’d rip that suit open right there in the back of the cab. 

“I’m. Losing my mind,” he said under his breath when Mycroft asked if he was alright. 

And Mycroft smirked at him with a frankly unbelievable amount of cheek, and Greg needed to bite his tongue and stare straight ahead for the rest of the ride to Belgravia. 

The doorman - Thomas - and the lift attendant - apparently called Clarence - all wanted to greet Mr Holmes with a lot of enthusiasm and small talk, and then just inside the door of Mycroft’s blessedly private flat, Judy made a display of herself rocketing out from some hidden place to throw herself into Mycroft’s arms. 

Greg would never mess with a reunion that important, but the long minutes they spent soothing the cat did exactly nothing to fix his desperation to get his hands on Mycroft’s skin. 

“I’ll feed her,” Mycroft said. “One moment.”

And then he was gone and Greg was left in the mouth of the foyer, staring blankly at that atrocious sitting room, trying his level best not to think in terms of distance-from-the-end-of-this. 

Mycroft reappeared a minute later and interrupted Greg’s aggressive stifling of common sense with a kiss so soft and hot that for a moment he was convinced he was going to swoon.

He didn’t swoon. He hung on - clung - to Mycroft’s shoulders in the rumpled suit jacket, and tried to work up the nerve to take control of this thing, make it go hotter, faster, more to-the-point. He couldn’t. He was shaking. 

“I’ve missed you,” Mycroft murmured before pressing back in, more gasping, too-good kisses. 

“Me, too,” Greg muttered the next time they parted. “Please take me upstairs. I don’t care what we do. Just let me get you out of that suit.”

Mycroft laughed, more an exhalation of air against Greg’s lips, and nodded. “That sounds like something I can do.” 

“Let’s go,” Greg urged. “Now, come on.”

In the bedroom, Mycroft let Greg strip him down to his underwear, even allowing him to take off the cufflinks, the heavy wristwatch, showing him where to set them out of the way. He let Greg kiss his collarbones, the dips between his ribs. Let him kneel at his feet and take off his socks. Greg got to run his hands all over Mycroft’s legs, got to kneel there and press his mouth the hard line of Mycroft’s cock behind the thin, soft fabric of his underwear. Greg ran fingers over the surgery scars on his legs, traced the join of his hips, reached around to squeeze his thighs, his arse. 

He glanced up Mycroft’s body, asking silent permission with his fingers hooked in the waistband of his pants. Mycroft nodded, expression unreadable to Greg just then. He pulled the underwear down and Mycroft stepped out of them, kicking them away. 

Greg needed a moment. This was the sort of worship he’d been dying to give Mycroft almost from day one. If he’d had his way, been allowed to plan all of this out step by step and act by act, this would’ve been one of the first things on his list. It wouldn’t have been the first time he inducted an inexperienced, nervous man into the wonderful world of homosexual deviancy by way of outrageously long, obsessively detail-oriented cocksucking. 

But, Greg thought as he licked the first hot stripe up Mycroft’s shaft, this was good too. This was better. Mycroft, knowing himself a little better than he had before, knowing Greg so well it was frightening, knew that his hand was welcome in Greg’s hair. Knew that it was alright to make sweet little noises and to ask, albeit quietly, for more. 

Greg could put in a lot of work there on his knees with Mycroft swaying a bit above him. But he wanted - needed - something more than that, so he gently pressed Mycroft away and said, “Sit on the bed.’ Which Mycroft did, pausing in his confusion when Greg didn’t stand and follow him, just knelt there watching him sit, watching him lean back on his hands, watching him feel and then shake off his nerves. 

Greg got rid of his own shirt, but didn’t bother with his vest, jeans, shoes or anything else. He crawled, only two long movements really, to sit back on his heels between Mycroft’s spread thighs. He could just sit here and lay his head in Mycroft’s lap. And that would be fine. Mycroft would probably just… let him. 

Instead, he sucked Mycroft’s cock into his mouth and took his time over the next long while, methodically figuring out exactly what reactions could be coaxed out of him by specific movements of Greg’s tongue. 

By the time Greg felt he’d done a halfway decent job, he was panting and his throat was a little sore. His lips felt like they weren’t even a part of his face any longer, the insides of them a little raw from covering his teeth.

Mycroft was a gorgeous, quivering wreck, sunk all the way back on his elbows, chest heaving, and cock twitching if Greg so much as glanced at it. His hair was a mess, lit up fantastic auburn by the golden-hour light streaming through the bedroom windows. 

Greg licked his lips. “How do you want to come?” 

“Come up here and get your clothes off,” Mycroft said, which was not an answer. 

“You’re jet lagged and exhausted and I just sucked your cock for almost an hour, Mycroft. How do you want to come? Worry about me later, because once I’m done with you I expect you’ll pass out.” 

Mycroft gave a strangled little moan, half a laugh, and nodded, conceding quickly. “I want fingers,” he said, and Greg was unspeakably proud of him for not even hesitating. Not even blushing. “And kissing. Please.”

Greg cracked at that, the little bossy show he’d been trying to put on crumbling away. “Fingers and kissing,” he repeated, probably with visible hearts in his eyes. “Sure. Budge up.”

And with a little rummaging in the bedside table, a little creative arranging of Mycroft’s hips and a couple of pillows, Greg worked two slick fingers into him and sucked on his lower lip at the very same time. 

Mycroft whimpered and held Greg by the back of the head, opened his mouth on a gasp and stuttered out a moan around Greg’s tongue. 

Greg took his time, worked him over. Teased a little, and then got down to what he knew Mycroft wanted, crooking fingers massaging firm and steady in little pulses inside him. And once he started, he didn’t stop. Didn’t tease anymore. And he didn’t touch Mycroft’s cock, or stop kissing him. He gave him exactly what he’d asked for, nothing more and nothing less. 

And Mycroft fell apart. Sobbed and trembled and gasped and took it. 

Greg stopped kissing him to sit back on his heels and watch Mycroft’s slicked-open hole clenching around his fingers, and he registered the shiny smear of precome, the sticky thread of it dripping with every press of Greg’s fingers, just before Mycroft cried out and shot come all over his own belly, cock still untouched. 

Greg fell forward and caught the moans from Mycroft’s mouth with his own and fucked him through it, beyond it, until he gasped for Greg to stop, and Greg did, gentling his hand and kissing him sweetly. 

Greg had been right. Mycroft kept his eyes open while Greg wiped him clean with tissue from the bedside table, managed to yank Greg into one last kiss with a flailing arm before Greg could leave to throw the tissues away. And by the time Greg crossed from the ensuite back to the bed, Mycroft was out like a light.

Chapter Text

Mycroft woke in the dark, groaning at the familiar ache of joints that had spent too long in an airplane seat and the pressure of an overfull bladder. Beside him, curled around a pillow and dozing, Greg breathed deeply and moved to sit up. 

“Mycroft?”

“I’ll be right back,” Mycroft rasped. “Don’t get up.” 

He took himself to the ensuite and cleaned up a little while he was in there, showering quickly and brushing the staleness out of his mouth. By the time he finished, the drag of sleep had subsided, and he realized all at once that he had been completely distracted from his plan for the evening. 

He returned to the bed, where Greg stretched over the covers in his briefs, a fantasy Mycroft had been living off of for weeks. 

“You have rather scuppered my plans,” Mycroft murmured, crawling up the length of the mattress and therefore Greg’s body, to settle beside him, thigh flung over Greg’s and mouth to his shoulder. “I’ve owed you a decent dinner out since Sherlock, and I truly did want to apologize and reassure you.” 

“We can still get dinner,” Greg said. “The other thing still isn’t necessary.” 

Mycroft closed his eyes and pressed his nose against the crook of Greg’s neck and shoulder, breathing there for a moment. “I suppose I can let it go,” he said. “Is it very late?”

Probably just after nine,” Greg replied, one hand tracing gently over the arm Mycroft had flung over his middle. “We could order Afghan food again. Picnic in bed.”

Mycroft hummed and shifted, raising up onto one arm and rolling a little to half-cover Greg’s body with his own. “Anything you want,” he said. “And I believe I have a favor to return.”

Greg quirked a little half smile and shook his head. “Later,” he said. “I want to hear about your trip. Everything you can tell me.” 

Mycroft traced a finger over the curved side of Greg’s mouth, unable to put his finger on what about the smile felt off. “Are you sure? I really would have no complaints about spending another several hours in bed with you.”

Greg chuckled and nipped at his finger. “I’m sure. Let’s find Judy. I’m monopolizing your time.”

Mycroft bit back his confusion and disappointment and nodded. “Alright,” he said, and went looking for something comfortable to lend Greg to wear, not wanting to see him zipped back into his jeans just yet. 



***



They ate delivered Chinese food at the kitchen table, and Mycroft did his best to provide some narrative for his trip without violating the Official Secrets Act. He couldn’t think of the right way to ask what was clearly bothering Greg. He had just spent nearly a month in New York, most of his brain power dedicated to untangling the mess the Americans had created for themselves, and the remainder dedicated to organizing his thoughts and settling on words to name his feelings for Greg. 

Every interaction, every phone conversation and soul-baring admission over cups of tea and shared meals, every kiss and touch and minute spent in bed, had been clear in Mycroft’s mind. Without new data to overwhelm him, he had been able, finally, to get ahead of it in his head. 

And at first, it had been terrifying. 

The swimming pool in his mind palace brimmed with all of it. There were nights alone in his hotel room when Mycroft wasn’t sure he wouldn’t drown in it, never come up, stop wanting to leave in order to sleep and eat and get back to work. At first, he had worked like a madman just to avoid sinking back into it. 

Mycroft didn’t mention any of that, sticking instead to drily disparaging the CIA, delighting in every laugh he was able to win for his trouble. 

“So you did crush them,” Greg mused. “Are they a British colony once more, or what?”

Mycroft smiled. The praise, facetious as it was, felt fantastic. He’d never once had reason to tell someone about his day or a work trip before. He hadn’t realized how good it could be. “Not quite,” he said. 

“How’d you manage to get back so quickly, then? Piss someone off?” 

Mycroft felt himself flush. “I… didn’t sleep for two days, used my Uncle’s name to curry favor, and threatened to leave whether or not a resolution had been found in order to force the hands of three government agencies.” He cleared his throat. “I was. Motivated.”

Greg blinked at him, chopsticks hovering over his carton of noodles. “Oh.”

“Yes, well.” Mycroft dug through his own carton in search of one last prawn. “Anyway.”

“Anyway,” Greg echoed.

“You know,” Mycroft said after a moment, “in this light it almost looks like you have a bruise just there.” He reached out with his hand, fingers hovering over the smudge of darker skin just to the side of Greg’s left eye. 

Greg’s eyes averted immediately, a flush blooming high on his cheeks. “I did have a bruise just there,” he said. “Got a little bit punched.”

“Punched?” Mycroft kept himself from standing, shoving his chair back, and demanding to know who had done it and where he could find them, but it was a near thing. “Why? How? Wh—” 

“Okay, calm down,” Greg laughed. “It was just—  it was nothing. A nasty comment I couldn’t ignore. Should’ve just let it slide. The arsehole hit me. There was a bouncer involved, everything turned out fine. It was a weak hit.”

“You’ve never struck me as the violent type,” Mycroft said, and Greg finally looked up at him again. 

“I’m not,” he said, defensive. “I’m the one that got punched.” 

“I’m sorry,” Mycroft rushed to say, hating himself for being this awkward and for once again saying the wrong thing. “I realize that. It’s just… Are you alright?”

“Of course I am,” Greg said. “I’ve been hit before, it’s no big deal.”

Mycroft opened his mouth to vigorously disagree with that statement. It was a big deal, and it horrified him that Greg didn’t see it as one. He hated that anyone had ever hurt him, let alone that he had been hurt enough that it had become commonplace. But he couldn’t put it into words, knowing that it wouldn’t be taken as intended, that it would only sound like he was patronizing him, or lecturing Greg about his own feelings on the matter. That Greg might not understand Mycroft’s meaning, again. 

He closed his mouth and took a breath. “I’m just glad you’re alright,” he said weakly. 

Greg smiled, and it was genuine. “Thanks,” he said, and nudged Mycroft’s foot with his own under the table.

The relief was palpable. Mycroft ate and let Greg change the subject to his apparently rapidly-growing friendship with Silvana. He was glad to listen, to see the way Greg smiled shyly as he spoke about it. Mycroft couldn’t miss the fact that it was still unbelievable to Greg that it had gone so well - that someone would want to know him the way Silvana clearly did. 

Mycroft thought of the conclusions he had been able to draw in the contemplative hours after the work day was done. He wondered if there would ever be a good time to bring them up, or a way to do it that wasn’t hopelessly awkward. Part of him felt that he should simply ask Greg to be his date to Alicia’s engagement party in two weeks’ time and let that speak for itself. 

The thought of that, of asking Greg out on an actual date, had terrified and exhilarated him for weeks, but the terror was almost entirely faded, now. His analysis had been thorough; he had very few reasons to believe that Greg wouldn’t want the same thing Mycroft did, and many reasons to believe that he would. 

“Oh!” Greg gestured with his chopsticks, animated the longer he talked. “And! Silvana? Total lesbian.”

Mycroft snapped himself out of his drifting thoughts and raised a wry eyebrow, returning to his prawns and fried rice with a smirk. “Oh, really? Scandalous.’

“I know,” Greg said with relish. “Who knew there were so many queers around? Certainly not me.”

Mycroft chuckled. “I was practically half-raised by one and I still have no ability to spot one of us in the wild. Next thing I know, the chief of SIS will come out of the closet.”

Greg laughed, and suddenly, it was all easy again. 



***



It stayed that way as they tidied their takeaway cartons and made their way up to the library for a cigarette on the roof. 

“I know it’s awful,” Greg said. “But while you were gone I bought a pack and now I’m back in the habit.”

“I never truly quit,” Mycroft commiserated. “And to be honest, sometimes the only way to get out of a tedious conversation in my line of work is to never allow it to start. Hiding behind a newsstand, chain-smoking, is a good way to avoid the worst offenders.” 

They shared a cigarette on the lounge chair, just as they had at Easter, which felt a million miles away now. It was dark and cool in the garden, and Mycroft noticed that the gardeners must have been and gone a few times in his absence, readying the planters for spring. He loved spring on the roof. He had a black thumb, but the same people Uncle Rudy had entrusted with this space continued to tend to it now, and he was more than happy to pay for the luxury of having a sweet-smelling escape-hatch from the flat. It was only improved by the man leaning up against Mycroft’s chest, chuckling at a joke about Americans and yogurt .

He hadn’t felt so at peace in weeks. 



***



Inside, Mycroft moved to put on music, planning to attempt some clumsy seduction on the overstuffed couch about which he had been developing a fairly detailed Greg-related fantasy, inspired by his fondness for the leather one in Greg’s flat. He wanted badly to touch Greg, to hold him still and watch his face while Mycroft did his best to take him apart. It was all he’d thought of for three long weeks.

The album of ballads from the last time they had been in this room together remained on the turntable. They had never made it past the A-side. Mycroft flipped it and tried to recall where in the order his favorite of the songs fell. He dropped the needle and flicked the power switch, and was pleased to hear the first chiming notes of “ Mad About The Boy .” 

He glanced over his shoulder to where Greg had become distracted perusing the bookshelves with Judy cuddled in his arms, one hand absently petting over her belly. 

She rarely tolerated such treatment from Mycroft, let alone anyone else. But then, Mycroft supposed it was possible that his cat took after him, and recognized in Greg something unnameable that made his touch essential to her happiness. 

Mycroft needed to catch his breath after that thought, and Greg looked up from the shelves just as the lyrics of the song began. 

“This again,” he said, grinning. “I like this one, very groovy sixties, don’t you think?”

“A bit,” Mycroft replied, suddenly unsure of what to do with himself. How to make what he wanted clear. 

Greg’s grin softened and he let Judy down gently, stooping to place her on her armchair before crossing the room to hold Mycroft’s waist between his hands, tip his lips up and kiss him. “You alright?”

“Fine,” Mycroft said, though his heart pounded and his thoughts raced. You must feel the same about me. The way you look at me sometimes. Will you say yes, when I ask you? Should I do it now?

“Wanna dance?” Greg asked, looking up through his lashes, dropping his voice down low and teasing, making it a joke that Mycroft could brush off if he wanted. 

“Yes,” Mycroft said. It left his mouth before he had fully realized how badly he wanted to do exactly that. He felt his face go hot with embarrassment. “Or. No, nevermind—” 

“Well now I’ll be disappointed if we don’t.” Greg slipped his left arm more fully around Mycroft’s waist and held up his right hand. 

“You plan to lead?”

He nodded. “Oh, yeah. I bet you took lessons as a kid, and I barely know how to do a box step. I need you at a slight disadvantage so I don’t look like a bull in a china shop in comparison.”

Mycroft laughed and took his hand, then draped his other arm around Greg’s shoulders instead of resting his palm lightly against the closest one as every girl in - yes - the lessons had been instructed to do. 

“I suggest we ignore things like steps and form,” he murmured. Greg was already beginning to sway him, pulling him in much, much closer than would be considered appropriate in polite company. Mycroft dipped his head, pressing their cheeks together. 

He felt like he could burst from this. He closed his eyes and let himself be swayed, let Greg tighten his arm around him. Tried not to let his breathing quicken the way his pulse had. 

Mycroft turned his face and pressed his lips gently to Greg’s bruised cheekbone. Greg drew in a sharp breath, his hand tightening in Mycroft’s. He rested his forehead against Mycroft’s shoulder, letting go of the breath with a sigh. Mycroft couldn’t believe his heart hadn’t simply punched its way out of his chest. This was more than he had ever imagined having, and yet it felt so perfectly natural and good that he felt vaguely stupid for having never known to want it. 

The next song started and Greg kept holding him, so Mycroft made no move to end it. He wanted to dance just like this for the rest of the B-side, if Greg would go along with it. He wanted to make it last and last. He drew back, full of unnameable warm feeling, and said, “I was offered a promotion before I left New York.”

Greg’s eyes lit up. His hand held Mycroft’s tighter. “What! Why didn’t you mention that before? That’s amazing!”

“I’m not sure I want to take it,” Mycroft admitted. “It’s a very good sign that it was offered, but there has recently been the implication that I am being given leeway to find my own place in the grand scheme. Anyway, this isn’t the only opportunity, just the first, and a very gratifying one to have been offered.”

Greg blinked. “Wait, that was a lot of politic nonsense.”

Mycroft laughed. “Not really. Just awkward. The fact is, this promotion would mean significant amounts of travel.”

“What,” Greg said, all teasing smiles and digging fingers, a sneaky tickle to Mycroft’s ribs even while they kept dancing. “You don’t want lots of hotel rooms on the nation’s dime? Fancy dinners out?” 

Mycroft shrugged one shoulder. “I’ve had a fair amount of that, and it turns out that fancy dinners out - or completely unfancy ones, even - are better in London.” He smiled down at Greg. “Where there is potential for good company.”

Greg huffed. “I’ve corrupted you, if you would rather do chinese takeaway with me.” 

“Well, you do tend to be shirtless, or recently so, when we have our takeaway dinners.” Mycroft felt himself grinning. “Can you blame me?”

Greg rolled his eyes. 

Mycroft swayed with him through another verse of the song. “I… What do you think?” 

This seemed to give Greg pause. “What do you mean?”

“Well…” Mycroft shifted his grip on Greg’s hand, adjusted his arm over his shoulder, reverting a bit to that old, stiff dance frame he’d been taught over a decade ago, so he could speak a little more clearly, get a better look at Greg’s face when he did. It hadn’t occurred to him that this might be how he broached the topic of their relationship, but he couldn’t pass by the opening. “I… I had hoped you might have an opinion about my potentially being gone that often. It would be like New York, but for longer stretches, possibly for most of the year sometimes.” 

Greg stopped swaying. “Why should I have an opinion?”

Mycroft’s heart stuttered. He didn’t intend to, but he held onto Greg’s hand more tightly, sensing that he would pull away otherwise. “Why wouldn’t you?”

“Mycroft.” Greg let go of him, hand tugging firmly out of Mycroft’s, and took a deliberate step back. “You can’t make decisions based on what I think. My opinion doesn't matter. That’s not… that’s not how this works.”

Mycroft wanted to reach for him, slip his fingers into the waist of the flannel bottoms, which were his, which he had handed Greg to wear after he woke up beside him earlier that evening. “I…” Mycroft struggled to understand where this was going, what he could do to save it. “What if I wanted it to work that way?” 

Greg shook his head. “It can’t.”

Mycroft took a step forward, and felt the first jolt of real fear speed through him when Greg matched it with his own step back. “It can,” Mycroft said. “Of course it can.”

Greg turned away, turned his back on him and ran both hands through his hair. “Shit,” he said, low and upset. “This is my fault.”

“What is your fault?” Mycroft crossed his arms over his chest, the only defence he could attempt here in this quiet place where no one else had been, with a record no one else had heard spinning on in the background, and him in his thin nightclothes. 

“I shouldn’t have let it get this far.” Greg paced away several steps before turning to face Mycroft again. “You have to understand, it would never work.”

“It already is working,” Mycroft said, refusing to sound desperate, though that was how he felt. 

Greg shook his head. “Mycroft, this isn’t what you want.”

“Don’t tell me what I want,” Mycroft snapped, though the flare of heat in his cheeks felt more like fear than anger. “I know what I want.”

“Do you?” Greg gestured between them. “This whole thing started because you wanted to get it over with, figure out how to get comfortable enough to find someone, someone right for you, without all the pressure, and—  and you were perfectly willing to pay me to help you do it.”

Mycroft reeled. “I did not call you knowing that you were a… a professional in that sense.”

“A hooker,” Greg said harshly. “A rentboy. Prostitute. You never say it.” 

“I didn’t know,” Mycroft insisted. “I don’t care. I’m sorry that I’m awkward, I… I rather thought you understood that about me. That you… didn’t mind.”

“It’s not about that,” Greg said, hand over his eyes for a moment. “Christ, Mycroft, you should care - and whether you realize it or not, on some level, you do.” He headed for the open door, the stairs down from the attic. “I should go.”

“No,” Mycroft said, angry and confused, convinced his blood had stopped pumping through his body. Everything felt suddenly very cold and unreal. “Greg—” 

He followed him down the stairs. 

“Please don’t do this,” he said to the back of Greg’s head. “I have never once cared about that. I don’t even think about it.”

“Other people would care,” Greg said, not turning to look at him, heading for the bedroom. “You know they would.”

“They wouldn’t know.”

“What, you don’t think I’d ever be subject to background checks, with your line of work? With you up for promotions?” Greg shot Mycroft a look over his shoulder. He flicked on the bedroom light and started to undress, switching Mycroft’s clothes for his own. 

“Stop.”

“No,” Greg said, low and gruff. “You know it would be easy for anyone looking for it to find out. You know it could ruin you. You know that.”

“No,” Mycroft insisted, because he didn’t know that, didn’t believe it. “It wouldn’t matter, believe me. I have some recourse, some pull with—” 

“A month ago you thought you’d been banished to a desk and abandoned.”

“I was wrong.” Mycroft laughed, on the edge of hysteria. “Apparently I’m wrong about a great many things. I thought you felt the same, I thought you had grown to care.”

Greg paused - froze - hands on the button of his jeans, having yanked them up while they argued. It was silent in the room as he buttoned them and let his hands drop. He spoke without looking up. “I do care,” he said. “I… feel the same.”

Mycroft, completely at a loss, threw up his hands. “Then I don’t understand.” 

“It doesn't matter,” Greg said, and suddenly the gruffness and the clipped words were gone. He sounded… horribly sad. “It doesn't matter how either of us feels now. You would never be able to forget it, Mycroft. Even if we could ignore the fact that we’re from completely different worlds - different universes, really. Even if we somehow got away with it, and it never came to light. You would always think of me that way.”

“I don’t think of you that way.”

He didn’t. Mycroft didn’t know how to make Greg see that, didn’t know how he could prove such a thing. He had the urge to reach out and shake him.

“But you do,” Greg insisted. “You thought you couldn’t even mention callgirls to me that night on the phone.”

“That?” Mycroft grit his teeth, furious at himself all over again. “I didn’t want you to think that the fact that they are callgirls was the part with which I took issue. I tried to explain that, and you refused to hear it.”

“But it’s just proof, don’t you see?” Greg reached for his shirt on the floor and straightened, shaking out the wrinkles. “It just shows that you’ll always have it in the back of your mind.”

“No,” Mycroft said, shaking his head, mind racing to catch up to this completely flawed and baseless argument. Greg buttoned his shirt over his vest and bent to pick up his shoes, carrying them out of the room. Mycroft stepped aside to let him pass, then realized what he was doing and followed, reaching out and catching him by the arm. “You can’t do this.”

“Yes,” Greg said. “I can. I have to.” 

“You said,” Mycroft tried. “You were the one to say we should proceed as friends, as if we met at the gallery.”

“I know I did. I shouldn’t have.”

Greg’s face was blank, his eyes refusing to meet Mycroft’s. 

“If we had met that night,” Mycroft said. “If we had met, and gone to your flat and… and if you had been patient—” Mycroft swallowed hard, furious with his voice for breaking. “Patient with me, and been with me, and helped me with Sherlock and taken me to Dorset… if we had just… would you have simply never told me? Never discussed your past with me, the way that you have?”

Greg shook his head, looked to the floor again, hiding his eyes. “Probably not,” he said, voice thick. “I wouldn’t have wanted you to know.”

“And you would have done all of this and ended it the moment I so much as vaguely indicated that it might be real,” Mycroft said numbly, “might be serious. Because you would be so very concerned for my career. You would have hurt me like this anyway. That’s what you want me to believe?”

“Yep,” Greg said sharply, dashing at his eyes with the heel of his hand before raising his head. His mouth was a miserable, flat line, but he was unflinching, gravely serious. “That’s what I want you to believe. I’m sorry.”

It hurt. Mycroft shook his head, frantic. “How could you do this? You want me, I know you do. I’m not an idiot, Greg. I was inexperienced, not a complete alien. I haven’t existed in a vacuum. I know what that looks like, I know how it feels, now.”

“Then you’ll know when you feel it again,” Greg said, voice shaking. “With someone better.” He shook his arm out of Mycroft’s grip. “I need to get out of here.”

“Please don’t,” Mycroft pleaded, not caring what he sounded like. He was starting to shake, the tension in his body converting to a rolling panic. “Please. Don’t you understand - I didn’t need to get it over with, I didn’t need to be comfortable. I needed the right person and the right person is you. I don’t want anyone else. I never have.”

“You will,” Greg said in the foyer. “Eventually, you will.”

“I am not a child,” Mycroft growled, fury and devastation warring and mixing in his chest. “I know myself. I didn’t, for a while, and now I do. This isn’t fair.” 

“Life isn’t fair,” Greg muttered. “Trust me, I know that. And I’m sorry, but you don’t get to just decide we’re in a real relationship now.” 

It was too much to bear. Mycroft’s grip on himself was slipping. He shouted, “You don’t get to decide that we haven’t been in one this entire time. Admit it! That’s what this is.”

Greg, pale and wide-eyed, stared across the foyer and nodded. “That is what this was,” he said quietly. “I can admit it.” 

“Don’t say was,” Mycroft demanded, his entire body cold with horror, frozen, his heart not beating - he was sure of it. “Please,” he said, weak and exhausted.  “Greg, please, I lo—” 

“I’m going, Mycroft,” Greg interrupted loudly, desperately. “Don’t say—  don’t follow me out.” 

Mycroft couldn’t get enough air, couldn’t uncement his feet from the floor, and couldn’t look away from Greg turning his back again, and leaving. The door clicked shut and Mycroft gasped, staggered, feeling it like a stab wound. Right between the ribs. That was where pain lived, for him; always, now, apparently. He clutched at his side, half-expecting to feel blood. He lurched toward the door.

“No,” he muttered under his breath. “No, no—” 

He flung open the door in time to hear the elevator door slide shut with a clank.



***



Alone in the flat, in the ringing silence, Mycroft couldn’t see, couldn’t feel anything or hear anything. He had become static; white noise. Panic was not an adequate word for what he felt. Heartbreak was inaccurate. He felt disemboweled. Sideswiped and broken in half. His legs were taken out from under him. He paid no mind to his surroundings, but by degrees did return to his body. The sitting room. 

The fucking sitting room. He hated it here. Hated that it was always empty, never changing. He was furious. White-hot with it, sharp and sudden. He had leaned, his hand catching on the nearest solid thing - some hideous tchotchke or another. 

Without thought or conscious intent, Mycroft picked it up, its weight unimportant, not registering with him, the input of new data unable to find a foothold in the soundless avalanche of his thoughts. 

Mycroft threw it. Hard. 

It smashed with a startling boom against the paneling to the left of the fireplace, much louder than it ought to have been, though Mycroft couldn’t understand why for a moment, could barely understand that what he had just heard was more hollow, metallic echo than the expected crack of woodwork. 

Mycroft, breathing heavily, didn’t perceive what had happened until he heard the creak. He froze. He turned, having paced away from the sideboard from which he had grabbed the thrown object. And blinked.

The paneling beside the fireplace had opened. Was teetering on broken hidden hinges. 

Mycroft could only stare at it, numb and blank. He’d found it. 

Uncle Rudy’s prank. 

The hidden cabinet that had not existed. Mycroft had been so sure. 

Mycroft had been so sure of so many things. 

Tears stung his eyes, an unstoppable burn, and his chest seized with the sob he tried to contain. 

He failed at that, only succeeding it making it more painful as it tore away from his throat, grief-stricken and enraged. 

Mycroft stumbled to the cabinet, the seamless door-that-was-not-a-door, and opened it with a trembling hand. 

He wept.

Chapter Text

In the cabinet, Mycroft found: 

Four bottles of near-priceless single-malt scotch, and one blended whiskey that would probably fetch an absurd sum at auction (all unopened); 

Several leather bound diaries, some written in Uncle Rudy’s familiar hand, some in Jeffrey’s; 

A tower of albums and bundles of photographs ranging from 1910 to 1976;

A hat box containing two squashed wigs; 

A pile of costume jewelry; 

Several super8 reels; 

Boxes of slides; 

Packets of negatives; 

Rolls of undeveloped film; 

Four thick bundles of letters; 

A lock of hair inside an onyx trinket box; 

Custom-made high heels (six pairs);  

File folders containing both heavily redacted and terrifyingly complete Documents dated just before through just after World War II; 

Medals; 

A stack of boxes containing carefully folded women’s clothing and Accoutrements including stockings, garters, gloves, and girdles; 

A makeup case; 

Several framed photographs; 

Two men’s jumpers that Mycroft recognized on sight, and could not bring himself to touch just yet; 

A pressed rose wrapped in yellowing tissue paper; 

The key to a paid-in-full storage unit and its insurance forms, which listed the contents as several boxes of clothing and one upright piano; 

Two simple gold rings; 

And an envelope with Mycroft’s name written carefully on the front, in the slightly shaky scrawl he remembered from Uncle Rudy’s last months. 

He barely took it all in. Mycroft felt very near the point of hyperventilation. The cabinet was more like a generous closet, stretching from the floor to just about Mycroft’s height, with shelves lining the sides and some items piled at the bottom.

Mycroft could only stare at it, his hands hovering before him now that he had taken stock. He was still nauseated, still completely unable to focus. 

He drew a sharp breath, grabbed one of the bottles of scotch and the envelope addressed to him, and ran away from the rest, heading for his cigarettes and the roof. 



***



Mycroft - 

You will know what to do with all of this when the time is right. If the time is never right, you will have to make it right. I trust and believe in you to do that which I was never quite brave enough to do myself. Until then, guard my secrets as your own. I never wanted you to hold as many as I have, and it is my fervent wish that you will never be asked to do so.  

There is nothing more valuable in this life than a companion. Thank you for being mine, these last years. I never needed an heir. Only a kindred spirit. 

Do try not to be shocked, my boy. We are all of us many, many things. And now you have all of the things that I was. Forgive the drama of a secret hiding place. I simply could not resist. 

R.V. 



***



Mycroft woke well past noon, his head pounding and his body utterly drained in every possible way. But his mind, suddenly, was very clear. 

He gently removed Judy from around his head and took himself into a scalding shower, imagining that the water could burn off the topmost layer of skin and leave him completely new, undamaged, with cells that had never been hurt before. 

He fed the cat, and then himself. He thanked whichever gods might be listening for his having had the forethought to request leave for today and the next day as jet lag recovery, and spared a thought for his immediate supervisor, who had called just an hour before Mycroft boarded his plane to offer him the full week. 

A break well-earned, he had said. You may have singed their eyebrows a bit on the way out, but you saved us more time than will need to be spent unruffling feathers. 

Mycroft stood in front of the secret cabinet. He had knocked on every single wood panel in the house when he read the note attached to the paperwork in Uncle Rudy’s desk. The Fabergé decorative clock had apparently just the correct amount of heft, when thrown with great force, to unstick the hinges. It had broken the latch. The door wouldn’t close now. 

There was no way to hide the memories he had unearthed. 

He briefly considered boxing all of it up and dumping it in the study, telling himself he would go through it when he was ready, in the same way he had told himself he would redecorate said study when he was ready, gut the ugly sitting room when he was ready, admit that he was lonely when he was ready, start living when he was ready. 

Mycroft reached for the letters first. 



***

 

10 Oct 1924

Write to RJ to reach me stop 

Mother having deans at school spy for her stop 

Thinking of you every day RV 

6:27 P.M.

 

***

 

22 December 1924

J- 

Why haven’t you written? Sending this with Roberta so Mother won’t suspect. She will wait there for your response. I am home for Christmas and long to see you. Please write back. 

RV

 

***

 

28 Dec 1932

Rudy,

I hope this message finds you well. You looked well at Christmas. I was so glad to see you at Isabelle’s. I’m sending this note with the boy bringing the post up the hill in the hope that you can meet me in the village pub. It would be nice to catch up. I believe I owe you explanations. An apology, many years too late. I hope you will come.

Jeff

 

***

 

6 June 1936

Rudy, 

I miss you. I miss you I miss you I miss you I miss you I miss you I miss you I miss you I miss you I miss you 



***

 

Mycroft laughed, flipping the page. The words repeated all the way to the bottom, where cramped letters read: Bring me something very cheap and very gaudy to remember your trip by. I’ll sleep with it next time you go. 

He hadn’t known that Jeffrey and Rudy met each other so early on. They must have been children, to be familiar while Rudy was away at boarding school. Right? Perhaps not, Mycroft thought. It was entirely possible that they met, somehow, on a holiday break. Mycroft had vaguely known that Jeffrey grew up in the same region as Uncle Rudy. They made mention of places, landmarks, events they remembered which indicated that much. 

But it had never occurred to Mycroft to ask them how or when they met, because it was well after Jeffrey’s death that it occurred to him that such a question should be asked. He hadn’t realized the nature of their relationship, not fully. It left an ache in his chest now, realizing what he could have had in them. Not just his enigmatic, heroic uncle and the somewhat odd, cheerful man who always seemed to be around. 

They would have been bottomless sources of memory and advice, had Mycroft known to ask. And now he never would. He might never know what caused the gap in their letters between 1924 and 1932. He might never know if Jeffrey had been afraid. If he had gone to war. Mycroft thought he must have. They were both the right age for it, but he knew Rudy had been exempted due to a heart condition developed after a bout of scarlet fever when he was a child. That, and much more, had been in Rudy’s diaries, which Mycroft had read years prior in the dusty storage unit.

All of this, however, was entirely new data, and Mycroft found himself unable to stop taking it in once he had started. 

The letters were frequent from the reunion in the 30s until the end of the war. They became spaced out after that, and then tapered off to a trickle in the 50s - when they had taken possession of the flat after Rudy’s mother died and left it to him. There were a few birthday cards at the bottom of the stack. Mycroft opened one, nearly had an aneurysm when he read the provocative message inside, and decided not to open any more of those, for now. 

The letters took all of Tuesday and well into that night to read through, and in a strange way their warmth and intimacy soothed his thousand-dollar-whiskey hangover and allowed him to ignore his own shredded heart, losing himself in someone else’s life instead. 

Jeffrey had hated Rudy traveling. Rudy had been jealous of Jeffrey’s bohemian friends, suspicious of one particular fellow named Harding. The handwritten row over whether Jeffrey had cheated and whether Rudy had half a brain in his skull spanned sixteen letters sent first between London and Berlin, and then between Rudy’s flat in Kensington and Jeffrey’s temporary lodging in Paris. 

Mycroft would need to cross-reference all of this with the photographs and diaries. 

He lay on the sofa, a chenille throw blanket and Judy covering him from chest to toes, the letters in two stacks on the floor within reaching distance. Mycroft read them at random until his attention caught on Uncle Rudy’s short missives during the war, when Mycroft knew he had spent time in the States, instrumental in the formation of the OSS. 

It turned out Jeffrey, classified as a non-combatant, had recently completed training as a nurse, his career as a musician on hold for the second war in their lifetime, and had spent time working at a field hospital in France. 

Mycroft could not believe he had never wondered about Jeffrey’s profession, his life. By the time Mycroft had been old enough to understand that adults had lives, Jeffrey was long retired. As far as Mycroft knew, he’d volunteered for various charities. He had always thought Jeffrey must come from old money, like Rudy. But as he read, it became stunningly clear that he hadn’t. 

In an anniversary card from 1966, Rudy had written: My greatest pleasure is providing a good and happy life for you. Thank you for allowing me to do it. 

Mycroft tapped the edge of this one against his fingers and closed his eyes, suddenly feeling unbearably fond of them both. 

He remembered Jeffrey teasing him gently, calling him Little Rudy, and only now understood that it had been an expression of love. The highest compliment. 



***



Back at work the following Monday, Mycroft felt as if he had recently emerged from an alternate universe; a time machine, perhaps. He felt utterly hollow on the long walk to the office, and vaguely sick. He’d eaten too much sugar, imbibed too much scotch, and avoided his bed as though it was full of nails. It may as well have been. He was afraid that if he caught a whiff of Greg on the pillows he might burn the entire thing. 

Whenever the thought had occurred to him, he had called Greg’s number. There was never an answer, no matter what time he called. 

Larry was away on assignment again, and Alicia was gone for good. Mycroft was alone in the office, but found it impossible to take advantage of the rare silence. Getting anything done seemed an impossible feat. He had planned to turn over a new leaf with the new week, put something green, with nutritional value into his system. Instead, at lunch time he drowned himself in the sweet escape of butter and sugar, spending an obscene amount on a paper bag stuffed with pastries from the upscale bakery nearby. 

When he returned to the office, Geraldine from one office over was waiting in the lobby for him. 

“Your phone wouldn’t stop ringing,” she said. “Your mother was calling. It’s your brother? I wasn’t sure where to find you, I’m sorry.”

Mycroft wished the world would drop out from beneath him and that the remaining void would swallow him whole. He breathed. 

“Where?”

“St. Bart’s,” she said.



***



Mycroft’s mother asked him, white-faced and trembling, to take care of it. His father, more emotional than Mycroft had ever seen him, only squeezed his arm tightly, half clap on the shoulder, half desperate grip, as if trying to tether Mycroft to Earth, or perhaps thanking him for never needing to be. 

Ironically, Mycroft had felt completely cut off from the present, from his body, since long before he arrived at the hospital. 

Still, he took care of it. Made phone calls, and spoke with doctors. Sat at Sherlock’s bedside and took more of his anger, again. Copied down a list dictated in Sherlock’s flattest, most unconcerned monotone. 

“You would be in the facility, no visitors, no leaving, for six weeks,” he told Sherlock, who refused to look at him. 

“I will lose my mind,” he growled, staring resolutely at the ceiling. 

“You won’t,” Mycroft murmured. “You will be surprised, Sherlock, what torture you can take and still remain whole. That you believe six weeks of rest and therapeutic treatment is enough to take you apart only speaks to your naivete. You have no idea how bad it can get. You have no concept of pain.”

“Fuck you, Mycroft,” Sherlock said, voice wet with tears, and he turned on his side, showing him his back. “Get out.”

“I won’t see you until late June,” Mycroft said. “But I will see you, Sherlock. I will visit as soon as I am allowed. And I will try to help you.”

“Too little, too late, brother mine,” Sherlock replied. 

Mycroft wished he could still touch him, the way he would have when they were children. He desperately wanted to, wanted Sherlock to let him. Sherlock would sooner bite his hand off. 

“I hope not,” Mycroft said softly instead, and let himself out of the room. 

After that, it was a matter of catching his parents up on the arrangements, and taking his leave. 

In the taxi home, Mycroft nearly asked the driver to pull over twice, sure both times that he was about to vomit.

Sherlock had overdosed behind their parents’ garden shed. He used to hide there, as a child, insisting faeries lived there. That he would see one any day now. 

Mycroft didn’t vomit. He made it home. He would make it to work tomorrow. 

He would not think about how desperately he wanted - needed - Greg. 



***



There was a photo, one of hundreds laying in wait in the secret cabinet, of Jeffrey holding a tiny bundle.

On the back: J and Mycroft, 1966

There was another, in one of the frames, of Uncle Rudy at his desk, a tiny boy - Mycroft - perched on his knee and reaching for a crystal paperweight. Jeffrey stood behind, one hand braced on the desk, lips pressed to Rudy’s cheek, and the other hand gently holding the boy back from climbing fully onto the desk. 

Mycroft found a stack of photos corresponding to that time, all of them taken in the flat which now belonged to him, and all of them featuring himself around the age of two. The photos spanned a period of about seven months, from what Mycroft could tell. His own parents only featured in one, at Christmas. 

For this, Mycroft finally raided the diaries - not Rudy’s, though there were a few in the cabinet, because they were coded and Mycroft was in no mood - but Jeffrey’s, which made up the bulk of the hidden leather volumes. There were dozens, but they were meticulously dated. It was no trouble to find the ones covering the late 1960s. 

What he read was painful, and touching. 

He covered his eyes with one hand, rubbing at dry, tired lids. Mycroft had no tears, no grief left. Just exhaustion. It was the middle of the night, and he was obsessed, for whatever reason, with this. These lives, which were long over. 

Rudy could adopt, Jeffrey had written. Pretending there is no me, he would be fantastic on paper. Money, influence, connections, civic-mindedness. But the child would, in fact, be mine to care for. I want that. I have wanted that my entire life, to be a father. It always felt like a cruel joke, that I would never. But he could do this for me, and he will not. He believes it is only that I miss Mycroft, from our little stint as stand-ins, guardians. And I do. More than that, I miss being sure in myself, and willing to ask for what I need. While Rudy practically becomes MI5, what do I become? What do I do, but rattle around this house each day, me and three cats, and nothing else. He is afraid that I want to leave, but that is perhaps the worst of it. I don’t. I could never. 

Mycroft paged further back in the diary. His mother had been ‘unwell,’ according to Jeffrey’s neat hand. Had ‘struggled with these early days of motherhood, which is only understandable with a mind like hers.’  

Rudy had worried for his nephew’s wellbeing. His brother-in-law worked too much, and was at a loss. Violet, having not inherited much, was unable to rely entirely on family money. There was no time for Sigur to take in order to step in. Someone had to work. I suggested that we take the boy on until Vi is well again, Jeffrey wrote. And I am shocked to have been indulged with a yes. But then, Rudy - as much as he claims to dislike children - is a doting great-uncle, and is anxiously awaiting the little tyke’s arrival just as much as I am. 

My entire life has been spent missing someone, Jeffrey wrote weeks after Mycroft’s parents came to collect him. 

He had to put the diaries away, then. 



***



Alicia forced him to invite her to his place for drinks the following week. 

“Allow me admittance into the Temple, Oh Silent One,” she intoned over the phone, having called his office line claiming to be bored at home. “For I fear you are reverting to old ways, and may atrophy if you don’t open that mouth and speak to someone.”

“What is this impression you are attempting to do?” Mycroft rolled his eyes. “And how would you know what I’m reverting to? You aren’t even here.”

“Dunno,” she said cheerily. “Probably something from an old episode of Doctor Who. Honestly, Mycroft, I don’t need to be there to know you are being a certain way. I am attempting, of course, to make a joke at your expense, for living in what I assume is monastic silence, in the stuffiest flat in all of Britain.”

“Yes, I did catch that,” Mycroft said wryly. He sighed. “I don’t need company.”

“Well, I do,” she said. “My engagement party is coming up and I’m in a complete panic. I would prefer to hear someone else’s problems, and we both know that you have many. So?”

Mycroft sighed and acquiesced, and that was how, later that night, he ended up having to explain why part of his wall was hanging open. 

“Christ,” Alicia breathed, glancing inside. “Your life is a bad novel, Holmes.”

“I am aware,” Mycroft muttered. “Anyway, I have half a bottle of scotch so expensive that we should insure our livers for having had the honor processing it. It’s upstairs in the library. Shall we?”

Alicia’s eyes flared. “You never let anyone up to the library,” she breathed, referring of course to the very few gatherings he had hosted early on in his residence in the flat, when he had stolidly refused to let anyone see beyond the terrible sitting room. 

“You are not special,” he told her as he motioned for her to follow him upstairs. “I am just tired, and hate this room.”

“I knew it,” she crowed. “You are such a masochist, my god.”

“Oh, shut up,” he snipped, and reached out to yank her up the stairs by the hand. 



***



“Well,” Alicia said, hours later, with a quiet hiccup. She held up a photo, one of the later, golden-hued ones in the bundles Mycroft had begun sorting into chronological and location order. “How d’you think old bigot Henders would feel, knowing his idol was a crossdresser at the weekend?”

Mycroft snorted into his scotch. “God,” he said. “I shouldn’t be showing you any of this. These secrets are supposed to be ‘guarded as my own.’” 

Alicia set aside the photo - dated 1971 and featuring a beautifully made up Rudy and a beaming Jeffrey at the center of a group of other colorful characters - and leaned her chin on her hand, elbow on her bent knee, wobbling a little with the alcohol in her system.

“Mycroft,” she said. “I would never tell anyone about any of this. I hope you know that.”

Mycroft made a noncommittal, unconcerned sort of sound and stretched out along the sofa with a groan.

“No,” she leaned forward, catching herself on one hand to avoid falling over. “I really wouldn’t. I would never tell anyone anything you told me in confidence. I am your ally, Mycroft, despite what you may think. Rivalries aside, how easily you let me goad you aside, I will always be your ally.”

Mycroft scoffed, rolled his head to the side, and narrowed his eyes at her. “Why?”

She scoffed right back at him. “Because, you idiot, you were the only boy I knew who never tried to fuck me once we were older.”

“Well,” Mycroft drawled. “There are obvious reasons for that.”

“It doesn't matter,” she said. “Safe men are to be valued in this world, and I value you. Besides, you also are the only boy I knew who never questioned my intelligence just because I’ve got tits, and believe me, that’s not a tendency exclusive to heterosexual men. That’s to be valued too, unfortunately. I realize the bar is very, very low, but. You far surpass it, anyway.”

“Straight men are truly terrible,” Mycroft sighed. “And I am sorry to say that, by and large, men full stop are rather pointless. Are you certain you want to live with one forever?”

“Unfortunately,” Alicia replied. “Listen. I don’t want to talk about Michael, so don’t ask.”

“Believe me, I wasn’t planning on it.”

“What about Greg?”

Mycroft closed his eyes, hid his face behind his arm. “I don’t want to talk about Greg, so don’t ask.”

“Sod that,” she said, incredulous. “You’re finished with him already? Really? He’s so…”

“I know what he’s so,” Mycroft snapped nonsensically. “Believe me.”

Alicia was quiet for a while. “You’re sad,” she said finally. “Please stop being sad, and go back to him.”

“I am not in the position to go back to anything. Saying so implies that I was the one who departed the arrangement.” 

“Do you talk like that in bed? Maybe that’s why he departed.”

Mycroft gasped, affronted, and removed his arm from his face to glare at her. “Bitch!”

“Mycroft,” Alicia sighed. “I’m so drunk.”

“I’ll pay for your cab home.”

“What?” she teased. “Are we not at the ice cream in bed stage? We could cuddle, Mycroft.”

“In fact,” he said, rolling to stagger off of the sofa. “I will call you a taxi now.”

She laughed and waylaid him, forced him to look at more photos with her, these from a time during which two men appeared at their very happiest, in their golden years. 

Mycroft found himself relating what he remembered from that time, in the years just before Jeffrey’s death, when he spent summers and some weekends in London. He found himself oddly tender, tracing their faces in the photos. 

“You know,” Alicia said quietly. “It is rather an insult to their memory, you keeping this place half a mausoleum.” 

Mycroft sighed. “Yes,” he murmured. 

Alicia kissed his cheek and stood, moving on unsteady legs for the stairs out of the attic. “I’m calling the cab,” she said. “Come walk me out.”

He did, leaving the photo in his hand on the floor for the time being: a grinning Rudy, in his usual post-workday uniform of shirtsleeves and waistcoat, a sparkling evening gown draped over both arms, presenting it to the camera with one quirked eyebrow.

Chapter Text

By the time Greg stood waiting for Paul’s train to arrive, he was sure he had a handle on himself. He’d managed his exams, his last meeting with Dr Bakshi until next term, and a day of orientation at the new clinic. His last day at the center was a day away, and he was managing his feelings about that just fine, as well. He’d allowed himself to lean on Silvana a bit, even, telling her in vague terms about the shambles of his personal life and getting dragged to a karaoke night for his troubles. On the bright side, he’d met Harry again, and it turned out she was a great time. Drank like a fish. 

He’d even called and made an appointment with a therapist. Silvana had been a bit forceful about that, after he woke up on her sofa post-karaoke, and she informed him that he had been sobbing into Harry’s hair until three in the morning, something about Freddie Mercury and loneliness. He wasn’t looking forward to the first appointment, which would take place on Monday. 

Still, he had a feeling it would make Paul happy when he told him about it. 

Greg fidgeted, waiting for the train to arrive, hoping he looked better today than he’d looked recently. He wasn’t hungover or exhausted; had eaten and showered and cleaned the apartment. Had done his laundry and got a haircut. 

He had not thought of Mycroft. He was not allowing himself to think about him, even as he thought about the fact that he had not thought about him. 

The last thing he wanted to do was worry Paul. Paul had bigger things to worry about. Greg needed to step up, be better. A better friend, less of a mess. 

He waited by the newsagents on the concourse, their traditional meeting place, and told himself to remain calm and be perfectly normal. 

Of course, the moment he felt gentle fingers closing around his wrist, before he even turned to see Paul, bag slung over his shoulder and ginger hair mussed from hours on the trains, Greg’s resolve was wrecked. 

He turned, already crumbling, and gasped, yanking Paul into a hug so tight he worried he might dislocate his own shoulders. 

“Oh,” Paul squeezed back immediately, bag dropping beside their feet. “Oh, sweet boy, it’s alright.”

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Greg said, tight, and breathed him in. “Fuck, I’m so glad.”

“Me too,” Paul murmured. “Me too, come on now, people are going to think you’re trying to strangle me. Shh, it’s alright.” 

Greg released him and took comfort in the fact that, while that had been nowhere near cool and collected, at least he hadn’t started crying.

“Sorry,” he said. “Rough couple of weeks.”

“I know,” Paul said, and Greg was thankful he didn’t elaborate. It had been awful enough over the phone, admitting to him that he had pulled the plug on his arrangement with Mycroft in the worst possible way. He certainly didn’t want to discuss it in the middle of Paddington Station. “It’s alright. I’ll hug you a hundred times this weekend, make up for all the time I’m not here to do it.”

Greg closed his eyes, nodded. “Good,” he said roughly. “Fine. Let’s get the fuck out of here, please.”

Paul chuckled and picked up his bag. “Oh no, not an emotion,” he teased gently. “Come on, pay for a taxi for me. I’m in no mood for the tube. Trains are the bloody worst.”

Greg let himself be guided, let himself be drawn into a story about a couple on the train who had fought for half the journey, then practically jumped each other for the rest of it. 



***



That night, after a take away dinner on the sofa, Paul regaling Greg with tales of Morris’ recent adventures in dance ( He just isn’t a rhythmic person, Greg, I don’t know how to break it to him. It’s unfortunate, but he has to stick with seated numbers. Facts are facts!), there was a lull. 

They sat quietly, the news buzzing on in the background. Paul pretended to be entranced by Seven, wiggling his fingers in front of him to try and get him to play, while Seven simply stared, unimpressed. Greg, for his part, picked imaginary lint off his jeans. 

“Greg,” Paul said meaningfully.

Greg sighed. “I can’t,” he said. “I can’t talk about it.”

“Why?”

“Because it hurts,” he murmured. “Everything hurts, you know? All the time, it feels like.”

Paul turned in his seat, one knee drawn up against the back of the sofa. “I know that,” he said. “It’s awful, being us, sometimes.” 

“Yep.” Greg tore his gaze away from his jeans and was nearly undone by the openness of Paul’s face. “Oh god, don’t get all… don’t be nice to me.” 

Paul reached out and snagged Greg’s hand off the sofa cushions. “I want to be nice to you. I was too harsh last time.”

“No, you weren’t.”

“I was,” he insisted. “Greg, look, I know how hard it is to trust people, to trust the concept of people who genuinely want you around, when you grow up the way we did. Was I angry with you? Were my feelings hurt? Yes. But I know you’re angry, too. I know you’re hurting. I’m hurt for you. You don’t need me to shout at you now.” 

Greg shuddered and looked away. “Well, I’m going to a therapist on Monday. It’s not really your job to fix whatever’s wrong with me.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” Paul said gently, and tugged on Greg’s hand. “Come here. Come on.” 

And Greg went, letting Paul guide him down, letting his head rest on Paul’s thigh and letting him pet gently at his hair. 

“I’m not trying to fix you, dummy.” Paul clicked his tongue against his teeth. “Just let me do this. Okay?”

Greg sniffed and squeezed his eyes shut, only able to nod, afraid to use his voice. 

“Good,” Paul said. “Now you might have to do this for me tomorrow, so just know that I expect reciprocity.”

Greg huffed and nodded again. Paul didn’t say anything more. Just sat and smoothed his fingers through Greg’s hair over and over again, until he fell asleep. 



***

 


Greg’s last day at the center involved a surprise sheet cake, lots of handmade ‘Good Luck’ cards, and a post-shift confab with Silvana. 

“Please come back,” she pleaded. “I don’t know what we’re going to do without you all summer.”

Greg laughed. “I think you’ll survive,” he said. 

“Well yeah,” she said. “But I won’t like it.” 

Greg handed her a stack of progress notes from the day. “My final paperwork,” he said. “And yes, of course I want to come back.”

“Good!” She tossed the paperwork aside, and he cringed - he’d ordered them alphabetically and everything. “ Also, I demand regular jazzy drinks nights. Promise not to get you so drunk you have to sleep on the sofa again.”

Greg winced. “That was… you know, not a great week for me.”

Silvana hummed. “Yeah. I know. You get an answering machine yet?”

He nodded. “I did. He hasn’t actually left me any messages. Guess he wasn’t the one calling all that time.”

“Maybe it was him, and he doesn't want to bother you now.”

Greg shrugged. “Dunno. I’m trying not to think about it.”

“Sorry.” Silvana patted his arm. “Subject change: plans tonight?”

“Yes, actually,” Greg said, relieved to be off the topic of Mycroft. He was glad to have told Silvana, though he had couched it in terms of a casual arrangement gone wrong, with very little detail. But he didn’t want to talk about it now. “My best friend’s in town. We grew up together. Sort of… dated a bit? He’s visiting from Dorset.”

“Oh?” Silvana raised an eyebrow. 

Greg chuckled. “He’s taken, Sil, and the dating bit is ancient history.”

“Boo,” she pouted. “Well, fine. I was going to invite you to get farewell drinks with all of us, which you would have hated. Good on you for having an out.” 

“Wasn’t intentional,” he said. “Promise. But we should meet up soon, okay? Swear to god I won’t be a hermit all summer.” 

Silvana tsked and surprised him with a hug. “Good,” she said. “I’ll miss you around here. Hug me back, hurry up.”

Greg laughed and did, giving her a squeeze. He realized he never hugged anyone this way, just to do it, just friendly with no intent behind it - at least, not someone who wasn’t Paul or Morris. Though he couldn’t remember, he supposed he hugged his mum and maybe even his dad and Fiona this way. But Silvana was the first person in a very long time. And he liked it. 

“Thanks, Sil,” he said, hoping that covered the many things he was grateful for.

“Thank you, Greg,” she replied, and released him with a slap to his shoulder. “Now get out of here before I beg you to stay.” 

“Well, that would be embarrassing,” he teased, and let her shove him out of the closet-turned-breakroom, laughing. 



***



“Take me the fuck out,” Paul demanded, letting himself in with the spare key not long after Greg arrived home from work. 

Greg looked up from his book - one he had decided to read just for fun, now that he had the time. “I have the strangest sense of deja vu,” he said. 

“Seriously, Greg.” Paul dropped beside him on the sofa. “That was horrendous.”

He set aside his book, worried. “You’re alright, though?”

Paul waved a hand. “Yeah, fine,” he said. “I just. Hate it.”

Greg shifted, turning sideways so he could see Paul straight on. Or, at least, he could see Paul’s profile, since Paul was taking a page out of Greg’s playbook and staring down at his hands. “Paul.”

Paul looked up, shutters down over his eyes. “I don’t want to talk about bloody HIV, Greg. I don’t. Want. To talk. About it.” He grabbed Greg by the front of his t-shirt. “Please can we go do something fun?”

Greg gave in, the steps to this dance very familiar, and let Paul drag him up off the sofa. “Yes, we can do something fun,” he said. “Anything you want, bossy. So what will it be?”

Paul took him by the shoulders, eyes lighting up, shutters falling away. “Greg, take me dancing.”

“Oh, god.”

“Morris never takes me dancing anymore, says he hates it now.” Paul shook Greg gently. “I know you hate it, but please?”

Greg let himself be shaken, feigning more hesitance than he felt. He didn’t hate clubs, they just weren’t his first choice of a way to spend Friday night. But Paul had loved them from the moment they were old enough to get in, or at least sneak in, and Greg remembered the way Paul and Morris had been when they first met, always out, always involved in a party. 

They had been firmly together, and also wildly open. Greg had witnessed more than one (sometimes two at a time) handsome young thing leaving their bedroom in the morning, back when he was at UCL and would visit their flat in Islington some weekends. He knew, also, from a conversation with a stoned-off-his-face Morris years ago, that Morris’ guilt about all of it had nearly ruined them. The fact that he and Paul had lived the exact same life in those days - had often been fucking the exact same people at the exact same time - and yet Morris had sidestepped the virus and Paul had not, was his greatest regret, the deepest source of guilt in his life. 

Greg had sat with him outside the old flat, chain smoking after they’d told Greg about the positive test result, and listened as Morris said, hollow, that he wished it had been him. That it should have been. Greg supposed he didn’t blame Morris for slamming a door on the past. But he knew that Paul had actively grieved a life he had lived with relish. 

“Of course I’ll take you dancing,” Greg said finally, after he let Paul beg a bit longer. “I’ll even let you choose my shirt, come on.”

“And it’s not even my birthday,” Paul sighed, giving Greg a rough, grateful squeeze before dragging him around the shelves to make a fuss over his closet. 



***



“Do a shot with me!” Paul passed Greg a glass of clear liquid, shouting to be heard over the music. “Just vodka!” 

Greg made a face, holding it away from his face. “Ugh—” 

“Just do it,” Paul wheedled, leaning into Greg’s side to be heard over the pumping music. “Everyone’s on X here. If I’m putting up with that, I’m getting pissed!”

Greg laughed and rolled his eyes. “Fine!” 

“Cheers, love!”

Greg hated vodka, and had to chase the taste away with the pint in his other hand. “The things I do for you!” 

“Thank you, Greg!” Paul sang into his ear. “Should we find you someone to rub up against? Might do you some good.”

“No!” Greg shouted, shaking his head furiously. “Absolutely not!”

Paul shrugged and plucked Greg’s beer from his hand, draining it in one gulp. “Okay! One more! I’m getting something fruity, plus another shot! You too!” 

Greg groaned, but halfheartedly. Paul’s eyes had lit up on the tube, when he’d realized where they were going. Oh Gregory, you’re taking me to Heaven? You do love me!

And he did. He loved watching Paul in his element, and always had. He could remember being all of twelve years old and wide-eyed with amazement as he watched Paul, a little older and a lot tougher, transform himself according to any situation. He could remember being sixteen, snuck into a club much smaller and less glamorous than this one, and watching Paul turn into liquid on a dancefloor, watching him be charming and sexy and bold. It had burned him, then, filling him with the strangest mix of arousal and jealousy. 

Now, knocking back his second shot and being told to chug his third beer, Greg felt oddly at-home for the first time in a long time. Paul dragged him onto the dancefloor then, and Greg only dug his heels in a little, a token protest.

He half expected Paul to do what he’d always done in the ancient past: throw Greg at the nearest cute tall bloke, then go off to find someone more his type to dance with. Instead, he hauled Greg in by the belt loops and danced with him, grinning and gorgeous in the flashing lights. 

“Do you remember this song ?” He shouted into Greg’s ear, hands warm on his waist. 

He remembered the song. 

Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away…

Greg nodded, and Paul grinned wider, and then he surprised Greg again by leaning in and kissing him. For a fleeting moment it flared hot, a feeling like muscle memory prompting him to part his lips, followed by a familiar stirring of butterflies. Greg reflexively pressed one hand to Paul’s cheek, holding him there, holding their lips together a little longer, even as the flash flood of desire drained away as fast as it had come and left only fondness and amusement behind. Paul leaned away, laughing, and squeezed Greg’s cheeks between his thumb and his fingers, another old familiar action: ‘ so cute!’ Greg laughed, shaking his head, and guided Paul’s arms over his shoulders, wrapping his own arms around Paul’s slim waist. He let Paul guide him to the beat, and just kept dancing. 



***



Later, Paul crawled into bed beside him, a little drunk and a lot worn out. “I needed that,” he sighed. 

“You’ll never believe this,” Greg murmured back, “but so did I.”

“Oh, I believe it,” Paul drawled. “You can pretend to be boring but I know better.” He yawned and rolled, pressing his face to Greg’s shoulder. “I love you so much.” 

“I know you do,” Greg said. “I love you, too.”

“You’re getting better at hearing it.” Paul tried to pat him on the head, but succeeded in simply pawing at his face. “Saying it, too.”

Greg hummed, not sure what to say to that. 

“You should call him, Greg.”

“Go to sleep, nosy,” he replied. 

Paul scoffed and gave Greg’s right nipple a vicious pinch, finding it in the dark and through his t-shirt without a problem. 

Greg shouted and smacked his hand away. “You fucker, how do you do that?”

“I’m gifted,” Paul said. And with that, he pressed a kiss to Greg’s shoulder and passed out. 



***



Paul was gathering up his things and Greg was busying himself with wiping down the already clean kitchen table in order to distract from the fact that in less than an hour he would be alone in the flat once more, when the phone rang. 

“You’re not going to answer?” Paul checked, though they’d had this conversation more than once since Thursday. “You’re just going to screen your calls until the end of time? It hasn’t been him all weekend. Maybe he’s giving you your space?”

While Paul talked, the machine picked up and the tone sounded. 

Greg paused, washrag in hand, waiting as he always did to see if he needed to pick up. 

“Greg, hello. It’s… It’s Mycroft.” 

“Holy fucking shit,” Paul gasped, turning wide eyes to Greg, who was frozen at the table. 

“I… have no idea what to say to a machine. To be completely honest I was sure you wouldn’t pick up. What I mean to say is—”

“Answer it!” Paul cried. 

Greg, standing stiffly with his arms crossed over his middle, glared at him and shook his head sharply. 

“What I mean to say is that I didn’t expect to have any way to say any of the things I want to say. And now that I do, I can’t… I can’t. Please call. I won’t call you again, knowing that you will have heard this. Just. Please call.”

The call clicked and ended. 

“Greg.”

“Nope,” he snapped. “Don’t.”

Paul sighed. “Tell the therapist about it tomorrow, then.” 

Greg threw down the rag and shoved his way around the table, knocking into it painfully with his hip. “Fuck off,” he ground out, heading for the loo because it was the only place in the flat with a door he could slam. 

“You fuck off,” Paul said flatly, like he was bored, then shouted after him: “You’re hurting him, Greg! And yourself!”

Greg did slam the door to the bathroom, and wrenched on the shower so he could hyperventilate in peace. But then the panic didn’t come. Only a dragging sense of sadness that seemed to drain all his energy at once. Greg leaned against the sink, hands gripping its sides, and stared at himself in the mirror. 

Part of him knew Paul was right, but another part of him insisted that it didn’t matter. Of course it hurt - for both of them - but that didn’t change the facts, the reality of all of it. 

He had made a serious mistake, getting involved with Mycroft. Even if he had been able to keep it casual, it would’ve been a bad call. He was supposed to be focusing, after all. He was meant to be working toward a life that would allow him to maybe turn his attention to things like partners and love and… and whatever came after that. The sort of thing Paul and Morris had, maybe. Something close to it. Greg wasn’t entirely sure it was possible for most people to achieve that. His parents certainly hadn’t. He thought maybe Mina and Louis had, but he’d only been around them a bit and couldn’t be sure. 

He did know there was no way. There was just no way, to have such a thing with Mycroft.  

It didn’t matter if it felt like maybe… or if he had hoped like hell. It just didn’t.

Greg washed his face and turned off the shower. Took a deep breath and shook out his hands. 

He didn’t want Paul to leave upset with him. He didn’t want Paul to leave while Greg was annoyed. 

He left the bathroom and found Paul wiping down the worktop now, having retrieved the rag from where Greg had thrown it. 

“It’s clean,” said Greg gruffly. 

“I am aware of that,” Paul said, tossing the rag in the sink. “Are you quite finished?”

“Paul.”

He turned to Greg, unimpressed. “Listen to me very carefully: you are sabotaging yourself.” 

Greg sighed. “I don’t want to fight with you. We have to leave for the train in ten minutes. Please, please, please can we drop it.”

Paul threw up his hands. “Fine! Yes! Of course we can! Jesus Christ!” 

And then it was his turn to stomp off to the loo.

Chapter Text

Mycroft answered the phone, sure that it would be his mother, or possibly a telemarketer. 

“Hello?”

“Mycroft.”

He paused, sure that he must be mistaken and didn’t, in fact, recognize the voice. “...speaking?” 

“It’s Paul.”

Mycroft reeled, catching himself with a hand to the back of a kitchen chair. “How— ?” 

“I dialed 1471 after you left that message for Greg yesterday,” Paul replied, crisp and matter-of-fact. “I was visiting. He’s an idiot. What did I tell you, back in April? Hm?”

Mycroft blinked, eyes staring at nothing. “What?”

“I told you,” Paul said slowly, “that you might have to tell him more than once.”

Christ. Mycroft closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose. “I have been trying,” he muttered. “He doesn't answer the phone. I doubt he’ll call now that I’ve left the message - which, by the way, I am mortified to know that you heard.”

“You shouldn’t be,” said Paul briskly. “I knew you were gone for him. That message was proof enough, had there been any doubt. Which there hadn’t. Been. Fuck! I can’t even speak, this is so bloody annoying! Talk to him!”

“Again,” Mycroft said through his teeth, “I’m trying.”

“Try harder,” Paul said. “Figure it out. I’ve got to go. I have a life to lead, you know. I can’t spend all my time fixing things for you two idiots.”

Mycroft sputtered, unable to find the words to express how very much he had not asked for this. 

“Best of luck and all,” Paul said over his incoherence, and hung up. 

Mycroft flung away from the kitchen table and slammed the phone back in its cradle, incensed and unable to begin to unpick all of the reasons why. 

For a brief moment, he wanted nothing more than to call Alicia and demand she come and get drunk with him again. But then, he had just seen her at her engagement party. She had been radiant and visibly stressed, her time at a premium as everyone in attendance seemed intent on asking her the same dozen questions over and over. She had told Mycroft as much during a sneaky smoke break with Lawrence and Michael somewhere in the middle of it all. 

Mycroft had watched Michael press a kiss into her hair, saying softly, “I’ll go distract them a bit. You stay here and breathe, darling.”

It had been both painful and illuminating. For the first time he had understood the appeal of Michael Smallwood. And for the hundredth time he had felt his own loneliness, saw it stretching out before him.  

He couldn’t call Alicia now, needy and pathetic. He was fairly certain they didn’t have that sort of relationship, odd moment here or there notwithstanding. And he wasn’t sure he could take any sharp words or even teasing. 

Mycroft sighed and wandered from the kitchen, Judy close on his heels, and very carefully kept himself out of his mind palace. More specifically, he steadfastly refused to think about the swimming pool. 

He could drain it, he supposed. Sherlock always claimed he could delete entire schools of thought and textbook chapters of fact from his own mind palace. When he’d first informed Mycroft of this years ago, Mycroft had dismissed it, insisting one couldn’t possibly voluntarily remove information from one’s memory. Sherlock had gone very red, informed Mycroft that he didn’t know everything, and stomped off. 

For the first time ever, Mycroft found himself wishing he could call his younger brother and ask, plainly and humbly, for his help. 

But Sherlock was in rehab, and would be for some weeks still. Even after he completed his programme, Mycroft was quite certain that Sherlock would be unwilling to speak with him. And, if he was honest with himself, Mycroft knew that by that time he would have talked himself out of doing something so vulnerable. 

He sighed and unstuck himself from his place between the sitting room and staircase, heading, of course, for the stairs. 

Tomorrow, he decided, he would call in the builders. He was sick of looking at that room.

Chapter Text

By Mid-July, Greg had settled as much as he could into his summer placement at the Westminster clinic. Working full time was miles easier than a ‘slightly more than half time’ job plus full-time courses, which was… inconvenient. 

Greg had found himself adrift for weeks, coming home from work with nothing to occupy him but his thoughts and his shoebox flat and his cat. 

On the upside of that, he had gone out with Silvana after work once a week, every week, since mid-June, and had started accepting her invitations to come for dinner at hers and Harry’s. 

The downside, though, was that he had begun to question a great many of his recent choices. He hadn’t mentioned it to his therapist, feeling a little weird about that, still, and even weirder about saying something as complicated as: ‘ I think this is working for me, but it’s also making me think I’ve irreparably fucked myself over, so now what?’ 

Silvana had taken one look at him over her glass of wine the other night, hearing him say that, and said: ‘ Listen, answer me honestly: have you absorbed anything from your textbooks?’

Greg had thrown his napkin at her and laughed, but genuinely - some days he wasn’t sure if he’d absorbed anything at all.

Priyah, his therapist, would tell him that it was not his job to counsel himself. But Greg still had to wonder: how the hell had he managed to get this bad?

He sighed over the pile of charts on his desk, representing about half of his caseload here at the clinic. For the summer, he would work with these patients under the supervision of the clinic manager and head of the practice, Richard. 

Today, Greg’s eyes had crossed one chart in. Everything was so stiff here compared to working under Silvana. There was no daily program element, and only a couple of group settings that were more or less support groups than elements of treatment. 

Greg didn’t agree with it. The majority of the clinic’s patient population were seeking services related to drug addiction, and there was very little wrap around in the services provided. Because the clinic was upscale and only a small portion of its providers worked under the NHS, the governing philosophy seemed to be “the families will take care of it.” It was baffling, frankly, how old school the place was shaping up to be. And how myopic. Not all patients were private pay. And not all private payers were wealthy. And regardless of wealth, family connections meant fuck all in the face of addiction. They weren’t infallible or always reliable. Any idiot should know that. 

He’d spent the last month biting his tongue and getting on with things, even though he would’ve loved to tell Richard to fuck off on more than one occasion already. The man was a prick, and no way around it. He didn’t seem to like Greg much, either. 

“It’s because you’re a bloke,” Jasmine, a licensed counselor at the practice told him in his second week. “You’re the only one, didn’t you notice?”

Greg hadn’t, but he noticed once she said it.

“All the girlies who chose psychology while they were working on the MRS degrees and then missed the deadline on bagging some idiot end up here,” Jasmine said. “And Richard just loves them.”

Greg thought it was unfair of her to imply that the women interns were pursuing a graduate degree simply because they hadn’t found husbands. But then, none of his fellow interns seemed to like him very much, and in his meaner moments he let Jasmine’s disdain soothe his frustration. 

It was only for the summer. That had become Greg’s mantra, and he was running it over and over in his mind that day in the middle of July, when someone dropped down into the chair beside his desk with a heavy sigh. 

Greg glanced up briefly from the charts. “Sorry mate, help you find someone?”

“You’re Mycroft’s special friend.”

Greg jerked in his seat, practically giving himself whiplash. “Sorry, wha—  Oh!” He blinked rapidly, hoping it would clear the hallucination in his uncomfortable little visitors chair. It did not. “Fucksake,” he murmured under his breath. 

“What did he do?” Sherlock Holmes demanded, arms crossed over his chest. “Read your mail? Interfere with your job? Send painters to your flat without asking first?”

Greg shook his head. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You dumped my brother,” Sherlock said. “So what did he do to you? I’m certain it was insufferable, and inquiring minds wish to know all the gory details.”

Mycroft’s little brother was sitting in the chair beside Greg’s desk. He was pale and skinny with a mop of curly dark  hair that fell nearly to his chin, and he was dressed in a suit. 

“Sorry,” Greg said, struggling to understand how this was happening to him. “What are you doing here?”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “I should think that was obvious,” he drawled. “Considering what you know of me. I am recently sprung from rehab, and my mother feels I ought to continue my treatment here. We’re visiting,” he said with an air of distaste. “She is meeting with that odious man who runs this place.”

Greg cleared his throat. “Odious?”

“Mm,” Sherlock nodded, studying his ragged fingernails instead of bothering to make eye contact with Greg. “Yes, he’s been stealing all sorts of things out of the desks of his coworkers. Laying the groundwork to blame it on one of the less illustrious patients, in fact. I would watch your wallet.”

Greg startled. “Sorry, he’s what?”

“‘e’s wot,” Sherlock mocked. Then, in his haughty public school tones: “You heard me.”

Greg rolled his eyes, unable to stop himself. “I don’t sound like that,” he said. “What on earth makes you think my boss is a thief? Didn’t you only just meet him? How did you find me, by the way? Richard’s office is clear on the other side of the clinic, and you shouldn’t have even been allowed back here.” 

Sherlock finally deigned to look up from his own fingers, eyes pale and sharp and a bit too knowing for Greg’s liking. “I observed him while in his office, before he and Mummy shuffled me out so they could talk about how I just need to get my feelings out or whatever bollocks is going to make her and Mycroft happy so I can move on with my life. If more people would observe, no one would get away with such petty actions, you know. It is the fault of everyone who has failed to notice what a snake he is that Richard as you call him is able to do it. And it will be their fault - your fault - when he gets some poor urchin blamed for it.”

“And…” Greg drew in a calming breath. “And you found me…”

“Quite by accident,” Sherlock replied. “I was merely looking for a back exit. I am quite finished with this place and, to be quite honest with you, the entire concept of recovery. I happened to see you while conducting my search. He’s renovating the flat, you know.”

Greg rubbed at his forehead, hoping that would stave off the headache he could feel building. “Richard is renovating his flat? What does that have—” 

Sherlock groaned. “No,” he snapped. “Do try to keep up. Mycroft is renovating Uncle Rudy’s flat. It’s the strangest thing. The whole sitting room!” Sherlock snapped his fingers. “Gutted. Gone. And good riddance. But why is he renovating the sitting room? Why now? I’ll tell you why now.” He pointed at Greg. “You.”

Greg cleared his throat and turned his face away, eyes focused back on his charts but unseeing. “Me.”

“Mummy dragged me there for lunch today, before dragging me here for another form of torture, and there isn’t much to do in Mycroft’s flat other than investigate. My deductions informed me that you have been there, but not for many weeks now.”

Greg sighed. “Your deductions?”

“Yes,” said Sherlock simply. “He hasn’t been able to bring himself to empty the ashtray. Butts from a cheap brand mixed in with his. Your cheap brand. Sentiment.” He sniffed. “And Mycroft has very little interest in interior design. It’s one of a very small number of homosexual stereotypes he does not perpetuate.”

“Oi,” Greg snapped. “That’s out of order.”

“Is it?” Sherlock shrugged loosely. “Fine. Sorry. You still haven’t answered my question: what did Mycroft do?”

“Nothing,” Greg said, heart skipping in his chest. He wondered if Mycroft’s alien brother with his unsettling eyes could deduce that. “He didn’t do anything.”

“Hm.” Sherlock narrowed his eyes. “What must it be like, being a regular person? Making decisions that are demonstrably against one’s best interests, based on nothing but feeling and sentiment.”

Greg scoffed. “Oh, yeah? You’re the expert in good decision making? Where’s the massive drug overdose fit into that?”

“Everyone miscalculates from time to time,” Sherlock replied, narrow-eyed but otherwise seeming unaffected. “My overdose was a fairly big one, as miscalculations go, certainly. But if you dropped Mycroft when he didn’t actually do anything… Mycroft-y… then yours is much, much bigger. He’s very rich, you know.”

Greg pursed his lips and grit his teeth and breathed deeply through his nose. “I don’t care about that,” he said. 

Sherlock stared at him silently for a long moment. “No, I suppose you don’t,” he said. “Anyway, Garrett, thank you for your candor.” He made to stand, knocking the charts off Greg’s desk. “Oops! Must be going now,” he said. 

Greg tried to come up with something to say to end the bizarre interaction in a way that made sense, but attempting to catch the folders before they hit the floor took priority, and by the time he had slapped them, haphazard, on the desk, Sherlock was gone. 

And, Greg realized a moment later, so was Greg’s wallet, which had been on the corner beside his desk phone. 



***



He hadn’t got far. Just a block away from the clinic. 

“Hey!” Greg shouted, but the curly head did not turn. “Sherlock!”

It was clear he was going to be ignored. Greg groaned under his breath and decided that the only thing for it was to run after him. Sherlock, for his part, continued at a leisurely, ambling pace, pretending not to realize he was being pursued at all. 

Greg caught him by the elbow. “Mate, are you playing some sort of game? Hand over my wallet.”

Sherlock smirked and reached into his trouser pocket. “Certainly,” he said, nice and cool and smooth, like butter wouldn’t melt. 

Greg would not think about who had taught him that particular tone of voice. “I’m sorry,” Greg snapped. “But what the fuck?”

“Forgive me,” Sherlock said. “It was the irresistible pull of curiosity. I merely wanted a glance at your identification.” 

“Why?”

“For your address, of course.”

Greg barked an incredulous laugh. “Again, why?”

Sherlock shrugged. “One never knows when one might need a good counselor.” 

“Jesus Christ,” Greg sighed. “Shouldn’t you be back at the clinic? Y’know, waiting for your mum?”

“Eh,” Sherlock shrugged again, tilting his head from side to side in a show of nonchalance. “She is quite fine without me. I have matters to attend to. An investigation ongoing from before the unfortunate interruption.”

“Rehab, you mean.”

“Like I said, unfortunate interruption.”

Greg caught Sherlock by the arm again, stopping him from turning away. “Wait! Wait. Investigation?”

“I’m something of a sleuth,” Sherlock told him earnestly. “I may turn it into a business, you see. There have been a series of murders among the homeless population inhabiting the general vicinity of—” 

“Murders!”

“Yes,” Sherlock said, speaking slowly and carefully as if to a particularly dim child, “murders. Of homeless people. You’re about to tell me I ought to call the police for such matters. Well, I did. But one: the police thought I was unreliable because I was high. And two: they don’t care about the homeless. So. I am investigating.”

Greg resisted the urge to clutch his temples and sit on the ground to have a good old fashioned nervous breakdown. “Mate,” he tried. “If you think I’m going to let Mycroft’s seventeen year old, fresh out of rehab, just nicked my wallet, little brother hare off to investigate murder—” 

“What do you care if Mycroft’s little brother does anything?” Sherlock raised a dark eyebrow. “He doesn't need to know you saw me.” Sherlock shook his arm free. “Must be off. Nice to see you again, George.”

“It’s Greg.”

“Right,” Sherlock nodded, already walking backwards away from him. “Oh, and—” he paused, physically as well. “Well. Thank you for the CPR, that time. I… Yes. Thanks. That was good. Bye, then!” 

And with that, the little shit turned on his heel and ran. 



***



Of course Greg still had the number memorized. He made his way to a phone box and only needed about ten - alright, fifteen - minutes to breathe and meditate before inserting his change and dialing. 

“Hello?” 

Greg swallowed hard. “Mycroft,” he said, lips numb. 

“Sorry, one moment, it’s quite loud - please hold on one moment—” 

Greg could only barely hear the whir of saws and bang of hammers, but they were soon muffled entirely, so Mycroft must have shut the kitchen door.

“Apologies,” said his familiar, gentile voice. “I couldn’t hear a thing. Who is calling?”

Greg cleared his throat. “It’s… it’s me. Greg.”

There was a beat of silence that felt like an uncrossable chasm, stretching on and dilating while Greg’s heart tried to pound out of his chest. 

“S-sorry,” Mycroft stuttered. “What? Greg?” 

“Yeah,” he said, then had to clear his throat again when his voice wound up half-stuck in his throat. “It’s me. Sorry to call in the middle of the day, it’s only that I’ve just seen your brother, and you may want to—” 

“Wait,” Mycroft interrupted, a little frantic. “I’m sorry, you… you saw Sherlock? But where—  oh, bollocks.”

“Yeah,” Greg murmured, smiling at the profanity despite himself, and leaned heavily against the payphone, forehead pillowed on his raised arm. “Your mum’s gone and brought him to my clinic. Which, by the way, I do not recommend for his treatment. It’s awful. And he may have just accused my boss of theft.”

Mycroft’s voice seemed unable to leave his mouth, a series of stuttered sounds kicking off on the other end of the line. They culminated, finally, in what Greg thought was the perfect word to sum it all up. “What?”

“Yup,” Greg said, unable to keep down his amusement at the absurdity of it all. “I’m having a really weird morning.”

Mycroft exhaled loudly and then… laughed. Greg closed his eyes. 

Fuck, he thought. Your laugh.

“I can only imagine,” Mycroft said quietly. “Did… did my mother come to collect him, or…?”

“No,” Greg sighed. “That is, sadly, why I’ve called.”

“I was afraid that might be the case.”

“Mm. He hared off. Stole my wallet, memorized my address, gave it back to me, and now he says he’s off to investigate murders.”

“Good Christ,” Mycroft hissed. “Of course he is. Of course.”

“I thought you should know. He said something about murders of homeless people and the police not wanting to listen to him?”

Mycroft sighed. “I may have an idea as to where he’s headed. I shall have to go and collect him. Just what I needed today, and I just offered to let him stay here while he completes an outpatient program, so that he won’t have to stay with our parents any longer. Ungrateful brat.”

Greg couldn’t help smiling into his arm at the irritated fondness there. He wanted to talk to him just a little longer, though he knew he should let him go after Sherlock. “He said you’re renovating. That why you’re home in the middle of the day on a Wednesday?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” Mycroft sighed again. “Last time I left the builders here on their own, Judy was practically clinging to the ceiling when I arrived home. I’m here to keep her from losing more fur to the stress.”

Fuck! Greg thought again. Fuck, I just. You’re so…  

“Are you…” Mycroft hesitated. “You’re alright?” 

Greg blinked, staring blankly at the telephone’s number pad. “Well… yes? No? I…” He cleared his throat. “I should let you go. Don’t want Sherlock wandering London on his own. If you call the clinic, the receptionist can put you through to the practice manager.  Richard Davies. Who might be a thief. Listen, do me a favor and ask Sherlock how the hell I’m meant to prove that. He wasn’t exactly forthcoming with information.”

Mycroft chuckled softly. 

Greg’s heart took up residence in his throat. 

“I’ll ask him,” Mycroft said. “Thank you, Greg. Thank you for looking out for him. Again.”

“Of course,” Greg said, trying to shake this off, this honey-like coating of… of feeling. “Yeah, no problem.”

“You could… call me, sometime,” Mycroft said. “If you liked.”

“I dunno,” he murmured, squeezing his eyes shut again. He should’ve just said no. He should’ve hung up already. “Bye, Mycroft.”

“Greg, wait—”

Greg hung up before he could lose his nerve. 

He stood in the phone box for a while, trying to catch his breath, until a harried-looking woman dragging a toddler behind her banged on the door and shouted at him to stop doing whatever creep shit he was doing in there, because other people might like to use the bloody phone. 



***



That night, his phone rang. Greg, who had been arguing back and forth with himself all day, decided not to let it go to the machine for the first time in a month and a half. 

“‘Lo?” he said, and then held his breath. 

There was a long pause. “The CCTV in the bank lobby on the opposite corner,” Mycroft said. “One of the cameras affords a clear view into Richard Davies’ office. Sherlock believes it best for you to start there.”

Greg laughed, dragging out one of the kitchen chairs so he could sink down into it. “Yeah? Well, then. Case cracked.” 

“Report him to whoever is above him, and consider yourself clear of the matter.” Mycroft paused. “Is it… is it alright that I called?”

Greg stopped to actually think about it before he answered, wanting to be honest. “It’s… yeah, it’s alright.” He ran a hand over his mouth, considering his next words. “Are you… is everything okay with you? How’s the new job?”

Mycroft made a casual, noncommittal little sound that was neither of those things underneath. “I didn’t take it,” he said. “It wasn’t the right next step.”

“Oh,” said Greg uselessly. “Well. I hope something better comes along.”

“Time will tell,” Mycroft said softly. 

Greg winced to himself. This was excruciating. There was so much he wanted to say, and none of it was any good. He couldn’t just blurt out I miss you. Couldn’t throw caution to the wind and say: I was wrong. I have basically no sense of self worth. Could you explain to me, how you could want me? Maybe this time I’ll get it. 

He didn’t know if he wanted to say that at all. Ever. The idea that Mycroft might respond by admitting that, actually, on second thought, he was quite alright without Greg, was enough to banish the very thought from his mind. 

“Anyway,” Greg said after the awkward pause had gone on long enough. “Tell Sherlock thanks.”

“I will,” Mycroft said. 

Greg wondered if that was it. If he should just hang up. 

“Greg?”

“...yeah?”

“I… miss you. Very much.” 

Greg's eyes stung. “I miss you, too,” he said. “I’ve got to go, though. Bye.”

He flung himself out of the chair and across the room, slamming the phone into the cradle. He stood there for a while, breathing, wondering if he would ever stop feeling this way. 

Stop feeling this way now, he thought. You’re not actually alone.

He picked the phone back up again and dialed Paul’s number.

Chapter Text

The invitation to Alicia and Michael’s wedding arrived on a Saturday in late July. Mycroft fixed it to the board beside the phone and sighed, eyes snagging on the ‘and guest’ beside his name. 

“Well,” he said to Judy. “That’s not going to happen.”

She chirruped in agreement, then performed a nimble jump from floor to workbench to the top of the refrigerator, before setting about grooming herself. 

“You could be a little more sympathetic,” Mycroft told her, and took himself out of the kitchen and into the nearly-finished sitting room. 

He’d kept the floors, of course. They were a hundred and fifty years old and in gorgeous condition. But everything else, save the mantlepiece - also very old, and very beautiful - had been stripped out, taken down to the studs. The new walls were part paneling, part subtly patterned wallpaper. There was no furniture, as of yet, but Mycroft had placed a single photo frame on the mantle the other day, in a fit of slightly exhausted nostalgia. 

He’d just arrived home from another loan-out, this time in Berlin. Thankfully, that meant no jet lag. Sadly, it also meant meeting quite a lot of people his uncle had pissed off at one time or another, and Mycroft’s time there was uncomfortable as a result. 

But he’d been amused that night, dropping his bags and observing the gleaming, empty room, the sound of his suitcase thudding there in the doorway echoing off the undecorated walls. 

He’d felt… curiously fine. For the first time in weeks, he did not actively mourn the loss of Greg’s presence. Did not feel a grief-stricken tug toward the diaries, letters, and albums. He was simply glad to be home. 

It had brought to mind one of his favorite photos, unearthed on a much sadder night and set aside until Mycroft knew where to put it. 

Coming home from Berlin, he decided that it belonged dead-center in the mantle. It had been taken in front of it, after all. 

And so, on top of the mantelpiece was a photo of it, and two men. On the back was written: R+J, 30th Anniversary 1962. 

This was the first instance of the gold rings, worn on their right hands, that Mycroft could find in photos. He would eventually find their provenance within the diaries, but for now he was content with his theories and fantasies; what he could admit were romantic hopes. 

The identity of the photographer was lost to time, but Mycroft liked to think it had been a very good friend. Someone who had no idea of Rudy’s work, his influence, his many sins committed for queen and country. Someone who only knew him as one half of a whole. A duo. A unit. 

Mycroft had chosen an utterly hideous frame for it, reminiscent of the decor that once filled the room. Uncle Rudy would have liked it. 

Now, he stared at the photograph and very nearly felt sorry for himself for the umpteenth time since May. The thought of going to a wedding and then coming back here… The contented feeling of the night he arrived from Berlin felt miles away, all of a sudden.

And just as suddenly, Mycroft was finished with bittersweetness. Finished with waiting.

“Actually,” he murmured. “Sod this.” 



***



He spent the cab ride attempting to mentally write a script for what to say. But words wouldn’t stick in his mind; scenarios would not play out. If there was one thing Mycroft knew by then, it was that there was no way to predict this. There was no way to be certain. Besides, he’d mentally written about a hundred speeches already, lying awake in bed too late most nights. He would think of something. He had plenty of material.

He could admit that it terrified him. The fear had kept him from moving beyond unanswered phone calls. It had made him stop after he left the message on Greg’s answering machine. It had held him back from trying to speak to him again after the incident with Sherlock and the clinic.

But Mycroft was so tired of letting himself be afraid of things. 

He stood on the corner of a London street he had visited many times before and, horribly, could not get a song unstuck from his head. This was really no time for the My Fair Lady songbook, but. Here he was. And there was Freddy, singing “ On The Street Where You Live ” inside his head. 

God, he thought. You really are hopeless. 

He shook himself out of it as much as he could, figuring that at least it was a distraction from the churn of anxiety, and made his way down the familiar sidewalk, past the scrabbly gravel yard beside the block of flats, the shouting children and the gossiping mothers. 

Outside the block of flats, a handsome man had just stood up from the ground, where he had been tightening some part of a motorbike. Mycroft hung back and watched him swing a leg over the seat, shove a key into the ignition, and crank it. The bike roared to life, then settled into a rumbling purr. Its rider threw his arms up in victory, and Mycroft grinned, unsurprised to find himself happy just to see him happy. 

For a moment, he worried the bike would roar off down the street next. Mycroft wouldn’t be surprised at all if his timing turned out to be just that dismal. But the bike was clicked off, the engine cut, and Mycroft found himself standing there, on the edge of taking perhaps the greatest leap of his life. 

“Hello,” he said, crossing his arms just in case the worst of his fears came true and he turned out to be unwelcome. 

Greg nearly fell off the bike, whipping his body around to look. He caught himself and saved the bike from tipping, one foot firmly on the ground. “Mycroft!” He fumbled at the kickstand with his foot, cursing, and then hopped, only a little awkwardly, off and onto the pavement. “Mycroft? You’re here? I mean, you’re here.”

“Ah,” Mycroft tried very hard not to shuffle his feet. “Yes. I… You fixed your motorbike.”

Greg half-smiled at him, hands shoved nervously in the pockets of his jeans. “Yeah,” he said. “I’ve… it was a goal. For the summer. Can’t believe I pulled it off this early. Sorry—  what… what’re you doing here?”

Mycroft drew a quiet breath. He steeled himself, and took a step closer. “I’m… telling you again,” he said. 

“Telling me?” Greg swayed in place for a moment, and then - to Mycroft’s relief - took his own step forward.

“Mm.” Mycroft nodded. “But—  I have a bit of a story to tell you, first. I was hoping you would… let me.” 

“I… yeah. Sure.” Greg rubbed nervously at the back of his own neck, other hand still shoved deep in his pocket. “You, um… you look good, by the way.”

All at once, Mycroft’s chest was full of many tiny somethings, light and airy. Bubbles, or dandelion wisps. His smile couldn’t stop growing, bit by bit. “You always look good, I think,” he said. 

Greg grinned back. “I’ve heard that line before.”

Was Mycroft imagining the light behind his eyes? The minute sway forward? 

“Your judgment’s a bit questionable,” Greg continued, “considering I’m covered in dirt and motor oil.”

Mycroft laughed under his breath and shook his head. “No, you always - always - look good. You… you looked exactly like this the day I met you.”

Greg’s face performed an interesting maneuver, seeming just on the edge crumpling before it decided to smile instead. “Guess I did,’ he said. “Wanna come up? Tell me a story?”

Mycroft nodded. “Yes. Very much.”



***



He couldn’t let it be awkward. Or, at least, not too awkward. He had to get this out, and quickly. He needed to take his best shot at making Greg understand, just one time, and then it would be over. Out of his hands. 

This, he had decided, was the only way to proceed. 

“Tea?” Greg asked, once his hands were clean. Mycroft watched him move toward the kettle, eyes snagging on the shift of his muscles beneath his white t-shirt.

“Sure,” Mycroft said, then cleared his throat. “I… found Uncle Rudy’s secret cabinet,” he said. “I don’t know if you remember my mentioning it—” 

“I remember,” Greg said, turning away from the sink, kettle in hand. “You’re serious? You found it?”

Mycroft cleared his throat again, and sternly told himself to stop that. “Quite by accident,” he said. “A panel in the sitting room.”

Greg quirked a sideways smile. “Of course. The room you hate.”

“Well, it’s much nicer now,” Mycroft said. Then, “The cabinet did contain that priceless whiskey, after all. And some other things.”

Greg had turned away again to place the kettle on the hotplate, clicking it on. “Yeah? You drink any?”

“Some,” Mycroft said. 

“What were the other things?”

Mycroft wanted him to turn around again so badly. Wanted to actually look at him. “The other things were… a life. Two lives.” Mycroft took a deep breath. “In a way, three. My uncle’s, his lover’s, and my own.”

Greg did turn then, leaning back against the worktop. “What does that mean?”

Mycroft didn’t know what to do with his hands. He placed them on the top of a kitchen chair, remembering being backed into it once, turned on and terrified. He squeezed his fingers around the scratched wood, attempting to ground himself with it. 

“I’ll tell you,” he said. “It’s a lot. It’s… I have so much to say to you. When we met… when I came to see you, completely unaware that my understanding of what I was walking into was, to say the least, incomplete , I thought… I thought my uncle had lived a lonely life. I thought he had never let anyone close to him, not even the man who had been beside him for decades. I thought I was doomed to do the same.” Mycroft breathed in and then out slowly. “I wanted to avoid that, but I had no idea how to do it. I thought my problem was purely physical, or the result of a mental block, a set of neuroses. I came here hoping you would be able to fix it. Because I thought you were a therapist.” 

Greg huffed, shaking his head, but didn’t interrupt. 

Mycroft attempted to get back on track, get to the point. “Inside the cabinet, there were photographs. Home movies. Diaries. Clothing… a great many items. They were all of the things that were missing from a flat where two people had shared a full and loving life. Only, they weren’t missing. Just hidden away.”

Greg remained quiet, watching Mycroft’s face intently as he spoke. 

“I…”

It was time to be, for lack of a better word, brave. Time to be sure. Mycroft was sure. He could be brave. He wouldn’t let go of the chair, because his hands would shake if he did. But he could be brave.

“I have spent the past three months immersed in a great love story,” he said at last. “Quite frankly it has been like dragging myself repeatedly over hot coals.” He laughed to himself and shook his head. “But I did it anyway. I needed to do it. I’m glad I did. The story of my uncle’s life, of Jeffrey’s life… it’s long. I’ll tell it all to you, sometime, if you’ll let me. I think it would make sense to you. Suffice to say, their lives were interesting, well-documented and, I’ve come to understand, tied together irrevocably.”

“Tied together,” Greg repeated.

“Very much so,” said Mycroft. “Maybe even predestined, I don’t know. I never thought such a thing could exist. I still don’t think I do. But if I’m wrong and fate is real, then...” He waved a hand. “The point is…” 

He wished he had sat down for this. Perhaps waited until there were cups of tea to stare into, a mug with which to occupy his hands. There was nothing for it now but to push on.  

“In all of those photographs, it was impossible to miss a common theme. A constant truth. That, no matter the time or the context, when one of them took a photograph of the other, it was always - always - somehow better than any taken by anyone else. I’ve read dozens of their letters and diaries, and even during times when they were angry with each other or confused by each other, in those photographs they were more beautiful and more real than in any others. In photographs together, taken by other people, they look happy. But in the ones they took of each other… they look… loved. I… I don’t think I realized, fully, what it was to see someone that way. To want, very badly, to be seen that way. Before.”

Greg stood very still, the only motion the rapid rise and fall of his chest. “Before.”

“Yes.” Mycroft let go of the chair and stepped around the table. He was just shy of an arm’s reach away from Greg now. “Before… this. Before you.  I thought that you would… would fix me, would provide a service of some kind. I know that entire supposition was part of your leaving. I know that at first, the entire point of us was sex. But that… that didn’t last, did it? It was never only about that.”

Greg’s lips twisted into a reluctant, pained smile as he nodded.

“You refused to allow us to be nothing but a transaction. You made us something else, and thank god you did, because I… I needed to realize that I didn’t need fixing. That I only needed the right person, as cliche as that is. I needed someone to see me, and you did that, and it has completely ruined me, and I am so thankful. And so, I’ve managed to arrive at the point.” Mycroft took a shaking breath. “Which is this: I am telling you again, or perhaps for the first time, because I rather cocked it up the first time, and you wouldn’t - you couldn’t - let me. 

Greg, wide eyed, simply stared. He had not moved through any of that. He licked his lips and held on tightly to the countertop behind him. “Telling me what?”

Mycroft took one more small step forward, heart pounding. “I… Greg, I am so very in love with you. Deeply and completely. You are free to insist again that I couldn’t possibly be, but I will only tell you that you are wrong. That I am. That I love you, and it hurts, and that I miss you. That there is nothing I want more than to be with you, except perhaps, how very much I want to see you happy. So.” He cleared his throat, as unable to stop the words as he was to stop the trembling in his hands. “So,” he said again, “if you tell me to go, and ask me never to speak to you again, that is what I’ll do. But please, please don’t. Because I see you as clearly as you see me. And you do not need fixing, either.”

Greg’s breath stuttered, visibly and audibly, just before the kettle began to whistle. He gasped, face twisting as he turned his back again, reaching out to turn off the hotplate and remove the kettle with a clatter. He stood with his hands atop the workbench, his shoulders moving with his quickening breath. 

“Mycroft,” he said, almost too softly to be heard. “I don’t know how to… I don’t know how to believe any of that.”

This, Mycroft thought, was perhaps the best thing Greg could have said. He smiled. “I know that,” he said, letting himself be fond, letting it be there in his voice. “I know. Let me try to prove it to you, and I will. You have been patient with me, and I can be patient with you. I know that I will never want anyone else. I know that you are who I’ve waited for. Take your time understanding that, because I am willing to wait you out. As long as it takes. I know I can make you believe it, someday.”

Greg didn’t move, so Mycroft did, taking one more step, reaching out with one shaking hand and resting it gently against Greg’s side, at his waist. 

“The way you see yourself,” he said, and felt the way Greg’s body twitched and braced for what he was about to say. He squeezed gently, and stepped in a little closer. He spoke, more or less, to the back of Greg’s neck. “It’s not the way I see you. I know I can’t force you to understand that, but… I was in love with you when you met my cat,” he said. “And called her a princess.” Greg laughed silently, hesitantly, under his hand. “I was in love with you when you spent all night helping me pick London apart because my little brother was missing. And when you drove that awful car all the way to Dorset to take me away from all of it.” 

“That car’s a classic,” Greg said, breathless. 

“I really could not care less, but I find it adorable that you do,” Mycroft said, amused. His hand tightened against Greg’s waist, needing to feel the wholeness of him. “I was in love with every touch and every kiss you gave me. Every last one was a gift. I honestly don’t know how I functioned. Possibly through sheer obliviousness. I didn’t understand the depth of it, then. I didn’t even understand it fully the day that you left. I thought the hurt was as ground down to the bone as it could get. And, as is frequently the case lately, I was wrong.”

Greg wrapped his own arm over his torso, covering Mycroft’s hand with his own. “Yeah?” he rasped. “Same here.” 

Mycroft breathed out, relief flooding him already. He was more cautious now than he’d ever been before, but he knew in his marrow that he wasn’t misreading this time. He placed his free hand carefully against Greg’s other side, holding him gently by the waist. He could have simply dipped his head and pressed his lips to Greg’s ear, to his neck. He didn’t. 

“It has hurt more to be alone again, knowing that what I want more than anything is for you to be the person in photographs with me. To have you as the person who sees me, really sees me, like no one else ever could. All the while knowing that you don’t grasp how much I want that. How much I want you. How much I love you. I think you are the kindest man I have ever met.” He shook with the effort of getting the words out. “And the most resilient. I love that you named your cat Seven, and the way you explained it to me. The double-oh is silent. I don’t laugh with anyone the way I laugh with you. Sometimes it felt like I’d never really laughed before I knew you.” He sighed. “That’s… is that not love? I’ve wondered. It must be.” 

Greg shuddered, and pulled Mycroft’s arm around him, fingers tight around his wrist. Mycroft held him, pulled him back against himself, and squeezed when Greg gasped out a sob. 

“Don’t cry,” Mycroft murmured against his ear. “It’s alright. If you could see yourself the way I see you, you would understand. Maybe it will take thirty years of photographs to show it to you. And that’s fine.” He breathed. He’d said it all - almost. “One more thing. I need you to know that I will never forget your past, and also that there is nothing about that which should worry you. I love everything about you. All of it, no conditions. And I will never let anyone make you feel ashamed. Ever.”

Greg’s fingers grasped at Mycroft’s, drawing the hand to his mouth and pressing a kiss across the knuckles. “Mycroft.”

“Please turn around,” he begged.

“I’m afraid to.” 

Mycroft squeezed him tightly, then let go. “Do it anyway.”

Greg laughed brightly and turned, body already moving in even closer to Mycroft’s, arm sliding seamlessly around him, and without a pause for breath, they kissed. 

Mycroft ceased to need anything, including oxygen, including gravity, the second Greg’s lips finally met his. He was only made for this, now. He would never need to do anything else ever again.

It wasn’t desperate, or even particularly sexy. The kiss was soft, delicate like silk threads, in contrast to the tightness of their embrace. It was salty with Greg’s tears, and the taste finally set the ones welling behind Mycroft’s eyes free, leaking from the corners of his tightly shut eyes. Mycroft knew they probably looked completely insane, tremulous and grappling all at once, from the outside. But there was no one to see, so it hardly mattered. 

The kiss broke, and a rain of subsequent kisses followed, short and chaste and yet somehow frantic. Mycroft held Greg’s face still in his hands and finally managed to catch his breath. 

Then he needed to really kiss him, deep and hot and promising. 

Greg panted against his lips and held tight to the back of his shirt. “I love you,” he said, and the fractured pieces of Mycroft’s heart slammed back together after so long waiting. “I’m so sorry, I should have never—” 

“I don’t want you to be sorry,” Mycroft said. “You have nothing to be sorry for. Remember who you’re speaking to. I know what it is to be… well.”

“Hopeless? Clueless? A bit twisted up inside?” Greg laughed and pressed his face to Mycroft’s shoulder. “We’re peas in a pod, you and I.”

“I know,” Mycoft murmured, holding him closer. 

There was a pause, a tenuous silence. Mycroft felt no need to let go of Greg, to stop the aimless sweep of his own hands over his back. 

“I’m still sorry,” Greg whispered eventually. “I left you, and I shouldn’t have.”

Mycroft sighed. “You shouldn’t have,” he agreed. “But not just because it hurt me. It hurt you.”

“Yeah,” said Greg thickly. “I’m working on that. Trying to stop doing that sort of thing to myself - being alone because it’s less scary. Got a therapist and everything.”

“Really?”

Greg leaned away, grinning. “Yeah. I made sure she wasn’t a hooker first, though.”

Mycroft buried his flush and his laughter in a kiss. “You’re awful to tease me,” he said while Greg was still going, laughing with his fingers twisted tightly in Mycroft’s shirt.

“I’m never going to stop,” Greg said, head back on Mycroft’s shoulder. “I love it when you blush. I love you, I love you so fucking much.”

Mycroft shuddered, joy running through him like a current. He tightened his arms around Greg and stood there with him, breathing him in, unhurried to do anything else.

“So,” Greg said at last, picking his head up from Mycroft’s shoulder. “What now?”

Mycroft shrugged. “Let me take you to dinner? Finally?”  

Greg laughed. “Okay,” he said. “Sure, we could start there.”

Mycroft nodded, wondering if he should let go now, step back. 

“Or—”  Greg took in a shuddering breath. “You could take me to bed. And then to dinner. ”

Mycroft’s heart flipped in his chest, and the temptation was very, very strong. He had never experienced skin hunger quite like he had these past months, and the idea that he could have Greg’s all over him again right now was breathtaking. But...  

“No,” he said softly, punctuating it with a kiss. 

“No?”

Mycroft chuckled. “I would,” he said, “but I insist on doing things differently, this time. I want to have dinner with you. I will pick you up here, and drop you off here after. Everything will be above board. Whether anything happens before I head home is… well, rather dependent on how the date goes.”

Greg’s eyes were wide, incredulous. He laughed. “You can’t be serious,” he said. “You blow in here, all adorable, all… all sweet and kind and competent. You tell me you love me and give me an epic soliloquy about it. And now I have to wait until maybe after dinner to get your clothes off?”

“Yes, that is about the shape of it,” Mycroft said, deeply pleased with himself. The very air around them seemed to have become lighter. “But don’t fret, your chances are good.” 

Greg barked a laugh and tugged him roughly into a kiss. “Still,” he said. “This is very unfair.”

“Well, you did break up with me,” Mycroft teased, earning another wide-eyed, disbelieving look. “I’m going to bring that up every so often. You’ll be lucky if I don’t mention it at your one hundredth birthday party.”

“My one hundredth—” Greg cut himself off, breathless and laughing. “Wow. Sure of yourself, are you?”

Mycroft nodded. “And of you, actually,” he said. 

“Oh,” said Greg. He pressed his palms to Mycroft’s jaw, cupping his face. “Good. In that case… kiss me a little more, and then go. I’ll need time to get ready for our dinner.” 

Mycroft smiled, racing heart bouncing behind his ribs, and kissed him a little more.

Chapter Text

A year later

 

“You’re certain we have time for this?”

Greg nodded, looking up from unbuttoning Mycroft’s shirt. “Yeah, of course we do.”

Mycroft chuckled, stilling Greg’s hands. “We could wait until later. After dinner. We’ll have more time then.”

Greg shook his head, a thousand desperate protests rising in his throat. He needed this, had been thinking about it for days and days. Had missed Mycroft so much. He couldn’t settle on just one, so he chose the word he felt conveyed his point best: “Please.”

“Stealing my lines,” Mycroft murmured, and kissed him, hot and consuming. 

It was still surprising sometimes, how fucking smooth Mycroft could be. It was a far cry from the shy, nervous man who’d shown up at Greg’s flat for the first time over a year ago. 

 “Bed,” Greg laughed, pulling away long moments later. “Come on - bed! Keep—  Wait, let g—  If we stop kissing I can just. Walk over there.”

“Absolutely not,” Mycroft hummed, working his lips gently from under Greg’s jaw and back to his mouth. Greg laughed again and gave in, kissing him back with a satisfied hum. But he did tug Mycroft by the hips, leading him firmly, walking backwards. 

They tumbled into bed, scaring off a cat but paying little mind. Greg pulled Mycroft down on top of himself with a grin. 

“I missed this,” he said, fingers working on Mycroft’s shirt buttons. “Missed you so much.” 

“You have no idea,” Mycroft replied. Greg made a sound of disagreement and bit him, just hard enough, on the neck. “Fine, maybe you do,” he conceded. 

They grabbed for each other clumsily with unsteady hands. Everything felt new, like uncharted territory. As if a lifetime had passed, and not just the week Mycroft had spent in Switzerland. They were making a complete hash of it, only getting Mycroft’s clothing opened and shoved aside. Greg had already stripped before Mycroft even made it up from the lobby; his cock was achingly hard and dripping a stain onto the front of Mycroft’s trousers. His fingers cupped Mycroft’s elbows, shoved as far up the unfastened sleeves of his shirt as they could get. 

“What do you want?” Mycroft asked him urgently, holding him by the hips and licking a hot line up the side of his neck. “Tell me. Anything you want.”

“We don’t have time for much,” Greg said, shoving him up so he could finally get the shirt off him. “Get undressed, for Christ’s sake.”

“The romance is gone,” Mycroft teased, stripping off his vest and starting on his belt. 

“Well, I can’t help it if I was already naked when you got here,” Greg huffed, pushing his hips up pointedly. 

“That is factually incorrect,” Mycroft said, rolling off of him to shuck his trousers and underwear down his legs. 

Greg rolled his eyes and moved in for a kiss, slinging a thigh over Mycroft’s, rubbing lazily against him as their tongues slid together. 

“I love you,” Mycroft said, out of breath, stroking gentle fingers down the side of Greg’s face. “I hated being without you. Come with me next time.” 

“I have a job,” Greg laughed, but kissed him sweetly. “But maybe sometime I will. Or we could go on vacation.”

Mycroft’s eyes lit up. “Are you going to let me take you somewhere? Finally?”

Greg nudged him. “Don’t start. Somewhere reasonable.”

Mycroft groaned and rolled them. There was a brief scuffle, but Mycroft’s long fingers were wicked and Greg was ticklish, and so he ended up pinned and laughing beneath Mycroft’s bare thighs. 

“Mm, you should fuck me,” Greg sighed.

“I don’t think we have time for that,” Mycroft said. “You need to be able to sit through dinner.” 

“‘m gonna be naked and open for you next time, then.” Greg gasped as Mycroft wrapped a warm hand around him, stroking. 

“Now that would be quite the welcome home,” said Mycroft. He sucked a gentle line along Greg’s jaw and back down the side of his throat. 

Greg tilted his head back, baring more sensitive skin to his lips and tongue. “So, what if we were just late for dinner?” Greg tried. “That could be fine?”

Mycroft laughed against his collarbone. “As the guest of honor, it might be somewhat rude of me to show up late.”

“Or maybe—” Greg stopped as Mycroft worked his way down the bed, lips teasing at the head of his cock. “You gonna do something with that?”

“Probably,” Mycroft said. “Finish what you were going to say.”

“Maybe the party can’t start until you arrive,” he finished. 

“Hmm.” Mycroft ran a hand up Greg’s torso, over the tense, jumpy muscles of his belly, the span of his ribcage, and tweaked his nipple with two expert fingers. “I’m afraid you’ll have to settle for having your cock sucked. Problem?”

Greg shuddered. “I love when you say cock,” he said. 

“Yes, I know,” Mycroft replied, amused, and then sucked him down. 

Jesus. Greg’s hips would’ve jumped off the bed had Mycroft not anticipated him, holding him down and sucking ruthlessly. He was ridiculously good at this, a combination of a year of learning Greg’s body and his tendency to remember every little detail of what made Greg dissolve into incoherence.  Once, he had spent an entire weekend refusing to let Greg touch him, insisting that he wanted to spend the whole of two days on his knees, trying to train out his gag reflex. 

Greg was the luckiest bastard on planet Earth. 

“Mycroft,” he gasped, lost to the sensation of having his orgasm expertly drawn up and out of him, already more than halfway there. “Mycroft, oh my god.”

Mycroft hummed, pleased, encouraging, and rolled his palm roughly over Greg’s balls, then tugged a little harder than was strictly comfortable. 

Greg jerked, hard, a moan punched out of his chest. “More,” he gasped. 

Mycroft sucked harder, pulled roughly again, and then pressed his dry thumb to Greg’s hole, not pushing hard enough to slip past the tight ring of muscle, but enough to jolt him, enough to have him just on the edge of begging. He’d love nothing more than for Mycroft to just do it. Just reach into the bedside drawer, slick himself up, and get into Greg without bothering to stretch him, dinner be damned. Greg’s mouth fell open, and for a moment chances were pretty good that he was going to ask for it, insist on it, say something really filthy about wanting Mycroft’s come dripping out of him while they sat at dinner with their friends. 

But Mycroft pulled off of Greg’s cock with a pop and said, “Absolutely not, don’t even try it.” 

And so, Greg was laughing when he came, Mycroft’s hand jerking him rough and spit-slick. 

“Gonna come on me?” He slurred, once Mycroft had gentled him through the aftershocks. “You said the other night on the phone—”

“I remember what I said,” Mycroft said, low and dark, swinging a leg over and straddling Greg’s thighs, already stroking himself and sliding his other hand through the mess on Greg’s stomach, smearing him with it. “You’re a mess already. Do you really need more?”

“Y-yes,” Greg panted. “Please, come on. I’ve missed you.”

“Mm,” Mycroft hummed contemplatively, his wet thumb coming to rest on Greg’s lower lip. “Tell me?”

Greg darted out his tongue, licking the pad of Mycroft’s thumb, and moaned at the taste of himself. “Missed you every day, sweetheart,” he murmured, licking again. “Couldn’t sleep without you here, couldn’t stop thinking about you. Touched myself every night imagining it was you.” 

Mycroft groaned, a quiet little cut off sound in the back of his throat. He was close. 

Greg sucked his thumb into his mouth and let his eyes flare hot, not needing to say it: come for me, please, I need it. 

Mycroft gasped, pressed his thumb hard against Greg’s tongue, and came all over his chest. 

Greg hummed with satisfaction, teeth set against Mycroft’s knuckle, but not hard enough to leave a mark. 

Mycroft breathed through the last of it, and gently pulled his hand away from Greg’s mouth, smoothing it over his cheek instead. “You’re going to kill me one of these days,” he panted. 

“Never,” Greg said, and turned his face to kiss his palm. “I love you, you secret top, you.”

Mycroft rolled his eyes even as his cheeks flushed a pleasing shade of pink. “Once in a while, when inspiration strikes,” he drawled. “I love you, too. We need to get in the shower. Sherlock’s going to be here soon.”

Greg snorted. “You realize you just said that with your cock in your hand.”

Mycroft squawked at him, then tried to get at Greg’s face with his messy, come-splattered palm, which led to another scuffle, which led to breathless, fantastic kisses, their slippery fingers twined together, until they really did have to get up and shower. 



***



Greg was finishing up the dishes leftover from lunch, slipping his ring back on his finger, when Sherlock arrived. 

“If you’re a mess, you’ll need to change,” Greg called, unrolling his sleeves. “We’ve got to go in ten.”

“Ugh,” said Sherlock distinctly from the foyer. “I don’t need to go.” 

Greg poked his head out from the kitchen. “Yes, you do,” he said. “We’re celebrating your brother’s new job.”

Sherlock took one look at Greg and feigned a gag. “Oh, god, haven’t you done enough celebrating already? Good god, Gary, have you no shame?”

Greg rolled his eyes. “Keep calling me the wrong name,” he said. “See if I introduce you to my friend at the Met next weekend. Also, you’re just guessing. There’s no way you know what we’ve been up to based on deduction. Very fuck off, and go get changed. I don’t want to hear any further bitching from you. Harry’s younger brother is coming, and he’s a nice kid. Jack, or John, or something? Little bit older than you, sort of weird. You’ll like him.”

Sherlock huffed. “Doubtful,” he sneered, and flounced off to the guest room, which for the summer was his room. 

Greg caught sight of Mycroft in the sitting room before he could turn back to the kitchen in order to get the cats fed before they all had to head out for Silvana’s. 

“Hey,” he said softly, crossing the hall to the sitting room, now more like a slightly fancier cousin to the library, similarly decorated with soft creams and lovely greens. And utterly bedecked with photographs, both old and new. 

Mycroft looked up. “Hello,” he murmured, all traces of the sexy, forceful man Greg had left getting dressed in the bedroom fifteen minutes ago having fallen away, leaving the sweet, shy one in his place. 

“You’ve got to stop staring at these,” Greg teased gently, leaning into his side. “They don’t change from the last time you looked. Promise.”

“Of course they do,” Mycroft said. “Every time.” 

Greg smiled and leaned in to kiss his cheek. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Mycroft echoed. 

Greg gave him a little squeeze, taking his own look at the two photographs, hung side-by side at the center of an arrangement of frames. One was a photo of himself when he was young. Greg didn’t know the full story; only that last Christmas Paul and Morris had gifted it to Mycroft and Mycroft had nearly wept. 

The other was a photo of Mycroft which Greg had found in the catalog of pictures from the secret cabinet. Greg loved it more than any of the dozens of pictures scattered around the house. Mycroft, probably a little younger than Greg in the other photo, sat cross-legged in a pool of sunlight in what really had been an attic - just a pass-through to the roof garden back then - utterly covered in kittens. His young face was open and sweet, grinning widely, eyes lit with delight. There were no other photos of Mycroft like that as a child. 

According to the story, his uncle’s most recent cat acquisition, found on the street, had been something of a trojan horse. Mycroft had gone to stay with him while his mother and father dealt with Sherlock-related drama of some sort. Mycroft had been sad about it, felt confused and a bit cast aside. And then Rudy and Jeffrey had surprised him, bringing him up to a secret room full of kittens. Greg loved the story, the way Mycroft told it, the way he remembered it so clearly almost twenty years later. 

They both loved the way those photographs, probably taken only months and entire worlds apart, looked side by side. 

Greg slipped his hand into Mycroft’s, clicking their rings together on purpose, loving the way that felt. They wore them this way on purpose; Mycroft’s on his right, Greg’s on his left, so they’d touch when they held hands. 

“Come on,” he murmured. “Let’s go nag Sherlock for sport.” 

Mycroft chuckled and nodded, squeezing his fingers around Greg’s. “Listen,” he said, moving away from the photos. “I hope you all haven’t gone out of your way for this dinner. I really don’t need anything excessive.”

Greg rolled his eyes. “It’s us, your brother, Silvana and Harry, and Harry’s brother.” Paul and Morris up from Dorset, Alicia and Michael too, but you don’t need to know that. “It’s not a big deal.”

“It is, to me,” Mycroft said softly. “Thank you.”

“Hey,” Greg teased. “Anything for the newly appointed Junior Undersecretary of the Department of Transport.” 

Which he knew good and well was not Mycroft’s actual new job title. But everyone had secrets. Mycroft’s had to do with matters of state. Greg’s… well, those were a little less complex. 

The little orange kitten Paul and Morris were bringing down from their neighbor’s recent litter, for example. That was currently Greg’s biggest and most closely-guarded secret. 

“Sherlock!” Greg shouted, “Hurry up or I’m going to snog your brother on your bed later! Swear to god!”

Mycroft laughed at the scream of outrage that echoed through the flat, sending Seven streaking by to go investigate. 

“Good god,” Mycroft sighed, then ducked his head for a kiss. 

Their lips met, soft and sweet. 




 

He'll build a little home

Just meant for two

From which I'll never roam

Who would—would you?

And so all else above

I'm dreaming of 

The man I love

— “ The Man I Love, ” George Gershwin



The End.