"Oh, and... one other small matter," Mr Holmes adds, as Anthea rises from her chair at his desk. She pauses and waits politely, wondering why this wasn't mentioned alongside all the other small matters—what makes this particular matter so small that Mr Holmes doesn't even want it to be considered a part of their morning briefing.
Her employer's expression gives nothing away. It's as clean and impersonal as everything else in his office, masked discreetly behind a sip of his earl grey tea.
"I wonder if you could acquire a copy of form N139," he says, "and leave it in my in-tray for me. I'll attend to its completion."
Anthea's eyebrows rise several inches up her forehead. Form N139 is known by many names throughout the intelligence services, some more widespread than others, many of them humorous in nature. Her favourite has always been the tongue-in-cheek references to resting in peace. "Have you heard about Roger from section twelve? RIP. Wedding's in June."
The form's official title is N139: Registration of Intimate Partner.
There are many documents Anthea might have expected to source for Mr Holmes on this otherwise ordinary Monday morning, but N139 is not one of them.
"Are you certain that's the form you'll be requiring, Mr Holmes?" she asks, trying not to sound as if she's questioning him. Perhaps he'll find it amusing when he realises, she thinks.
It's unlike him to make a mistake though, even on a trivial matter such as this.
"The partner registration form," Mr Holmes says. He refreshes his emails with a tap of his keyboard. "Not urgent, but before the end of the day if you can."
"Sir, I... I hadn't realised you have a..." Anthea can't stop herself. Her mouth has asked the question before she can help it, her heart beating strangely fast. "Who are you wishing to—?"
Mr Holmes visibly draws a breath. He's trying his very best to keep this casual, but a warm flush has already risen above his collar.
"My, ah... paramour has expressed a desire for us to domicile together," he says, sending Anthea's pulse immediately into orbit. "In truth, I'd been contemplating a more recognised form of commitment for some months. It seems the time has come for him to be added to my file."
Anthea takes several seconds to compose herself, determined not to blurt out some impertinent question and embarrass her employer. For a year or so, Mr Holmes has occasionally ringfenced his weekends with strict instructions not to be disturbed. She'd assumed it was a family issue of some kind—the feckless brother back in rehab, perhaps, or the swamp witch of a mother demanding yet more of her eldest son's mortal energies in tribute.
Anthea hadn't even dreamed it might be a lover.
Nobody in the world could have imagined that.
She draws a neat breath, letting herself smile. It feels comfortable on her face, gentle and congratulatory without suggesting the excessive interest she's most definitely feeling.
"Of course, sir," she says. "I'll acquire that for you at once."
Mr Holmes—now a discreet and dignified pink—takes another sip of his tea.
"Thank you," he says, pretending to read an email. His eyes aren't actually scanning the lines. "Inspector Lestrade and I will be searching for a property together over the next few weeks, with a plan to move in early summer. I might require further assistance from you nearer to the time."
Oh my god—
"With the silver hair?" Anthea blurts out, and immediately wants to cram both fists into her mouth. Mr Holmes's eyes flick to her over the top of his monitor. "I, erm... I recall your first meeting with him, sir. The warehouse in Hackney. He seems very pleasant."
Something seems to sparkle through Mr Holmes's gaze, something bright and young that Anthea has never seen there before.
It looks awfully like joy.
"He is," Mr Holmes agrees simply. "I'm sure there'll be speculation in the ranks, Anthea. Please do what you can to minimise it."
"I-I will, sir. Of course."
"If it puts unsavoury gossip to rest, you're welcome to circulate discreetly that he's a Scotland Yard officer of exemplary conduct and character. And that I am..."
Mr Holmes pauses, searching for the word.
"Content," he chooses at last. "Highly content. With the situation." He takes a short breath. "With him. And that his privacy is my greatest priority."
Anthea's heart seems to be trying to wrestle its way out of her chest.
"Very good, Mr Holmes," she manages, a picture of grace. "I'll attend to the form at once." She decides that she dares. "Congratulations on your N139, sir."
Mr Holmes flushes ever pinker.
"Mm," he hums, lifting his tea. "May I rest in peace."