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A Month in the Country

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What on earth to wear? Mycroft studied his wardrobe critically. He had considerably dressed down, only bringing with him one of his ‘London’ suits—his most intimidating dark pinstripe, with red tie and pocket square—in case of emergency conference calls. Instead he had polo shirts, chinos, his favourite summer linen suit—which served for more tropical climates—and his rarely-worn jeans. He had packed two collarless linen ‘tunic-style’ shirts as well, open necked, loosely woven and cool to wear. The summer heat was forecast for the next few days, and Mycroft did not respond well to heat. He burned in direct sun, his freckles showing up dreadfully, and he hated the feeling of sweat-damp clothing. He had also packed his Panama hat, and his sunglasses. So...what would Gregory not expect me to be wearing?

Bloody Hell… The man who stood on Greg’s doorstep did not resemble the Mycroft Holmes he thought he knew. This creature was an entirely different animal. The man pausing hesitantly beyond the glass was dressed in a cream linen jacket, sky-blue collarless linen tunic, and jeans, those long elegant feet encased in Italian leather loafers. A Panama hat was perched jauntily on his head, and he had obviously just removed the sunglasses from his nose. The genuine smile was a tad nervous, but sincere nonetheless.

Greg stepped back and tried not to let his surprise show. “Mycroft, welcome. Come on in,” he said, holding the door wide. “I’ve done a green Thai curry, I hope that’s okay.”

“Thank you, Gregory. It’s a pleasure to be here, and green Thai sounds lovely.” Mycroft held out a bottle. “Not knowing what you were cooking though, I’m afraid my choice won’t pair very well…”

Greg grinned. “Who cares?” he said, accepting the bottle and examining the label. “It’s alcoholic. Can’t be terrible, whatever it is. Thank you.”

“I also brought desert. The hotel I’m staying in, it has a rather good restaurant attached. They do a rather indulgent salted caramel fudge cake, which I am reliably informed is no good unless shared, so here we are.” He handed over the box, which Greg took into the kitchen.

“Wondered if you fancied to sit outside?” Greg enquired. “The weather’s gorgeous, and there’s a breeze…”

“Acceptable,” Mycroft agreed, following him into the cosy kitchen. The door was open, a fringe of bamboo beads hanging in the gap swinging gently in the breeze, warding off interloping flies. He poked his head past it and smiled at the unruly garden, an overgrown stone wall bordering the far end, above which a screen of trees could be seen in the distance. “This is...pretty,” he said, stepping out. Greg joined him, proffering a large wine glass more than half-full. The pungent smell of the excellent cabernet reached his nose and he inhaled appreciatively. “Ah, that is more than acceptable. Thank you.”

“So…” Greg stood next to him, and raised his glass. “Holidays,” he said. “May they bring relaxation, revelation, and rejuvenation.”

“The three Rs,” Mycroft intoned, clinking their glasses together and taking a sip in toast. “Gregory...I fear I must apologise…”

“Stop right there,” Greg said, fixing him with a look. “Before you start to verbally prostrate yourself before my altar...there’s no need.”

“I beg to differ,” Mycroft insisted, his rebellious brain imagining prostrating himself before the veritable Adonis that was Gregory Lestrade. “In anyone else, my actions could be misconstrued as stalking, at the very least an invasion of your hard-earned privacy.”

Greg chuckled. “Yeah, but you’re a Holmes.”

“A reason perhaps, but not an excuse.”

“Look, Mycroft...I’m used to your brother, I’ve been around him a long time. I know how he thinks, and you’re surprisingly not much different. I understand. Tracking me down like this, making a declaration of intent this way...What else could I expect, for God’s sake? This is typical for you both. I’m not angry. Puzzled maybe, but not angry.”

“Puzzled? Why on earth are you puzzled?”

Greg frowned. “Because...why me, Mycroft?”

“Gregory, my brother recently urged me to seize the day, and that from his observations, I would not be...misguided in pursuing a relationship with you. He told me you obviously had an interest in me, but would never act upon it. Was he right?” Greg was silent for a time.

“I’ve carried a torch for you for a long time.” He looked straight at Mycroft then, his dark eyes troubled. “I’ve never said anything because…”

“You fear me.”

“No, not...not exactly.” He ran a distracted hand through his short silver hair, staring into the distance. “Look, Mycroft, if I feared people like you, I’d never be able to do my job. It’s not you I’m scared of…”

“So what are you scared of? You do not strike me as a man who is scared of anything, Gregory.”

“Not true, but...okay, it’s not you, it’s...it’s everybody around you. You’re posh, I’m not. You know how to move in the circles you move in, it’s second nature to you. You speak the same language; Etonian, Harrovian, public school, Oxbridge… but I’m working class. East End boy, me. The school of hard knocks. Never went to college, never mind university. I joined the police with five O Levels, and worked my way up. Did it the hard way. I’m not as comfortable with the kind of power you wield. God knows what your cronies would think of me...”

“Firstly, Gregory, I do not, under any circumstances, have cronies.” The word exited Mycroft's mouth loaded with disdain. “I would never surround myself with anyone who considered themselves as such. Second, the power that I wield is a tool, nothing more, much like your powers of arrest and detention.” Greg snorted. Mycroft’s eyebrow rose eloquently.

“Oh, come on, Mycroft, how the Hell is my job anything like yours?”

“Perhaps more than you realise. My influence is extensive, I cannot deny, but I am still hidebound by the laws of the Land. I work for Queen and Country. You follow rules, and so do I.” Greg simply looked at him. “Diplomacy is an art,” Mycroft explained. “Negotiation a skill that anyone may learn. Omnipotence, however, is my specialism, and mine alone. Anyone can come to me for advice, and I draw all the facts together and predict the likely outcomes, given a specific set of parameters.”

“You’re an adjuster,” Greg said. “An underwriter?”

Mycroft smiled. “Somewhat. Perhaps more accurately I am a clearing house, a central exchange. I would never advise any course of action that undermined National Security or the Economy of the British Isles. However, the person they perceive me to be remains no more than a façade, a means to an end. The corridors of power are little different to the corridors of law enforcement. In fact Law Enforcement is likely more honest in their dealings. You have no reason to feel intimidated by them...or me, for that matter. Besides, does it occur to you that I might want someone who is not fooled by that world? Someone who understands the demands of a stressful occupation where nine tenths of the people you meet would rather not listen to what you say, and of the other tenth, two feel superior, two are habitual liars, two do not believe a word you say and the rest are sycophantic hermit crabs with the IQ of a peanut.” Greg burst out laughing, a loud bark of mirth, startling in its sincerity. “One alone might take in my suggestions, if I am lucky. I wonder sometimes why I do it, but my results speak for themselves. I am good at it.”

“Me too,” Greg agreed. He raised his glass and took a hefty swig of the contents. “That is bloody good,” he observed. “Time for dinner?”

They sat and ate at a wooden table, under a large green patio umbrella Greg dug out from the broom cupboard in the kitchen. There were fairy lights strung beneath it, and a tea light flickered in a blue Morocan lantern on the table. In the growing dusk, the lights looked hazy, ethereal. The curry was very tasty, the jasmine rice fluffy and fragrant. The air smelled of salt. Mycroft knew he was lost, watching Greg across the table. His eyes, large and dark as a deer’s, regarded his guest with warmth and humour. He spoke animatedly about anecdotes from his work, and more than once made Mycroft laugh with his observations. Similarly, Mycroft found he was able to make Greg laugh too, which surprised him. He wasn’t in the habit of making anyone laugh. Polite mirth was expected at dinner parties, but not this unalloyed joy that Gregory found in Mycroft’s recounting of the many mishaps he had been witness to at diplomatic receptions.

They retired inside as the air grew chilly, Greg setting the desert to warm in the oven and putting the kettle on for coffee. He extinguished the lights, handing the bundle of wires and bulbs to Mycroft while he wrestled with the umbrella. “Lord...look at that,” Mycroft gestured. Greg spun in time to see a white shape detach itself from the trees and glide soundlessly above the field, to disappear into the woodland like a ghost.

“Wow,” Greg said. “Barn Owl. Thought I heard them calling last night.”

“Tyto Alba,” Mycroft said, giving the bird its latin name. “I haven’t seen one since Musgrave....” Greg smiled at the wonder in Mycroft’s voice.

“How old were you?”

“Eleven, I think. Sherlock was four, Eurus was two, still a baby. I was...a clumsy child, but I enjoyed birding. I could legitimately stay quiet for hours in the hide my father built for me on the edge of the property. It was camouflaged with foliage from the bushes, and Sherlock always got annoyed because he couldn’t find me. I remember skylarks, robins, field fares, kestrels, and on one memorable occasion, a red kite. I saw the barn owls of course, if I stayed out till dusk.”

“Happier memories?”

Mycroft smiled a little tightly. “Quite.”

They sat at the dining table and shared the fudge cake, with some cream Greg had secreted in the fridge. Although Mycroft wouldn’t accept much cream, he allowed a little, and Greg let his wrist ‘slip’ in the pouring. Greg found another half-bottle of wine in the fridge and they worked their way through that too, while Greg selected a playlist on his phone. The strains of Dave Brubeck’s Quartet filled the room.

“I hadn’t pinned you as a Jazz man, Gregory.”

“Love Jazz, but I’m picky about what I like.”

“Discerning, Gregory. Not picky. There is nothing wrong in being discerning.” The smile he received was gratifying.

We are simply so comfortable with each other, Mycroft thought, hazily. He had no idea what time it was. The wine fizzed in his blood. Gregory was talking about something, his expression animated.

“Mycroft…” Mycroft took a moment to realise he was being addressed.

“What?”

“It’s late, and we’ve had a fair bit to drink…”

“I suppose I should go…”

“Might not be safe. Northumbrian police are shit hot on people being over the limit. I wouldn’t want you to get pulled over. Look...would you stay?”

“Stay?” The invitation gave Mycroft pause. He would like nothing better than to tumble into Gregory’s bed… but was it the right thing to do?

“Yes. Look...I know we’ve discussed everything but us tonight. We’ve skirted the issue really.”

“Perhaps, but I have had a wonderful time tonight. Thank you.”

“You have?”

“Yes, I have. You have been...far more accommodating than I expected, Gregory. Perhaps more than I deserve. If there is no us, Gregory, I shall still be content,” Mycroft admitted. “Not happy perhaps, but content.”

“Is there, though?”

“Is there what?”

“An us? Could there be, do you think? Would you like there to be?”

“What of you, Gregory? Do you wish there to be an us?”

Several emotions chased across Greg’s face, settling on hope. He nodded. “I told you, I have been carrying a torch for you for years. You’re a good looking man, Holmes. Lean, tall, blue eyes...nice arse...” Greg grinned, showing teeth. “You tick all my boxes.”

“But are you comfortable with my power?” Mycroft asked. “Could you learn to be comfortable? Because I have to say this, Gregory. If we do this, then I declare that I will want to show you off, to parade you in front of everyone who has ever doubted me, everyone who has ever given me cause to think I would never find one such as yourself for my very own. Because...Because they are the ones who should be intimidated by you, Gregory, and not the other way around. Every dirty secret they harbour, every transgression—and believe me, there are a fair few of those behind closed doors—it is they who should be scared, Gregory, not you.”

“Yeah, well… I’d rather not be the big scary DCI, Myc. Just as long as you think I won’t disgrace you…”

“Disgrace me? Never,” Mycroft said, aware that the wine might have gone a little more to his head than he had first thought. “You are...incompara...incompra…without equal. You are devastatingly handsome, distinguished, superlative, unmatched…”

“And I think you’ve had a bit too much to drink, Myc.” He found himself being guided to the bedroom.

“Oh,” he said at the threshold. “There’s only one bed.”

“I know. Didn’t think I’d be needing more. There’s a perfectly serviceable couch. You get yourself to bed. I’ll bring you some water and I want you to drink it, alright?”

“Alright,” Mycroft agreed obediently. He stepped inside. Greg appeared with a pint glass of water, which he pressed into Mycroft’s hands.

“Drink.”

“I didn’t bring my things…”

“Not a problem. I’ve got a spare toothbrush somewhere, and I’ve got plenty of towels. Just sleep naked, it’s no problem.”

“I...very well.” Greg gathered up a spare blanket and nicked a pillow.

“Goodnight, Mycroft,” he said softly. He quickly pressed a light kiss to Mycroft’s face, right by his ear. “Drink your water,” he insisted. Then he was gone, the door closing quietly behind him.