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Unexpected Muse

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Greg didn’t do many things. One of these things was sitting in cafes just for the sake of it. Yet here he was, in the far corner of a lovely little shop in an alleyway not far from his home, cautiously sipping a still too hot peppermint tea and wondering how he got there.

Well, if you just looked at the plain facts, it was easy. Too much overtime accrued over the last two years and a forced vacation of a whole month. Greg had done everything to avoid it, but here he was. Still in London, six days into forced rest and relaxation. He’d felt silly to book a trip somewhere on his own, and it was, admittedly, quite nice to see the city without being in a rush for once, so he’d stayed.

How he’d gotten into that particular shop was a different and altogether more embarrassing matter. You see, for a while now, Greg had the idea of writing a screenplay. It was a short, silly thing, a rather bleak story, but it had sat in his mind for years now… and if he didn’t take this opportunity to write it out, it would be stuck there, haunting him forever. He had no idea how to actually write a screenplay, but Google was his friend and helper. He’d downloaded the correct software, and after some attempts to write at home, followed the advice he’d found on some blog that having a dedicated writing space could do wonders for productivity. His house wasn’t it, so he tried his luck in the cliche of the writer in the cafe.

It was a random idea at first, walking along the pavement with his laptop in a bag, looking for a place to sit and write. What would other people think, seeing him type? Would he run into anyone he knew? Lost in thought, he’d turned into an alleyway he usually didn’t frequent and laid eyes upon the most wondrous sight. Not the cafe—though he’d find it soon enough—no, it was a man. Tall, slender, clad in dark cloth trousers, a light blue shirt and waistcoat. Open collar, an actual pocket watch chain dangling, gold glinting in the sunlight as he walked. His hair was just long enough to be a bit wavy, floofy, almost, curling over his forehead. He looked in thought as he turned into the cafe and was out of sight.

And that’s how Greg had found himself in said cafe for the third day in a row, strategically placed in a corner, both typing and covertly watching this unusual man do much the same. He had a tablet propped up, with a wireless keyboard, a notebook, in which he sometimes sketched, always completely lost in his work. Greg watched him break his head over something, eyes sparkling when there was a breakthrough, saw him lick his lips in thought, bite them sometimes. He was fascinated by this wonderful creature, who stood out so much among his fellow men, but didn’t seem to have a care in the world about it.

Greg placed his tea glass on the table, shook his head. Right. He had work to do too. He’d thought all of last evening about the right words to have the emotional impact he wanted from that scene, drop some clues while he was at it. He smiled. A detective inspector, writing a murder mystery. A bit on the nose. But it was what he knew best. And liked best, if he was honest. Macabre? Maybe. No one would ever read it, so what was the point in worrying.

He put down some notes, then looked up, absentmindedly, more out of habit than conscious intent. Just then, his eyes met the ones of the mysterious man, who was looking to his left, right into Greg’s corner. For a moment he wondered what could be there that was so interesting, when the man gave him a smile, which made it very clear that Greg was what was interesting. He panicked for a moment, then swallowed. He managed to smile back, suppressed the urge to wave. Very quickly he turned his eyes back onto the screen, feeling his ears grow red. Had he been so obvious? Did he want it to be obvious? Had he wanted to be caught? Was that why he’d come back?

He looked up again, found that the man had turned towards him, right elbow on the table, chin in his hand. He inclined his head, grinning. There were three unoccupied tables between them. The cafe was never very full during weekday mornings, mostly people who grabbed a coffee to go. Greg’s heart did a somersault. He didn’t know how to feel. On one hand, it felt incredibly flattering, no matter what the outcome would be… on the other hand…

The man was still almost a boy in his eyes. He could be twenty years his junior.

But, god, he was gorgeous. The sunlight played with the red tones in his hair and made him glow invitingly. The cocky grin was irresistible.

“Hey,” the other said over the distance.

“Hey,” Greg echoed almost silently—more a movement of his lips than an actual sound. His throat felt parched.

“Can I come over?”

Greg took a deep breath, then he nodded. The other man smiled and started to gather his things into both arms, carried them over to dump them on the table next to Greg’s. Then he sat down on the bench next to him, only a cushion separating them.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hello.”

“My name’s Mycroft,” the incredible man said. “Don’t comment, please.”

“Mycroft? It suits you.”

“I can never figure out if that’s a compliment.”

“It was meant as one.”

Mycroft smiled, leaned one hand on the cushion between them. Greg wasn’t sure what was happening here, but he felt entirely out of control. He also wasn’t sure if he minded.

“Your name?” Mycroft prompted.

“Oh. Sorry. Greg. My name’s Greg. Much more ordinary, I’m afraid.”

“Short for Gregory?”

“Unfortunately.”

“Why? It’s a lovely name.”

Greg shook his head. “No one calls me that. Not even my parents, and they chose it.”

“Then I shall have to claim the privilege for my own, Gregory.”

Greg laughed. “You think?”

“You will find that I’m allowed to do so, and if not, you’ll realise it soon enough.”

“You’re pretty full of yourself, aren’t you?”

Mycroft took a sip of his coffee, pushed a notebook to align with his pen. Then he looked back at Greg and shrugged.

“Of course I am. I have no reason not to be.”

“The confidence of youth…” Greg mused. “Though at your age, I think I was very different. Police school and such.”

“Ah, how old do you think I am?”

Greg shrugged. “22? 23?”

“My dear man, I am appalled. I’m already 27,” Mycroft replied. “Though I know I have a bit of a baby face. I get reminded of that all the time in clubs.”

Greg sighed. At least 27 didn’t make him twenty years his junior. Merely fifteen. Well, he didn’t know if he should be happy about that. Mycroft eyed him curiously during the break in the conversation, then proceeded to open one of his notebooks. Greg got a good view of a rough drawing of an arrangement of too many chairs in some kind of wave. It was simply rendered, but had a sense of dramatic dynamic to it.

“I work in stage design for the National Theatre,” Mycroft explained. “This new play is mostly set on a ship, but the staging is like the whole place is an office building. There’s this scene where the ship sinks, so these chairs represent the wave that pulls it under… I plan for this structure to be rolled out, unpainted… then some people throw blue paint at it to make it feel like an actual wave, but they also throw paint at the drowning actors to symbolise them going under… But I’ll never be able to get that through. Too much cleanup, possibly repainting the chairs after every performance. And they hate it when the costumes get too dirty. Loved the idea, though.”

Greg turned his head towards Mycroft, who had leaned closer during his animated explanation, so close that their noses almost touched. He drew back a bit.

“I don’t know much about theatre… haven’t been to a play in years… but that seems great. Very visual, dynamic,” he said.

“I know,” Mycroft whined. “That’s why it’s such a shame it can’t be done. Maybe if we use water soluble colours… but how to get it brilliant enough?”

“Doesn’t tonic water glow bright blue under blacklight?” Greg mused.

“What?”

“I had a case, a few years back… Don’t ask me about the particulars, because I’m not allowed to tell you… but my detective friend managed to solve it by proving that the light the witness had seen wasn’t glowing LEDs, but tonic water bottles glowing under a blacklight. It was a weird, weird case… but that detail stuck with me.”

“Oh my god. We need to mix something into water to make it glow under blacklight, which is easily cleaned. Then we can do the scene in darkness, since the ship sinks at night anyway, and the wave will stand out! Gregory! You’re a genius!” Mycroft exclaimed.

He grabbed a pencil and frantically scribbled down a torrent of notes beneath the drawing. Greg felt very pleased with himself all of a sudden, watching Mycroft write in a burst of activity. Not such an unimaginative old man now, he thought to himself. Finally Mycroft dropped the pencil and turned to Greg again. Greg’s heart stopped at the sight of his shining eyes, the eager enthusiasm.

“I need to thank you for this. Properly. The blacklight idea can run through the whole play. It can be a brilliant foreshadowing device. It… my god, please, let me thank you for this!”

“Ah, no need to worry. I’m just glad I could help you.”

“No, no. This won’t do. You’ll have to come to the play, at least. Even though it’s only on in six months or so. I’ll get you a ticket, I promise.”

“Alright. That does sound good,” Greg admitted.

“Perfect,” Mycroft beamed.

Suddenly Greg felt his hand being taken, fingers lifted up and a kiss bestowed on them. Mycroft smiled at him, rubbed his cheek against Greg’s hand.

“I admit I had other plans when I moved over here, but I have to leave you now to discuss this breakthrough with my boss. Promise me you’ll be here tomorrow?”

Greg nodded. He couldn’t do anything but nod.

“Brilliant. See you tomorrow, handsome.”

Like a whirlwind, Mycroft was gone from the shop, Greg staring after him long after he’d disappeared from sight.