"Someone brought them in about an hour before I left," Gregory says, placing the cardboard box with care on the kitchen table. Air holes have been poked around its perimeter with a biro. "Member of the public found them in a box in Whitehall Gardens."
Mycroft huffs, dimly amused. "And they decided Scotland Yard was just the place to hand in lost items?"
"Suppose it's better they told someone," his husband says with a shrug. "Didn't just leave 'em there in the cold."
The box trembles slightly, shuffling. A faint squeak emanates from inside.
"Sally's back from Majorca on Monday," Gregory says. "Her sister stills run the little animal rescue place, so... f'we just feed them and keep an eye on them 'til then... there was only really me around," he adds, finally noticing the look he's being given. His eyes sparkle with a smile. "C'mon, Myc. I've got the weekend off. My team would've thought I was an arsehole if I didn't take them. And they're cute little things."
"You are a soft touch," Mycroft tells him, smirking. "I'm not in the least bit surprised that you volunteered."
He feigns a sigh, folding his arms across his chest.
"Present our guests to me, then. Let's see if I'll permit them to pilfer my husband's attention for the entire weekend."
Grinning, Greg carefully peels back the sellotape on the box. He loosens the cardboard flaps, holding them apart as Mycroft idles over. He glances down.
Two impossibly tiny faces gaze up at him—one coal black, the other tortoiseshell, nestled together in a pink hand towel for warmth. They're at the stage of kittenhood where their ears seem far too large for their heads. They blink up at Mycroft, bewildered. The tortoiseshell lets out a querulous meow.
Mycroft keeps his expression very carefully clean, ignoring the quickened patter of his heart.
A biological response to young creatures, he notes. Interesting. He's never experienced this with small humans, who only ever put him on edge—living sirens which could go off at any moment. Even the slightly older ones are just magnets for grime and pathogens.
But it transpires that tiny felines don't arise the same unease in him.
"We're not keeping them," he warns, glancing up at his husband.
Gregory's eyes flash, desperately fighting a smile.
"Just for the weekend," he promises. "Then we'll send them to Sally's sister."
Though fountain pens are very viable prey, she likes the soft scrape of a pencil best. As Mycroft trails it along his desktop, amused, she skitters after it and tries to pin it with her tiny paws, batting the pencil wildly left and right. At the edge of the desk, he simply inverts the path and trails it backwards. She darts after it with delight. Now and then she glances up at him, round-eyed, as if checking for his reassurance that she is safe to play.
After a considerable number of repetitions, Mycroft realises far too late he's under observation. Gregory is leaning in the door of his home office, grinning ear to ear with a laundry basket balanced at his hip.
Mycroft clears his throat a little, sitting up.
"She seems to have taken an interest in my stationery," he says. The kitten follows the pencil as he returns it to its pot, then attempts to catch the attention of his hands instead, nuzzling and butting him with a little jump. "I thought I'd amuse her for a moment."
Greg bites his lip, still grinning. "Tickle her head, for Christ's sake. She's trying to love you."
Warily, Mycroft applies a few dutiful tickles behind the little creature's ears. She flops down on the leather panel in his desk, sprawls herself out then starts to flip back and forth, rolling, padding at his fingertips.
"Has Sergeant Donovan's sister's chicken pox abated yet?" Mycroft asks.
"Not yet," Greg says. He hoists the laundry basket up. "I told her we're fine with them for another week or two. They don't ask for all that much."
The kitten catches and hugs Mycroft's fingers, curling around to kick them.
"This one is certainly active," he notes. "And playful. I imagine that means it's healthy enough."
Greg's eyes dance.
"Yeah," he says. "Thanks for checking that."
A long week of tiresome meetings has drained Mycroft's energy reserves. He treats himself to a glass of wine with dinner on Friday night while waiting for Gregory to return home, then quite uncharacteristically drifts off on the sofa. He fades in and out of sleep for a while, slumped, half-aware of Radio Three still playing in the kitchen, then finally surrenders and lies down to rest.
He wakes to find his own hand resting near his stomach, buried within warm and rumbling fur. He rubs it gently; the rumbling increases. Further down his body, another weight rests on his left ankle.
Blearily opening his eyes, he finds Gregory grinning down at him, standing beside the couch in his work coat.
"Sorry I'm late," Gregory says. He eyes the kitten sleeping on Mycroft's stomach. "You've been alright, have you?"
"They, ah... weren't here when I drifted off," Mycroft says. "They've arranged this without my notice. Little beasts," he adds.
"'Course they did." Gregory hesitates, pulling at his lip. "Shame to move them somewhere new just as they're settling. I know Sally's sister'd find them nice new owners, but... well, that'd be their fourth home."
Mycroft raises an eyebrow, waiting.
"And they seem pretty happy here," Greg concludes.
"I'm not certain we were in the market for cats."
"Yeah, well... I've heard that's the way sometimes. You don't get a cat, you're given one. Or two, as it might be."
"Mm." Mycroft glances down at the tiny pile of fur on his stomach, rumpling it gently with his fingertips. "I have my reservations, but... well, they seem unobjectionable enough. They largely supervise themselves. And you're right that four homes seems too many. Perhaps it would affect their sociability and trust in humans."
"Which'd be sad," Greg says.
"Mm," Mycroft agrees. "For two such... agreeable young animals."
There comes a pause.
Gregory finally licks the smirk off his face. "So much for 'we're not keeping them'."
"I'm not sure I recall ever saying that, as a matter of fact."
"Not those precise words."
"Funny. I could swear it was exactly like that."
"I might have said it would be impractical for us to keep them, given our aggregate lack of experience in cat ownership. I might have expressed concern that our long work hours would make us unsuitable for the task. But I never ruled it out entirely."
"Amazing," Greg muses, "how our memories work sometimes. Tea?"